Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sabbath Sermon - This is a day of Good News (2 Kings 7:9)

Several years ago a family was travelling in Oklahoma when a gunman commandeered their car and held them hostage for several days as they drove around over the countryside.

Finally, they stopped at a little station out in the country. The husband saw his chance and he grabbed his abductor and begged the station owner to call the sheriff. "Please," he cried, "Please call the law."

The owner got his own gun and told them all to leave. "I do not want any trouble around here," he said. "Just all of you leave." The terrified family drove away with their captor. The next day the couple and their two children were found murdered. Their bodies had been thrown into an abandoned well.

Their killer was finally brought to trial and convicted. Later the state tried the station owner and convicted him for his failure to notify authorities and perhaps to save the family's life.

One writer says, “Sometimes silence is golden, but sometimes silence is just plain yellow.”

To be silent when we have something lifesaving is criminal. And yet this is something that no Christian needs to be told. Our own consciences tell us this often enough. I don’t think that there is a Christian in existence that doesn’t wish that he or she witnessed more for their saviour.

However, the simple truth is that we don’t speak as we should. So how can we? This verse and this passage give us several key pointers:

2 Kings 7:9 Then they said to each other, "We're not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let's go at once and report this."

An Admission to make - We have not done right
The lepers at the gate of Samaria feel that they have nothing to lose. Perhaps the enemy will have pity on them because hunger certainly won’t. So they make their way from the gates of the famished city and approach the outskirts of the camp. The first tent they come to, you can imagine themselves prodding one of the four towards to the door, and he straightens himself up, and rehearses mentally what he is going to say, “Excuse me sirs, we’re not really part of the city, and we were wondering if you would show pity on us because nature hasn’t shown pity. We suffer enough in life.” And as he steps into the first tent there’s non-one there. So they approach the next, and the same again, and the next and the next. And they end up running from one tent to another deeper into the camp and there is no-one there. And things have just been left as they were. There may have been some meat sitting ready to be eaten, some stew hanging over a fire that had burned out. And so they tuck in and it’s amazing.

But soon their consciences start to get he better of them. And they say to each other, “We're not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves.”

There is something morally repugnant about the image of people feeding their faces, and gorging themselves on fine food while others nearby starve and even the richest haggle over a donkey’s brains.

And yet, here in Milford we are able feed ourselves on God’s word, and delight in his salvation week after week, while hundreds/thousands just beyond here starve for want of food.

If we are going to be a witnessing church, here is where we have to start. Confession –

As a congregation we need to confess that we have not done right. We have been placed in this town as a witness and we have by and large kept the gospel to ourselves. This is where we must start.

As individuals we need to confess that we have not done right. Too often we are silent when we know we should speak.
It’s not right because people are dying.

It’s not right because its not as if our salvation is something that we have worked hard at, as if there is a secret to be guarded, as if salvation devalues the more people who are saved. We were starving beggars when God saved us. And he saved us, we did nothing to earn this, so how can we keep it from others.

To hide the great discovery of God’s provision for mankind is utterly wrong. Illustration from Cambodia. “How long have you had the gospel in your country?” “for 1600 years” “Why did it take to 1948 for you to get here? My father died looking for enlightenment.”

So perhaps we all need to come to this point and seek forgiveness

And we need to learn to see the urgency of the situation.

An Urgency to Grasp – if we wait
The next thing to see here is that there is an urgency to grasp. As these men stand out in the camp, people are starving in the town. And as they stand there they grasp this urgency. Listen to them:

Literally: “This day is a day of good news… if we wait until morning…”

They grasp the sense of urgency. Why is it urgent? Two reasons:

Silence is dangerous because some will die - today
Each moment they delay brings another closer to death. While we delay people are going to Hell.

The death rate for Ireland is 8 people per 1000. For Donegal, that means that approx 1120 people will die this year. That’s three a day, entering into eternity. Somewhere between 2-4% are professing evangelicals. 20 –40 people per year from Donegal entering Heaven. 1 every 3 weeks. While 62 others enter a lost eternity.

