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Saturday, November 24th 2012

2:00 PM

"Can You Drink The Cup?"

   By Pastor Bruce Sikes 




Our modern world is becoming increasingly fast paced with more people demanding instant results, instant cures, instant answers and “sound-bite” dialogues. In an effort to keep up, it seems that much of the modern Church is rushing in right behind them trying to provide people with “sound-bite” Christianity. What I mean is that there seems to be a great deal of selective Scripture quoting being done by many Christians these days in social media and elsewhere. Often the intent is to share a message of hope with everyone so they pick out a "positive sounding" verse or two from the Bible and pass it along without any further commentary. I certainly understand a Christian's desire to help lift up others and using the word of God is a great way to do it. I have and still do select certain passages to share with various people from time to time, yet we should always carefully consider how we handle the living Word of God.


 These are a couple examples of popular verses currently being passes around by Christians:


“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.“ (2 Chronicles 7:14)


“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  (Jeremiah 29:11)


They are profound verses and can be of great encouragement. However, no matter how positive the intent may be of sharing these and other verses, if we misuse them we will find ourselves doing a spiritual disservice to our audiences.  How can we misuse them? When we take them out of their larger context or we misapply them to the wrong situation or audience. 


Think about this: we are often very quick to condemn people who practice Scriptural legalism; that is, those who indiscriminately apply specific verses which speak against various sins and sinners in an all encompassing manner. On the other hand, rarely if ever do we criticize those who indiscriminately apply the blessings and promises of God to everyone in a likewise all encompassing manner. By failing to do so, our use and application of Scriptures can become very lopsided. We fall into the bad habit of selective Scripture quoting without realizing the potentially negative impact we are having on ourselves and others.


How can this happen, and why do Christians sometimes do this?


First, we naturally want to be seen as “the nice guy”, a Biblical Santa Claus if you will, the one who passes out the “positive sounding” Scripture verses to everyone. None of us wants to be the “bad” guy, the doctor who has to look the patient in the eye and say, “If you don’t change your lifestyle, stop your bad habits and take your medicine, you are going to die.” That’s too tough for us to say. We worry that we might hurt their feelings or make them angry so we skip difficult or convicting verses because we want everyone to like us. Above all we want to avoid being accused of judging. Ironically though, that is exactly what we find ourselves doing. Instead of “judging” anyone as guilty of sin, we do “judge” them as innocent when we share the blessings in Scripture indiscriminately and with impunity (meaning without any acknowledgment of penalty or price to be paid).  We get the proverbial cart before the horse and so we wind up going nowhere.


Secondly, when we trim off the hard bits of the Scriptures and tout only the victorious outcome, we can become guilty of false bravado, meaning we haven’t bothered to count the cost to ourselves or to God’s people in obtaining that victory.  Either that, or we think we will never have to pay, not really, and so we retreat into a mental safe place because of fear. We tell ourselves that God will likely raise up martyrs for that sort of thing and we hope we’re one of the lucky ones. That way, we can skirt through life in a bubble of God’s blessing with minimal pain. We have come to regard suffering for Christ as a curse rather than something that means being counted worthy enough to suffer.   


“But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed... If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name!” (1 Peter 4)


Thirdly, and perhaps the one we are most guilty of, is laziness. We don’t know our Bibles. We don’t spend time studying the Scriptures, not just reading them, but studying them, meditating on them, asking God to give us greater understanding of His Word. Most, yes I’m afraid it’s most of the people in our churches do not read the Bible outside of Sunday mornings if at all. Even that may just consist of reading along with the pastor as he reads his sermon text. That’s not studying your Bible. That’s being spoon fed small chopped up processed bites of food just like a baby. It’s willfully choosing to remain a baby Christian. It’s an adult who is still wearing his or her spiritual diapers when they should be putting on the armour of God. They should read what the Apostle Paul says about baby Christians in his letters to the churches in Corinth & Ephesus. They should, but will they?


However, it’s not just immature Christians who are guilty of the above. "Mature” and experienced believers can become tired and lax in handling Scripture and do so in a far too casual fashion without having considered its full consequences. Whatever the reason, no matter how well intended our handpicked positive verses may be, we can sometimes give our audiences an incomplete story and do them a great disservice.  Moreover, the danger is that we can sometimes find ourselves working counter- productively against God’s plan.


Take for example the in vogue verse below:


“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.“  (2 Chronicles 7:14)


This has become a very popular verse these days. It is being used by various churches and ministers and usually centers around times of prayer and fasting. Its use springs from two primary concerns: the fact that this world is moving farther and farther away from God, and the growing recognition by some within the Church of its need to confess that it has fallen short of God’s Holy standard.


