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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Will God Be Faithful?

"Will God Be Faithful?"

It’s a haunting question of humanity. And it was a question for the Christians in Rome of the first century. The same group of people that the author of Hebrews wrote his letter to. And he tried to answer a simple question for them… Will God be faithful? These people were experiencing persecution to the extreme and were only years from the great Roman fire and the Nero persecutions. 

These Christians, in only a few years would be thrown into the Coliseum to fight lions, tigers, and bears… Oh my! 

They would be dragged through hallways of uneven cobblestone floors, bruising every bone in their body. 
They would be whipped, impaled, and even crucified in groves. 
Burned at the stake. 
Gagged and hung up on giant poles, after being dunked into lighter fluid, to be set on fire so as to be used as temporary light poles for the city streets. 

...And the passage that must have been going through our first century Christian brothers' and sisters' minds must have been the words of Hebrews 11.

Why? Because of the power that these words hold, the encouragement that is found in looking back.

With the beginning words of Hebrews 11, we know where this question comes from: 

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

Can we put our faith in a God this powerful, and yet this mysterious? 

John Calvin comments, "The foundation of faith is the gratuitous promise…Faith begins with the promise, rests in it, and ends in it."

Will God be faithful?

Every time I come to this passage… I come, I read it, and I am at a loss for words.
Honestly, I have no words, which makes it very difficult to write a blog post on it.

But why I lose myself in this passage is because I see all of these people listed… and I don’t believe I could ever come close to their faith. I couldn’t come close to being brave enough, to obeying to the extent that they did… I mean come on… One of the persecutions listed is that there was someone Sawn in two. A reference believed to be to the prophet Isaiah’s death.

And so I come to this passage and I want to move past it. But I can’t. I’m enveloped in the lining of the word faith, used 25 times throughout this passage.

So I look for a way to move past it… I could talk about Abraham and his faithfulness to offer up his own son, he believed so much that he thought up without ANYTHING to go on, without any way to point back and cite any instance where God resurrects people… He believed God to be able to resurrect the dead. 

I could talk about Moses’ faith, in forsaking his royal inheritance he chose to associate with slaves. And then he believed God, and the power of God when he slew the Passover lamb and painted the doorposts with warm blood. It made no sense… and he had nothing to point back and cite a time where God demanded an animal sacrifice for protection… from himself. But Moses obeyed anyway. 

Faith enables us to see the unseen, but really real.

In the Old Testament, we read these faith stories which Hebrews 11 mentions, and we look back at the lives of these heroes wishing we would have experiences with God like them. I mean… if only God could light a bush on fire in front of me and tell me exactly what he wants me to do… It would be so much easier. Or if he would just tell me straight up, and talk to me like he did with Abraham. If I would have visions like the prophets… or angels tell me the plan like the judges. God spoke in numerous ways. And we crave these experiences.

I can’t compete with that. I relate better with the man who came to Jesus saying, “I believe, but please, help my unbelief!”

I don’t know if I’d be ok saying vs. 13 about myself, they didn’t receive the things promised. To me… that’s God failing. 
It reminds me of when President George H.W. Bush made the famous statement, “Read my lips: No new taxes.” And then went and raised them… Pressured? …Oh yeah. Had no other option? … Maybe. 
But the American people were not happy, they felt betrayed, like a promise was broken, because it was unfulfilled.

The Patriarchs and other members of this Hall of Faith… “They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.”

They recognized that this world was not their home, they craved the relationship and access we now have. They craved the assurance that we now have, thanks be to Christ. They craved what we have in Jesus. They craved the ability to understand and take communion and participate in the celebration of free access to the throne of grace, to be spoken to from within. 

...To enjoy fellowship with the Spirit, encouragement from being united with Christ, comfort from his love, tenderness and compassion overflowing, these aspects of relationship that Paul describes in Philippians.

The author mentions a couple names towards the end of this chapter, and I want to look at one of them a little closer.

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets,  who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. – Hebrews 11:32-34

David. Specifically one time of David’s life, when he wrote a particular Psalm… and we’ll be hanging out here for a little bit.

This is an excerpt from a blog posted on The Resurgence from Justin Holcomb that does a better explanation/walk-through of Psalm 22 than I ever could. -

Psalm 22 contains some of the most heart-wrenching cries to God recorded in all of the Psalms. God himself is on trial and David asks, “Will God remain faithful?”Will God come through?