These men where feasting and enjoying food for themselves, and it was right that they nourish themselves.

We need to feed first on Christ so that we can speak of him to others. If any say to you, “Are you sure that it is true?” you will answer, “Certainly I am, for I have tasted and handled of the good word of life.”

But we can go too far, and spend all our time feasting, and all the while people are going to Hell. What a despicable thing that while we should be enjoying the blessings of God’s word people are lost because we wont go to them.

Now we have to be honest with the passage here. There is a difference between the people besieged inside Samaria and the people around us today. The people in Samaria knew that they were hungry. All you had to do was to point them I the direction of food and they would run for it. That is not the situation we are in with regard to evangelism. People do not realise that they are starving to death. It isn’t just a matter of pointing them in the right direction and then they will be sure to go.

But their plight is no less real. Yet it is true to say that where God is working in a person’s life, then they are aware that they are hungry, that they are on the brink of death. And where that is the case they are more like the people in Samaria. And we need to be praying that God will give people a hunger for him, and we need to be telling people where to find spiritual food, because we don’t know who the hungry are.

Silence is dangerous because God will punish
In v 9 the lepers say to each other:

“If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us.”

These men know that to delay with such good news which can save so many lives is really a criminal offence. And because it is such, then they will face punishment

How does God view his servants who do not do good when it is in their power to do so?

Luke 19:20 "Then another servant came and said, `Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 22 "His master replied, `I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant!…

Why has God allowed you to find out the solution? So that you can tell others. To not tell is contrary to the entire purpose of your salvation. We were saved to speak, not just for our own personal pleasure.

You see the death of Jesus Christ and his resurrection and the triumph that he won is so precious that God wants it to be told so that his son will have honour and glory. When we fail to speak of it we dishonour Jesus, and displease God the Father.

A Message to tell
A Simple message
Can you imagine the lepers returning to the city? Can you hear them shouting up at the gate keepers? “The army has gone! There is food for all in the camp!”

It wasn’t a complex message. It was a simple one.

We don’t need to know everything. We worry because we wont know how to answer questions. Can you imagine the lepers handling this one? The people of Samaria shout down to them, “Well if you know so much about this food, tell us what way is the chicken cooked? What seasoning was used – was it thyme, or basil, or oregano? How long were the vegetables done for? Where did the bread come from? What was the name of the baker?”

“We don’t know all the answers, we just know that we ate the food, and it has filled our stomachs. If you have questions come and taste it for yourself.”

Likewise our message is a simple. God has taken the punishment on himself so that we don’t have to face it. Jesus has died to free you from God’s wrath.

A Focused message
Imagine the lepers standing at the gate of the city talking about the weather - no they spoke about what they had found. Their message was a focused one.

A Necessary message
Everyone we meet has the same problem. God is angry with them. But we know the solution. Jesus has taken wrath on himself so that we don’t have to. So we need to call men and women to come to Jesus.

It is the greatest message that anyone could ever hear. All have sinned. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

Not when you think of evangelism and witnessing – perhaps the key thought in your mind is that “I wont know what to say.” Or, “What if they ask me a question that I wont know how to answer?”

Let me tell you something that puts you miles above everyone you will speak to. If you are a Christian you have experienced the truth of what you say.

A True message
We know because we have experienced the solution

Can you imagine the lepers going to the city and the people of Samaria saying to them. “We don’t believe you – there is no such thing as free food”. Would that throw the lepers? How would they react? “You can say what you like, we have eaten, our bellies are full, we know that what we speak of is true. Nothing you say will make us change our minds.”

There would be a confidence about them – wouldn’t there.

And then there would be the usual accusation that we hear all the time when we are confident about what we believe – “You Christians always think you are right.” Can you hear them saying that to the lepers,. “How dare you stand there and be so confident, there are more of us here, and you are so few – how could you be right?”

We know because we have been there, we have tasted of the feast of God’s forgiveness, we have enjoyed the sweet wine of peace, and the joy of burdens lifted. You can’t tell us that these things aren’t real.”

