The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

No Room?

“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”  - Luke 2:7

 

The economy by all accounts is booming. The Dow Jones Industrial is breaking records. Consumer confidence is at a 20-year high. With some extra cash in our pockets, from now until Christmas there will be a constant mad rush to buy, buy, buy. The purchasing spree will be followed in the New Year by efforts to pay, pay, pay (unless you buy into plans that put your payments off for an extended period of time – that only prolongs the agony). But for now, the stores are crowded, lines are long, and maybe we have a little bit more financially to celebrate this year.

But there’s a danger in all this consumer confidence and economic upturn. This is the season when people scurry about in the squalid frenzy to shop. Black Friday is a stampede and there’s always the perennial story of people being trampled. Most stores mark the start of the spending spree by opening on Thanksgiving. Squeezing in thanks is becoming harder and harder. It may be cold outside, but those long lines are hot and sweaty.

Shopping and holiday preparations this time of year threaten to crowd out everything else in our lives. If you listen you’ll hear mothers at the brink snap at their antsy (aggravating?) inquisitive children, “Quiet! Don’t you know I’m shopping for Christmas gifts?” Those cute little ones may look precious to you, but to their parents they can be little tyrants. There are stern looks and frequent rolling of the eyes. The name “Jesus” is used in some unholy ways this time of year. Fathers get into the act too. They’re more to the point. “Put a lid on it kid or Santa’s gonna pass you by.” There’s always the simple but effective, “Shut up!’ usually followed by the explanatory, “I can’t hear myself think.” I’m surprised no one has come up with a song with those words. And then there’s the novice parents who pacify their kids with candy only to find there a lot harder to catch that way. Funny how more kids seem to be on leashes this time of year. And I’ve seen grandparents, with a twinkle in their eye, say things like, “Oh come on, don’t be such a kill-joy, what’s another scoop of ice cream going to hurt?” Or, “here Johnny, eat these sugar balls, they’re extra yummy.” Is it a “wonderful” time of the year for you?  

Driving can be hazardous too as people have a million distracting thoughts coursing through their heads. There’s a heightened temptation to text and drive; yes, drive into oncoming traffic or into a pole. There’s the distracting gift related conversations that seem to move the car across lanes. It’s pretty hard to drive and go over that Christmas list at the same time. Then there’s the stop and go traffic. And there’s the search for a parking spot at the Mall. There’s those dings in your car or van or truck door that you only notice once you’ve gotten home when there’s no chance of getting the culprits insurance information.

Obligation and fear of offending someone will drive people to gifting extremes. Some simply spend big in order to cover a thoughtless time investment in their purchase. Others wrack brains to make sure all the bases are covered and no one is left out. Many just throw in the towel and buy gift cards. It can be a joy-sapping downer. Even Christians can get caught up in the rush to spend rashly. But what about Jesus in all of this?

All of this frenzy begs the question, “This year, will there be room for Jesus in your life?” Will you have time to celebrate His birthday?” I mean, Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, isn’t it? It is His birthday.[1]

Some people are embarrassed to mention Jesus, even during the season of His birth. Many people choose the middle inoffensive ground. They’re more concerned about how people feel about the name “Christ” or “Jesus” than about how Jesus feels about being neglected or ignored. People end up eliminating Jesus from the season by avoiding the use of “Christmas” and inserting, “Seasons Greetings,” and “Happy Holidays.” I guess this is harmless, but I wonder how Jesus feels about it? How would you feel if you were ignored at your birthday? Thank goodness there’s a push to put the “Merry Christmas” back into the Christmas season. Please, let’s keep “Christ” in “Christmas.” Jesus really is the reason for the season.

Buti f there’s no room for Jesus in your holiday season, it wouldn’t be the first time there was no room for Jesus. The first time He came there was no room for Him. How about we put the “holy” back into the “holiday”?  The word “holy” means special, unique, distinctive. The birth of Jesus should be a holy time; a special, unique, and distinctive time. There’s a verse that can help us do that.

In the Gospel of Luke, it states:


This verse about the birth of Christ contains three central aspects of the Christmas story that will help us get back to the holiness, the specialness of the season.

Incarnation - “And she brought forth her firstborn Son”


We should understand that God reveals to us in His word that Jesus preexists eternally and is fully God (John 1:1, 2, 14-15). The incarnation of Jesus does not make Him less than God according to clear statements throughout the Bible. The deity of Jesus is testified to and supported in numerous portions of scripture. One of my favorites is as follows:  

  • Romans 9:5 – “of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.” 

Christmas is about the historical account of the incarnation of God in Christ. Just think of it, God in the flesh. That really is an incredible thing. The God of the universe; all powerful; all knowing; ever present; with us in Christ. God is not distant but is present. He’ll never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). God wants us to know Him and has taken steps that we can know Him personally. The incarnation testifies to this truth. And indeed, Jesus said the crux of eternal life is, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).

Knowing God is the bottom line. You can talk about religion, ritual and a host of other things, but if what you do fails to help you know God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent, it’s for the most part worthless. In heaven there won’t be Catholics, Calvary Chapel people, Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Pentecostals, or any other manmade labels for people. In heaven there will only be those who have repented of their sins and through faith in Christ entered into God’s eternal life of knowing Him. Do you know Jesus? Have you been “born again”? Jesus said we “must be” born again to enter God’s kingdom (John 3). Examine yourself to see if you can answer “yes” to these questions (2 Corinthians 13:5). 

Humiliation – “and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger,”

Christ’s coming into the world testifies to the humility of Jesus. He was willing to come as a servant to do God’s will. We see this in such verses as:

  • 2 Corinthians 8:9 – “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” 

  • Philippians 2:5-11 – “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name,10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” 

An interesting story is told about an 18th century incident:

In the fall of 1775, the manager of Baltimore’s largest hotel refused lodging to a man dressed like a farmer, because he thought this fellow’s lowly appearance would discredit his inn. So, the man left and took a room elsewhere. Later, the innkeeper discovered that he had turned away none other than the Vice President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson!

Immediately he sent a note to the famed patriot, asking him to return and be his guest. Jefferson replied by instructing his messenger as follows: “Tell him I have already engaged a room. I value his good intentions highly, but if he has no place for a dirty American farmer, he has none for the Vice President of the United States.” [2]

 

How many times do we similarly turn away the things of God and His plans because they are too “dirty” for us? What do you think about when you contemplate the humility of Jesus? Do you even think about that? You should. We are called to follow in the humble servant hearted steps of Jesus (Philippians 2:5-8; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6). It is possible to know Jesus and the power of His resurrection. But I have learned that when I really get to know Jesus, it is in the fellowship of His sufferings (Philippians 3:10). That’s the “dirty” part, the part where we have to get down in the dirt of life and serve the Lord. Have you thought about the humility of Jesus? What does it mean to you?

Divine Anticipation - “because there was no room for them in the inn.” 

The last issue this verse speaks of is the Divine anticipation or the providence of God. In Galatians we are told that the incarnation of Jesus was all according to a plan of God:

  • Galatians 4:4-5 – “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law,5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”

The birth of Jesus Christ is fulfillment of an incredibly miraculous plan of God to reveal Himself to humanity in His fullness in Christ (Colossians 1:15-19). His virgin birth and place of birth are among the details God testifies to in His word. When we consider the details of God’s providential planned incarnation it is really amazing.

Historically it was just the right time for Jesus to come. Two commentators make the following observations about the timing of when Jesus came to be “God with us”: 

 

The proper time had arrived for both God and man. The time appointed by the Father and foretold by the prophets. It was a time of outward prosperity and inward corruption. The religions of the world were spiritually bankrupt, devoid of power to change men’s lives, and had degenerated into feeble superstitions and meaningless rituals.[3]

This “time” was when the Roman civilization had brought peace and a road system which facilitated travel; when the Grecian civilization provided a language which was adopted as the lingua franca of the empire; when the Jews had proclaimed monotheism and the messianic hope in the synagogues of the Mediterranean world.  [4]

Prophetically it was just the right time for Jesus to come. There are a host of prophecies which foretell the birth of Messiah Jesus (Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 7:14; Micah 5:2; Matthew 1:23; Luke 1:31-35). There are prophetic scriptures which foretell of Jesus coming eight centuries in advance! The coming of Jesus was in line with the timing of the removal from the Jewish religious leaders of the right to order capital punishment (Genesis 49:10), the prophesied forerunner (Malachi 3:21) and Daniel’s prophecy concerning Messiah’s triumphal entry (Daniel 9:24-27).

