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STANDING FIRM WHEN EVERYONE ELSE SEEMS TO BE TURNING AWAY
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE HIGH HILL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
9 APRIL 1989
By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
2 Kings 17:7-23
2 Chronicles 7:13-14
Preparation Verse: (Isaiah 66:1)
Thus says the Lord,
“Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool.
Where then is a house you could build for Me?
And where is a place that I may rest?”
The easiest thing to do in the world is to go along with the other guy.
But over and over again God has told us not to be part of the world, not to be part of the turning away from what He has told us to do.
So, even if everyone around us seems to be turning away, we are to stand firm.
The Israelites were led out of Egypt and into the promised land of Canaan. When they did as the Lord told them, they prospered; and when they turned away, they began to be oppressed.
They even began to fight each other and, following the reign of King Solomon, ten of the tribes split away from Judah and totally turned away from following the Lord our God.
In the year 722 BC, during the reign of Hoshea, the ten tribes of Israel were led away into captivity by Assyria.
The reason for this is explained to us in the Book of 2 Kings 17:7ff.
7. Now this came about, because the sons of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up from the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and they had feared other gods
8. and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord had driven out before the sons of Israel, and in the customs of the kings of Israel which they had introduced.
Prior to Easter, we spent several weeks talking about the effect that false teachers and leaders can have upon us, and that we are to be aware of these people and not follow along with them.
Israel followed along with their leaders who were leading them astray, and they knew that what they were doing was wrong, but because of their pride they went along with them.
Because of their lusts they sought after the ways of the people whom the Lord had driven out before them, whose acts were abominations to Him.
And we, in this nation and in this town, are doing much the same thing.
9. And the sons of Israel did things secretly which were not right, against the Lord their God. Moreover, they built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city.
10. And they set for themselves sacred pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree,
11. and there they burned incense on all the high places as the nations did which the Lord had carried away to exile before them; and they did evil things provoking the Lord.
12. And they served idols, concerning which the Lord had said to them, “You shall not do this thing.”
Nothing that we do goes unnoticed by the Lord our God.
Nothing can truly be done in secret, and one day we will all find out that God knew about all that we thought we were getting away with.
God knew what Israel was doing in secret, and He knows what we are doing in secret.
Nothing is hidden from the eyes of the Lord; yet as individuals and as a society we continue to walk in our sinful ways, just as Israel did.
We tolerate the pornography that is sold in our local stores, and even have
it in our homes.
We watch television shows that are telling us that we can get away with crimes, and that free sex and violence are okay; and we lust after that lifestyle.
There is a warring madness in the world that causes millions of our fellow human beings and billions of animals to suffer horribly and die every year.
We have allowed our schools to teach our children that whatever they want to do is okay, if it feels good and doesn't hurt others; and they even teach them how to protect themselves in what they are doing.
And, ironically, since we are being told we don't have to listen to or follow any moral issue, our children are not listening to the people who are telling them how to protect themselves in the Lord; and things get worse.
Unless we turn back to God and listen to what He is telling us, we will find ourselves in the same position as Israel found herself 2,700 years ago; for we are most assuredly following along the same pathway that Israel followed.
13. Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah, through all His prophets and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep My commandments, My statutes according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you through My servants the prophets.”
We have Jesus, and The Holy Spirit, and the written word of God; and we have many people who are truly trying to proclaim God’s word, and that we should be living as loving, compassionate, and peacemaking children of God, so that we would turn from our wicked ways today.
We have been given a free will, and we are able to make whatever decision we choose to make. We can listen to God's word and follow Him, or we can do as Israel did.
14. However, they did not listen, but stiffened their neck like their fathers, who did not believe in the Lord their God.
15. And they rejected His statutes and His covenant which He made with their fathers, and His warnings with which he warned them. And they followed vanity and became vain, and went after the nations which surrounded them, concerning which the Lord had commanded them not to do like them.
16. And they forsook all the commandments of the Lord their God and made for themselves molten images, even two calves, and made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal.
17. Then they made their sons and their daughters pass through the fire, and practiced divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him.
Perhaps some are saying that none of this is happening today, but I contend that it is, and it is happening all around us.
Haven’t we, as a nation and even as a town, stiffened our neck against the word of God?
Haven’t we heard it said that these things of God were for that day and age and not for today because things are different today?
That is just vain talk in order to justify our lifestyles.
We know the difference between right and wrong.
We know the difference between fear and love.
We know the difference between war and peace.
We know the difference between cruelty and compassion.
We can’t fool God by pretending that we are ignorant.
We only fool ourselves!
And yes; we also have idols today.
We have made our television sets and programs into idols, for they are quite often more important than God; for we follow the lifestyles depicted on these shows and not what God wants us to do.
We also worship money and sports and all kinds of social events, and use these things as excuses why we don't have time for God.
