Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Significant Servants, August 16, 2009

(This is a new sermon series I am beginning. I am hoping to manuscript this and put the messages up here on a weekly basis. We'll see how it goes.)

Some Significant Servants

God made us for his glory, but we chose sin instead of submission. As humanity spread out across the earth, idolatry and wickedness abounded. Finally, God had enough. He decided to send a flood on the earth to judge the widespread sin. But he was not through with humanity, he was only starting over. So, God appeared to one lonely man, one righteous man among all the men of earth. God revealed his plans to Noah, and then assigned a job for him to do. It was no easy job. “I want you to build a boat.” And this was one big boat – 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. That is one and a half football fields long (we Americans always measure things in football-field units). And remember, there was no Home Depot available to him for materials. Every board had to be cut down and shaped by hand. It was a long and difficult job.

We can only imagine what others thought of Noah as he built. According to scripture, it did not rain and yet Noah was predicting a flood that would cover the earth and destroy all things. But Noah was not distracted, nor was he discouraged. He did not give up. He kept on doing the job God gave him day after day. When the time was right, God sent the animals to Noah and the floods to the earth.

What did Noah do? Exactly what God told him to do. What did Noah accomplish? By being obedient and faithfully obeying God, Noah preserved the entire human race to give humanity a new beginning, a fresh start.


Abraham was a man of means, and evidently a good man, but at age 75 he had done little that would make him an important historical figure. He did not even have children to carry on his name. He would have lived and died without ever making a difference in this world if it had not been for a fateful day when God appeared to him. God told him to leave home, leave family and go to the new land which God would show him.

That is when God told him the kicker. God was not only sending him to a new home, but he was going to make Abraham the father of many nations. He was going to pour out his rich blessings on this elderly, childless man in ways Abraham could not imagine. And, God said, Abraham and his seed were going to be a blessing to the entire world. God was going to use an obscure nomad to bless the entire world.

What did Abraham have to do? Obey. He had to leave home and go where God told him to go. When God asked him, he had to be willing to give up the one thing he loved most in the world, his son Isaac. Abraham did what God said, and God made him into one of the most important figures in world history and blessed him as the father of many nations. The blessing that Abraham received has been passed on, for from him was born the Messiah, the one anointed by God to die for our sins and bring us to God. If you are a believer today, you live in the blessing of Abraham. What did the desert dweller of Ur accomplish? He blessed the entire world.


Moses was one of the tragic failures of history. Born to a Hebrew slave and adopted by the daughter of the Pharaoh of Egypt, he was in a unique position to help his people. It seems likely that his mother, hired by Pharaoh’s daughter as Moses’ nurse, must have told him exactly who he was. Moses knew God had put him in a place of influence to use him in a powerful way. And he blew it; blew it bad. Enamored of his own abilities, depending on his own wisdom and abilities, he struck down an Egyptian and had to flee for his life. He spent the next 40 years herding sheep in Egypt, ruminating about what might have been, on how much he could have accomplished, if he hadn’t blown it so bad.

Then, one day, God showed up; in a bush, a bush that was blazing with fire but not being consumed. And he revealed to Moses what he was planning to do. It was time to rescue Israel, to bring them out of their bondage and into the Promised Land. I am sure Moses was thrilled to hear that the time had come for Israel to be delivered. He was not thrilled when God told him his part in the plan. Moses was argued with God, offering five different excuses why God had chosen the wrong man. But God revealed his name to Moses – “I Am that I Am” the Great I Am, the self-existent God of the universe with all power, all glory and all ability. And Moses trusted him. He trusted and obeyed. There is no such thing as genuine trust that does not lead to obedience. He left his home in the desert and headed down to Egypt to face the Pharaoh.

When he got there, everything went wrong and within a day he was the enemy of Pharaoh and anathema to all the Hebrews. But he did not stop. He kept going to Pharaoh and demanding that he let the people of God go free – one lonely man trying to tell the most powerful man in the world what to do.

But you know the rest of the story. That one lonely man had the power of God working on his behalf. Ten Plagues, culminating in the Death Angel ravaging Egypt, convinced Pharaoh to release the Hebrews. Then, when their backs were to the sea and Pharaoh’s army was descending on them, when certain death awaited them, God did something spectacular; a miracle perhaps only topped by raising Jesus from the dead. He parted the Red Sea, brought Israel through on dry ground and wiped out the enemy completely.

What did Moses do? He did exactly what God told him to do. What happened? God did amazing miracles, demonstrating his power not only to his people, but to the whole world.


