feast: Deuteronomy (Part 6)
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 09-Oct-01; Sermon #FT01-13; 79 minutes
God is absolutely faithful to finish what He envisioned from eternity, knowing the end from the beginning. God is meticulously building a family, fashioning experiences (bad and good), blessings and trials in order to help us grow and mature as His offspring. Our strength to grow and produce fruit is dependent upon the relationship we have with God and Jesus Christ (John 15:2-5). We need to remain faithful to God's shaping powers, regardless of where they take us, realizing that God is lovingly faithful to finish His creative work in us, metaphorically polishing the stones in His spiritual temple.
Able Arrogance Blood of the Lamb Body Book of remembrances Branch and vine Building Chastisement Deliverance from enemies Deuteronomy Egypt Endure Enemies Eternity Expansion of covenant Faithful Firstfruits Follow-through Free ticket Future Grace Holy Spirit Humility Idolatry Inheritance Judgment of God Marching orders Martyr On-the-edge Overcome Past Pattern Paul Pay the price Place of safety Plan of God Present Providence of God Psalms Recalls Satan Satan?s wrath Sleep Suns of God Sovereignty Timeline of God Tribulation Vine and branches Weary of well-doing Word of God Work of God
Please turn with me to Ephesians 6, verses 17-20, where Paul writes:
Ephesians 6:17-20 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds: that there in I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
I feel sure that you have prayed for God's inspiration on the preparation and delivery of the sermons and the sermonettes. I believe, from our experience here, that God has responded. I don't mean He has responded by making us as infallibly accurate as the original scriptures were, but I do mean that He has made us generally so, especially in terms of the themes of the messages.
Even Richard's offering message this morning fits the theme of my sermon ["The Only Sure Thing"]. It was a wonderful entry, opening the doorway to what I want to say. In reflecting back upon the themes of the sermons and sermonettes during the feast, I want you to understand that I did not assign a single subject, nor did Richard, nor did Martin. None of us did anything except what came to our own minds. Whether it was a man in Kansas City, or Portland, or Anaheim, or Hawkins, Texas, everybody was thinking on their own. The only thing I did ask was that they send me a brief summary of the theme so if there was a note of themes, then I could let them know and maybe something could be worked out.
By evaluating the themes I think God has given us in this feast, I believe He has given us our marching orders. They were accentuated by the sobering, prophetic messages that were received yesterday morning. One of those messages primarily was taken from the Old Testament, and one was taken primarily from the New Testament. But we received, I think, a very sobering preview, possibly, of what lies ahead of us, and also what Richard was alluding to in a portion of his sermonette this morning.
I want you to turn back to Revelation 12, verses 9 and 11.
Revelation 12:9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
Revelation 12:11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.
I think that God has shown us that we need to get ready for a period of increasingly, deteriorating social and cultural conditions in our nations—that we must be prepared not merely to endure through them, but actually to GROW right through the difficulties. Notice that is says in verse 11, that the brethren are prophesied to actually manage to overcome in the face of the stiffest opposition, and the opportunity is presented to them to submit to the wrong kind of fear.
Believe you me, Satan and his demons are far more able to create fear than any man is able to. He will use men, but the power motivating and inciting the conditions that produce the fear for you and me are being done at his behest.
Why they are able to accomplish overcoming is represented by the phrase, "They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb." That is just representative of all that the blood of the Lamb opens up to us by way of gifts and contact, access to God, and thus the enabling it takes in order for us to overcome.
Without that blood we would have no access to God. Without that blood we would have no access to the gifts. Without that blood there would be no strengthening, no empowering, no enabling us to overcome Satan. Anybody who does not have those gifts is a pushover for Satan! He is so slick, and mankind is so vulnerable, that he does not have a hard time doing that.
It is only those who possess the capabilities, who are able to discern what is going on by the conduct of those around them, (and maybe the attitudes that are being shown to them in the events), that are able to discern the real source of what is going on, and to then mount up a defense by calling upon God and the power, and the strengthening, and the enabling that He is able to give and they are able to have only because they have been spending a lot of time developing their relationship with Him. God is very willing to give them the help that they need. They may be martyred, if it goes that far, but nonetheless, they are able to stand faithful to the end.
