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A Ready Answer

 

When I was growing up in the day-to-day relative calm of the western world in the 1950ís, 60ís, and 70ís, I used to think that King David must have been a bit "paranoid" when he spoke so often in the Psalms about needing Godís protection from all his "enemies." On a personal level, other than the odd "bully" in school, I really didnít have any enemies. I couldnít understand what David was talking about. Well, itís just a little more than thirty years since the relative calm of my youth and, wow, how our world has changed! Just about everywhere you look these days, there is a threat to life and limb lurking just around the corner. Today, we are affected by the threat of terrorism in almost every public place or event we might attend.

Do you think Iím being too extreme in my assessment? Look at how our lives have changed in just a few short years. You canít go to an airport without extreme inconvenience, ranging from baggage inspections to near strip-searches of your person and clothing. You canít attend most major sporting events without enduring somewhat less severe inspections upon your entrance. Our mail is now x-rayed and examined for poisonous or toxic substances, like anthrax or ricin. As if the threat of nuclear war was not enough during the last fifty years, add to it the rising threat and the ease of access to biological weapons of mass destruction. In most major cities, if you dare to wear animal furs out to public events, you may succumb to defacement or injury by terrorists called "animal rights activists" who give animals the same or higher value as humans. Our children are not safe on our own streets. Hardly a month goes by where we donít hear of children being kidnapped or killed by strangers, molesters, disgruntled parents, or even other children.

 

Davidís "Paranoia"

Was David really on to something when he spoke so many times in the Psalms about needing Godís protection from all the enemies that were round about him? Today we see wanton disregard for human life, whether itís displayed in the increasingly inhumane forms of criminal murder we hear about every day in our countries or whether it takes the form of the ever-present danger of Muslim suicide bombers. Look at Psalms 5:8 to hear Davidís appeal to God in his own day, from the World English Bible.

(Psalms 5:8-10 WEB) Lead me, Yahweh, in your righteousness because of my enemies. Make your way straight before my face. (9) For there is no faithfulness in their mouth. Their heart is destruction. Their throat is an open tomb. They flatter with their tongue. (10) Hold them guilty, God. Let them fall by their own counsels; Thrust them out in the multitude of their transgressions, For they have rebelled against you.

Judge for yourself. Donít those criminal motivations sound a lot like the motivations of misguided terrorists today? There is no faithfulness, or truth, in their mouth; their heart is bent fully on the sole purpose of destruction, no matter how many innocent people (even their own people) are destroyed in their efforts. Through flattery and deception, they connive to infiltrate into the lives of peaceful men, women, and children. The bottom line is at the end of verse ten: it is against God that they rebel. Regardless of their delusional misguided motives, they do not seek to do Godís will. Through hatred and lying, they seek to do their own will in open rebellion against the plain directives of God displayed for all to see in his written word.

Was David paranoid or did he see the reality of good and evil in the world? As it was in his day, so it has become in our day. Yes, enemies are all around us; except today, we really donít know where our enemies are hiding in our very towns and cities. Davidís solution was to depend on God for his protection. In Psalms 25:2, he openly declared the trust he placed in God to protect his life.

(Psa 25:2-5 KJV) O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me. {3} Yea, let none that wait on thee be ashamed: let them be ashamed which transgress without cause. {4} Show me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths. {5} Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.

He continued in verse 19.

(Psa 25:19-21 KJV) Consider mine enemies; for they are many; and they hate me with cruel hatred. {20} O keep my soul, and deliver me: let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in thee. {21} Let integrity and uprightness preserve me; for I wait on thee.

This was not just a sometime thing with David. Enemies were round about him continually. Whether their aspirations were to dethrone him from ruling Israel or simply to kill him for the lifestyle he led in righteous obedience to God, the threat to him was always there. So it is for us today.

While weíre mentally assailed from all around every day, we can also be physically or spiritually assailed, as well. While we may be on guard for physical attacks, do you think much about being prepared for verbal or spiritual confrontations? Such confrontations may be as simple as mere curiosity or as challenging as an outright defense of your life and beliefs. Do you keep in mind the old Boy Scout motto, "be prepared"? Are you ready?