But having acknowledged all this, the thing I find interesting, no, stupefying, is that with all of this planning it still says in Luke 2:7, “. . . there was no room for them in the inn.” Doesn’t that strike you as a bit peculiar? The Bible tells us that God has a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3). Certainly, the time was right for Messiah Jesus to be incarnated. God predicted through the prophets and laid out a perfect plan for revealing Himself to humanity. The prophet Daniel laid out to the day the time of Messiah’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem (cf. Daniel 9:24-27). And still, there was no room for Jesus and His parents the night of His birth. Somehow it seems that with all that planning by God surrounding the incarnation of Jesus that He also would have planned for Him to be birthed in a suitable place. Did God simply forget or overlook this aspect of the incarnation? I don’t think so. I don’t think there was “no room” for Jesus by accident. I believe God wants to teach us something from this.

What do we learn from “no room in the inn”? There are a number of things we can and should learn from there being “no room in the inn.”


First, God’s ways are not our ways. God works in ways that we often find stupefying, surprising, amazing, perplexing, even confusing. In Isaiah it states:

  • Isaiah 55:7-11 – “Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.10 “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater,11 So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”  

In Romans 12:2 it tells us not to be conformed to the world. A reason for this is that God regularly works in ways that the world and even in the religious community can not relate to. The ways of God are nonconformist and unorthodox by secular and religious standards. Who would have thought that a single Teacher with an inner core of 12 rag tag disciples would turn out to be not only God in the flesh but the Savior of the world?  Who would have thought the Savior of the world, God in the flesh, would be born in a stable because there was no other place for his mother to birth? Who would have thought this child would be the way the truth and the life and the only way to eternal life with God? God’s ways are not our ways.

Our problem is that our plan is often opposed to His plan. We fight and struggle and throw our tantrums before the Lord because we don’t get what we want. Like a spoiled child dissatisfied with their Christmas gift we pout and sometimes even shout at God for His decisions. God’s ways are not our ways. God’s plans may keep us from things we think are best for us. But God’s plan is always the best plan. He has only the best of intentions for us. If He says, “No,” to a request of ours, it is only because He has something infinitely and eternally better for us. Who would you rather depend on, someone (like yourself) who is finite, limited in understanding and capability, or Someone who is infinite, unlimited in understanding and all powerful, like God? I don’t know about you, but I’m going with God not me or you. Don’t throw a tantrum, trust the LORD.

God is able to accomplish His will no matter what. Like the story of Mrs. A. E. Gadsby of Niagara Falls, Canada, who in December 1940 mailed a Christmas parcel to her daughter in Prestwick, Scotland. The ship carrying the mail was torpedoed off the west coast of Ireland, but a favorable tide floated the package and unerringly cast it ashore on the beach of Prestwick. The contents were soaked but perfectly usable. The address was still legible and the package reached the addressee two days after Christmas. [5] God has a plan and He will work it out come hell or high water (Jeremiah 29:11-13). Hope in Him (Psalm 42).

Second, God incorporates human free will in His plans. Human free will does not take God by surprise, but it does make for an interesting journey in God’s plans. Because of human free will Joseph in Old Testament times was sold into slavery, falsely accused and imprisoned, forgotten for a time, exalted to the second in command in the Egyptian empire and ultimately used by God with all of his hardship, for God’s good purposes to preserve the Messianic line (Genesis 50:20). Because of human free will there was an innkeeper who had no room for Jesus to be born in. Because of human free will Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest and most trusted disciples. Yet God used all of this to bring salvation to the world through His Son. God uses human free will and because of that we can’t always see His plan at first. God unfolds His plan bit by bit in order according to His plan, true to His will. Next time you are confused and can’t understand what is happening, trust in God, hope in God, love the Lord and He will bring out His good plan (Romans 8:28). 

Christmas can be a difficult time of year. Memories of lost loved ones are harder to deal with during this emotional time of year. Family tensions can run high, especially between saved and unsaved. Through it all remember God has a plan. Hope in the Lord and He will get your through (Psalm 37; 43; 44).

Third, obstacles don’t necessarily mean we are out of God’s will. What if Joseph and Mary said, “Okay, there’s no room here for us to have the baby, let’s go to the next town”? If they had done that Jesus would not have been born in Bethlehem according to Messianic prophecy (Micah 5:2) and He would have been disqualified as Messiah. But they trusted in the Lord and made due with what God provided. There is no record of any complaints on their part. There is only a record of humble submission. Christmas is a time notorious for combustible complaints. God’s word tells us to “do all things without complaining and disputing” (Philippians 2:14). Maybe we should take action so that there’s room for Jesus but no room for bad Christmas attitudes.

Fourth, there is an enemy who wants to shut Jesus out. The devil wants to destroy Jesus and all who love Him. We see this in the slaughter of the innocents ordered by Herod (Matthew 2:16-18). Herod and many other people in history have been enemies of Jesus and His people. But the ultimate enemy of Jesus is Satan. Of Satan it is stated:

  • 1 Peter 5:8-9 – “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.” 

Jesus came to destroy the works of Satan (Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8). We have an enemy and he seeks to distract, deceive and destroy everything connected with Jesus. The enemies’ objective is to make sure there is no room for Jesus in your life. Don’t let him cheat you of the blessing of the presence of the Lord! Make a conscious effort to have meaningful devotional times with the Lord each day during this time of year. This will help you make room for Jesus each day. It will help you cultivate spiritual sensitivity to how Jesus might want to use you to help others make room for Him.

Fifth, not everyone has room for Jesus. Jesus knocks on the hearts of all people as it states in Revelation:

  • Revelation 3:20 - “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”

Jesus especially knocks on the door of the church seeking to come in and fellowship. But not everyone has room for Jesus. Some have their own petty ideas or agenda to follow. Others are too proud and want to worship themselves rather than Jesus. And still others want to rule on the throne rather than have Jesus be Lord. When Jesus knocks, open to Him. He is the reason for the season. Don’t forget that. Don’t be cheated out of the presence of Jesus this Christmas (Colossians 2:8, 23).

Sixth, when we encounter obstacles we should follow the leading of the Spirit. Mary and Joseph were humble enough to follow the Spirit. They didn’t come to Bethlehem expecting to have Mary give birth in a stable. But that is where the Spirit led them and that is where they went. The Spirit will never lead in a way that is contrary to God’s word. In fact, the Spirit most often leads us by the word of God (Romans 8:14). We discover God’s will by giving ourselves to Him as living sacrifices. Top discover His will we have to be dead to ourselves and our own agendas and alive to Him and His will (Romans 12:1-2). Get up and off of the throne of your heart and make room for Jesus! He alone is suited and worthy to be your Lord.

Seventh, do you have room for Jesus this Christmas? Jesus said:

  • John 8:12 – “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” 

Jesus is knocking on the door of your heart right now. You may have never paid attention to His knocking but now He is getting your attention. Will you open the door of your heart and invite Him in? It’s simple:

  • Admit you have sinned against God’s holy law and deserve eternal damnation (Romans 3:23; 6:23).
  • Acknowledge that Jesus died for your sins upon the cross; He died in your place on the cross; He paid the penalty you deserved for your sins on the cross.
  • Ask by faith God to forgive you of your sin based on your accepting what Jesus has done for you on the cross (Romans 6:23; 5:8). 
  • Advance in the Spirit (who is now in you) and depend on God to help you bear spiritual fruit and live for Jesus.

Perhaps you’ve accepted Jesus as your Savior but there are still rooms in your house that you have yet to give Him full access to. Jesus is knocking on those doors to. He wants to go in and clean house. Will you let Him in? He wants to shine His light throughout your heart and life. Will you let Him in?

We can learn a lot from that short verse in the gospel of Luke. But the thing we need to consider is do we have room for Jesus in our lives, in all of our lives? That’s the question before us right now. Have a meaningful Christmas and make room for Jesus!

 

 



[1] Though December 25th is not supported by historical and scriptural evidence as being the actual birth date of Jesus – that’s another teaching
[2]Tan, P. L. 1996, c1979. Encyclopedia of 7700 illustrations: [a treasury of illustrations, anecdotes, facts and quotations for pastors, teachers and Christian workers]. Bible Communications: Garland TX
[3]Jerry Falwell, executive editor; Edward E. Hinson and Michael Kroll Woodrow, general editors, KJV Bible commentary [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1994.
[4]Walvoord, John F., and Zuck, Roy B., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc.) 1983, 1985.
[5]Tan, P. L. 1996, c1979. Encyclopedia of 7700 illustrations: [a treasury of illustrations, anecdotes, facts and quotations for pastors, teachers and Christian workers]. Bible Communications: Garland TX

Friday, December 8, 2017

Don’t Forget Jerusalem!