I don't believe for a moment that one gets a free ticket into the place of safety just because they fellowship with a certain group. That free ticket approach takes God's sovereignty, God's purposes in witnessing through whom He wills, and human choice, right out of the picture. I think it is very interesting to consider the examples given in God's word—it tends to be the strongest who are martyred. If not the strongest, at least the stronger ones.
One would think, humanly, these people did a good job in their life. They overcame and they grew all during the time they were in contact with God, then it ought to be given to them as a gift to be able to escape. It happens to some, but it doesn't happen to others. Great men and women have died a martyr's death and they died witnessing for God.
I think that we are on the cusp of something like that beginning to make the moves toward occurring. I did see a statistic not long ago, and forgive me because I have forgotten the statistics, I only remember the general theme of what was said, that more people professing Christianity died as martyrs last year than any other year in history of man.
Those things are just a prelude of things to come. We might say that Satan is working up a head of steam and there are going to be an awful lot of people, that you and I may not consider to be Christians, who are going to be martyred, right along with those who truly are Christians, simply because of their profession of faith, simply because they recognize what the Bible says and they are willing to go to their death for the One they consider to be their Savior.
At least doctrinally, as we would consider it, we would not consider them to be Christian. I won't judge them. Paul says, don't judge anything before its time. We are too quick to judge. We'll just have to wait until God shows us. But an awful lot of people are going to get caught in Satan's movements to create havoc on earth. We know very clearly that the ultimate object of Satan's wrath is going to be God's church. Everything else is going to be swept up within the chaos that he is creating in order to get to the church.
Sometimes I feel that the statements I hear being made by church members regarding their particular group, that it virtually has a free ticket to the place of safety, is nothing but a misleading lure used for the advantage of a leader who attempts to get members. Or, it is used to create fear within those who are already members with that group, to keep them from leaving the fellowship for elsewhere. Again, I make this judgment, but that's the way it appears to be, as a distinct possibility.
News of the world's declining economy when combined with terrorism's most shocking and vivid displays of hatred and envy of the Israelitish people, I feel signal the beginning of ever increasing stress. Stress is a simple but true synonym for the Greek word thlipsis, which is translated 'tribulation' in English Bibles. We're going to need things to buck us up, to strengthen us, to encourage us, to give hope, to remind us as we get deeper into the declining conditions.
I'm going to be continuing the subject of God's faithfulness because it is so important in these regards. It is so important to our continued sense of well-being. Ultimately, brethren, when push comes to shove, we are saved only because God is faithful. I want you to mark that down. It is His faithfulness that saves us.
Brethren, we must live by faith. It is an absolutely unavoidable responsibility. It is faith from which qualities like love and the fear of God arise. But God's faithfulness is the foundation of our faith. It is not merely that God exists, but that God can be trusted that ultimately drives us. What He says always comes to pass because we're dealing with His word. Our God not only is. He is sovereign. When that is combined with His providence, there is an absolutely firm foundation for living life as it should be lived.
Many men and women have died in the defense of the United States of America, Britain, Canada, Australia, and of South Africa. They did it because they believed in the way of life that was lived in their nation. Shouldn't we be willing to die for the way of life of the nation of which we are now citizens? This may be what God is calling upon us to do. It is no greater than what the American government, Canadian government, British government, South African government, Australian government, Norwegian government, or Swedish government calls upon their citizens to do—to die, to be willing to die, to sacrifice themselves for the way of life that they have been born into and grown up in, and gave them the life and prosperity and liberties that they enjoy.
I think we Americans know full well, as we get more and more understanding of what is going on in this world, that no nation has ever been blessed with liberties, combined with prosperity and peace, as Americans have. That is the envy of these people who are attacking us. In a way, I can't blame them for attacking us, because we have brought it on ourselves by our arrogance, by our pride that is at the root of all of our disobedience to God.
Our internal sins are coming against us and God is using those nations to bring us low and to bring us to humility so that we will be able to be worked with, to be converted, and to eventually be in His kingdom. When I say "we," I'm talking about the citizens of our countries.
God cannot begin something without finishing it. He is that faithful. When He begins it, He follows His own command to work at it with all of His might, (which we are supposed to learn to do), and He finishes what He starts. He doesn't do things halfway. He doesn't grow frustrated. He doesn't get tired or bored and then quit as we are very likely to do.
