From Covenant Agreement to Covenant Denial

Bible Readings

  • Matthew 13:18-23;
  • Judges 2:1-15

Introduction

My dear family of God,

My telephone rang.  The voice was of a young man who attended a camp I conducted some months prior.  At that camp, he made a commitment to serve and love the Lord.  He was serious about it as we prayed together.

But now there was hesitance in his voice.  “I need to talk to you.”

I assured him I was listening.  

“Things are not what they used to be.”  The fact that he called to trust me with spiritual concerns brought joy to my heart.  But this time there was no reason to share in his joy.

His voice was soft and trembling.  “I think I lost my faith,” he stuttered.

“Why would you say that?” I responded.

“The peace I had then is gone. I find no joy in serving the Lord. I sometimes wonder if He exists. I don’t think I am his child any longer.  It just happened over time.”

I required about his Bible reading, prayer, worship attendance and witness for the Lord.  “How are you keeping up with these things?”

“I stopped reading the Bible regularly, and I find it hard to pray,” was his reply.

“That’s your problem.  You cannot expect your spiritual life to show signs of growth if you are not drinking from the fresh stream of God’s Word every day.  You cannot expect to be spiritually on track if you don’t speak to God regularly. “

“I think you are right.  I stopped doing those things.  It’s not God; it’s me!”

God feels so far away!  Guess who moved away.

Repentance and commitment

The first steps we make in our spiritual walk with God are repentance and commitment.  We hear the Word of God calls us to Christ.  The Spirit of God awakes in us the desire to come and drink from the living water and our sins be washed away in the righteous blood of Christ.  We receive forgiveness of sins and grace of God, our guilt is taken away and we are set free. 

This is what happened in Joshua 24 when Joshua called the people to repentance and commitment to the Lord.  We looked at that last week.  Verse 23 of Joshua 24:  

“Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord God of Israel.” (Joshua 24:23, NKJV)

The people responded: 

“The Lord our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey!” (Joshua 24:24, NKJV)

My dear friend, have you come to that stage in your life?  You are put before your sin, your conscience declares you guilty, your sins bear down upon you, you know you stand in condemnation before God, trembling in the face of his holiness.  There is only one way to be saved:  to receive Christ and believe that his work through the cross and open grave is the only way to the Father.  Then, you bow in repentance.  You turn from your past life, commit yourself to the Lord for his service — and you walk free, forgiven, declared righteous by God and received as his child. The process of sanctification starts.

Christ came into the world to seek and to save the lost.  Trust Him, believe in Him, entrust your life to Him and follow Him.

A full 180-degree turn

God is not satisfied with a half-hearted conversion. 

The story of the Israelites in the promised land fills the landscape for us.  It seems as if chapter 1 of Judges describes the underlying problem for the charge in chapter 2: 

You have not obeyed My voice. Why have you done this? (Judges 2:2, NKJV)

What happened in chapter 1?  There is a theme.  They did not drive out the Canaanites.

The story continues with the tribe of Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, Naphtali and the others.  What reasons are given for this situation?  

The perceived strength of the enemy

The tribe of Judah had this excuse:  

So the Lord was with Judah. And they drove out the mountaineers, but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the lowland, because they had chariots of iron. (Judges 1:19, NKJV)

There is a problem with this translation.  If the Lord was with Judah to drive out those who lived in the hill country, why would He then be unable to stand up against their chariots?  The Hebrew text does no add the “could” and it is possible to just read, “they did not drive out the inhabitants of the lowland, because they [the Canaanites] had chariots of iron.”  

When Joshua was still alive, the people complained that the hill country was too small for them.  He then responded saying, “though the Canaanites have chariots fitted with iron and though they are strong, you can drive them out.” (Joshua 17:18, NIV) Then why could they not take the flat country? Is God’s presence cancelled by superior military technology? The tribe of Judah failed at this point because they lost sight of God’s power. What about the chariots of the Egyptians at the Rest Sea?  What about the military power of the Amorites the day God made the sun to stand still?

What about our adversaries?  What do we do when we face the apparently insurmountable opposition?  We really try to overcome, but we put it on the back burner to give it another shot one day; so, for the moment we give up.  This is most probably the first step in final defeat.

What Warren Wiersbe writes is so true:  

“The people of Israel owned all the land, but they didn’t possess all of it; and therefore they couldn’t enjoy all of it.” (Wiersbe, Warren W. 1994. Be available. [“Be” Commentary Series]. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.)

You know you are a child of God, but there are not many signs visible to demonstrate your walk with God, and the result is that you don’t worship Him with joy.

What happens next?