 

Be Prepared

The Boy Scouts arenít the only ones who have advocated being ready and prepared for whatever surprises or difficulties might be lurking around the next corner in life. Almost two thousand years ago, in the epistle of 1 Peter 3:15, the apostle Peter admonished Christians to do the same.

(1 Peter 3:15 WEB) But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts; and always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, with humility and fear:

So, we are to be ready to give an answer; but is an answer just a quick retort to interrogation with little depth of thought or is there more to it? The Greek word translated "answer" is Strongís number 627, apologia. Strongís Greek dictionary defines it as: "apologia", a plea. The root of the word is from Strongís number 626, apologeomai. Itís defined as: "apologeomai", to give an account (legal plea) of oneself, that is, to exculpate [or free from blame].

Can we gain more insight from the depths of this verse? In his commentary, Notes on the Bible, Alan Barnes shows more of the meaningful intent in the words of Peter.

1Pe 3:15 -

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts - In Isaiah 8:13 this is, "sanctify the Lord of hosts himself;" that is, in that connection, regard him as your Protector, and be afraid of him, and not of what man can do. The sense in the passage before us is, "In your hearts, or in the affections of the soul, regard the Lord God as holy, and act toward him with that confidence which a proper respect for one so great and so holy demands. In the midst of dangers, be not intimidated; dread not what man can do, but evince proper reliance on a holy God, and flee to him with the confidence which is due to one so glorious." This contains, however, a more general direction, applicable to Christians at all times. It is, that in our hearts we are to esteem God as a holy being, and in all our deportment to act toward him as such. The object of Peter in quoting the passage from Isaiah, was to lull the fears of those whom he addressed, and preserve them from any alarms in view of the persecutions to which they might be exposed; the trials which would be brought upon them by people. Thus, in entire accordance with the sentiment as employed by Isaiah, he says, "Be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts." That is, "in order to keep the mind calm in trials, sanctify the Lord in your hearts; regard him as your holy God and Saviour; make him your refuge. This will allay all your fears, and secure you from all that you dread." The sentiment of the passage then is, that the sanctifying of the Lord God in our hearts, or proper confidence in him as a holy and righteous God, will deliver us from fear.

And be ready always - That is: (a) be always able to do it; have such reasons for the hope that is in you that they can be stated; or, have good and substantial reasons; and, (b) be willing to state those reasons on all proper occasions.

No man ought to entertain opinions for which a good reason cannot be given; and every man ought to be willing to state the grounds of his hope on all proper occasions. A Christian should have such intelligent views of the truth of his religion, and such constant evidence in his own heart and life that he is a child of God, as to be able at any time to satisfy a candid inquirer that the Bible is a revelation from heaven, and that it is proper for him to cherish the hope of salvation.

To give an answer Ė [In] Greek, "An apology," This word formerly did not mean, as the word apology does now, an excuse for anything that is done as if it were wrong, but a defense of anythingÖ We are not to hold ourselves ready to make an apology for our religion as if it were a wrong thing to be a Christian; but we are always to be ready to give reasons for regarding it as true.

To every man that asketh you - Anyone has a right respectfully to ask another on what grounds he regards his religion as true; for every man has a common interest in religion, and in knowing what is the truth on the subject. If any man, therefore, asks us candidly and respectfully by what reasons we have been led to embrace the gospel, and on what grounds we, regard it as true, we are under obligation to state those grounds in the best manner that we are ableÖ

A reason of the hope that is in you - Greek, "an account," (λόγον logon.) That is, you are to state on what ground you cherish that hope. This refers to the whole ground of our hopeÖ

Barnes concludes by saying:

It follows, from the injunction of the apostle here:

(1) that every professing Christian should have clear and intelligent views of his own personal interest in religion, or such evidences of piety that they can be stated to others, and that they can be made satisfactory to other minds;

(2) that every Christian, however humble his rank, or however unlettered he may be, may become a valuable defender of the truth of Christianity;

(3) That we should esteem it a privilege to bear our testimony to the truth and value of religion, and to stand up as the advocates of truth in the world. Though we may be rudely assailed, it is an honor to speak in defense of religion; though we are persecuted and reviled, it is a privilege to be permitted in any way to show our fellow-men that there is such a thing as true religion, and that man may cherish the hope of heaven [From Alan Barnesí Notes on the Bible (Alan Barnes, 1798-1870)]."

