A Divided Mind - Judges 2
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Divided Mind - 04.02.2023
There once were two men who lived in a small village. And one day they got in a terrible dispute that they simply could not resolve. So they decided to talk to the town wise man. The first man went to the wise man’s home and told his version of what happened. When he had finished, the wise men said, “You are absolutely right.” The next night, the second man called on the wise man and told his side of the story. The wise man responded, “You’re absolutely right.” After the second man left, the wise man’s wife came out from around the corner. She scolded her husband. “Those two men told you two completely different stories and you told them BOTH they were absolutely right. That’s impossible - they can’t both be absolutely right.” The wise man calmly turned to his wife and said, “You’re absolutely right.”
Today we are continuing in our study of the Chronological bible, and I’ve got to tell you - I am so overjoyed to be jumping into this series. Now, if you’re a new face - hey me too - but if you’re just jumping in and you have no idea what I’m talking about, basically what’s going on is that - as a church - we are reading through the entire bible. We’ve got these chronological bible studies that we’re encouraging people to join all throughout the week, and there’s a reading plan and everything. Now you might be thinking, it’s April - it’s way too late to jump in. But that’s silly. If you want to sit in the shade, the best time to plant a tree would have been 30 years ago, but the second best time is right now. The best time to join the Bible study was back when it started, but the second best time is right now. You don’t need to play catch up - you can join us in our study anywhere along the way, and I promise - there’s so much good stuff for us to find in here today. Now I’m the new guy - we don’t know one another as pastor and congregation very well yet, but one thing you will learn very quickly is that I have a deep conviction that the word of God has incredible power to transform your life. My goal in this place is to teach you what this book says, because what it says will reveal the character and the person of God - and if you only knew how good God is, you will be drawn into transformation. I promise you, it will change your life.
Now, not only is today the end of the book of Joshua and the book of Judges in our chronological study - but it’s also Palm Sunday. Now most of you probably already know that story, I’m not going to spend much time on palm branches and donkeys this morning - but did you know, fun fact, did you know that Palm Sunday used to be called Irony Sunday? So here’s the thing - Palm Sunday is the day we celebrate and remember the moment Jesus entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. And the people cheered for him. The people were so excited about Jesus they take their cloaks and spread them on the ground, and they wave their palm branches and they’re cheering for Jesus, the Son of God, the glorious savior of the world. It was a big deal. BUT, five days later, the very same people who were cheering and waving palm branches for Jesus, those same people were part of the crowd that was calling for Jesus’ death. They turned on him, betrayed him. It was no longer “cool” to praise Jesus, and so they switched sides. Their praises were nothing but ash. When you take the symbol of their celebration and bring it through the fire, there’s almost nothing left. A tiny pile of dust. Did you know that’s where Pastors get the ashes for Ash Wednesday? We save the Palms, you know those little crosses we get? We burn the leftovers, makes a great big fire, but it leaves just the tiniest cup of ashes. Because when you know the whole story, the way the people worshipped him on Sunday, and condemned him on Friday - the cheers of Palm Sunday seem sort of hollow. So they would call it “irony Sunday.”
I poked my head into a few of the Bible studies this past week just to say hi to some folks, and one person asked me - what are we going to do about Palm Sunday? We’re studying Joshua and Judges, but we don’t want to ignore the church calendar and Palm Sunday and Easter and all that - but here’s one of the greatest things about God’s word - there are cycles and circles woven into the text. There are themes that echo through the generations from the old testament, all through the New Testament and even into our very lives that we live here today in Saginaw, Michigan. The book of Judges can be a Holy Week story, and Holy Week can be a story for our lives today.
