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Wholehearted Repentance

 

Itís not an uncommon occurrence today to be flipping through the channels on the television or scanning through the stations on the radio dial and come across preachers of various religions expounding the requirements for salvation. Depending upon your geographical position in the world, the main religious preachers will either be Islamic or Christian.

 

Islamic Tenets of Salvation

As Islam grows in the western world, its preachers drive home Muhammadís main requirements for salvation. The righteous are defined as:

"those who do good, who are constant in devotion [prayer], pay the zakat [alms tax], and are certain of the Hereafter (Al Qurían 31:4)."

There are five so-called "pillars of faith" in Islam. The first is the shahadah or Ďprofession of faithí which states: "there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger." The second is the ritual prayers which are to be performed "at the appointed hours." The third is the zakat or "alms tax" which is a mandatory donation to charity. The fourth is the fast of the month of Ramadan which is a twelve-hour fast during the daylight hours of each day with resumption of eating allowed only during the night hours of the 28 day month. The fifth "pillar of faith" is the hajj or pilgrimage to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina where Islam was founded.

Whereas Islam teaches there can be no mediator between God and man and that "no man can stand between God and the believer," Christianity and its preachers seem to take the pendulum to the other extreme. Whether they are Catholic or Protestant, most Christian preachers today announce that all one needs to do to be saved is to "believe on Jesus." Gone are the days of preaching responsibility to honor the laws of God or to do good deeds. If one simply "believes on Jesus," he or she is instantly "saved" and will, upon earthly death be transported to heaven to live eternally with Jesus and the angels.

In his book, Understanding Islam: An Introduction to the Muslim World, Thomas Lippman writes:

"The Koran clearly identifies Allah with the God of the Hebrews. The God who spoke to Moses during the wanderings in the desert, the God who watched over Joseph when he was betrayed by his brothers, the God who saved Noah from the deluge, is Allah, God of the Jews and God of the Muslims" (page 7).

Again Mr. Lippman writes:

"Muslims believe there is and has always been since Abraham only one true religion, a consistent faith in the one omnipotent God, who from time to time has sent various messengers and prophets to reveal Himself to men and tell men what He expects of them. These revelations were recorded in a hundred and four books, of which only four are extant: the Pentateuch, the Pslams, the Gospels, and the Koran, given successively to Moses, David, Jesus, and Muhammad" (ibid, pages 6-7).

That is what Mr. Lippman reports that the Muslims believe. If, indeed, that is their belief system, then the foundation of Islam rests on the Hebrew scriptures and the Hebrew patriarchs. In addition to the Qurían then, we can search for answers in the pages of the Bible, which we more commonly know in the Western world. Perhaps in the scriptures of the Bible, we can determine if either the Muslim preachers or the Christian preachers of today are declaring teachings supported by the holy words of God.

 

The Old Covenantís Requirements

The first place to look in the Old Testament for what God Most High requires of his human subjects is in the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Bible. Specifically, letís look at Deuteronomy 10:12 to find Godís declarative statement given through his prophet, Moses.

(Deut 10:12-13 NASB) "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, {13} and to keep the LORD'S commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?

We are to keep Godís commandments and his statutes but more than mere obedience is required of us. Moses stated that we are to go beyond simple obedience by fearing, loving and serving God with our whole hearts and beings. Is there even more God requires of his subjects? In Micah 6:6, we can find that there is. The prophet Micah spoke out about the corruption and oppression of his day and got to the heart of what God really desires of his people.

(Micah 6:6-8 NASB) With what shall I come to the LORD And bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, With yearling calves? {7} Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my first-born for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? {8} He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?

 

If Micah was right in expressing Godís true requirements, the first was "to do justice." The most reasonable follow-up question to ask, therefore, would be, by what measure is it possible to do justice if not bounded by the rule of law? It only makes sense that the standards of the laws established by God Most High are the confinement within which Godís justice is administered and dispensed.

