Monday, December 10, 2018

The Sovereignty of God Pt 7

As kids, we played King of the Mountain. One kid would get to the top of a hill and claim himself king. The others would try to knock him off and make themselves king in his place. A bit violent but we had a lot of fun with it.

In Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, four nations would take their turn as king of the mountain. The Babylonians ruled for approximately 70 years, during which time God used them to take His people captive and destroy the Temple. They were overtaken by the Persian Empire which served God’s purposes for 200 years. During Persian rule, God used the compassion of the Persian Kings’ to restore His people back home in Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. When their time was over, He raised up the Greeks, under Alexander the Great.

During his youth, Alexander was tutored by Aristotle until age 16. After his father’s assassination in 336 B.C., he took the throne at age 20 and inherited a strong kingdom and an experienced army. Alexander followed his father’s plan of world domination with Persia as their number one target. Two years after taking the throne, he invaded the Persian Empire and began a series of campaigns that lasted ten years until he conquered them in 324 B.C. It was now Greece’s turn to rule the world.
An obvious question is: what did Greece bring into the picture? Greece was where civilized society began. Architecture, politics, society, culture, philosophy, mathematics and language that would all shape the development of the nations of the world came from the Greeks.

For what God had planned, the world needed to move out from the tribal mentality of managing society and become a people of laws and order. Greece would play a significant role in the culture that influenced Rome and gave Christians an established method for spreading the Gospel to the rest of the world. God even knew in advance what would be the primary language of the world in the first century and had His people prepared.

But another part of the story unfolds prophetically. Daniel told us that: Dan 11:31 Forces from him [the Greeks] will arise, desecrate the sanctuary fortress [the Temple], and do away with the regular sacrifice. And they will set up the abomination of desolation. 

In 167 B.C., Antiochus Epiphanes (a name that means: god manifested) the Greek Emperor, outlawed the practice of Jewish religion on pain of death, killing those who circumcised their sons, followed the food laws, and kept the Sabbath. He set up the abomination of desolation by sacrificing a pig to the Greek god Zeus on the altar, thus desecrating the Temple.

Why would God permit this? This was His restored house from where He said He would dwell perpetually. Again, to fulfill the prophecies. Prophecies say we’re moving forward. There’s more to come. But perhaps Israel needed another disciplinary challenge.

Back the story up just a bit. The excitement to return and the devotion that was rekindled after Cyrus made that first decree – all they had reclaimed – was now old and but a distant memory. The freshness of worship was gone. Routine had returned.

After Nehemiah had restored the walls and built the new gates to secure the city of Jerusalem, he left to return to Persia to resume service for Artaxerxes. A few years later he asked leave of the king and made his way back to Jerusalem. What he found was crushing news. In only a short time, all that he had set up to service the Temple had been neglected – the offerings, animals for sacrifice, tithes, first fruits. He said: Neh 13:11 So I reprimanded the officials and said, "Why is the house of God forsaken?" Then I gathered them together and restored them to their posts. 

He reorganized the Temple service but how long did it last this time? Move the clock ahead about 30 years. Malachi, the last prophet to write in the Old Testament, declared the Word of the Lord around 400 B.C.

Mal 1:6-14 A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?' says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name. But you say, 'How have we despised Your name?' You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, 'How have we defiled You?' In that you say, 'The table of the LORD is to be despised.' But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?" says the LORD of hosts. But now will you not entreat God's favor, that He may be gracious to us? With such an offering on your part, will He receive any of you kindly?" says the LORD of hosts. Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you," says the LORD of hosts, "nor will I accept an offering from you. But you are profaning it, in that you say, 'The table of the Lord is defiled, and as for its fruit, its food is to be despised.' You also say, 'My, how tiresome it is!' And you disdainfully sniff at it," says the LORD of hosts, "and you bring what was taken by robbery and what is lame or sick; so you bring the offering! Should I receive that from your hand?" says the LORD. But cursed be the swindler who has a male in his flock and vows it, but sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord, for I am a great King," says the LORD of hosts, "and My name is feared among the nations." 

