1) Easter: God's Plan is Best 2) God Understands, Even if Nobody Else Does 3) Surpassing Solomon 4) Belshazzar the Unrepentant: An Example of Hardened Arrogancy
5) Brokenness Healed
6) Thankfulness: Gratitude From the Lips
7) Grace: Something to Live By
1) Easter: God’s Plan is Best
I want God’s plan. I want to know there is something I can trust in, something I can have confidence in, somebody behind the scenes that has a plan for my life and for this world. Do you think Jesus is excited by the way you are living? Or is He pained by your life and the frustration and hurt you are causing yourself? “Will you listen to my plan,” He pleads? “Will you look and see that I am here, that I want to help you?” God’s plan centers on the resurrection. God’s plan is all about Him and His love for us. It is about God invading history with the promise of redemption and salvation. From the beginning of time to the very end of time, history’s outcome hinges on the cross and the resurrection. Without understanding this major point, you cannot understand God’s plan. God loved us enough to come into our world, a world filled with pain and tragedy, and die the death that we deserve. And by His resurrection He shows us that He has the power over death. God’s plan is real to those people who want Him to be real to them. His plan says, “I will fix those who want to be fixed.” And His plan also says, “Those who want to have nothing to do with me, do not have to.” God has a plan. And He invites you to be part of it. God has given you the freedom to choose whether to be part of His plan or not. But to be part of His plan, you have to choose to willingly surrender part of your freedom so that He can transform your heart, so that He can change you. You have to surrender to His plan. Your plan may be good for you, but I am not sure if I like your plan because I am not sure what your plan has in store for me. In God’s plan He has your best interest in view. “I want you and your life to matter and for your heart to be fulfilled.” Think about this. If you are living next door to an angry, arrogant man or an impulsive thief, sooner or later that person will compromise your happiness. This world is filled with ‘land mines’ that will destroy your good feelings. And so God says, “For you to be happy, I am going to have to transform his heart so he will not be so angry, so he will not want what you have, so he will not be a bully. I have to change him. Otherwise, your happiness, your safety, your security, your fulfillment will be compromised. I have to step in. But actually, your fulfillment and happiness is also compromised by what you do, also. To be honest, it is not just him. I have to step into your life, too. Sometimes you are careless. Sometimes you are willful. Sometimes you are selfish. And so, if I am going to make a secure, safe, fulfilling place, I have to change him and I have to change you, too. But I will not do it without your or his invitation.” God has given us the freedom to live and act as we feel. Think about why we have so many problems in this world. Yes, there are natural problems. Hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes are problems our environment throws at us. But most of our problems, most of your problems at work, at home, in society are a matter of the selfish and willful human heart--selfishness, greed, rage, revenge, scheming--things that build up in your life that work together to destroy you. God says, “Well, let me dissolve those for you. Let me take away that bitterness, that resentment, that rage, that selfishness, that greed. Let me take those things away from you.” This world would be a pretty nice place if we let Him do it. It would be for our best and it would be for this world’s best. But He says, “I have given you free will in this area and I will respect that all the way to your grave. And until you invite me in, I am not free to get involved.” He will not intrude on our freedom, on our capacity to do good or our capacity to do evil. He will knock, He will put barriers in our way, He will lead people into our lives but He will not come in without a personal invitation. Easter shows us that He has the power to work in our lives, that He has the power over life and death. The Easter message is really about God’s power to invade history and change sinners into saints, rebels into grateful followers. Turn to Ephesians chapter one. Let me paraphrase: “Long ago, even before He made the world. You see His plan. He started planning before He made the world. God chose us to be His very own through what Christ would do for us. He decided then to transform our hearts and lives to make us faultless and stand before Him covered with His love.” These verses describe God’s desire to transform us and shape our hearts. God did not say, “Oh, I did not think of that. Oh, now we have this problem, I did not know he was going to do that.” God has had an unchanging plan from the beginning of time. His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into His own family by sending Jesus Christ to die for us. That is the God of love that wants to reach to you, wants to have a relationship with you. That is why He has given us the freedom to choose Him or not. Without that freedom, love cannot exist. Love is a choice--to choose to give of yourself, to choose to submit yourself, to choose to do what is best for someone else. I am not talking about a feeling. I am talking about an action of love, compelled by our hearts.
And then down in verse 13 it says, “When you heard the good news about salvation, you chose to believe and trust in Christ.” You have the freedom of choice and you will bear the consequences of those choices. He put man and woman in the Garden of Eden to have a relationship with them. We were created for relationship with God, but they made a choice to choose against what God had to say. “I will be my own man, my own woman. I will do what I want.” A need for forgiveness was created. Violation of God’s laws and directives is serious. There are consequences. There has to be! Knowing this, the Son said, “I will pay the consequences for your rebellion,” before the first act of creation was set in motion.
If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, you are going to be in heaven and God is going to transform you. He will remake you because that is what you want Him to do. That transformation is going to be instantaneous. But its time is not yet. God will transform His sons and daughters. Seeking to enter by merit will not force God’s hand. Unless we are adopted into His family, He will not redeem us. Turn over to 1 Peter 1:3. Peter echoes the joy we have because of the resurrection of Christ. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In His great mercy, He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus.” He has given us new birth. He has given us a fresh start. He has given us power to work through the problems that have plagued our lives. If you are a born-again Christian what are you doing with your new birth? Are you dragging all your old clothes, your old ways, around with you? Put a lid on that stuff and let it go! Jesus died for those things, do not keep giving them life! That is the power of His resurrection working in us now.
God has a plan and He has the power to carry that plan through if you are willing to say, “I want to be a part of that plan, a plan that says I have a choice and I want to choose You and I want to choose Your standards. I want Your ways imprinted on my heart.” God will forgive any of you, any of us, anyone who calls upon His grace and forgiveness. Ephesians 2:10 says that “we are His workmanship.” This is talking about rebirth and transformation. Paul says, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do.” He wants to bless your life and your family and make it fulfilling. Not just provide a safe and secure place that you can do whatever you want, but to give you the equipment, the power to make a difference in the lives of others. Look at Ephesians 1:18. Paul’s prays: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the rich and glorious inheritance that he has for you and also know his incredible power to affect life. He demonstrated that power when he raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at his right hand in heaven, conveying all authority to him over everything now and forever.” Do you understand what that means? It means that Jesus has inherited us. God the Father granted Him all authority, all respect, all power with us. It is like the Father saying, “Hey, if my Son will do this for these guys, He deserves them. He has shown that He will do whatever is in their best interest. He loves and cares for them so much I turn all authority, all power over to him that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord.” That is the Easter message. That is the resurrection message. Are you living in light of God’s plan? Or do you have your own plans and kind of watch for God to fit in with them? God has given you the freedom to choose your plan. But who is a better planner when you really think about it? Who really knows what is best for you and for all those you say you love? Every time you choose your plan over God’s plan, you are hurting yourself and those you affect with your selfishness. God has blessed you with another day to choose differently, to follow His plan. God wants to have a relationship with you. You do not deserve it, but He has paid a heavy price for your heart. He will be glorified by our lives as our lives are changed. It is not that we will be all white and shining but that we will be better people, more like Jesus Christ. If you are indeed a child of God, then your life should show it. Your priorities, your preferences, your choices and deeds should show it. If your life gives no evidence that you are God’s child then perhaps you are not. Second Corinthians 13:5 tells us to “examine [ourselves] to see if [our] faith is really genuine.” Is there new life in you? If not, then you need to repent and turn to God through Jesus Christ. That is what Easter is all about!
2) God Understands Even If Nobody Else Does
Do you ever feel like you are alone in the dark trying to navigate life through a dismal storm? That the winds are blowing, the waves are reeling and you are trying to figure out which way to go and what is right and what is wrong and you just feel lost? You may be in a crowd, you may be with friends, you may be with family and you just feel they do not quite get it. They do not understand what you are going through. You feel like screaming, “You just don’t understand!” And if they say, “Well, tell me. Explain it to me. What don’t I understand?” You feel like words just cannot describe how you feel. Maybe you are part of a bunch of guys that play basketball. You are good friends, but you feel like they do not have a clue what is going on in your life. Maybe you are part of a women’s Bible study and you are sharing and studying God’s word and talking about things, but you feel like they really do not know the trials and the temptations you are facing in your world. Maybe you are a kid going to school and you feel like mom and dad have no clue the pressures, the distresses, the temptations that you face in the school world. And parents, you know your kids do not understand. They have no idea about your world of bills, of mortgages, of schedules, of chores, of a life so full that by the end of the day you still have more things to do. Or you may be sitting next to your wife or husband of 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years and feel that sometimes, even though you love them, they cannot help you in some significant ways. They really do not know quite everything that is in your heart.
