Dec 2, 2012

Sermon - Rachel’s Story

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Rachel's Story

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Reading Genesis 29v14-30

Now that may be to some a long passage, but it helps set up the story of Rachel. Sounds like a modern day soap opera like Holby City, Eastenders or Coronation Street doesn't it? Rachel had a fairly complicated family structure as we have seen, so lets try to unravel it!

Rachel's sister Rebekah was Jacob's mother. Rebekah trained Jacob to scheme in order to gain his father's blessing and promised him that she would take the results of the deceitful act upon herself. Rachel became Jacob's wife, but only after Laban had tricked him into marrying Leah, the older daughter first. We can wonder if Rachel encouraged Jacob in his trickery, or if she was influenced by him to think first of herself at the expense of others. Whether his mother and/or his wife influenced Jacob, or indeed if he influenced them, both Rebekah and Rachel serve as examples of the outcome of sinful deceit and discontent.

Introducing Rachel's personal details

So, who was Rachel?

  • Born in Aramea (Syria)
  • Daughter of Laban
  • Second wife of Jacob, her first cousin.
  • Mother of Joseph & Benjamin.
  • Ancestress of three tribes of Israel- Benjamin, Ephraim & Manasseh (Sons of Joseph).
  • Possessed great beauty (Genesis 29:17)
  • Devious (Genesis 31:19, 34-35)
  • Not single-minded in devotion to God.
  • Probably did not put away her idols until shortly before she died.
  • Her sorrow is depicted by Jeremiah (Jeremiah. 31), to signify the sorrow of Israel's people at the exile of Israel to Assyria and Babylon.

Now let us look at some of the main people involved in the life of Rachel: her father, sister, husband and children.

1. Her Father

2. Her Sister

3. Her Husband

4, Her Children

The Story continues

Conclusion

Perhaps there are 3 kinds of people here tonight.

Firstly, if you are a Christian here tonight, how and in what way are you like Rachel? As you go through your day, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you ways in which you may well be deceitful, vengeful, dwelling on the past bitterly or engaged in constant self-pity. Are you like Rachel, headed downhill on a course of dissatisfaction that may end in dishonesty and deceit, or in disappointment and despair? Accept God's love. Believe that in every trial He desires us to draw closer to Him, so that we can be energized by Him and realize that He alone and only He is enough. Ask for forgiveness for dwelling on the past and any inappropriate behaviour where those things were involved. God is faithful and just and will forgive if you go to Him with a penitent heart. Then no long dwell on those things, for they are in the past, are forgotten and not to be remembered any more. So forgetting what is past, go into the future with a new outlook of service to God and others. That way your life will be a living prayer and a living witness to others about the great God you serve, love and worship.

Secondly, you may be a Christian but you are the victim of somebody else's deceit and dishonesty - then forgive them before God and as far as it is possible, ask that person for forgiveness. Bitterness, envy and pride can eat away and cause much misery, sin and depression.

Finally, if it happens that you are not a Christian here tonight, then please do see one of the leaders or myself and we would be glad to tell you how you can be free from a life of dissatisfaction, deceit and dishonesty - both as the victim and perpetrator of such things. Know that Jesus Christ is above deceit, never dissatisfies and is never dishonest - His word is true and He seeks you, to be in a relationship with you, where His love is always serving, always humble and always satisfies. As I said, come and see one of us after if that is you..

Thank you.

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Feb 12, 2012

Luke Looks Back 01

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Luke Looks Back

Chapter 1

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Introduction

Luke 1: 1 - 80

Preparations for the Advent of the Messiah

This is the first of a set of studies of the life of Jesus written by a man called Luke. The studies are in the form of sets of questions for a group, or an individual, to think over and discuss.

In his first 4 verses written in different, better Greek than the rest of the book, Luke announces what he is going to do.

Luke makes it clear he is writing history by emphasising the way in which he has researched the life of Jesus and the surrounding events.  The other three Gospel writers write life stories more narrowly focused on Jesus. Luke was writing to a man called Theophilus who, judging by the formal way Luke addresses him, must have been someone rather important.

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Oct 13, 2011

Four Portraits of Jesus

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Four Portraits of Jesus

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In the New Testament, we have four accounts of the life of Jesus Christ which are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These are called Gospels. But what is a Gospel, how are the four accounts different or similar and what were the main points each writer sought to communicate.

What the Gospels are!

Firstly they are called Gospels, because they gave substance to the Gospel or Good News as described by Paul in Romans 1v16 (The Message): “this extraordinary Message of God's powerful plan to rescue everyone who trusts him, starting with Jews and then right on to everyone else!”