 

Our Hope

Peter didnít just tell us to be "ready" and "prepared" merely to give "an answer" when we are asked by others. We have a specific message to convey when we find ourselves in such positions. Focusing on the meat of verse fifteen in the New Revised Standard Version, gives us more insight:

(1 Pet 3:15 NRSV) Ö Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you;

This rendering gives even more power to the intent portrayed in this verse by the words of Peter. When we are demanded to give "an accounting," it is more than just an assignment to give our opinion. An accounting of a matter is like being in a financial audit where every detail must be founded and grounded by proof. In our case, the proof of our grounded foundation can be found in Godís word. We must be able to not only give a summary outline of our foundation, we must be grounded in that foundation to the degree that we can show and prove to others through the very word of God the pieces of the puzzle that fit together to make the whole. What is that whole? It is the hope that is in us; but that hope is more than what most people in the world think is meant by the word "hope."

Look at verse 15 again. The Greek word translated "hope" is elpis. It is Strongís number 1680 and it is defined as, "elpis, to anticipate (usually with pleasure); expectation or confidence." Thayerís Greek Lexicon defines "elpis" as an "Ö expectation of good, a hope. In the Christian sense, it is joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvationÖ"

The hope we have is not just a hope in possibilities. It is not just our own hope. It is not just a recent thing conjured up on our own. It is the same hope passed on to us that first was the hope of our forefathers. In Acts 24:15, Paul testified of the hope that was in him and was first in our forefathers.

(Acts 24:14-15 NRSV) But this I admit to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our ancestors, believing everything laid down according to the law or written in the prophets. {15} I have a hope in God--a hope that they themselves also accept--that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.

According to The Peopleís New Testament by B.W. Johnson, "This hope of the resurrection, the great doctrine of Christianity, was one that the law and the prophets foreshadowÖ The Jews held this same hope. Apart from the Sadducees, a small minority, the Jews believed in a future life and judgment. Hence, even in this matter, he was not preaching a new, unknown and illegal doctrineÖ (The Peopleís New Testament, 1891 by B.W. Johnson)"

Look at all that is in these two small verses. Paul acknowledged that he worshipped the same God as our ancestors. He, like they, believed everything laid down according to the law or written in the prophets. Because of that, he like they, had hope Ė a surely positive expectation Ė that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous. Wow, what a full meal of solid meat! Put a bookmark here because weíll be back to it several times.

How was it that the forefathers lived their lives in a manner showing they trusted in the promises of God? They showed their faith in Godís promises through their lives of obedience. In Genesis 26:5, we can see how God spoke to Isaac of his father, Abrahamís, compliance.

(Gen 26:5 NRSV) because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws."

In Psalms 111:10, even David knew the source of wisdom and understanding.

(Psa 111:10 NASB) The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever.

In Psalms 147:10, David went on to connect the keeping of commandments which expressed the proper fear of the Lord with a way of life deemed to be pleasing to God.

(Psa 147:10-11 KJV) He delighteth not in the strength of the horse: he taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man. {11} The LORD taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.

In the book of Job, we can see the words of the one who was deemed by God as, "no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil." In chapter 14 and verse 14, we hear Job ask and answer the direct question about the hope of the resurrection (this time, from the Darby translation).

(Job 14:14-15 Darby) If a man die, shall he live again ? all the days of my time of toil would I wait, till my change should come: (15) Thou wouldest call, and I would answer thee; thou wouldest have a desire after the work of thy hands.

Job didnít just have hope that there would be a resurrection from the dead. He knew there would be a resurrection. He counted on it and considered it as fact. So, we can see there was a long heritage of steadfast belief among the forefathers that the main hope was in the trustworthy promise of God to deliver them from the bondage of the grave through a resurrection from the dead.

In Titus 1:1, Paul went into further depth when he wrote to Titus of the expectation of the goal at the finish line.

(Titus 1:1-3 NRSV) Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and the knowledge of the truth that is in accordance with godliness, {2} in the hope of eternal life that God, who never lies, promised before the ages began-- {3} in due time he revealed his word through the proclamation with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior,

It is that very hope of the resurrection of the dead and the ultimate gift of eternal life that was promised to our forefathers. That is the same hope we share today. That hope is not just some "iffy" or "doubtful" thing. It is a rock-solid sure thing. We know because we have the surety of promise in Godís word.

