SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE, 24 January 2021
Sermon Text: Judges 2:11-3:6
Sermon Series: Judges (#3)
I. The way of man
II. The way of God
III. The way of God, testing of His people
In every story, its beginning is important. An interesting introduction is an essential element of a good story and it’s not an exaggeration to say that a good storyteller is one who begins with a good introduction. People usually follow a speaker whose introduction is attractive and engaging. This means, a bad introduction would cause the audience to be distracted and easily lose their interest, making the audience hard to follow the speaker with the rest of the story.
The section we’ve just read from Jdg. 2-3 concludes the introduction to the book of Judges. Earlier in this introduction, a summary of Israel’s conquering war in Canaan was given and a statement of their failure in keeping God’s command was added. In a word, they could not take the entire land God had promised to give to them; they did not drive out the inhabitants of the land. By this, they disobeyed God. This is the content of the introduction to Judges.
I think it’s not a bad one, but, it’s not an attractive one either because it is about Israel’s failure, and such a theme as failure does not usually appeal to people’s ears, thus, seldom makes a good introduction.
So, in terms of rhetoric, this introduction we’ve read and meditated on in the past two Sundays and today is not an attractive one. But in the spiritual sense, this section presents to us and all who believe in the Lord Jesus an important truth. That is, ‘the way of man and the way of God’ – I mean, how we human beings live and have our being and how God works and saves sinners. In addition, it tells us about the way God sanctifies His own people.
Knowing these ‘ways’ or patterns is not only important for us Christians, but also joyful. While knowing that the Lord welcomes all penitent sinners, and He cleanses them from their sins and adorns them with Jesus’ eternal life is a joy of Christians, knowing how God deals with sinners is another kind of joy to us Christians. It’s like seeing one’s salvation from many directions and appreciating its beauty. Knowing how man is fallen in sin and hopeless unless God saves him deepens our thanks to God for His grace given through Jesus. The passage we’ve opened and read this morning gives us this kind of joy and deepens our thanks to God.
I. THE WAY OF MAN
So, let us begin with the way of man. To say the conclusion first, the way of man is regression or going backward in sin. In other words, the humankind gets worse always and in every respect. I believe you’ve heard many people say – and I believe, you yourselves have said the same many times – that today’s morals or ethics is worse than that of yesterday. ‘Kids these days are getting worse,’ says someone and another adds, saying, ‘every day, evil and social chaos intensify.’ In fact, such is a biblical view on the fallen humanity. We’re told that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5-6). Ps. 14:2 adds to it and says that all “have turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”
Listen to vs. 11 and following in our text passage. According to these verses, Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served pagan idols. They abandoned their God and provoked Lord’s anger. V. 19 specifically points out to us the spiritual orientation of the hearts of Israel. It says, when a judge died, Israelites turned back from their God and became more corrupt than their fathers. Likewise, never has man been better under the heavens; he always regresses in sin. And this is the way of man; this is the way of all in the fallen humankind.
The history of the Bible proves it. Our first parents sinned and they were kicked out of the paradise God had built for them. Then, a son of theirs murdered his brother. In just a few generations later, a man whose name was Lamech pledged that anyone who harmed him would be revenged seventy-seven times more. Moreover, we know what happened to the people at Babel and the rest is a dark history.
Compare that history to what we see and find around us in the present day. We see nuclear bombs and missiles and various highly sophisticated weapons for mass destruction of humans. The way of man is sin and there’s no hope of turning around from it unless God intervenes.
So, the people and generations of OT Israel in times of Judges walked this way of man and sinned against God. Likewise, what is happening around us and with the present generation is a repetition of the same way of man. That is, we have no hope of becoming better, no possibility of changing our course other than following the same way of sinful man.
II. THE WAY OF GOD
While man’s way is constantly the way of sin, God works in a consistent way too. But His way is of saving sinners. His way is calling and saving His elect from their sins. The way He works and saves His elect is by sending His servant to them. In times of Judges, those human judges were sent by God to save God’s people. Many years later, God finally sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to the world as their one and only Saviour. Since His ascension, God has constantly sent His servants to deliver His message of free grace and salvation through faith in Jesus. This is His way – He sent His Son and constantly sends His messengers to His elect in the world to call them and save them through Jesus, His Son.
He does this in His love and mercy and compassion toward sinners. He hears the voices of His elect who are in sin and in deep agony and affliction. They groan and the Lord pities them and, out of His divine pity, out of His marvellous and unfathomable grace, He raises His messengers and sends them to His people to deliver them out of their trouble. In fact, the whole book of Judges is about this way of God.
We’ll look into each case of God’s way implemented in the history of Israel from next week. But today, let me remind you of a well-known case described in the OT as a clear example of God’s way. I mean, the case of Sodom and Gomorrah of Genesis 19 and saving Lot from destruction. Their sins were great, and God destroyed those cities and all lives in them were perished. Ever since, Sodom and Gomorrah have become one of the bywords for detestable sins and rebellion against God.