We know Jesus Christ during his time on earth wrote nothing yet the stories about him were preserved and passed on by Christian teachers and evangelists. For the first thirty years or so, these stories were possibly collated and stored together. That would explain the similarity in the four accounts of Jesus’ life. They are not an exhaustive biographical detail of all that Jesus did. Similarly they are also not diaries reflecting a daily account of Jesus’ life. Rather they are selective accounts of His life, and were probably factual illustrations used by His disciples when preaching about Him. Therefore they would represent the theology of the disciples, as each story about is Jesus is told. That is why they are trustworthy accounts as well as rooting Jesus’ life in first century Judaism and the Greco-Roman world.

The first three of our Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke are what are called the synoptic Gospels. This is based on their great similarity and possibly use of a common source. Mark is probably the first Gospel as it is shorter in length than Matthew or Luke and it would appear that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a guide and elaborated where required. Mark wrote none of the great discourses of Matthew, such as the Sermon on the Mount nor does Mark show the great parables that Luke recorded, such as the Good Samaritan. Surely if Mark had used either the accounts of Matthew or Luke, he would have used those two examples! Matthew is closer in similarity to Mark than Luke. Luke does share large portions of Mark and quite often verbatim, and with a greater use of the Greek language.

John on the other hand, while still telling about Jesus’ ministry, has a vastly different story content. Whereas in the synoptic Gospels Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God frequently, in the Gospel of John, Jesus talks about Himself much more often, as in the seven I AM statements. For this reason, John was probably written later than the synoptic Gospels.

Four Different Portraits

Mark

Mark presents Jesus as the Suffering Servant of the Lord, coming in fulfilment of the Old Testament. Jesus offers His credentials, gathers His disciples, offers the Kingdom of God and its message. Jesus’ teaching is seen in short parables, which hide the truth from those hardened against Him, yet prepares and instructs those responsive to Him. Overall Jesus calls those who follow him to serve others and to deny themselves by taking up their own cross, just as He took. Early tradition states that Mark’s Gospel had a connection with the Apostle Peter, and was therefore written to preserve some of Peter’s memories before his death.

Mark 8v34 - "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Mark 10v45 - For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Luke

Luke 1v3-4 -Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

Luke 19v10 -For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.

Luke presents Jesus as the God-Man, as a saviour for the entire world, writing primarily to Gentiles. He does this from a broad vantage point that is compatible with the fact that he is a Greek. Luke traces the incarnation, Christ's introduction, ministry, rejection, subsequent teaching in view of His rejection, the cross, resurrection and ascension. Even though a Gentile, Luke emphasizes the kingdom program with Israel's place in the kingdom. This Gospel is not complete in itself, but is rather the first for two parts, with the Book of Acts being the second section. Both are addressed to Theophilus (Luke 1v1-4 & Acts 1v1). The author is probably the Luke as identified by Paul as a doctor, and was one of Paul’s travelling companions (Colossians 4v14; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4v11). The style and language use is that of a native Greek speaker.

Matthew

Matthew 16v16 - Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Matthew 28v18 -Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. "

Matthew wrote primarily to Jews who knew the Old Testament. He wrote to present Jesus as the Messiah to Israel. He also records Israel’s attitude towards Him as Messiah. Throughout this Gospel, Matthew gives us the genealogy, presentation, and the authentification of Jesus as the Christ Messiah. Matthew then shows the nation of Israel's opposition to and rejection of Jesus as the Christ followed by Jesus' rejection of Israel due to her unbelief. He then records the death and resurrection of Christ. He concludes with Christ commissioning the disciples. Throughout this Gospel is a well ordered and balanced account

John

John 1v9 & 12: The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world… Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God John 20v31 - These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John presents the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ so that mankind would believe in Him as the Son of God, Messiah, and Saviour of the world. His selective argument portrays Christ as the God-Man. John records miracles and messages that affirm the deity and humanity of Christ. John builds his record around the public ministry of Christ, the private ministry, the cross, and the resurrection.

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Sep 18, 2011

Sermon - Rachel

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Rachel's Story

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Genesis 29v14-30

Now that may be to some a long passage, but it helps set up the story of Rachel.  Sounds like a modern day soap opera like Holby City, Eastenders or Coronation Street doesn't it? Rachel had a fairly complicated family structure as we have seen, so lets try to unravel it!

Rachel's sister Rebekah was Jacob's mother. Rebekah trained Jacob to scheme in order to gain his father's blessing and promised him that she would take the results of the deceitful act upon herself. Rachel became Jacob's wife, but only after Laban had tricked him into marrying Leah, the older daughter first. We can wonder if Rachel encouraged Jacob in his trickery, or if she was influenced by him to think first of herself at the expense of others. Whether his mother and/or his wife influenced Jacob, or indeed if he influenced them, both Rebekah and Rachel serve as examples of the outcome of sinful deceit and discontent.

Some personal details about Rachel

So, who was Rachel?

