A van Eeden
We greet and welcome everybody who has gathered to hear the Lord’s word.
Today’s theme is the grace of God and I trust that it will encourage, reprimand, warn and do whatever it is that the Lord has on His heart for each one of us.
Friends, we are all heading for death. We should live such lives so as not to be surprised by that day, then it will be a day of relief and joy. In the Old Testament God speaks about some of the heroes of the faith and the words “he rested from his works” are used to describe the end of that person’s life. That time is coming, but for us who still have the day and who can still work, let us use every minute to labour for the Lord and His kingdom. The day will come when we will rest from our works.
Last Sunday the theme of the message was the grace of God. In today’s message I would like to delve into the meaning of the grace of God in a Christian’s life and look at different scenarios from the Old Testament which illustrate what the grace of God teaches a person to do.
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people. Titus 2:11
Take note: the grace of God has appeared to all men. No person can say that the grace of God has not appeared to them.
What is the effect of the grace of God in our lives? We read that in verse 12:
12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…Titus 2:12
It teaches us to deny worldliness, ungodliness and worldly lusts. It teaches us how to live soberly. Sober living is one of the biggest and most difficult challenges in a Christian’s life. Our sobriety is affected by relationships with people with whom we interact. We may get to a stage where we can no longer soberly judge a situation in our families anymore.
Considering the temptations, trials and tests we face, grace teaches us to live righteously and to live godly lives in this present world. You cannot say, “I can’t live such a life in today’s world. Lord, this world has become so evil, full of debauchery and immorality, I cannot live soberly anymore.” No, listen to the Lord, allow the Lord to teach you because His grace teaches us. You will not know this using your own strength and knowledge. We must be taught by God how to handle various challenges – times of joy and times of tragedy and mourning. Allow the Spirit of God, the grace of God, to teach you these things. I have often cried to the Lord and asked Him to be patient with me and merciful to me because I learn so slowly.
Let’s look at a few practical examples from God’s word. I want to start off by reading:
Abijah slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city of David. And Asa his son reigned in his place. In his days the land had rest for ten years. 2 And Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. 3 He took away the foreign altars and the high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim 4 and commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment. 5 He also took out of all the cities of Judah the high places and the incense altars. And the kingdom had rest under him. 2 Chronicles 14:1-5.
What did the grace of God teach Asa?
2 And Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. 3 He took away the foreign altars and the high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim 4 and commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment.
He took away the foreign altars – places where people sacrificed to idols. And the high places – how many people worship at these high places today? They read magazines about celebrities whom everyone looks up to as a high place. They dress like these celebrities and follow their examples. It is a high place.
3 He took away the foreign altars and high places and broke down the idol pillars or obelisks and cut down the Asherim [symbols of the goddess Asherah] (AMPC)
Do you know what they practised when they worshipped Asherah? Temple prostitution. In these heathen temples there were girls who had sexual relationships with the worshippers during the worship of Asherah. In the writings of the ancient Hebrews, there were manifestations of demonic powers after having slept with these people. Satan visited the people, and the demons took on various shapes. Some took on the shape of a female and appeared to the men at night and slept with them. These demons were called succubus. Demons taking on the shape of a male, called ncubus, would appear to the girls who had visited the cult prostitutes and slept with them. If you sleep with people who are demon possessed, the demons will be transferred to you and they will visit you.
Asa was fearless. He was brutal. When the grace of God appears to you and me it makes us brutally strict against any evil, any demonic thing in our lives.
These verses do not only say that he cleansed the land, but they also mention, one by one, everything he cleansed the land of. If the grace of God appears to you, He will mention to you everything you need to be cleansed and saved from. You will have to be brutal - even violent - to get rid of the idols and sins in your life. There is no such thing as superficially confessing a few sins.