As we read earlier, the Muslims revere the Pentateuch and also the Psalms as holy scriptures and direct revelations from God. In the Psalms, David also spoke about Godís expectations but David proclaimed that more than just physical obedience to the law of God was required. David got down to the intent of the law by focusing on the more spiritual concepts of the converted mind.

(Psalms 51:15-17 NASB) O Lord, open my lips, That my mouth may declare Thy praise. {16} For Thou dost not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; Thou art not pleased with burnt offering. {17} The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.

We all know the Old Testament is replete with many examples of how the Israelites fell short of Godís standards. Through their rebellion against the Most High, they voluntarily cut themselves off from the blessings and the protection of God. In 2 Kings 17:6, God gives an historical summary of the many ways in which Israel and Judah failed to live up to their part of the contract which they had voluntarily agreed to at Mount Sinai.

(2 Kings 17:6-20 NASB) In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and carried Israel away into exile to Assyria, and settled them in Halah and Habor, on the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. {7} Now this came about, because the sons of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up from the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and they had feared other gods {8} and walked in the customs of the nations whom the LORD had driven out before the sons of Israel, and in the customs of the kings of Israel which they had introduced. {9} And the sons of Israel did things secretly which were not right, against the LORD their God. Moreover, they built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city. {10} And they set for themselves sacred pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, {11} and there they burned incense on all the high places as the nations did which the LORD had carried away to exile before them; and they did evil things provoking the LORD. {12} And they served idols, concerning which the LORD had said to them, "You shall not do this thing." {13} Yet the LORD warned Israel and Judah, through all His prophets and every seer, saying, "Turn from your evil ways and keep My commandments, My statutes according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you through My servants the prophets." {14} However, they did not listen, but stiffened their neck like their fathers, who did not believe in the LORD their God. {15} And they rejected His statutes and His covenant which He made with their fathers, and His warnings with which He warned them. And they followed vanity and became vain, and went after the nations which surrounded them, concerning which the LORD had commanded them not to do like them. {16} And they forsook all the commandments of the LORD their God and made for themselves molten images, even two calves, and made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. {17} Then they made their sons and their daughters pass through the fire, and practiced divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him. {18} So the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight; none was left except the tribe of Judah. {19} Also Judah did not keep the commandments of the LORD their God, but walked in the customs which Israel had introduced. {20} And the LORD rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until He had cast them out of His sight.

After many centuries of disobedience and rebellion and failure to keep the covenant established at Sinai, God did remove his protection from Israel and cast them into far away foreign lands. Though he removed them from the lands he had promised the patriarchs, we can read in 2 Chronicles 7:12 that God always stood ready to forgive them and reestablish his loving protection over them.

(2 Chron 7:12-14 NASB) Then the LORD appeared to Solomon at night and said to him, "I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice. {13} "If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, {14} and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

That was not the only warning from God of what would befall Israel for breaking their covenant. Earlier in Deuteronomy 4:23, Moses had prophesied against Israel concerning their state in the latter days.

(Deut 4:23-31 NASB) "So watch yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which He made with you, and make for yourselves a graven image in the form of anything against which the LORD your God has commanded you. {24} "For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. {25} "When you become the father of children and children's children and have remained long in the land, and act corruptly, and make an idol in the form of anything, and do that which is evil in the sight of the LORD your God so as to provoke Him to anger, {26} I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you shall surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but shall be utterly destroyed. {27} "And the LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you shall be left few in number among the nations, where the LORD shall drive you. {28} "And there you will serve gods, the work of man's hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. {29} "But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. {30} "When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days, you will return to the LORD your God and listen to His voice. {31} "For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them.

Read verse 31 again. Our Father is a compassionate God. He will not forget the covenant and the promises he made with our fathers. He will keep his word. Herein lies the key to our relationship with God and the intimate contact we may reestablish with him. In Psalms 86:5, David even said as much when he referred to Godís perpetual readiness to dispense forgiveness and lovingkindness.

(Psalms 86:5 NASB) For Thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon Thee.

David was not the only one who knew God would be ready to forgive. In Ezekiel 33:10, we can see Godís offer of forgiveness displayed through the prophet Ezekiel.

