Judges 6 v18-40 Heavy Lifting When we read in the bible of people who do amazing things with miraculous power we might be tempted to think that it all seemed easy for them to operate in the miracle zone. Gideon’s Sacrifice (Judges 6 v19-24) Sacrifices can be costly. The account of the widow’s mite comes to mind (Luke 21 v1-4). Last time we talked about Gideon realigning his life with God – that was the point of this offering. When we reach out to God in a sacrificial way, God does something special. He sends fire! This isn’t just about money it’s about the orientation of our whole life towards the service of God and His kingdom. As Gideon pours out his offering, the angel touched it with the tip of the staff and the sacrifice is ignited! This is truly Holy Fire! So, we can make our sacrifice, but it is God who ignites it! Perhaps this period of ‘lockdown’ is a good time to reflect on our orientation towards God – whole hearted and complete. Tearing down (Judges 6 v25-32) Having made his own sacrifice, Gideon is now asked to do something scary, to go and tear down the altar to Baal and cut down the Ashera pole and make another sacrifice to the true and living God. This act was massively provocative. Gideon was, scared, so he did it at night. Heavy lifting indeed! What are the heavy lifting jobs that need to be done by the church today? Arguably the biggest challenge the church faces today is to proclaim Jesus as the only, the unique, the all-sufficient Lord of life. Why is this so difficult? Because it speaks to a deeply embedded part of our cultural life that values ‘tolerance’. I remember a colleague talking about a conversation he had when he went for a haircut. The young woman who was cutting his hair asked him what he did. “Oh, so you’re a vicar? Well, all religions are the same really aren’t they?” He replied “Well yes, you could say that, apart from Christianity has a unique God, the incarnation, different Holy Scriptures, and different world-view”. You get the point? The world around us wants to box Christianity in as being one of faiths all of which are equally valid. Christians don’t want to be intolerant and ‘non-conformists’ have a track record for upholding freedom of religious expression for all but that must include freedom to proclaim Jesus as the unique
saviour. (see Romans 1 v16) We experience an underlying, often unspoken cultural rule that it is ‘not allowed’ to speak of one faith as being truer than another. That’s intolerant! One way we can lift Jesus higher is to build a culture of invitation. You may not feel equipped to have the debate with your hairdresser, but you could extend an invitation to a church event - ‘Would you like to come with me?’ Heavy lifting? It’s part of the deal! Gathering an army (Judges 6 v33-40) The final ‘heavy lifting’ task that Gideon needed to attend to was to gather an army. With the trumpet he called the people to arms. The church is still in the business of calling people – not so much to ‘arms’ but to action. So who will respond? There are those of us who have already joined up! There are those brothers and sisters we can work together with in unity. Then there are those who are not yet Christians. People who are our friends, family and neighbours who will be part of the church of tomorrow! And what will be the call? Paul wrote (Romans 10 v14) “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Put simply – we have to let people know! Conclusion Gideon is still looking for reassurance so we come to the famous ‘fleece’. Many of you will have used the phrase ‘to put out a fleece’ to ask God for a sign that you’re on the right track. God understands our need for reassurance, and he is willing to give it. Things to take with us in the week ahead. · Let’s reorientate our lives towards the Lord and His purposes. This is our spiritual sacrifice (Rom 12 v1-2) Then let God add the fire! · We recognise that some things the Lord might ask us to get involved in are risky. Our biggest challenge is to lift Jesus higher. · We are in the business of gathering the people of God to serve together. Next time in the final reflection on Gideon’s life we will find that in God’s economy, small is beautiful.
Gideon argues with God.
Please read Judges 6 v13-17 Do you argue with God? Some of us don’t, but I guess most do. Having been led out of Egypt and slavery to the Promised Land, God’s people now found themselves in a lot of trouble. It just didn’t make sense!