Let's go back to Deuteronomy 7, that scripture we began a couple of different messages from. Deuteronomy 7:9, where God is telling those people, and of course the principle applies to you and me, but He's telling those people why they came to be under Him, why they were chosen. It certainly was not because of their greatness at all.
Deuteronomy 7:9 Know therefore that the LORD your God, he is God, the faithful God, which keeps covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations.
It was God's faithfulness to His promise to Abraham that motivated what He did for the children of Israel in Egypt.
You might recall, as I began this subject on faithfulness, I said that there are actually two subjects here. One is addressed indirectly, the other directly. The indirectly addressed subject is grace. The one addressed directly is God's faithfulness. Understand this—grace is actually an aspect of God's providence, of His faithfulness. The providence of God exists because of His faithfulness. That's the bottom line as to why He provides. His grace then stems out of His providence and faithfulness.
He supplies whatever is needed for carrying out His purpose in us. God's grace is a part, of course, of His character. It's an aspect of His faithful character and we have been called because God has been full of grace toward us. We covered that in Romans 9, a very wonderful chapter in which Paul is covering essentially the same subject that is covered by Deuteronomy 7, in showing why we, Israelites and Gentiles together, are in the church. He uses that statement that he got out of Malachi: "Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated."
God has hated, as it were, your neighbor, but He has loved you. God has loved Israel, but God hated the neighboring nations of Israel. God made a covenant only with Israel, which was their greatest gift. It's our greatest gift too in that sense, because it starts us down the road to all the other things so that we come in contact with the blood of Jesus Christ, and all of the good things that open up as a result of the contact with God. Without God's grace that would never occur. So what's He doing? In His faithfulness to Abraham, He is supplying you with what you need for salvation.
Grace and faithfulness are absolutely tied together as part of what we call the doctrine of God's providence. We have in no way earned our calling because we are such good people. Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. We were called while we were yet sinners. God sent forth His spirit while we were yet sinners in order to impress upon our minds a different perspective of life that really intrigued us and began to make us look into things we had never looked at before. It completely altered our lives just as surely as God's calling of Israel altered forever the lives of those people who were slaves in Egypt. Their lives were never the same after that, neither have your lives been the same once God began to do that which He has done and continues to do.
Let's go back to the book of Acts. The one who is speaking here is James, Jesus' brother. He makes an astounding statement.
Acts 15:18 Known unto God are ALL HIS WORKS from the beginning of the world [from eternity].
Way back, far beyond what our minds are able to obtain, lost in ages and ages and ages past, God knew what He wanted to do. That is what James in alluding to. All that has been done since has been done because God is faithful to His purpose and to His plan.
If you want to accomplish something, there is a reason why you want to accomplish it. That reason supplies your purpose, your vision of what you want done. To accomplish your purpose you devise a plan, which is sort of like a road map as it were, on how you are going to get from here to there. You see the completion of what it is you desire to accomplish. So, from start to finish, it very likely includes a timeline, that is, you want to accomplish your purpose within a certain length of time.
There is a statement in the Bible that God says He declares the end from the beginning. That's in the book of Isaiah:
Isaiah 46:9 Remember the former things of old: for I am God . . .
God wants us to look backwards. You find a great deal of that in the book of Deuteronomy. You find even more of it in the book of Psalms. In fact, there are commentators who call the book of Psalms the book of Remembrances. Have you ever thought about the book of Psalms? What are they doing there? They're always reflecting upon what God did in the past and then they update it to their situation. They said, "Because God has done this in the past and He is working in us right now, this is going to be accomplished in the future." That is the general pattern for virtually every psalm. But at the foundation of all of that poetry is "the former things."
This is why we have gone through the book of Deuteronomy, because it too is reflecting on the past and it supplies the foundation for the lessons that are within it. Moses then extrapolates on them as to what the solutions or our responsibilities are. So God says:
Isaiah 46:9-10 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.
What He starts, He finishes. He knows exactly where He is headed, and who can stop Him? We might speculate that we can, but is there any one of else who wants to stop Him from carrying out what He wants to do with you? We might say, "I agree with that, except I've got this little problem. I'm afraid of losing my life. I'm afraid of pain." Who can blame you for being afraid of pain? That's the way we are. But too frequently, when push comes to shove, what we should not do, we do, because we don't want to pay the price. God says He knows the end from the beginning. I think we agree with that, and we want Him to finish what He has started.