(Ezekiel 33:10-16 NASB) "Now as for you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, 'Thus you have spoken, saying, "Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we are rotting away in them; how then can we survive?"' {11} "Say to them, 'As I live!' declares the Lord GOD, 'I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?' {12} "And you, son of man, say to your fellow citizens, 'The righteousness of a righteous man will not deliver him in the day of his transgression, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he will not stumble because of it in the day when he turns from his wickedness; whereas a righteous man will not be able to live by his righteousness on the day when he commits sin.' {13} "When I say to the righteous he will surely live, and he so trusts in his righteousness that he commits iniquity, none of his righteous deeds will be remembered; but in that same iniquity of his which he has committed he will die. {14} "But when I say to the wicked, 'You will surely die,' and he turns from his sin and practices justice and righteousness, {15} if a wicked man restores a pledge, pays back what he has taken by robbery, walks by the statutes which ensure life without committing iniquity, he will surely live; he shall not die. {16} "None of his sins that he has committed will be remembered against him. He has practiced justice and righteousness; he will surely live.

In Ezekiel 18:30, God directly states to the disobedient nation of Israel the thing that needs to be done to make themselves right with God.

(Ezekiel 18:30-32 NASB) "Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct," declares the Lord GOD. "Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. {31} "Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? {32} "For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies," declares the Lord GOD. "Therefore, repent and live."

What was Godís summation of the matter? Look at the last sentence: "therefore, repent and live."

 

New Covenant Requirements

In the New Testament in Ephesians 2:11, Paul also spoke of the Gentilesí estrangement and, by extension, of our own rebellion against God and our self-imposed alienation from his covenant and blessings.

(Ephesians 2:11-12 NASB) Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called "Circumcision," which is performed in the flesh by human hands-- {12} remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

So far, we have explored the requirements of the Old Covenant and its provisions for reestablishing a relationship with God the Father. Is the New Covenant substantially different than the Old Covenant in terms of its requirements? We can hear the answer from the words of the Messiah in Matthew 19:16. If, during his physical ministry on earth, there was ever a chance for Jesus to establish a different doctrine or to define different requirements for salvation, it certainly was on this occasion.

(Mat 19:16-19 NASB) And behold, one came to Him and said, "Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?" {17} And He said to him, "Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." {18} He said to Him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER; YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY; YOU SHALL NOT STEAL; YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS; {19} HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF."

That certainly doesnít sound like Jesus was doing away with the importance of the laws of God being kept daily in our lives. Does that sound to you like a son who is doing away with his Fatherís laws of righteousness?

Look at the ministry of John the Baptist.

(Matthew 3:1-6 NASB) Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, {2} "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." {3} For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet, saying, "THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, 'MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT!'" {4} Now John himself had a garment of camel's hair, and a leather belt about his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. {5} Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea, and all the district around the Jordan; {6} and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.

What did they confess? Verse six says, "they confessed their sins." The picture painted by these short verses may obscure the lifestyle of the times. If we just quickly read over the scriptures, we may think it was only a spur-of-the-moment thing. Stop and think. Did people just wake up one morning and go down to the Jordan River and get dunked in the water by John? In Mark 1:4, we can see there was more to it than that.

(Mark 1:4 NASB) John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

So, John preached to them. What did he preach? He preached "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." That shows there was more to it than just getting wet in the river. John preached to them. Yes, he told them about baptism and what it signified but, even more than that, he preached to them about their need to repent in order for God to forgive their sins. The New Ungerís Bible Dictionary says this about the baptism of John:

"The baptism of John was not Christian, but Jewish. It was, however, especially a baptism Ďfor repentance.í The only faith that it expressed concerning Christ was that his coming was close at hand. Those who confessed and repented of their sins and were baptized by John were thus obedient to his call to Ďmake ready the way of the Lordí" (article Baptism, page 142).

Even though many of the Jewish people of the day had a lifetime of exposure to the Hebrew scriptures in the various synagogues throughout the land, it is likely that they possessed a distorted view of what was sin. Therefore, they had an unclear view of just what were the things they needed to repent of and what were the things they were to overcome in life. In Matthew 23:15, we can see just one of the many examples of Christ chastising the scribes and Pharisees for misleading the people under their shepherding.

