Idolatry, Old Testament, Sin, Sunday School

The Benefit of Israel’s Experience ~ Sunday School Lesson ~ 8-31-14

Benefit of Israel's Experience

These are my notes from my ladies’ Sunday School class this morning. I’ll be posting the notes from my class here each week. Click here for last week’s lesson.

Through the Bible in 2014 ~ Week 35 ~ Aug. 24-30
Jeremiah 51-52, Lamentations, Ezekiel 1-15
The Benefit of Israel’s Experience

For weeks now, we have watched Israel and Judah sink farther and farther into idolatry and other sin, and now they are facing God’s wrath for it. It’s easy to look back thousands of years later and think this is an ancient story that has no bearing on us today. But Israel was God’s people, like we are. They were prone to sin, like we are. Among the many things we can draw out of Israel’s story is that we as God’s people don’t want to go down the same road to sin that they did. What can we learn from what they did wrong, and how do we keep from becoming like them?

Ezekiel 14

It’s a slow fade (Exodus 14-17,32)
That’s the title of a Casting Crowns song. Another line of the song says, “People never crumble in a day,” and that is certainly true. In the same way that someone doesn’t just wake up one morning and decide to have an affair, Israel didn’t just wake up one morning with Asherah poles in their back yards and prostitutes in the temple. We’re in about 593 BC here in Ezekiel. The exodus occurred around 1445 BC, with the golden calf incident occurring not too long after that. Give or take, we’re talking about 800ish years that Israel has been involved with idolatry. This depth of depravity didn’t happen overnight.

But even back in Exodus, there were “smaller” sins leading up to idol worship: they didn’t trust God, and they weren’t satisfied with God. They coveted fleshly security. At the Red Sea, they doubted God and wailed and moaned that they were going to die. They didn’t trust God for water or bread. And, finally, they grew impatient and distrustful that God would ever bring Moses down from Mt. Sinai. All of that culminated in the making and worshiping of the golden calf.

What can we learn? (2 Timothy 2:22, 2 Corinthians 10:5, Matthew 5:27-30)
There is no such thing as a little sin, because little sins always lead to bigger sins. Ever watch the Animal Planet show, Fatal Attractions? It was all about these various crazy people who adopted baby tigers, chimps, bears, etc. into their homes and then were shocked when these animals grew up and ripped their faces off (sometimes literally).

That’s what a “little” sin will do to you. It starts off looking cute and cuddly and harmless and then you embrace it and nurture it and think you’ve got a handle on it, and it grows up to rip your face off or kill you.

“Small” sins have to be dealt with swiftly and decisively. We must immediately turn from them and ask God’s forgiveness. We can’t play around with them even a little bit. That’s why the Bible tells us to “flee” (2 Tim) from sin and to take even our thoughts captive to obey Christ (2 Cor.). Hey, poke out your eye or cut off your hand if you have to, is what Jesus said (Matt.).

Lip service is a lie
The elders in 14:1 were not genuinely seeking to worship or obey God. It had been a long time, if ever, since they had done that. They were making a pretense to make it look to the people of Judah like they were actually following God and that God was pleased with them. And God answered that fake inquiry with real judgment.

What can we learn? (Isaiah 29:13-14)
Merely going through the motions doesn’t cut it. Putting your body in church once a week, reciting memorized prayers, giving offerings out of habit, mindlessly singing the hymns does nothing to make you godly. In fact it can help lull you into thinking you’re good with God and have nothing to worry about with regard to falling into sin.

Isaiah said about the Israelites:

“…this people draw[s] near with their mouth and honor[s] me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me…” (Is.)

and look what happened to them.

The same can be true of us. We must ask the Lord to hold us close and help us cling to Him. We must daily run to God’s word and prayer, humble ourselves and remember our dependence on Him. We must celebrate the gospel every day, remembering the price Christ paid for our sin, His love for us, and our love for Him.

Repentance is always the answer
Even at the brink of destruction, God’s message to Israel (14:6) is repent. He had brought all these calamities upon them to bring about their repentance. But the people and their leaders would have none of it.

What can we learn?
We’re going to sin. There’s just no way around it. But when we do, the answer is always to turn to Christ in repentance. One of the verses we have talked about so many times in this class is 1 John 1:9:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

While the idolatry the Israelites committed was a grave sin, what was even worse was that they refused to repent.

