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THOSE WHO LEAD UNTO LIFE AND THOSE WHO LEAD UNTO DEATH

A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT

THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS

3 NOVEMBER 1996

BY Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor

SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES:

Joshua 3:7-17
Micah 3:5-12

We have discussed the fact that at one time or another almost every person assumes some form of leadership.

Parents are leaders of their children, for they show them a way of life.

Teachers are leaders of others because they instruct them about how things are, and how they function.

And even a laborer becomes a leader when he or she asks someone else to help them with something; for if the other person does what is asked, they are following the instructions of the laborer.

But ultimately we should all be following the leading of the Lord our God.

And this is where we all too often go astray.

We tend to follow other people before we follow God.

And we tend to follow other people before we know if they are following God.

Thus, if the leader isn't following God, then the people who follow that person's instructions find themselves being led astray.

This morning, we are going to look at two leadership positions in Israel's history, one good and one bad.

Let's begin with Joshua 3:7-17:

7. Now the Lord said to Joshua, "This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you.

God is lifting Joshua up as the new human leader of Israel, but with this elevation by the Lord, Joshua must still show his subordination to the ultimate leadership of the Lord, if he is to remain as God's leader of the people.

Note how God graphically demonstrates a true leader’s relationship to both God and to the people:

8. "You shall, moreover, command the priests who are carrying the ark of the covenant, saying, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’ "

Note that Joshua, as ultimate human leader, is to command the priests and the people. But, the Ark of the Covenant is the symbol of God's presence.

The priests who minister before the Lord are the ones to set out first.

But no one should set out without the Lord.

The priests and the Lord are going to stand in the midst of the Jordan River upstream of the place that Joshua and the people are to cross.

9. Then Joshua said to the sons of Israel, "Come here, and hear the words of the Lord your God."

10. And Joshua said, "By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will assuredly dispossess from before you the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Girgashite, the Amorite, and the Jebusite.

11. "Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is crossing over ahead of you into the Jordan.

12. "Now then, take for yourselves twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man for each tribe.

13. "And it shall come about when the soles of the feet of the priests who carry the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, and the waters which are flowing down from above shall stand in one heap."

The Lord is showing the people how, if they obey Him, He will protect them from the dangers that could come upon them.

He will stand between them and any danger.

14. So it came about when the people set out from their tents to cross the Jordan with the priests carrying the ark of the covenant before the people,

15. and when those who carried the ark came into the Jordan, and the feet of the priests carrying the ark were dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks all the days of harvest),

16. that the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap, a great distance away at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho.

The Jordan River was very deep and swiftly flowing, and thus very dangerous to cross at this time of the year, and yet this is the time the Lord chose for them to cross.

17. And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan.

No matter where we go, or what we do, we are to bring the Lord our God with us.

This isn't just saying to bring along the written word of God, but the Lord Himself.

It does no good for a leader to spout forth the word of God, if she or he isn't also living that word.

For it is with our mouth that we confess the word, but it is with our deeds that we confirm its truth.

If leaders are mean-spirited, no one will believe that they are also following the Lord our God.

And if the people don't know the ways of the Lord, some sweet-talking leader could lead them astray.

Sounds a lot like politics, doesn't it?

Think about this when you enter the voting booth this coming Tuesday.

Better yet, think about it now.

Don't just evaluate their words, but reflect upon their whole way of life, and whether or not God would be happy with all of their leadership functions.

A prophet claims to speak for God, but not all of them do; let's look at Micah 3:5-12, and see what I am speaking about:

5. Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets

Who lead my people astray;

When they have something to bite with their teeth,

They cry, "Peace,"

But against him who puts nothing in their mouths,

They declare holy war.

Doesn't this sound like what is happening in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia?

And to some extent, this is happening all over the world, and even in our own country.

So, what does God say He is going to do about it?

6. Therefore it will be night for you-- without vision,

And darkness for you -- without divination.

The sun will go down on the prophets,

And the day will become dark over them.

In other words, God will leave us to our own ways of behaving.

He will not lead us or guide us.

7. The seers will be ashamed

And the diviners will be embarrassed.

Indeed, they will all cover their mouths

Because there is no answer from God.

And because of this, many religious leaders fake hearing a message from God, and thus they lead their flocks further astray.

But to a few who truly seek the Lord with all their heart and soul, God will reveal Himself.

8. On the other hand [says Micah] I am filled with power—

With the Spirit of the Lord—

And with justice and courage

To make known to Jacob his rebellious act,

Even to Israel his sin.

In Hebrew poetry, there is a very interesting but subtile way of expressing our relationship with the Lord.

The name Jacob, which means one who deceives represents both Jacob, the son of Isaac, and the Israelites before they began to truly follow the Lord their God.

The name Israel represents those who have wrestled with God over their former way of life and have now begun to follow God, just as Jacob and some of the Israelites did.

But here in this verse, Micah is telling us that prior to truly believing and following God we were rebellious, and that even as true believers we still have sin in our lives that needs to be pointed out by the Holy Spirit.

In other words, just because someone says that they are "born again", it doesn't make it so.  We can only know for sure by observing their life over time.

9. Now hear this, heads of the house of Jacob

And rulers of the house of Israel,

Who abhor justice

And twist everything that is straight,

10. Who build Zion with bloodshed

And Jerusalem with violent injustice.

11. Her leaders pronounce judgment for a bribe,

Her priests instruct for a price,

And her prophets divine for money.

Yet they lean on the Lord saying,

"Is not the Lord in our midst?

Calamity will not come upon us."

12. Therefore, on account of you,

Zion will be plowed as a field,

Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins,

And the mountain of the temple will become high places of a forest.

And as we know, the Temple mount became the site of a Moslem mosque.

Most people in this country do a lot of complaining about our leaders.

It seems to be a flaw in our human nature that came about because of the Fall: people look for every mistake someone else makes so that they can complain about it; yet for everything else they do correctly, they offer little or no praise.

This Tuesday you are being given the privilege of helping to choose many of our leaders.

Think carefully why you will vote one way or the other.

Ask yourself, "Who would Jesus vote for?"

Yes, I realize that sometimes we might feel that the answer is, "No one!"

And remember, it isn't because someone says they follow the ways of the Lord that makes them Godly, it is their living example that tells the truth of their heart.

Ask yourself, does the person exhibit true love and compassion in an unconditional way, that will serve the needs of all who will follow his or her leadership?

Put aside all special interest considerations, and look to the heart.

And even though you are offered the privacy of the voting booth, when you enter I suggest that you, as one who is of the kingdom of God first, take along the Holy Spirit, so that together you will pull the correct levers.

On Wednesday morning, will we have leaders who will lead us into life everlasting?

I pray so!

The choice is ours.

Amen?

Amen.

Your Comments are welcome

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