Earthly and Heavenly Homes
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 15 March 2003
The hobby of the ancient Athenians was to recount or to learn some new thing (Ac.17:21). Being up-to-date was more important than knowing the truth. Athens attracted people from all over the civilised world around the Mediterranean: anyone who wanted an academic reputation visited Athens and joined in the latest philosophical speculations. Indeed, that was still true in New Testament times as we know from the Acts of the Apostles. You will remember that it was on Mars Hill in Athens that the apostle Paul made his declaration on eternal truth (Ac.17:16-34).
Sadly, nothing seems to have changed much in 2,000 years. The tendency to discard authoritative, revealed, eternal truth in favour of some enticing new philosophy is no less evident today than it was when Paul had to stand against the Athenian philosophers. In fact, the last century saw an unprecedented flood of new philosophies, new religions, and new creeds. As Paul prophesied, the time has come when men will not endure sound doctrine but after their own lusts they heap to themselves teachers because they have itching ears (2 Tim.4:3). "Let's be modern. Let's be up-to-date. Let's be on the newest bandwagon". These have been the cries of the spiritually listless and rebellious since time immemorial. It is, no less, the cry of the carnal man who has either lost, or never found, his true spiritual centre.
The biggest upheaval that took place in modern times in the spiritual realm was undoubtedly the so-called 'moral revolution' of the 1960's. That was 40 years ago. At that time there was a general revolt by youth against the status quo in Western Society. To be sure, some of their grievances were legitimate but as is often the case in any movement for change, the radicals usually ride on the backs of the moderates and transform a benign instrument for change into an army bent on violent revolution, anarchy and destruction.
In three days' time we once again celebrate Purim, the Festival of Lots. And although it is not a mandatory festival in the sacred calendar of our Heavenly Father, I do feel it serves many useful purposes in reminding us of the dangers we can fall into if we reject the offer of salvation that Christ brings us, or wander out of it through carelessness or sin.
Purim is the story of the dangers of homelessness. It's about the risks that face us when we don't belong where we are. It's about the necessity of taking drastic action when our very existence becomes threatened. "Home, sweet home" and "There's no place like home" are words that most of us have heard in song or seen on placards on the walls of our living rooms.
Every human being needs to belong somewhere, and we learn about belonging as we grow up in home life. Though I have lived in many places in my life, there have only been two that I have ever really considered to be 'home'. The first were my childhood homes in Malaysia and England, and the second were my adult homes in Norway and Sweden. Between those times I lived in various rented accommodations, but they were never really mine. There was always the danger of having to move on because either the rent was too high or the landlord wanted the accommodation for something else.
Home is a kind of anchor for the soul. It doesn't really matter where it is so long as it's where you're supposed to be. As one who has lived in several countries I have often wondered what home really is, and I have concluded that it's not where one was born that matters, or where one grew up, or where happy memories reside - for disaster can strike a family home and the happy memories can turn into sorrowful ones - but what one is inside.
The Jews in Persia were not at home. They were in exile in a foreign land amongst people who had strange religious and social customs. Life was difficult. There were enemies around them who sought their harm. They had no army or police force of their own and were subject to the whims of a pagan king. No-one could have predicted that an Amalekite in the form of a man called Haman, one of Israel's mortal enemies, would assume a position of power and threaten the existence of the whole Tribe of Judah. Yes, they had their own houses but they were not in a land under the protection and blessing of Yahweh. And whilst they were there, they came under the subtle influence of pagan ideas. The people they interacted with quite naturally altered their perceptions and behaviour even though they took great efforts to maintain a separate tradition and religion. They had their homes but they were not 'home' - they were in a foreign land which was defiled.
Under such circumstances nationalism finds a breeding ground. When you are away from your homeland you do, of course, very often come to regard your former home as being a place where the grass is much greener than where you are. Some of us here miss England, Norway, and other countries we have come from. The sense of what the Germans call heimat is strong because we feel attached to the soil, our own language, our customs and traditions. There have been times in the past when I have been homesick, having now lived away from my homeland for one-and-a-half decades. I belong to that class of people known as 'expatriates'. And while you are away, your homeland changes. Things are never static. When the Jews eventually returned from exile they found a country in ruins and very different from the paradise they had envisioned from the glorious past. And they soon realised that rebuilding what they had lost because of apostasy and rebellion against Yahweh's Torah was not going to be easy. Indeed, not everybody went back. Some stayed behind in the Persian empire and their descendants are still there today.
