Reluctant Warriors 3

INTRODUCTION

So for a quick recap: we have been looking at Judges 6 and 7, focusing on the life of Gideon.  Gideon was one of the judges in the period in Israel’s history in the Old Testament right before Saul becomes their king.  The judges were individuals who would make legal and moral decisions for the people.  Gideon was one of the more important judges during this period.
There are 2 big lessons for us at the end of and in the wake of Gideon’s life:

How we begin leads to how we live.  But, how we finish is so important.

Gideon had some high points in his life and ministry where he was faithful and God used him, but yet he didn’t quite finish strong.  The lesson for all of us is for us to finish strong.  Most of us are young enough that we probably don’t think about standing before Christ at the end of our lives, but I believe it’s worth asking ourselves.  Will we end strong? Will we be full of faith and satisfaction from how we have lived and served both God and country?  And speaking of God and country, how and why we choose those who will govern us will shape the course and character of our country. What will be the basis for our choices for the upcoming presidential election in November? Loyalty to a particular party? Attention grabbing sound bites from Hillary or Donald Trump? Will we be led by our perception of strengths and weaknesses of the candidates? Or By faith… as God leads? Scripture addresses both of these as Gideon retires from public service… and passes on to be with the Lord.  Put yourself in Gideon’s shoes for a moment.  Just how would you feel? What would you do? How would you act… if you and 300 men had routed and wiped out 120,000 of the best-armed… most-disciplined troops in an enemy coalition?

A. Strut like a peacock?

B. Boast of how great and wonderful you are?

C. Humble yourself before God, because you know that the victory is his?

D. All of the above?

Gideon picked “D”! It is so easy!  For many… it is so natural… to credit man for God’s successes.  Dr. Ted Williams, a professor of physics at FSU some years ago—working at the Marine Lab right across the bay… was doodling on a yellow pad while an experiment on the physics of sight in jellyfish was processing… when he noticed that he was writing down the answer to a physics problem that had haunted his science for 150 years.  As any scientist would, he submitted his findings for publication in the most prestigious journal in his field.  The editor refused to publish it, because Ted was honest in his report.  On the submittal form…where he was asked to explain how he arrived at the solution… Ted wrote: “God gave it to me.”  Ted had been saved several months before.  He had once been a self-proclaimed atheist.  But he had an encounter with the risen Christ.  It changed his outlook!  It changed his life! It changed his destiny!  Cancer took him a little while back… but when fame was his… he gave credit to where credit was due—To God!

So 2 Sundays ago, we did part 2 of Reluctant Warriors, looking at the life of Gideon.  God sent Gideon and 300 men of Israel to fight against the Midianites, an army of 135,000. The odds against Israel were outstanding. It was 450 to 1. Their victory that day would be comparable to a “bunch of Jr. High girls beating a pro football team in the super bowl, 49 to nothing”. (Gary Inrig, Hearts of Iron, Feet of Clay). God gave His people a great victory. Unfortunately, Gideon began to grow proud at the end, and it eventually caught up with him.  Look there with me at chapter 8 as we see the Devil’s next attack.

Judges 8:22-23 (NLT) 22 Then the Israelites said to Gideon, “Be our ruler! You and your son and your grandson will be our rulers, for you have rescued us from Midian.” 23 But Gideon replied, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The Lord will rule over you!

OBSERVATION

We see that God gave Gideon victory over the Midianites, and the people of Israel rallied to him.  The people also tried to get Gideon to rule over them, but he refused, telling the people that their only king and ruler would be the Lord.

INTERPRETATION

This is the time period right before Samuel and David were born.  The people wanted to follow the culture of the surrounding nations by having a monarch, a king, instead of having a theocracy, a government ruled by God. The people were trying to get ahead of God, but Gideon wasn’t going to take the bait.  In this message about finishing strong, it is interesting that after the victory, the people tried to revert back to being like everyone else.  The lesson from this is when God frees you from a particular sin, or frees you from a particular habit or mindset that is destructive or damaging, we have to remain free.

APPLICATION

  1. We cannot lose sight of  purpose after victoriesWe cannot go back to Egypt after God delivers us from something.  In the Bible during the time of Moses, the people of Israel were physically slaves for 400 years, but Egypt always symbolizes spiritual slavery and spiritual bondage or entrapment as well.  The Israelites in Gideon’s time forgot that they were a covenant people.  That was their purpose and their reason for existence.  Now in the New Testament, in the church age, we are still a covenant people, because “testament” is just the Greek word for covenant.  Now instead of proclaiming the law like that passage in Isaiah, the good news, the Gospel, the message about Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for the sins of all mankind, is the light that we as God’s people now proclaim to the nations:

Luke 22:20 (NLT) After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.