Paul was likewise sure of Godís promise. We just read in Titus 1:2 that we have the hope of Godís gift of eternal life and we can rely on that hope because it was promised by the ultimate authority, God the Father. We have reliance on that promise because of the integrity of the one who spoke it: it was our great Creator who never lies (the King James, the New American Standard, and the World English Bible all say "who cannot lie"). Not only did he promise that to all his creation, he promised it before he even made his creation. We have the further assurance of Heb 6:17 where we see that it is not even possible for God to lie. Therefore, we can rely on his word with our very lives.

(Heb 6:17-18 NASB) In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, {18} in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us.

The book of Hebrews is not the only place where we see it mentioned that God does not lie. In Numbers 23:19, we can see the dependable and trustworthy nature of God contrasted with the wavering nature of mankind.

(Num 23:19 NASB) "God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

When God speaks, his word is good forever. It is not just something we can count on for the moment. Godís word is steadfast and trustworthy forever. His promises are statements upon which we can stake our lives.

How marvelous is our awesome God; but that is only the tip of the iceberg: itís the very beginning of the story. Yes, we should be founded and rock-solid on the ultimate goal of the promise of eternal life but there is so much more. Letís analyze the words of Paul in 2 Timothy 1:6.

(2 Tim 1:6-12 NRSV) For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; {7} for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. {8} Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, {9} who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, {10} but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. {11} For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, {12} and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.

Look again at verse nine. Remember, the subject established at the end of verse eight is the "power of God," that is, the Father. So, it is the Father "who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace." It was that grace which was extended to us through Christ Jesus before the ages began. Just think, if it was "before the ages began," then it was planned and decreed by God and deemed to be executed through our Messiah before we and our forefathers were even created. What great advanced planning!

 

The Depth of Understanding

We need to ask, though, why was it necessary? Ah, that question gets to the heart of the matter and the essence of why our "ready answer" needs to be so much more than just the immediate response of the hope of eternal life. We need to be fully grounded on the why that leads to that hope.

Letís go back to the beginning. We read just a moment ago, that our Father cannot and will not lie. Furthermore, earlier we read that the sure standard of faithfulness was established by God Most High and codified in his laws of righteousness even before our creation. We need to ask, though, just how do we get there from here? We know those are our goals but just how do we achieve them? Remember, Paul said he "believed everything laid down according to the law or written in the prophets." I guess it sounds simple but, once again, thereís more to it than meets the eye because in Hebrews 5:12, there is a distinction made in Christiansí differing levels of understanding.

(Heb 5:12-14 NRSV) For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; {13} for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. {14} But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.

So, we can see there are the fundamental teachings deemed to be the "milk" of the word and there are more advanced teachings spoken of as "solid food." It is only through training by practice that we are able to grow beyond the fundamentals. It is by striving for the more advanced principles of Godís word that we become able to distinguish between good and evil.

Keep your place in Hebrews because weíll be coming right back. For now, however, letís go back to the beginning of the book in Genesis 2:16.

(Gen 2:16-17 NRSV) And the LORD God commanded the man, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; {17} but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die."

We all know the story that there were two trees in the midst of the Garden of Eden; but look closer at verse 16. Most people merely assume that God was just trying to deprive Adam and Eve of making their own decisions. Notice, however, there was no prohibition of eating as much as they wanted of all other trees of the garden, including the Tree of Life. The only prohibition was eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Why do you think God did that? Was it because he wanted to deprive them of the freedom to choose? No, that wasnít the case because they had free run of the garden to make their own decisions about which fruits of the other trees to eat. You see, it ties in with what we just read from the book of Hebrews. Even though they were undoubtedly taught the basics by God (and maybe even some of the advanced doctrines) after he finished creating them, itís obvious to see they hadnít yet been "trained by practice" in grounding themselves in the righteousness of God. They took for themselves the prerogative to decide the difference between right and wrong apart from the righteousness of God. Itís plain to see that if they had obeyed God and had the patience to develop lives of righteousness by Godís standards, they would have become "trained by practice to distinguish good from evil." That newfound ability would, however, have been guided through the boundaries of Godís righteous laws.