We should expect this principle I'm talking about—God knowing the end from the beginning—because manufacturers of products do this and so do we in a very small way. We create a reason. We get a purpose for doing what we're going to do and we see this is what we want to do. We make a little plan, and in that sense, in a very minor way, we know the end from the beginning, too.
The only thing is, the difference between us and God is we get there like this and He gets there like this. We hit and miss and we stutter. We have times when we back up, but we generally make our way to where we want to go. Sometimes we give up, but not God. He laid it out in advance and He knows exactly where He's going.
Do not manufacturers set up assembly lines in order to produce a product? The lines begin with raw materials and piece after piece is fit into what eventually becomes the product at the end of the line. God is producing a family. He is fitting piece after piece into that family. Just as surely as the manufacturer knows that there is a certain way to which the things have to be put together in order for the job to be done in an orderly, efficient, cost effective way, God knows those things far better than men do. God is creating a family. He started, perhaps with the top job under Christ, with Abraham. He keeps building out from under him.
Those manufacturers, too, know the end from the beginning. But again, it's on a minor scale compared to God, but certainly much larger than we think.
Besides the importance of the project, the major difference is that God is absolutely faithful to produce exactly what He envisioned from eternity, and absolutely faithful to finish it right down to the last detail to His satisfaction. He is the very best judge of what He is producing and how He needs to produce it.
I can't forecast to you exactly what you are going to go through and what I'm going to go through, because I don't even know what I'm going to go through. My life has already taken so many zigzags. Like I told you before, I never dreamed in all my days that I would be up here speaking before a group of people. But my life took that turn only because God had something in mind for me that He wanted me to do. He made sure that I got the training and experience that I need to do the job. I don't do it perfectly, not by a long shot, but the same general process is happening to you that is happening to me. But all along the way, brethren, we have to believe and trust in God's faithfulness.
I think there are many times any one of us could have bailed out on God, but we didn't. There were plenty of opportunities to go back to Egypt, but now we stand on the edge of the land, as it were, on the edge of our inheritance, and I don't want any of us, after coming this far, 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, 40, 45 years or so, and then, at the last moment, fail to take the steps to go into the land because of discouragement or fear.
Always remember, brethren, that God is faithful and He will supply all that we need.
Turn with me to James 1, to a another very familiar scripture.
James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift [and we've all received gifts from God] is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
Does our God not say, "I am God. I change not"? Does it not say in Hebrews 13:8, "Jesus Christ the same, yesterday, today and forever"? Their character never varies. Their purpose never varies. Their plan has been made from the very beginning and they are still working just as diligently to bring about what they have purposed to do. He has gone on through these 6,000+ years to this place where we are on the scene, and He is faithfully working with us, faithfully carrying out His promise to Abraham.
James 1:18 Of his own will [We didn't choose this. It was His choice.] begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
Each started down that road. Some of us have gone a longer way and a longer time, but nonetheless we're still facing, in principle, the same kind of things. We have the same basic kind of worries and concerns as well. Like I just said a little while ago, the feast is just long enough. I'm getting tired. And sometimes we get weary in well doing along the way. We get tired of the discipline that needs to be exercised. Sometimes we get tired and fearful of the chastisement we might have to face from God as He shapes us into what He wants. Sometimes that shaping is painful. Sometimes it takes a lot longer than we ever thought it would.
But it says in Philippians 1:6—another thing to put your confidence in:
Philippians 1:6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.
Here is a confirmation that what He starts, He finishes. Besides that, if you think of this in terms of making a product, there are no recalls. The product does not come out on the other end of God's creation process as deficient. It will be done. It will be done to the level, to the degree, that God feels is necessary. There will be no recalls because He's produced a flawed product. Can you think of anything that God has produced that is flawed? Everything that God makes, the closer you look at it the more perfect it is. The closer you look at what man has produced, the more flaws you see.
Let's go to another place in Philippians, in chapter 4. This is the concern, not so much with God producing something that is flawed, but the concern is that somehow or another we will not be able to do what He wants us to do, and our failures will prove to be a hurdle that is too great for us. A great deal of our lack of confidence is, really not so much in God, as it is in our own selves. As we continue to grow, we see more and more flaws in our selves—things that, indeed, should humble us and make us recognize how much we need the things that God can supply. We are afraid of letting God down, of not measuring up, of getting in a tight spot and bringing embarrassment on Him. But God is still on His throne and does He not say that He is always careful to not allow us to get into a position that is greater than we can bear?
