April 19, 2020

God’s Grace in Hard Times – Part 1

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Passage: Judges 6
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God's grace is the bright light that we need to see in the dark days of life. And there were many dark days in the history of Israel and keep in mind, they were God's chosen people. And some of the darkest days for the nation of Israel, are recorded for us and took place during the days of the judges. And one such period is what we just read here, in Judges chapter six. Now the period of the judges began with the death of Joshua and continued until Saul was crowned the first king of Israel. And as you read through the book of Judges, the author of the book, on four separate occasions, points out to us that in these days, the days of the judges that there was no king in Israel. And because of this leadership void in the country, everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes, which brought about, which resulted in, a repeating cycle of dark and difficult days for the people of God. And it was during these dark and difficult days for God's people that God reached down and called ordinary people and used them as judges. And God raised up these judges as evidence of His grace and His power.

So one such demonstration of God's grace and power is seen through a man God raised up named Gideon, but I want to let you know, this isn't about Gideon. There are some things about Gideon we can learn from but primarily This is about God and God Grace, during a dark period of Israel's history, and as we've just read, the story of Gideon begins here and Judges chapter six. And the chapter opens with what was a very familiar yet sad theme repeated throughout the book of Judges. And that was the consequence of the people of God for their sin. Look at verse one again, "The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian, seven years".

Now, here's the first thing I want to remind ourselves of this morning is this, that even in the dark days, God was still in control. And if we pay close attention to the text, we see that behind the darkness, and even in the midst of the darkness, God was orchestrating the events in order to achieve his will. And it was during this time, that God shows grace to his people who were living in fear.

Now, does this have any application to our situation today? Well just ask yourself a couple of questions. Do we have people living in fear today? Do we have people who have lost the ability to provide for and to feed their families? Do we have people today who are wondering what God is doing during a pandemic? Well, the obvious answer is, of course, we do. And what God did for his people then, he is still doing for his people today. Our God is a gracious God, who is gracious to his children in all periods of time, and in all cultures. That's why we can reach back into the Old Testament to a chapter in a book called Judges and see the grace of God at work.

So the children of Israel have a problem. Say what was the problem? Well, the problem was not so much a what is it was a who. The problem was the oppression of God's people by the Midianites the Amalekites, and another group of people simply described as the People of the East. And God, as He often did, used other nations as a means of judgment. And God repeatedly warned his people that they were not to serve or to worship any of the false gods of the peoples that inhabited the promised land, the promised land that he gave to them. God brought this to their attention right here in verse 10. "And I said, I am the Lord your God, You shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell, but you have not obeyed my voice".

So the people had a problem and it was a problem of their own making. They disobeyed God and thereby created the problem. A problem which lasted three-quarters of a decade lasted for seven straight years. Now, if we're honest with ourselves, we have to admit that many times, not all the time, but many times we are the source of our own trouble. But there are times when we simply have to look at ourselves to pinpoint or to locate the source of our trouble. And like Israel, God warns us that if we do this, then that will happen. If we do X, then we will experience Y. So in this situation, they violated God's command, and they suffered.

Now here was the real problem for the people. Many times when we read some of these chapters, we think that they have completely forsaken God and gone after false gods. There are times when that is true. But in this particular case, they were trying to incorporate the false worship of the false gods Baal and Asherah in with the worship of the one true God of Israel. And I know as modern-day Christians we think to ourselves, well, how could they do that? How could they try and worship false gods more than the one true God of Israel? How could they try and combine all of these things? But you know what? We don't need to be so quick to condemn them. We don't need to be so quick to go about wagging our heads as a sign of our disapproval. And I say that because, how many of us try and incorporate the worship of our own false gods into the worship of the one true God? Now, granted, we don't worship Baal, and we don't worship Asherah today. But you know what we do worship many times? We worship, let's take this period of time, a particular point in history. If we're not careful, we'll end up worshiping science and technology. So ask yourself during this time, this very stressful time, and let's not be, let's not sugarcoat it here, this is a stressful time. Who are you trusting for your safety and your security? Are you trusting in God and God alone? Or are you putting more faith in the doctors and the scientists? Or how about the government? I mean, we've almost elevated Andy Beshear to the level of a deity. He's not, he's not. Are you trusting more in the government to see us through this time of crisis? Or are you trusting in the sovereignty of God to see you through this crisis?