So covenant people today may work for the U.S. government, or the Japanese government, but they don’t rule over us.  The Spirit of God rules over our hearts and lives as covenant people. In the general sense, a covenant is simply a binding agreement or compact between two or more parties; in legal terms, it is a formal sealed agreement or contract. The amazing thing about such examples of divine covenant is that they are the gracious means of relationship with God for a people who deserve to be removed from His presence forever, by a God who has no need whatsoever, in and of Himself, for such relationship. Indeed, the heart of covenant, is that it expresses God’s unlimited  mercy, boundless love, grace and compassion towards us, and this manifests in intimate relationship: “you will be my people, and I will be your God” (e.g. Jeremiah 30:22).

TRANSITION

     Now Gideon and the people of Israelite began to lost sight of the fact that they were a part of a covenant with the Lord.   Gideon was AGAIN looking for something physical to look to, to pray to you, and he ended up as the leader, setting up his people for failure .

Judges 8:24-27 (NLT) 24 However, I do have one request—that each of you give me an earring from the plunder you collected from your fallen enemies.” (The enemies, being Ishmaelites, all wore gold earrings.) 25 “Gladly!” they replied. They spread out a cloak, and each one threw in a gold earring he had gathered from the plunder. 26 The weight of the gold earrings was forty-three pounds, not including the royal ornaments and pendants, the purple clothing worn by the kings of Midian, or the chains around the necks of their camels.27 Gideon made a sacred ephod from the gold and put it in Ophrah, his hometown. But soon all the Israelites prostituted themselves by worshiping it, and it became a trap for Gideon and his family.

OBSERVATION

Gideon made a request of the people to take the gold earrings they got from the Israelites and make an ephod.  And the people of Israel began worshipping this thing.  It turned into a trap both for Gideon and his family because they influenced the people of Israel to start praying to this ephod.

INTERPRETATION

So what is an ephod? What did Gideon make?

[TAKEN FROM GOTQUESTIONS.ORG]  In the Old Testament, the ephod has two meanings. In one group of passages, it signifies a garment; in another, very probably an image. As a garment the ephod is referred to in the priestly ordinances as a part of the official dress of the high priest. It was to be made of threads “of blue and of purple, of scarlet, and fine twined linen” and embroidered in gold thread “with cunning work” (Exodus 28:4; 29:5; 39:2; Leviticus 8:7).

So in Judges 8, most biblical scholars and theologians believe Gideon’s ephod was an idol or a statue shaped like an ephod instead of a garment, because it was made out of gold.  So here we begin to see a change in Gideon’s nature here.

Just before the ephod was made, earlier in the chapter, Gideon’s cousins ,the Ephraimites in the cities of Succoth and Peniel across the Jordan did not join in the battle against the Midianites. Now they are reluctant to give even bread to his hungry troops.  They doubt that Gideon is a match for them. So he threatens the people of Succoth and says he’s gonna whip all the men with whips made of thorns instead of trusting God to provide for his troops.  He begins to take matters into his own hands.  His humility begins to swell into pride.  Arrogance begins to smother his submissive attitude.

The same thing happened in a town named Peniel.  Now the Ephraimites  were Gideon’s cousins…basically Gideon and the Ephraimites were descendants of Jacob and Joseph’s children, the original 12 tribes of Israel listed at the end of Genesis.  But Gideon threatened them when they refused to help him as well.  Now God had delivered Gideon from the Midianites.  An angel had come to Him and spoke to him.  But yet, after the deliverance that we read about, some decisions made by Gideon in the wake of this deliverance are very instructive to us.

     See, we have to finish strong! After we win a battle, after God blesses us with more influence, or more peace of mind or more of whatever ,we have to be careful not to shift back into old mindsets; we are a new creation.  It doesn’t say we will be, but we ARE a new creation in Christ! It’s when we deviate from the insight or revelation that the Spirit of God gives us about us being new in Christ that we get into trouble! To deviate means to move from a set path to another path.