This is the song of a believer who experiences great suffering and wonders where God is. It is a psalm that, in the midst of injustice, wonders if God himself will be faithful to his promise. 
This is a psalm in three movements. The first movement is written with the dark, minor notes of pain, bewilderment, and betrayal. The second has bright chords of rejoicing and freedom. The third is composed of both the deep, sundering bass notes of God’s power and the high ring of celestial praise.
The song, to be sung on the Sabbath, was a reminder. Like most Psalmic worship, David’s goal was to weekly remember God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises and to reassure the assembled congregation that God’s faithfulness is completely trustworthy. Let’s listen.

Conflict: Is God Faithful?

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. -Psalm 22:1–2 

The first movement of Psalm 22 has God on trial. David asks the question, “Will he be faithful?” while at the same time arguing that he should. Verses 1–2 express the heart-cry of Jesus on the cross: “Why have you forsaken me?” David most likely composed this psalm while on the run from King Saul. He had been promised the throne of Israel and the protection of God, yet he had spent the last few years of his life on the run as a fugitive. It truly seemed like God had forsaken David and forgotten his promise. Because the trial went on longer and longer, and David cried out more and more, it seemed that God had stopped paying attention.

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” -Psalm 22:6–8

Yet this situation, David cries, is out of character for God. His holiness and glory have not been jeopardized, but are still upheld by Israel. So he cannot have lost his power. When Israel cried out to God, they were rescued and not put to shame. They trusted in God and he answered their cries. David’s question is, “Why, if you redeemed Israel out of Egypt and her slavery, have you forgotten me?” Over the next few verses, David compares his situation and character to that of Israel. In verses 6–8, he describes his reality: he is despised by his own people, while Israel was only despised by foreigners. The people mocking him realize the conflict—they mock him because they think God will not rescue him. Verse 8 ends with the question, “Has God abandoned David?”

Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother's breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother's womb you have been my God. Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help. -Psalm 22:9–11

David’s frustration mounts in verses 9–11. If God is faithful to his promises to those who are obedient, David has more claim than anyone. He was God’s from birth, and since infancy he has been faithfully obedient to God. If there is anyone who has a right to call on God’s faithfulness, it is David. At this point, God seems without an excuse, and David’s question is simply, “What gives?” The psalm then relays David’s resignation in vivid imagery: poured out like water and starving to death, David has nothing left to hold out for. His enemies surround him like lions and dogs. The wealth he had before becoming an outcast is divided up among his enemies.
This movement concludes with a final, dying man’s cry to God to deliver. David has made his argument and can do no more. He must now wait for God’s answer. This movement should be the heart-cry of every believer when suffering. There is nothing wrong with the tension of asking “Will God be faithful?” Often this question drives believers to worship and anticipates the future action of God. It is part of worship. However, worshipers find hope when they remember the past actions of God.

Resolution: God Is Faithful

But you, O LORD, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen! -Psalm 22:19–21

Just when it seems that God has truly gone silent, David’s tone changes: he begins to rejoice that God has answered him (verse 21). There is no comment whether or not David received the redemption for which he longed, but he expresses confidence that God will be faithful to his word. The deliverance in verses 19–21 form the foundation for David’s praise. Praise be to God for deliverance is not private act, but a communal one. This song, sung among the assembled people on Sabbath, recounts the actions of God in David’s life to the people of Israel. The song’s praise to God for his intervention reminds the nation of God’s acts on the whole nation’s behalf. Just as David was redeemed, so was Israel. Just as David has a reason to praise God, so does the congregation.
These nations will remember the actions of God.
The conclusion to this movement is rather simple despite the terror of the previous movement. The afflicted can trust God for deliverance, and this deliverance should prompt obedience. Just as God was faithful to his promise, David promises faithfulness to his own promise. Worship is the beginning of obedience. The same spirit of thankfulness that prompts praise to God will also prompt obedience. Individual praise then encourages corporate remembrance of God’s action and further praise. But this chain of events is not limited to the people of God alone. The next movement concludes the psalm with a thunderous crescendo. 