So let's not be so quick to judge the people of Israel for bringing in other gods along with the one true God of Israel. I think if we're honest with ourselves, we probably do it more than we realize. And though we are centuries removed from the time of the judges, we do have something in common with them. They along with us have a particular specific heart condition. And this condition is known as a wandering heart. Wandering with an “a”.  As a songwriter penned, "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love". And so as a result of the people's wandering hearts, they suffered the consequences of their sin. And the consequences came in the form of the Midianites. The Midianites were unwelcome guests, who when they came, they overstayed their welcome, left your house a mess and cleaned out your fridge.

And you could set your clock by the coming of the Midianites. Year, after year, after year, for seven straight years, they would descend on the land of Israel and decimate, devastate the land. They would take all the crops they would take all of the livestock away from the people of Israel, which kept the people of Israel in a state of misery and poverty for seven years. And how bad was the situation? It was so bad that the people of Israel literally took to the hills. The Scriptures tells us that they hid themselves in the dens, and the caves, and the strongholds of the mountains. And the writer of Judges describes the condition of the people during this time. Verse six says "And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. How low were they? Well, they were so humiliated by the Midianites that when the Angel of the Lord came he found Gideon threshing his crop of wheat down in a wine press in order to hide it from the Midianites.

Now in those days when they would thresh their wheat, they would want to be out on an open, flat surface, and they would throw it up into the air so that the wind would catch the chaff and blow it away. A winepress was a pit in the ground designed to contain all of the juice. So here's Gideon when he should be out in the open, freely throwing up his wheat in order to separate the wheat from the chaff. Here he is down in a pit trying to do that. Can you imagine what a mess that was, what a  terrible task that had to have been.

So the people of God had a problem. And the problem was the annual invasion of the Midianites, who came as God's punishment for his people's disobedience. Finally, they cry out to God. It took seven years, but they did cry out to God. And at the end of seven years, the children of Israel did just as they had done, excuse me, when they were slaves in Egypt. After 400 years in Egypt, they finally cried out to God, after seven years of the Midianites, coming and raping the land, they cried out to God and just as he did in Egypt, he heard the cry of his people, and he sent them, and normally we would think at this point, he sent them a deliver. But he didn't at this point. He sent them a prophet. He sent them a preacher. He sent them His Word, delivered through an unnamed prophet. And why did he do that? Because he had a specific message for the people. Why did God send a preacher before he sent the deliverer? In this instance, he did so because in this instance deliverance, excuse me, conviction needed to come before deliverance. In other words, God wanted them to understand exactly what the problem was. In many times, we want to be let off the hook without dealing with the real heart issue. Now the prophet delivered a short but very pointed, three-point message.

Here's point one. He says to the people of Israel, "You have forgotten who I am". Look at verse eight, "The Lord sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, "Thus says the Lord God of Israel". Now notice how God identified himself. He didn't say he didn't just say "the Lord God", no. He said, "I am the Lord God of Israel". In essence, God saying to the people, "Hey, do you remember me? I'm your God. I chose you. You didn't choose me. I'm the God who delivered you from your bondage in Egypt. I'm your Lord God, not Baal, not Asherah. I'm your Lord God, who brought you into the promised land". Point number one. "You've forgotten who I am".