So let’s dive in! Now, as you have gone through this series - if you’ve been with us from the beginning, one thing you’ve probably noticed is that there’s a TON of reading. Every week we’re flying through this text, and so you’ll find that we’re going to touch on the main themes, and we will zoom in on certain passages, we’ll get to know some characters and see how their story is woven into the tapestry that IS God’s story. But every week there’s going to be other places we will skim over. We’ll cover the major themes, and it’s incredibly valuable to read the Bible in a year - I just want you to realize from the get go that these are deep waters we are swimming in, and we just won’t have time to get to all of it this time through. The reading this past week started out in Joshua chapter 12. We’ve been following the nation of Israel, they went into Egypt and were in slavery for four hundred years, and then God brought them out of Egypt - like we talked about during communion. They travel with Moses in the desert, they scope out the promise land, and after Moses Joshua comes in and leads Israel on this conquest. And they get to chapter 12 and they’re almost done with the conquest bit. The rest of the book, the last twelve chapters is basically Joshua divvying up the spoils of conquest. Joshua was this incredible military leader, God was with him and he lead the people to success. He divides up the land and then he dies. And then we get to the book of Judges.
Now here’s the thing you need to understand about the book of judges - when Israel had Moses, or they had Joshua - they had a clear leader. They definitely made mistakes, they definitely drifted away from the truth, drifted away from doing what was right - but they had a leader to smack them upside the head and get them back on track. Moses and Joshua kept the people rooted in God’s truth. But when Joshua died, Israel dissolves into chaos. Actually Joshua was super worried about this. He knew something fundamental: if you don’t CHOOSE to follow God, you will drift away from God. He said at the end of the book of Joshua, in the last chapter, this is kind of like his deathbed conversation, chapter 24, verse 19, [read 19-24]. Joshua tells the people, “if you abandon God’s truth, it’s going to bring destruction in your life” And they reassure him - “oh no, we would never do that.” I just imagine Joshua just squinting at the crowd, “Guys I really, really mean it. If you don’t cling to God’s truth - you will drift away from God. You have chosen to serve the Lord.”
Fast forward to chapter two of Judges- this is where we’re going to spend out time today. Verse 8 is the death of Joshua. Verse 9 is the burial. Verse 10 Israel abandons God. [throw up your hands] Come on! It took all of ONE SENTENCE. The NEXT LINE Israel forgets what they had been taught. Listen to this. [read v.10], and this next sentence is key. [read v.11-12]. We’re going to come back to that phrase “the Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight” in a minute. But I want you to see that Israel had recently conquered the land, a place where they worshipped lots of false gods like this guy Baal. And even after conquering the land, they didn’t get rid of the false gods like they were supposed to. The images and the practices were all around them and it caused them to drift. The same thing happens in each of our lives - doesn’t it? Let me ask you, are there other things in this world that we can worship? Politicians, Movie Stars, favorite TikTok influencers, musicians - musicians make great false gods. We, as human beings, LOVE to worship. And the world loves to give us stuff to worship that’s not God. If you don’t decide, then you will drift. If you don’t commit yourself and say, “I’m only going to worship one thing with my life, and that one thing is the one true God” - if you don’t make that commitment the world is only all too happy to help you drift away from God.
Watch what happens - after Israel falls away, God turns them over to the consequences of their actions. Bad guys show up, they start losing battles, God is working against them - they get conquered by neighboring enemies. End of verse 15, “and the people were in great distress.” THEN, [read v.16]. Israel does dumb stuff. There are consequences. God raises up a judge to rescue them. And of course, the moment God saves them from the dumb stuff they did - they stay on the path of perfection forever and never make any mistakes ever again. Right? Of course not!! It finishes up, [read v.17-19]. The book of Judges is like the wild west. Just lawless and chaotic. Every man did whatever he thought was best in his own eyes. But what I want you to see is that in the midst of the chaos, there is a rhythm. There is a cycle going on here. Israel promises to be good. They fail spectacularly, and then there are consequences. And then God rescues them. Israel promises to be good again, and we start the cycle all over again.