Some time ago I spoke to a doctor on the phone. The connection was very poor, and the doctor was obviously very busy. We wanted the doctor to help turn around an abortion. There are more and more girls who get the pills for an abortion from the clinic and after having swallowed them they realise that they are taking the life of an innocent human being and want to reverse the process. (This is possible.) The sooner the woman has remorse, the better the chances of saving the life of the unborn child are. We had to get hold of a doctor in the area where the girl lived which was in a very rural area in Transkei. The reception was terrible. The doctor had patients to see and she did not really feel that she had time to discuss the matter. The more I tried to explain, the more she challenged me. I only lifted my voice as I spoke and finally stopped the conversation. I had only raised my voice brethren, but the grace of God started teaching me and it said, “You did not react in a godly way when you raised your voice. You damaged your testimony.” I wrestled with this for some hours and in the end, I phoned the doctor and apologised for my reaction during our conversation and that I had raised my voice while speaking to her. I was blessed by her reaction. “I will gladly forgive you,” she said, “don’t worry and thank you so much that you took the trouble to phone me about this.” When the grace of God teaches you, He will put His finger on everything you have done in your life that you need to put right. Some things, friends, will be brutal and painful. They will be as painful as what Asa had to do.
What was one of his most painful things Asa had to do? His mother promoted the worship of idols. In 2 Chronicles 15:16 we read what Asa did about it.
Also Maacah, King Asa’s mother, he removed from being queen mother, because she had made an abominable image for [the goddess] Asherah. Asa cut down her idol, crushed it, and burned it at the brook Kidron.
Asa was not afraid to deal with whatever sin there was. He was fearless. He cut down the image. He crushed it to powder and in addition, he burned it. Have you done this, or do you tolerate demons who visit you? You are afraid to bring the things to the light and confess them. You might be willing to confess them and bring them to the light, but to apologise to other people, that is very difficult. How strange and superficial we are. We should be embarrassed and ashamed to do it before the holy living God, but that does not cause us shame, instead we are ashamed to speak to others about it. This is what the grace of God teaches us in this present world. You must destroy the idol places – whatever your idol might be – marriage or to have a child. Do you know what the people did with these male and female temple prostitutes? If a woman could not have a child from her husband, she had a sexual relationship with a male temple prostitute, hoping to have a child through him. Her husband may have produced children with other women but not her due to the practice of polygamy.
Asa was fearless and then God changed everything and brought him to a new situation.
8 Asa had an army of three hundred thousand men from Judah, equipped with large shields and with spears, and two hundred and eighty thousand from Benjamin, armed with small shields and with bows. All these were brave fighting men. 9 Zerah the Cushite marched out against them with an army of thousands upon thousands and three hundred chariots and came as far as Mareshah. 2 Chronicles 14:8,9
Asa could have thought in this way: Is this how You reward me, Lord? I got rid of all the idols in our country, I was in danger of losing my whole nation (obviously many people in Israel were unhappy with Asa for what he did). Lord, I am weak! I have lost a lot of support from my people because I destroyed these idols and now, I have a rebellion building up against me. Lord, you should protect me, but you send this massive army against me from the outside. I am pressed on the inside and outside. Lord, you don’t love me, You don’t help me, You are harsh on me. I can’t understand how you can treat me like this Lord.”
There is no hint of these thoughts in Asa.
10Asa went out to meet him, and they took up battle positions in the Valley of Zephathah near Mareshah. 2 Chronicles 14:10
Asa continued to trust the Lord. The grace of God will teach you to have faith and trust in the Lord. Asa went to pray. He was not upset with God. His prayer was not a hopeless prayer. When you read his prayer, it lifts you up and strengthens you. Listen to it:
11 Then Asa called to the Lord his God and said, “Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. Lord, you are our God; do not let mere mortals prevail against you.” 2 Chronicles 14:11
Friends we are going to face tight spots as well as difficult and impossible spots that seem to your human brain, impossible to survive. But the grace of God will teach you to keep your faith in God and to do it boldly and not in panic.
12 The Lord struck down the Cushites before Asa and Judah. The Cushites fled…2 Chronicles 14:12
Is that not wonderful? Once again, the grace of God was teaching Asa. Asa did not say, “Lord, this is the situation that you have brought us into. I cleansed my life and now look at how you treat me.”
Allow me to read the testimony of a young boy from behind the Iron Curtain who also experienced the grace of God in an impossible situation.