Point number two. "You’ve forgotten what I did. You've forgotten what I did". Again, back to verse eight. "Thus says the Lord God of Israel, I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery". They should have been eternally grateful. But they weren't. Of course, we can kind of get on our pious high horse and say the same thing. Oh, how could they forget that? How could they think of serving another god after what God had done for them? But you know what? Sadly, we act like the ancient Israelites and we forget all the acts of God on our behalf. God reminds Israel that, "I heard your cry in Egypt and I delivered you out from their hand. And I led you into the promised land and drove out your enemies and how have you responded to me? You have forgotten who I am and what I've done". It's so easy to forget who our God is and what our God has done for us. Therefore, we need frequent reminders to keep us from repeating the mistakes of the Israelites.

Point number three. God says "You have forgotten what I told you". And what had God told them? To not worship any other god. And so he repeats it here in verse 10, "I said, you, I am the Lord your God. You shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell, but you have not obeyed my voice". Now, the word 'fear' here means to hallow, to reverence, or to respect. They weren't to do any of that for the false gods of the Amorites. They were not to worship these false gods, they were not even to recognize them. They were not to acknowledge them as gods, yet, sadly, and tragically, they did and they paid the price for it. And here's what I find interesting about this is, that even though that they acknowledge them as a god yet they suffered for seven years while they worship these gods. There was no deliverance from them. There's no help coming from them. And we're not surprised by that, aren't we? Because they were false gods, they were powerless. There's only one God, one powerful God, the Lord God of Israel.

So God sends a prophet to proclaim His word because there was something more important than immediate relief. And when you and I find ourselves in trouble, when we find ourselves dealing with painful circumstances, we want relief. And when do we want it? We want it now. We want these restrictions to go away now. We want life to go back to normal now. But God said to them, "not so fast. You need knowledge, before relief". And something that I've been trying to pray for myself and to get others to consider is, what is God trying to show us as individuals? What is God trying to show us as a church through this Coronavirus? I have no idea what God's message is for the rest of the world. He's not said something specific. He is revealing Himself through this. But still, I think we can ask ourselves, what is God trying to teach me through this? What is the knowledge I need during this time? Well God wanted them, God wanted them to understand why they needed deliverance. He wanted them to understand that they were in the predicament that they were in because they had not listened to the voice of God. They had not obeyed God's word.

Dale Ralph Davis has written a commentary on the book of Judges and he said this he said, "There are times in our lives when we desire to escape from our circumstances, while God wants us to interpret our circumstances". He goes on to say, "Sometimes we may need understanding more than relief. Sometimes God must give us insight before He grants safety. Understanding God's way of holiness is more important than the absence of pain". But still, in the midst of this let's, let's not miss God's grace in action. God brings us under the message of His word, to make clear for us the reasons for our misery and our helplessness. And he does this through the reading and the preaching of His word.

So we have a problem. We have a Prophet. But thankfully, we also have a promise. And it's so important for us to grasp what God does next. God told them why they were in the predicament they were in. In other words, he's honest with them. He's truthful with them. But you know what? He doesn't abandon them. He doesn't desert them in their time of trouble. He doesn't drag them into despair and leave them there. He doesn't turn his back and walk away. He doesn't tell them that they've made their bed, deal with it, lay in it. No, after he sends a message to them after he sends His word to criticize them, He sends them another message that comforts them. And in verse 11, the Angel of the Lord comes to Gideon as he's hiding in a wine press, what are the very first words out of the mouth of the angel? "The Lord is with you". Statement of fact, statement of a promise, an act of God's grace. Again in verse 16, God says to Gideon, "But I will be with you". And it's so important that you and I remember this specific promise of God during the dark and difficult days of our life. Remember, God said, "I will be with you". The God of Israel, the God that we serve, is a covenant-keeping God, which means that when God makes a promise, He will keep that promise. God's covenant, God's promises, are based upon His character. Therefore, we can always count on and rely on God to fulfill His promises. Repeatedly in scripture, God tells His people that He will be with them. Just look up that phrase, "I will be with you". And you'll see it's used multiple times throughout the scriptures. It's used in the Psalms. It's used in Isaiah. It's used in the book of Matthew. God assured them, and us, of His ongoing continuing presence in our lives, because He is a covenant-keeping God. For instance, the Psalmist says, "For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is your steadfast love towards those who fear Him". Listen, when God ought to destroy, he delivers. And when God ought to shatter, he saves. And we're grateful for that.

