Sunday, October 30, 2005

Sabbath Sermon - Our All-Sufficient Saviour - 2 Kings 4:38-44

Gladys Aylward, missionary to China more than fifty years ago, was forced to flee when the Japanese invaded Yangcheng. But she could not leave her work behind. With only one assistant, she led more than a hundred orphans over the mountains toward Free China.

"During Glady's harrowing journey out of war-torn Yangcheng ... she grappled with despair as never before. After passing a sleepless night, she faced the morning with no hope of reaching safety. A 13-year-old girl in the group reminded her of their much-loved story of Moses and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea.

"But I am not Moses," Gladys cried in desperation.

"Of course you aren't," the girl said, "but Jehovah is still God."

When Gladys and the orphans made it through, they proved once again that no matter how inadequate we feel, God is still God, and we can trust in him.

There are times in the Christian's life when he or she feels utterly inadequate. There are times as we saw a few weeks ago when we looked at the start of ch 4 when trouble comes and we simply can't cope, we are in too deep, and we learnt then that "My God will meet all your needs out of his glorious riches in Christ."

But there are other times when our inadequacies show through in different ways, other than just being inadequate to face trouble.

Alice is on a mission team. They have been doing door to door work, and later that evening you find Alice sitting with a tear stained face. You ask her what is wrong and she responds, "I just feel so inadequate. I just keep messing up. And they had an opportunity to hear the gospel and I didn't know what to say, or how to answer them." What would you have said to her?

Brian has just given a talk to a group of young people, and he knows it wasn't great. In talking with an older Christian afterwards he finds out he even said some things that were wrong. And he is gutted. What would you say to him?

Carla has just had a conversation with a friend. She's sought to explain the gospel, and she is so nervous that she stumbles and stutters and gets herself muddled up. And she comes away thinking "I should have said this, or put it that way." And she feels inadequate. What do you say to her?

If we let this sense of inadequacy get to us, then the devil will have been successful, and we will be driven to despair, and not attempt anything again.

It's refreshing to hear the apostle Paul, and man immensely gifted, and experienced - he was trained as well as anyone could be trained, its refreshing to hear him ask,

"And who is sufficient for these things?" - 2 Cor 2:16

The passages we deal with today deal with times when our labour is marred by our mistakes, and when our labour is insufficient due to our shortcomings. And in both cases, we see what Paul later went on to write:

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." - 2 Corinthians 4:7

Gods provision extends to our inadequacies as well as our needs. In these two Old Testament miracles we find pictures of two New Testament truths.

Christ can overrule our mistakes v38-41
There was famine in the land. Famine was God's judgment on the wicked nation of Israel. Is famine always God's judgment on any nation? No. But in Israel's case it was part of Israel's national constitution - the covenant. In it God had decreed blessings for obedience and curses for abandoning God's ways. Famine was one such sign of God's wrath.

And so there was famine in unbelieving Israel. But here we see that the godly prophets also experienced the famine. God's people are not exempt when God's judgment strikes a land. In Ireland we are ripe for God's judgment, and when it comes, whatever form it takes, financial collapse, job losses, natural disasters, God's people will be caught up in it. "God doesn't usually evacuate his people beforehand," Dale Ralph Davis writes, "We need to know this lest we expect of God something he's never promised."

This also should challenge us to pray for our fellow believers in Louisiana, Mississippi, Pakistan, India, and wherever else natural disaster, or war has struck.

So here in this famine struck region, Elisha arrives and is teaching the prophets and he instructs his servant to put on a big pot of stew. One of the prophets heads out into the fields looking for extra herbs, or vegetables to put in to bulk it up a bit, and to add some flavour. And perhaps he is from another area, or perhaps just because he is a male, he doesn't really know what's what. And he see a vine growing with these plump looking yellow fruit, and he gathers as many as he can in the folds of his cloak and he hurried back to the kitchen. And he chops them up and dumps them into the stew.

Then the rest of the prophets come in, and the meal is served out, and its not hard to imagine the pleasure on the face of the prophet as they get a little extra in their bowls. But then a shout goes up, "There's death in the pot". Whether someone recognised the poisonous vegetable, or whether they had taken a taste we don't know. But in an instant they go from having a great meal to eat to having nothing.

And that doesn't sound too serious to us, can't they just prepare another one? But these are days of famine. Food is scarce. Providing food isn't a matter of spending a few moments in a supermarket and a minute in front of the microwave. It may take a large part of the day to gather enough food together to make a meal. And now all that effort has been wasted.

Precious food was spoiled.

How do you think that scavenging prophet feels now? "I should just have stayed in bed today. I can do nothing right. Now everyone's upset with me. I'm always get it wrong."

And then Elisha stands up. He takes asks for flour, he dumps the flour into the pot and he stirs it in. And they are wondering, "what difference will that make?". The vegetables are still in the pot. We shouldn't think of this as some sort of magic, nor should we think of Elisha as some sort of early scientist who has figured out that the properties of this flour can neutralise the effects of this poison. I don't believe that that is the case. It is just another visual symbol, the same as he did with the salt and the bowl at Jericho. It was a symbol that it wasn't Elisha that changed the stew, it was from somewhere else. It was a symbol that the men would remember all their days, as they ground the corn to make flour, as they used flour to bake bread, you can almost hear them saying, "Do you remember the time Elisha threw the flour into the stew, isn't God great?" And then the man of God, to whom they have cried out for help, speaks again, "Serve it to the people to eat."