 

The Basics

We know Adam and Eve blew it by being impatient. They disobeyed Godís direct command. They, and we, have suffered the consequences ever since their fateful decision. It didnít need to be that way, however. We have now been given another chance to redirect our lives, bounded by the definitions of the proper ways to live embodied in Godís laws of righteousness. We must be rock-solid, however, in our understanding of that way of life. It first means that we have to be thoroughly grounded in the basics. Weíll go back to Hebrews 6:2 to study those basics. This time weíll read from the New American Standard Bible.

(Heb 6:1-2 NASB) Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, {2} of instruction about washings, and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

While we might look down on the mere elementary concepts on which Christianity is based, we really shouldnít. In just two verses, you have it right in a nutshell. The foundation is built on 1) repentance from dead works, 2) faith toward God, 3) instruction about baptisms, 4) laying on of hands, 5) resurrection of the dead, and 6) eternal judgment.

If someone asked you, could you explain even these most basic of elementary teachings? Weíve all had many sermons over the years on these topics. For refreshing your memory, you might want to re-read the following sermons on our website: Repentance; Faith is Trust; Baptism; and Deathís True Destiny. In Acts 24:25, we can see that Paul continually preached about such subjects, even to gentile governors, kings and judges.

(Acts 24:25 NASB) And as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, "Go away for the present, and when I find time, I will summon you."

So, hereís another example of what Paul normally taught. He was speaking of righteousness, which is based on repentance from transgressing Godís laws and obediently living by them. He spoke of temperance or self-control, again the example of living lives bounded by the righteous laws of God. He also spoke of "the judgment to come." What do you know of the judgment to come? Would you be able to explain it if someone asked you?

In the waning days of the Kingdom of Babylon, the prophet Daniel had a vision about judgment. In Daniel 7:9, his vision included sights of the actual throne of God the Father.

(Dan 7:9-10 NASB) "I kept looking Until thrones were set up, And the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow, And the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, Its wheels were a burning fire. {10} "A river of fire was flowing And coming out from before Him; Thousands upon thousands were attending Him, And myriads upon myriads were standing before Him; The court sat, And the books were opened.

Continue in verse 13.

(Dan 7:13-14 NASB) "I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. {14} "And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations, and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.

Continue in verse 26.

(Dan 7:26-27 NASB) 'But the court will sit for judgment, and his [that is, the beastís] dominion will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever. {27} 'Then the sovereignty, the dominion, and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.'

Yes, we hope for the gift of eternal life; but that is the gift of God, according to his will. On the other hand, the reward that awaits us for obedience is sharing in the government of God over the whole world.

 

Godís Standards

Itís all about standards: Godís standards of righteousness by which we are to lead our lives. Repentance is acknowledgement of our unrighteousness and a sincere desire to change to a new way of life. Faith is trust and reliance upon the righteousness of God embodied in his laws and his ability to keep the promises first given to our forefathers, and in turn, to us. We freely choose this new way of life, not merely because it is a better way of life but because it is the way thatís pleasing to our creator. Isaiah 58 and 59 talk about how our own ways run contrary to Godís ways. The prophet shows how we should voluntarily choose the more righteous ways of God that are more pleasing to him.

(Isa 58 NRSV) Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. {2} Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. {3} "Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?" Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. {4} Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. {5} Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? {6} Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? {7} Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? {8} Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. {9} Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, {10} if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. {11} The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. {12} Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. {13} If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; {14} then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Continue in chapter fifty-nine.