In Philippians 4:13, let's consider for just a short amount of time this man.
Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.
Paul didn't mean he's going to be able to produce an atomic bomb. That's not what he meant at all. He meant that he would be able to do all things that God required of him that were involved within the work and the circumstances that God called him to.
You can go back in the book of Acts, chapter 9, where Paul's calling took place and I'll tell you, God laid out quite a plateful for that man, that was easily the equal of what God laid out for the other apostles as well.
We know the story, maybe not too well, but the Apostle Paul had a very difficult life. Something that we don't think of very often, is there is pretty strong information that Paul was part of the Sanhedrin, even as a young man. In order to be part of the Sanhedrin, you had to be married. There is no mention of Paul being married as an apostle. There is no indication he was leading about a wife. There are, incidentally, in Romans (I believe chapter 16) quite a number of Paul's relatives who are named, even very possibly is own mother is named there, as well as brothers (one brother at least), and others who may have been his relatives as well, who lived there in Rome. But where is Paul's wife? What happened to her? Did she die or did she divorce him? Either one of them are a possibility. But at any rate, he went the rest of his life, apparently, without a wife.
Maybe it was a good thing God took her away because of the kind of life he was going to have to lead. You know, you can read that list of things in the book of Corinthians, how many times he was beaten, how many times he suffered stripes. One time he was left for dead. He may have very well been dead, he was beaten so badly, and God had to resurrect him. He received all kinds of persecution from within and without the church; rigorous journeys he had to make, always, it seemed, on the move for the benefit of the church in his service of God—so many things; so many dangers. How long was the period of time he was floating around in the Mediterranean Sea, during storms? Who knows what all that man had to go through?
Now he says, "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me." The point being, if God did that for Paul, He'll do it for you. God will not withhold things from us. Regardless of the circumstances we happen to find ourselves, God is always equal to the task, but God wants us to continue to work on the relationship we have with Him, and to always make Him and His word a part of our thoughts and a part of our conduct.
Paul said that he knew, he learned, how to be abased and how to abound, and to be contented regardless. His ability to live on little or to survive contentedly under pressure does not mean he was some kind of spiritual superman, on the strength of his own abilities. Rather he is saying, right in this verse, "I can do all things through CHRIST!"
Paul's strengths were not inherent. There were gifts given, enabling him. So rather, he is saying, that our Father, through Jesus Christ, provided whatever strength he needed, thus enabling him to adapt to his ever-changing circumstances. God ordered Paul's situation and that same God gave him the wherewithal to live through them, contentedly, in spite of how perplexing and trying the circumstances were.
Philippians 4:18 But I have all . . .
He didn't have a great mansion he was living in and six white chargers to pull him all over the place in his chariot and very finest of clothing, always eating very nice steaks. But he says, "I have all." What did he mean? He had all that was necessary and important to Paul and salvation.
Philippians 4:18-19 . . . and abounding: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God. But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
Paul was saying that he had found God faithful in every situation. Whatever was needed, Paul had available to him by God supplying what he needed to do it.
Let's see something that applies a little bit more personally and directly to us, only this one comes from Jesus, and it's a very well known scripture in John 15.
John 15:5 I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.
Just as surely as a branch on a tree is dependent upon whatever is below it for its life, Jesus is the trunk for us and we are attached, as it were, to Him. Without Him we have no life. Without Him we can't produce the fruits that God wants out of our lives, because that sap, as it were—God's holy spirit—flows from Him to us. He is in us and we are in Him. We are a part of His body. He is part of our heart and mind, and His word, and what He is doing for us, and what He has done for us in the past, that is all there to give us guidance, direction, encouragement, and strength as we go through our lives. Brethren, our strength to grow, to endure, to overcome, to produce fruit, lies in the relationship that we have with Jesus Christ and the Father.
II Corinthians 3:5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.