You know I think there would have been a confidence about those lepers in the food they had eaten. They would take any criticism and still stand there, for after all they had enjoyed the food, and the others had known nothing of it. And fellow Christian that is exactly the position you are in. Of course there will be questions you and I can’t answer. But we can and should have confidence in what we have experienced. We should have enough confidence in the gospel, and in Christ to say to people, come, come and see for yourself. Come and hear God’s word. Come and hear the gospel.

The lepers knew that once they would get the people to the food that all doubts would be swept away. We should have similar confidence in our God.

A minister once came to Spurgeon and said, “I have been preaching for three months, and I don’t know of a single soul having been converted.” Spurgeon asked, “Do you expect the Lord to save souls every time you open your mouth?” “Oh, no, sir I” he replied. “Then,’ I said, “that is just the reason why you have not had conversions: ‘According to your faith will it be done to you’”.

And this is the way it is even in the Bible – remember the women Jesus met at the well, “Come and see the man who told me everything.” She spoke of what she knew, what her experience was. She had a message to tell.

An Encouragement to Take
Lepers and unnamed servants bring the good news
I love how God goes out of his way to emphasise in his word that it is not by the strong, the mighty, the influential, the wise that he works. Who is it that God uses here? Four lepers.

Not just four lepers, but when the news goes to the city gate, and comes eventually to the kings palace, and the king is aroused, and he is irate, “are you all thick, don’t you know that this is just a trick, honestly, why do I have to do all the thinking around here”, and then an unnamed servant speaks up. And that unnamed servant convinces King Jehoram to send and check anyway.

Four lepers and an unnamed servant bring salvation to an enormous city. It’s not the person, but the message that matters.

Unnamed people have played a big part in the history of God’s people – there was the unnamed preacher whose simple sermon was used by God in the conversion of Spurgeon, whose preaching was then used by God in the conversion of thousands. There was the unnamed preacher who was used by God in the conversion of John Owen, the mighty Puritan preacher whose writings and preaching secured the gospel from many attacks, and promoted truth in a dark age.

We’re not popular; we’re not on the town council; we’re not well known; our names aren’t mentioned by people when they speak of Letterkenny or Milford.

But I’m glad because when I read my Bible, I see that God uses the weak, and the foolish, the outcast, and the unnamed to bring good news of great joy to many.

Not only that but see the slightly different roles they play. The lepers are news bearers. They bring the good news, but it wasn’t enough that the good news was brought to the city. The role the servant played was vital too. He was a convincer.

Both news bearers and convincers are needed. You may be a news bearer or a convincer. It may be that you haven’t ever directly started a conversion about the gospel, but there is someone you know who has questions, and they ask you, and you answer, and by your answering you are seeking to convince them. And here we also see that God will provide convincers when his people speak. That’s an encouragement for us – we speak and people ignore us, and yet we don’t know who God will bring across their path.

A Reaction to Expect
When the good news comes to the King – he can’t believe it. It sounds too good to be true. This is not unbelief. This is disbelief. It is not a refusal to believe the news, but just that the good news is too good – there has to be some sort of catch

But here is a reaction we should expect. And it is one that we should seek to answer – “That’s why its called Good news, and not reasonable news.” “If sin is as bad as the Bible makes out, then we can’t do anything, and God has to do it all.”

A Vision to Pray for – v16
Also here is a vision to pray for:

“Then the people went out and plundered the camp of the Arameans. So a seah of flour sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley sold for a shekel, as the LORD had said.”

The people went out. They heard the news that God had provided for their needs and they responded. Isn’t that what we want?

We want the message to go out so convincingly, and for God the Holy Spirit to work so powerfully that we will see the people going out, going out to church to hear the gospel, going out to ask their Christian colleagues and friends where can they find spiritual food.

Oh friends this will not happen by our talking, but by God working. That doesn’t mean we don’t talk, but it means we pray and then talk.

Lets pray.

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