Joshua stood at the edge of the raging Jordan, and instructed the people of God how they were going to cross the flooding river. Four men were to take the ark, which represented the Presence of God, and were to walk into the Jordan – a suicidal act. But no one died that day. They did exactly as God said; they stepped down into the river and God made his own invisible dam, piling the water as it flowed from the north.

Not many days later, Joshua stood again outside Jericho, wondering how on earth they were going to defeat that walled city. The Angel of the Lord appeared to him with a battle plan. Joshua was to lead the people of God around Jericho once a day for six day, then seven times on the seventh day – not a plan most military institutes would recommend. But that is just what Joshua did. And, when they finished their thirteenth trip around Jericho, the walls came a-tumbling down and God’s people were victorious.

Joshua was a slave, an insignificant, worthless nobody. But when God called him, he responded. He did what God told him to do and God used him in to display his awesome power.


Samuel listened when God called and was used to lead the people of Israel back to God. David went boldly where God sent him, even to face Goliath. Solomon built the temple exactly as God told him and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. Elijah and Elisha put themselves in God’s hands. They went where God sent them, did as God commanded and said what God told them to say. On Mt. Carmel, the fire of God fell! Hezekiah led the people in revival. Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah led Israel back from captivity and rebuilt a nation. All of them did what God said and saw God work.

And then, nothing! For 400 years God was silent until the day that Jesus was born. He lived in perfect obedience every moment of his life, right up until the moment he submitted himself to the Father’s eternal plan and he gave his life on the cross. Death could not hold him and he rose again, victorious over death and hell.

The Disciples

After forty days with his disciples, he was carried up into heaven and God went to work again. Jesus had gathered around himself a pitiful band of malcontents, misfits and outcasts – not a genius among them. And they were uniform in their cowardice. When Jesus needed them most, they all ran away and hid.

But, as pathetic as they were, they did the one thing that really matters, they gave themselves to Jesus. Jesus was their life. And one day, everything changed for the 12 disciples and the other followers of Christ. Gathered together in an Upper Room, God sent the Holy Spirit and baptized every one of them. They became the leaders of a spiritual shock-and-awe offensive from heaven that turned the world upside down in 30 years. This obscure Jewish sect became a worldwide movement in one generation.

They were not talented men. They were average; perhaps, a little below average. But they gave themselves to Jesus and Jesus demonstrated himself through them.

Two Facts

I would like to make two statements of fact. I think they are obvious to any who would wish to look at the evidence. First of all, the Bible is filled with stories of God acting in power through average and ordinary folks, displaying his power through them. God did big things in the Bible. He performed mighty acts of power. He used insignificant, average people to do extraordinary things. People like you and me ended up doing things that no one could imagine.

Here’s my second statement of fact. We do not see much of that kind of power today. Oh, there are big name televangelists who have these big stadium shows, but I continue to believe that most of that is about as real as Penn and Teller or Criss Angel. Magician’s tricks. We have impressive church CEO’s who build megachurches by the force of their personality and organizational skill, but this can hardly be compared to the amazing acts of God in biblical days. We often substitute human effort, organization, strategy and promotion, even manipulation, instead of the mighty work of God.

In this new study, we are going to examine a crucial question. Why? Why is it that we do not see the power of God in these days as they did in the days of scripture? Think about the most amazing act of God you have ever seen. How did it compare to the amazing works recorded in scripture? If we are honest, I think most of us will admit that there is a huge gap between what we see and what the people of biblical days saw.

Three Explanations for the Absence of Power

I see three options to explain this.

First, some would suggest that the stories of the Bible are just fictional accounts, meant to communicate spiritual truth, but not meant to be taken as literal or historical accounts. We know that Jack Sprat and his wife worked together, using their special talents, to get the job done. But no one tries to do historical or archaeological research on the story. Its just a nursery rhyme. There are some who treat Bible stories that way. We can learn lessons from the stories of the Bible, but we should not real life to mimic that in these fictional accounts.

That is a solution I do not accept. I believe the stories of the Bible are true from beginning to end. I believe God created the world by the word of his mouth. I believe Noah road out the flood on an ark he built. I believe the Red Sea parted, the Jordan stopped, Jericho’s walls crumbled and the fire fell from heaven on Elijah’s offering. I believe Jesus walked on water, fed 5000, healed the sick and raised the dead. So, by faith as well as by the reason of the evidence I have, I believe that the Bible stories are accounts of real events that happened to real people who served a real God.

There is a second option, one I was taught in seminary. Many believe that the age of the miraculous, the time when God did things like he did them in the biblical days is over. Sometimes, they say the end came with the destruction of the temple in AD 70 and the elimination of the Jewish nation. Others claim the end came when the canon of scripture was completed and the miraculous was no longer necessary. It is not right, they say, to expect that God would do the same miracles now that he did then.