In a sense, he is reflecting upon the fact that he is an apostle, and he is a pastor to those people there, not because he possessed the strength to do these things of the knowledge or the understanding of himself. When he was operating on the things that had been put in his mind by himself, he persecuted the church. He was the church's enemy. That's what he did with the things that were his own. He wasn't sufficient to be what God called him to be until God began giving him the gifts, the wherewithal to do the things God wanted him to do.
Again, brethren, I may say this over and over again, but I want us all to understand that we are no different than Paul. God supplies our need to function within the body just as surely as He did for the Apostle Paul. We are not sufficient on our own to do what He wants us to do. "Without Me you can do nothing!" All these things tie together in the same principle. GOD is providing faithfully, by means of His grace, to enable us to be in His kingdom.
It's becoming clearer and clearer, I hope, brethren, when this is combined with what is in the Old Testament, that you understand that Israel did not make it into the Promised Land on the strength of keeping the covenant themselves. They made it into the Promised Land only on the strength of God's providence, of which His grace is a major portion. Giving forgiveness and providing them with whatever they needed, as represented by things like the manna, and the water out of the rock, and the protection He gave them from the sun, from the weather, whatever. He was there, in a pillar of fire by night and in the cloud by day—all representative things of Him providing.
II Corinthians 3:5-6 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also has made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.
Even Jesus said that it was God in Him doing the works. He was a man. Even though He was God in the flesh, He was encumbered with humanity as well. He had to give acknowledgement to God that the real power was coming from the Father.
Let's make a little bit of a deviation. We're going to go back to the book of Luke, chapter 1, and verses 68-75. This is Zacharias' prophecy, and I just want to lift the principle out of here as it pertains to God's faithfulness, even though the term faithfulness or faithful is not mentioned.
Luke 1:68-70 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he has visited and redeemed his people [this is when Zacharias was telling of John the Baptist's birth], and has raised up an horn [a pillar of strength] of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began . . .
Do you notice how he is reflecting back? A very typical, inspired way of reminding people of God's pattern here. You begin in the past in your thinking, you update it to your situation, and then you envision the future and head that direction. God's patterns will never vary. He does that so we can have faith!
Luke 1:70-71 . . . As he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us.
It's coming, brethren. I don't know when, but this is eventually going to become what we face—our enemies.
Luke 1:72-75 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; the oath which he swore to our father Abraham [He takes it right back to its roots, that is, the covenant.], that he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.
Zacharias utters this as though it was already finished, but that portion of the work of God was only beginning—that part that John the Baptist was going to have a part in, because he was going to become the messenger that preceded the One who was going to come with the gospel and the New Covenant.
When God utters something, His character is so firm it is as good as done because He absolutely binds it upon Himself to follow through. That's what Zacharias is saying here. This is another step in God following through.
You just think of this prophecy all the way back to Abraham and then beyond him in time past, in the eternity, as Acts 15:18 says. God knew the end from the beginning. God knew His purpose and how He was going to work it out long before the earth was created. "Known unto God are all His works from eternity past."
We are part of something very big—a program covering thousands of years of time. Perhaps, if we want to go back into eternity when God was thinking all these things through, maybe billions of years. I don't know. But we are at the culminating point of another major step in God's plan.
We are part of something that is very big, encompassing lots of time and billions of potential sons of God. But then, brethren, we are already sons of God, you and me. There is more to come. We are the small forerunner of many, many more that He is preparing for when the next judgment begins and the work of God becomes bigger and more obvious.
Unlike men who are so variable in their conduct and forgetful of what they say, God remembers what He has promised. Back in I Corinthians, Paul writes on this very subject.
I Corinthians 1:4-8 I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ [part of His providence]; that in every thing you are enriched by him [once God starts, He begins to enrich us in every aspect of life so that we can fulfill our part within His work], in all utterance, and in all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you [the testimony of Christ was the gospel of the kingdom of God]: So that you come behind in no gift [another aspect of God's grace; another aspect of God's providence; another aspect of God's faithfulness]; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall also confirm you unto the end [just like Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6], that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God is not going to produce a flawed product. You're going to be blameless in His eyes, but it may take some rough going through to get us to be blameless, to lose the pride and be completely and totally humble before Him like a little child.
I Corinthians 1:9 God is faithful, by whom you were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
Again, each of us is in the church because He is faithful. That thought ought to encourage us. Even as He was faithful unto the fathers in former times, He will be faithful to us.