(Mat 23:15 NASB) "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.

Skip down to verse 23.

(Mat 23:23 NASB) "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.

Many people read right over the positives at the end of the last sentence and concentrate only on the condemnations. What Christ condemned was the improper distortion of their teachings. They put an unfair emphasis on the minute aspects of the standards of God while almost totally neglecting the "weightier provisions of the law." Jesus said they were right in teaching the minute details of the law of God but they were wrong in neglecting the more important provisions of justice and mercy and faithfulness. Notice how "justice" is the first in the list given by Jesus. Keep in mind, here again, itís impossible to dispense justice without the boundaries of righteousness set by the laws of God.

As did Christ, so also did John the Baptist condemn the teachings of the Pharisees and Saducees and called them a "brood of vipers." So, itís clear to see that, besides the mere act of baptizing, John also preached about sin and the need to repent of oneís sins. Obviously, the preaching of the need for repentance, as well as the actual repenting of sins, had to have been done before the act of baptism.

 

Repenting of Sins

We have seen in previous sermons that several words are translated sin in both the Old and New Testaments. The most frequently used Hebrew word for sin in the Old Testament is chata. It is Strongís number 2398. According to The Companion Bible by Bullinger, it means, "to miss the markÖ to stumble and fall. Hence, morally, a coming short." In Exodus 20:20, just after God gave the ten commandments from Mount Sinai, we can see the word chata used for sin.

(Exodus 20:20 NASB) And Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin."

In the Greek New Testament, the most frequently used word for sin is hamartano. It is Strongís number 264. According to Strongís Dictionary, it means "to miss the mark, to err, to sin." In Matthew 18:21, we can find an example of the disciples using the same word to question Jesus about forgiveness.

(Matthew 18:21-22 NASB) Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" {22} Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

We saw earlier that, when asked the question, "Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life," Jesus replied by naming several of the ten commandments. We just saw in Exodus that Moses used the Hebrew word for sin right after God enumerated the terms of the Old Covenant in the form of the Ten Commandments. Those Ten Commandments specified Godís standard of righteousness and the righteous standard or "mark" which we may choose to either "hit" or "miss." In Deuteronomy 30:19, much as Moses admonished Israel to decide when they entered the promised land, so we must also make a choice.

(Deut 30:19-20 NASB) "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, {20} by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them."

 

Commitment

In Luke 14:25, in similarly making the choice that will determine our path in life, Christ admonished his disciples to carefully count the cost.

(Luke 14:25-28 NASB) Now great multitudes were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, {26} "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. {27} "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. {28} "For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it?

We have seen how, centuries earlier, Israel had to make a choice. In Exodus 24:3 at Mount Sinai, the people made the right choice and agreed to live lives according to Godís terms of the Old Covenant delivered by Moses.

(Exodus 24:3 NASB) Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, "All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do!"

Continuing under the influence of the strong, righteous leadership of Joshua, they made the right choices again. In Joshua 24:20, the people again confirmed their commitment to live according to Godís decrees.

(Joshua 24:20-24 NASB) "If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you after He has done good to you." {21} And the people said to Joshua, "No, but we will serve the LORD." {22} And Joshua said to the people, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen for yourselves the LORD, to serve Him." And they said, "We are witnesses." {23} "Now therefore, put away the foreign gods which are in your midst, and incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel." {24} And the people said to Joshua, "We will serve the LORD our God and we will obey His voice."

In Judges 2:7, we can see that the generation under the guidance of Joshua behaved righteously. The commitment to a lifestyle of righteous behavior, however, was not properly taught to the following generation. Not only was the leadership weaker than Joshuaís, it is evident by the fruits that the parents did not live up to their responsibility to wholeheartedly teach Godís way of life to their children. They shirked their duty to follow the command of God which says: "And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.

Look at Judges 2:7.