I think there is some wisdom in what these folks (called cessationists) say. I believe there was a special release of God’s power on a grand scale at certain times. The bulk of scripture covers a 2000 year period (Abraham to the time of Christ). During that 2000 years, most of the spectacular miracles of the Bible took place in three relatively short time frames. The greatest of the miracles took place during the Exodus and the Conquest of Canaan, a period that lasted well less than 100 years. Then, when Israel departed from YHWH to worship idols, God sent prophets like Elijah and Elisha to warn them, and did many miracles through those two men. Finally, most of the New Testament takes place during a relatively short period of time – about 35 years from the ministry of Christ through the end of Paul’s ministry. Even if you go back to Christ’s birth and forward to the Revelation at the end of the first century, we are only talking about 100 years.

In other times, God did miracles, just not with the frequency or dramatic intensity of those three times. But, God still acted in power. The people of God saw the power of God on a regular basis. And there is no scripture that tells us that we should expect the powerful activity of God to end. Should we not expect some kind of verse in 2 Timothy saying, “Thou shalt expect that miracles will end as soon as each apostle dieth. When the last apostle dieth, the flow of God’s power shutteth off.” If the constant display of the power of God seen from Genesis to Revelation was going to end, shouldn’t we have been given some sort of clear warning?

There is one other option. In just about every miracle God did in the Bible, he involved a human being. There was something the human being had to do before the miracle took place. Obviously, the power is God’s. The will is God’s. But he has chosen to include us and our obedient responses in the work he does. Noah had to build the boat. Abraham had to leave home and go where God said. Later, he put his own son on the altar as God commanded. Moses had to go to Egypt. God revealed himself then made a demand of obedience to the person he was working with. The power of God was only released when the man of God did what God said.

Is it possible that there is something required of us that we are not doing? Is it possible that if we wish to see the power of God as they did in Bible days that we must respond in obedience as they did in Bible days – putting their lives at risk to do what God told them to do. Is there a pattern we can see in the way God works, a pattern we could emulate today so that the power of God might be released in us?

I believe that there is. I believe that as we examine the great works of God in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, we will see a clear pattern emerge. Its not a simple pattern or an easy one. We will not see “Five Easy Steps to Miraculous Power.” But I do believe there is a pattern in the activity of God that we can discern and follow. If we do as they did, perhaps we can expect to begin to see the same God who worked in them at work in us!

Great Works of God

What are these great works of God from which we will derive our pattern? I would mention fifteen of them, though we could probably add more. The first great work of God was done through Noah and The Flood. We will then examine Abraham and the founding of the miraculous nation of Israel and follow that with Joseph and the rescue of Israel. The next great works were the grand works of the Exodus, followed by the Conquest of Canaan. During the period of the Judges, God acted powerfully through Gideon to save Israel from the Midianites. Later, Samuel heard God and led Israel in a great revival. We will examine David and the founding of Israel’s Messianic line, and Solomon’s building of the Temple on which the Glory of God fell. Many years later, Hezekiah led Judah in a revival that staved off God’s judgment for many years. After the judgment fell, God still worked. He worked powerfully through Daniel and his three friends, and then used Ezra, Nehemiah and others to bring Israel back to the land. In the New Testament era, we can look at Pentecost and the establishment of the church and how the church obeyed the Great Commission.

I believe that as we examine these, we will see a definite pattern develop.

Three Essential Elements

In each of these stories you will see three essential elements. We will actually spell out more than three, but these are the essential and fundamental elements of the activity of God in scripture.

First, we will see God reveal his purpose. Every work of God is initiated in the heart of God. He did not appear to Noah to ask Noah for his ideas about how to handle things. God was working out his sovereign purpose and revealed that to Noah. God is the one who initiates things. God only blesses what he initiates.

Second, we will see God demand a response of obedience from those whom he includes in his work. What would have happened if Moses did not go to Egypt? I don’t know. I imagine God would have found someone else. But the fact is, God did not appear magically to Pharaoh. He called on Moses to represent him. Every great work of God requires an act of obedience by some human being. I do not know why God has chosen to work this way, but it is clear that he has.

Finally, when God reveals his purpose and someone responds in complete obedience, God responds in mighty power. Divine initiation followed by human obedience brings the release of God’s sovereign power.

My Thesis

Many Christians today have accepted the idea that it is okay to live insignificant Christian lives. They can go to church, sit in the pews and go about enjoying life in this world without worrying about Kingdom work. It is a lie. God never intended for Christians to squander their lives in worldly pursuits. We are meant to serve God in significant ways.

My hope is that everyone who reads this will pray this prayer. “Lord, help me to examine your scriptures and see how I can become a Significant Servant to you.”

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