Purim is the story of the survival of a nation and of the attempt by Satan to exterminate it and the Messianic seed that it contained. We celebrate the survival of these Judahites and hail a brave woman who sacrificed a godly home life to marry a pagan king and thus become instrumental in undoing the plot of Haman. We look back and we applaud. We look back and we say to ourselves: "A job well done". And we thank Yahweh for intervening. Many of us may at the time look back in our own lives as unbelievers, or perhaps disciples who had strayed from the truth, and thank Yahweh that He brought us home to Him.
Israel as a nation has, sadly, had to be rescued more than one time. Too many times, in fact. And each time there was a crisis its roots were usually traced back to some disobedient or faithless act of the people. The Israelites were given great promises, not just in the spiritual sphere, but in the physical one too, if they were faithful to their covenants. There history is full of miracles but also tragedy. And when things started going wrong on their home territory, the righteous must sometimes have wondered if Israel or Judah really was still 'home'. And some of them may possibly have just wanted to get out, especially as they watched their compatriots descend into spiritual and moral degradation.
I mentioned earlier that I really regarded my true homes as being those of my parents' and those which I owned, or own, in Norway and Sweden. But there have been times when even these have felt uninviting and the urge to pack and leave has been strong. Bad health, domestic misfortune, and economic problems can all lead one to wonder whether home really is 'home' anymore. This must have been true for Israelites in Israel as much as for the exiled Israelites in Assyria or the exiled Jews in Babylonia and subsequently Persia. Sometimes planet Earth can even seem as a very hostile and lonely place and at such times our thoughts often turn towards a better world beyond. Some people even commit suicide thinking, quite wrongly, that departing this sphere will automatically assure them of a better life 'over there'.
The secret of contentment has always been, and will always be, what you have within yourself. There are many people who just can't stay put. They are restless and have to keep on the move all the time. They change addresses so often that you can lose contact with them. I knew a man who got baptised in all the churches and denominations in his home town to assure himself that one of them might be the spiritual home he was looking for. We often blame our environment, the place we are at, the people we know, economic conditions, and other things, for our own inner restlessness. When we are restless and cannot find contentment it is often because we don't know who we are, and are searching for an identity in terms of other people and places. When people lose touch with God then they are forced by the laws of internal spiritual physics to choose a substitute. These can be our country, a philosophy, a hobby, marriage, friends, or any one or collection of many different things. As our country descends into lawlessness, as we find gaping holes in our philosophy, as we grow tired of our hobbies, as we realise our marriage and friends cannot fulfil deep spiritual longings, so we once again feel restless and are consumed by the nomadic gypsy spirit.
We come to realise as we get older that nothing in this world is permanent. Countries, people, philosophies, and circumstances change. And it's at such times that one starts to wonder if perhaps there isn't something more fundamental that is missing in life, and whether, in fact, 'home' is not what we imagined it to be.
To their great credit, and in spite of the subtle osmosis of change causes by living in a pagan country, the Jewish exiles clung on to their faith and observed as much of Torah as they could. It was that faith which consistently sustained them, it was what enabled them to maintain a national cohesiveness, and it was what enabled them to start again when finally they did return to Judea. They had authoritative, revealed, and eternal truth from the Creator of the Universe. What they had was stable and enduring because it was the truth. This same unchangeable truth has been passed down to us. And whilst the ceremonial Torah has passed into history, the same moral and ethical Torah, along with the same Sabbath, the same Festivals, and the same national Isaraelite identity has been passed down to us too. Yes, Christians have rejected these things over the centuries and we have been witness to all the changing creeds and traditions, which continue to multiply uncontrolled, and which sow ever more confusion in people's minds. Their day was bound to end, and is already beginning to end as I speak to you. For Yahweh's people - those who acknowledge Yah'shua (Jesus) as the Messiah (Christ) - are again returning to the old established, unchanging and eternal truths of Torah and are at last finding rest.
We are none of us here assembled in our true homeland. We are all exiles, in a way. Even our patriarchal fathers and those who lived in the Promised Land - all of them knew that they were not yet 'home'. Paul, speaking of our forefathers, wrote to the Hebrews saying:
"These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them" (Heb.11:13-16, NKJV).
