Monday Morning Preacher: Ehud Redux

I can’t stop thinking about Ehud.  It seems that, with every text I preach, I discover that there are probably seven other ways it could have been preached.  Alas, the richness of God’s Word–it can never be fully comprehended or sufficiently proclaimed.

Regarding Ehud, there is another meaningful truth that can easily get lost in the delightfully disturbing narrative.  Though Ehud pretended to be many things, though his ruse was full of creative acting, the one role he fulfilled free of any deception was that of a faithful mailman–he delivered Yahweh’s message.  The message was not a secret password or tidbit of wisdom, it was a double-edged sword.  Hebrews 4.12 tells us that the Word of God is a double-edged sword, able to cut men down to the heart, to kill them or clean them.  In Revelation 1.16 we see that Jesus speaks with a two-edged sword coming out of his mouth.  This is Revelation Jesus, not the once marginalized Gailean peasant Jesus, but the returning in all glory to redeem and condemn–to judge the living and the dead. 

Ehud delivered the Word of God which, for Eglon, was a word of judgment, a word of death.  For the Israelites, however, it was a word of redemption, a word of life.  In other words, it is important to recognize that it was neither Ehud’s creative deception nor Eglon’s hefty stupidity that delivered Israel.  It was the Word of God. The Word of God is what saves, what overcomes oppressors, what frees us all from our slavery to our sin.

Our job, therefore, is not to find the best ways to beat our enemies.  Our job is to find as many ways as we can to deliver the Word of God to ourselves and to others–and let it do the work.

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Explict Ehud (The Unrated Version)

ImageBefore you continue reading, you’ll want to listen or read the sermon on Judges 3.12-30.  After preaching this sermon many asked, or were thinking, ‘Did he just say what I think he said?”  The answer is probably “yes”. 

Unfortunately, we live in a sensationalistic world where even preachers proclaim God’s Word in such a way that they believe they have the power.  They add clever jokes, funny illustrations, or emphasize the most sensationalistic details of text in order to make their message more “memorable” or shocking.  All the while, God’s message is lost in the noise.

I didn’t want that to happen with this passage.  So, in an effort to avoid unnecessary shock value, and to protect some younger listeners, I attempted to preach a PG-13 version of the story of Ehud.  Below is some explanation to help clarify any confusion about what I believe really happened in this story.  Consider this the unrated version…

What exactly did Ehud do here? To be frank, I believe that Ehud sexually propositioned Eglon in an effort to get close enough to slaughter him like a fat calf on an altar–to save the people from their sins which led to their enslavement.  Usually, people get lost in the grossness of bathroom humor, but I believe the narrative is much “darker” than that.  There really is no bathroom humor to be laughed at without a sword and a murder.  Some wrongly read this text to say that Eglon is relieving himself when Ehud enters.  In truth, there is no relieving going on, no dung, at least not until his belly is ripped open.  So, there must be another understanding.

The meticulous breakdown of the actual assassination leaves us with few alternatives but a sexual propositioning—there are simply too many questions.  Why does Elgon send his guards away?  Why does Eglon invite Ehud into his private restroom? If they are alone, why does he have to be close enough to whisper a message?  What is Elgon really hoping to receive and what is Ehud really implying he is going to give?  Additionally, there are the obvious contextual clues that hint of sexual overtones.  Some of these include that fact that the Moabite, and the Ammonite, people originated from an incestuous relationship in a family that left the city of Sodom (known for its sexual wickedness).  There is the deeply sexualized culture of the Moabites who worship the god of fertility and enjoy sexual worship as part of their religious practice.  Finally, there is the killing of a King by taking a short sword from underneath a man’s clothes, attached to his inner thigh, with a left hand (not the right which would be threatening), and thrusting it in his belly, literally, a female’s “womb.”

Though this might be difficult to believe, I am not trying to sensationalize the text, only refocus it.  What should be strongly emphasized is the incredibly humbling role that God leads Ehud to play.  It’s not humbling because he has to make an offering to a fat king.  It’s not humbling because he gets covered in dung. It is humbling because a special-forces warrior Israelite defeats an enemy by acting the part of a sexually immoral Canaanite. Of course, his disguise enables him to deliver God’s people, but there is immeasurable shame in simply playing the part which, I believe, helps us to see more clearly the shame that Jesus experienced in the incarnation–He was a man whom the whole world thought was a sinful deviant.

I’ll end this with an excerpt from the sermon.  In the end, knowing the shame that Ehud place himself in helps us to see a little more clearly the shame that Jesus chose to experience. 

“… You might think that [pointing this to Jesus] impossible, but consider how this grotesque story helps us to appreciate the gospel.  Our God doesn’t save the world despite the sins of men, he saves men through them.  We serve a God who does not stand at a distance, but one who becomes dirty, and broken, humble, and shameful so that we might be saved.