Remember that phrase from back in verse 11? “The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight”? I did a quick bible search for that phrase, I wanted to see how often Israel messed up. SEVEN times in one book. They did evil in chapter 2, verse 11, and then chapter three verse 7, and then again fives verses later, and then in chapter 4 verse 1 and then chapter 6 verse one, 10 verse 6, and finally 13 verse 1. Cycles and circles, the rhythm of judges. But now hold on a moment - let’s bring this back to Holy Week, it IS Palm Sunday after all. Palm Sunday, the people of Israel promise to follow God, they promise to be good. Jesus we love you so much, we’re so excited to follow you - you’re the bestest best savior in the whole world and we will never betray you. Until Friday. When the crowds pull the people of Jerusalem in another direction and they drift away. And God has to rescue them. But even THAT gives us a false sense of comfort. It’s all well and good to poke fun at the people of judges - they lived 3,000 years ago after all. And Palm Sunday was 2,000 years ago. It’s not like they’re the same as us in the modern world. We would NEVER drift away from God - we’re too advanced for that. If you believe that I’ve got a bridge to sell you.
Here, let me show you something. Every story of every single life of every single person in this room starts out here. [hold out hand]. We call that creation. It’s the start of the story. And at some point in the story, we fall. We make a mistake, we drift, we get further away from God. Then there is a turning point. Where we reach the lowest low we can possibly go, and we shake ourselves like the prodigal son and we turn around and come back home to God. We call that redemption - that moment when God saves us from ourselves. Creation. Fall. Redemption. And if you live life long enough - it becomes a cycle. It repeats in our life, sometimes everyday of our life. Creation. Fall Redemption. See if you can figure out what I’m drawing in the air. [draw the heartbeat: Creation. Fall. Redemption.] It’s a heartbeat. Do you see it? This story is the heartbeat of the Christian life. It is the heartbeat of the human existence. I want to be so clear - the story of judges is the story of the holy week and the story of holy week is the story of each and every single one of our lives. If we do not make a decision to follow God, if we do not make a commitment to follow God’s truth - we will drift. We will be trapped in a never ending cycle of fallenness. We will be trapped in a world where everyone does whatever they think is right and there will be no truth, and if there is no truth there can be no justice. Like that wise man who tells everyone, “you are absolutely right” - even his wife.
BUT, I have incredible good news for you today. The good news this morning is that God leads us to truth. With no leadership, we drift towards self destruction. Without God we don’t drift naturally towards being good people. Nobody stumbles into self sacrificial love, nobody accidentally grows more Christ-like. Naturally we drift away from God, but with God’s leadership in our lives…if we commit to following his way, he can lead us to actual truth. And here’s something I want you to think about. The leadership of the world will always and forever be a band-aid. Think about Joshua, and how he tried to set them up for when he was gone. He tried to warn them about drifting, he tried to get things set up perfectly before he life - and it all fell apart. The Israelites did okay when they had a leader guiding them towards God. Under Moses, under Joshua, even under the Judges for a short time - the people were rescued. But every single time they fell back into this cycle of sin, the heartbeat of a broken world. And that can feel really hopeless. Like, it’s hard to enjoy that moment of rescue, that moment of redemption - if we’re terrified of the next moment we’re going to fall. It’s hard to enjoy Irony Sunday, Palm Sunday - when we know that Good Friday is coming. When bad things happen over and over, and it breaks our heart over and over it can make us cynical. And we start to lose hope. I think about the school shooting that happened this past week. My heart breaks a little bit every single time there is a mass shooting, and I’m not sure how many more pieces are left. In my life, there are things I vow I’m never going to do that again, I’m never going to make that mistake again - and then I do. Have you ever experienced that? When I think about the book of judges, and how quickly the Israelites fall back into the sin after they get rescued - I have to laugh at it. Because if I don’t chuckle, if I don’t roll my eyes and laugh at those silly Israelites falling and failing all over again - it would probably bring me to tears. The cycle of sin is the heartbeat of a broken world - and we are trapped in that cycle. Maybe I’m in a moment of celebration - it’s Palm Sunday, but Friday is coming and I’m going to fail again.