Look at John 12. In verse one we read the story of Mary’s anointing of Jesus. This story comes right before the triumphal entry. And John chooses to put this event right in front of that one because it makes a transition in Jesus’ ministry. John 12:1: “Six days before the Passover Jesus arrived at Bethany where Lazarus lived whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served while Lazarus was among those who were planning at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, which is an expensive perfume, and she poured it on Jesus’ feet and then wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot who was later to betray him objected, 'why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a years’ wages.' He did not say this because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief and as the keeper of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. 'Leave her alone,' replied Jesus. 'It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.'” Her love, her gratitude showed in her freewill gift, giving something that was worth $20,000 by today’s standards. How long did it take her to save the money she used to buy this burial perfume? A long time! This is a big thing, a big sacrifice. But she was criticized for it. She was misunderstood. Back in Luke 10 Martha confronts Jesus about Mary’s behavior by saying, “Jesus, tell my sister to help me. Can’t she see I have things to do?” Martha could not understand how Mary could just sit there listening to Jesus talk when there was stuff to do. There were rolls to cook, meat to cut, things to do. Martha is serving while Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet. It is interesting to note that Martha is serving and it is not even Martha’s house. Martha is Martha and she is going to be busy wherever she is. Matthew and Mark tell us this is in Simon the leper’s house. Lazarus, Mary, Martha, and Simon wanted to do something special for Jesus. And so, effectively, Simon says, “Martha, I will have the feast if you and Mary will cook and do the preparation.” And so, Martha is still doing what Martha does and that is fine, that is good. But what Mary does is very misunderstood. First of all, the disciples said, “What a waste this is. How could you do this? This money could have been used for good purposes.” And it could have. And Jesus cares about those things. He cares about the poor. But He says, “This has been designed by God. This was intended by God for something special.” Matthew and Mark tell us what Jesus said, “She has done a beautiful thing to me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you truly, wherever this gospel is preached through the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” This stands out because she was obedient to God in what she did. Look back at John 11. “Now a man named Lazarus was sick and he was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary whose brother Lazarus is now sick is the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.” That is how John remembers Mary. That is how the people know Mary. This is her moniker. This is the event that defines her life. This is the story that has been passed down through generations. Jesus tells her critics, “Leave her alone.” Mary finally had somebody that understood her. Her family did not. Her friends did not. But Jesus did! In this passage there is a second person who probably felt like screaming, “You just do not understand.” Can you spot this person? Is it Martha? Martha is very misunderstood. She is a good lady. Is it Judas? Because Judas is called by many a misguided, misunderstood martyr. No, it is not Judas. It is Jesus. Jesus is misunderstood. He has been walking with these disciples. He has been telling them time and time again, “I go to Jerusalem and I will be killed. I go to lay down my life.” And every time He tells His disciples, “I go to Jerusalem and I will be killed,” what do His disciples say? “No way, we are going to fight for you. That is never going to happen. We are going to make the difference. We are going to stand there before you. We will give our lives to prevent your death. We will give our lives to save your life.” Jesus told them, “Guys, you just do not get it, do you? I am going to give my life for your lives. I am the Passover Lamb. I am going to die for you and for your eternal salvation. Do not try to stop that. Do not try and stop God’s plan.” They did not understand the Scriptures. They did not understand His heart. And in a few days He would be hanging on a cross. He declared, “It is finished” and the disciples responded, “Ok? Now what?” They did not understand until Easter morning. And then finally it started to make sense. I admire the patience of Jesus telling them over and over again. The Father inspires Mary in this passage to do the strangest thing. They are having a party, they are having a celebration and Mary takes funeral oil, mortuary material, something everybody associates with death, weeping, and mourning and anoints Jesus with it. Talk about a party killer. And it is so fragrant, the whole household smells of it. Everybody walking by the home could smell it. “Oh, who died here?” It was Mary who was open enough to God to follow through on something God told her to do. Nobody understood, but Jesus did. And that is the good news for us. If you feel like you are all alone, feel like there are things in your heart, your mind, and your life, that nobody understands, He does. He understands. And not just some things, He understands everything. He wants to calm the storms in your life. He wants to get rid of the darkness and bring light to your life, the light of His truth. You have a God and Savior who knows exactly how you are wired and He wants to help you function effectively, fruitfully, joyfully. He wants you to listen to Him. He wants to communicate with you. His Holy Spirit speaks. His word speaks. As you pray, He speaks to you. He wants to connect with you. Many times people read the Bible as if it were a geometry book or a physics book or a history book. They are reading it for information rather than for life transformation. When you read Scripture, read it as if God wrote something just for you and let the Holy Spirit guide your heart and thoughts as you read. There may only be one or two key things, things that come from the word of God that you may hear, but if you allow them to change you, you will grow closer to God. If you read through the Psalms, notice what David writes. David often feels alone and shut out, unfairly persecuted. Many of his psalms start off, “God, where are you? What is going on? This stinks! I do not even know if you are around anymore. In fact, I am not sure if you were ever around.” He is honest with his heart. As you read through these Psalms, by the time you get to the end he says, “Oh, will my soul magnify the Lord. I will glorify him for his is faithful and just and his love endures forever.” By the time he gets done spouting off and talking to God, God has softened his heart. He has vented enough and God connects with him in a vital, real way. God wants to speak to your heart. When you pray, it is not just to get an answer from God. It is not just to tell God what you need. It is to let God work in your spirit, to cut into your life. It is not so much that prayer changes things, but prayer changes you and that changes everything. The rains will come down, the bills may still be piling up, but you are not alone in it anymore. You have a friend, you have a partner, you have someone who cares about you. You are not going through it all by yourself. David says, “Search my heart O Lord and know me. See if there be any way of iniquity in me. Test me and lead me into your way everlasting.” The Lord knows your heart. If you invite God to search your heart, to look inside and see and sense what is going on, to get a grip on your life, He will point out what needs to change, what needs to happen. The Lord knows your heart and He is the one that can reveal it to you. Many times you do not know why you act and why you feel the way you do. And many times it is often not a matter of psychology, it is a matter of letting God speak to your heart and give you understanding. He knows your world. He knows the tests and the trials and frustrations you are going through. He invites you to confess instead of giving excuses. He wants to encourage us to say, “Lord, your standards are right. I agree with those standards and I have not lived up to those. Lord, forgive me and help me do better this next week.” Hebrews 4:15 says, “We have a high priest Jesus who understands our every weakness, tempted in every way just as we are yet he was without sin.” You think Jesus does not understand sexual temptation, does not understand jealousy, does not understand envy, does not understand betrayal, does not understand frustration? Jesus understands them. He knows the world we face, the temptations and invites us not to be satisfied with living with impurity, living with bitterness and resentment and anger because He knows these kinds of things will damage our lives. Every temptation that comes your way, not that He is bringing the temptation, but every temptation that comes your way He will provide a way of escape. I used to enjoy driving in the Sierras. In the Sierras there are a lot of rolling mountains and as truckers drive these mountains they have to contend with steep 10% declines. There are signs that read, “Trucks use lower gears.” And about two miles down the hill you will see the first sign that says, “Escape road ahead.” For trucks that lose their breaks about every five miles there is an “escape road ahead sign.” As the driver is rolling down the road and notices brake power has been lost, seeing a sign that reads “escape road ahead” is a welcome sight. But you have to turn off into it for it to do you any good. How many times do we see where the road is leading in your life but refuse to get off. We know what is most likely to happen, but we think that somehow we might escape the negative consequences. If I could just make the next couple corners, I will have it made. But, your sin will find you out. You are going to crash and God keeps providing the escape route. These escape roads are uphill inclines filled with gravel that will take a while to dig out from. You are going to lose all your momentum. But when your momentum is going in the wrong direction, isn’t it time to stop! Take the escape roads God gives you. He will help you dig out. He will keep you on track. He will keep you on schedule. A tipped-over rig on the side of the highway is going to take you a lot longer to get out than when you are stuck in the sand. He understands the things you go through. You have a God and Father who understands your heart, your world and your life because He has made you. He has watched you and He wants to guide you. So, watch for the unique direction He may give you in your life. Ephesians 3:20 says, “He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to his power that works in us.”
God has a plan and you can be a part of it. Your uniqueness can be used in special ways. Within the bounds of His holiness and plan, you can be used in special ways if you submit your heart to do His will. He and you can be a great team, if you want it. He has already said He wants you, but the question you have to wrestle with is, Do you want Him?!
3) Surpassing Solomon
What comes to mind when you think of Solomon? I think of five things--wisdom, wealth, wives, worship, and winner. Solomon had it all. Solomon has been heralded for centuries as a great man. And if you use the world’s definition of a great man, he was. The world sees men who have almost unlimited power and wealth and command of those under them as great. They are considered great because of their ability to do as they please. They either were superior military leaders or they undertook great building projects—think of the Rome Caesars and the pyramid building of the pharaohs. They are above the crowd. They are towering figures in history. When someone says their name they are recognizable and something extraordinary comes to mind. Solomon fits this description. He was the king of an influential kingdom. He was wealthy. He undertook and completed great building projects. But what happens when we take a closer look at Solomon the man? Is he someone you would want your son or daughter to emulate? Let us shine the light of God’s word on Solomon and see what we find.
He has all these wives. He has everything, experienced everything that a man could ever want. It says, “I restrain nothing from my desires. Anything I wanted, I took it. Anything I wanted to do, I did it.” A man totally without restraint. Does that not sound great, guys? I mean, do we not want that? Do we not really crave that? "Lord, just, well ok, I do not really want to be wealthy. That would be kind of self-serving, but just a little bit more. And just a little more smarts and just a little more power, a little more authority, a little more control of my life. I just want more of everything in my life."
Solomon is known as the one who composed and gathered the wise sayings we find in Proverbs. Proverbs begins by stating the purpose behind the book. “The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young-let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance-for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise.” These are good objectives for any author. And as thousands of years of faithful reading and applying the wisdom found in Proverbs can testify, Solomon created a masterpiece of literature. If someone followed diligently the wisdom found in Proverbs, his or her life and relationship with God would be greatly benefited.
The first two things Solomon wants his readers to gain from Proverbs are wisdom and discipline. So as we study the life of Solomon we are going to look for wisdom and discipline. When we look at Solomon’s life we are looking at history as recorded in Scripture. Scripture is not a tabloid magazine filled with rumor, innuendo, and juicy gossip for personal titillation. God’s word is given to us to teach us about God and life. And sometimes what we see is messy and unsettling. I am going to say some things about Solomon that may surprise you and may seem a little irreverent and I do not do it capriciously. I do not want to criticize or judge anybody else because I know I am also subject to judgment. And as a pastor I want to be discerning so that what I teach will best represent God’s truth to those who hear me. That is my responsibility and I take it seriously. If after we study Solomon we find he did not please God, then I do not want to go down the same path he did. After all, I follow my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ not Solomon.
Some things in Scripture were written for us to warn us, to keep us out of trouble (1 Corinthians 10:11). These things are written down so that we can read them and learn from them so we do not make the same stupid mistakes or commit the same sins that brought trouble and hardship to others.
At the beginning I listed five things that we usually associate with Solomon. But after studying his life I come to negative conclusions in each of these areas of his life.
I see Solomon as a wise … fool I see Solomon as a wealthy … pauper. I see Solomon as a romantic … philanderer. I see Solomon as a spiritual … compromiser. I see Solomon as a successful … failure.
Before Israel entered the land promised to them, God instructed them in how both to avoid trouble and gain blessing and prosperity. In Deuteronomy 17:14-20 His instruction centers on the behavior of a king. He knew there was coming a time when they would want a king, like the surrounding nations and against God’s best plan for them, so he told them how they could avoid the usual pitfalls associated with having the power of a nation centered in one person—the king. Basically, He told them it is best to not have an earthly king rule over them but if they insisted on doing it this is how they can avoid the usual troubles associated with kingships. “When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, ‘Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,’ be sure to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses. He must be from among your own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite. The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the LORD has told you, ‘You are not to go back that way again.’ He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.”