  • Born in Aramea (Syria)
  • Daughter of Laban
  • Second wife of Jacob, her first cousin.
  • Mother of Joseph & Benjamin.
  • Ancestress of three tribes of Israel- Benjamin, Ephraim & Manasseh (Sons of Joseph).
  • Possessed great beauty (Genesis 29:17)
  • Devious (Genesis 31:19, 34-35)
  • Not single-minded in devotion to God.
  • Probably did not put away her idols until shortly before she died.
  • Her sorrow is depicted by Jeremiah (Jeremiah. 31), to signify the sorrow of Israel's people at the exile of Israel to Assyria and Babylon.

Now let us look at some of the main people involved in the life of Rachel: her father, sister, husband and children.

Her Father

Firstly, here is Laban - her dad!  Laban was a crafty sort of character. Over the course of 20 years he switched Jacob's wives, wages and livestock for his own advantage. He was devious and deceitful. It was probably his philosophy that Rachel imitated in her long search for fulfilment, for she too, was always looking to protect or enhance her own position be means of cheating and deceit. Although she resembled her father in this way, Rachel had little respect for him. The only subject about whom she seemed to agree with Leah about was that their father had cheated them. Jacob told his wives that he had noticed that Laban's attitude toward him had changed (Genesis 31:2), and that God had directed him to return to the land of his fathers (Genesis 31:14-16). But Rachel went one further step than her sister. She stole her father's household gods, the inheritance, and Jacob did not know either. When Laban found out, and caught up with Jacob, Jacob angrily insisted that Laban search among his goods, and he promised to put to death anyone found to have taken them (Genesis 31:33-35).

Her Sister

Secondly, lets look at Rachel's sister Leah.  To a certain point, Rachel's relationship with her sister affected her marriage with Jacob since Leah also happened to be married to Jacob (Genesis 30:11). There began a fierce competition between the Leah and Rachel over their rights to Jacob's sexual attention. Rachel insisted that Jacob sleep with her maid Bilhah so that she could build a family through her servant. Two sons were born, Dan & Naphtali (Genesis 30:1-8). When Leah stopped bearing children of her own, she gave her maid Zilpah to Jacob. Two more sons were added. Rachel was far from satisfied her jealousy was not eased.

(Genesis 30:14-16) During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, "Please give me some of your son's mandrakes."

But she said to her, "Wasn't it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son's mandrakes too?"

"Very well," Rachel said, "he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son's mandrakes."

So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. "You must sleep with me," she said. "I have hired you with my son's mandrakes." So he slept with her that night.

We may be surprised to see in this passage Jacob's abdication of his own authority over the household in the face of these fighting sisters!!! We see Leah's readiness to drive a hard but petty bargain when she had the opportunity. But we also see the extent to which Rachel jealously guarded her territorial claim to Jacob against her sister. Rachel was not the older sister, nor the first wife, but she was clearly the more dominant woman. Though she granted her a night with Jacob in exchange for mandrakes, Rachel would have had to answer no the Leah's question, "Wasn't it enough that you took away my husband?" No, she would have to respond! Discontent continued to smoulder within her, as not one thing was ever enough for Rachel.

Her Husband

Thirdly here is her husband, Jacob! When Jacob fled from the wrath of his brother Esau, he obeyed his mother's advice and went to Haran in search of his uncle Laban. First he found Rachel, a shepherdess, and daughter of Laban. Jacob identified himself as her cousin, kissed her, and wept aloud. Rachel was a very beautiful woman, and Jacob was soon falling head over heels in love with her. He offered to work for Laban to earn Rachel as his bride. (Genesis 29:20). On the wedding night, however, the crafty Laban put his daughter Leah into the marriage bed. Jacob was angry, but there was nothing to be done but to fulfil Leah's bridal week and then marry Rachel. (Genesis 29:30).

Later, in the wake of the sisters' competition over children, two maidservants were elevated to wife status as well, but Rachel was always the most loved. We see this in the care with which Jacob protected her by placing her with Joseph at the end of the caravan when he met Esau again after 20 years (Genesis 33:1-3). Years later, Jacob's preference for Rachel's children Joseph and Benjamin was painfully obvious to his other ten sons (Genesis 37:3, 45:18-19). Unfortunately, the only person who failed to recognize this supreme love and to rest in it, was Rachel herself.

God's gifts of love, beauty, or intelligence, can only reach their full potential for His glory when they are acknowledged and received by the individual who has received them. The extent to which these gifts are developed depends largely on the person's attitude and response to them. In the same way, a woman may be loved by a man, but she will only radiate that love the degree that she chooses to receive and rest in it. Rachel was more beautiful and beloved than her sister Leah, yet Leah learned to find peace through focusing on God's care in the midst of her difficult circumstances. Neither God's blessing of physical beauty nor the love of Jacob was enough for Rachel.

