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More Sin and Grace

June 2, 2024 Preacher: Kevin Godin Series: Judges (Broken People, Unbroken Promises)

Scripture: Judges 10:1–18

Sermon Transcript:

 

This morning we return to working our way passage by passage through the book of Judges. As I was preparing the message and came to verse 6, which records yet another betrayal of God by Israel, I thought “here we go again” and I was reminded of a lesson I learned years ago. As my pastor read another passage where Israel betrayed God, I blurted out "What's wrong with these people?" Pastor Carl, paused, looked at me and said, "yes, what's wrong with us?"

Brothers and sisters, we do not read these accounts as neutral observers. We are not outside of the story, like we are watching a movie or reading a novel or something. This is our story. We are this kind of people, rebellious sinners who in no way deserve the love and mercy and forgiveness we have received. As new covenant believers, we too are those with whom God has been incomprehensibly patient. In this sacred history we see the character of the God who saves us and what we see should move us to an unending chorus of worship and adoration.

The main point I want us to see from our passage this morning is that 

Salvation comes from the grace of God alone.

From beginning to end, salvation is of the Lord. It is his love and his faithfulness that prevents all from being lost. It is God’s own heart that overflows with the mercy and grace that cleanses us from sin. Let’s look at this together. Chapter 10, beginning at verse 1,

1 After Abimelech there arose to save Israel Tola the son of Puah, son of Dodo, a man of Issachar, and he lived at Shamir in the hill country of Ephraim. 2 And he judged Israel twenty-three years. Then he died and was buried at Shamir. 3 After him arose Jair the Gileadite, who judged Israel twenty-two years. 4 And he had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys, and they had thirty cities, called Havvoth-jair to this day, which are in the land of Gilead. 5 And Jair died and was buried in Kamon. 

Abimelech caused quite a bit of damage but God raised up two judges afterward to save them. Tola apparently restores order and peace and the time of Jair seems to be a time of prosperity and building. Between them they presided over a period of stability lasting 45 years. It is implied, although not mentioned, that they were also a positive influence on the nation spiritually because we read after they die…

6 The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the Lord and did not serve him.

Just like before, the people pursue idolatry. But this is the strongest language we have seen. Seven different false gods are mentioned. The number 7 is often used in the Bible to emphasize perfection or completeness. This is essentially saying, they worshiped everyone but God and then the author closes twith a double emphasis; And they forsook the Lord and did not serve him.

These people didn’t just make a mistake. They didn’t just have a bad day. This is depravity on full display

7 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites, 8 and they crushed and oppressed the people of Israel that year. For eighteen years they oppressed all the people of Israel who were beyond the Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead. 9 And the Ammonites crossed the Jordan to fight also against Judah and against Benjamin and against the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was severely distressed.

In an act of gracious discipline sells them into the hands of their enemies. It is gracious because it will bring them back to him, it prevents them from being comfortable in sin that would destroy them. He turns them over to two powerful enemies, the Ammonites and the Philistines for 18 years

10 And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, saying, “We have sinned against you, because we have forsaken our God and have served the Baals.”

As usual, eventually the people cry out to God. But this time rather than raise up a deliverer right away, the Lord speaks to the people, likely through a prophet.

 11 And the Lord said to the people of Israel, “Did I not save you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and from the Philistines? 12 The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you, and you cried out to me, and I saved you out of their hand. 13 Yet you have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more. 14 Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.” 

God recounts the many times he has saved them only for them to continue to forsake him and serve other gods. He says, if you love those other gods so much, cry out to them to save you. He is not content to simply be one god among many. They are a covenant people, bound together by promises that include forsaking all others. The Old Testament often uses the illustration of marriage to describe their relationship. They are his chosen bride from among the nations and he is their divine husband. But, at this point Israel is like a married woman who has left home and is shaking up with several boyfriends who are robbing and abusing her but she is calling out to her husband to help her. He basically says, why don’t you go to one of your boyfriends for help.

They have violated the covenant and God would be justified in divorcing her. He doesn’t owe mercy to rescue his people from their unfaithfulness. He is warning them not to presume upon his grace. Since God is so often forgiving many assume they can continue in sin and just ask for forgiveness later. That is the devil’s logic. It is the very picture of evil to use God’s own goodness as an excuse to sin more.

It is also incredibly dangerous to presume upon God’s grace. First, you are not promised tomorrow. You do not know if you will die today, or if you live, if you will have command of your faculties. People often talk about deathbed conversions, but as a pastor, let me tell you, they are rare. Most people are not in a position to think about such things in their last hours. I fear many have been lost who planned to come later. 

There will be a day of judgment and we do not know when ours will be. A time is also coming on the Day of the Lord, when the offer of grace will end and each one will stand as they are found. God is not obligated to show mercy to sinners. There is nothing to compel him to show the grace that will overcome our resistance except his own sovereign choice. He warns Israel that he is not a servant, he is the king. He can decide with perfect righteousness to turn sinners over to the idols they have chosen.