Argument 1 – ‘Nothing makes any sense’. (V13) Gideon addresses the angel who had just called him ‘Mighty warrior’. In the bible angels represent God’s presence. “Pardon me, my lord but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Gideon remembers the miracles that led to the escape from Egypt. After all this the Lord seems to have abandoned them to Midian! Who can make sense of these current situations? Have you questioned God? ‘Lord, have you abandoned us to Coved-19?’ ‘When will you hear our cry for mercy?’ ‘What about the miracles our ancestors told us about?’ ‘Lord, we don’t understand!!!’ The Bible bears witness to the faithful who question God. “How long, O Lord?” (Psalm 13 v1-2). The writer of Ecclesiastes likenes seeking meaning to ‘chasing the wind’. Peter, when Jesus came to wash his feet says ‘No Lord’. During the Easter season surely the classic example is Thomas who will not believe until he sees the wounds of Christ for himself. Some people say that ‘Everything happens for a reason’ – but it’s not in the Bible! If evil is essentially unreasonable, bringing chaos, uncertainty and destruction, why would we expect evil to make sense or be ‘reasonable’? Gideon was grappling with the presence of evil coming at him in the shape of Midianite marauders. We are grappling with chaotic forces in the world too. A better question to ask is ‘Lord, what would you have me do?’, ‘How can I show your grace and love in these difficult days?’ God doesn’t answer Gideon’s question, instead God says ‘Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?’ It wasn’t the answer Gideon was looking for but God’s answer to Gideon was ‘I am sending you’.
Argument 2 – How can I make any difference? God’s word to Gideon doesn’t settle the argument. ‘What good will it do sending me? (v15) “My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
God’s answer was very straightforward – ‘I will be with you’ Simple; profound - and challenging.
If only I was stronger, more charismatic, ‘larger than life’. If only I were part of a more prestigious church – rich, powerful and well resourced. Then, maybe I’d be able to make a difference. Paul wrote: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1 Cor 1 v27)
Take heart! You can make a difference because Jesus is with you and, if you are a Christian, you are called by God. How? Start with what is in front of you. When this Covid-19 crisis is over there will be all kinds of opportunities for the church to grasp that may not have been evident before. Look around you – your neighbours, friends, local issues. That’s where you can make a difference first. Start with prayer and let prayer shape action.
Argument 3 – Is God really speaking to me? How often have we heard the voice of God speaking to us and then rationalised it away, thinking ‘God wouldn’t speak to me’ or ‘It was just my overactive imagination’ or we just let it slip away? We find Gideon testing the call of God on his life by asking for a sign. God really does speak to us through the bible, our circumstances, the wisdom of godly Christian friends and leaders, the Holy Spirit’s gifts (e.g. prophecy, in prayer, preaching or that ‘still small voice) Don’t ignore it!
P.S. – And God waited….for Gideon.
This is the most gracious and unexpected part of the account. As Gideon argues with God and questions his own calling, Gideon goes away to prepare an offering to God. I think we can see this as a kind of spiritual preparation – Gideon realigning his life with the Lord as he starts to meet the challenge ahead. The astonishing thing is that God chooses to wait for Gideon! How gracious is that? How patient that sovereign God can weave into His eternal plan some time for Gideon to take stock in worship, realign his life with God before moving on to the next adventure!
The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!
Please read Colossians 2 v13-15 I would like you today to focus on these words: “having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross”
Easter is bigger than the coronavirus!
How can this be so when there is so much upheaval? Never the less, I want to declare that the resurrection of Christ, is bigger than this or any other crisis. Howcome? It is not my claim – it is the claim of God in the Bible. The Risen Christ (Rev 21 v5) says “I am making everything new” and it starts with resurrection! Fear is real and, biblically, fear entered the world in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). Having disobeyed God, Adam and Eve become afraid of God. When God came looking for them, they were hiding and he asked what they were up to. Adam says “I heard you in the garden and I was afraid” (Gen 3 v10). But that’s only half the story! Later in Gen 3 there is a promise that the serpent, who tempted Adam and Eve, will be crushed and defeated by the woman’s offspring ‘he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’
This is the Bible’s way of showing how fear arises from the collapse of our relationship with God. Yet, in God’s heart there is a solution. The descendant of Eve (i.e. Jesus) will win out by ‘crushing the head’ of the enemy even as the enemy ‘strikes his heel’. This happens in the drama of the cross!