And as they start to, perhaps somewhat cautiously, nibble at the stew again, they find that there was nothing harmful in the pot!

I wonder how the scavenging prophet felt now? The meal was no longer wasted it had been redeemed, rescued from the rubbish pile. Can you feel his gratefulness? His labour had been marred, ruined, but it had been a sincere mistake.

Have you ever found that?

You have sought to act in a Christian manner towards someone, and you have only succeeded in alienating them. You thought you were doing something right by someone, and you have only succeeded in hurting them all the more. And you think to yourself, "I should just have stayed in bed, I can do nothing right."

Perhaps as you have tried to live out the Christian life as a witness in front of family or friends or work colleagues, you have made mistakes, and you feel, "I've blown it, that's that ruined."

Perhaps you have set an example to other Christians, and now you realise that you were wrong in what you did. And its too late to undo it.

Perhaps someone has come to you for advice, and you have sincerely given them advice, and when you check with another Christian you find that you have told them the wrong thing. And you feel so discouraged.

Or perhaps you have dealt with your children in a certain way - you thought it was the right way at the time, but now with hindsight you see that it was detrimental.

Is there anything you can do in these circumstances?

Do exactly what the prophets did - v40 "O man of God". They cried out to God's official representative. We are to do the same - Cry out to our great prophet, the one who intercedes for us before God. Cry out to Jesus.

It seems awfully ineffective doesn't it? You've been talking to someone and trying to explain the gospel and you are so nervous that you garble the whole thing, and it's all topsy-turvy and you waffled in places, and you left out bits you shouldn't have, and I say to you, Go home and call out to Jesus.

What's the point? Surely what has been said has been said? What good will praying do? It's about as ineffective as throwing flour into a pot of stew. The vegetables are still there. But we have a God who is powerful, and who delights to show his power through our weakness. And you can pray to him, "Lord, Take what I said and make them remember the bits that are important, and make them forget the bits that aren't."

"Take what I did and bring good out of my mistake Lord."
"Take what I said and use the good."
"Lord you know I was only trying to serve you, I thought I was doing what was best, but now I see how wrong it was. Please overrule my mistake."

And here is the wonder of having Christ as our Saviour. This is part of what Paul means when he writes, "God works all things for the good of those who love him".

This isn't to say that we can be careless or even sin with abandon, and God will follow around after us, like some sort of parent of a spoilt child, and tidy up. But when we have sincerely sought to serve him, and in our weakness, or ignorance, have got it wrong, we can come to God and the power of God can overcome our mistakes as surely as he overcame this cooks blunder.

"What a relief it is to see that the Lord does not allow our errors to derail his kingdom or destroy his people. How many times does Christ cushion our folly, redeem our errors, and neutralise our stupidity?" - D.R. Davis

And there is a wider application here. Even the mistakes that we have made in sinfulness, perhaps before we became Christians, or even when we were Christians, Christ can overrule them and turn them for good. Some of you may have made wrong decisions in your past and you have to live with the consequences of those decisions, but you have a Saviour who doesn't undo the past, but who overrules the past, and can turn these things for good. So don't despair, get on your knees and seek his intervention.

Christ can supply our inadequacies
There are other times when we haven't made mistakes, and we aren't in trouble, but we are overwhelmed with a feeling of our utter inadequacy. Perhaps you are talking to someone, and as they pour out their heart to you and tell you of what they are going through or have come through, you feel, "Lord what have I got that can help this person?" And if they aren't a Christian, and you listen to all their troubles, you find yourself thinking, "Lord, all I have is the gospel" and it seems very small and very inadequate. Their problems seem to swamp your experience.

Or perhaps you get an opportunity to speak to someone about Christ, and as you talk they have more questions than you have answers and you find yourself wishing you knew more, and thinking "I'm so inadequate."

Here is hope and encouragement for us in this miracle.

A man comes from Baal-Shalisha. It used to be called Shalisha, but it had become a place of Baal worship, a pagan town. Yet even in this pagan godless town there was a godly man. And this godly man is out harvesting his grain, and the way the two miracles are joined together here it would seem still to be the time of famine. Yet as he harvests his grain, and as he grinds the corn to make flour, he is reminded that the first-fruits belong to God. And because he is a godly man he is determined to obey. Now God had said that the first-fruits were to be taken to the temple, and given to the priests. Yet the land was now following Baal, and the king was sponsoring the priests of Baal, and had forbidden the worship of the Lord. So what is he to do? He decides that since he can't obey the letter of the law, he will obey the spirit of the law. And he takes some bread and some grain and treks quite a distance to the servants of God at Gilgal. And there he presents it to Elisha.