 
“If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill,” – Psalm 137:5

On Wednesday of this week, December 6th, 2017, President Donald Trump of the United States of America, affirmed Jerusalem as the capitol of the nation of Israel. To that you might think, So what? Didn’t everybody know that? No, it was accepted by the citizens of Israel and by many evangelical Christians throughout the world, but for the most part declaring Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel was a political hot potato that no one wanted to touch. Oh, our government in 1995 passed legislation to that effect, but no president had the moral aptitude or courage to risk the repercussions of such a declaration. Now, in President Trump, we have a leader more interested in doing what is “right” than in what is politically expedient. Now we have a leader who is keeping his political election promises. He’s going down the checklist of the agenda he was elected on. Now we have a president who I believe has been raised up “for such a time as this” (cf. Esther 4:14).

Wednesday the art of his deal was to pronounce and declare, in front of the entire world, that Jerusalem is justifiably and historically the proper capital of Israel. I believe our president was moved by God to make this step. President Trump certainly would not have made this move if he were simply listening to political pundits. He wouldn’t have made this move if he were concerned about his political future. It’s not a politically popular move. But I believe God emboldened and encouraged our president to make this move even in the face of threats of terror, even though it would not be politically popular. (And I have to say here, aren’t you glad we don’t have a politician as president? Yes, he’s not always as discreet as he could be. Some of his tweets are cringeworthy. But aren’t you glad we have a leader more interested in doing the great and right thing rather than just going along with the comfortably ineffective lukewarm status quo?)

Since Wednesday, demonstrations and rioting throughout the Muslim world are percolating and exploding. There is sure to be more and more unrest. President Trumps political opponents will forget their unanimous votes in favor of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and they will criticize the political recklessness of declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel. The political opposition will be in full spin mode. There very well may be a political price to pay as the rebellious will cease upon this declaration as an excuse for further anarchy and violence. So, this is a very big deal politically.


But more importantly, declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel Wednesday was a big deal prophetically. The name “Jerusalem” occurs 804 times in the Bible. It is first mentioned in Joshua 10:1 as God’s people are making conquest of the Promised Land. “Jerusalem” (Hebrew yerusalami ) means, peaceful or teaching of peace.” It is the most prominent city in the Bible. But Jerusalem was not always a city of Israel. It was David who conquered this city and took if from the Jebusites (2 Samuel 5). And because of this Jerusalem is sometimes referred to as “the city of David” (2 Samuel 5:7).

God’s word attaches a promise to this city stating, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you’” (Psalm 122:6). There will be blessing to those who give their heart to this ancient city that is so precious to God. God uses Jerusalem to illustrate His love for His people. “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds His people from this time forth and forever” (Psalm 125:2). God declares goodness is attached to this city – “The LORD bless you out of Zion, and may you see the good of Jerusalem all the days of your life” (Psalm 128:5). Scripture tells us God “dwells in Jerusalem” and we should praise the LORD for that (Psalm 135:21). It is the LORD who is involved in this city like a Master Builder (Psalm 147:2). The psalmist is inspired to write, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! If I do not remember you, let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth – if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy” (Psalm 137:5-6). Jerusalem is important. Don’t forget Jerusalem! God singles out no other city for such special concern. And therefore, we should, “Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!” (Psalm 147:12).


Back in the 6th century BC the prophet Zechariah received a vision from the LORD stating, “The burden of the word of the LORD against Israel. Thus says the LORD, who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him: ‘Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, through all nations of the earth are gathered against it.” (Zechariah 12:1-3). The term “drunkenness” (Hebrew ra’al) means to reel or tremble from being intoxicated. The world is drunk and reeling with an anti-Israel, anti-Jew intoxication. This intoxication is so irrational in its intensity that it tips us off that it is otherworldly in its origins. Yes, some will claim Israel has unjustly oppressed the Palestinians. But such protests are a thinly veiled excuse to further a demonic hatred of Israel and her people. There is a viciousness toward the Jew historically that is seen in the persecution of Jews through the pograms of the Middle Ages and in the holocaust of the twentieth century. Satan is a murderer and where we see mass murdering we can be sure his blood-drenched fingers have been involved. Satan is behind that explosively enraged hatred for Israel amongst Muslim nations and really throughout the world.

Why is Satan so dead set against Israel? Satan knows that God’s prophetic plans involve Israel. If he can destroy this tiny nation, he can thwart God’s plans or at least delay them and therefore prolong his time to influence the world. But Satan is a loser. God is going to prevail. He is going to show His Might and Almighty Power by defending poor little Israel from the Satan-infected Satan-influenced world. In so doing, the LORD God Almighty will make it clear that He is real and He protects His people.

A time is coming at the end of a seven period of Tribulation on the earth that will be historically unprecedented. “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:21). And at the conclusion of that seven-year period (see Revelation 6-19), arguably the greatest event in human history will occur, The Second Coming of Jesus! The Bible describes it like this: “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.(Matthew 24:27; cf. also 24:29-31). This will be an incredible event because every eye will see Him. “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.” (Revelation 1:7).  At this point in history Jesus will be declared as the “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:11-16). Incredible.

Keep in mind that Jesus’ teaching on His Second Coming was delivered in the context of His teaching about God’s prophetic fulfillment as it pertains to Israel. Israel is close to the center of God’s prophetic word. God’s word is centered on Jesus (cf. Hebrews 10:7). But Israel is a primary instrument in God carrying out His prophetic word. Israel is central to God’s prophetic plan. And Jerusalem is at the heart of Israel.

Jerusalem will be the capitol city of Israel and the central headquarters of Jesus during His millennial (i.e. 1000 year) reign on earth. “And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. . . . And the LORD shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be – ‘The LORD is one,’ and His name one. All the land shall be turned into a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem. Jerusalem shall be raised up and inhabited in her place . . . The people shall dwell in it; and no longer shall there be utter destruction, but Jerusalem shall be safely inhabited. . . . And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which come against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles” (Zechariah 14:4a, 9-11 and 16; cf. also Revelation 20). The Father loves Jerusalem. But Jesus loves this city too.

Zechariah speaks of Jerusalem being an intoxicating preoccupation for “the surrounding people’s” and “all the nations of the earth.” He is inspired to speak of God making the little tiny city of Jerusalem in the little tiny nation of Israel a central focus and “heavy stone for all peoples.” Let me ask you something, on Wednesday, where were all eyes focused? Let me ask you something else, since Wednesday, where has the world been focused? On JERUSALEM! Folks, we are seeing prophecy fulfilled before our eyes.

The heroic declaration by President Trump that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel is a major step in paving the way to the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. There is no Temple in Jerusalem now, but the Bible speaks of a rebuilt Temple in the Latter Days. “Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod. And the angel stood, saying, ‘Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there. But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles” (Revelation 11:1-2a). Now that Jerusalem has been declared the capitol of Israel, we are one step closer to negotiating the reality for the Temple of the End Times to be rebuilt. We are living in incredible times my brothers and sisters.

But as wonderful a city as Jerusalem is, as significant a historical and Biblical city as Jerusalem is, as beloved to God as Jerusalem is, it will one day be destroyed. Humanity will not destroy this city, God will. What do I mean? At the end of God’s prophetic plan, a time will come when the earth along with every city in it, including Jerusalem, will be done away with and replaced with a New Earth. Oh, what a day that will be! Jesus has described it this way:

Revelation 21:1–5 - Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”

One might be tempted here to say, “Well, that’s the end of the story.” But really, that is only the beginning; the beginning of eternity with our LORD. Yes, we should not forget Jerusalem. But we should not idolize even this great city above the LORD of the city. Don’t forget Jerusalem! But more importantly, don’t forget the God our LORD Jesus of that city, for we will spend eternity with Him. “These words are true and faithful.” You can depend on God’s word. God’s word is happening right before our eyes. I can’t wait for its further fulfillment. Maranatha! Come LORD Jesus!

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Right Perspective on Heaven

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,

Nor have entered into the heart of man

The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 2:9-10a

What happens when we die? What is heaven like? Those are two gigantic life questions. A recent trendy view is that there isn’t any existence after death. When I was a kid going to school on the bus, we’d gleefully sing songs to pass the time and have some fun. One of the songs we sang went like this, the worms go in, the worms go out, they eat your guts and they spit them out! We’d sing those words over and over again in our youthful ignorance. The trend today is to remain in such a childish mindset denying any afterlife. It’s sad.


There is an afterlife. We know there is in part because One has defeated death and been risen from the dead. Jesus has risen from the dead and has promised that His followers will follow Him in resurrection. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he my die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). This teaching is addressed to those who answer “Yes” to Jesus question. But what exactly does happen when we die? What is heaven like?