(Judges 2:7-14 NASB) And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, who had seen all the great work of the LORD which He had done for Israel. {8} Then Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of one hundred and ten. {9} And they buried him in the territory of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. {10} And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. {11} Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baals, {12} and they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the LORD to anger. {13} So they forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtaroth. {14} And the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies.

Total commitment is what God desires in his slaves. Dedication to Godís way of life in framing our lives by the righteous laws of God is how we outwardly display our commitment to God. We have numerous examples throughout scripture of men and women who exhibited such stalwart commitment to God all their lives. Once such person was Daniel. Even in the face of imminent death, Daniel chose to obey God rather than men on several occasions. We can read of his steadfast trust in God in Daniel 6:1.

(Dan 6:1-24 NASB) It seemed good to Darius to appoint 120 satraps over the kingdom, that they should be in charge of the whole kingdom, {2} and over them three commissioners (of whom Daniel was one), that these satraps might be accountable to them, and that the king might not suffer loss. {3} Then this Daniel began distinguishing himself among the commissioners and satraps because he possessed an extraordinary spirit, and the king planned to appoint him over the entire kingdom. {4} Then the commissioners and satraps began trying to find a ground of accusation against Daniel in regard to government affairs; but they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was to be found in him. {5} Then these men said, "We shall not find any ground of accusation against this Daniel unless we find it against him with regard to the law of his God." {6} Then these commissioners and satraps came by agreement to the king and spoke to him as follows: "King Darius, live forever! {7} "All the commissioners of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the high officials and the governors have consulted together that the king should establish a statute and enforce an injunction that anyone who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days, shall be cast into the lions' den. {8} "Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document so that it may not be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked." {9} Therefore King Darius signed the document, that is, the injunction. {10} Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously. {11} Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and supplication before his God. {12} Then they approached and spoke before the king about the king's injunction, "Did you not sign an injunction that any man who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days, is to be cast into the lions' den?" The king answered and said, "The statement is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked." {13} Then they answered and spoke before the king, "Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the injunction which you signed, but keeps making his petition three times a day." {14} Then, as soon as the king heard this statement, he was deeply distressed and set his mind on delivering Daniel; and even until sunset he kept exerting himself to rescue him. {15} Then these men came by agreement to the king and said to the king, "Recognize, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no injunction or statute which the king establishes may be changed." {16} Then the king gave orders, and Daniel was brought in and cast into the lions' den. The king spoke and said to Daniel, "Your God whom you constantly serve will Himself deliver you." {17} And a stone was brought and laid over the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the signet rings of his nobles, so that nothing might be changed in regard to Daniel. {18} Then the king went off to his palace and spent the night fasting, and no entertainment was brought before him; and his sleep fled from him. {19} Then the king arose with the dawn, at the break of day, and went in haste to the lions' den. {20} And when he had come near the den to Daniel, he cried out with a troubled voice. The king spoke and said to Daniel, "Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you constantly serve, been able to deliver you from the lions?" {21} Then Daniel spoke to the king, "O king, live forever! {22} "My God sent His angel and shut the lions' mouths, and they have not harmed me, inasmuch as I was found innocent before Him; and also toward you, O king, I have committed no crime." {23} Then the king was very pleased and gave orders for Daniel to be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no injury whatever was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. {24} The king then gave orders, and they brought those men who had maliciously accused Daniel, and they cast them, their children, and their wives into the lions' den; and they had not reached the bottom of the den before the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.

Not only did Danielís actions display steadfast trust in God, so did his prayers. His prayers were so full of trust and reliance on God that he got to the heart and core issue of manís relationship with God: the need for humility and admission of guilt in adhering to the righteous standards of God. Look at his prayer of humility and repentance in Dan 9:1.