Deuteronomy 17:14-20 will be the blueprint we hold up next to Solomon to see how good of a king, and man, he really was. Moses recorded these instructions 500 years before Solomon was born. So Solomon was aware of them. He was not ignorant of God’s commands concerning his role as king. The advice contains specific examples of what God wanted from the king of His nation, Israel. These examples are types indicative of the attitude and disposition he wants in His king. God instructs His king to not:
acquire great numbers of horses return to Egypt for any reason take many wives for they will lead him astray accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.
But what did Solomon do? Have you heard of King Solomon’s stables? He had so many horses it became legendary. I would like to think he got them from Arabia or somewhere else but he got many of them from … Egypt. Scripture also tells us he married Pharaoh’s daughter (1 Kings 3:1). Solomon not only returned to Egypt for horses but his first wife as well. Before he was done he had “700 wives and 300 concubines.” And many were foreign women who brought with them their love for their native gods and immoral worship practices. Many of these marriages were for political gain. And of course many for sex. He was focused on politics and sex instead of relationships with his first wife, his nation, and God. Instead of trusting God for peace and prosperity he made alliances with pagan nations to acquire peace by compromise. And Scripture tells us the result. First Kings 11:1-6: “King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh's daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, ‘You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.’ Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done.” Astereth was the fertility god of the Sidonians and immoral sexual practices were associated and encouraged with her worship. The worship of Molech included sacrificing living children by burning them on an altar. How did Solomon get so far away from God? Was not Solomon the one who built the temple his father, David, envisioned? He himself dedicated that temple when it was finished. Read 1 Kings 8:54-66. “When Solomon had finished all these prayers and supplications to the LORD, he rose from before the altar of the LORD, where he had been kneeling with his hands spread out toward heaven. He stood and blessed the whole assembly of Israel in a loud voice, saying: ‘Praise be to the LORD, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses. May the LORD our God be with us as he was with our fathers; may he never leave us nor forsake us. May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep the commands, decrees and regulations he gave our fathers. And may these words of mine, which I have prayed before the LORD, be near to the LORD our God day and night, that he may uphold the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel according to each day's need, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other. But your hearts must be fully committed to the LORD our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time.’ Then the king and all Israel with him offered sacrifices before the LORD. Solomon offered a sacrifice of fellowship offerings to the LORD : twenty-two thousand cattle and a hundred and twenty thousand sheep and goats. So the king and all the Israelites dedicated the temple of the LORD. On that same day the king consecrated the middle part of the courtyard in front of the temple of the LORD, and there he offered burnt offerings, grain offerings and the fat of the fellowship offerings, because the bronze altar before the LORD was too small to hold the burnt offerings, the grain offerings and the fat of the fellowship offerings. So Solomon observed the festival at that time, and all Israel with him—a vast assembly, people from Lebo Hamath to the Wadi of Egypt. They celebrated it before the LORD our God for seven days and seven days more, fourteen days in all. On the following day he sent the people away. They blessed the king and then went home, joyful and glad in heart for all the good things the LORD had done for his servant David and his people Israel.”
How did Solomon go from praising God and acknowledging His faithfulness to violating everything God told the king not to do? First Kings 11:4-5 tell us that Solomon did not fall into gross sin but slid into it. The foreign wives “turned his heart after other gods, and [then] his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.” When David saw Bathsheba on that rooftop bathing that day he was not planning to sin—he fell. Solomon started on a path that eventually led to immoral behavior and religious practices that we amazingly shake our heads at. He was like that frog that is placed into a kettle of water. At first the water is cool and all is well. But as the temperature of the water is turned up ever so gradually the frog remains not sensing the heat of the water. That frog will literally let himself be cooked to death without attempting to leave the water because the change happens so slow he cannot detect the temperature rise, even when it becomes life threatening. Solomon boiled in his own unbelief. His long history of trusting his own opinions and the worldly practices of the nations surrounding him instead of God’s clear instructions led him to the point where his foreign wives could actually get him to worship immoral gods such as Astereth and Molech.
When God told Solomon to ask for any answer to prayer he wanted, Solomon asked for the wisdom to rule the nation. First Kings 3:4-14: “At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you.’ Solomon answered, ‘You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day. Now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?’ The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, ‘Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both riches and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.’”
Ironically, although God gave Solomon the wisdom to make wise administrative decisions for Israel’s benefit, Solomon never learned to control himself. He did exactly what God told the king not to do in Deuteronomy. 17:20—“not consider himself better than his brothers.” He did not think it worthy to follow the exact same advice he gave others. Solomon was not a murderer or thief nor did he bear false witness against another, as far as we know, and he did honor his father, David, but he did chase after the wind when he allowed himself to satisfy his carnal desires by coveting women, things, gold and silver, and exciting, although immoral, religious practices. Solomon is the perfect example of someone who followed his innate carnal desires into immoral and idolatrous practices. The mantra of carnal living is--“because it feels so good and is so exciting I will use it as a guide for my living.” Concerning carnality, Solomon withheld nothing from himself (Eccl. 2:10).
Walter Kaiser Jr. said that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes near the end of his life. “Ecclesiastes is best placed after his apostasy, when both his recent turmoil and repentance were still fresh in his mind.” Solomon gives testimony to the lack of real value the things of this world have when taken out of their proper context. In and of themselves they are empty. Ecclesiastes 2:10-11: “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” He goes on to teach us about the inherent emptiness of living for only the things of this world as ends in themselves. He has held nothing back for himself and it brought him and his nation ruin. After learning the hard way, he finally says at the end of the book, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”
So what became of Solomon? What was his legacy? Solomon had many wives but was a husband to none. Solomon had many children but was a father to none. In all of Scripture we do not read anything good about any of Solomon’s children. Solomon had 1,000 women with whom he could have had children. He probably had at least 1,000 children. Odds are at least 500 of those were boys. Can you name them? The Bible only names one and names him because he happens to be the next king. Rehoboam. Only one is worth mentioning in the Bible. Solomon knew how to sire children, but did not know how to be a dad. Solomon lamented the fact he had to leave his kingdom to an unworthy son. “Like a fool, the wise also dies and I hated life. All I had toiled for I must leave to another who comes after me whether he is wise or a fool.” Solomon leaves his kingdom to the only one, the only son, the pick of his sons, the one who has the most going for him, and he destroys the kingdom in less than a year. He defies the people, takes terrible advice, and is even more selfish and egotistical than Solomon himself.
Before I go on, let me remind you who Solomon’s father was. And what Solomon learned from his father. What did Solomon learn from his dad? “Man, kids are trouble.” David’s sons ended up killing each other or causing rebellion in the kingdom. Solomon himself has one of his brothers put to death in the first week of his rule because he is untrustworthy and is trying to usurp the throne. Family is trouble. That is what he learns. What is David busy doing? Is he busy being a father to Absalom or Solomon or his many other children? I am sure he was there some of the time. They had Passover and they had some fun things to do now and then. They probably played ball and did sword fights or work in wars or something, but he did not pour his heart and life and values into his children. What did Solomon see? What is important in building a kingdom? More land, more property, more wives. David, although he had a heart for God as it concerned uniting the kingdom, solidifying the government, getting organized, getting his kingdom together, gaining peace for the nation, his personal life was often in turmoil. Solomon saw this up close and personal and it had a profound effect on his life. The end result of Solomon’s self-indulgence and unbelief is recorded for us in 1 Kings 11 and 12. First Kings 11:26-40: “Also, Jeroboam son of Nebat rebelled against the king. He was one of Solomon's officials, an Ephraimite from Zeredah, and his mother was a widow named Zeruah. Here is the account of how he rebelled against the king: Solomon had built the supporting terraces and had filled in the gap in the wall of the city of David his father. Now Jeroboam was a man of standing, and when Solomon saw how well the young man did his work, he put him in charge of the whole labor force of the house of Joseph. About that time Jeroboam was going out of Jerusalem, and Ahijah the prophet of Shiloh met him on the way, wearing a new cloak. The two of them were alone out in the country, and Ahijah took hold of the new cloak he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces. Then he said to Jeroboam, ‘Take ten pieces for yourself, for this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: “See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon's hand and give you ten tribes. But for the sake of my servant David and the city of Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, he will have one tribe. I will do this because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Molech the god of the Ammonites, and have not walked in my ways, nor done what is right in my eyes, nor kept my statutes and laws as David, Solomon's father, did. But I will not take the whole kingdom out of Solomon's hand; I have made him ruler all the days of his life for the sake of David my servant, whom I chose and who observed my commands and statutes. I will take the kingdom from his son's hands and give you ten tribes. I will give one tribe to his son so that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I chose to put my Name. However, as for you, I will take you, and you will rule over all that your heart desires; you will be king over Israel. If you do whatever I command you and walk in my ways and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you. I will humble David's descendants because of this, but not forever.' Solomon tried to kill Jeroboam, but Jeroboam fled to Egypt, to Shishak the king, and stayed there until Solomon's death.” And 1 Kings 12:6-17: “Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. 'How would you advise me to answer these people?' he asked. They replied, ‘If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.’ But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him. He asked them, ‘What is your advice? How should we answer these people who say to me, 'Lighten the yoke your father put on us'?’ The young men who had grown up with him replied, ‘Tell these people who have said to you, “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter”-tell them, 'My little finger is thicker than my father's waist. My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.' Three days later Jeroboam and all the people returned to Rehoboam, as the king had said, ‘Come back to me in three days.’ The king answered the people harshly. Rejecting the advice given him by the elders, he followed the advice of the young men and said, ‘My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.’ So the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the LORD, to fulfill the word the LORD had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite. When all Israel saw that the king refused to listen to them, they answered the king: ‘What share do we have in David, what part in Jesse's son? To your tents, O Israel! Look after your own house, O David!’ So the Israelites went home. But as for the Israelites who were living in the towns of Judah, Rehoboam still ruled over them.”
The people simply left Rehoboam. The kingdom was split in two. All that David and Solomon worked to achieve was gone. The kingdom was set on the road to spiritual and moral decline that would result in the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. And why? The self-indulgence of the king—primarily Solomon, but also David. When persons with great responsibility stray from the truth great harm comes to the people of the kingdom. Are we not seeing that truth fulfilled in our own time? It is tragic. Ecclesiastes records for us that Solomon finally learned his lesson and repented but 1 Kings 11 and 12 tell us it was too late to save the kingdom—the harm had already been done. Men, Solomon is your anti-example. Do not do what he did. How tragic is that? The man requested that wisdom to rule his nation be given him by God and instead of being a positive example for us to follow he became the anti-example of what we should not do. How do we become a better man, husband, and father than Solomon? How do we live a life that is pleasing to God rather than one that causes Him to voice His displeasure at what we have done? “The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel.” How do we become a man to whom our Lord says, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” It sure seems clear he could not say that to Solomon!