Her Children

Now finally: her children. For 13 years Rachel was childless. The social problems for women with no children were terrible. Rachel must have suffered a lot whenever Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah became pregnant, while she remained childless. She took out her frustration on her poor husband Jacob, even though it was not his fault and he would not have it put upon him (Genesis 30:2). God's participation in the miracle of life is evident in these chapters, especially Genesis 29:31; 30:17 when God remembered Leah, and also when Rachel finally becomes pregnant Genesis 30:22-24. Rachel had waited a long time for God to bless her in this way. Perhaps He was waiting to see whether her attitude might improve. It did not. Rachel stubbornly refused to be satisfied with her circumstances. She persisted in looking at the negative side of her situation. When Rachel's maid Bilhah bore Jacob a son in her name, she named him Dan (Genesis 30:6) which means "God has vindicated.". While recognizing God had heard her prayers, she regarded the child as her right to make up for her past suffering, rather than a free gift to her out of His love. When Bilhah's second son was born she named him Naphtali, which means "my struggle". Again she considered the child a sign of victory over her sister in reward for her unhappiness. Even the birth of Rachel's own son Joseph did not satisfy her (Genesis 30:23-24). One son was not enough. Nothing was enough.

Many years passed. Jacob built up his herds and left Laban (Genesis 31). He was reconciled with his brother Esau (Genesis 32 & 33). He settled in Shechem, where his elder sons killed all the men and plundered the city in revenge for the violation of their sister (Genesis 34). God told Jacob to move his family to Bethel, where he renewed his covenant.

(Genesis 35:16-18). Here Rachel aptly expressed her perception of her whole life and revealed her capacity for self-pity when as she died giving birth, named her baby Ben-Oni "son of her trouble." Her devoted husband over-ruled her choice and gave him the name that means "son of my right hand", Benjamin, suggesting that perhaps not only that he would treasure this son in a special way, but also that Rachel had been like a right hand to him. Rachel was probably a very positive supportive wife for Jacob, but this cannot be proved from what the Bible says. When Rachel died, Jacob honoured her tomb with a pillar, and to this day the site apparently remains an important landmark for Jews in Bethlehem. In her lifetime, however, it seems that all Rachel constructed - was a monument to her own misery.

The Story continues

There we have the pen portraits of Rachel's father Laban, Rachel's sister Leah, Rachel's husband and Rachel's children - with an gleaning idea of her relationship with all of them.

Here it is perhaps helpful to discuss 2 points about culture at that time. First, the household gods represented tokens of inheritance more than just symbols of idolatry. Whoever had them, could lay claim to a man's property after his death. Second, as God later spelled out for the Israelites, it was considered an act of uncleanness to touch a woman during her period of menstruation or anything on which she sat (Leviticus 14:19-23). God intended it as a health precaution, but Rachel used it to hide her theft. As she expected, Laban did not bother searching any further.

Because she had an older sister and several brothers, Rachel must have realized that she had no real claim to her father's property, regardless of who had the idols. Her act was spontaneous, motivated by a desire to retaliate against her family rather than for self gain. The combination of stealing and lying was simply another expression of the dissatisfaction. The household gods were buried after Jacob commanded them to be (Genesis 35).

What alternative did Rachel have? How can people resolve their feelings of resentment in productive, permanent ways? Leah's life demonstrates a determination to face facts, confess her feelings and focus on the Lord as a reliable source of fulfilment in every circumstance. Jacob also learned to accept his difficult situation by finding evidence of God's blessing even in the midst of hardship (Genesis 31:5, 7, 9). But Rachel consistently refused to be comforted by the blessings God had faithfully provided. She chose instead to brood over her father's treachery, her sister's fertility, her husband's conflicting duties and her own failure to have children. Rather than making the best of her current circumstances, she was haunted be the past and her unfulfilled dream of what could have been; and consistently entered into self-pity parties. She insisted on trying to twist the future into what she wanted.

To be lovely and much loved is what so many people want to be and have. Yet it wasn't enough for Rachel: she wanted more.

So why is Rachel in the Bible? Firstly she is mentioned in Jeremiah 31, where she signifies the sorrow of Israel's people at the exile to Assyria and Babylon.  Then there is Matthew 2, where she symbolizes the sorrow of the women of Israel weeping at the loss of the babies during Herod's killing of children in the early years of Jesus. But thirdly and perhaps the most important reason is found in Ruth 4v11, where she is honoured with Leah by later generations as those "who together built up the house of Israel". This would seem to suggest that despite her obvious and many faults, Rachel with Leah, were well respected by the Jews as the "mothers" of Israel. There were 12 tribes of Israel, all sons or grandsons of Jacob, and heard his prophecies concerning them & their future (Genesis 49). The names of the twelve tribes were Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Gad, Asher, Dan, Naphtali, Benjamin and the sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh. Levi, the third son was not included amongst the tribes given land. Moses instead set the Levites apart to be priests (Numbers 3:1-4, 49).