The Cross of Jesus
The cross is not a good look! Crosses are commonly worn as jewellery or perhaps a tattoo. But the cross is a horrible instrument of death and torture. From the perspective of Good Friday, it was the worst possible outcome for Jesus’ followers. They had put all their hope in Him and there he was – nailed to a Roman cross and bleeding and dying. Strikingly, Paul says that the cross was the battleground on which Jesus took on all the fear and darkness and evil, and ultimately, in a high risk act
DISARMED THE ENEMY (Col 2 v15)
In November 2019 Usman Khan attacked a prison reform conference in London. Two people were killed before others, risking their lives, overcame him and disarmed him. Jesus did something similar – taking on death and the devil on their home ground. It cost the eternal Son of God His life! Today, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus joyfully. A sure sign from God to the world that death has been defeated – but that the victory began on the cross as Jesus gave his life disarming the enemy! Victory through suffering. On Easter Sunday we celebrate the victory, the breakthrough of resurrection. At the start of this message I quoted the risen Jesus who said (Rev 21 v5) ‘I am making all things new’ and biblical Christian thinking insists that the day of resurrection is the turning point! The die is cast – nothing can turn back the tide of all things being made new! The victory came at the cost of Jesus’ suffering and becomes a model for Christian service. Why was the cross necessary? Paul says it was because of “the record of debt that stood against us and condemned us” (v14). Wouldn’t it be scary if other people could get into our minds and read all our deepest, darkest secrets? Well, the good news is that God does know us fully – even our worst traits and darkest thoughts. Gloriously He stands ready to forgive and renew us right now as part of His plan to ‘make all things new’.
Pray with me:
“Lord, this Easter as we find ourselves in this current health crisis, help us to face it with faith and courage. We believe that, on the cross, Jesus defeated the devil our enemy and disarmed him. We believe that Jesus rose again from the dead, and promises to make all things new. Jesus, please make me new today as I come to You in faith. I know the things in my life that need forgiving and being made new. Please forgive me because of all you accomplished through the cross. I now give myself to follow you, empowered by your Holy Spirit to be your hands, your feet, and your voice in the world. Come, Lord Jesus. Come and make all things new. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
Judges 6 v7-12 Living through a time of crisis – Gideon These are anxious days. The community that Gideon (Judges 6) was part of was also a community in ‘lock down’ under the Midianite bandits. Last time we looked at how Gideon and the Hebrew people started to react to the crisis – we found that the Spirit was still speaking to us through these ancient accounts. - The Coronavirus isn’t a curse sent by but it is part of the brokenness of the world that we all share in. - God has salvation on His heart, not condemnation. - Isolation, in our current time, is a selfless and godly thing to do. - To cry out to the Lord is a humble and right response to a crisis. Please read Judges 6 v7-12. “When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, He sent them a prophet” (Judges 6 v7) 1. God was not silent This prophet is not named and interestingly didn’t have something new to say. What the prophet actually did was to rehearse the wellworn story of the Israelites and God’s rescue of them… - I brought you up out of Egypt - Out of slavery – I snatched you from the Egyptians - I gave you a land - I said to you ‘I am the Lord your God, worship me and no other’ This was all familiar, nothing new but the hammer blow comes in v10 -“BUT YOU HAVE NOT LISTENED TO ME”. This is a time for listening to God! It’s worth pausing for a moment and asking what prophecy is in the Christian era? That’s a big topic, but just a couple of points. - Prophecy is an expression of what God is saying at a particular time, at particular times. - Prophecy is not like scripture (God’s Word to his people at all times and in all places) but is what the Spirit seems to be saying to the church and through the church at this time and in these circumstances. - Prophecy needs to be checked out in the light of the bible (1 Thess 5 v21 “Test all things; hold fast what is good”) Scripture itself is often the bedrock of what God is saying. Part of the role for the church today is to be God’s mouthpiece and, like that prophet, what the church has to say will be the well-worn; God given message of Jesus. The voice of the church will challenge injustice, call out prejudice and racism, stand up for the weakest, voiceless and those at the margins of society. Yet the prophetic voice of the church is overwhelmingly good news. In Judges the prophet says ‘I brought you up out of Egypt’: Jesus says, ‘I have given you a way out of your sin and brokenness’ (Atonement – at-one-ment) The prophet said ‘I snatched you from slavery in Egypt’: Jesus says ‘I have come to set you free’. The prophet said ‘I gave you the promised land’: Jesus says ‘I will be with you always’ and ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand’. The prophet said ‘I am the Lord your God worship only me’. Jesus says ‘Come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest’ and He says ‘Follow me - build your life on the rock’ You see? The essence of the Good News is that on the cross Jesus bore our sin and brokenness. When perfection (holiness) is out of reach, Jesus offers us a way to fix our relationship with God by receiving His gift of forgiveness and starting a whole new life (the Christian life). The