Solomon was a successful failure. He knew how to sire children like a bull in a pasture and then saunter away, “I did my part.” But he did not know how to be a dad. He knew how to father children, but not how to father people. He knew how to have kids but not raise men and women. He knew how to have sex, but not how to be a lover. True wisdom is not just knowing but also doing. Remember the beginning of Proverbs? “The wisdom of Solomon, the son of David, the king of Israel, for wisdom and discipline.” Does that sound different than knowing? Discipline is different than what I know. How many of you know what the right thing is to do and sometimes do not do it? What is the difference? What is the missing ingredient? Discipline. Self-discipline; self-control! The missing ingredient for Solomon is self-control. One of his own Proverbs (25:28) said, “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.”
At this point I want to remind us what I said in a previous message in 1 Peter 1:13 about self-control and Spirit-control. I will reproduce what I said into this message:
“How many of you have someone in your family that needs more self-control? How many of you want more self-control? Can I fill your wildest dreams by telling you that you have all the self-control you need? You have every bit of self-control you need. I know that because my three-year old granddaughter, Natalie, has all the self-control she needs. She is totally self-controlled. Mom is telling her what to do, Grandma is telling her what to do, I am trying to get her to do things, but she knows that she is in control and she lets us know it. She does not have to obey us. We can try to bribe her, we can try to force her, we can discipline her, but she is in control of her. The same way you are in control of you. See, what you need is not more self-control. You have all the self-control you need. You are in charge of you. You are the boss and you can say, “No, I am not going to do that.” What you need is a better system of government, not more government. Not more self-control. You need a better governor for the self.
”There are four things that may adversely affect my self-control. The first one is my head. The way I think, what I think. We have seen how important right thinking is. I can reason what the right thing to do is, what I should do at a particular time, but the trouble is that I can talk myself into just about anything or out of just about anything. ‘Katie, I really think we need to do this because I want it, I need it.’ Anybody ever rationalize yourself into doing something you know you should not have done? The problem is that you are using your head to justify something you know is wrong. You can out think yourself and rationalize to make almost anything sound ok. ‘Well, I need to do this because …, and I know it is not normally right but in this situation there are extenuating circumstances that justify me doing it.’ So your head votes to go ahead and do something wrong.
”Secondly, my heart may adversely affect my decisions. Your feelings can lead you astray. Your feelings can have a tremendously powerful effect on your life. ‘It feels so good it just cannot be wrong.’ We see our feelings as the real us. ‘So why should I not just be me. If it is acceptable to me, then you cannot tell me to not do it.’ We not only say this to people but to God. After all, we see our feelings as the real us. Doing it just validates who we are. Proverbs 23:7 tells us that in many ways we are not incorrect when we say this. As we think in our hearts so are we. The problem is that the real me can be opposed to God and His ways. And by expressing that we set ourselves against Him. Can you trust your feelings to guide and control your life? Without self-examination, no! But does it cast its vote on controlling you? Does it sometimes cast a vote in some pretty dangerous directions? Oh, yeah. So, you have self-control, but what direction are you going in? Just because you want it does not make it right. That is why it says in 2 Corinthians 10:5 to bring every thought to the obedience of Christ before it is done or spoken.
”Thirdly, my stomach can lead me astray. My stomach represents my basic desires and appetites. I am not just talking about food. I am talking about sexuality and all the other basic desires I have as a human. These desires can, however, take me in the wrong direction if I do not control them. Being ‘brainless’ they can take me in extreme directions. Too much food, bad, unhealthy food, too much sex, sex with the wrong people (not your spouse), sex for pleasure alone, detached from relationship, or a lust for adventure, thrills and excitement to the point where you will risk your very life, health or family to have it--in other words, greed and excess in many areas of our lives. If we choose to indulge them, they will lead us astray. If we keep them within the bounds God has provided for them, they can enhance our lives.
”Fourthly, my spirit can lead me astray. The main problem is pride. Listen to two passages. Isaiah 25:10b-12: ‘Moab will be crushed like trampled straw and left to rot. God will push down Moab’s people as a swimmer pushes down water with his hands. He will end their pride and all their evil works. The high walls of Moab will be demolished and ground to dust.’ Obadiah 2-4: ‘The Lord says, I will cut you down to size among the nations, Edom, you will be small and despised. You are proud because you live in a rock fortress and make your home high in the mountains. ‘Who can ever reach us way up here?’ you ask boastfully. Do not fool yourselves! Though you soar as high as eagles and build your nest among the stars, I will bring you crashing down. I, the Lord, have spoken!’ Three things we need to be aware of concerning pride. One, we think too highly of ourselves. Two, we think too highly of what we have done. Three, we think too highly of what we can make ourselves to be. It leads us into foolishness (Obadiah 3), destruction (Proverbs 16:18), arrogance (Proverbs 8:13), stubbornness (Isaiah 9:9), contention (Proverbs 13:10), and a lack of humility (see Eve’s fall, Genesis 2). James 4:6-10 tell us that the cure for pride is humility. ‘But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.’ First Peter 5:5-6 tell us the same thing. ‘Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.’
”When Scripture tells us to have self-control, it is not telling us to have me-control. It is literally talking about Spirit-control. ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’ (Galatians 5:22-23). It is listed last because this is the one that ties all the others together and helps them to operate effectively. The fruit of the Spirit includes patience and kindness. Does it take self-control to be patient and kind? Oh, yeah. I can say I feel very patient. But then I have to control myself when she or he is late and it has happened again and again. I need self-control to exercise patience so that anger does not control me. I have to have self-control to exercise kindness, as well. Being kind may take effort. Being kind may be contrary to how I feel. We may feel pity or disgust but self-control gives us the opportunity to show kindness to someone instead.
”The good news is God does not leave you to your spirit alone. He says, “I will plant my Spirit in you to help your spirit do what you need to do.” For it is God who ‘works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose’ (Romans 8:28). We sometimes misunderstand that verse. It is not just to do the right thing but to want to do the right thing. God works in you to move your spirit to do the right thing, to make the hard choice, the non-feeling choice, the choice to deprive yourself of something you crave in order to do what is right and pleasing to God. God works in you to will to do the right thing. It is work for God to change your will, to shift your desires. He does not make us do something. He entices and encourages us to make the right choice. “God [exerts effort] in [us] to [want to do the right thing] and [then] to [actually] do [the right thing] according to His good purpose.’ Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold. Let God remold you from the inside out. Let God’s Spirit work in you to change, to motivate, to move you. Be self-controlled. Deliberately take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ Jesus. To say, ‘this thinking is not right. This desire is not right. I know what I feel I want to do, but I know what the right thing to do is and that is letting your Spirit take me through it.’”
This ties into another important topic--accountability. Self-control is good but there are times in my life when my self does not control me as well as it should and that is when someone else can be a blessing in my life and come alongside and say, “Hey. How about? What if?” Now, I usually do not like it because I want to be the one in charge. I do not want critics coming into my life but Scripture gives us one another to encourage and strengthen each other when we do not have the self-control that we need to do it ourselves. Let us consider how we can spur each other on to love and good deeds. Why? Because by ourselves we settle back down into our lounger, kick up and watch TV all day. And sometimes we need to get spurred to go ahead and do something more, to be more. Do you have someone in your life that can come alongside you to help and encourage you to be the kind of man or woman God wants you to be? Solomon was not the man God intended. Solomon was the man Solomon wanted to be. He was accountable to nobody and failed miserably.
Men, Solomon has a reputation for being a great king but as we have seen he was not a great man. His personal failures and excesses brought down a kingdom. Men, if you heed the words of Proverbs, have Spirit-empowered self-control and are accountable for your behavior to someone who cares about you and your walk with Christ, then you can be a greater man, leader, husband, father, and what I call faith-er than Solomon.
Men, you can be a better leader than King Solomon was. Do you recognize where Solomon got all his money? All his gold? All his wealth? Do you know where it came from? From his people. He taxed them. He taxed other lands and he did not use all the taxes for a great health program. He did not use it for building infrastructure. Do you think Solomon felt like he was the people’s servant? That his job was to make the lives of his people better? Saddam Hussein, was his role to make the lives of his people better? You see, public servant is a brand new concept in leadership and do you recognize where it came from? The night in which Jesus was betrayed He sat down with His disciples and He washed their feet. He said (Luke 22:26-27), "he who should be greatest among you should become their servant. Let the one who leads among you be as a servant as I have served you." Servant leadership. The leader is put in his position to make the lives of people better, not to glorify himself and to store up wealth and pleasures for himself. It is not about him. It is about his people. Solomon lost track of this truth. As an employer, as a manager, as a friend, as a father, you can be a better leader than Solomon. Solomon did not lead his sons. Solomon did not lead his wives. Solomon did not lead his family. Solomon did not lead his kingdom. He managed it to get as much out of it as he could. You may not have a kingdom to lead but if whatever you lead is more positively effected than Solomon was to Israel then you can be a better leader than Solomon.
Men, you also have the capacity to surpass Solomon as a husband, to truly love your wife. Husband, it says in 1 Peter 3:7 that you are to live kindly and considerately with your wife. And if you do this you are a better husband than Solomon. Solomon did not even live with his wives. He put them all together in a house ‘over there’. They were just commodities to be used for personal pleasure or political gain. Husbands, be considerate and caring toward that woman God brought into your life and if you do that you will be a better husband than Solomon.
Men, you can also be a better father than Solomon. As God instructed Israel (Deuteronomy 11:19), “teach my words to your children. Talk about them at home and on the road and when you go to bed and when you get up.” Do you know where Solomon’s kids were? Where Solomon’s kids were raised? In the harem with all the women. Raised by women. I am not making that a slight. I am saying these men, Solomon’s sons, never learned how to be a father, never learned from their father because they were entrusted to the care of all these women. These boys needed to learn from their father how to live, how to be a man, what values should guide their lives. Not just seeing him out the window and saying, “When I grow up, I am going to be just like him. I am going to get the kingdom. I am going to be rich and powerful. I am going to have all these things.”
“Teach my words to your children. Talk with them at home.” Do you think Solomon talked with these kids? Do you think he walked along the road with them, took them to the park and played on the seesaw with them, had time with them, took them for drives? Solomon did none of these things with these kids. The only child of Solomon’s we read about in Scripture is Rehoboam and within just a few months under his leadership the nation was divided into two and if not for the guidance of a prophet into civil war. The so-called wise man did not pass wisdom onto his children. If you live your life showing your children that you care about what God says and honor His ways, then you will be a better father than Solomon.