In I Thessalonians 5:14, this same apostle writes something there that touches on God's faithfulness once again.
I Thessalonians 5:14-16 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feeble minded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men. Rejoice evermore.
There are no people on the earth who have more to rejoice about than we do. There are no people on earth who have more to be thankful for than we do.
I Thessalonians 5:17-23 Pray without ceasing. In every thing [meaning in every circumstance] give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesying. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Notice why he said that:
I Thessalonians 5:24 Faithful is he that calls you, who also will do it.
Paul didn't have any doubts at all that God was going to faithfully follow through in giving us whatever it is we need.
Let's go back to the book of Deuteronomy and touch bases there at least one more time. Deuteronomy 4:25-31 is a warning. Most of chapter 4 is an exhortation concerning the lessons that are in Deuteronomy 1, 2, and 3.
Deuteronomy 4:25-29 When you shall beget children, and children's children, and you shall have remained long in the land, and shall corrupt yourselves [that's very interesting], and make a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, and shall do evil in the sight of the LORD your God, to provoke him to anger: I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that you shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto you go over Jordan to possess it; you shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed. And the LORD shall scatter you among the nations, and you shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the LORD shall lead you. And there you shall serve gods, the work of men's hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. But if from thence you shall seek the LORD your God, you shall find him, if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.
We are all going to go off the path that God has plotted out for us. We are all going to sin from time to time, but because God is faithful, He is holding the door open for us, like the prodigal son, to come back. Certainly, there are stipulations. There are requirements that we have to meet, and we have to seek Him with all of our heart and with all of our soul.
Deuteronomy 4:30 When you are in tribulation, and all these things are come upon you, even in the latter days . . .
This is aimed right at you and me. The latter days, the time of the end, the tribulation, the Day of the Lord—-all of which seem to be not that far away.
Deuteronomy 4:30-31 . . . if you turn to the LORD your God, and shall be obedient unto his voice; (For the LORD your God is a merciful God;) he will NOT forsake you, neither destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which he swore unto them.
What abiding faithfulness is expressed here! God knew, even in the land, they were going to turn aside from Him from time to time, and at some point in their future their departure from Him was going to hit a climax of such proportion that He would scatter them among the nations. It's about to happen again.
This is directed, at least up unto that point, at the citizens of the United States and Britain, and so forth. But when He put that in about the latter days, the latter times, it brought it right down to our day, and it can be taken personally for you and me, because we don't know how much tribulation we are going to have to go through along with our fellow citizens in our respective nation.
So, when the World Trade Center gets blown up, it's already impacting on you and me. It doesn't matter that we're Christian. We are going to suffer right along with those who are part and parcel of this nation and are not part of the kingdom of God. A great deal of that is going to touch on you and me, and it's going to prove to be a difficult thing for some of us to handle. Some of us are going to crack under the stress that it creates.
But always remember this—Deuteronomy says that God is faithful and if we will turn to Him, even though we have sinned and even though we have become a prodigal son, He will hold the door open for you and me to come back to Him, no matter how far, it seems, we have drifted from Him. He will hold the door open because He is faithful to His promise.
When we take these things into account, this prophecy here, it becomes clear that our survival on our pilgrimage to the kingdom of God, like Israel's survival in the wilderness, depends not on our ability to keep the covenant, but on God's willingness to sustain us through His forgiving grace and unwavering commitment to His promise to Abraham.
Moses understood this and maybe Israel should have understood it. It's interesting that in a very short time after Israel came out of Egypt and Israel received the law, one of the first incidents recorded in Exodus 32 is the golden calf incident. As they, in their efforts to understand God, in their efforts to worship God, reconfigured the nature of God, and in their mind God was reconfigured into an animal. That's pretty base, but it's a vivid picture of the capability of the human heart to create gods in the image that it thinks God should be like.
God understands this. This is one reason why He has to be so forgiving, because it takes a long time to get rid of our idolatry and to be truly committed and loyal to Him, to what He really is, and not what we think He is. All of us bring these misconceptions, these idolatries, into the church with us.
Moses was so shaken by that, that it should happen so quickly, among other things, and what they would stoop to do—even his own brother got caught up in it. But Aaron apparently recovered himself. But Moses asked God for reassurance. He said, "I want to see you." God told him, "I'll let you see Me, but you're only going to see My back parts."