Future: God’s Faithful Reign

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it. -Psalm 22:27–31

The song concludes (verses 27–31) with a movement so profound it is hard to remember the suffering recounted in the first verses. David expands the worshiping people to include all the nations of the world. These nations will remember the actions of God—demonstrated in the lives of the people of Israel and her King—and turn to him in worship. God is truly King over the whole earth, and rightly deserves the worship of all people. Everyone—prosperous or otherwise—will serve him.

We Are Witnesses

Just as a pebble tossed into a lake spreads ripples over the whole lake, a person who experiences God’s redemption and praises him sets off a reaction. The people of God take up the chorus and praise God along with the redeemed, for they, too, were redeemed. When all the people of God are doing this, they are a witness to God’s redemption and an example for the world.
Psalm 22 closes by mentioning the remembrance passed down from generation to generation. Parents who hand down the stories of God’s faithfulness raise children who trust their God. 
In the same way, the people of God stand as a powerful witness to the world when worshiping him for his faithfulness and redemption. Just as Jesus suffered and felt the abandonment of God, yet experienced deliverance to the heights of glory, so Christians, when faced with suffering, praise God and trust him for deliverance.

...Our cloud of witnesses.

Our response to Hebrews 11 is the opening verses of Hebrews 12.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” -Hebrews 12:1-2

We are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses... of people before us and with us. These people listed in Hebrews 11, these Hall of Faith heroes... are cheering for us... 

We need to lay aside every weight. The list is a list of people who messed up, sure, but were faithful to God when it truly counted. They laid aside every weight. Rahab, laid aside her image and past and put her faith in a God she only heard of. She helped the Israelite spies, putting her life on the line because of her faith. She laid aside the weights of the world. Moses parents laid aside every weight and defied the Pharaoh, which saved their baby boy and eventually led to Israel’s exodus. 

What holds us back? 
Our doubt? Our insecurity? 

There is a loving Father in heaven, who gave his Son so that we could be in His family. He gave Himself for us. And it is His Spirit that resides in us… Do we have the faith to obey what he is telling us? In the past God spoke in many ways and in various places… but in these last days, He is speaking through Jesus.

If all we see is the difficulty or the entrapment, we won’t overcome it, instead see God as he works through it. 

Lay aside the weight.

Run with Endurance. The writer uses a race as an illustration, and for the people of Rome this brings up the thoughts of discipline. Runners train. Runners keep pushing no matter what obstacle threatens them. Phil Allen writes,

"I wish I could say my faith is my buffering from the temptations, tests, and trials of the world. But the gospel comes with suffering. In hard times, there's no excuse for living out my faith part time. THE KINGDOM IS HERE, but don't forget endurance, filled with the faith that doesn't look good for the non-believer, who needs the assurance. That God works ALL things together for the good. Since Jesus already paid the premium for the insurance And life is still going to happen. But you can't quit. Cuz he took nails in his hand and his feet so death won't repeat, you die once, but LIVE forever. And the that's a really long time with the Father you know... You'll never win the fight if you don't fight but if you give up at midnight you'll never see the morning. When darkness gets in the way but since there's no other way... YOU GOTTA KEEP GOING!"
Look to Jesus. And that’s really it isn’t it?

Our High Priest in the Heavens.  Our promise giver and promise keeper.

Our Author-  Our trailblazer. The one who caught our attention and gave us the faith we have to begin with.

Our Perfecter- The One who makes beautiful things out of us, pieces of dust. The One who breathes the breath of life into our lungs. Sustains us. Sanctifies us. And calls us HIS. He makes us more and more like Him. We must keep our eyes of Jesus.

Is God faithful?
The God of strength Will never let us go He will overcome. Through many dangers, toils and snares You have already come His grace has brought you safe this far And His grace will lead you home
Because the arms that hold the universe are holding us today We can rest inside It's all going to be alright The voice that calmed the raging sea Is calling you His child
So be still and know He's in control He will never let you go.

God IS faithful. He was so faithful to come, live, and die a humiliating and painful death. But he rose. He lives. He offers us salvation, and an eternal home. A home that the ancients were looking for, “
But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” We trust him with our eternal destiny, we can trust him with the things of earth. He never left, he never will. We can trust Him. 

The real question is, will you? Whether for the first time, or the thousandth time… Will you continue to question him, or trust him?