A group of about 30 people, amongst them pastors, were imprisoned for preaching the Gospel. On a particular day a new prisoner was pushed in. At first, they did not recognise him but then one of the prisoners exclaimed, ‘This is captain Pertreschku, (one of the worst torturers of the secret police)’ and he is a prisoner! They could not contain themselves and asked him what he did to end up in prison. “One day,” he said, as he sat in his office, “the soldier on duty told me that there was a boy outside with a pot of flowers for my wife. I was puzzled but said he could enter and I would listen to his story.
The boy entered and said, ‘Comrade captain, you are the one who has put both my father and mother into prison. Today is my mother’s birthday. I always buy my mother a pot of flowers for her birthday using my pocket money. Because of you, captain comrade, I have no mother to make happy today. My mother is a Christian and she taught us children to love our enemies and reward evil with good. Because I have no mother to bring happiness to, I thought I would bring happiness to the mother of your children. Please take this pot of flowers to your wife. And tell her about my love and about the love of Christ.’
This was too much for me. Tears ran down my cheeks and I embraced the child because he was also created in the image of God. From that day I could no longer torture any Christian. I could not hit anymore. I repented and became a Christian and that is how I am in this place.”
Has that grace already appeared to you? That grace of God that has taught you to love your enemies.
Let us move on to the next test that Asa faced. The Ethiopians had revolted against him, and God had helped him to overcome. He overcame by faith. Something happened which happened only once or twice in the Old Testament.
The nation of Israel was divided after Solomon’s death. Two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, split from the 10 tribes. But because Judah and Benjamin possessed Jerusalem, where the temple was situated, the 10 tribes could not get to Jerusalem to worship. They were fearful that if their people sacrificed in Jerusalem, they would side with Judah, so they created Samaria as the centre of worship. They had priests there and an altar and Israel was instructed to worship there. What was supposed to be one body, one nation of Israel comprised of 12 tribes, was split into 2 groups.
The 10 tribes worshiped God in their way. They worshipped the same God, the God of Israel, but they worshipped Him in their way, whereas Judah worshipped God in the way God had told them to worship.
You find this very often in the Christian life and world. We are all Christians. We all serve Christ, the Son of the Living God, but there are those who serve Christ in their way. In their way. Friends, if you worship the living God then you must worship Him in His way.
Every day of your life you will have to die to your way of doing things and do things God’s way. You will never stop dying to yourself for the rest of your life because God will make you die to your way and worship Him in His way. The world looks at these two groups and says, ‘They all worship Christ as the Son of God; they all worship God so what is the difference?’ They do not realise that one of these groups is worshipping God in its way, bringing its kind of music and dress code into the church. It is their way of doing it.
Friends, God never accepted the way of worship of the 10 tribes. When the time came for His Son to be born, He was born from the tribe of Judah. He went to Jerusalem for all the spiritual practices and rituals. He never went to Samaria to worship there. Never. He met a woman at a well who was from Samaria and she said, ‘Sir, you teach me these things, but our fathers taught us to worship in Samaria…’ Jesus responded with something very politically incorrect, saying, ‘Woman, you worship what you don’t know, we Jews worship what we know.’
This is where we need the grace of God. The grace of God must teach us not to serve God in our way, not to drag our way of doing things into worshipping Him. That is not acceptable. God never allowed that. God continued to allow the Jews to worship Him in Jerusalem. There was no compromise.
I’ll never forget, Rev Stegen once said, ‘I cannot remember one day since I became a Christian that I did not have to die to myself.’ Do not allow anyone to deceive you. Do not allow your children to convince you to serve God in your way. Do not allow your family to convince you to serve God in your way – a way that is pleasant to you, that suits your emotions, feelings and love. You will get nowhere with God. The person who serves God in his/her way gets nowhere with God. They can quote the Bible, just like the 10 tribes quoted the Torah and the scriptures of Moses and everything was the same, but God had said that His temple will be in Jerusalem. He said that they will sacrifice there and not in Samaria. Even if the 10 tribes were in the majority and the 2 were in the minority, do not be deceived.
The 10 tribes wanted to make war against Judah and Benjamin. This is something they had never done; it might have only been done once or twice in the history of Israel.