Conclusion

Perhaps there are 3 kinds of people here tonight.

Firstly, if you are a Christian here tonight, how and in what way are you like Rachel?  As you go through your day, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you ways in which you may well be deceitful, vengeful, dwelling on the past bitterly or engaged in constant self-pity.  Are you like Rachel, headed downhill on a course of dissatisfaction that may end in dishonesty and deceit, or in disappointment and despair? Accept God's love. Believe that in every trial He desires us to draw closer to Him, so that we can be energized by Him and realize that He alone and only He is enough.

Ask for forgiveness for dwelling on the past and any inappropriate behaviour where those things were involved.  God is faithful and just and will forgive if you go to Him with a penitent heart.  Then no long dwell on those things, for they are in the past, are forgotten and not to be remembered any more.  So forgetting what is past, go into the future with a new outlook of service to God and others.  That way your life will be a living prayer and a living witness to others about the great God you serve, love and worship.

Secondly, you may be a Christian but you are the victim of somebody else's deceit and dishonesty - then forgive them before God and as far as it is possible, ask that person for forgiveness.  Bitterness, envy and pride can eat away and cause much misery, sin and depression.

Finally, if it happens that you are not a Christian here tonight, then please do see one of the leaders or myself and we would be glad to tell you how you can be free from a life of dissatisfaction, deceit and dishonesty - both as the victim and perpetrator of such things.  Know that Jesus Christ is above deceit, never dissatisfies and is never dishonest - His word is true and He seeks you, to be in  a relationship with you, where His love is always serving, always humble and always satisfies.  As I said, come and see one of us after if that is you..

Thank you.

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Sep 13, 2011

Sermon - Ruth

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The Character Of Ruth

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Please do turn in your bibles to the book of Ruth 1

There are perhaps two reasons why we study about people in the Bible - to learn how not to do some things like being deceitful, and how to do the right things like this mornings example Ruth. So this morning we are going to look together at the book of Ruth and discover who Ruth was, what is her story and how we can learn from her as we seek to live a godly and righteous life in Britain in 2009. Tonight we will be looking at the character of Rachel and how she fits into salvation history and how we can learn lessons from her. But on with this morning and Ruth!

Perhaps the key verses for the book of Ruth, which would help us summarise this short story are as we read in Ruth 1v15-18:

The book of Ruth is a cameo story of love, devotion and redemption set in the black days of the Judges. It tells the story of a pagan woman giving up everything to cling to the people of Israel and to God Himself. Shows her faithfulness when the nation was faithless.

Doesn't that sound a nice lovely story and wouldn't it be good just to leave it at that, and not learn more about the character of Ruth. The greatest thing about Ruth, that we are going to learn about is, her obedience. Indeed elsewhere in Scripture it says that obedience is better than sacrifice. The story of Ruth as we have seen celebrates the gentle beauty of love and loyalty between individuals, and it shows the positive power of obedience to God for both personal fulfilment and wider blessing. By committing herself to Naomi, as well as to Naomi's God, Ruth found satisfaction in service. Instead of losing her identity by her voluntary and complete submission, Ruth's place in Israel and history is confirmed. There are four things about her obedience, that we living in 2009 would be wise to copy as we seek to follow this God with obedient lives that are worthy of Him.

1. WOW! obedience.

Firstly, her obedience is surprising - it has a wow factor to it! The harmony between Ruth and her mother-in-law is even more appealing when we consider the two unusual facets that could have driven them apart.

  • Firstly, Mahlon, the natural connecting link between Ruth and Naomi was dead (Ruth 1 :3-5). Nothing specific is mentioned about the way the two women got along with each other while he was alive during those years in Moab. Instead, the story begins with the development of their relationship after Mahlon's death and at the time of the women's departure for Judah.
  • The second part of this wow, is that could have driven them apart was that Ruth was from Moab. A brief review of the history of this neighbouring nation proves that its land and people were clearly off limits for the Jews. The founding father Moab was the result of Lot's incestuous union with his older daughter (Genesis 19:37). Though Moab was not on the list of nations to be entirely destroyed by the Israelites under Joshua, its worship of false gods were offensive and troublesome (Numbers 25). Judges 3 relates that Eglon the king of Moab, received power from the Lord to punish Israel for eighteen years. When the people of Israel again cried out to God, the Lord raised up the judge Ehud, to kill Eglon and defeat Moab, to bring peace for eighty years.

The story of Ruth as we have heard already, is placed at the time of the Judges. Elimelech's decision to take his family into Moab to escape the famine in Israel probably occurred at a time when Moab was subdued, or at least not hostile towards Israel. However, God, had told the Israelites not to marry into the surrounding nations or join in their worship of false gods. The fact that Naomi's sons chose Moabite women shows that they ignored this instruction. It also indicates the attraction of foreign influences to the Israelites, which God wanted them to stay away from. But we also see mercy in grafting into his line of blessing one Moabite because of her faith and obedience to Him.