Sadly, we frequently wait until things begin to spiral out of control before we get motivated enough to do something about them. This is often the sin of people who have been blessed with abundance and comfort, particularly those of us living in more affluent lands. Now more are beginning to sense that the luxury of time is running out.  


Humbling ourselves, praying, turning from our wicked ways, and seeking God as this verse suggests is a good and proper thing to do of course. But many times it seems the emphasis being placed on this verse by those proclaiming its message is on the sins of the land, that is the nation’s sins, the world’s sins, rather than the sins of God’s people. In this verse, God is asking us to repent and then He will heal the land. Can we honestly say that we have done that?  


True, healing of our land begins in our own homes with honest repentance. It means cleaning up your own personal life, your sins, your selfishness, your language, your pride. It means bringing unity, kindness, forgiveness and peace into your own family and into your own church. How do we expect to change the world for Christ if we ourselves have not changed first? Can we call upon God and point to our own life as an example of humility, prayer and repentance as reason enough for Him to heal our land?


The verse begins with the small two letter word “If”, yet it presents us with a very big challenge. Nevertheless, let’s say we have honestly done that, we’ve honestly repented and are genuinely seeking healing for our land. That’s great, but is it enough? How much more repentance do we still need, that is, collectively? You see, we are not alone in the land. We are but one small part of the whole body of Christ.  So, I’ll ask a rather straightforward question: What percentage of the Church has to repent before God heals our land? Is it only a simple majority of the Church, or will 50% be enough? Or, will a righteous few do?  Do we begin bargaining with God like Abraham did over Sodom and ask Him if only 50, 45, 40, 30, 20, or 10 righteous men living within the land is enough? How did that work out for Sodom & Gomorrah?


This is where some people will start to say, “That’s all up to God. He doesn’t do percentages. Even if one person repents He could heal the land!” And, I’d have to respond to them by saying yes, that’s all true. I’d also be tempted to ask them, “Are you the one?” Anyway…, the point is valid. God is Sovereign! He can do whatever He wants. He can even choose not to heal our land. It is our duty to repent regardless of what God does or doesn’t do for us, or the land in which we live.


As I said, we are not alone; there are many who comprise the body of Christ in our own particular land. God’s plan for His people involves more than what happens in our own individual lives, it also involves the lives of the entire body of Christ who live in our same land. In the same way, God’s plan for His people involves more than the body of Christ in our own lands. It concerns the body of Christ living in all the lands of the world.  We are one body. We cannot separate ourselves from the rest of the body wherever we may live. We are in this together!  God’s plan for us is much, much bigger and includes far more than we are often willing to consider when we ask God to bless us.


Take for example the Bible’s account of the mother of Zebedee’s sons who made a request of Jesus. Her sons were enthusiastically following the Lord and were taking part in His ministries. They had no doubt that they would be in heaven with Jesus someday. In fact, so positive were they of their future based on the goodness of God and His word as shown by Jesus, that they requested a special blessing from Him.  


(Matthew 20:20-23)

“The mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”


That is certainly a big request! It’s one that in our modern way of thinking we would never ask today. The reason isn’t because we have such a greater understanding of who God is; rather, it’s mainly because we’re too busy asking for earthly things. Our focus is on our lives in the here and now and we aren’t looking ahead to our future in eternity with the Lord.  We hear it all the time from popular preachers that God wants to bless us and give us health, wealth and peace in our time. Why? Because God loves us and He wants the best for us. This is all very good and true and is certainly a seeker friendly message. So what did Jesus say to the request from the mother for her sons?


His first response was, “You don’t know what you are asking,” (Matthew 20:22)


He goes on to explain that “…to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father,” (Matthew 20:23). Jesus is stating that God the Father is Sovereign and that His goodness and His desire to be good towards us is not to be taken for granted. It is the Lord who determines the type of blessings and to what degree we may receive them.


What’s more, Jesus clearly indicates that He has a plan. Those places, He says, “have been prepared” for others. God has different blessings for different people.


More sobering, Jesus asks them “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” (Matthew 20:22)


They were quick to answer just like we would be saying, “Yes, we can!”. Jesus then told them, “You will indeed drink from my cup…” (Matthew 20:23), and certainly they did. We know from the traditions of early Church history that all the apostles were brutally tortured and martyred for Christ.


Sometimes the path to receive God’s promised blessings can be very, very costly. It can bring us pain, suffering and even death. Perhaps we should include that sentence when we boldly proclaim those selective “positive” verses. We might do well to consider that when we quote this following popular verse also.