bible puts it like this: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5 v21 The way in which we communicate this good news will change, but the message is the same. While we can’t meet due to the Covid-19 epidemic, Christians are finding all kinds of ways to stay connected to God and to one another. - Online worship - YouTube Channels - Zoom - Facebook live - The humble telephone - Writing cards and letters Last week a number my extended family used an online app for a family quiz! This current crisis will create all kinds of opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus’ love for a broken world - the prophetic voice of the church. How might you make good news known? In acts of kindness; not being ashamed of leaning into your faith; trusting God in new ways and letting people know you do; offering to pray for people Christians and those who don’t share our faith. Being ready to explain the essence of the Good News in just a few words. So, someone asks you – “How can you believe in a God of love at a time like this?” What might you say? Something like..… - The bible shows us that God created a good world and that ‘God is love’. Humankind has messed it up and we now struggle in a world that is broken (like this Coved-19 disease) - Jesus being born into the world is a sign to us that God has not abandoned the human race. - When I believed, I trusted that what Jesus paid, through His ordeal on the cross, was enough to set me free, to bring complete forgiveness and open the door to eternal life. - Now I don’t want to die soon, but I now trust that even death can’t separate me from the Love of God. So, you see, even though I am afraid sometimes and I face the same dangers and problems as everyone else, I have this relationship with God that helps me to be anchored and firm in this uncertain thing we call life. The great thing is that this faith can be just as much yours as it is mine. It’s just a prayer away”. You might ask your friend “Does that help? I expect you have a million questions”. You might have an opportunity to tell the story of how you came to believe or what God has been doing in your life recently or prayers that have been answered. This is how the voice of God gets out! Through you and me in the real conversations we have in our ordinary daily lives. 2. Mighty warrior. Gideon is the hero of the account, but he isn’t a very convincing hero. We find him (Judges 6 v11) threshing wheat in a wine press to keep it from the Midianites God is still calling reluctant heroes – you and me. “The Lord is with you mighty warrior”. Here’s the key Immanuel - One word meaning ‘God with us’. If Jesus is with us, all kinds of possibilities open up for us to be God’s mighty warriors. Being consistent in prayer - Be kinder - More forgiving (especially those you live with?) - A servant heart - Practical help for a neighbour in need There are many Christians working in the NHS today alongside their colleagues doing vital jobs. Christians bring with them something of the resources of heaven to bear on the task and so can we all in whatever we do. What encouragement can we take from the Gideon account? - The voice of God will not be silenced and we are His mouthpiece. - The good news of Jesus doesn’t change, but the way we share will be different. - God is still calling reluctant warriors!
Over the next few messages, we are going to consider the life and example of Gideon (a ‘Judge’ in the book of Judges in the bible). I believe the Sprit has things to say to the church through this part of the bible. Sure, there are many things that were different then. It was an ancient world, the threat was primarily a political and military one, not a medical threat. Yet there are some striking parallels. Today we are grappling with the impact of a global pandemic, the coronavirus (Covid-19). Nothing this big has impacted the world in my lifetime. You and I may feel powerless and swept along at fast pace by the changing shape of the threat. One week everything was relatively normal – shopping, going to work, leisure activities and, for Christians, attending church. A few days on and the world has changed and many of us are in ‘lock-down’ not really knowing what the next few weeks will bring but seeing from our near neighbours in Italy and Spain, that people will be ill and some will die and normal life will be disrupted. What is our Christian response? - Please read Judges 6 v1-6 The book of Judges in the bible deals with a period of time after the Hebrew people entered the ‘Promised Land’ of Israel under the leadership of Moses and then Joshua and before the monarchy was established. During this time there were a series of ‘Judges’ whose role was to protect the people from themselves (i.e. their sin) and from outsiders (foreign ‘raiders’) We pick up the account at Judges 6 v1 where it is reported that the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and that for seven years, the people were subject to the attacks and threats of the Midianites. Is Coronavirus a judgement from God? So, should we see this pandemic as some kind of judgement from God? For some people this will be a ridiculous question, while for others it will be an uncomfortable question that is hard to ask but deserves an answer. The big picture is that we live in a fractured world where things go wrong, people suffer and there is uncertainty and fear. That’s the world Gideon inhabited and so do you and I! The account of Adam and Eve in the bible is there to articulate