(Dan 9:1-19 NASB) In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of Median descent, who was made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans-- {2} in the first year of his reign I, Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was revealed as the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. {3} So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. {4} And I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed and said, "Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, {5} we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly, and rebelled, even turning aside from Thy commandments and ordinances. {6} "Moreover, we have not listened to Thy servants the prophets, who spoke in Thy name to our kings, our princes, our fathers, and all the people of the land. {7} "Righteousness belongs to Thee, O Lord, but to us open shame, as it is this day-- to the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and all Israel, those who are nearby and those who are far away in all the countries to which Thou hast driven them, because of their unfaithful deeds which they have committed against Thee. {8} "Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, because we have sinned against Thee. {9} "To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him; {10} nor have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in His teachings which He set before us through His servants the prophets. {11} "Indeed all Israel has transgressed Thy law and turned aside, not obeying Thy voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him. {12} "Thus He has confirmed His words which He had spoken against us and against our rulers who ruled us, to bring on us great calamity; for under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what was done to Jerusalem. {13} "As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come on us; yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Thy truth. {14} "Therefore, the LORD has kept the calamity in store and brought it on us; for the LORD our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds which He has done, but we have not obeyed His voice. {15} "And now, O Lord our God, who hast brought Thy people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and hast made a name for Thyself, as it is this day-- we have sinned, we have been wicked. {16} "O Lord, in accordance with all Thy righteous acts, let now Thine anger and Thy wrath turn away from Thy city Jerusalem, Thy holy mountain; for because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Thy people have become a reproach to all those around us. {17} "So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Thy servant and to his supplications, and for Thy sake, O Lord, let Thy face shine on Thy desolate sanctuary. {18} "O my God, incline Thine ear and hear! Open Thine eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Thy name; for we are not presenting our supplications before Thee on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Thy great compassion. {19} "O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Thine own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Thy city and Thy people are called by Thy name."

Earlier, we read that we should serve our great Father with wholeheartedness. That is what pleases our master. Time after time throughout the centuries in the Old Testament, Israel failed the test. While there were brief moments of rising to the challenge, for the most part, daily life for people in Israel was one of succumbing to temptation. Certain individuals, however, did prove to be exceptions to the overall downward spiral toward evil. One of those exceptions was Nehemiah. He wholeheartedly sought God and he wholeheartedly sought to execute the righteous standards of God among the people he ruled. In Nehemiah 1:5, we can see that he began by repentance and a contrite heart and a broken spirit for what both he, his fellow Israelites, and his forefathers had done in rebellion against God.

(Nehemiah 1:5-11 NASB) And I said, "I beseech Thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, {6} let Thine ear now be attentive and Thine eyes open to hear the prayer of Thy servant which I am praying before Thee now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Thy servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against Thee; I and my father's house have sinned. {7} "We have acted very corruptly against Thee and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which Thou didst command Thy servant Moses. {8} "Remember the word which Thou didst command Thy servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples; {9} but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.' {10} "And they are Thy servants and Thy people whom Thou didst redeem by Thy great power and by Thy strong hand. {11} "O Lord, I beseech Thee, may Thine ear be attentive to the prayer of Thy servant and the prayer of Thy servants who delight to revere Thy name, and make Thy servant successful today, and grant him compassion before this man."

That total commitment to live according to Godís righteous laws and to serve the people of God with a whole heart was displayed repeatedly in his life, as we can read in the fifth chapter of the book of Nehemiah.