APPLICATION

[2] Let’s not deviate from the clear words of Christ —  Gideon deviated from finishing strong to bullying his cousins and building an ephod. I want to share an illustration about the danger of deviation.
[ILLUSTRATION] John Trent in book “Heartshift”, p17, tells the story of a NASA engineer he spoke to on a plane that said a 2% deviation on a launch to the moon will result in a 11,121 mile mistake when you arrive at, or near, the moon.  It was the same for Gideon and it’s the same for us. The choices we make may seem small, but over time, we find we are slipping and sliding away from what we thought was our goal.  Deviations! The deviations we make have results.
Now in our first verse we examined, verse 22, Gideon correctly refusing to be the king, but decided to keep the materials and gold he got from the Midianites.  Now it’s not unusual to benefit from spoils.  But earlier in the Bible, Abraham had rejected the spoils of war.  Gideon took over 40 lbs of gold, but then made it into an “ephod.” Now there were various types, from one worn by high priest, used to discern God’s will, to linen garment worn by David:
I’m wondering if Gideon was seeking to honor God, but appeal to the desire for a physical presence of God.  Is that why people were “glad”? in v25? It says they gave their gold to Gideon gladly! Whatever his motive, the people quickly began to worship the object.  Scripture says they “prostituted themselves,” a clear OT image for idolatry.
this ephod now became the object which had delivered them from Midian.  while Gideon and family did not worship it, it became a “snare,” in some translations, but a trap in the NLT….you get the point! It may not have sent Gideon’s down the wrong path of idolatry, but it caused them to miss the best path of the exclusive worship of God.  We call this syncretism, the blending of two disparate ideas into a third.  And while Gideon, on the surface, was worshiping God, there was a dangerous blending that led his family astray.
in our day, some call this tendency “cultural Christianity.”This is the tendency to incorporate, in order to attract the world, secular ideas into our faith to make it more acceptable.  Certainly Gideon could not demand the worship of God alone and expect to be listened to, so he “snuck God in the backdoor” with an idol that would appeal to the masses but was still part of God’s revealed religious system.  This is popular today, very popular!  Gideon tried to do something that was known as syncretism

Question: “What is religious syncretism?”Answer: Syncretism, as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, is “the reconciliation or fusion of differing systems of belief.” This is most evident in the areas of philosophy and religion, and usually results in a new teaching or belief system. [http://www.gotquestions.org/syncretism-religious.html].

Obviously, this cannot be reconciled to biblical Christianity.

Christians have to be very careful….New Age books like “The Secret” say that if you always only think positive thoughts, then only positive things will come to you.  And if you only think negative thoughts, only negative things will come to you.  Again, this flies in the face of reality and the real world.  The reality is that bad things happen to good people.  God doesn’t always tell us why, but we have to trust Him still that he is working all things for our good.  Hinduism, Buddhism, and reincarnation are more popular than ever in the U.S. and of course Buddhism and Shintoism are the most popular belief systems in Japan.   But I know many of you might be asking, is there really any harm in going to a shrine, and praying a prayer to a Buddha statue? I can still be a Christian and do that, right? Well, the issue is that Christ made very exclusive claims, and exclusive  means complete, full, entire, whole, total, absolute; unable to exist or be true if something else exists or is true, incompatible, irreconcilable sole, undivided, unshared, unique, only, individual, personal, single, dedicated

See, Christ said no one can get to heaven or get to the Father or be saved except in Him.  In the Gospel of John,  Jesus told the apostles he was going back to heaven, and the apostle Thomas asked Jesus how to get to heaven:

John 14:6New Living Translation (NLT)

6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.

Point of Exclusion

Posted by Ravi Zacharias on June 27, 2012

With the numerous religions in the world, how can Christians claim exclusivity? The truth is that every major religion in the world claims exclusivity, and every major religion in the world has a point of exclusion.

Hinduism, for example, is often represented as being the most tolerant and accepting of other faiths. That is just not true. All Hindus believe in two fundamental, uncompromising doctrines—the Law of Karma, and the belief in reincarnation. These will not be surrendered. The word “karma” basically means “to do or act.”  In most basic terms, the law of karma states that one reaps what one sows.  The law of karma implies that every thought or deed, whether they are good or bad, will count in determining how an individual will be born in their next life on earth.  So an individual with bad karma could be born many different times into lower castes of humans or even into lower forms of animals.  In Hinduism, the person cannot be released until they are reborn into the Brahmin or priestly caste.  So this is how karma and reincarnation are intertwined.  So in reality individuals are in control of their salvation, which is their release from the cycle of birth and rebirth.1In fact, Buddhism was born out of the rejection of two other very dogmatic claims of Hinduism. Buddha rejected the authority of the vedas, which are Hindu scriptures or sacred texts, and the caste system of Hinduism, which is basically that if you start your first life on a low level, then higher people won’t help you so you keep reincarnating at a low level and you never move up. Among all the world’s peoples, the Dalits of India have experienced some of the greatest sadness, pain and persecution. They sit at the bottom of India’s highly stratified caste system, and are considered “untouchable.”(7) Dalit women often bear the brunt of this and two-thirds of them have been sexually abused and 750,000 trafficked into sexual slavery, yet the conviction rate for crimes against Dalits is just 5.3%.(8) How do you change a mind-set that says that a person is quite literally worthless, because of her caste, her family, her birthplace? Words like “all men are born equal” are just fine-sounding platitudes or quotes to those who daily experience such discrimination.  So basically, in India it is socially unacceptable for people who are high on the social ladder to help those on the bottom, for fear of the bad karma of the untouchables being rubbed off on those with the  good karma.  So those people are stuck reincarnating low.