That's why Ephesians chapter 2 is such a glorious, comforting chapter. Think of the word picture that the Apostle Paul paints in Ephesians chapter 2, he says, "We were dead. We were lifeless. We were hopeless. We were dead in our trespasses in our sins, we were children of wrath". But then we come to verse 4 of Ephesians chapter 2, and we have two of the most fantastic, glorious words in all of scripture.  Do you remember them? But God. We were dead, but God. We were helpless, but God. We were hopeless, but God. We were dead in our trespasses and sins, but God. We were the children of wrath, but God.

And so in verse 16, we read, and the Lord said to Gideon, "but I will be with you". You see, what God is doing here is he's raising up Gideon to be the deliverer of his people. Just as He raised up Moses to be the deliverer of his people. There are some similarities between the two. And what did God say to Moses, when he doubted his ability to do what God wanted him to? Do you remember Moses? He had every excuse under the sun as to why he couldn't do what God wanted him to do. Then what did God say to Moses, "Moses, but I will be with you". We see the same pattern in Gideon, and Gideon is like, "I'm no mighty man of valor. I'm the least of my family. I come from the lowest tribe. I'm a nobody". God said, "You're missing the point. But I will be with you". What did God say to Joshua when he was set to succeed Moses, "just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you". What does Jesus say to us? "I will never leave you or forsake you". When God promises that He will be with us, God is saying To us, "I have nothing more to give you. And therefore my presence is all that you need. I will be with you".

Now granted, that promise doesn't answer all the questions we may have. But His presence is what will satisfy and protect us. And every one of us has something in common with the ancient Israelites. They needed deliverance. You and I need deliverance. They were oppressed and harassed by the Midianites. You and I are oppressed and harassed by Satan and sin. And like the ancient Israelites, we have made our own misery through our sin. And just as they needed to know why they were in the mess they were in, you and I need to know why we are in the mess we are in. They had forgotten their God, and many today have forgotten about God, and they live as if God doesn't exist, or if He does exist that He has no claim over their lives and therefore they are not responsible to Him. And it is this exact mindset, this forgetfulness about God that continues to lead people farther and farther away from God. And it causes them to worship the false gods of technology or science or materialism. Or how about this false god, the false god of self. And as the Coronavirus pandemic has clearly demonstrated, we the human race, are not in control. We are not as powerful as we think we are. For years, we Americans have said, "We are the mightiest people on Earth. We are the mightiest nation on Earth".  And we're shut down by something we can't even see. We're like Israel, we're hiding out the dens, in the caves, and the strongholds of the mountains. We're like Gideon, we're hiding and we're like Israel, we've been brought very low, and our lives are miserable. That's the life of the unconverted person. That's the life of the sinner. That's the life of the person who is apart from Christ, the one who's not in Christ. And if that describes you, let me ask you, are you ready to cry out to God for deliverance? If you will cry out to God for deliverance, He will hear you.

If you will repent of your sin, of not seeing the ultimate value and worth of Christ, He will do for you what he did for ancient Israel. He will hear you. He will send a deliverer. They needed a deliverer. God sent them a deliverer. You need a deliverer. God sent Israel, Moses. God sent them Joshua, God sent them Gideon. He has sent us His Son Jesus Christ. If you will repent, if you'll turn away from your idol worship of worshiping yourself, or putting your confidence in yourself, or science, or doctors, or government, or self, or materialism, or anything else, if you'll turn away from that, He has promised to save you. He's promised to save all those who acknowledge their sin and seek the forgiveness that only comes from faith in Christ. Listen, your false gods have not saved you. They won't save you. They can't save you. But Christ can. Christ will. Come to Christ today.