Men, you can also be a better faith-er than Solomon. Notice what 1 Kings 11:9 says. “The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice.” Solomon saw how God worked through his father David and the Lord personally appeared to him twice and yet unbelief still ruled his live. Solomon had the opportunity to have God speak to him twice in a clear, decisive manner. Most of you have not had that. I have not had that. I have not had a vision from heaven. And as Jesus told Thomas (John 20:29), “you believe because you have seen. Blessed are those who believe without seeing.” You believe by faith and trust and Gods says, “This is a great blessing and you will be rewarded for it.”
How many of you believe I am here? Do you have faith that I am here? Huh? Do you really have faith that I am here? No, you do not. There is no faith involved. You can throw something at me and hit me. You can hear me talk. There is no faith involved in this. This is reality. This is presence. When you get to heaven, there is going to be no faith involved in your relationship with God. You are going to see Him face to face. No faith because there can be no doubt. He will be there right before your eyes. Now is the only time we have opportunity to choose freely and say, “Lord, I want you. I believe with all my heart. I have faith with all my heart. I trust that you are there and you have great things planned for me.” And that is what God honors.
4) Belshazzar the Unrepentant: An Example of Hardened Arrogancy
Daniel 5:1-30: “King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.
Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way.
The king called out for the enchanters, astrologers and diviners to be brought and said to these wise men of Babylon, "Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom."
Then all the king's wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled.
The queen, hearing the voices of the king and his nobles, came into the banquet hall. 'O king, live forever!'she said. 'Don't be alarmed! Don't look so pale! There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. King Nebuchadnezzar your father—your father the king, I say—appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. This man Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means.'
So Daniel was brought before the king, and the king said to him, 'Are you Daniel, one of the exiles my father the king brought from Judah? I have heard that the spirit of the gods is in you and that you have insight, intelligence and outstanding wisdom. The wise men and enchanters were brought before me to read this writing and tell me what it means, but they could not explain it. Now I have heard that you are able to give interpretations and to solve difficult problems. If you can read this writing and tell me what it means, you will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around your neck, and you will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.'
Then Daniel answered the king, 'You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else. Nevertheless, I will read the writing for the king and tell him what it means.
'O king, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor. Because of the high position he gave him, all the peoples and nations and men of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted to humble, he humbled. But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like cattle; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes.
'But you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription.
'This is the inscription that was written: Mene , Mene , Tekel , Parsin
'This is what these words mean: Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.
Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.'
Then at Belshazzar's command, Daniel was clothed in purple, a gold chain was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom. That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.”
So what is the problem here? I want you to notice something important in this passage. Notice what it says about Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar’s grandfather. “But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory.” I have a question. Then why was Nebuchadnezzar allowed to live and continue his kingship and Belshazzar was cut off? Was God being arbitrary? Does He reach into His bag and pull out “you I will bless and you I will curse?” Is His mercy for Nebuchadnezzar and His condemnation of Belshazzar based on nothing more than sovereign whim?
Daniel 5 tells us. Notice what it says about each man.
Verses 20-21: “But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like cattle; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes.”
Verses 22-23: "But you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.”
Hardened arrogance is an unforgivable problem. Arrogance fueled by ignorance can be educated. Repentance is still possible. Hardened arrogance knows better but stands in defiance to the God of all things. It therefore leads to an unforgivable state. Revelation 21:7-8 says the unrepentant remain as they are when they die—their opposition to God and His ways are set in stone because their hearts are as hard as stone toward God. And as Hebrews 6:4-6 tells us, to reject God “though you know all this” is an unforgivable problem.
A great example is Pharaoh during the time of Moses. Although he saw God’s mastery over creation through the plagues, he refused to bow before His sovereign right to do as He pleases. He wanted to lead the Israelites out of Egypt but Pharaoh stood in His face and said , “NO!.” The Bible says his heart was hardened toward God. His arrogance against God was hardened. The plagues and Moses’ testimony were enough to educate Pharaoh but his evil heart would not allow him to believe.
Ezekiel 16:49-50 talks about the sin of Sodom, the reason they were judged and removed from the face of the earth. Do you know what the sin of Sodom was? Ezekiel 16:49-50: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.” The main problem with Sodom was hardened arrogancy. The sexual sin we read about was only a symptom of a deeper problem. The people of Sodom were judged because they continued on in their sinful ways despite a witness telling them otherwise. Second Peter 2:6-10 tell us that Lot was vexed and tormented by the behavior of the Sodomites: “…if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment. This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority.” The Sodomites arrogantly followed the corrupt desire of their sinful nature giving witness that they despised the authority of God.
It is much like those we read about in Romans 1:18-32: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” These people know better but in their hardened arrogancy stand in defiance against God and His ways.
Belshazzar heard the story from his grandpa about how he was humbled by God. He was aware of Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony (Daniel 4:1-3, 5:22, "But you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this.”) but ignored it. And eventually that ‘ignoring’ lead to outright arrogant opposition—Daniel 5:23: “Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.”
Hardened arrogance steps across the line and declares before the living God (v. 23), “I am going to be the boss of me. I do not care if you are there. You are nothing to me.” That is where Belshazzar finds himself. God essentially tells him, “You have defied Me. Your arrogant heart is not teachable, O Belshazzar, therefore you have been judged. You are finished!”
I also want you to notice something else about hardened arrogancy. It is not only foolish toward God (Romans 1:22) but it also underestimates the abilities and intelligence of others. And in Belshazzar’s case, it cost him his kingdom. He lived in the strongest city ever constructed. I have to say there has never been a more secure city than Babylon. Babylon was surrounded by a wall 80 feet thick, 60 miles long, and up to 300 feet high. With 250 guard towers set around the wall you could see anybody that comes close to the city. Sleeping quarters and food hidden within that wall allowed the guards to remain on duty at all times. And if they get past that wall, they would have to go another quarter mile across open fields where they can be shot at and then have to get past a second wall. The city could not be sieged because they cannot be starved because they used all that surrounding area to grow wheat and food. They had enough agricultural area in the city and enough stored in reserve to sustain the whole city for 20 years. The Euphrates ran through the city so they had all the water they needed. What have they got to worry about? Belshazzar saw himself as undefeatable, untouchable. That same untouchable attitude extended to his view of God—Daniel 5:23b.
“What are the Medes and the Persians going to do? I do not care if they are out there. They can run around all they want out there. They are going to get tired because they cannot get in here. They will give up and go home.” So in his arrogance, while Darius the Mede is outside the city wanting to destroy it, Belshazzar throws a party. So while his attention is turned away from defending the city, Darius is only hours away from taking the city. He has gone upstream twenty miles from the city to where Nebuachnezzar diverted the Euphrates River to redirect it into the city and undid that diversion to change the direction of the river so that it ceased flowing directly into the city. When he finished, all that remained was a dry riverbed in which Darius’ soldiers walked under the city walls into the city. So, while they are sitting there drinking and having a great time, a platoon of soldiers is coming in from both sides of the city, underneath the wall through the river channel. That is why the city is taken without a fight. That is why the king is killed that night.
Nebuchadnezzar was a mighty king and he conquered the known world. He was a soldier. He led the troops himself and ruled with great wisdom and knowledge. He led the troops against Jerusalem and brought Daniel, great treasure and temple artifacts back from Jerusalem. He was a soldier, warrior, and great ruler. He knew that things do not always go your way. He knew what battles felt like. He knew what hard times were. He knew that life was not always easy. But Belshazzar was different. He was given the city of Babylon by his father, Nabonidus. He was the ruler of the city of Babylon, a sort of viceroy to his father Nabonidus, the king of the empire. He never knew need. He never knew want. He never knew loss. Belshazzar takes every day for granted. He does not appreciate what he has. Genuine appreciation requires humility. Belshazzar had none.
Remember back when God wrote the first time with His finger? The writing on the wall for Belshazzar is not the first time God wrote. He wrote on stone on Mt. Sinai where He gave tablets to Moses. He gave Moses the Ten Commandments to give to Israel. He wrote in concrete form what every person on earth has written on his heart (Romans 2:13-15). People have searched for God in every country and every land and every time period. They know it is wrong to murder. It is wrong to bear false witness and steal. It is wrong to commit adultery. These things are imprinted on the hearts of people for every generation. God makes it simple. God made it very simple. It is not that we do not understand. It is that we will not, choose not to follow Him. And as Hebrews 6:4-6 warns us. To know the truth but reject it is the first step in the hardening of the heart. And continued hardening results in an arrogancy that is not forgivable because it will not allow repentance. As Sodom and Gomorrah was removed from the face of the earth and Belshazzar had his kingdom and life removed from him, so an unrepentant person will experience eternal separation from God and all His precious blessings (see Eternal Destiny series). Nebuchadnezzar repented and his kingdom was restored to him and some think we may see him in heaven some day. Belshazzar refused to repent and instead died in his sin, awaiting God’s judgment on his life. Who will you learn from; who will you follow? Nebuchadnezzar or Belshazzar?
5) Brokenness Healed
Romans 7:14-20: "So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it."
Isaiah 53:5: "But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed."
Everywhere Jesus goes, He is faced with the brokenness of humanity. And Jesus is barraged by people who want fixes. Heal me, fix me, take care of my mess. Can you put me back together again? Brokenness comes to us from all different directions and all different categories in all different quantities. Brokenness comes to us in broken promises, broken dreams, broken rules, broken trust, broken hearts, broken families, broken relationships, broken homes, broken vows and that is just the start because each one of these breaks, breaks something else along the way. Our brokenness has real world consequences. People suffer hurt and heartache because of the outflow of our brokenness. Our world, our hearts, our lives are broken.
Jesus came to heal our brokenness (Isaiah 53:5). But for Him to do that, He needs our permission because He has created us with free will. And until we turn our will over to Him, our brokenness will remain. It is important to realize that we need to be changed; that you need to be changed. God will work on us. But what does He require? He said it very simply in Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” It is not complicated. He has written this on our hearts (Romans 2:15) and in the Old Testament He plainly spells it out in numerous passages (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, for example). But the brokenness within chooses otherwise. Instead of living justly, enacting mercy, and walking humbly with God, Jesus saw injustice, cruelty, and arrogance. Jesus came to His own and He found brokenness all around Him.