Here we go again. We lost the nation by neglecting the powerful intentions of God – the Temple sacrifice, the worshipful heart, the singular expression of devotion. They were home again, but now, they’re back doing what they did before – perfunctory routine, stuff that didn’t matter, empty religion. Historically, it seems the only thing that got Israel’s attention was devastation. God had to act.
So, through the evil actions of a Greek Emperor, in 167 B.C., God shut down the Temple again, and left it defiled and unusable for 25 years.

But during that 25 years, you can imagine the hostilities that grew against Greece. There rose up a family within the Jewish community, the Maccabee’s, who led a successful revolt against the Greeks. To help them in that success, the Romans, who were gaining strength as a conquering nation, turned their attention to Greece. The Maccabee’s revolt along with Greece’s preoccupation with Rome led them to withdraw from Jerusalem and release any claims to the land.

With the land back in Jewish hands, they could return to their religious practices. The priests could now re-consecrate the temple that Antiochus Epiphanes had defiled. That process of re-consecrating took eight days. One vital element of restoration was to light a lamp that would burn holy oil, representing the presence of God. The lamp was to be left burning for the entire eight-day period. After 25 years without priestly service, the holy, consecrating oil left in the Temple was insufficient to last the eight days, but miraculously it did, and the temple was restored to purity. Hanukah was established to acknowledge God’s miracle of the lamp that wouldn’t go out. It is celebrated for eight days to represent the eight days the oil kept the lamp burning. (If you have any Jewish friends, you’ll know they are currently in the week of Hanukah.)

Because of the Maccabean revolt and Rome conquering the Greek Empire, Israel was now free from any outside nation ruling over them. Within that freedom, the heart of worship returned and devotion to the Temple service was restored.

But something else became important to them. Throughout the OT, God had woven the promise of the Messiah into Scripture. There are general references scattered around but you’ll find in some of the Psalms, in Isaiah and the other prophets, very specific promises. Remember Daniel made a specific promise about the appearance of the Messiah into Jerusalem 483 years after the Decree by Artaxerxes. He also mentioned the Abomination of Desolation. Then, later, he said Dan 11:35 Some of those who have insight will fall, in order to refine, purge and make them pure until the end time; because it is still to come at the appointed time. 

It’s not hard to connect this prophecy to the Maccabees story. It was a long and bloody, guerrilla warfare revolt. Many died. But it made the promise of Messiah real and caused the religious leaders to anticipate He would come soon. For the Jews the end time was when the Messiah would come and take over and rule. We believe the same thing, but that coming would be the second coming. Though we’re about 140 years out from Jesus coming, the anticipation began here.

A farmer was discussing buying a new mule. “So does he take commands well?” The salesman picked up a 2x4 and whacked the mule between the ears. He mule shook his head. Then the salesman gave a command and the mule responded. The farmer asked why he whacked him with the 2x4 before he gave him his command. The salesman said: “He’ll do whatever you ask as long as you get his attention first.”

Apparently, God got Israel’s attention. This time the religious leaders recognized the consequence of neglecting Him. So, to help keep their attention sharp, a new religious order was established. This was when the Pharisees of our New Testament enter the picture. They were appointed to be monitors of the practices of the people as well as monitors of what they believed God was wanting. They were to maintain faithfulness in anticipation of the Messiah’s coming.

However, one of the many problems they created was overshooting God’s intentions. You can take a good thing too far and it becomes a not-so-good thing or even a bad thing.

At first the Pharisees motives were honorable: make sure we don’t disappoint God again. But years later, instead of maintaining the faith that made that possible, they replaced faith with works. They made as their objective keeping rules and regulations God never intended.

Remember Peter said: Acts 15:10 Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 
They expanded the 10 Commandments to 613. Living to keep commands, they lost the simplicity of loving the Lord their God with all their heart and with all their soul and with all their might. 
What was the upside of the Pharisees? They kept the Temple service in place until Jesus came. The downside: they lost the love that that service demanded. You see the conflict that created when even Jesus, God with us, didn’t measure up to their standard.

  1. It is difficult to see God at work in bad things.
  2. To think He could use evil to accomplish His purpose or move His plan along doesn’t sit well.
  3. Stepping back and looking at the big picture we can gain understanding why He would do so.
  4.  Seeing Him take what is meant for evil and ultimately using it for good causes praise.So don’t pre-judge Him while He is in the process of completing that good.

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