Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Listening God

This morning we’re going to look at a passage of Scripture found in the last book in the Old Testament, the book of Malachi.

At the time of the writing of Malachi, the nation of Israel had strayed far from God. Evil abounded in the land. Unbelief prevailed. The majority of people went their own sinful ways, giving little thought to the will or ways of God. They laughed at the prophets and showed utter contempt for God and His Law.

As a nation we have strayed from God until our president said, “America is not a Christian nation.”

Many in our nation agree with Him. Just because other religions have come to this great land of ours does not mean that we are no longer a Christian nation!

With that in mind, listen as God speaks to Israel through the prophet.
"You have said harsh things against me," says the Lord. Yet you ask, “What have we said against you?” You have said, “It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out His requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape." Malachi. 3:13-15
To put it very bluntly, the people were saying that God was inconsequential, insignificant, and irrelevant. In other words, they thought that God was absolutely powerless to do anything about anything, anymore. So, as a nation, they were ignoring Him. He was unimportant to them. What a pitiful environment in which to live!

But, do you remember? Back in the beginning of their nation, as their forefathers were settling into the Promised Land, Joshua, their leader, had challenged them,
“…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…” Joshua 24:15-18
And the people had responded,
“Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! It was the Lord our God Himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. And the Lord drove out before us all the nations…who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because He is our God.”
And that generation of Israelites was faithful to its vow, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord … because He is our God.” They didn’t forget Him, or ignore Him!

There is no question that their forefathers, the founders of the nation of Israel, had a deep and abiding faith and trust in God.

But by the time of Malachi it was painfully obvious that the nation of Israel, as a whole, had turned almost completely away from God.

Listen again to what God was saying to them:
"You have said harsh things against me," says the Lord. … "You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.’"
This sounds a lot like Israel in Jeremiah’s day.
“At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turns from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; If it do evil in my sight that it obeys not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them. Now therefore go to, speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the Lord; Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you: return ye now everyone from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good. And they said. There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices, and we will everyone do the imagination of his evil heart.” Jeremiah 18:7-12
Let us read a verse from Psalms 9:17:
“The wicked will be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.”
Does this sound familiar? Is our nation going through the same pattern of behavior? I wonder.
When our national leaders do not honor God, what will our nation become?

But there is hope. Let’s go on in our scripture, for in the next few verses of Malachi there are some things that are rather intriguing.
Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in His presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored His name.
"They will be my treasured possession," says the Lord Almighty, "in the day when I act. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.”
Malachi 3:16-18
What does this scripture say?

First of all, it tells us that in the midst of a faithless nation, God still had a faithful remnant! Even though a great majority of the people had turned their backs upon Him, God still had people who honored and worshiped Him, and sought to do His will.

I would like to tell our president that there are some of us whom we still call ourselves Christian!
There are not many of us, in comparison to the nation as a whole, but Christians have committed themselves to remain faithful to God, no matter what anyone else says or does. And while surrounded by the spiritual darkness of their day, they drew closer and closer together to talk with each other and to support and encourage one another in serving God.

Second, it says that God heard them. Well, of course He did. Doesn’t the Bible teach that He hears our prayers? We can pray, each of us, and know that He has promised to hear and answer our prayers. So, of course, He heard them.

Now this verse didn’t say anything about prayer, but what it did say was that the people talked and God heard.

Even though they were only a small group in the whole nation, God was paying attention to them.

They talked about Him, worshiped Him, and discussed His wonderful ways. And as they did, God was listening to their conversations. He eavesdropped. He tuned into their frequency.

Kings were making laws, but God was listening to His people.

Generals were giving orders, but God was listening to a handful of folks talking about Him. Judges were speaking in court, but God was listening to His remnant.

Politicians were making speeches, but God’s ears were tuned to His faithful followers.
And I believe that God is still doing the same today!

Third, Malachi tells us that the Lord enjoyed what He heard so much that He had it all written down in a book – “A scroll of remembrance…” it is called.
“Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book? When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies’ turn back: this I know; for God is for me. In God will I praise his word: in the Lord will I praise his word. In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me.” Psalm 56:8-11
Do you get the picture? Here is God, summoning an angel, I suppose, to take notes – to write down what was said and who said it so that it would be remembered forever!