Naomi had two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. In view of their position as Moabite widows, it may seem that Orpah's decision to return to her own mother's house was more natural than Ruth's when Naomi announced her determination to go back to Bethlehem in Judah. We could even argue that Orpah, after politely offering to accompany Naomi, was acting in accord with her mother-in-law's wishes by remaining in Moab with her own people. Ruth, however, clung to Naomi and refused to leave her. But Orpah's obedience was shallow, as her offer to go with Naomi was done out of duty not of love, and Naomi probably saw this and declined Orpah's offer. Ruth however, remained to finish her story and claim a place in the genealogy of David and also of Jesus (Mt 1 :5).

2. Witness in obedience.

Secondly there is a witness in obedience.  Ruth did more than merely remain with Naomi; she was in fact her main support, both during their journey and after arriving in Israel, even though she was a stranger in Bethlehem. News of her faithfulness obviously spread quickly as it  went before her into the fields of Boaz. When she asked why as a woman not from Israel was being treated so kindly, Boaz replied because of her support and friendship of Naomi You can see that in Ruth 2:11. Though directly attracted by her outward beauty and manner, Boaz was already -aware of her reputation for loyal love and service. We see this when Boaz tells her, "All my fellow townsman know that you are a woman of noble character" (Ruth 3:11).

Here we see the powerful testimony and witness of Ruth's relationship with Naomi. Her unselfish devotion to one person, characterized by her obedience, made her appealing to another person and to a whole community. However, Ruth did not abuse -or flaunt her obedience as long-suffering, but held it in her heart as love. She was not looking for praise or pity, and she seemed genuinely surprised that her service of Naomi had been seen and recognized. Not once did she complain about the leadership of Naomi or her own circumstances. Instead of bitterness there was beauty, in her attitude as well as on her face. Ruth found her obedience fulfilling. Her immediate and ultimate rewards far outweighed anything she could have anticipated.  Her obedience was a wow surprise but it was also a testimonial witness that had gone out before her.

3. Wholeness of obedience.

But just how did Ruth's obedience come to have such a tremendous impact on those around her? It all started with a personal commitment, a permanent decision that brought her peace and provided her with direction for all that followed. On the border of Moab, Ruth had told Naomi of her commitment (Ruth 1:16-17) as we read earlier. Ruth's commitment was absolute. Rather than constraining her, this new commitment gave her new purpose and opportunity to develop her character. When they arrived in Bethlehem, Ruth volunteered to pick up the leftover grain (Ruth 2:2). When she returned to Naomi, Ruth shared her grain with Naomi and told her about her day. Then it was Naomi who sensed God's direction and gave Ruth detailed instructions as to how to approach Boaz, which Ruth obeyed perfectly (Ruth 3:1-6). Ruth 4:17 indicates that after Ruth's future and family were secure, Naomi was included in the household redeemed by Boaz, for when the neighbours noticed how much she cared for Obed they said "Naomi has a son." Truly the deepest love, trust and respect were at the centre of Ruth's & Naomi's relationship, bringing both of them mutual fulfillment.

As Ruth obeyed Naomi, so she obeyed Boaz, both at their first meeting and later at the threshing floor. She won both the admiration of Naomi and Boaz as much by the quickness of her unquestioning responses as by her completeness in carrying out commands. Ruth won respect because she offered her respect in the form of obedience.  Her obedience was total and complete.  Not through coercion, but by love and adoration.

4. Worship by Obedience.

Then finally, Ruth's obedience was also worship.  How is this? The result of Ruth's obedience was Obed, the child fathered by Boaz as kinsman-redeemer, the one would inherit the family land and name in place of Naomi's dead husband and sons. Obed in Hebrew means "worship". Is not obedience really the outward action that derives from the inner response of faith love, and trust practised in regard to individuals and God? Jesus said "If you love me, you will obey what I command!" (John 14:15). Ruth's acts of obedience throughout this her story, are also practical acts of worship of the God she had made her own by faith.

So Ruth's obedience has four factors to it: the wow factor, the witness factor, the wholeness factor and finally the worship factor!

Conclusion

Let us ask God to work in us, changing our weak attempts at obedience into acts of divine worship. We find delight in serving the Lord, instead of indulging in resentment over sinful leaders. The result will be inner freedom and release from bitterness, and also a powerful story to those in authority and to onlookers as well. Just as too Ruth's obedience of Naomi, moved Boaz and all Bethlehem, the Holy Spirit will enable us move others (Colossians 3:23-24). While we obey others we can joyfully remember that it is God alone who is worthy of complete obedience. When our confidence in Him is reflected in our submission to others we become living stories to our trust in God's perfect plan. If we follow the example of Ruth, perhaps someone will notice our stories and find the witness, the wholeness, and the worship in our lives of obedience and praise God because of us. And, remember this from 1 Samuel 15v22 "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams."