Trying to make your adversary your slave

If you can’t beat them, join them.  When our spiritual life becomes nothing more than a stumble-and-get-up affair we might try to pretend that failing is something that we just need to get used to.  “That’s life; we’re not perfect; it happens to everyone!”

How did this play out in the life of Israel?  Remember that they had been saved from the slavery of Egypt; they had occupied in the Promised Land; they have been children of the Covenant. They could go back to that stone which Joshua erected at the oak tree at Shechem, and once again regain strength in the knowledge that God is true to his promises to them, but they didn’t.  Listen, 

When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labour but never drove them out completely. (Judges 1:28, NIV)

This is not victory!  This is not what God intended for his people.  Yes, they were free to an extent, they called the shots and were in charge of their own land.  Labour became cheap.  And for the moment, it meant prosperity and a good life.  Maybe they thought that was even better that what God had in mind.  You sit on your verandah doing nothing, really enjoying the land God promised to your ancestors, only to watch your slaves doing your work.  What can be better than that? That’s “the life”!

Maybe this is the picture of the average Christian.  They go to church, they confess their sins, they attend Bible studies, they socialise with the right people, and they would never descend into the low life of those who hate God.

Yet, when it comes to the pressures facing every Christian, when it comes to the “love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength”, things begin to get a different colour.  Divided loyalty governs the heart and mind.  When it comes to serving the Lord with all talents, time, skills and money, the comfort of what it is reserved for the self becomes too attractive.  It is like those people in the parable of our Lord:  

The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Matthew 13:22, NIV)

Do we really trust the Lord in everything?  Do we really need to give all our desires to the Lord?  What do we do when we hear of missionaries and the poor who are doing it tough—do we really need to get out of my comfort, disown myself, step out and serve God by serving them.  Can we go back to last week’s verse from Luke 14:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26–27, NIV)

It so easy to rationalise about these things but let’s face it: our comfort and own security become our god.  We even harbour other little idols in the deep corners of our hearts because they might become handy in future.  

When God called John Paton to missionary service in the New Hebrides, a certain Mr Dickson warned Paton with these words, “They are cannibals.  You will be eaten by cannibals.  Having his eyes fixed on God, Paton replied, 

Mr Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.

What happens when one fully trusts God, gets rid of all the things one keeps for yourself and one’s own comfort?  Paton writes, 

In Fiji, 79,000 Cannibals have been brought under the influence of the Gospel; and 13,000 members of the Churches are professing to live and work for Jesus. In Samoa, 34,000 Cannibals have professed Christianity; and in nineteen years, its College has sent forth 206 Native teachers and evangelists. On our New Hebrides, more than 12,000 Cannibals have been brought to sit at the feet of Christ, … and 133 of the Natives have been trained and sent forth as teachers and preachers of the Gospel.

John Paton and the likes of Hudson Taylor, William Cary, David Livingstone and Jim Elliot took God on his promise, they trusted Him, followed Him, conquered in his Name and marched forward to extended the Promised Land of Christ into the darkest corners of the world.

How do we go?  What is our weak point?  Is it perhaps because we are in the world but also from this world?

The logical consequence 

Let’s follow the line of decline.  This first step is to see your adversaries as impossible victories.  The next step is to try to make your enemy subservient to you and in the process weaken your effectiveness.  The last step:  slip into the slavery and lifestyle of the world.  In the words of Judges 2: 

‘I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you.’ ” (Judges 2:3, NIV)

Who uttered these words?  God’s messenger, the one God gave his people to lead them out of captivity; he also fought for them (Exodus 14:19; 23:2-23, 33:2).  He also appeared to Joshua to strengthen him before he took up his role to lead the people into victory over their enemy (Joshua 5:15).  Was he a prefigurement of Jesus Christ?  Most probably.  

At first, this angel was going before them, but now he stands back. Why?  Verse 10 and 12 gives the answer: 

After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshipped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger (Judges 2:10, 12, NIV)

This is the consequence of disobedience and not trusting God:  one’s end is a lonely battle, it’s the realisation that you once had it, but through disobedience, you’ve lost it.  What once gave you joy, now frustrates and angers you.  Ecclesiastes warns, 

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”— (Ecclesiastes 12:1, NIV)

 Conclusion

My friend, let’s search our hearts before God.  Where do we stand? Have we perhaps moved from covenant obedience to covenant denial; from a true love for God to a lifeless, cold relationship with Him.  Or even maybe complete unbelief.  Even if it was lukewarm it would not be good enough in the eyes of God.

The words of Christ to the church of Ephesus comes as a warning:   

I hold this against you:  You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (Revelation 2:4–5, NIV)

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwarts on Sunday 14 July 2019

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