Jesus prophesied in Mark chapter 8 when He said, “You say I am the Christ, the sent one, but I tell you that I will be rejected by the elders and the priests and the scribes and be beaten and suffer and be crucified and the third day I will rise.” He names three groups of people who will reject Him—elders, priests, and scribes. The elders are the people that everyone looked up to. They are the ones who have experience, make wise choices. They would be the ones you go to for advice. I am thinking about buying this house. Who should I talk to? I am thinking about getting a new car. Who should I talk to? I am thinking about moving to Cincinnati. Who should I talk to? Who has been through this kind of stuff? Who has made major decisions in their life and made wise choices because those are the people I want to go to. And these are the people who become schemers against Jesus. The people who should be the most respected, who are the most respected, you see their brokenness as they scheme to kill the Father’s Son. And then the priests, those who are supposed to be the most spiritual, those who represent God before the people, who take the people before God, who speak God’s words to them, show their corruption by bribing the greedy and slaying the innocent. The priests, ironically, become the most corrupt. And then the scribes, those who take God’s word and are copying it day in and day out, studying it and working it to make sure they understand what God wants, what God is trying to say, become blind. They ignore all the prophecy about who the Messiah is and what He will do. Those who are the most learned become blind, close minded and dead to God’s very word.
But what is most troubling are the people right around Jesus. It is the men who are closest to Him. Judas, I would say the most trusted of all the disciples, the one who was put in charge of the money, who is above reproach in the eyes of the other disciples, betrays Jesus with a kiss. When Jesus said, “I will be betrayed this very night,” and Judas got up and walked out the disciples still did not suspect him. He was above reproach because they did not really know him. But Jesus did. Jesus knew he was a thief (he was stealing their money--John 12:6). And Jesus knew he never accepted the gospel of grace. Judas wanted a warrior king not a crucified Christ. He wanted power not forgiveness. So when Satan approached him to give Jesus up, he found a willing participant. Judas showed his brokenness by walking with the Son of God for three years and instead of humbly trusting the plan of God sought to arrogantly enact his own.
Peter and John, the bravest, the most courageous, the ones closest to Jesus, the ones that Jesus takes with Him most on missionary journeys, become the deniers of Him. We know that Peter denies Him. We remember the story but John records that John is the one who gets Peter into the house where Jesus was taken to stand before Caiaphas. John is the one who is known by the high priest so he was able to gain entry. But the high priest does not know him as a follower of Jesus. They recognize Peter as a follower of Jesus but the high priest personally knows John but does not know he is a follower of Jesus. John betrays Jesus by his silence. Just by keeping a low profile. Just by not letting his affiliation with Jesus being known. What about the rest of the disciples? They all scattered when Jesus was taken. All who had followed Him for those three years desert Him and leave Him alone to be taken before the judges. Do you see the darkness, the blackness that surrounds Jesus on the night of His betrayal? He sees everyone who should be doing all the right things exhibit their brokenness by not standing with God’s righteous Servant. It is a dark and broken world out there. And that is because it is a dark and broken world in here, in our hearts.
Jesus endured the cross so that our brokenness can be healed. That is the good news--Jesus came to heal our brokenness. But He is not like a self-help guru or religious leader who promises to bring the best out of us. Our brokenness requires more than that. It requires more than increased effort. It requires redemption and forgiveness. Jesus wants something more for us. The brokenness that surrounded Him moved Him to action. It moved Him to endure the cross. As Isaiah 53:5 tells us, He was pierced, crushed, beaten and whipped for our healing. As the New Testament tells us, the Good News is about more than rescue from condemnation, although it includes that (Romans 8:1), healing and transformation into the image of Christ is the ultimate objective; our wholeness is the goal. And that so that we can fellowship with God.
Sin breaks the Father’s heart. Sin is wrong. Our rebellion hurts us and hurts others that He deeply loves. And worst of all it separates us from Him. We think it is just a little thing. But our Father sees the repercussions of our sin. He sees the whole picture. Sin should break our heart. Do you recognize that He bore the pain for our sin on His back, on His shoulders, on His arms, in His side, in His hands? He bore the penalty for us and it was costly.
God has a cure for brokenness. It is the application of redemption to our hearts and lives. But practically what does that look like? Four things. The first is very simple. It is confession. Say, “Lord, I am broken. Forgive me. I agree with You in your assessment of me. I am a sinner who is in rebellion against you.” Is that any surprise to anybody? “But Lord, I want to have a relationship with you. I confess that I do wrong. I have wrong thoughts. I have wrong attitudes. I have wrong behavior. Lord, forgive me.” “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1John 1:9). “Lord, thank you that the price has been paid. Thank you for applying it to my account.”
And secondly, commitment to change direction. “I want to go in your direction, Lord. I commit to walking with You.” The old fashioned word for this is repentance (Acts 20:21). As Hebrews 6:1 states, the foundation of the Christian’s new walk with God is repentance. First Peter 1:14-21: “Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’ Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.”
Thirdly, pull yourself into community, to hang around the people who act and think the way you want to behave. You become like the people you hang with. The people that you walk with influence your thinking and thought patterns. So come alongside people who are going to lift you and carry you in the right direction. That is what community is all about. “Do not forsake the gathering of yourselves together” because we need each other (Heb. 10:25). How much easier it is to walk through life with the encouragement and support of others.
Fourthly, connection. Connection, not simply with each other but connection with Him for it is “His power that works in us” to do His will and work (Phil. 2:13). We need His power and strength in us to get through and make the choices we need to make. Confession, commitment, community, and connection that are rooted in the redemptive work of Christ are the cure for our brokenness.
6) Thankfulness: Gratitude from the Lips
“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Or another way to say it, “No matter what happens, always be thankful. For this is God’s will for you.” Look at that verse carefully because I hear preachers who use this verse to teach something that it is not saying. “No matter what happens, that is God’s will for you. Whatever happens is God’s will for you, so be thankful for it.” Really!? “Well, if it happens, it must be God’s will.” Really!? Look at the first story in the Bible. Was it God’s will that Adam and Eve rebelled against Him? Did God ordain and make certain their sin? In other words, was God the author of sin? No! Why did they do it then? Because they had a choice. God gave them the ability to sin or not sin; to follow Him or not to follow Him. Have you ever made a choice out of God’s will? You probably have. Was God the author of your choice or was it you? Or, Was it God’s will that a little girl be raped, murdered and then left by a river to rot (true story)? Should she in her last terrifying moments or her grieving parents find solace that it is God’s will that she die a horrible death? No! a thousand times, No! What it is saying is, “No matter what happens, always be thankful, because God is with you.” Whether someone else has caused trash in your life or you have caused trash in your own life or life just happened to you, be thankful because you have a God who wants to walk with you through it; you have a God who can redeem even the worst of situations (Romans 8:28).
God wants you to be thankful. It is going to bless your life. It is going to cause you to rise above the circumstances around you. Thankfulness gives you protection in its presence. It guards your heart. And your heart needs guarding. Difficult and even tragic circumstances can lead to a lot of negative stuff to settle in your heart--obscenities, foolish talk, complaining, cursing, whining, bitterness to name a few. These are not for you. Yes, life is going to be hard. Thank God He is with you. Life could be hard without God. You can choose whether you are going to go through it with God and have His input, have His strength in your heart or not. God calls Christians to peace of heart. A truly thankful spirit will promote that peace, even amidst troubling circumstances.
Thankfulness is not a feeling but it rises within us because of a prior disposition. Thankfulness is gratitude from the lips. Your circumstances may be lousy. Things are going to go wrong in your life but gratitude lets you grasp God to help you. I got lost in Sears Department Store when I was a young kid. I remember it was near Christmas. They had a big holiday sale of toys in the basement. I mean, the whole basement was filled with toys. I got lost. I was surrounded by toys and I didn’t know anybody. And then I felt my mom’s hand on my head. “Okay, it’s okay.” And I felt better. God is right there ready to grab your hand and lead you on. He extends His hand, are you willing to grab hold of it? I was a kid and knew I was lost. My mother’s comforting hand was a welcome thing to me. I wanted her presence to guide and protect me. I was grateful for it. As a kid, I knew I needed my parents. Let me ask you, as a child of God, are you willing to admit you need God on a daily, moment-by-moment basis? Are you grateful for it? The above 1 Thessalonians verse was written to believers, those who have already placed their faith in Jesus Christ and His redemptive work. It is not that Paul is telling non-Christians how much they need God, but he is telling Christians how much they still need God in their lives. It is not “confess Christ” and then live as you please; “confess Christ” and live by rules and regulations. Paul is describing a personal, daily, moment-by-moment relationship with the living God.
Life is not measured in years or even in days. It’s measured in relationships and in heart. And a heart with God is what we are talking about. When grace flows in and gratitude fills up, thankfulness flows out. God’s grace flows into us and gratitude wells up and we bless others around us. A scientific study found that taking five minutes a day to focus on being thankful brings a higher sense of well being and happiness than having your salary doubled. Huh? It is healthier for you than losing 20 pounds. It will lower your blood pressure. The study found other benefits beyond just physical, personal benefits. It will make you a better friend. It will make you friendlier. It will make others like you more. God says be grateful because He loves you and we can trust Him that it is in our, and others’, best interest. Science confirms it much like it confirms the dietary laws given Israel in the Old Testament. But we as Christians, followers of Christ, do not do things only when science ‘discovers’ something, we do them because God tells us to do them. Only unbelief and rebellion is always “waiting for proof.” Person A does it because God said it and because he or she is in a personal relationship with Him. Person B does it because ‘science’ says it and he is benefitted by it but his heart is still far from God. God tells us to do things because He wants things to be better for us. And He tells us to be thankful.
God also says, “love your neighbor,” not only because your neighbor will be benefited, and that is part of it, but because it makes you happier and fulfills your life. God tells us to not cheat on our wives not only because it is morally wrong but because it will destroy your life and your family, as well. He gives us direction not to punish us, not to subjugate us but to protect and bless us. Let gratitude flow in your being. It changes your attitude. It changes your behavior. It changes what you care about. You have things to be thankful for and it’s amazing how it will change your heart and change your life if you take five minutes each day to let it out. Ask yourself, do I want these things? Do I want to be happy or do I want to be a better friend? Do I want to be a better husband? Do I want to be a better dad? Do I want to be healthier? Do I want to have more success in my business? And above all, do I want to please God? All those things can happen simply by doing what God says.