So go from here and be obedient to our awesome and holy God! Through obedience to Him as revealed in Scripture, you will be growing and changing into the very likeness of Jesus Christ whom you follow. Through obedience, you will be able to enduring and be persistent in your Christian lifestyle and evangelism. So much so, that people will ask you for the reason for the hope you have and portray.

Finally, you may well be here tonight but are not yet a follower of Jesus Christ. If that is indeed you, please do not leave here tonight without making yourself known to one of the leaders, or to me, and we will gladly talk more about this Jesus to you.

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Jul 24, 2011

Daniel 8 - Worlds In Conflict

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Daniel 8

Worlds In Conflict

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We come tonight to a very interesting passage of Scripture. From Chapter 2 to 7, we have had a wide angled panoramic view, and now from Chapter 8 to 12 we zoom in on specific areas which were previously covered in Chapters 2 to 7. In Chapter 7, we have seen that the prophet Daniel had a dream of 4 animals, which were a winged lion, a bear, a winged leopard and a beast.

Father as we come to look at this part of your Written Word the Bible, speak through me so that You alone will be honoured and glorified. I pray and that we may leave here knowing we have met with you and heard from you. Amen.

Introduction

Here in Chapter 8, we look at the bear, which here is described as a ram, and a winged leopard that is described as a goat. Unlike his previous two visions which occurred at night, this one occurs during the day. Daniel was transported in the Spirit to Susa, a major city of the Babylon & Persian empires. He sat down beside the Ulai canal, nine hundred feet wide and connected two large rivers so that boats could easily pass from one to the other. Spiritually seated by the river, he lifted up his eyes. He saw a ram, a male sheep, that had two horns, and as he watched, one of its horns became larger than the other. We can be in no doubt that this ram is symbolic of the Medo-Persian Empire, because it is told to us in verse 20. The horn that grew large was the Persian empire, which gradually took over from the Medes. The king of Persia also carried the image of a ram in front of him whenever he went into battle. It is natural for rams to be aggressive and to butt. The ram here goes in every direction, but east. Historically we know that the Medo-Persian empire did not gain much territory to the East. Suddenly - the dream changes.

Coming in from the West, races a male goat that is travelling so fast that its feet do not touch the ground. Verse 21 tells us that this is the Greek Empire, and the horn is its 'first king' Alexander the Great. In actual fact he named one of his sons, Alexander Goat. The feet not touching the ground signified the speed with which Alexander won battles over a vast area from Africa to India. The goat in verse 6 collides with the ram, breaks the rams' horns and humiliates it, crushing and destroying it. This reflects how the Medo-Persian Empire fell to the Greeks.

Then we read that the goat, at the height of its power, was broken by the unseen hand of God. Alexander the Great became inflated with pride at the speed and number of battle victories, but his arrogance was short lived and he died at the age of 32. The goat, Alexander, was replaced by 4 horns. These historically are - Macedonia under Cassander; Thrace and Asia Minor under Lysimachus; Syria under Seleucus; and Egypt under Ptolemy. Again, history has followed what Scripture said would happen.

In verse 9, Daniel notices that 'Out of one of them came a little horn.' From a small beginning it grew to great power, and its power stretched south and east, and then into the 'Beautiful Land' of Canaan. There is no doubt that this refers to that horrible man of history, Antiochus Epiphanes. He, as predicted, came from the Seleucid section and took Egypt with an immense army, following that by taking Elymais and Armenia. Then he invaded Canaan. This man, the little horn referred to, arose as the great persecutor of God's people.

Things to Learn!

There were 5 main things that we learn about his rule from this passage -

1. v10/24 No justice. He persecuted the Jews. Stars being either leading Jews or authorities.

2. v11/12a No righteousness. He exalted himself higher than the Prince of Peace, and blasphemed God by holding idolatrous sacrifices in the temple.

3. v12b/25 No truth. He attacked truth consistently and practised deception. He would often wait until he had someone's trust before turning upon them.

4. v12b No peace. Evil prospered

5. v25 No mercy. He was struck down by the invisible hand of God. It is documented that he fell ill in a small town in Egypt, and while on his sick bed, wrote to the Jews saying that he himself would become a Jew if only God would save him. God showed him no mercy, for the evil that he had performed on God's people and the attacks upon God Himself.

In verse 14, we are told that it would last about 2300 evenings and mornings until the sanctuary will be made holy again. Some scholars say that this is about 6.25 years. Antiochus Epiphanes rule lasted from 171 to 165 BC. Other teachers say that this is about 3.5 years. The temple was used for heathen sacrifice for the last 3.5 years of Antiochus Epiphanes life. The end of time referred to in verses 17 - 19, could refer to 2 things. Firstly, it could refer to the end of Antiochus Epiphanes reign of terror over the Jews, when the Jews could expect the Messiah to come and end God's indignation with the Jews. Secondly, it could mean the period of the Gentiles, which is from Nebuchadnezzar's reign to the 2nd coming of Jesus.