But here’s the secret - that heartbeat, where we repeat the fall over and over, that heartbeat needs to flatline. The old life with all it’s cycles of sin - it needs to die. We’re never going to self help our way out of sin. The cycles of sin in our lives are links in the chain that has us shackled to this world. And the only way to break those chains is to bury them in the grave with Jesus Christ. Friday is my failure. My sin, my old self will be pinned to the cross on Friday. It’s my failure, but it’s his victory. Our old nature dies, flatlines, to prepare us for next Sunday. God leads us to truth, and that truth is Jesus Christ. He does not offer us a small worldly redemption. He does not offer us a band-aid temporary fix it solution. Jesus offers us a new life, a new heartbeat, a redemption that breaks every chain, destroys the cycles of sin and oppression and gives us a brand new life. You are redeemed. And when I say that, I don’t mean that God forgives you for this one bad thing you did one time. I mean that Jesus knows all of who you are, all of what you have done and he offers you redemption because Jesus loves you. He’s going to take your sins to the cross on Friday, so that you can be born again on Sunday. Do you want a new life? Are you tired of the cycles of sin, the heartbeat of a broken world? Do you want something better? A new life, not designed in the shadow of brokenness - but created for a new heaven and a new earth. We don’t have to drift anymore, because God leads us to truth and that truth is Jesus. Jesus offers us a new life.
Alright, now this is my first sermon in front of you all - but you’ll realize pretty quickly I always ask two questions of the scripture. First - what does it teach us about God? What did we learn about God’s character? And second - what are we going to do about that? What does the text teach us about God, and what are we going to do with that? And so my challenge for each of you today, our response when we realize that God leads us to truth - my challenge for you is to cling to God’s truth. Cling to God’s leadership in your life. Find a firm foundation, because if you don’t declare God’s truth, you will deny it. What we have found is that forces of darkness don’t attack biblical truth. They don’t engage with the core teachings of Christianity - that God is there and God loves you, God offers you salvation through Jesus Christ, and if you believe in Jesus you will not perish but you will have eternal life - nobody argues with that. They don’t attack Christian truth, they attack the concept of truth. They say - well this is your truth, and this is my truth. But truth is not a hobby. It doesn’t come personalized in your favorite color with your name engraved on the cover. The book of Judges, one of the key phrases was, “and every man did what was right in his own eyes.” Everybody just did what they thought was best. They made up their own truth. And it led to a horrifying cycle of oppression and evil in a terrible season of Israel’s history. And the only way to break that cycle, to truly be set free is to declare God’s truth. In a world where everybody’s opinion is their own personal law and order - if you don’t cling to God’s truth - if you don’t declare it, you’ll end up denying it. In case we are at all unclear - God’s truth is that Jesus Christ is God’s son, savior of the world.
Are we familiar with that acronym? Jesus Christ, God’s son, savior. And in greek, if you take the first letter of each word - you get this word here (put up the picture). That says Ichthus. It means fish. It’s why the Jesus fish is one of our symbols. Jesus Christ, God’s son, savior. Cling to that truth. Declare that truth - so that we do not become like the crowds who said claimed Jesus on Sunday, and turned on him for the rest of the week. The core of authentic faith is declaring God’s truth in our lives every single day. If you want something better than the book of judges, better than Irony Sunday - then cling to God’s truth. Declare God’s truth.
Once upon a time, there were two men who had a disagreement. They approached a wise man. He told them what they wanted to hear, but he did not give them the truth. You see it in the book of judges. You see it in the crowds of palm Sunday. And you see it in our lives, every single day. But we are not chained to a life of drifting. We are not shackled to the cycles of sin and oppression. We in the church are given new life by clinging to the truth of Jesus. Let’s Pray.