In the thirty-sixth year of the reign of Asa, Baasha king of Israel went up against Judah and built Ramah, that he might permit no one to go out or come in to Asa king of Judah. 2 Then Asa took silver and gold from the treasures of the house of the Lord and the king's house and sent them to Ben-hadad king of Syria, who lived in Damascus, saying, 3 “There is a covenant between me and you, as there was between my father and your father. Behold, I am sending to you silver and gold. Go, break your covenant with Baasha king of Israel, that he may withdraw from me.” 4 And Ben-hadad listened to King Asa and sent the commanders of his armies against the cities of Israel, and they conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel-maim, and all the store cities of Naphtali. 5 And when Baasha heard of it, he stopped building Ramah and let his work cease. 2 Chronicles 16 from verse 1-4
This was a family fight. Asa had stood against strangers, the Ethiopians, but this time it was a family fight. The 10 tribes fought against them. Then Asa lost contact with the grace of God.
7 At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. 8 Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the Lord, he gave them into your hand. 9 For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.” 2 Chronicles 16 from verse 7-9
What is the tragic lesson we learn from this incident? Asa could stand the onslaught from outside enemies but when it was his own people, the Israelites, the 10 tribes, he failed. How often do we overcome tremendous opposition from the outside but fail inside our families? I turn against the Lord because there is a family member who irritates me or who does not treat me well. I have seen family members fight tooth and nail for their parents’ inheritance. They forget that they are siblings. They take one another to court for an inheritance. We turn against one another other, we fight, we claw, we bite. Paul writes in Galatians
15But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. Galatians 5:15
What was Asa’s biggest enemy? He depended on his logic and not on the Lord. Where did he get the money from to pay an outside king to attack Israel? He did not have the money, so he took money, golden objects, from the temple of God and purchased the Syrian king’s favour with utensils from the temple of God. He was so desperate in trusting people and not keeping his eyes on the Lord, that he took things from God to make him victorious. The moment you start taking things from the temple of God, things in your life that belong to God, and use them for your own benefit this is what happens to such a person: Firstly, they do not accept correction. You cannot talk sense into their heads. They get upset with you. They become angry with everyone around them. Why? They have taken things from the temple of God for their own goals. (The temple of God is your body)
There is nothing that we possess that we can say is ours. Your heart should never belong to anybody else but God. Your trust should never be in anyone else but God. There is not loose trust lying around in your life that you can use. The only trust in a person’s life belongs to God. He created you. You should trust Him with all your heart. You should not get closer to a person or more attached to a person if this draws you away from God. This is not always done consciously – ‘now I am taking what is God’s and using it for myself’– it happens without you realising it. You begin trusting yourself and your own judgement. You start loving people and objects more than you love the Lord. All your love belongs to God and in God’s temple. It should not belong to anyone else. You should not take anything else back from God. Our attachment should be to God. If it is not, then we are taking the utensils of the temple which belong to the temple and to God and use them for our own benefit in our own way. Do you know what has happened to you? You have fallen from grace. That grace of God is not teaching you anymore.
There is good news. If you have fallen into this trap, I do not say, ‘Sorry friends, you are on your way to hell and I cannot help you.’ None of us says that. What we are saying is this: Go to the person to whom you gave the utensils from the temple of God and take them back. God’s grace will remind you and teach you - wherever you have given something away that belongs to God. He will teach you to go and take it back.
That is what God taught me with my conversation with the doctor. I had to go back and apologise. God’s grace and His peace returned to my heart. I had totally lost my peace. There was just no way in which I could continue to serve the Lord.
Allow God’s grace to teach you how to fetch them back if you have been giving away the utensils of God.
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…Titus 2:11,12
Conclusion Michael Ngubane
We are so thankful for the word that we have heard today. It awakens us from our sleep, regardless of how long we have been serving God. That could be the very danger, that you have been serving God for so long that you take things lightly. You no longer ask God for guidance, and you do the things that separate you from God.
The danger is to start well but end badly. When you start breaking down those high places and idols, you can end at a place where you forget God’s working. May God’s grace never stop working and guiding us. May we never reach a point that we no longer need to be taught and guided. We must continue to see this wonderful grace of God working among us, teaching, and guiding us.