But Lot, Abraham’s nephew, and his daughters were saved from that calamity. Before hailing sulfur and fire from heaven, God sent His messengers to Abraham first, then, to Lot. You know how Abraham spoke to the angels of God and sought mercy for the people. You know how God’s angels, God’s messengers in another word, met Lot in that sinful city and spoke to him about God’s salvation. We understand what that story of Abraham and Lot and God’s angels means because we know it is the way of God. And that story was a prefigure of the way of God revealed to all in the world through sending Jesus Christ to us. This is God’s way in the past and the present until the day of Jesus’ return.
God sends His messengers even today and, through the message of Jesus’ free grace for salvation, calls His elect out of the world. Having called, He cleanses them from their sins and covers them with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, making them members of His household. As was the way of God consistent in the past, so is it in this present generation. It is because such is the way of God.
This is why we hear the one and same message of God always, throughout generations. For example, the message given to us through Isaiah the prophet is this, as found in Isa. 55:1, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” The message His Son, Jesus our Lord, preached is exactly the same, as John testifies in Jn. 7:37-38, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” And you and I hear the same message even today by God’s grace.
This is the way of God; this is how God operates. There’s no other way – the only way God works is through sending His messenger to deliver His elect from the eternal damnation. Judges of the OT time were those messengers, servants, of God to save God’s people, and they all pointed out the One who would come after them, that is, Jesus Christ. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven, more servants of God like apostles and teachers and ministers and more are sent to preach Jesus. This is God’s way of saving His people.
III. THE WAY OF GOD, TESTING OF HIS PEOPLE
So far, we’ve heard about the way of man and the way of God. And one more way is explained to us in today’s text passage. That is, ‘the way of God, testing of His people’s faith.’
This way is explained in some verses like 2:21-22. God says in these verses: “I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the LORD.” Also, 3:4 says that those peoples and nations God would not drive out but leave in the midst of Israel were ‘for the testing of Israel.’ This is the way of God, especially ‘testing of His people’s faith.’
1 Thess. 2:4 confirms that God tests man’s heart. He tested Abraham as Heb. 11:17 testifies. But this does not mean He ‘tempts’ anyone to fall into sin. Jas. 1:13 is clear about this, saying, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one.” This means that God never draws anyone into sin to commit sin, but tests man’s heart to grow in trusting the Lord more. That is, in another word, to lead His elect further along the way of sanctification.
As God tests us, He does in a specific way. That is, God brings a trouble to the one He tests. The case of Jdg. 2 and 3 is a typical example. Here, God left the Canaanites and the Perizzites and all others in the midst of Israel in order for them to be thorns and snares to Israel, to become lasting pains for the descendants of Abraham, members of the OT church. It was the way of God in testing of Israel’s faith.
In addition to turning situation bad for His children, God sometimes tests His elect by asking something of the one He tests. I mean, with Abraham, God asked to offer Isaac to God. Isaac was, as you know well, Abraham’s son who was born to him at the age of 100. By asking this, God tested Abraham. Going further back in history, God asked Adam and Eve, our first parents, to refrain from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That was for them God’s test of their faith in their Creator God.
Testing man’s heart, God wants to see whether the one He tests would continue following God, recognising His kingship and submitting to the authority of His word. God tests us to see whether we regard Jesus who is the very word as the life, the way and the truth, and follow Him alone. This is far different from ‘tempting.’
Moreover, God’s testing is a way of His blessing. God’s test is always accompanied with abundant blessing of God. So, it is true to say that when anyone is passing through a test of God, God’s blessing is readily prepared to be given to him/her. This is, in fact, the purpose of God’s testing – I mean, to pour upon His dear ones His sufficient and abundant blessing.
So, God’s intention with leaving the Canaanites and more peoples in the midst of Israel was to bless them! Likewise, He tests each of us whom He loves very much. When He tests any of us, His purpose with His test is to bless us and deepens our joy in Him through Christ.
Yet, in the midst of God’s testing, we might experience difficulties and bad things in our life. We might be asked to give away certain things that are important to our eyes. Whatever those might be, the most important truth we should not miss is that such a demand is a prelude to receiving much spiritual blessings of God!
So, let us remember that the way of man is sin and more sins while the way of God is to send His Son Jesus to hopeless sinners like us, and through preaching Jesus’ good news of free grace, save us from sin and make us His own.
Without God and Jesus’ grace, man will surely see the end of his sin, that is, the eternal damnation. This is the way of man. But a hope is given, and the only hope for sinners is Jesus and believing in Him. This is the way of God, saving sinners to be His own children.
Once He saves His elect, He tests each of His elect, never to tempt them, but to bless and pour upon us all with abundant blessings of heaven. ***