God has answered those questions in His word. The Bible is God’s love letter to humanity. It is His manual for life. The Bible tells us the meaning and purpose of life. And the summary culmination of what life is all about is to know God in Christ and to spend eternity with Him. Life’s meaning is discovered in proportion to our knowing God. And we know God through His inspired word. Many believe truth but some who believe stop when it comes to the idea of God revealing or disclosing anything about the afterlife. The Christian Church today and unfortunately, many Christians, are woefully ignorant about what happens when we die and what heaven is like. In this short teaching I’d like to whet your appetite a bit by considering some evidence disclosed by God about those two questions: What happens when we die? What is heaven life?


When we study the Bible, we should see ourselves as a detective. We are investigating. Not so much the scene of a crime, (though God has revealed crimes of sin in His revelation history) but more a treasure map. It’s not that God hides treasures from us, it’s that He walks us through and helps us discover truths and profound treasures that we, because of sin, spiritual dullness or spiritual immaturity, aren’t able to readily see. The Holy Spirit comes to open our spiritual eyes to see wonderful things from God’s word. We should be praying, “Open my eyes, that I may see, wondrous things from Your law” (Psalm 119:18). We walk through the pages of the Bible prayerfully making observations, listening to the Holy Spirit who will help us to ask the right questions, and following His lead in collecting evidence which will help us answer those heaven-sent questions. This is the attitude to help us see what we need to see and acquire the right perspective on this life, as well as the next.


When we look at the evidence in the Bible, we see heaven is an actual place that people are often ignorant of which adds to the pain of grieving (i.e. 1 Thessalonians 4:13). The Apostle Paul was given a glimpse of heaven (2 Corinthians 12:1-7) which caused him to later comment about him, “having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:23). When you know about heaven and what God has planned for those who love Him, you’ll be eager to leave this earthly existence and get on with your eternal life.


God by the Holy Spirit, has revealed details about heaven to us:


1 Corinthians 2:9–14 (NKJV)

But as it is written:

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,

Nor have entered into the heart of man

The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.  

13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.


Some people stop at the “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” and assert that we can’t know about heaven. But if you look further and the context of the passage it states exactly the opposite to that assertion. It actually states that “God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.” The Bible, the God-breathed revelation of God’s truth (i.e. 2 Timothy 3:16-17), does provide us with information about heaven, the place God has prepared for those who love Him.


So, what can we glean from God’s word about what happens when we die and about heaven? Let’s look at some of the evidence God has provided in His word about heaven.


First, the present heaven is an intermediate state; presently temporal but will be made eternal. I want to begin here by making what you might receive as a bold statement about the present heaven. The present heaven, is a temporary intermediate state. I say this based on the scripture in Revelation which states, “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Revelation 21:1a). If the present heaven (and earth) will at some point pass away, that means they are not permanent but temporary. The present heaven is a glorious place, but it is only a transitional intermediate place until it is replaced by a permanent eternal heaven.


Second, we go to heaven at the point of the Rapture or at death. We have already gone in to great detail about how born again of the Spirit Christians will go to be with Jesus at the Rapture of the Church. The other way a person goes to be with Jesus is at their death. Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write, “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).  The moment a person breathes their last breath, their heart stops beating, and their brain functions stop, at that moment they go immediately into the presence of Jesus.


Third, only those who have been born again of the Holy Spirit go to heaven. Jesus said it quite clearly, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3; see context of John 3:1-21). This is the good news of the Gospel: that as a gift of God’s grace (e.g. Ephesians 2:1-9; Titus 3:4-7) through faith in Christ (e.g. Romans 1:16-17; Ephesians 2:8-9) our sins (which separate us from God - e.g. Isiah 59:1-2; Psalm 66:18; Habakkuk 1:13) can be forgiven (e.g. Acts 13:23-41; 26:13-18; Ephesians 1:3-8; Colossians 1:13-14) which results in us being spiritually regenerated by the indwelling Holy Spirit (e.g. 2 Corinthians 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14).


Fourth, this intermediate state is a place composed of hell as well as heaven. We see this in Jesus account of the rich man and Lazarus where the rich man is in a place of torment and Lazarus in a place of comforting (Luke 16:22-24). This “hell” is also temporary in that at the culmination of all things it will be thrown into the Lake of Fire, not a place of annihilation, but a place of eternal torment (Revelation 20:11-15).


Fifth, Jesus referred to the intermediate present heaven as “paradise.” Jesus told the thief on the cross who put his faith in Him, “Assuredly, I say to you, to day you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). This further testifies to the fact that when we die we go instantly to be with Jesus. But it also describes this intermediate state as “paradise” (Greek paradeisos). This is the place the Apostle Paul was caught up to (2 Corinthians 12:4). Paradeisos is a Greek word that was borrowed from the Persian language. It is a word used to describe a walled garden or a king’s garden. The Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Old Testament) uses paradeisos to describe: The Garden of Eden – Genesis 2:8; in Nehemiah 2:8 to describe the forests of a king; In Ecclesiastes 2:5 it is used to describe the garden of Solomon filled with orchards; in Numbers 24:6 to describe a garden by a river; in Isaiah 1:30 and Jeremiah 29:5 as a garden; and in Ezekiel 31:8 and 9 it is used to describe “the garden of God.” The idea is a place of fruitfulness, beauty, peace and solitude. Paradise is a place where we can rest and heal from the trials of this life. Paradise is a good place. It is the place that Paul was taken to and that made him yearn to return to (compare 2 Corinthians 12:4 and Philippians 1:23).


Paul said “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). That should be out attitude. While we are living our earthly existence, we should live it all out for Jesus. This life is hard work and trials at times, but what gets us through is the hope we have to “gain” paradise when we die. Live for Christ now. Die for Christ eventually. Spend eternity with Jesus later. That is a good way to live.


Sixth, life after death is a conscious state. When Jesus described the existence of the rich man and Lazarus in the afterlife, He described them as being in a conscious state (Luke 16:19-31). The teaching of “soul sleep” is not supported by scripture. The Bible only speaks of the death of people in terms of “sleep” as a euphemism to describe the state of their dead body which will be resurrected later. When we die, whether we go to heaven or hell, we will be conscious. In support of this is the fact that every reference in Revelation to people who have died and are in heaven is one of their being conscious. In Revelation it describes people in the following way:


  • Revelation 6:9–11 (NKJV) - When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. 10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.


From this description we learn the following: “Who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held” - Those in heaven are associated with their lives on earth. “And they cried with a loud voice” – They are able to express themselves audibly. They can communicate. They have emotions as indicated by their raising their voices loudly.


How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on thos who dwell on the earth?” – From these words we can deduce the following: They are rational in that they ask God a question. They remember and are aware of what went on during their time on earth. Just as the rich man is expected to remember how he lived on earth (Luke 16:25), so are these martyrs. They are aware of what is happening on earth. They know God has yet to avenge them. Later the heavenly inhabitants shout praises to God for His judgment on earth Revelation 18:20; 19:1-2). There is rejoicing in heaven when a sinner repents which indicates they know something about people getting saved (Luke 15:10). They have an audience with God where they can ask Him questions. That they ask a question indicates they need to learn. This shouted question seems to indicate that those in heaven are interceding or even praying on behalf of those who remain on the earth. Prayer doesn’t stop in heaven! In fact, prayer is enhanced and more vital than ever in the presence of the Lord.


Randy Alcon in his book Everything you always wanted to know about heaven” states, “In heaven, people desire understanding and pursue it. There is also time in the present heaven. People are aware of time’s passing and are eager for the coming day of the Lord’s judgment. God answers that they must ‘rest a little longer.’ Waiting requires the passing of time. I see no reason to believe that the realities of this passage apply only to one group of martyrs and to no one else in Heaven. We should assume that what is true of them is also true of our loves ones already there and it will be true of us when we die.” [1]


Then a white robe was given to each of them” – Those martyred for their faith are given white robes. This indicates a special status for those who were martyred for their faith. It implies they are in a tangible state with tangible clothing. Jesus is aware of what we do on earth, especially the ministry we are involved in (Revelation 3:15). There is evidence that God keeps an account of what people do on earth, even their words! (cf. Matthew 6:19-21; 12:36; Revelation 14:13).

The words “until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed” – Indicate that God has a specific number and limit to how many will be martyred for their faith. God always acts in an orderly way.


Seventh, will our knowledge of what is happening on earth diminish heaven in some way? In our intermediate state we will be aware of the truth and fulfillment of God’s word which reveals the final outcome and victory of God. There will be concern in heaven for those who remain on the earth. But there will be rejoicing as we see God’s plans come to be (i.e. Revelation 12:10-12). There will be tremendous regret for those in hell who remember the many gracious opportunities to repent and turn to Jesus that they ignored (e.g. Luke 16:24-25). Jesus identified with His persecuted Church (Acts 9:4-5). He likely felt sorrow for those being persecuted for His name. Therefore, in this intermediate state of heaven, we too may feel a degree of sorrow. There will be happiness and joy in the intermediate present heaven, but it won’t be based on ignorance, it will be based on perspective.