 

One Dalit religious leader summed up the problem in an interview. He said that by the time a child is fourteen, it is too late to change anything, as by then they have been told all of their life that they are worthless. The only way to correct this, he continued, is from a very young age to speak a different worldview into their lives. And the Dalits are finding that it is the biblical worldview, with its profound message that all of us bear God’s image, that is the most powerful corrective.The issue here is not who was right or wrong. The truth is that Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism are very different—but are all claiming rightness.  Islam, as you know, is very clearly an exclusive claim to God. A Muslim will never tell you that it doesn’t matter what you believe or that all religions are true.  In fact, there is a popular saying in Islam that states there is no god but allah and muhammad is his prophet.

So where does that leave us? We must not be surprised at truth claims from different religions and beliefs,  but we must test them before we believe them. If the test demonstrates truth then we need to believe it.  But when it comes to Jesus, only he claimed to be the Son of God and only he rose from the dead and only he died for the sins of humanity.  Only he took all of our sins upon himself.  There are only three possibilities for who Jesus was: C. S. Lewis, speaking in 1942 (and published in Mere Christianity in 1952), gave the argument its most memorable formulation:

     A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. Let us not come with any nonsense about his being a JUST a great human teacher or prophet. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. . . . Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a devil: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is the Son of God. (Mere Christianity, 55-56).

TRANSITION TO VERSE 28 So again, Jesus did not die for us to mix a bunch of beliefs like Chex Party Mix.  He is the Son of God, God in human flesh, divinity intermingled with humanity.  Gideon tried to mix the beliefs in statues and gold with belief in the true and living God.  I cannot go into a restaurant and toss a coin to a statue of Buddha.  Why? Because I know that a human being went into a mountain, and found a mine, and pulled the gold out, and made it into a statue.  But did Buddha make the mountain? Did Buddha make the gold? Did Buddha make the person making the statue of Him? No! God our Father did, and his messenger is His Son Christ Jesus:

1 Timothy 2:5 (NLT)

For, There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. 

VIDEO….What Distinguishes Christianity From Other Faiths?  Published on Oct 18, 2012

Dr. Craig Hazen shares with Bobby Conway what distinguishes Christianity from other faiths.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2OiJa2AimY&list=PLtO-GFhq5vCCBWujT19wPhbgcU5J5gpZy&index=6

TRANSITION back to sermon…

So because Jesus was both human and divine, only he fully qualifies to be the Savior of mankind.  All the other prophets and religious teachers are just human so they can’t bridge the gap between God and mankind like Jesus can.

Let’s turn from our idols back to Him!  Let’s finish strong, and not deviate from the Gospel.

So verse 28 summarizes the events of the 6-8th chapters of Judges….

Judges 8:28-33 (NLT) 28 That is the story of how the people of Israel defeated Midian, which never recovered. Throughout the rest of Gideon’s lifetime—about forty years—there was peace in the land.

29 Then Gideon son of Joash returned home. 30 He had seventy sons born to him, for he had many wives. 31 He also had a concubine in Shechem, who gave birth to a son, whom he named Abimelech. 32 Gideon died when he was very old, and he was buried in the grave of his father, Joash, at Ophrah in the land of the clan of Abiezer.

33 As soon as Gideon died, the Israelites prostituted themselves by worshiping the images of Baal, making Baal-berith their god.

OBSERVATION

So Gideon returned from defeating the Midianites and there was peace as long as Gideon was alive.  He returned home and had seventy sons with his many wives and his concubine.  But as soon as Gideon died, the people started worshipping another false God, Baal.