Sometimes, the cheese stands alone (Genesis 6:8, Daniel 6:4, Job 1:8)
Noah, Daniel, and Job- what do we remember about these guys? Each of them stood for righteousness surrounded by a sinful culture, and they all stood alone or nearly so. Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord (Gen.). Daniel was “faithful, and no error or fault was found in him.” (Dan.) God Himself said Job was “a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job)

And yet, God said that even if these three men had been present at Ezekiel’s time, their righteousness would have saved only themselves, no matter how hard they prayed or preached, because Israel refused to repent.

What can we learn?
Daniel, Job, and Noah were not righteous in and of themselves. They didn’t find favor with God because they were good deed doers, but because they believed God, walked in repentance, and were faithful to Him– some of the things we’ve already discussed today.
It seems simplistic to say that the lesson here is “Be like Daniel, Job, and Noah, not like the Israelites,” but sometimes it really is that simple. We must be faithful to God like they were even when no one else around us is.

I’ll take you back
If you could boil it down to one sentence, what would you say was God’s end goal in hitting Israel so hard? Check out verses 10-11:

And they shall bear their punishment—the punishment of the prophet and the punishment of the inquirer shall be alike— that the house of Israel may no more go astray from me, nor defile themselves anymore with all their transgressions, but that they may be my people and I may be their God, declares the Lord God.”

No matter how far they had strayed or what they had done, God still loved His people and wanted them back. His desire was never to destroy them but to reconcile them to Himself.

What can we learn? (Luke 15:11-32)
As the parable of the prodigal son so beautifully demonstrates, we may fall into all kinds of horrible sin, but when we come to God broken and sorrowful over that sin, He wraps His arms around us in love and welcomes us back. That’s what He wanted to do for Israel, and that’s what He wants to do for us. That’s the reason Jesus came. The reason for the cross. The reason for the empty tomb.

For some purpose, known only to Himself, God loves us and wants us back.

Idolatry, Old Testament, Sunday School

Jeremiah and His Message ~ Sunday School Lesson ~ 8-10-14

Jeremiah and His Message

These are my notes from my ladies’ Sunday School class this morning. I’ll be posting the notes from my class here each week. Click here for last week’s lesson.

Through the Bible in 2014 ~ Week 32 ~ Aug. 3-9
2 Chronicles 32-35, Nahum, 2 Kings 22-23, Zephaniah, Jeremiah 1-9
Jeremiah and His Message


Hezekiah to Josiah (2 Kings 21:11)
As you will recall, Judah had had a good king in Hezekiah. He had done his best to do away with idol worship and re-institute the proper worship of Yahweh. But outward reforms cannot change individual hearts, and idolatry was already so entrenched in Judah that when Hezekiah died, the people quickly turned back to their old ways under Hezekiah’s son Manasseh.

Manasseh reigned for 55 years and did more evil than the pagan nations God had originally told Israel to annihilate from the Promised Land. (2 Kings) He was followed by Amon, who was equally evil and reigned two years. By the time Josiah took the throne, the people had been under pagan rule for nearly 60 years. Since Josiah’s reforms (removing idolatry and idol worship paraphernalia) did not begin for another 18 years, the people were actually involved in the practice of idolatry for 75 years.

Jeremiah and Josiah (Jeremiah 1:2)
Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry began in the 13th year of Josiah’s reign (1:2). Josiah did not begin his reforms until the 18th year of his reign, meaning, he was likely influenced by Jeremiah’s preaching for five years preceding the reforms. In fact, it is probable that Jeremiah’s preaching, at least in part, led to Josiah’s reforms.

Jeremiah’s Message
Jeremiah was one of the final prophets God would send to warn Judah about her sin. In fact the first 45 chapters of Jeremiah can generally be summed up as: “Turn from idolatry and back to the Lord to avoid judgment and exile.”

Second Verse, Same as the First
As we read both the major and minor prophets of the pre-exilic era, their messages can sometimes feel very repetitive. To a great extent, they are. There are two reasons for this.

1. God had one, very simple message for His people: repent and turn back to Me. He didn’t have a long list of demands or complicated instructions, just “repent and return.” Even with varied object lessons, there are only so many ways a prophet can say that before you start feeling like you’ve heard it before. God wanted to drive this point home.