But in the New Heaven and New Earth there will be no more reason for sadness. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).


Eighth, life after death appears to be a physical or tangible place. When Jesus was resurrected He had a tangible resurrection body as opposed to being in a ghostly state (John 20:19-31). Jesus did not appear as a ghost as some cults teach (e.g. Jehovah’s Witnesses) and those who hold to a dualistic world view. In the Book of Revelation those depicted in heaven are seen by John (e.g. Revelation 7:9). Angels are seen by John in heaven (e.g. Revelation 8:6). John even sees animals in heaven such as an eagle flying (e.g. Revelation 8:13). In Hebrews it states that the Old Testament system of worship with its Tabernacle/Temple was a model of the real heavenly objects (e.g. Hebrews 8:3-6). God’s inspired word speaks of a literal Mount Zion and “city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (e.g. Hebrews 12:22). Jesus promised to give “fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God” to those who victorious in this life (Revelation 2:7).


Ninth, there is evidence that we will have physical-types of bodies in heaven. God and angels are spirits (John 4:23-24; Hebrews 1:14). However, human beings were created by God as a physical body that God breathed into (Genesis 2:7). Our created physical body is part of what distinguishes us from angelic beings. Therefore, it isn’t farfetched to think that in some way our heavenly bodies will include a physical aspect in some way. Lazarus had a finger that the rich man asked to dip in water (Luke 16:24). John was instructed to eat a scroll that would taste like honey in his stomach (Revelation 10:9-10). If John had a physical body when he visited heaven, it just might mean that those in heaven have tangible bodies of some kind. If Jesus resurrection body appeared to be physical, might not ours also be physical in some way? Enoch (Hebrews 11:5) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11-12) were physically taken up to heaven. It’s true that we will receive our heavenly bodies at the return of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:52-53). However, even if the bodies we receive upon death are temporary transitional bodies, there is evidence they will in some way be physical or tangible.


Tenth, there is an initial judgment at death. In Hebrews it states, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). At death there is an initial judgement as to whether one goes to heaven or hell (intermediate). This will be a judgment as to whether we have been saved from our sins by God’s grace through faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). If we have received Jesus by faith as our Savior (been born again spiritually – John 3) then God will see the righteousness of Jesus put to our account when He looks on us at this initial judgment (e.g. 2 Corinthians 5:21). Those who are “in Christ” will go to heaven. If we have not been born again through faith in Jesus we will be put in hell. Both heaven and hell are “everlasting.” Jesus said, “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). The same word (Greek aionios) is used to translate “everlasting” and “eternal” in this verse.


Born again Christians need not fear this initial judgment. They are righteous by virtue of their security found in Jesus (1 John 5:13). God’s perfect love in us casts out any fear of this judgment (1 John 4:17-18). The unrighteous have no such confidence. They will tremble at this initial judgment when it is determined they did not trust Christ as Savior. But there is a judgment that Christians will experience. It is “the Judgment Seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10-12; 1 Corinthians 3:13-14; 2 Corinthians 5:10). This is a judgment where Jesus will judge our works. We will be given rewards based on the way we lived our lives in Christ.


When we die we will be present with the Lord and we will be with the Lord forever.  The intermediate state of paradise is not forever. It will be renewed or regenerated by the Lord and replaced by a New Heaven and a New Earth. It is in this New place that we will be forever with the Lord. In this New place God comes down to live with us! John is inspired to reveal later in the Revelation of Jesus Christ, “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4). It will be the most glorious of all glories for us when we see this come to pass. To that we can only say, Maranatha! “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20b).


Do you see heaven a bit clearer now? Do you have a sense of what happens at the point of death? I hope God’s word has cleared up a few things in this regard for you. Mark Twain’s well-known quote regarding people who are “So heavenly minded they are no earthly good” may cross your mind. But Mark Twain was not a bulwark of Christian character if he was a Christian at all. Dwelling on heaven is never a bad thing. In fact, the Bible instructs us to keep our focus on heaven. A picture of heaven should be a great incentive for us to press on. Heaven is our final destination. Heaven is a great blessing for us to focus on with great expectations. Paul instructed the Colossians to do just that, focus on heaven:

  • Colossians 3:1-3 - “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” 

Heaven is a place you should want to know about. Unfortunately, much of the Church has ignored heaven and what it’s like portraying it as a vast enigmatic mystery. But the Bible tells us a great deal about heaven. When you know what heaven is like it will become a place you can’t wait to get to. Heaven is where we will spend eternity. Christians aren’t so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good. Christians are usually so earthly minded they have become useless for earth and heaven.  But it doesn’t have to be that we. I hope and pray understanding a bit more of heaven will whet your appetite so much that you re-set your life priorities in a way that makes you so heavenly minded you’ll be earthly good, and most importantly you’ll share the hope of heaven with those around you and be used by God to glorify His name by leading others to experience the hope of His glory. Can’t wait to get the heaven. How about you?  






[1] Randy Alcorn, Everything you always wanted to know about HEAVEN, (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2008) p. 23.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Bitter or Better

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.   In this you have done foolishly; therefore from now on you shall have wars.”- 2 Chronicles 16:9

 

The national holiday of Thanksgiving is always met with mixed feelings. For some it is a welcomed time of thanksgiving to God. For others, not so much. It’s a time of family gatherings with loved ones who live far away.  For others it is a tough pill to swallow. Maybe your family gathering for this holiday will involve having to rub shoulders with a family member whose hurt or offended you in some way. Maybe the family gathering this year will be tense and uncomfortable. Maybe you’re the cause of that. Maybe you’re not. Either way, maybe you’re at the point where gathering together to thank God is the last thing you want to do and your bitter because you feel this discomfort is being forced upon you.

Maybe you’ve been caught up in the political conflict going on in our country today. There is a fierce political struggle going on. There is a fight for the soul of our nation. The sides are pretty evenly divided. Maybe you’ve gotten to the point where you bitterly say, “I just can’t stand those other guys.” Political involvement can be frustrating and it can lead to bitterness. Perhaps your side of the political debate is advancing its agenda and you’re elated. Or perhaps, though your political side is winning and advancing its agenda, the partial progressive main stream media is ignoring the advances and accentuating the blockages. Maybe you’re envious of your political foes position of influence. Maybe you feel politically cheated, disenfranchised, left out or ignored and you resent it. Maybe you feel an injustice is being perpetrated. Maybe you feel you are part of correcting injustices.

It’s easier to be thankful when our candidate wins and your agenda is being advanced. It’s difficult to be thankful when our candidate loses and we watch as a previously installed agenda is dismantled. It’s easier to be thankful when things go our way. It’s harder to be thankful when things aren’t going our way. In such circumstances we have a choice; we can become bitter or we can become better in the Lord.

            Better Not Bitter

            If we are not thankful then we can become bitter.  If we are not thankful,
            then it becomes too easy to sit around and ponder the question: why me?

            Dr. Jim Moore, pastor of St. Luke’s UMC in Houston wrote a book entitled
            "You Can Grow Bitter or You Can Grow Better".  He writes that he got the
            idea for the title from a young woman who once came to him in a most tragic
            moment in her life.  She had tears in her eyes and her knuckles were white
            as she twisted a handkerchief.  She had just received word that her
            twenty-six-year-old husband had been killed in a farming accident, leaving
            her alone with three pre-school age children.  One moment he was alive and
            vibrant, the next moment gone.  "I don't know how I am going to be able to
            get along without him," she sobbed.  "But I do know one thing.  I can either
            get bitter or I can get better."


            One way that we can get better rather than bitter is to develop a thankful
            heart.  We must learn to be grateful to the Lord with whom we shall spend
            eternity.  Our morning prayer should always begin:  O Thou who has given me
            so much, I pray that you give me yet one more thing--a grateful heart.
[1]


There’s an Old Testament king by the name of Asa whose life sheds light on the two sides of this coin of Bitter or Better.  There is truth in the history of this king that can unify us and bring us back together as a nation. There is truth in Asa’s story that can give us reason to be thankful in spite of life’s circumstances. The meaning of the name "Asa" itself is unclear but it is associated with the idea of healer and injurious. I pray his life story will bring healing and hopeful instructions to all of us for this Thanksgiving.