You see, our home is not Bergen, Eidsland, Oxford, Cranleigh, Oslo, Frogn, Hurdal, Moss, Arvika, or anywhere else that we may call home, or may have called home. These are all transient places. And one day they will not exist anymore. And yet we feel such strong attachments to them sometimes, don't we? I remember, for instance, feeling such dismay when I returned to my old school, where I had lived for many years and which had become a kind of 'home' to me, and hardly being able to recognise any of it because they had rebuilt most of it. I wanted to so much go back to it and say: "Yes, yes, this is where I felt or experienced happiness or misery," but it was all gone. What I was seeking was an escape - an escape to the past, and you can never to that. The past is dead, and everything physically connected with it. In the physical realm the only reality is the present, and even that will quickly disappear into the past. Already half this sermon is history.
Happiness comes when we discover the heavenly country within. Yah'shua (Jesus) understood so well our attachment to our surroundings, be it the land we grew up on or the people we knew and loved and lived amongst, but insisted that we needed to shift our focus to that which is everlasting and which will not suddenly disappear. We read:
"Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, "The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, 'See here!' or 'See there!' For indeed, the kingdom of God is within (and amongst) you." Then He said to the disciples, "The days will come when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, 'Look here!' or 'Look there!' Do not go after them or follow them. For as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in His day" (Luke 17:20-25, NKJV).
The Jews in Queen Esther's day longed for home. They sang about Jerusalem, the temple, their farms, and all they had lost. And doubtless they remembered the slain. We know that a visible, millennial kingdom is coming, and that it will be glorious and will be eagerly desired by the righteous. And yet, if you don't have that Kingdom within you first, how will you desire it? If the only Kingdom within you is the place you were born or the place you once lived in, it will simply be a shadow that casts its pall over you and then disappears.
The Jews did get back to their Promised Land. But you will remember a sermon I gave you a few weeks ago about the terrible struggles they had there when nothing seemed to work even though they gave their all. In the end, they were ready to give up. The land is not the solution. The people aren't the solution. Hard work isn't the solution. Living a pure life isn't the solution - even though many of these things are important. The solution is simplicity itself.
Yahweh has spoken to man. You don't have to be a prophet or seer to know what He has said because you can read it here in your Bible. He has called us to love Him with every aspect of our mind and personality, and pleads with us to be transformed by the renewal of our minds and personality so that we may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Rom.12:2). We are invited to be fully persuaded - each one of us in our own mind (Rom.14:5). His Word plays no psychological tricks on us but requires us to have a reason for the hope that is within us (1 Pet.3:15), so that we can earnestly and enthusiastically contend for the faith (Jude 3). Yah'shua (Jesus) was sad when His disciples were without understanding (Mt.15:16; 16:9-11). We are warned against worldly wisdom which is without everlasting substance and are invited to seek the true wisdom what comes from the preaching of the cross (1 Cor.1:17). We must continually be alert to distinguish between the wisdom of man (1 Cor.2:5) and the wisdom of God (v.7) which is revealed to us by His Ruach (Spirit) (v.10). It is only with the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) that we can receive and speak the Word of God with Yahweh's wisdom and with the mind of Christ (vv.6,12-16). And we must use the Bible as a means to discern the thoughts of the mind and heart (Heb.4:12). A person who neglects his Bible is going to inevitably slip into error and by simple osmosis absorb the world's ways.
Now I do have to make one qualification: in making a strong contrast between the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of Yahweh (Is.55:8; 1 Cor.3:19-21) the Bible is not calling on us to abandon or distrust our intellects or to despise understanding, but rather to "take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Cor.10:5). And therefore I do not consider any of my non-biblical education as a biochemist and systems analyst, for instance, to have been in vain.
As believers we are commanded to think (Phil.4:8). Paul always wanted his converts to be filled with wisdom and spiritual understanding (Col.1:9). He had nothing good to say about those who "know nothing" (1 Tim.6:4) or for "corrupt minds" (v.5) or for a defiled mind and conscience (Tit.1:15). He said that Yahweh gives the believer a sound mind (2 Tim.1:7). God-centred meditation is commended by many Bible writers (Ps.19:14; 1:1; 63:5-6; Josh.1:8, etc.). And the importance of wisdom is stressed by Solomon at great length (Prov.1:20-9:18, etc.) but the same writer is fully aware of the vanity of human reason when it stands apart from the fear of Yahweh (Eccl.1:13-18). He knows only too well the limitations of reason (7:16-17).