Think of that! God really does see and hear what we’re doing and saying - and not just when we’re in church or praying to Him. There’s a record being kept of it, too.

Fourth, notice what God says in verse 17. "They will be my Jewels (treasured possession).” God had made them a promise in Exodus 19:5.
“Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine”
From Malachi the Hebrew word translated is “treasured possession.”

And it is often translated as “jewels” or “treasure.” So God is saying that these faithful people are His jewels, His very own treasure. He goes on to say that in the day when He acts, He is going to remember them and protect them.

God makes His meaning clear by saying:
“And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” Malachi 3:16-18
In the light of that verse I want to be sure I’m part of God’s jewels – His treasure. Do you?

But, even though we call ourselves Christians, how can we make sure that we’re a part of God’s faithful remnant today?

Maybe we can find out by looking once again at what this scripture tells us about them and what they were doing.

They remained true to God.

First of all, it tells us they “feared the Lord” – they held Him in awe and because of that they remained true to Him. It was a time when it wasn’t easy to stay faithful to God. Corruption was everywhere. Hypocrisy abounded. Evil ruled the day.

And we could very easily say the same thing today. You see. It’s never been easy to follow God’s ways. But God has always had a remnant.

This remnant said, “Even though everybody else curses God, we will praise His name.” They stood for righteousness in a wicked nation. They endured the ridicule of family and friends. And God looked down on this small group of faithful ones and said, "They will be my treasured possession."

God’s Jewels remain faithful in every situation.

They talked about God.
“Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it.”
Not only was this remnant faithful, but when they got together in their meetings, they didn’t spend time gossiping, criticizing, or talking about the weather or sports or current events. They could have, but the times were too dark. They talked about the Lord. They testified about God’s blessings and presence. They spoke of answers to prayer.
“Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul. I cried unto him with my mouth, and he was extolled with my tongue. If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me: But verily God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me.” Psalm 66:16-19
Have you ever noticed how eager someone in love seems to be to talk about the person or thing he or she loves?

But here it says that God’s special treasure, His Jewels, are those who love to get together to share with each about the things of God.

How much does your Christianity mean to you? Is it real? Has it made a difference in your life?

When people have expressed their love and committed their lives to each other in marriage they want to be together, to share all they are with each other.

And in the same way, those who commit their lives to Christ, who become a part of His bride, the church, want to be together and share all they are with each other, too.

They honored His name.
“Those who feared the Lord.”
Finally, look at the latter part of verse 16. Not only were they in awe of the Lord, and eager to share their faith in Him with each other, they honored Him by their words and their lives. They remembered the mighty acts of God. They believed what the prophets had said and written about Him.

The Psalmist said,
Blessed is the man that does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit at the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. Psalm 1:1
In a speech in Dallas, Texas, the beloved Corrie Ten Boom, author of The Hiding Place, said that many times people would approach her and say, “Corrie, what a great faith you have.” She smiled as she told how she would reply to them. “No, it’s what a great God I have.”

And whether it was in the nation of Israel in Malachi’s day, or in the United States of America today, it is still true. We still serve a great God.

I want to close with a promise from chapter four of Malachi.
“For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven. All the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.”
“But unto you that fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings. Ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts.”

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Folded Napkin

The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the LORD out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre.

So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.
John 20:1-7
Let me give you the story of His burial and resurrection in a nutshell.

In Bible days, when someone died, it was the duty of a family member to close the eyes and kiss the cheek of the dead. When Christ died, this became the duty of two men: Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus. They went to Pontius Pilate and begged the body of the Lord Jesus. Then they had to take Him down from the cross, which was not an easy chore.

First, they had to rig a ladder, and climb up the side of the cross. Then they had to pull His hands off over the nails. There was no way they could get those spikes out of the wood, not from that angle, not with His hands in between the wood and the nail head. Once the hands were loosed, they allowed the body of Jesus to sag into a sheet, and would then remove His feet from the nail in the same manner.