15 And the people of Israel said to the Lord, “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day.”

I find this verse interesting. They say they are ready to receive whatever God chooses for them, except what he has chosen. It was God who sold them into the hands of the Ammorites and the Philistines. There is recognition of their sin and that they deserve punishment but it is hard to tell if they want salvation from the sin or only the pain. What are we to make of this repentance? It is at least accompanied by putting their words into action. Verse 16 says,

16 So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord, and he became impatient over the misery of Israel.

They got rid of the idols and they served the Lord, which probably means the celebration of the religious festivals and sacrifices under the law were reinvigorated. So, there are things here to give us hope, but when we look at the overall flow of the book we also have reason to have doubts. Ultimately, we know Israel isn’t abandoned and God keeps his covenant promises but the Bible explains God’s mercy to them not as a response to their repentance, but to their misery. Look at the second half of the verse,

… and he became impatient over the misery of Israel.

He is a God whose holiness demands he judge his people yet whose heart moves him to spare his people. Salvation does not rest in the perfection of our repentance but in the perfection of Yahweh’s love for his people. Repentance is a necessary part of saving faith, but repentance does not earn God’s favor. God’s grace is not a reward for repentance. Repentance is not a good work that gains any standing before God.

Think of it this way. Suppose I am driving down the freeway and I am speeding. I am breaking the law. I deserve a ticket and a fine. Now, suppose as I am speeding down the freeway I see a police car in the distance and I instinctively slow down to the speed limit. That slowing down is like repentance. It doesn’t earn me anything, it isn’t me doing something good, it is just no longer doing something bad and doing what I was supposed to do all along. If I were to go to court and my defense was that I slowed down once I saw the cop, I do not think the Judge is going to be happy with that.

The real reason Israel, or anyone, will be saved is not to be found in their great faith, but in God’s great grace. God loved Israel not because of anything in her, but simply because he chose to love her. Deuteronomy 9:6 says,

6 “Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.

This statement, … and he became impatient over the misery of Israel. Is one of the most beautiful and profound statements in the entire book because in it we see the very heart of God. This is a window into the source waters from which the gospel itself flows.

The greatest lie the devil ever tells is that God is not good, that he is not loving, and he is not interested. This is the lie he told Adam and Eve and has repeated to every person since. Sometimes people speak as though Jesus came to somehow convince God to love us, but that is wrong. It is the love of the Father that sends the Son to save a people for himself. Some speak as if the Old Testament is all law and the new all grace. That is also wrong. The entire Bible reveals that God is both perfectly holy and perfectly loving. Listen to what God reveals about himself in Exodus 34:5-7, in the context of proclaiming the law.

5 The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. 6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

The love and patience of God is astounding in its depth. We have seen it throughout this book. Over and over God raises up deliverers for people who do not deserve it. The reason why is found not in those who are saved, but in the one who saves. Judges 2:18 says,

18 Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them.

He does it because he is a God of mercy. He is not a God who is distant from his people who he has chosen and covenanted with. Listen to what Isaiah 63:9 says about him.

9 In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

If you are a child of God, having received the covenant promises by faith, know that God is so devoted to the people he loves that in their affliction, he is afflicted. This doesn’t mean that God can be hurt by anything or that he has emotions that fluctuate like ours. He is unchanging, perfect, and complete but it means that his love for his people is such that when they are hurting, he takes it personally. Remember when Jesus appeared to Saul as he was persecuting Christians? He said “Saul, why are you persecuting me?”. Child of God, you are never alone in your suffering and God is never indifferent to your pain. Psalm 56:8 says,

8 You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?

God is devoted to his children both in his loving discipline and in his comforts. But that is a devotion we do not deserve and could never earn. It is all to the glory of his grace. Just listen to God’s heart in Hosea 11:7–9, 

7 My people are bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the Most High, he shall not raise them up at all. 8 How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 9 I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. 

What these people deserve is to be abandoned and rejected, but they are not because of who God is. He is not like us. Human love would fail, but he is God and not a man. He has made a promise to love them and he keeps his promises. His anger is a fire but his love for his people burns brighter than his anger. Just as he revealed himself to Moses in a bush that burned, but was not consumed, when he comes to dwell with his people he does so in a fire of holiness that purifies them but does not consume them. 

God says My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. We worship a sovereign God, a holy God, an all-powerful God, but we also worship a God whose affection for his people is so strong that his heart recoils within him as he contemplates the judgment they deserve. In fact, the translation “my compassion grows warm and tender” is probably too mild. The Hebrew does mean to be heated up, but I think the NIV captures the idea better, translating it “all my compassion is aroused”.

Even in the darkest days of Israel’s disobedience, even when they are under the discipline of God, his final word to them is never one of wrath, but of hope. Lamentations 3:31–33 says,

31 For the Lord will not cast off forever, 32 but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; 33 for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.

God doesn’t take pleasure in the destruction of the wicked and he does not find joy in the afflictions of his people. He is a holy God and will judge, but he is patient and merciful and the only thing that moves him to be merciful is his own character. From start to finish, anything related to salvation is fully explained not by looking at those who are saved, but at God. 