Katie and I don’t have a lot of personal codes but we have one that has gone on since she was 16 years old. Philippians 1:3 says, “I thank my God always upon every remembrance of you.” All through college, we would finish our letters like this: Love, Katie P. 1:3. Love, Dave P. 1:3. We were thanking God for each other. Thank God for the people in your life. Thank God that He is with you even in the worst of circumstances. Seeing God’s fingerprints on your day when things go right or when things go wrong is an enormous blessing. Jesus said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” A Spirit-inspired response is, “Lord, thank you for that.” God wants to be involved and intercede in our lives. That is what thankfulness is all about. But to be thankful is not enough, it’s to be thankful to somebody and that is what we are talking about with this. That is where the word of God and secular science part ways. Science tells us being thankful is good for us. The word of God tells us our thankfulness is to be centered in God so that our relationship with Him can be strengthened. Yes, we are to thank others for kindnesses done for us but primarily God is the one who should be the object of our praise and thanks. In Romans, Paul talked about the importance of thankfulness in a relationship with Him. It says, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God.” How do you honor Him as God? You recognize that He is engaged, involved, responsible, connected with you and involved in your life. You give thanks for His many blessings. You recognize His handiwork in Creation, and His fingerprints all over your life. But those who refused to do this “became futile in their speculations and their foolish hearts were darkened.” That is what happens to people who do not give God thanks for the good things He has done.
We have a God that will see us through, carry us through, and walk with us through the tough and rotten times. That is why I’m an optimist. I’ve been criticized a number of times in my life for being too optimistic. You know what? I think they were right. I am. Yes, life stinks at times and can be terrible but God isn’t. This is not about optimism. Paul is not just telling us to be optimistic. Although, that is not a bad thing. This is about faith and trust. Some people look at an optimist and say they have on rose colored glasses and have their head in the sand. They don’t see real life. Most of you who are not optimists, I won’t call you pessimists, I will call you realists because that is what you call yourselves. You see life as hard and that bad things do happen to good people. “And bad things have happened to me, so why should I be thankful?” It doesn’t mean that everything is good because you are an optimist. It means you have a good God that is going to carry you through it. Some accuse optimists of hiding their heads in the sand, like an ostrich. But an ostrich doesn’t do that? “Well, yes she does, I’ve seen pictures.” No, an ostrich doesn’t do that. You get closer to that picture and see what she’s doing. She is either caring for her eggs or going after a lizard or a squirrel or a mouse or rat down in a hole. Ostriches don’t bury their heads. When they get scared they clam up and do exactly what you and I do. They will sit down, curl up and just weep. But they don’t put their heads in the ground. Ironically, it’s the ostrich that is not in denial. She is focused on what is most important whether that is getting food or taking care of her babies. Optimists, when they are focusing and seeing things positively, are taking care of the most important things.
Ecclesiastes makes it clear. “Don’t say, why were the old days so much better than these?” Let me give you an illustration. I came across a couple articles this week talking about the ‘new generation’. “Do we like the way our world is going, our government is going and the people in the world? It’s a rough place to live. Never have young people been so violent, mentally disturbed, drugged, lazy, promiscuous and criminally hopeless. This generation numbering in the millions has gone so far into decay that it acts without a thought of social responsibility. High school kids are armed, out for what they can get. The lost generation is even now rotting before our eyes. Everywhere teenagers are found confused, disillusioned, disenchanted, in a state rapidly approaching psychosis.” Who is this describing? Sounds like 2014 doesn’t it? This was written in 1936. This was about the generation that went through the depression, about the generation that would fight World War II, the generation that Tom Brokaw calls the greatest generation of all time. And yet they are going through terrible stuff. We think we have it bad, that things have changed. The American Magazine in 1936 talked about the youth problem--75% of 100,000 young men studied are suffering from mental anxiety; the government estimates that abortion and venereal disease in the 1930s was the highest of any generation before or since. Surveys found that 80% of young men and 60% of young women in the 1930s reported having pre-marital sex. The sexual revolution, you know when it started? Just after the Garden of Eden. So, what does this mean? It means life is hard, always has been. Sin plagues all generations. And we get so concerned and think, “Oh, our world is going to hell. It’s a rough world to see our kids grow up in.” We hate that and wonder, “Lord, how can you let this happen?” As if it has never happened before.
David despite all his troubles was able to say, “He hears my voice and inclines His ear to me.” Having a relationship with God did not make him immune from trouble. It sustained him amidst the trouble. We have a God who hears us, who wants to have a relationship with us. Hagar, Abraham and Sarah’s servant girl, who was mistreated by them, who was in the middle of nowhere because they cast her out, was able to pray to “the God who sees me.” Her faith did not make her immune from trouble but in the midst of it her prayers were answered by the “God who sees.” Hagar’s cry is representative of all of us. Read through the Bible. You will not find the prosperity gospel anywhere. Hebrews 11 records God’s people who enjoyed both good times and bad. Their faith was true in both circumstances. And as Paul said of himself, he learned to live with God in both good times and bad (Phil. 4:11-13). Real Spirit-inspired faith stays with God no matter what.
Habakkuk confesses, “Though my heart pounds and my legs tremble, yet I will wait and rejoice in the Lord.” How does the book of Habakkuk start off? Habakkuk is basically saying, “Hello, are you there? Are you blind? Are you deaf? Are you impotent? Did you take a vacation, God, because I don’t like what’s going on in my nation, my life, in the things that are happening. What’s going on, Lord?” But he later writes, “He strengthens me and makes me sure like a deer on the heights.” What does that mean? Picture deer that live on sheer mountain sides, always one slip from disaster. But his Spirit-inspired faith said, “Though my heart pounds and my legs tremble, yet I will wait and rejoice in the Lord because He is my strength and He makes me sure-footed like a deer on the heights.” He makes me sure in those dangerous places that threaten me. Habakkuk ends the book by testifying: “Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.” Thankfulness fuels trust. Trust fuels hope. Despite difficult times, Habakkuk’s hope was in the Lord. And it all started with heart-felt gratitude that poured forth from his lips in genuine thankfulness for the relationship he had with the God of his salvation. David, Hagar, and Habakkuk showed Spirit-inspired faith. What does unbelief look like? Open your Bibles to Exodus 15. Exodus 15 starts off with a great song, the song of Moses. They are all singing how great the Lord is. Look at it, it says beginning at verse one, “I will sing to the Lord for he is highly exalted both horse and rider is hurled into the sea. The Lord is my strength and defense. He has become my salvation.” All the people sang these words. And then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea to the desert and for three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. And when they came to Mara, they could not drink the water because it was bitter. And so the people grumbled against Moses. Grumble, grumble, grumble. God purifies the water for them. And then in chapter 16, down in verse 2, in the desert the whole community then grumbled again against Moses and Aaron. Then over to verse 8, it says Moses tells them, “Hey, it’s not us. We are not in charge of this, God is, and so you are not grumbling against us, you are grumbling against the Lord.” How could they just go through seeing God’s provision multiple times and then act like God’s not real? All through Exodus we find the same thing over and over again. Present unbelief in the face of past blessing.
When it came time to enter the promised land, surely after seeing God provide for such a large group of people in a desert, they would follow the Lord in. Numbers 14 records what actually happened. They sent scouts into the land to report what is there. But they came back with fear rather than with hope. Ten of the twelve scouts brought a negative appraisal. Only two (Joshua and Caleb) encouraged entry based not on what they found but on the faithfulness of God. The ten were representative of the majority of the people. The people did not listen to the pleas of Joshua and Caleb. And all the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, again. Why are they grumbling? The scouts returned from their mission. They said they saw giants there and armies that were well organized. They described themselves as grasshoppers in comparison to them. Grasshoppers? Why is that? Well, grasshoppers are very small and fragile. You can easily scrunch them. Foot down, crush! But that’s not the only thing about grasshoppers. I was raised on a farm in Canada and sometimes we would get infestations of locusts. Walking through them was just chaos. They had no direction. They go whatever direction they happen to be facing at the time. There is no organization, they are just helter skelter every which way. And that is the way the Israelites saw themselves. “We have no organization. They have soldiers marching in lines by rank and we have no army. We have no hope. We are like grasshoppers before them, weak and defenseless.” And then they accuse the Lord of bringing them to the land only to let them die by the sword.
How could they say that? After all He did for them? One answer. They did not know Him! They had no relationship with Him. Unbelief behaves in ways that do not make sense. Let’s see, He broke up the waters and killed all the Egyptians, gave them food and water in a desert, only now to lead them to their doom in the very land He promised them. Does that make sense? But unbelief does that. It behaves in ways that do not make sense. First Corinthians 10 tells us that they were actually rejecting Christ when they rejected God’s leading. This world can be a difficult place to live. And most of that is our own doing. Unbelief curses God for it. Christian faith refuses to curse God because it knows better; or should I say, knows Him better. We know the Father because we know Christ. The central manifestation of the being and character of God is Jesus Christ. God is for us as seen in the cross. Does God care? Look at the cross to find your answer. Gratitude affirms God’s goodness in thankfulness. “Be thankful in all circumstances,” because God is a redeeming God who can bring good out of even the worst of circumstances. God’s will is for us to look for it.
7) Grace: Something to Live By
In Ephesians chapter two I want you to see the amazing picture that Paul paints of who we are in Christ. Verse one, “as for you,” all of us, “you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them for a time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we are by nature deserving of wrath. We were rebellious. But because of His great love for us God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions. It is by grace you have been saved and God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus in order that, in the coming ages, He might show the incomparable riches of His grace expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. This is the gift of God, not of yourselves.” Grace is God’s unmerited and undeserved goodness toward us. "For the wages of sin is death." At first glance that seems harsh, but a check of the history of rebellion and its resultant sinful behaviors shows us its utter destructiveness. But God’s great grace has provided a way of escape. The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. By definition, grace is unmerited favor. Favor that is undeserved. I want you to catch, it is not just that you do not deserve it but the others around you, the person sitting next to you does not deserve it either. And that guy you work with does not deserve it. The prodigal son did not deserve the father’s favor, but the love and graciousness of the father lavished favor on him because of who he, the father, was, not on anything the son did to earn it.
Lavish. I want you to keep that word in your memory and think of God’s grace. It is not just immense. It is not just solid. It is lavish. He just melts the butter and pours it all over you. It is like the woman who took the alabaster jar, worth a year’s wages, and poured it on Jesus’ feet as a recognition of His coming death. What a lavish expression of love. This was a Spirit-inspired response to the recognition and acceptance of the coming sacrificial death of Christ. Her Spirit-inspired expression of devotion shows God’s love for you. He breaks Christ for you. Christ’s blood is dripped upon your feet to purify you. Get a hold of that and it will change your heart and life.
