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GOD HAS TWO CURES FOR BACKSLIDING

A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT THE
HIGH HILL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
AND
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS

17 MARCH 1991

By: Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor

SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES:

Nehemiah 9:1-4
Jonah 1:1-17
        2:1-2
Nahum 1:1-8
Matthew 6:13
John 12:25
Hebrews 4:1-7

Preparation Verse: (John 12:25)

“He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal.”

Last week we talked about the similarity between the Babylonian captivity of Israel and Kuwait's captivity by Iraq.

We also talked about who has the right of vengeance, and saw from Scripture that vengeance belongs to the Lord. To do otherwise is a form of backsliding.

Today we are going to take a brief look at how God deals with backsliders; and in particular, we are going to look at God's two cures for our turning away.

Following the Babylonian captivity, while the Israelites were still in the final process of rebuilding Jerusalem and the Temple and putting their lives in order, they became too comfortable in their new-found freedom and began to backslide.

The people were called together to hear the word of God, and in Nehemiah 9:1-4, we hear part of the results.

1. Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth, and with dirt upon them.

2. And the descendants of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.

Because they had not hardened their hearts to the word of God, they were convicted, and they came forth in sackcloth and dust – an outward sign of their repentance.

But they did more; they confessed with their mouth their sins and the sins of their people.

They had moved away from the ways of God to the ways of the ungodly people of the surrounding nations; thus they separated themselves from these people and their ways, so that they would not be tempted.

We pray in the Lord's Prayer, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." (Matthew 6:13)

God will do that; but we also have the responsibility not to chase after temptation, either.

Thus the Israelites did as we should do. They separated themselves from the people who lived in these evil ways.

Let's go back to our reading and hear what else happened.

3. While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the Lord their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God.

4. Now on the Levites' platform stood Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani, and they cried with a loud voice to the Lord their God.

Not only did the people do this, but their religious leaders as well.

We find it hard to stay in church much over an hour, but these people, whose hearts were totally opening to the Lord, stayed in their service for six hours.

The day was the Lord's, and they put aside everything else.

Thus they were responding to one of God's cures for backsliding.

Then they went on to praise and worship the Lord their God.

This is all very good, but we need to remember that even the Law was not part of God original intent for us to live by.

The Law was a concession given by God to limit the sinfulness of human beings.

The Law was to limit our backsliding.

In the beginning there was no Law, and all God asked from us in return for His love, was our love and obedience; for if we truly loved God with every part of our being, we would never do any of the things that would displease God, and we would naturally fulfill the Law.

Not too long ago, we talked about Jonah's backsliding, and that of the people of Nineveh. Let's go back and take another look at that situation, as well.

First look at Jonah 1:1-3.

1. The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying,

2. "Arise, go to Nineveh the great city, and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me."

3. But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare, and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.

Jonah, like us, knew he was to do what the Lord desired of him. He simply didn't want to do it.

Jonah even tried to hide from the presence of the Lord, which all of us should realize is impossible.

Putting it simply, Jonah was backsliding in the spirit of rebelliousness.

Let's go on with this story and see the Lord's reaction.

4. And the Lord hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up.

5. Then the sailors became afraid, and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down, and fallen asleep.

Jonah knew why all this was happening, otherwise he couldn't have fallen asleep.

We have a tendency to do the same thing. When we don't want to do the things the Lord wants us to do, we often go off and feel depressed, and go to sleep.

But what we so often fail to realize is the effect of our disobedience on others.

Or, in our depressed, rebellious state of mind, we simply don't care, which shows that the true love of God is not in us.

Other people recognize this character flaw in us, as did the captain of Jonah's ship.

6. So the captain approached him and said, "How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish."

7. And each man said to his mate, "Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us." So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.

8. Then they said to him, "Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?"

9. And he said to them, "I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land."

10. Then the men became extremely frightened and they said to him, "How could you do this?" For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.

These men on the ship were no different from most people of the world today. They recognized the truth concerning God, even if they hadn't been following Him before, and even if they continue to be rebellious and deny the truth.

How did these men on the ship react? Let's see.

11. So they said to him, "What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?" – for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy.

12. And he said to them, "Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you, for I know that on account of me this great storm has come upon you."

13. However, the men rowed desperately to return to land but they could not, for the sea was becoming even stormier against them.

14. Then they called on the Lord and said, "We earnestly pray, O Lord, do not let us perish on account of this man's life and do not put innocent blood on us; for Thou, O Lord, hast done as Thou hast pleased."