This statement “and he became impatient over the misery of Israel” reminds us of why this brutal and violent book, filled with records of failure, is so valuable for us to study. It shows us the glory of the grace of the God we serve. Here we see the compassion of God on a small scale, concerned with worldly affliction; but it is this same principle that leads him to give his son Jesus Christ to be a sacrifice for the sins of all who will believe.

 

God grieves for the misery which humanity has brought upon itself and he acts. This should astonish us! This causes the angels to marvel. All who are saved by his love should shout praise from the rooftops because, as one preacher said, “through the love from which this compassion flows, God has visited and redeemed a lost world.”

God so loved the world that the divine son of God came to earth as a man where he lived a perfect sinless life and then offered himself as a sacrifice for the sins of everyone who received this gift of love by faith. The punishment for the sin of all who will believe was laid upon him. He died on a cross, but three days later he rose again.

Now, seated at the right hand of the Father, he calls all people to repent and receive forgiveness by putting their faith in him as Lord and Savior. True love isn't the cheap sentimentality of the world; it's a love that brings us to God. By trading their inconsistent, selfish, and idolatrous lives for his perfect life on that Cross, the holiness, justice, and love of God are vividly displayed. All sin will be punished, yet we can accept as our own the punishment already paid by Jesus. This is the transformative power of God's love.

Ray Ortland Jr. says it well when he says,

“God’s love and God’s justice are perfectly compatible, not only logically in doctrine but also psychologically in God’s own heart. His love does not trivialize guilt but answers for that guilt.”

 

In Judges we see God’s work in keeping his promise until that day when Christ would come to fulfill all that had been prophesied. It is in the cross that God’s justice and his love meet and embrace. It is in the cross that God’s perfect holiness and justice and his perfect love and compassion are reconciled.

 

We sometimes sing, “I heard an old, old story, how a savior came from glory” but the story is far older than the New Testament. The story goes back even before the garden of eden. Jesus Christ is the lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world. In Jesus we see the true revelation of the Father.Jesus tells Philip in John 14, “whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” It is hard to wrap our feeble minds around the infinite glory of a transcendent God but Jesus is not only truly God, he is truly human.

 

In Christ, we can see clearly the character and glory of God. In Jesus we see God’s compassion, his heart for the lost, his kindness, his sympathy, and his patience. In Jesus we see the magnitude of sin and the immense price required to satisfy the wrath of God for sin. In Jesus we see God as the rescuer and deliver of his people.

 

So many make the mistake of thinking they need to clean themselves up before they come to God so they never do because we cannot make ourselves acceptable to God. We don’t have to because it is Christ who makes us acceptable. Just as it was evil in the sight of God for Israel to seek salvation in the false gods of her neighbors, so too it is evil to seek salvation through self-discipline, religion, or good works. 

 

In John 14:6 Jesus says,

 

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

 

Jesus Christ is the lifeline. He is the gift of compassion that comes from a loving God to a dying world. As one theologian remarked, “there is no proper response to the love of God that does not begin with following Jesus. Go to him and find peace with God. Go to him in faith and he will save you. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to what Jesus himself says,

 

John 3:16-17 

 

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

 

Matthew 11:28-30

 

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

 

John 4:13-14

 

"...'Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.'"

John 6:35–40

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. ...37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Do not let the devil lie to you about who God is. Don’t let the world convince you of their foolish views about God. He is good, he is compassionate, and he is glorious. The devil will try to convince you that you are not worth saving, that you do not deserve it and God will not accept you. That is the thing about the devil, he is effective because his poison is mixed with enough truth to make it seem right. It is true that you and I are not worth saving. 

 

It is true that we do not deserve it and that we often fail in our love for God but God does not save anyone because they deserve it or are worth it. He saved the glory of his grace. He saves because he chooses to save and it pleases him to do so. He is not like us. Our love comes into being when we are attracted to something that pleases us. The love of God does not find, but creates that which is pleasing to it. To say it another way, God does not love any of us because we are lovely. We are made lovely because God loves us.

 

How could we reject a love like that? If we do, there is nowhere else to go. The gods of the world cannot save us. They demand our love, but none of them love back. Only the one true God does that.

 

Our main passage ends with the enemies of Israel encamped around them and the people wondering who would save them. Verse 17 says,

17 Then the Ammonites were called to arms, and they encamped in Gilead. And the people of Israel came together, and they encamped at Mizpah. 18 And the people, the leaders of Gilead, said one to another, “Who is the man who will begin to fight against the Ammonites? He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.”

We will see next week what happens, but there should be no question in our mind that whatever salvation comes to them, it will come not because of them but by the grace of God. The same is true for us. I pray we leave this place today with hearts filled with thanksgiving for the amazing truth that almighty God should have such love for sinners like us and that he would send his son to die and cause us to be born again so we will be with him in his kingdom for all eternity. That my friends is how deep the Father’s love for us. Amen.

More in Judges (Broken People, Unbroken Promises)

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July 7, 2024

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June 23, 2024

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