(Isa 59 NRSV) See, the Lord's hand is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. {2} Rather, your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. {3} For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue mutters wickedness. {4} No one brings suit justly, no one goes to law honestly; they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies, conceiving mischief and begetting iniquity. {5} They hatch adders' eggs, and weave the spider's web; whoever eats their eggs dies, and the crushed egg hatches out a viper. {6} Their webs cannot serve as clothing; they cannot cover themselves with what they make. Their works are works of iniquity, and deeds of violence are in their hands. {7} Their feet run to evil, and they rush to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity, desolation and destruction are in their highways. {8} The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths. Their roads they have made crooked; no one who walks in them knows peace. {9} Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us; we wait for light, and lo! there is darkness; and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. {10} We grope like the blind along a wall, groping like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the twilight, among the vigorous as though we were dead. {11} We all growl like bears; like doves we moan mournfully. We wait for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us. {12} For our transgressions before you are many, and our sins testify against us. Our transgressions indeed are with us, and we know our iniquities: {13} transgressing, and denying the LORD, and turning away from following our God, talking oppression and revolt, conceiving lying words and uttering them from the heart. {14} Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands at a distance; for truth stumbles in the public square, and uprightness cannot enter. {15} Truth is lacking, and whoever turns from evil is despoiled. The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. {16} He saw that there was no one, and was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm brought him victory, and his righteousness upheld him. {17} He put on righteousness like a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in fury as in a mantle. {18} According to their deeds, so will he repay; wrath to his adversaries, requital to his enemies; to the coastlands he will render requital. {19} So those in the west shall fear the name of the LORD, and those in the east, his glory; for he will come like a pent-up stream that the wind of the LORD drives on. {20} And he will come to Zion as Redeemer, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression, says the LORD. {21} And as for me, this is my covenant with them, says the LORD: my spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouths of your children, or out of the mouths of your children's children, says the LORD, from now on and forever.

If you were to continue in chapter sixty, you would read of the physical blessings God pledges to restore to the children of Israel after he brings them back to their land in righteousness. That is the key and thatís what our hope is all about. We, as a people, need to be reconciled to God; but God will not reconcile a rebellious people to himself. It is we who must change. We need to have a change of heart and a change of our very minds. Look at the last verse we just read. In verse 21, God says "And as for me, this is my covenant with them, says the LORD: my spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouths of your children, or out of the mouths of your children's children, says the LORD, from now on and forever." We need to have Godís spirit, his very power and mind, upon us and in us to guide our thoughts and channel our direction in life.

Ultimately, God promises to do that to all of the children of Israel; but we have that distinct opportunity to do so now. We have the opportunity to set aside our old ways of error and to be imbued with the power of God to have renewed minds in line with Godís standards of righteousness. What an honor and what a privilege! That is why the hope we have in the promises God gave to our forefathers is so much more than merely the hope of eternal life. Yes, that is a lofty goal but there is so much more of the story on that road to accomplishment.

 

Our Present Evil World

Yes, David was right to be what we might regard as "paranoid." We know why the world today is filled with enemies. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12, the truth about our present world. Our physical enemies are merely agents, or instruments, of a wicked spiritual power; but we are not to behave in their manner.

(Eph 6:12-17 NASB) For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. {13} Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. {14} Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, {15} and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; {16} in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one. {17} And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

In Romans 12:9, Paul likewise exhorted the Church of God at Rome.

(Rom 12:9-21 NASB) Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. {10} Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; {11} not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; {12} rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, {13} contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. {14} Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not. {15} Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. {16} Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. {17} Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. {18} If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. {19} Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. {20} "BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS UPON HIS HEAD." {21} Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Look at verse 21 again. That brings us right back to the righteousness of God. Our real hope is to lead lives of good, overcoming the evil in the world around us; but it is not "good" by our own definition. It is "good" by the definition of our righteous Father. God is the one who has established and defined "good" by his laws of righteousness, embodied in the ten commandments. We are to lead lives dedicated to Godís definition of the "good" that is pleasing in his sight.

 

Our Real Hope

We have read many times how we can never "earn" our salvation from God. Salvation is a free "gift" from God for those who have repented of their former evil way of life and continue to repent of their error, who have adopted a new life of righteousness based on Godís definitions, and who understand and believe in the need for a righteous redeemer to intercede on our behalf to satisfy the demands of Godís righteous laws.

Our hope is now our whole way of life, ultimately leading to the gift of eternal life; but our hope is our own. It is not something to be "crammed down" other peoplesí throats. So often, we have experienced early in our newfound Christian lives, the surest way to alienate friends and family is to force our newfound knowledge on them uninvited. Unlike other religions such as Islam, we are not to force our views on others unwillingly. Thatís not the way we are to behave. Acceptance of Christianity and the truth of God is a voluntary effort. When we are invited through honest questioning of our hope, however, we should always be fully prepared with a ready answer.

 

 

Sermon given by Philip Edwards

January 5, 2008

 

Copyright 2008, Philip Edwards
 
 

 

 

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