From Genesis to Revelation, God’s grace is prominent. We have this Book only by God’s grace. The whole Bible is about God’s gracious pursuit of sinful man. In His grace, He gave us the truth to draw us to Himself and help us avoid brokenness and devastation and tragedy in our lives. God’s grace gave us this Book. God’s grace gave us this world. Look at what God has given us in His creation; the care, the detail is astonishing. He did not just give us taste, He gave us chocolate. He did not just give us sight, He gave us color. He did not just give us sound, He gave us music. God lavished His grace upon us.
The grace of God is from eternity past to eternity future, forever. Can you begin to grasp the immensity of God’s grace? Before there could have even been Creation, God had to graciously provide a remedy for creatures that decide to go their own way. Foreknowing what would happen, the Son graciously created a world in which His grace could overcome evil, in which He could incarnate Himself, and in which He could die for those who sinned against Him, in which He could turn unbelief and hatred to faith and love. Graciousness provides a way for reconciliation. We give up in relationships. God strives for reconciliation. It is us who reject Him. It is He who pursues us for reconciliation. Only a gracious God would create at all, knowing the difficulty and heartache to come. Even if a being like Satan had the creative powers and intelligence of God, which he doesn’t, but if he did, he could not provide a Revelation 22 type world. He lacks the graciousness and love of God, as chiefly seen in Jesus Christ. If Satan attempted to create creatures with free-will, he couldn’t turn their rebellion through grace. God puts together a family. Satan forms gangs. God is gracious, Satan isn’t. Naked power without grace equals a despot. Power constrained by grace is redemptive.
You can depend upon God’s grace because it does not depend upon you. If God’s grace, if our relationship with God, if our future depended upon us, we would be in real trouble. But it does not depend upon us. It is our reception of it that allows God to make it all work out. Ephesians 2:8—“For by grace you have been saved through faith and that is not of yourselves. It is the gift of God.” You cannot earn it, you cannot buy it and you cannot keep doing it. You may do it once, you may do it twice, you may try to do it over and over again but you cannot sustain it. Only God can sustain it. It is solid because it is seated in God’s character. Ephesians 2 says, “you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” You did not earn it. You were rebellious against God, doing the wrong things, trying the shortcuts, doing things your own way. We are by nature children of rebellion.
From start to finish the Word of God records the grace of God. From His response to the betrayal of Adam and Eve to the scene in heaven (Revelation 21) where His grace is finally free to express itself in all its fullness—“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’” And what God’s Word makes clear is that grace is not just something we receive so that something bad does not happen to us but chiefly so that grace can become operative in our lives. Too many people see grace’s intention as a something that is given to us to save us from eternal punishment and miss that God’s grace is meant to control and transform our lives.
John 1:18 says that Jesus Christ was full of grace. He, Himself, was full of grace as a quality of character. Grace to Him was not something He was destined to give as a commodity but something He was destined to give as an operative principle of life. Passages such as 2 Peter 3:17-18 tell us that we, as Christians, are called to grow, or exhibit, grace more and more in our lives. It is to control more and more who we are and how we behave. “You already know these things, dear friends. So be on guard; then you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Our dilemma, as imperfect creatures, is to be full of grace without being lukewarm, without being carnal, without saying, “Well, what I do really does not matter because God will forgive me anyway.” The other part of John 1:18 tells us Jesus Christ was not only full of grace but also was full of truth. It is important for us to understand how grace and truth fit together. Grace and truth have a tension between them that if not managed well can lead to contradictions and injustice, particularly in the church. Theologically, this tension has been going on for the last 2,000 years. Some focus on grace, others on truth. But as followers of Christ we are called to be full of grace and truth. The danger is an unbalanced life. Some are so concerned with grace that they live lukewarm, compromising unchristlike lives. Others are so concerned with truth that they are judgmental and abrasive with others who disagree with them and thereby exhibit unchristlike behaviors in their lives.
In keeping with the character of Christ we must realize that truth is not the law. Often when we think of truth we think of the law and doing what the law says, doing the right things. But truth is not the law. In the same passage John said Jesus came to bear witness to the truth he also says that the law was given through Moses. They already had the law. If the law was the truth meant for mankind there was no need for Jesus to come. He gave them the commandments. He gave all the other rules that came with it. And they even made up many of their own. There was no need for any more law. So, be careful of equating truth with the law. Truth is a person that embodies all that is good. We are not to conform to Old Testament Law but to the character of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. We look to Jesus for our inspiration not the law. Jesus said, “I am the truth.” God Himself is the truth. To find truth, look to God and see how He acts in differing situations. Look to Jesus and see how He acts in differing situations. And when you do this, you will see the truth, you will learn the truth. God did give people advice, when it comes from Him it is law, on how to live during their particular time in history. The Bible records, from start to finish, what happens when we refuse to listen, refuse to heed His leading.
The mistake the Pharisees, and others like them, made was to look to the law without a relationship with the Person who exhibits truth in Himself. God’s whole relationship with Israel was to be based on this—Deuteronomy 6:5: “You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” Everything else was to be built on it. With this, the Ten Commandments, the rules for living make sense. But apart from this, ‘truth’ becomes a means of beating others down and raising oneself up.
Jesus came to give us truth, to set us free from slavery to sin. Truth is for life, for living. All truth has life implications. The admission that God exists should make us morally responsible before Him. Our sin nature denies that. To admit that Jesus came to reveal God to us should have implications for how we live our lives. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. Well, why do I need that if I am saved by grace? Why do I need to be righteous if I am saved by grace? Why do I need to be rebuked? Sin still messes us up. See, we are saved by grace but we are still called to live rightly with one another and honor God with our lives. You could say we are to live ‘truthfully’. And in this way grace and truth become partners rather than adversaries. As I said before, 2 Peter 3:18 tells us to grow in grace—to exhibit it more and more in our lives. But how? Peter also tells us that—grow in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. As we know Him better grace becomes more and more of who we are. That describes the Christian life, or at least it should.
What kind of Christian are you? A torch or a candle? I mean, we see the candle and it’s so fragile, you can’t move too fast or it’s going to go out, and if something comes too close it gets extinguished. But you can throw water at that torch and it will not go out. Will you burn bright for Him no matter what or will your light fade at the first hint of trouble? I want you to be, God wants you to be, on fire for Him. A candle is not terribly helpful in the dark. It is better than nothing but not terribly helpful or effective for lighting up the world around you. A torch makes a noticeable difference. Christ came into our world to make a noticeable difference in our hearts and in our lives. Being a Christian is being under God’s control. Grace is about having power under control. We were saved for a reason. The gospel does not pertain to just our initial reconciliation with God but it extends into our lives from that moment forward. Being born again, receiving the divine nature within, should, and will, have an effect in our lives. Jesus said His disciples will bear fruit, some 30 fold, some 60, and some 100. How do we become 60 and 100 fold Christians, and not those who will have little to hand back to the Lord when we meet Him face-to-face? Grace! The answer is grace.
From Genesis to Revelation we see that Creation and existence is about grace. Eternity with God is a grace experience. Grace is not only about not giving us what we deserve, eternal separation from God and His blessings, but grace is also enabling, or unto Christlikeness in our lives. Every character in the Bible had to decide if he or she was going to follow God, to go in His direction, to follow His leading, or go their own way. And all the heroes, those we call heroes, are the ones who went when God said go, and stopped when He said stop. And when they did not obey, did not listen, the consequences that followed are also recorded for us so we can learn from their disobedience. The Bible is full of examples.
Paul starts off every one of his letters, “grace and peace be to you.” Not simply a greeting that says, “God’s grace has been poured out and you need it to survive.” Paul’s idea is you need it to thrive. It is necessary to live the Christian life. It is necessary to have any light for Jesus at all. Those that bear no fruit, have no light, are devoid of grace because God’s grace is enabling. It will shine. It will bear genuine fruit. And it will persevere. Paul talks a lot about grace. When he says, “May the grace of God be with you,” he is not merely saying, “I am glad you experienced God’s grace when you were saved,” but, “I pray for you that you walk in His grace now.”
Do you remember what Jesus said about enemies? “You have been taught from the very beginning to love your neighbors and hate your enemies. But I say unto you, love your enemies. If someone compels you to go one mile with them and carry their goods, go two. If someone slaps you on the cheek, give them the other one. If someone takes your coat, give them your scarf too.” Do you recognize grace in what Jesus is saying? See, it is not, well, he wants to borrow my coat. He is my friend, he has done a lot of nice things for me, so I will give him my scarf. No, it is the guy that is taking your coat that doesn’t deserve it and you are being wronged by it that Jesus says, "be gracious and give more." That is the teaching of Jesus. That is how grace lives in God’s heart. Do you realize that is how grace lives in God’s heart for you?
So, I ask you, how is grace going in your life? Is grace really a part of your life? Is it making a noticeable difference? If not, then you need to get closer to God, the source of grace. And I have to tell you, you have a chance right now to start growing it because there are people in your life that do not deserve grace. There are people around you that do not deserve your kindness and care. There are people around you who need grace in their lives. Grace is like a blast of fresh air in an otherwise stagnant and noxious atmosphere. You could be the one who gives it to them.
Is your grace growing? Are you more gracious this year than you were last year? God is going to keep on bringing more and more things to your life. This next year is going to bring chances to grow in grace as things come our way that we do not like and we do not understand. God is going to grow our grace because He wants to grow us. Is grace through you blessing others? Are you being a blessing to the world around you? God pours His grace into us so that we can pour it into those around us.
I have been accused by some of seeing God working everywhere, giving God way too much credit for stuff. Well, I do not think you can give God too much credit. When I visited here 20 years ago in May of 1994, I told you if I come to be your pastor, I am coming to grow your grace. And that is a warning. Because to grow grace, you have to have things to be gracious about. Can you recognize what that means? It means grace grows amidst difficulties and trials, things we do not like. I told you I would probably offend you, each one of you at least once a month. And I have probably lived up to that one way or another and your graciousness has grown. And may you continue to grow in graciousness as the grace of God begins to more fully saturate your life. Grace changes you, the way you think, the way you act, the way you live. Grace is a big deal. It is one of the characteristics of God.
Prayer: “Now, may the grace and strength of our Lord Jesus who came for us, who lived for us, who died for us, who rose again and now lives in us, empower, equip and live through each one of us. In the strong name of Jesus I pray, Amen.”