the brokenness of the world (that’s a message all of its own, so just a few words here). You see, the drama of Adam and Eve is our drama too. Their story is our story. We too, have rebelled against God’s perfect purposes and it has consequences. Plastic is no longer in the news. Think of it though; the selfish, thoughtless use of plastics over decades has had a huge impact on the well-being of this planet. It’s not too hard to see how human sin has far-reaching, even cosmic implications. In one sense, yes, the coronavirus is an outworking of the brokenness of the world we live in. We are all part of the problem – but here’s the great thing, God wants us all (you & me) to part of the solution just as He planned for Gideon to be the right person in the right place at the right time. The Enemy. The enemy is described (Judges 6 v2) as ‘oppressive’. Later in the account (Judges 6 v5; 7 v12) the enemies are described as being
‘thick like locusts’ and it wasn’t possible to count the camels let alone the enemy troops! For us today the ‘enemy’ is invisible and innumerable. A virus is a tiny life-form but when it infects a person with no immunity, it reproduces, disrupts our biology and can have a serious impact on our health until our immune system kicks in and our bodies can fight off the viral invasion. Can you see the parallel? The Isolation The initial reaction of the people (including Gideon) was to isolate. Now, there’s a word that’s come into its own recently! Judges 6 v2 describes how people prepared hiding places in the mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. This was a sensible thing to do! There is no hint of criticism in the biblical text that people hid and isolated themselves. I am finding social isolation difficult. It’s playing with my mind, and I am sure many others feel the same. On reflection, if the statistics are right, and for 8 out of 10 people Covid-19 is a mild illness, the disruption of isolation is something that the many are doing for the few who are most vulnerable. If we can slow the spread of the illness, fewer people will be ill at the same time and so medical resources will be available to care for those who are most acutely ill. This is essentially a selfless act and therefore, Christ-like. - Let’s do this and do it well! Someone shared on social media that “Your grandparents were called to fight in two world wars. You’re being called to wash your hands, stay at home and sit on the couch. Let’s not mess this up!” The devastation Back to Gideon and we find that the fact that God was around didn’t stop bad things happening. The Midianites, Amalekites and other raiders destroyed crops, killed livestock, invaded the land and ravaged it. It was comprehensive devastation – So, where was God? With social isolation, businesses are being hit, family life and education disrupted and mental health is a concern. It’s looking as though big sporting events will be postponed – even the Olympic Games. - Yet, we are not abandoned by God. Last Sunday evening (22nd March) Christians nationally were encouraged to participate in a day of prayer and action and to place lighted candles in windows as a sign of prayer and of God’s love. The gentle glow of tens of thousands of candles across the land are a reassuring sign that, although many have concluded that Christianity is, at best, an out-dated illusion, there is a root of Christian faith that runs deep in the communities where we live. God has not abandoned us and part of our Christian task, as we experience the same devastation as everyone else, is to be like those candles, bringing a non-anxious presence of faith to those around us. The Cry of the People. Finally today, we come to Judges 6 v6. The Israelites “cried out to the Lord for help”. I quite like watching ‘Have I God News For You’ the BBC satirical news quiz, if for no other reason than it’s a way for catching up with the missed news in an entertaining way. Very often, after a question has been answered, the host will declare “….is the right answer”. Well, that’s my reaction to this part of the story. What can people to in the face of such devastation? How can we fix it? (If we can). What can I, an ordinary citizen do? Cry out to the Lord ……is the right answer. Was it in desperation? Yes. Was it a knee-jerk reaction to the crisis? Probably. Did that cry represent unfailing faith that everything would be ok in the end? I doubt it.
A cry to the Lord is a cry from the heart, a cry of desperation. It’s where faith and doubt mingle uncomfortably. It is a cry that says ‘God please help us’ yet cannot see where God is or what he is doing. Perhaps this is where we are right now? There are other chapters of our current dramatic crisis yet to be written. I believe we will come out on the other side of this pandemic better placed to see where God has been present. Church historians have noted that following other serious plagues, epidemics and crises, there has been an upturn in Christian faith and Church attendance. I don’t have any details but I get the point. It might take something like this, which is out of our control, to renew a healthy sense of our humility before God. Part of our witness of faith is to model that humility. What can we take from this? · God is not in the business of condemnation. Jesus shows us that salvation that is on his mind · The enemy is real, but God has not gone away. · To isolate is not to lack faith. Taking sensible precautions is a right thing to do and a service to others. · Crying out to the Lord is a humble and godly cry. Next time we will see how it was that God spoke to Gideon, an ordinary farmer, and calls him ‘mighty warrior’.