INTERPRETATION
Certainly in this time of Israel’s history, polygamy was rampant, but God’s clear ideal is monogamy.  It is hard to become “one flesh” with several women.  Now Gideon had 70 sons….can we assume there were some daughters in the mix? He probably had an excess of 10 wives.  Gideon was a “catch”, probably very wealthy and certainly powerful.  However, these multiple wives were not enough for him.  He had a concubine in Shechem, a city of some political and religious importance.  I’m speculating that the city fathers set a sexual trap for Gideon with one of their women, so they could have some claim to the “throne.” Abimelech means, “my father is king.”Clearly Gideon got caught up with the rewards of his wonderful victory and while Israel enjoyed peace for 40 years, as soon as he died, they went down the tubes, got rid of the ephod, and re-installed Baal as the god of choice.  Baal worship was probably a lot more fun than the worship connected to Gideon’s ephod and whatever leftover respect they had for Gideon dissipated like the morning dew.  The deviant choices the people and Gideon had made led them off the path, and they circled back to the exact spot they had left 47 years earlier.  They had been given choices, but in each case their choice deviated from God’s revealed path.  This cycle of deviation continued for another nearly 200 years.
We can see it all around us, can’t we? Someone has said that he who does not learn from the past is doomed to repeat it.  Gideon’s deviations were small compared to the rampant idolatry of Israel and so are some of ours. Yet God has made his plan clear, the choices ahead of us, very plain.  The pressure to conform, to please, to engage in syncretism or the mixing of beliefs is powerful and it may be our children or their children who suffer the results of an increasingly deviant path.  Open your Bible!  Read it’s pages! Discover the end result of your choice in time to make a mid-course correction.  If you are getting off course, if you are getting distracted from who Jesus is, what his mission is, and in turn what your mission is because of Christ, I would encourage you to refocus.  Readjust the lenses of your heart!

APPLICATION

[3] There are times in life when we need to re-focus —- All the Japanese people love taking pictures, and I think Asians in general have perfected the selfie! But what happens when you take pictures? You sometimes need to re-focus your camera or your lens depending on your surroundings, right? When I was in the military, I learned to operate all kinds of weapons, rifles, handguns, machine guns, grenade launchers, etc. Well whenever you aim at a target, it will have circles right in the middle for you to hit.  So if you are above or beneath it, or to the left or right, you have to reach and turn some dials and readjust your scope, right? Also, you have to refocus your vision.  I was able to earn an expert marksman ribbon, and I was taught not to focus on the target, but to focus on my front sight of my weapon.  The front sight is supposed to be sharp in your vision, and the target is supposed to be blurry..…you focus your vision on the front sight, not the target, and you’ll hit the target. That’s very important, we’ll come back to that.    So today just like in Gideon’s day, our battle is often against the sin of idol worship.  For some people like here in Japan or in other Asian countries or India, they are real statues made of gold.  And also, an idol is anything you place above Jesus Christ in your heart.  Thankfully, just like soldiers are given a rifle, we have been given weapons of war to fight with.  We have the Spirit of God living in us and he helps us to understand our other weapon, the Word of God.  Now on a rifle, the front sight is very important, because the rest of the rifle will go in the direction that front sight is pointed in.  Jesus is that front sight on our rifle, all scripture points to Him!  If the Bible is our rifle and the front sight on that rifle is Jesus, if we focus on Christ Jesus, then our surroundings will be blurry.  Don’t focus on and stress on our circumstances; if Jesus is our focus, those things will disappear from our view. Now when we try to eliminate sin and wrong thinking from our lives, we don’t focus on the sins and problems but on the fixer of those problems and we’ll see that Christ will give us the power to be free.  He’ll give us the power to finish strong, whether it is in our marriage or as parents.  He’ll give us the power to finish strong in whatever assignment he has placed us in.  I know that we all get tired, but I want you to know that God appreciates all the prayers and all the contributions you give to the work of ministry and of spreading the Gospel of Christ Jesus.  Now sometimes we will miss the mark…..in fact, in the original languages, the concept of sin comes from the language of archery….if God’s will is a target, sin is when our arrows miss that target.  But again, if we cast all our cares on Jesus, and know that in our struggles his grace is sufficient, we will hit the target every time.  Don’t beat yourself up over your sins and past mistakes because all of that stuff is blood covered.  Let Jesus deal with the arrows that missed, don’t you worry about them! Let’s pray.

TRANSITION TO BENEDICTION

     Jesus help us to finish strong in our journey as Christians.  Let us fight the good fight of faith.  Let us run the race so as to win the prize as Paul said.  Let us learn from Gideon not to let pride get in the way.  Give us the humility to trust in prayer, and trust in your Word, no matter what.  Forgive us for not trusting you in EVERY area of our lives.  For those who are not Christians, draw them to your presence Lord, and strengthen those who do know you. In Jesus’ name, amen!

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