(Nehemiah 5:1-19 NASB) Now there was a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. {2} For there were those who said, "We, our sons and our daughters, are many; therefore let us get grain that we may eat and live." {3} And there were others who said, "We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses that we might get grain because of the famine." {4} Also there were those who said, "We have borrowed money for the king's tax on our fields and our vineyards. {5} "And now our flesh is like the flesh of our brothers, our children like their children. Yet behold, we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters are forced into bondage already, and we are helpless because our fields and vineyards belong to others." {6} Then I was very angry when I had heard their outcry and these words. {7} And I consulted with myself, and contended with the nobles and the rulers and said to them, "You are exacting usury, each from his brother!" Therefore, I held a great assembly against them. {8} And I said to them, "We according to our ability have redeemed our Jewish brothers who were sold to the nations; now would you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us?" Then they were silent and could not find a word to say. {9} Again I said, "The thing which you are doing is not good; should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies? {10} "And likewise I, my brothers and my servants, are lending them money and grain. Please, let us leave off this usury. {11} "Please, give back to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive groves, and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money and of the grain, the new wine, and the oil that you are exacting from them." {12} Then they said, "We will give it back and will require nothing from them; we will do exactly as you say." So I called the priests and took an oath from them that they would do according to this promise. {13} I also shook out the front of my garment and said, "Thus may God shake out every man from his house and from his possessions who does not fulfill this promise; even thus may he be shaken out and emptied." And all the assembly said, "Amen!" And they praised the LORD. Then the people did according to this promise. {14} Moreover, from the day that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes, for twelve years, neither I nor my kinsmen have eaten the governor's food allowance. {15} But the former governors who were before me laid burdens on the people and took from them bread and wine besides forty shekels of silver; even their servants domineered the people. But I did not do so because of the fear of God. {16} And I also applied myself to the work on this wall; we did not buy any land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work. {17} Moreover, there were at my table one hundred and fifty Jews and officials, besides those who came to us from the nations that were around us. {18} Now that which was prepared for each day was one ox and six choice sheep, also birds were prepared for me; and once in ten days all sorts of wine were furnished in abundance. Yet for all this I did not demand the governor's food allowance, because the servitude was heavy on this people. {19} Remember me, O my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.

Under Nehemiahís strong, zealous leadership, the people of Judah were reorganized and re-committed to live according to the righteous laws of God. In Nehemiah 10:28, we can see how the people took an oath to observe all the commandments of God along with his ordinances and his statutes.

(Nehemiah 10:28-31 NASB) Now the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple servants, and all those who had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the law of God, their wives, their sons and their daughters, all those who had knowledge and understanding, {29} are joining with their kinsmen, their nobles, and are taking on themselves a curse and an oath to walk in God's law, which was given through Moses, God's servant, and to keep and to observe all the commandments of GOD our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes; {30} and that we will not give our daughters to the peoples of the land or take their daughters for our sons. {31} As for the peoples of the land who bring wares or any grain on the sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the sabbath or a holy day; and we will forego the crops the seventh year and the exaction of every debt.

Truly, Nehemiah was a righteous example for us today. He was like a salmon swimming upstream against the current of unrighteousness in his day. Though our circumstances may be different than his, the challenge for us today is no different. We should each remember the words recorded for us in Ezekiel 22:24.

(Ezekiel 22:24-30 NASB) "Son of man, say to her, 'You are a land that is not cleansed or rained on in the day of indignation.' {25} "There is a conspiracy of her prophets in her midst, like a roaring lion tearing the prey. They have devoured lives; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in the midst of her. {26} "Her priests have done violence to My law and have profaned My holy things; they have made no distinction between the holy and the profane, and they have not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they hide their eyes from My sabbaths, and I am profaned among them. {27} "Her princes within her are like wolves tearing the prey, by shedding blood and destroying lives in order to get dishonest gain. {28} "And her prophets have smeared whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, 'Thus says the Lord GOD,' when the LORD has not spoken. {29} "The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice. {30} "And I searched for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one.

We each live in nations of lawless rebellion against God. Look around you at the events of everyday life. There is rebellion against God displayed everywhere you look. Peopleís everyday actions flaunt their rebellion and even their ignorance for Godís righteous standards. People willingly wander about lying and cheating and stealing. They think nothing of personal adultery or the legitimizing of homosexuality throughout society with the disparagement of the sanctity of marriage as God intended. Everywhere you look, there is rebellion against the rule of law established by our righteous Father. No wonder God expressed disgust and exasperation in Ezekiel 22.

 

We, however, have received a special calling from God to come out of that rebellion and lawlessness and to live by the righteous commandments of God. To fulfill that calling requires commitment. It requires deep repentance for our former lives of sin in outright rebellion against God and it requires total commitment to live new lives of righteousness according to Godís standards rather than our own.

Remember the words of God in Ezekiel. Are you the one who will be willing to rise to the challenge and be committed to "stand in the gap" before God for the land in which you live?

 

Sermon given by Philip Edwards

March 3, 2007

 

Copyright 2007, Philip Edwards

 

 

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