The warnings in Scripture are only given to those who have understanding (Rev.13:18; 17:9) because it will be meaningless to the rest (Rev.13:18; 17:9). The perversion of the mind is a sin; perverted wisdom perverts the whole man (Is.47:10; Ge.6:6; Jer.17:9; Rom.1:21). The effects of this perversion cannot be countered by turning to some other part of man for salvation as many false religions teach. No. The only way is to turn to Yahweh-Elohim. And Yahweh's way is to save, sanctify, and help the whole man, including our understanding, and to rescue the mind from its perversion by sin (Dan.2:21; 9:22-23; 10:11,14; Is.1:18; 29:24; 32:4; 41:20-21; Jer.3:15) and to give us the mind of Christ (Phil.2:5). Samuel reasoned with the people (1 Sam.12:7). So did Paul (Ac.18:19; 19:9; 28:23). The Queen of Sheba came to prove Solomon with hard questions (1 Ki.10:1). Job pleaded, "Hear now my reasoning" (Job 13:6). Daniel was wise (Dan.1:4).
We, in our turn, are challenged to be wise (Ps.94:8; Jer.9:12). Yah'shua says, "Hear and understand" (Mt.15:10). Men of God pray for understanding (Ps.119:27,34,73). Without understanding, we must inevitably fall (Hos.4:14).
Brethren and sisters, the Truth is absolute. When it is fully known it can be stated in exact and dogmatic terms like "2+2=4". A dogmatic truth excludes the possibility of contradictory truths. If 2+2=4 it cannot be true that 2+2=5 or any number other than 4 - not even 4.0001 or 3.9999. Not all truth is ascertainable with the exactness of mathematical proposition, but it is our duty to discern truth from error and to treat truth, once discerned, as being dogmatic. Thus we can say dogmatically that Yah'shua (Jesus) is Elohim (God). We can say that He alone amongst men was "the Way, the Truth, and the Life". And we can say that Yahweh-Elohim is the only true Eloah (God), the Creator, and that there are none besides Him. We can say that His Torah is truth and that not one jot or tittle of it is going to pass away so that we can't say He has changed His rules. These are dogmas and they are truth.
The Jews found themselves in Persia and facing extermination only because false prophets had led them astray before they were sent into exile. False teachers then, as today, destroyed their faith in reason, intellect, logic and dogma. Then, as today, they tried to limit the area of operation of the materialistic and mechanistic, by denying the truth of visible things and realities. Then, as today, they tried to tell the people that they didn't have to worry about Torah, about Yahweh's Law. Then, as today, they told the people to "modernise" and to throw out the dogmas of the past. Then, as today, they tried to water down the truth by saying that "God is Love and Mercy" whilst removing the parallel balancing truth that "God is Law and Justice". Today people believe in a wishy-washy 'Jesus' who allows you to do whatever you want so long as you have 'loving feelings' in your heart. Today we are told not to worry about intellect but to simply 'follow your feelings'. We are, they say, to follow our intuitions even if we do not understand or know what their sources are.
The truth is, though, we are not supposed to wander around with empty heads and uncritical minds. There is nothing wrong in asking honest questions, and Yahweh encourages this. We are commanded to be no more children, tossed to and fro and carried away by every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive. We are not to walk in emptiness of mind, having our understandings darkened. We are rather to be renewed in the Ruach (Spirit) of the mind (Eph.4:14,18,23). And if we lack wisdom, we are to ask Yahweh in prayer (Jas.1:5) so that we are not left deceived, double-minded, undecided, and sitting on the fence.
Now if the Jews had done these things by adhering to Yahweh's commandments, they never would have found themselves in Persia and their whole existence threatened by a revenge-filled Amalekite called Haman. They would not only have been at home with God, in His peace, but they would have been in their own homes and farms living in peace and contentment. We must not, as one writer puts it, be "confused by 'God-words'" - that is, humanism that uses religious terminology to conceal a form of atheism. Instead, we must turn away from vain philosophy and once more talk to our Creator in prayer and learn of His mind by studying His Word.
As of the first week of April I am going to stop preaching to you from this pulpit for a few months. Instead, I am going to give you Bible lessons to read beforehand so that we can study and discuss the essential truths of the faith. This congregation will become the guinea-pig, as it were, for the third and heavily revised and expanded edition of my series, Foundational Studies of the Bible, which, when we have finished it, will be published as a book. And I believe the whole Church world-wide will be blessed by it. Amen.
This page was created on 14 March 2003
Last updated on 14 March 2003
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