Applying it to ourselves!

Whichever theory is correct, there are still applications that apply to our lives today.

Firstly, rampant evil and not peace will rule on earth until Jesus comes again. We look around the world and we see conflicts and wars everywhere - Iraq, Afghanistan, throughout Africa & Asia. There will be always people like Antiochus Epiphanes. People like Hitler and the slaughter of the Jews in the 1930's & 1940's; or Idi Amin in Uganda; or Pol Pot and the Khemer Rouge in Cambodia/Kampuchea; Stalin and the former USSR Communist bloc; Ceacescu and Romania. The submission to the state or government of all citizens, being forced to accept government decrees. There will also always be the limitation of freedom to worship.

I can still see the remains in the mass graves in the destruction of Cambodia coming from my television screen, where even to think any kind of individual thought was suppressed and all books were destroyed. Or the pictures of the desecration of the millions of Jews during the 2nd World War. Or how about the persecution of religious peoples under the regimes in China, Romania and the former USSR. And here in England, or the USA or even Australia, the threats to us and our Christianity are probably more subtle. We see the media laughing at well-known Christians for their Christian stance, whenever they are in the spotlight. In many countries around the globe, where Christianity is illegal, suppressed or forced to fit into the confines of Government thinking.

The attacks upon us here in the West are not so direct, but much more subtle. Frogs, when placed in a pot of cold water do not feel the subtle rise in the water temperature when the pot is placed on a stove with a low heat. Let us not be frogs. One day we are going to be attacked because we are Christians, and to think otherwise is clearly unbiblical.

Secondly, what do we do when it comes. It is natural for us when persecution hits us to ask why, but our reaction should probably be like the 2nd angel and ask "How long?" We shouldn't be surprised when persecution comes to us, and be like the Romanians who also asked, not why, but How long?

Thirdly, notice that the people who commit such atrocities, and are great powers here on earth, are described as 'little horns' and are just that, little. Little in comparison to our awesome God. He is the invisible hand, who merely sweeps them away with one quick brush of his 'invisible hand'. Is this not a God worthy of our praise and worship? These men could only harm the flesh, not the soul. Their power was brittle, like the horns on the goat and ram, and broken by the hand of God. Where is Hitler now? Dead and buried. Where is Stalin? Dust in the frozen ground. Where is Antiochus Epiphanes now? Dust blown in the wind. Where is Alexander the Great? Dust spread across the deserts he so easily conquered. All these men are dead, but where is our God? Alive forevermore!

Fourthly, we bow the knee not to a rampaging ram or a galloping goat, but to the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who is our horn of Salvation. When all other horns have come and gone, we still have our horn of salvation in Him. When all the rams and goats have crossed the stage of history, God has His Lamb (Rev 5:12-13). All through the Bible, and all history as we know it, there have been dominions and powers that have lasted only a short passage of time. The kingdom of Jesus, however, is not a passing fad or temporary kingdom but an everlasting one with Jesus Himself as the Lamb and Horn of Salvation. That is why we can take Jesus into our place of work and study and into our cities with power. Even if all our friends and family reject Jesus, we should still identify with Him. All other powers are simply passing in the wind. No other power will prevail, and His peace will rule upon earth. All that harms His people will come to nothing, and we will live forever with Jesus as our Horn of Salvation.

Fifthly and lastly, we need to deal with the 'little horns' of sin within our lives. Horns, throughout the Bible and history have been symbolic of power. Whatever sins are hidden in our hearts, we need to get rid of them and repent of them. For the longer any individual sin is within us, the more power it tries to control us with, if we do not hand it over to the Lord in prayer and action. The less we repent of sins, the less we grow in spiritual maturity and personal holiness. Let each one of us destroy the power of the 'little horns' of sin, by repenting and turning away from them, and allowing our Horn of salvation, destroy them by continuing to hand them over to Him.

Conclusion!

You may not be yet a follower, so I would urge you most strongly to accept His call upon you. You may not get another chance. This Jesus Christ said he was coming back again. Not as a baby next time, but in full glory, power and majesty. He will be coming back to gather those who are in relationship with Him and to wipe the tears of suffering and joy from their eyes. Those who are found not to be in relationship with Him will spend eternity without Him. He gives each of us, innumerable opportunities to enter into relationship with Him. This Jesus wants to connect with you in an intimate, spiritual relationship - His eyes wander the earth looking for those willing to submit themselves to His authority. If that is you, then please do see Pastor Adam, one of the leaders or the person that brought you here tonight, to find out how you can start this relationship with the Living God, Jesus Christ. He calls you by name.

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