That is faithful service. And here we see sometimes how God provides - help can arrive to God's beleaguered people from unexpected source. There was a famine, food was hard to come by, although over at Baal-Shalisha things seem to have been a bit easier, and from the place where there is food, God sends to the place where there isn't. And here we see also the duty of believers who are experiencing plenty to look out for those who are in need, not just nearby, but far off.

Here is faithful and thoughtful service. He has already made some of his grain offering into bread, so that it is of immediate use to the prophets. And he has left some as corn so that they will be able to make bread as the days go on, because if he made it all now, it might have been stale. Here is a thoughtful believer.

And yet when he arrives, he finds that his thoughtfulness in serving God has backfired a bit. Perhaps he should have made all the grain into bread after all. Perhaps even then it wouldn't have been enough.

But he is about to learn a marvellous lesson: What looks impossible to us, is not impossible to God. Where our resources are at their end, God's haven't even begun to be exhausted.

Elisha says to his servant, "Put the bread before the men". The servant hesitates because unlike Elisha his faith is weak. He sees with his eyes, and they are eyes that see the limitations, they are not the eyes of faith which see the possibilities. He sees the shortage of 80 leaves, these loaves were no bigger than a fist. Elisha hears what God has said. "There is enough." And faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

And the impossible met God's word, and the servants, and the man from Baal Shalisha and the prophets found out that God's word is more certain than what is before our eyes.

God supplied. God provided. The inadequacy of the man's offering was overruled.

And we learn that when we give to God, or when we seek to serve God with what little we have, we just don't know what sort of a miracle we will end up involved in.

We learn that when we labour for God and we are disheartened by our inadequacies, our insufficiencies, our shortfall, our complete lack, that our God is able to supply what is lacking.

When we stand before someone whose life is falling apart and the gospel seems such a paltry thing to be telling them, we learn that God can take that gospel and use it to fill all their needs.

When we bring our 20 loaves of Bible knowledge to a person who has a 100 deep and searching questions, we learn that God is able to take our answer and make them sufficient. Go ahead and speak, God can take what you say and use it to start someone thinking, he can take it and apply it to their conscience and their conscience awakes and starts to accuse them, he can take what you say and bring to mind things they heard long ago. Christ can supply our inadequacies.

When stand and look over the town of Letterkenny/Milford and we look at ourselves, small in number, short on abilities, we learn that when we are weak then God is strong.

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. - 2 Cor 12:9

When we are insufficient then we are in an ideal situation to find that God is sufficient. But how? By calling on God, by acknowledging our weakness and our inability.

There are so many parallels with the feeding of the 5000. The people were in great need, someone was fond with a little food, a disciple was unbelieving, God multiplied the loaves, the people all ate, and there was food left over.

Yet at almost every turn we see that our Saviour is much greater. Elisha fed 100 men. Jesus fed 5000. Elisha had 20 loaves. Jesus had 5. Elisha gave them bread. Jesus gave them fish as well. Elisha had some left over, Jesus had 12 basketfuls. Elisha did it by God's power, Jesus did it by his own power.

And as Gladys Aylward was reminded, we may not be Moses, or in our cases Elisha, but God is still God. And he is the same yesterday today and forever. And when we are in need, or inadequate, or mistaken he will provide.

And we see here also in these two miracles a picture of the gospel. A man whose deadly mistake is covered over by God, and a man whose offering was utterly inadequate and God provides what is needed.

Some of you here this morning need to hear this. How you are living your life at present is like this man in the first miracle. You think you are doing good, but in fact you are in grave danger. You think you are gathering up treasure for yourself in Heaven, when in fact all the good that you do will condemn you to Hell. You need God to work a miracle. You wouldn't be foolish enough to eat poisonous plants, but you are gobbling the poisonous leaves of the tree of good works. You are badly mistaken. And the poison will kill you forever. You need Christ to transform what is poisonous into what will give life. You need to go to him like the prophets did and beg for a miracle. Lord change me, save me, rescue from this death. Cover over my mistakes, my errors, my faults, my sins.

Like the man in the second miracle you bring your life's efforts to God and say, here Lord, here are all my decent works that I have done with my life. And they are insufficient. And they will never be sufficient to please God. Had you a hundred lives to live and fine tune each one of them, you could never get it right. You need God to provide for you the righteousness that you have failed so badly at. You need to look at your life and ask yourself, "How can I set this before God?" And then cry out to God, "Provide for me too!"

And if you do, you will find that God will provide, and Christ will cover your sins, and will replace your good works with his perfect righteousness and you will be able to stand before God.

We learn here that our daily needs, whether its bread, or stew matter to God.

And we learn here again that "My God will need all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus."

We learn that he will not always do it in the same way.

And these five miracles that we have looked at in this chapter point us forward to the day when we will see the wonderful richness of God's provision in all its glory:
  • When we will see that our debt has been cleared, on the day of judgment
  • When we will have every tear wiped away from our eye, and there will be no secret aches in our hearts
  • When the dead in Christ will be raised
  • When the effects of sin on this planet will be removed and there will be no more famine, no more poisonous plants.
  • When we will enjoy the delights of Heaven forever and ever, and there will always be some left over to enjoy.
Amen, Come Lord Jesus.

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