Who was Asa? Asa ruled 41 years over the southern kingdom of Judah. He was the great grandson of Solomon, the grandson of Rehoboam, son of Abijah, and the father of Jehoshaphat. Unlike his father, he is said to have done what was pleasing in the eyes of the Lord. [2] But he is not one of whom it could be said "he finished well."

We can divide Asa's life into three telling parts:

I. The Blessed Truths learned by Asa - 2 Chronicles 14-15

II. The Bitter Root of Asa - 2 Chronicles 16:1-6

III. The Broken End of Asa - 2 Chronicles 16:7-14

 

and we will add in the end:

 

IV. The Better Way - Cure for Bitterness - 2 Chronicles 16:9; Exodus 15:22-27


I. The Blessed Truths Learned by Asa

King Asa had a good start. We are introduced to this king with the following words:


2 Chronicles 14 (NKJV) - So Abijah rested with his fathers, and they buried him in the City of David. Then Asa his son reigned in his place. In his days the land was quiet for ten years.

King Abijah of the Southern Kingdom of Judah was able to defeat King Jeroboam of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He was used by God to put a halt to apostate Jeroboam's advances against the Southern Kingdom. What Abijah started his son Asa would continue.

We should be thankful for good fathers who produce godly sons.  Every father should desire to leave a godly heritage in their children. Today there are too much absentee fathers. Even fathers who live under the same roof as their children are often absent either in their thoughts toward their children or actual time spent with their children. We should be thankful for fathers who invested time with their children. Fathers who were absent in our lives in one way or the other are often the source of much bitterness. Are you thankful or bitter regarding your father?

When we look at Asa we find some blessed truths in the first part of his life.

Blessed Truth #1 -  Do what's good and right. 

Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God, for he removed the altars of the foreign gods and the high places, and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the wooden images.

One commentary states:

      You can do that which is good, but it will not necessarily be right. You can pray, and        that’s   good, but if you’re like the Pharisees who prayed simply to be heard by men or to           fulfill some obligation, it’s not right if your motives are wrong. Giving is good, but if you         give like the Pharisees, simply to receive the applause and approval of men, you’re      missing the mark entirely. Witnessing is good, but if you’re witnessing simply to add        another notch to your Bible, that’s not right. Asa did that which was both good and right,         and the result was quietness in the land.[3]

How do we do what’s good and right? We walk the narrow path by following the leading of the Holy Spirit and living out God’s word in the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.

Doing what is good and right is important because it affects those around us to create either bitterness or a better feeling. Are you the source of bitterness or betterment?

Blessed Truth #2 - Encourage others to seek the LORD and follow His word.

 He commanded Judah to seek the Lord God of their fathers, and to observe the law and the commandment.

In encouraging others to seek the Lord and follow His Word Asa was creating and environment of revival and rest conducive to enjoying the blessings of the Lord. The more we seek the Lord the more thankful we will be. The closer we are to the Lord the more thankful we will be. The less thankful we are the further away from the Lord we will be. Thankfulness is an indicator of where we are with the Lord. How thankful are you? How close to the Lord are you?

Blessed Truth #3 - Clean out those things detrimental to following the LORD and enjoy God's peace.

 He also removed the high places and the incense altars from all the cities of Judah, and the kingdom was quiet under him.

Jesus spoke of heart soil in which weeds choked off the fruitfulness of the seed of His word (Matthew 13). It's always best to simplify life so that distractions and potential temptations are kept to a minimum. The apostle John closed his first epistle with the exhortative warning, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). Idols offend God. Idols are objects of spiritual adultery. An idol is an object of worship. We should worship God as our Lord. Your “Lord” is your master passion. Idols are objects of “master passion” other than God. We owe everything to God; our life; our gifts and possessions; family; everything. He alone should be our Master passion. We should be so thankful that we remove anything or anyone that threatens to take away from God as our Master passion. Do you have anything or anyone in your life that is a “Master passion” other than God? Maybe that’s why you’ve lost your sense of thankfulness.

Blessed Truth #4 - Use times of peace to prepare for future battles.

And he built fortified cities in Judah, for the land had rest; he had no war in those years, because the Lord had given him rest. Therefore he said to Judah, “Let us build these cities and make walls around them, and towers, gates, and bars, while the land is yet before us, because we have sought the Lord our God; we have sought Him, and He has given us rest on every side.” So they built and prospered. And Asa had an army of three hundred thousand from Judah who carried shields and spears, and from Benjamin two hundred and eighty thousand men who carried shields and drew bows; all these were mighty men of valor.

Asa didn't lounge around and do nothing when things were going well. He used his time of rest and peace to prepare for the future battles and challenges that he knew were a part of life and would inevitably come.

Even though King Asa started well and was doing the right thing to get the people back on track with God, it didn't mean he wouldn't face opposition or a trial. God allows trials and difficulties into our lives because trials are what test and build our faith (cf. James 1:2-5; 1 Peter 1:6-9). Understanding this helps us to be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18) as well as for all circumstances (Eph. 5:20).

Blessed Truth #5 - Cry out to God in times of trial and understand that great obstacles are opportunities for our great God to work.

 

Then Zerah the Ethiopian came out against them with an army of a million men and three hundred chariots, and he came to Mareshah. 10 So Asa went out against him, and they set the troops in battle array in the Valley of Zephathah at Mareshah. 11 And Asa cried out to the Lord his God, and said, “Lord, it is nothing for You to help, whether with many or with those who have no power; help us, O Lord our God, for we rest on You, and in Your name we go against this multitude. O Lord, You are our God; do not let man prevail against You!”

Asa passes this test with flying colors. When opposed by overwhelming enemy odds he cries out to the Lord. That's what we should do in every difficulty. Cry out to God for help and direction.

I like the note on these verses from Pastor Chuck Smith on verse 11 from the Word for Today Study Bible:

 

      "Asa cried, 'LORD, it is nothing for You to help.' Difficulty must always be measured by the capacity of the agent that is doing the work. If God helps us that's all we need.         Nothing is too hard for God.

 

That's encouraging! That’s reason to be thankful even when faced with obstacles in life.

 

Blessed Truth #6 - Understand that God is faithful and He will bless and wants to bless beyond our expectations.

 

12 So the Lord struck the Ethiopians before Asa and Judah, and the Ethiopians fled. 13 And Asa and the people who were with him pursued them to Gerar. So the Ethiopians were overthrown, and they could not recover, for they were broken before the Lord and His army. And they carried away very much spoil. 14 Then they defeated all the cities around Gerar, for the fear of the Lord came upon them; and they plundered all the cities, for there was exceedingly much spoil in them. 15 They also attacked the livestock enclosures, and carried off sheep and camels in abundance, and returned to Jerusalem.

 

God is faithful! Be thankful for God's faithfulness. In the New Testament Paul is inspired to record a prayer for the church in Ephesus. At the end of the prayer he burst forth with a blessed truth of God's ability and willingness to bless us:

 

·         Ephesians 3:20–21 (NKJV) - 20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Aren’t you glad that God doesn’t limit His answers to our prayers according to what we have prayed? No, God goes beyond our requests in prayer. God loves to bless us above and beyond what we ask. God is benevolent; He just loves to shower blessings on His children. God can and wants to do "exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think" in prayer. For that we should be exceedingly thankful.

 

I love the inspired words of scripture that declare, “What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His Own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32). “God is for us.” Do you believe that? You don’t have to persuade God to bless you. God is looking for ways to bless you! Just give God an excuse to bless you. Step out in faith for Him and He will bless. That fact that God is for us should elate us and fill us to overflowing with thankfulness.

 

Our problem is that we often get in the way of God’s blessing. Like we will see with Asa, we forget about God, we don’t seek Him out for help, we rely on our own devices. That short circuits God’s blessing. We may be able to achieve some degree of victory and blessing on our own, but we will always be settling for less than God’s best when we do that.  

 

Blessed Truth #7 - "If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you."

2 Chronicles 15 - Now the Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Oded. And he went out to meet Asa, and said to him: “Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you. For a long time Israel has been without the true God, without a teaching priest, and without law; but when in their trouble they turned to the Lord God of Israel, and sought Him, He was found by them. And in those times there was no peace to the one who went out, nor to the one who came in, but great turmoil was on all the inhabitants of the lands. So nation was destroyed by nation, and city by city, for God troubled them with every adversity. But you, be strong and do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded!”

Here God lays out a promise. “The Spirit of God” came upon the prophet Azariah to relay this principle. This principle is bound up in the statement, “If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.” This is something that is true. This is something you can depend on happening. If you turn your back on God you are headed for turmoil. If you turn to the Lord, you may still experience trials, but God will strengthen us and bring us through.

Now you may recoil at this principle or you may receive it. Your response will determine not only your thankfulness, but indeed the quality of your life with God. Asa thankfully chose to seek the LORD.