2. We need to keep in mind that the book of Jeremiah (and some of the other prophetic books) was not, at the time, a book for people to sit down and read from beginning to end. Jeremiah is a collection of sermons (and some writings) given in various places to various audiences over a period of about fifty years. Today, we’re looking at a representative sample of Jeremiah- chapter 7.

Jeremiah 7:1-28

7:1 (Matthew 4:9)
Notice where God told Jeremiah to preach this sermon: in the gate of the temple. Think about it. These people are supposedly coming in to worship God, and here God is (speaking through Jeremiah), at the entrance to His own house, speaking directly to them about what He wants from them. Do they listen? Obey? No, they walk blithely past Him into His house and do things their way.


Why? Because they didn’t want an actual relationship with God. They wanted to wallow in the sin of their idol worship while still getting all the benefits (agricultural blessings, protection from enemies, etc.) they thought God would continue to provide if they went through the outward motions of sacrifices and going to the temple. This blending of idolatry with the worship of God is called syncretism

Syncretism is alive and well today. There have been churches that have held Christian-Islamic worship services, churches that teach yoga (a Hindu worship practice), even when we join ourselves or our churches to “Christian” churches whose doctrines aren’t biblical, we are guilty of syncretism.

Let’s not forget what Jesus told Satan in the wilderness when Satan tempted Jesus to worship him:

You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’ (Matt 4)

After all Jesus did for us to save us from our sin, it is the ultimate understatement to say that He ALONE is worthy of all our worship, love, and devotion.

7:2-10 (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
“Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place.” That’s it. That’s all there was to it. It might not have been what they wanted to do, but it wasn’t impossible, and it was what God desired.

God urged the people not to trust in the empty words and false beliefs they wanted to believe and had convinced themselves were true–namely, that since the “temple of the Lord” was in their midst and they were still attending and making sacrifices, God’s favor still rested on them– but to believe and act on what HE was actually telling them: repent and return.

God exhorts us to do the same thing. We are not to be people who “will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Tim.) We are to believe and practice what His word says -not what we desire to be true- even if it’s difficult.

Ever since God had brought Israel out of Egypt nearly a thousand years earlier, He had been warning them of the consequences of idolatry. Here the time of His patience is almost at a close, and He will soon be carrying out those consequences. God even tells Jeremiah not to pray for the people. He knows they will not repent.

In a similar way, throughout our lifetimes, God persistently calls to each of us sinners to come to Him in repentance and faith in Christ. He graciously and patiently calls to us again and again, but, if, by the time we die, we have refused to surrender to Him, He will execute judgment on us.

How much better to turn to Christ early and experience the sweet fellowship that comes from being forgiven for our sin and reconciled to God. Jeremiah saw this and wanted this for his people, but they would not have it. We see in chapter 9 how grieved he was about this.

“Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat the flesh”- The burnt offerings were completely consumed by fire. Parts of the sacrifices (or peace offerings) were eaten by the one offering them. What God is basically saying here is, “Take what you would have offered as a burnt offering and turn it into a sacrifice and go ahead and eat both of them. You might as well just eat them, because I’m not going to accept them.”

God again takes the people back to the Exodus and reminds them that when He initially brought them out, and all during their wilderness wanderings, there was no sacrificial system. All He asked of them was to obey Him and walk in His ways. That was His priority. That was what came first: their love for Him and obedience to Him. The sacrificial system came later. Sacrifices were to be a natural outward expression of the people’s inward love for God.

It is no different for Christians. God is not interested in mere outward behavior, service, or religious practices. He wants our hearts. Our outward actions are to reflect the love for Christ that is already present in our hearts.

Unfortunately, even though Jeremiah faithfully preached God’s word, the people would not listen. Did this mean Jeremiah was a failure or that God was disappointed in him? No. He did exactly what God told him to do, and that’s what God judges His servants by, not the results.

We will experience the same thing at some point if we faithfully preach the gospel to people and stand on God’s word. People will reject the gospel, preferring to live in sin. People who call themselves Christians will reject the truth of God’s word no matter how clear it is or how nicely we present it to them. Does this mean we are failures or that God is disappointed in us? No. God considers us faithful if we believe, obey, and share the gospel. The results are up to Him.