"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. “ (Jeremiah 29:11)


I can't help but wonder if those who so quickly proclaim this verse have actually read the entire chapter from wince it came? It is but one sentence pulled from a larger message which the Lord delivered via the prophet Jeremiah to the people of God who would be taken captive and exiled to Babylon. The Lord states He sent His own people into exile by raising up a foreign king to destroy their land of Judah. He promised to fulfill the above verse after they have been in captivity for 70 years. People rarely lived that long back then, so practically speaking anyone hearing this from Jeremiah would die in captivity and never see their land restored.  The physical reality of this promise was for their children and grandchildren. God was speaking to His people as a whole, as an entirety, not to just one group living in Judah or to an individual. The people at that time would have understood this. Most people in our time would not. We want our blessings and we want them now! Even so, understanding and accepting it are two different things. There were some who understood Jeremiah’s message but were unwilling to accept it. For example, a fellow prophet named Hananiah was also preaching a message like that of Jeremiah 29:11. He was promising hope and prosperity to the people and the restoration of their county without having to experience any Judgment from The Lord. (Jeremiah 28)    


However, in Jeremiahs’ message the Lord spoke against such phony "positive" preaching and continued by saying of those who did not accept His message:   


“I will pursue them with the sword, famine and plague and will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth, a curse and an object of horror, of scorn and reproach, among all the nations where I drive them.  For they have not listened to my words,” declares the Lord, “words that I sent to them again and again by my servants the prophets. And you exiles have not listened either,” declares the Lord. “  (Jeremiah 29:18-19)


You can see the dangers for everyone involved when we fail to consider ALL of God’s words, when we don’t share with them the full Word of God. They will be ill prepared to face the great difficulties that will come and ill equipped to share God's message with others. Jeremiah did share the full message from the Lord and persecuted and imprisoned by his own people as a result.    


Still, I know some people will say, “That was Old Testament. That was His plan for those people. That was before Jesus came. That was the God of “wrath“ back then. We have the God of “love” now.” Once again, those that say this simply don't know their scriptures.


Well, it's interesting that Jesus’ disciples asked Him about that and the Lord was quick to bridge our perceived gap between the “Old” and “New” Testaments. This is some of what He said as recorded in the Gospel of Luke:


 “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man.  People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.


 “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building.  But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.


 It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything.  Remember Lot’s wife!  Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:26-33)


Sadly, at this point some people will still say, “That is New Testament prophecy. That is God’s plan for those people at the End times. We don’t know when that will happen. Besides, Jesus loves us!” Then they will quote what they have been taught. Jeremiah 29:11 and say, “He has ‘plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future’“


Yes. Yes, Jesus loves us.  He loves us enough to tell us the whole story, the whole plan, the trials and tribulations we must go through and not merely the unmerited blessings God bestows on us here in our earthly lives. If our concern is always for the here and now, we will miss the big picture of what God is doing for all His people.  As believers we have the privilege, the honor, the duty to stand in the long line of God’s redeemed throughout the ages, from Noah to Abraham, from Moses to David, from Jeremiah to Paul, from the early Church saints to the martyrs of the Reformation, to the great missionaries, preachers and teachers of the past 300 years until now.  


None, none of them expected to receive the fulfillment of their promised blessings until they had been through many hardships according to God’s plan. They drank from the cup. They were persecuted, they suffered and many of them died in service to the Lord.  They did so in complete obedience, without fear, without worrying about receiving all the blessings they may have been “entitled” to in this life. Neither did they covet or pursue them while living their lives on this earth. They chose instead to gaze deep into God’s Word and longed to be in His presence through personal prayer and devotion. They chose obedience to God no matter where it led them or what it cost. They clung to the promise and hope of God’s future redemption and salvation for all His people at the end of the ages. Where, then and only then, will there be everlasting peace, where the Lord Himself will wipe away every tear and there will be no more pain, suffering or death. (Rev. 7 & 21)


Such was their trust in God, their faith which enabled them to fulfill their part in God’s plan for all of mankind. Like them we can lay claim to that same hope and promise of a great future with the Lord. And so like them we can count all our hardships as temporary and likewise any earthly blessings we may receive, for those too will pass away. The Lord has a much bigger plan for our lives. We have been called to be a part of the Body of Christ, the Living God who returns for His bride the Church. He has given us a great cloud of witnesses to be our examples along with the full and complete word of God and His Holy Spirit.   


That is why we may approach the Lord with the boldness of the sons of Zebedee; prophesy with the tenacity and authority of Jeremiah; and display the obedience and courage of Jesus who facing death on the cross said;


"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)  


Amen Lord Jesus, not our will but Yours!



For Christ and His Remnant,


Pastor Bruce 




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