They took the body of Jesus to a new tomb that Joseph had prepared for himself. They washed His body, and wrapped it in white linen, folding His arms over His chest. They closed His eyes, kissed His cheek, and placed a napkin over His face.They walked away from that tomb, and no doubt, they walked in silence…so all that could be heard were the sounds of their sadness, muffled crying, and sniffing. Surely it must have felt like a huge ball of lead in the pits of their stomachs, as they were thinking, “It’s all over, the end of the dream… and it only lasted for three short years.”

Three days passed like an eternity. I believe with all my heart that the birds refused to sing, and the sun refused to shine.

For three days, all the demons of hell rejoiced. Satan and the forces of darkness thought they had won a great victory.

For three days, the Jewish leaders, as well as the Roman government, congratulated themselves on their brilliant scheme.

But! But!

On the third day something wonderful and miraculous happened, as God the Father said to an angel in heaven, “Go get Him!” When the angel’s feet hit the ground, the stone rolled away, and “Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph over His foes.”

In our text, Mary came first to the empty tomb. She saw the stone rolled away and it frightened her. She ran to get Peter and John. They ran together to the tomb as fast as they could. John out ran Peter. When he got there, he looked inside, and saw those grave clothes lying there in disarray. Then Peter arrived and, just as we would expect of him, went right in. He also saw the linen clothes lying there, but there was something unusual in that scene.

Something caught their eye that was very interesting. The Gospel of John tells us that the napkin, which was placed over the face of Jesus, was not just thrown aside like the grave clothes. The Bible takes an entire verse to tell us that the napkin was neatly folded, and was placed at the head of that stony coffin.

I found out something interesting about the folded napkin in my studies the other day I want to share with you.

"In order to understand the significance of the folded napkin, you have to understand a little bit about Hebrew tradition of that day. The folded napkin had to do with the Master and Servant, and every Jewish boy knew this tradition. When the servant set the dinner table for the master, he made sure that it was exactly the way the master wanted it.

The table was furnished perfectly, and then the servant would wait, just out of sight, until the master had finished eating. The servant would not dare touch that table, until the master was finished.

Now if the master were done eating, he would rise from the table, wipe his fingers, his mouth, and clean his beard, and would wad up that napkin and toss it onto the table. The servant would then know to clear the table. For in those days, the wadded napkin meant, 'I’m done.' However, if the master got up from the table, folded his napkin, and laid it aside his plate, the servant would not dare touch the table, because the servant knew that the folded napkin meant, “I’m not finished yet.” The folded napkin meant, 'I’m coming back!'"

Peter and John had walked with Christ for three years. They had watched as He opened blind eyes and deaf ears. They watched as He literally raised people from the dead. Then they watched Him die…and as they watched, all their hopes, all their dreams were shattered!

All they could think was, “It’s over. It’s all over! All hope is gone!”

For three long days they were in the depths of despair. The lights of their souls had gone dim. Peter even said, “I am going fishing. I am going back to what I used to do.”

After three days, they saw an empty tomb. Not only did they see an empty tomb, but also they saw a folded napkin in that empty tomb!

I wonder if when they saw that folded napkin God spoke to them in their being and said, “He’s not finished yet…He’s coming back!” I thank God today for that. I want to declare to you, “He has not finished yet! The tomb is empty. Our Savior is alive and the napkin is still folded!”

1. He has not finished with His plan for the soul of man.

The folded napkin says that He has not finished saving souls. The Bible says that Jesus came into this world for one reason: to save sinners.

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. John 3:17

Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. Acts 4:12

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23

In God’s eyes, there is no difference…there are no big sinners and little sinners, just sinners.

The napkin is still folded…He is still saving souls! It is not too late to get your heart right with God!

2. The napkin is still folded…He has not finished reclaiming backsliders.

A few days before Christ died, He took His disciples aside and told them what was about to happen. He said, “I am going to be betrayed, arrested, beaten, and crucified.” Then He looked at the disciples and said, “All of you are going to desert me when the heat is on.”

The Apostle Peter rose up in typical style and said, “Not me, Lord. Though all shall be offended, yet will I never be offended.”

In other words, “Lord, I do not know about the rest of these bums, but you can count on me!” Then he said, “Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee.”

Can’t you just see Jesus shaking his head, saying, “Peter, you are going deny me three times by tomorrow morning!”