God put the fear of death upon those sailors, so that they would turn to Him only; and from what we see so far, they have.

The very fact that Jonah accepts the storm as God's wrath against him, and says that by casting him into the sea, the storm will cease, further enhances this fear.

This is the second cure for backsliding: punishment.

Unfortunately, with most people, it has to come to this.

Look at us in this country. Statistics tell us that there are more Bibles in this country than there are people. And the word of God is preached more freely here than probably anywhere else; yet, have we truly turned to the Lord our God?

No, we haven't.

Why?

We have it too easy. But just let us be persecuted, and I believe many of us would lose our rebelliousness and our arrogance, and return to the Lord.

So, what did the sailors do, and what happened to Jonah?

15. So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging.

16. Then the men feared the Lord greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

17. And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.

The sailors may have had some excuse for their prior way of life, for they were children of their society; but God gives us all the ability to recognize the truth when we are shown it, and they responded.

But Jonah was different. He already knew the truth, as do all of us.

Like Jonah, do we need to be thrown into the sea and swallowed by a fish in order to come to our senses?

I know many people who are currently being tossed about in the storms of life because they have either lied to God, or turned away from the truth; yet unlike these sailors, they have not repented, and they continue to blame what is happening to them on everything other than their own actions.

The difference is that Jonah's heart never turned away from being Godly; he was only rebellious; but most of these people that I am talking about are not living Godly lives.

They may not be as fortunate as Jonah was, to be swallowed alive by a fish; they may be swallowed by the fires of hell.

Once someone ends up in hell, it's too late to repent.

From the belly of the fish, and from the present situations in our lives, we still have the opportunity of having our prayers heard, as did Jonah (2:1-2).

1. Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish,

2. and he said,
"I called out of my distress to the Lord,
And He answered me.
I cried for help from the depth of Sheol;
Thou didst hear my voice.

God may have to give us a taste of death before we end our stubborn and futile rebellion against Him.

On the other hand, the people of Nineveh, like the Israelites after the captivity, upon hearing the word of God from the pardoned Jonah, repented and were forgiven.

Yet just fifty years later, they had returned to their old ways, and once again God sends a warning to them through the prophet Nahum.

Hear what we are told beginning at 1:1.

1. The oracle of Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.

2. A jealous and avenging God is the Lord;
The Lord is avenging and wrathful.
The Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries,
And He reserves wrath for His enemies.

3. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,
And the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.
In whirlwind and storm is His way,
And clouds are the dust beneath His feet.

4. He rebukes the sea and makes it dry;
He dries up all the rivers.
Bashan and Carmel wither;
The blossoms of Lebanon wither.

5. Mountains quake because of Him,
And the hills dissolve;
Indeed the earth is upheaved by His presence,
The world and all the inhabitants in it.

Are we, in this country where the word of God is prevalent, so blinded by our own pride and greed, and so hard of heart, that we can't see God original intent for your loves, and the displeasure of our Lord God in the things that are happening all around us?

The word of God has been speaking to us, just as Nahum was to Nineveh, but we don't seem to be hearing.

Let's go back to our reading, and hear what Nahum is saying to us, as well as to Israel and Nineveh in his day.

6. Who can stand before His indignation?
Who can endure the burning of His anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire,
And the rocks are broken up by Him.

7. The Lord is good,
A stronghold in the day of trouble,
And He knows those who take refuge in Him.

8. But with an overflowing flood
He will make a complete end of its site,
And will pursue His enemies into darkness.

We cannot out-run the storms of God's wrath, as the sailors of Jonah's ship found out; thus, they sought refuge in the Lord.

The first time Nineveh heard the message of God from Jonah, they sought His refuge.

Now, Nineveh isn't doing that, and their end came.

What about us?

Where are we?

Are we going to at least respond to one of God's cures for backsliding?

As we ponder this, hear the word of the writer of Hebrews, beginning at 4:1.

1. Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it.

2. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.

3. For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said,
"As I swore in My wrath,
They shall not enter My rest,"
although His works were finished from the foundation of the world.

4. For He has thus said somewhere concerning the seventh day, "And God rested on the seventh day from all His works";

5. and again in this passage, "They shall not enter My rest."

6. Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience,

7. He again fixes a certain day, "Today," saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before,
"Today if you hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts."

The choice is really simple.

Either we respond to the word of God or to His wrath, and become lost forever.

How much better to respond and enter God's eternal rest.

Ponder these things in your heart, so that it may be softened and remain soft.

Amen.

Your Comments are welcome

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