And we pray to all the stars in heaven and the astrologers, for we believe in horoscopes.
We carry around good luck charms and have amulets in our homes, that we put more faith in than in God.
And more and more, we hear of our youth entering into Satan worship and even sacrificing animals to him.
Our society has hardened our hearts so that most people are indifferent to the horrible suffering and death that is clothing them, and that is upon their plates.
There is also an attempt being made at covering up these events to make us believe that they don't exist.
This is happening because many adults, some in high places, are also involved; and they are even sacrificing humans, including some of our missing children to the gods of lust, and our young men and women to the gods of war.
By this behavior we are most definitely provoking God.
We are not to be like this; we are to be the loving, compassionate, and peacemaking children of God who do everything in our power to bring our Father's heavenly will to earth as it is in heaven.
18. So the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight; none was left except the tribe of Judah.
And we are also very much like Judah.
We know the truth, yet we oppose it.
We know that God is right, yet we pursue what we know to be wrong.
We follow the ways of the world, just as Israel and Judah were doing.
19. Also Judah did not keep the commandments of the Lord their God, but walked in the customs which Israel had introduced.
20. And the Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until He had cast them out of His sight.
21. When He had torn Israel from the house of David, they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king. Then Jeroboam drove Israel away from following the Lord, and made them commit a great sin.
22. And the sons of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they did not depart from them,
23. until the Lord removed Israel from His sight, as He spoke through all His servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away into exile from their own land to Assyria until this day.
We also have many Jeroboams in the land, but we also have the Holy Spirit.
We can reject the power of the Holy Spirit, and follow along after our Jeroboams and be led away into destruction.
Or we can accept the power of the Holy Spirit, and turn away from the Jeroboams around us and their teachings, and enter into everlasting life with the Lord.
Each and every one of us can make a difference; that is, if we want to.
And if we as a church, as a body in Christ, return to God with all of our heart and with all of our soul and with all of our might, we can turn this community upside down and bury the evil under our feet.
Each and every one of us is being called upon to live our life as Jesus did when He was incarnate, and to stand firm until the end even as Stephen did, as we are told in our New Testament lesson for this morning: Acts 7:51-60.
51. “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.
52. “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become;
53. you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.”
Every so often, someone is encouraged by the Holy Spirit to speak out for what the Lord would have us do and to turn away from the sin of the world around us.
We can be stiff-necked and reject the message, or we can be open to receive the word and repent and turn back to the Lord. Then we also may find ourselves speaking out with boldness the message of God.
The Jewish people had the word of God, and they also had the knowledge of the signs of the Messiah’s coming, but they just didn't want to accept the fact of His coming and change their lifestyle.
Christian, we have the word of God and we have the knowledge that Jesus has already come, that He died for our sins, that He rose from the dead, and that He will come again.
What will we do?
Will we turn back to the Lord, repent, and change our lifestyle?
Or will we be like so many of the Jewish leaders to whom Stephen was speaking?
54. Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him.
When we are not right with the Lord, the truth will always cut us to the quick.
The word of God should always be convicting, so that we would realize the errors of our ways and correct them and return to the Lord with a repentant heart.
It is only when we openly defy God, that we behave like these people who are listening to Stephen.
But if we truly desire to make a stand for God, He will be with us; and our stand will be a witness of the truth to others, in spite of their gnashing of teeth.
55. But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God;
56. and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
57. But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears, and they rushed upon him with one impulse.
58. And when they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him, and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59. And they went on stoning Stephen as he called upon the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!”
60. And falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” And having said this, he fell asleep.
Yes, Stephen died in his stand for the Lord.
If we truly love the Lord and truly trust Him, then death no longer has the same meaning the world has.
Believers will always be with the Lord.
We are not to seek to be martyrs, but we are not to sell out the Lord in order to preserve our lives.
We should be so at peace with God, that physical death no longer has much meaning.
Therefore, stand firm!
Our land has been turning from God, and we tolerate many evil things within this country which is supposedly under God.
And because we have turned away, we have some of the plagues of Israel, such as drought and the diseases of our lust.
But we can change all of this – if we want to.
Hear what we are told in 2 Chronicles 7:13-14:
13. “If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people,
14. and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
This was originally spoken to the Jews, but it is also for us; for aren’t Christians called by the name of Jesus Christ?
Our God will forgive us if we repent, and change our ways.
But if we do not repent, we will perish as did all the peoples of the world before us who turned away from the Lord their God.
We are called upon to rescue the perishing, just as the Hymn, Rescue the Perishing said.
I know that Stephen’s testimony had to have touched Saul and caused him to
wonder about his faith and his love.
Think of it – as Stephen was dying, he prayed for those who were stoning him.
We also are to share the love that God has poured out upon us, the love that gave us Jesus Christ.
We are to live as Stephen lived, and with his assurance.