Then the Roman soldiers came to arrest the Lord Jesus…with swords and shields and spears. Courage welled up in Peter’s heart He took out his sword and even took a swing at them. He lopped off the ear of one of them. Jesus picked up that ear, and supernaturally reattached it to the man’s head. Now if I had seen that miracle, I think I would have wanted to change sides!

They arrested Jesus and subjected Him to sheer torture. In addition, while this was happening, Peter’s courage turned to butter.

A young woman approached and said, “I know you, you were with Him”. And this same man who had just stood up to the entire Roman army, now backed down and said, “I don’t know the man!”

Another came up and said the same, and again he denied Christ. Yet another said, “your accent betrays you, you are a Galilean, you are one of His disciples.” He not only denied Christ that third time, but for emphasis threw in a few cuss words. "I don’t know the man, leave me alone!"

The rooster immediately crowed and Peter remembered the words of Jesus. He looked off into the distance. There stood Christ, and their eyes caught. When he saw the sadness and sorrow in the eyes of Jesus, it broke his heart.

For three days he lived in shame, guilt, and misery, realizing he had denied the Lord.

Look at Mark’s account of the Easter story.

And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulcher at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulcher? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulcher, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. Mark 16: 1-7

Can’t you see it in your mind’s eye…these ladies running to the disciples to tell them the good news. "He’s alive! He’s alive! He’s risen from the dead!!"

Can’t you see Peter, in the corner of the room, shocked, saying, “What? What did you say? It’s true?”

“Yes, He said to meet Him at Galilee!”

Peter, who had been in the depths of depression for three days, stunned at the reality of the Resurrection, and almost encouraged, was once again plagued in his mind at his pitiful denial of Christ, and was dragged right back down into his pit of despair, and thought.

Peter was thinking, “Surely He doesn’t mean for me to come. I denied Him three times, I cussed and swore…surely, surely He doesn’t mean me!”

And the ladies said, “Oh, Peter, by the way…He mentioned you by name!!! Yes, he mentioned you by name!”

“He did? What did He say?”

He said, “Go tell the disciples…and Peter.”

Why did Jesus want to see Peter…to rebuke him? No, he wanted to restore him! And one of the sweetest scenes you’ll ever see in scripture is Peter and Jesus, coming together, and

Jesus hugging him and saying, “Peter, do you love me?” Not, “Peter, are you going to cuss any more?” No! He said, “Do you love me?”

That’s the real issue. If you’re here today and you know you’re a backslider, let me ask you, “Was there a time when you were right with Him?”

You see, the real question is not, “Are you going live in sin anymore?” The real question today is "Do you love Him?" He loves you!

The napkin is still folded: He’s still saving souls. And He’s still reclaiming backsliders. Jesus will not rub them in, He’ll rub them out!

3. The napkin is still folded because he is still giving the Holy Spirit to them that believe!

One of the last messages that Jesus gave His Disciples was to tarry until they were filled with the Holy Spirit.

I still believe that Jesus still wants to pour out His Holy Spirit on believers today.

I still believe in the Old Testament scripture that tells us that God said that He would pour out His Spirit.

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call.
Joel 2:28-32

I still believe that Jesus wants to sanctify and live within the believer.

For this is the will of God even your sanctification. I Thessalonians 4:3

The napkin is still folded!!!!

4. When will He be finished with the napkin?

I want to close with this question! “When will Christ be finished and be done with the napkin?”

I need to remind you there’s coming a day when another supper will take place. It is called the marriage supper of the Lamb. I have a feeling that at the marriage supper of the Lamb, that at the end of the meal, Jesus will stand at the head of the table. He’s going to wipe His fingers, His mouth and clean His beard. He’s going take His napkin, and cast it aside. When that happens, it is over!

Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God. Revelation 19:7-9

The last soul that is going to be saved has been saved.

The last backslider that is going to come home has.

The last person will have been sanctified.

How many of you know what the last word of the Bible is?

There is coming a day when the last amen will be said.

I beg of you, do not wait ‘til it’s too late. Right now, the napkin is still folded!

Remember the prodigal son. When he came home, his father welcomed him home with open arms!

Today, Jesus is calling you home. The napkin is still folded!