In Exodus 34, we have that event taking place. In verses 5-10, it says:
Exodus 34:5 And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.
When God revealed Himself to Moses this way, He preached Him a sermon! He proclaimed the name of God! He did that because it was far more important for Moses to have these things in his mind and in his heart than it was for Moses to see Him, because the word of God was going to be the basis of his thinking—not views of God Himself!
Exodus 34:6 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed [He preached to him], The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.
Some modern Bibles say in that last phrase, "Abounding in love and faithfulness."
Exodus 34:7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. 8 And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped.
He got a lesson as few men ever have about what was really important. To you and me, it's believing the word of God. That's with us wherever we go, in whatever circumstance we are in. It is by the word of God that we make judgments about what we will do, that we make judgments about what attitude we will allow ourselves to be in. We are to bounce our thinking off that so that we are able to reach right conclusions based upon the judgment of God.
I was going to take you through a bit of the book of Haggai. I will take you rapidly through a couple of verses. I just won't expound it a great deal. But Haggai, the prophecy, was made during the period that the temple was being rebuilt following the Jews' return from their captivity in Babylon. It was being built in troublesome times, you can be sure, and they weren't making a very great deal of progress.
Haggai 1:5 Now therefore thus says the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways!
Haggai 1:7 Thus says the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways! . . .
Haggai 2:15 And now, I pray you, consider from this day and upward . . .
Haggai 2:18 Consider now from this day . . .
Four or five times, God wanted those people to think about the past and about the way things were going, and think about where they wanted to go.
Haggai 2:1 In the seventh month, in the one and twentieth day of the month, came the word of the LORD by the prophet Haggai, saying
What day is this? It's the 22nd day of the 7th month. The last day of the Feast of Tabernacles is the 21st day of the 7th month. We're talking in terms of time, as it were, yesterday was the anniversary of God making this prophecy through Haggai.
Now consider this, brethren. Look at verse 4 and think about what they were doing. They were building the temple. What are we doing? We are building the temple. They were rebuilding the physical temple. What are we doing today? Maybe we're involved in rebuilding the spiritual temple. I don't mean to imply that we are the only ones doing it, but at least we are aware that the spiritual temple needs to be rebuilt and we are coming into troublesome times.
I want you to consider this—are you going to stop building because the times are difficult?
Haggai 2:4 Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel. . .
Let me inject another word from a former sermon—be able! I spent a great deal of time showing you that that word means be strong! It means be strong in the virtues of God. Be strong, be an able person, strong in virtue.
Haggai 2:4 Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, says the LORD; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all you people of the land, says the LORD, and work: for I am with you, says the LORD of hosts.
The faithful God is with us and He will supply all of our needs. He will be mindful of the things that we are doing and He will supply the strength that we need in order to become strong, so that we become a polished stone in this building. We are the only ones who can quit working. God won't. He's faithful. We have our part to do. We need to yield to Him. We need to develop our relationship with Him, because He's the source of all the good things. Everything flows from Him through the Son to us. Jesus Christ is the administrator of the spirit, which contains all of those good gifts.
Haggai 2:5 According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so my spirit remains among you: fear you not.
Let me inject something here: "According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt." Do you understand that not only is the book of Deuteronomy a Reader's Digest version of the whole Bible, it encapsulates all the things necessary that we need to understand and work on. The main elements of salvation are there within that book. So also is the book of Deuteronomy an expansion of the covenant, an expounding of it! This is the covenant that He made with us in much greater detail! And He says, "According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so My spirit remains among you."
He's saying, brethren, as we strive to keep the covenant, the spirit will be with us, enabling us, strengthening us. Even as we do it, we always understand that real salvation, the real salvation, is going to be God's work, not ours. Our striving to keep the covenant, as we are able to do it, is what prepares us for living in the land.
What He is saying in these verses, besides working and being strong, is, "Trust Me. I am faithful."
Let's finish in I Thessalonians 5. It's pretty well understood that I Thessalonians was the first epistle Paul wrote. It was written, it is thought, in the early part of 52 AD, maybe even a bit earlier.
I Thessalonians 5:5-6 You are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep [sleep is a symbol of being insensitive to what is going on around you], as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
That word implies being self-controlled—another subject we touched on during this series.
I Thessalonians 5:6-9 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.