And when Asa heard these words and the prophecy of Oded the prophet, he took courage, and removed the abominable idols from all the land of Judah and Benjamin and from the cities which he had taken in the mountains of Ephraim; and he restored the altar of the Lord that was before the vestibule of the Lord. Then he gathered all Judah and Benjamin, and those who dwelt with them from Ephraim, Manasseh, and Simeon, for they came over to him in great numbers from Israel when they saw that the Lord his God was with him.

 

When you seek the LORD, He will be with you. When the LORD is with someone, there is a Presence, a Power evidenced in that person’s life. That is what we see here. We see that Israel “saw that the LORD his God was with” Asa. What do people see when they look at you? Do they see your team affiliation? Do they see a brand? Do they simply see you? Or do they see and sense God’s presence in your life?

 

10 So they gathered together at Jerusalem in the third month, in the fifteenth year of the reign of Asa. 11 And they offered to the Lord at that time seven hundred bulls and seven thousand sheep from the spoil they had brought. 12 Then they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul; 13 and whoever would not seek the Lord God of Israel was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman. 14 Then they took an oath before the Lord with a loud voice, with shouting and trumpets and rams’ horns. 15 And all Judah rejoiced at the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart and sought Him with all their soul; and He was found by them, and the Lord gave them rest all around.

 

16 Also he removed Maachah, the mother of Asa the king, from being queen mother, because she had made an obscene image of Asherah; and Asa cut down her obscene image, then crushed and burned it by the Brook Kidron.

 

When we seek the LORD and His presence is upon us it inspires others to seek the LORD. What we see here is a national revival spurred on by the presence of God in Asa’s life. So deep was Asa's commitment to the Lord that he did what was right in the sight of the Lord even when it meant going against his grandmother. In other words, Asa put God first in every regard. That is what we need folks. That is what we need to do, each of us. Seeking God with all our heart and living for Him in every way is what will usher in the national revival we so dearly need. And that seeking of God can be exhibited in our expressions of thanksgiving.

 

Thanksgiving is one of the few national holidays that hasn’t been commandeered by secular sales departments. Thanksgiving is still a time of family get togethers. Yes, public schools try to usurp God’s place in this holy day by teaching that the pilgrims were thankful to the native Americans for helping provide food for a famished colony of settlers. But Who moved the native Americans to be so generous? When you do a little investigation, you find that the pilgrims welcomed the help from the native Americans and brought them together to celebrate and give thanks for Gods mercy and bounty. The first Thanksgiving was a time of worship to the LORD!

 

Let’s renew that spirit of thanks in our homes and communities. Invite those around you to join you in celebrating our bounty in America and giving thanks to the One to Whom we owe everything. Doing that just may lead to a nation-wide revival.

 

17 But the high places were not removed from Israel. Nevertheless the heart of Asa was loyal all his days.

 

Asa's heart was loyal to God but the people's heart was not completely loyal to God. The “high places” were places of idol worship. “High places” were also areas where the God of Israel was worshipped but with pagan practices. God ahs given very clear instructions in His word about how He should be worshipped (e.g. Exodus 20; Leviticus; John 4:23-24). God doesn’t appreciate attempts to worship Him in worldly ways. When we attempt to move the ark of God’s Presence with “new” Philistine carts from this world, it always leads to calamity, confusion and chaos and culminates in being cut off from God’s Presence (e.g. 1 Samuel 5-6 and 2 Samuel 6). We need to seek God and worship Him in His prescribed ways.

 

A leader can walk a holy life, but there is a responsibility for the people to follow his lead. We are only responsible for our attitude and our actions. We can only do our best in the Spirit and trust God for the rest. We plant a seed. We water a seed. But the increase comes from God (1 Cor. 3:7).

 

Asa sought the LORD and the LORD blessed his reign. But the people followed only partially. That is unfortunately often the case. We need to pray for people to seek the LORD wholeheartedly. And even though there was still work to be done, God spoke of Asa's heart as loyal.

 

Blessed Truth #8 - Worship is the right environment to express the thanks God deserves and to enjoy the presence of the Lord together.

 

18 He also brought into the house of God the things that his father had dedicated and that he himself had dedicated: silver and gold and utensils. 19 And there was no war until the thirty-fifth year of the reign of Asa.

 

Asa brought the Temple utensils out of storage and put them back where they belonged. He was getting the house of God in order. And God gave him rest "until the thirty-fifth year of the reign of Asa."

It's good to gather together to thank the Lord. It's good when a leader leads his people in restoration of a relationship with God. It's good to gather to worship the Lord and rejoice in His presence; to give thanks to the Lord. That's what Asa does here.  But times of thanks need to be maintained. We can lose sight of God’s place and His provisions. When that happens, it leads to complacency and complacency leads to self-concocted calamitous crises.

 

II. The Bitter Root of Asa - King Asa’s Problems begin with Politics

In the New Testament book of Hebrews, it states:

·         Hebrews 12:14–15 (NKJV) - 14 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;

King Asa was living a blessed life and walking strong with the Lord. This was true until he took his eyes off the Lord. Then everything went downhill fast. We should take this as a word of warning.

2 Chronicles 16 - In the thirty-sixth year of the reign of Asa, Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah and built Ramah, that he might let none go out or come in to Asa king of Judah.

Everything was going along smoothly until Judah’s carnal sister nation to the north, led by king Baasha, came against Judah. Baasha set up a blockade against Judah. This blocked trade routes. The economy of the southern kingdom was stifled. Commerce was cut off. The product flow was choked. I’m sure people began to complain. And Asa as king came to a national crisis.

The armies of Israel led by king Baasha were a less formidable problem than the million-man army of the Ethiopians. But they were still a problem that needed to be addressed. When we are confronted by an obstacle that is obviously beyond us to handle, our response is more immediate in turning to the LORD for help. But when a problem appears on the surface to be more manageable, we are tempted to rely on our own strength rather than take it to God.

Asa apparently reacted to the intrusion of Israel as a problem not big enough to warrant God’s involvement. Or perhaps he had drifted from God and unlike before when it was second nature for him to turn immediately to God for help with the Ethiopians, here he turns to his own devices in the form of a political option.

Right here we need to realize that - No problem is too big AND NO PROBLEM IS TOO SMALL to seek God's direction and help. Any problem (big or small), that we fail to seek God's direction and help with, inevitably becomes a BIG problem.

What would king Asa do? Last time, when the Ethiopians came out against him and were a million strong, Asa cried out to the Lord. What did he do now?

Then Asa brought silver and gold from the treasuries of the house of the Lord and of the king’s house, and sent to Ben-Hadad king of Syria, who dwelt in Damascus, saying, Let there be a treaty between you and me, as there was between my father and your father. See, I have sent you silver and gold; come, break your treaty with Baasha king of Israel, so that he will withdraw from me.”

Asa relied on his own resources. Asa had experienced a period of prosperity. He had some extra cash on hand. So, what did he do in response to Baasha's blockade? He didn't seek the Lord, he paid his Syrian neighbor Ben-Hadad to go up against Baasha and do his dirty work for him. Asa acted lazily. He acted in his flesh. He took the easy way out.

Asa relied on men. It shouldn’t be lost on us that Asa was tempted to turn to a political alliance to solve his problem instead of seeking God’s help. How much are we depending on political alliances in our day to solve our national problems? I for one think it’s important to be engaged in the public square, and that would include the political arena. Jesus instructed us to be salt and light, to bring a holy flavor to the distasteful world we live in, to bring purity where there is putrefying decadence and immorality. We are to infiltrate and influence this dark world with the light of Jesus and His Word (Matthew 5:13-16). But having said that, we need to understand that politics is not the answer – Jesus is the Answer. Politics is not the solution – Jesus is the Solution. Nothing is going to save this nation or this world apart from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And when we invest disproportionately in the politics or other alternatives to God in Christ and the power of His Word, we offend God and set ourselves up for a disappointing loss. Remember that. We need a heaven-sent revival!

It's not that human resources and money are necessarily bad, sinful or always the wrong instrument to deal with our problems. The problem is that we should never rely on such things, on anything or anyone instead of God and His Word. The words of Calvary Chapel Pastor Skip Heitzig apply here. He said, “Sometimes a good thing can become a bad thing if it keeps you from God’s best thing.” This is the lesson of king Asa here.

So Ben-Hadad heeded King Asa, and sent the captains of his armies against the cities of Israel. They attacked Ijon, Dan, Abel Maim, and all the storage cities of Naphtali. Now it happened, when Baasha heard it, that he stopped building Ramah and ceased his work. Then King Asa took all Judah, and they carried away the stones and timber of Ramah, which Baasha had used for building; and with them he built Geba and Mizpah.

 

I’m not saying that when we use alternatives to seeking God and relying on Him that we will always fail. Indeed, we can experience a measure of success in our own strength and through resources other than God’s ways. What Asa did worked! But whether or not something “works” is not the determining factor in whether or not it is right in the eyes of the LORD. And how God views something, pleasing Him, should be our goal in all things. “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).  “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17). To do something “in the name of the Lord Jesus” means to do it in a Christlike way. “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24). We should never do what we do merely for people. We serve the Lord by serving others, but make sure you don’t lose sight of serving the Lord in that process. When we serve only people, our “reward” is only very temporary (Matthew 6: 1-4, 19-21). That’s also important because when we do what we do merely for people, we cease being servants of God. “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).

 

The important lesson to learn here is: JUST BECAUSE SOMETHING WORKS DOESN'T NECESSARILY MEAN IT IS GOD'S WILL. Just because you steal something and don't get caught doesn't mean it's God's will or that He approves. Just because you have an affair and aren't getting caught doesn't mean it's God's will or that He approves. Just because you indulge your flesh in some way and don't get caught doesn't mean it's God's will or that He approves. Just because your political party is succeeding, doesn’t necessarily mean God is on your side. Abraham Lincoln was once asked whether or not he believed God was on his side. His response was telling of His faith. He said, “My greater concern is whether or not we are on His side.”

 

How do we know if we are proceeding properly? Notice Asa was prayerless in his decision.

Prayerless practices are powered by the flesh; no matter the outcome. And when we act prayerlessly or without seeking God, we always settle for less than God's best. 

 

I admit that being politically involved is important for us as Christians. That is my personal belief. It is part of God’s instruction to cooperate in the political government He sovereignly places us (i.e. Romans 13).  I think its important to be politically informed and be politically engaged. I’m patriotic. I stand for the flag and kneel at the cross. But having said that, I want to further say that, politics alone are not the answer. If we are going to be successful politically, or in any other way or any other effort, we need to be prayerfully engaged toward God. Politics without prayer is powerless to enact lasting change. Anything without prayer is eternally fruitless. That’s because without God what we do has no eternal significance. Prayer is a declaration of reliance on and submission to God. Our nation has a Declaration of Independence upon which it stands. But as a Christian we need to stand on our Declaration of Dependence on God which is prayer. This nation is not going to survive without God. This nation needs to seek God in prayer if it is to last and be preserved. The proper sequence of action is: Pray; receive God’s Power; act in His Providence.

III. The Bitter End of Asa - The loss of what might have been

And at that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah, and said to him: “Because you have relied on the king of Syria, and have not relied on the Lord your God, therefore the army of the king of Syria has escaped from your hand.

Here is another important lesson to learn: WHEN WE ACT APART FROM GOD WE ALWAYS SETTLE FOR LESS THAN GOD'S BEST. The Lord had intended to give Asa a mighty victory, far more than he imagined. Not only did God want to bless Asa with a victory against Baasha, but against Ben-Hadad too! Asa's Godless action led to half of what he might have experienced. Yes, he was successful to a degree by relying on his own carnal strategy. But he missed out on a windfall of God's blessing.

Were the Ethiopians and the Lubim not a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet, because you relied on the Lord, He delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. In this you have done foolishly; therefore from now on you shall have wars.”

And here is another important lesson to learn: GOD IS LOOKING THROUGHOUT THE EARTH FOR THOSE WHOSE HEART IS LOYAL TO HIM SO THAT HE CAN SHOW HIMSELF STRONG ON THEIR BEHALF. GOD IS JUST WAITING FOR THAT PRAYER, THAT EXPRESSION OF THANKS, THAT STEP OF FAITH, THAT LOYAL HEARTED STEP TO SHOW HIMSELF STRONG ON OUR BEHALF. When God’s scan comes to you what does He see, a loyal seeking heart, or a distant uninterested heart?

What we see when we look further in this passage is that king Asa's self-centered bitterness cut off further blessing from God. Asa had become distant from God in his self-reliance. This at its root is pride. When you’re proud you aren’t usually open to constructive criticism. The proud are not given to repentance. The proud are not open to God’s instruction. The proud think they don’t need God’s instruction. The proud even get angry when God does not recognize their self-reliant successes and instead speaks of the relative losses of what might have been.

 10 Then Asa was angry with the seer, and put him in prison, for he was enraged at him because of this. And Asa oppressed some of the people at that time.

11 Note that the acts of Asa, first and last, are indeed written in the book of the kings of Judah and Israel. 12 And in the thirty-ninth year of his reign, Asa became diseased in his feet, and his malady was severe; yet in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but the physicians.

13 So Asa rested with his fathers; he died in the forty-first year of his reign. 14 They buried him in his own tomb, which he had made for himself in the City of David; and they laid him in the bed which was filled with spices and various ingredients prepared in a mixture of ointments. They made a very great burning for him.

 

So, what do we learn from this historic account about bitterness or being better? An unknown author has written: “Every test in our life makes us bitter or better. Every problem comes to break us or make us. The choice is ours whether we become victim or victor.” Asa spent his last days of life willfully aloof from God. And because of that his channel to Gods' blessing was broken. But it didn't have to end that way. There is a solution.

IV. The Better Way - Cure for Bitterness

What is the solution to turning bitter into sweet; for dealing with bitterness in life that robs us of blessing, joy and a thankful heart? It starts with understanding the issue is in the heart. The Lord told Asa through the prophet:

            2 Chronicles 16:9 (NKJV) - For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the             whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.   In this you have done foolishly; therefore from now on you shall have wars.”

The issue is - Is your heart more loyal to yourself or to God? Are you willing to let go of your feelings of bitterness based on thinking you know better than God? Will you trust God in your life no matter what happens?

One last Old Testament passage holds the key:

            Exodus 15:22–27 (NKJV)

22 So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea; then they went out into the Wilderness of  Shur. And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23 Now when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. Therefore the name of it was called Marah. 24 And the people complained against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 25 So he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet.            There He made a statute and an ordinance for them, and there He tested them,            26 and said, “If you diligently heed the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the Lord who heals you.” 27 Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees; so they camped there by the waters.

The Bible is filled with what are called types or symbols of God's truth. In this record of Moses and the people of Israel they come upon the bitter waters of Marah. So bitter were the waters that they were undrinkable. The water was useless to quench thirst and refresh a soul. When Moses cried out to the LORD, "the LORD showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet." That "tree" is a symbol of the cross of Christ (e.g. Galatians 3:10-13; 1 Peter 2:24). Bible Teacher Jon Courson comments:

            It is the Cross of Calvary which still transforms bitter experiences, bitter people, bitter             circumstances. How? By realizing that the wrongs done to us, the offenses against us, the             disappointments registered by us have all been paid for, dealt with, washed clean by the    blood of Calvary.[4]

We need to put the cross of Christ in our bitter waters. We need to nail our bitterness, resentments, unforgiveness, unthankfulness, to the cross of Jesus. If we are going to be broken, let our pride and bitterness be broken at the cross. Only when we humble ourselves before God in brokenness will the channel to God's blessing be opened for us again. That there is such a solution should cause us to be very thankful.

We need to let the bitterness go. If we don't we will miss out on God's best like King Asa did. He found good but he missed God's best. He lost his joy. He lost his perspective on life and the Lord's workings. He got all caught up in a political agenda. He stopped being thankful. Don't let that happen to you! Look to the cross and be thankful. Look to the cross and thank God that all your bitterness, regrets, indignation, resentments, negativity, pride, prejudice, and all the stuff swimming around in your bitter waters, have a solution in the cross of Christ. Put all your bitter ballast that is sinking your spirit down, put it on the cross and turn it over to Jesus. Ask Jesus for a thankful heart. Tell Him you are through settling for less than His best. Purpose by faith and in the power of the Spirit to walk from this point on in the shadow of the cross of Jesus.

There is pride and settling for second best. There is prayer and finding God’s best. There is self-centeredness and there is the cross. There is revival and there is wreckage. There is bitterness that leads to brokenness. There is blessing that leads to thanksgiving. There is bitterness and there is a better way. What will the LORD see when His scan comes upon you?  



[1] Staff, www.eSermons.com, November 2001
[2] Complete Biblical Library Hebrew-English Dictionary - The Complete Biblical Library Hebrew-English Dictionary – Aleph-Beth.
[3] Courson, J. (2005). Jon Courson’s application commentary: Volume one: Genesis–Job (p. 1178). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
[4] Courson, J. (2005). Jon Courson’s application commentary: Volume one: Genesis–Job (p. 280). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.