In Hebrews, the Word of God is called a double-edge sword.  And according to John, that Word, that sword, took on human flesh.  That means that the eternally perfect, beautiful, and glorious son of God, the creator and sustainer of all things became a man.  That is outrageous.  The humility that required is incomprehensible.   This is not simply Special Forces warrior becoming a seductive mailman assassin—this is much more scandalous.  He did not come and live as a king, no, he started as a child, in a dirty little city called Nazareth and lived as a man for 30 years. He experienced life of his creation. He was the true Benjamite whose name means, “man of sorrows.”  But the humility did not stop at the incarnation.  It extended to the point where he was rejected, mocked, ashamed, and eventually murdered.  And what is even more outrageous, is that he choose to place himself in a position of shame.  Much like Ehud, he could have unleashed his special forces training.  Like a divine Rambo, he could have wiped out all of his enemies with a thought…but he waited, allowed his unsuspecting enemy fat with pride to get very close and then delivered at the right time, in the right place, the right way, through his death.  Like Eglon, in our weakness we believe we are strong.   Like Ehud, Jesus became helpless to show we were wrong. He took the risk he took the shame, he took on all of the crap of life—so that I might be delivered…”

Bottom line, our God is big. God is mysterious in his being and incomprehensible in his ways. No matter how you come down on whether God “approves” or not, the fact remains, God uses and blesses Ehud’s faithfulness.  And though it makes many uncomfortable to view God has using such “dirty” means to accomplish his work, without doubt, it makes him real.  Remember, in terms of creation, God nothing other than “sin” to work with.  He has decided that the plan for redeeming creation will come to fullness through men.  In other words, however broken the man or the method, God uses such things to deliver His people.    Ehud whether you’re more comfortable saying he allows, ordains, or causes it to come to pass.

Monday Morning Preacher: The Tomb is Empty…still

I was humbled and honored to proclaim the same message that has been preached since the first Easter Imagein AD33: Jesus alive, Jesus killed, Jesus alive again forevermore!  For over 2,000 years, the story has not changed. Jesus came alive and the tomb is still empty. It will be empty tomorrow too. 

The sermon I preached, challenges everyone to ask what “day” they live life on. Those who do not believe the gospel can’t and won’t get past Friday.  This is a day in history that everyone agrees happened–even the atheists and the Muslims. This is the day that an innocent man (one who loved, served, and blessed) from Nazareth was falsely accused, illegally tried, and brutally murdered. Even if we stop at those historical facts, we can all agree, that this is a clear evidence that something is “wrong” with the world (i.e. mankind).  

But many of those who say they believe that Jesus was the Son of God (i.e. “Christians), even those who confess that He is the Lord and Savior, don’t seem to live past Saturday–when Jesus is buried in the tomb.  Like the disciples who didn’t believe that Jesus was REALLY going to do what he said (Rise from the dead), 2,000 years later many Christians are living as if it is still Saturday.  Without an empty tomb, we sit on a perpetual Saturday of disillusionment. Like the shock of the crucifixion for the disciples, a devastating loss, unrealized opportunity, or crushed dream can easily thrust us into hopeless despair.  When the life or situation we had planned out for ourselves doesn’t materialize the way we envisioned (or perhaps at all), we cease putting faith in God and His promises and start putting faith in the world and the promises of sin. We want a “god” we can control…one that does it “our way”. 

Without Sunday we might feel like we’re in control, but we’re in act lost.  We have no purpose beyond this world–so we (the self) become the center of the universe.  And when that happens, our perspective is perverted, we feel judged by everyone and we judge everything–even God. This only serves to makes us fearful of the opinions of men as we try to hide whatever shame or weakness we don’t want discovered. and because this world is all there is, suffering is viewed as senseless.  Pain and sacrifice, therefore, are to be avoided at all costs while pleasure and “stuff” pursued.  Ultimately, death is the only thing truly assured of and, tragically, is just an end, not a beginning.  We simply must live for the moment and try to be happy”…whatever that might mean.  

A life of perpetual Saturday is a meaningless journey to the grave.  But living on Sunday, living with the deepest conviction that Jesus is alive changes everything.  His resurrection proves that there is more than this life, that there is a God who loves me,, and that my job is to serve Him for as long as He gives me breath on this planet–I have purpose.  His resurrection gives me perspective, allowing me to see the world for what it is–broken and cursed. Suddenly, any level”happiness” that world has to offer with dead “gods” pales in comparison to life with the one true living God.  The riches of the world become meaningless and the opinions of men irrelevant the fear of the Lord overwhelms any other fears there are.  This new “resurrection perspective” helps me to experience suffering differently, knowing that the worse the world can do is kill me–which will mean I get to live with Jesus face to face.  

When all is said and done, those who believe in the resurrection have only life…and those who do not, only death–now and in eternity. Come quickly Lord Jesus. 

A Wonderfully Bad Saturday

Friday brought shock.  Saturday brought sadness.  

I have tried hard to imagine what Jesus’ disciples must have felt Imageon Saturday morning.  It would have been the Sabbath, so they didn’t have any work to keep them busy or distract them from the disillusionment they felt. In other words, they had a lot of time to be by themselves, or with on another, in sorrowful disbelief. Though Jesus had been fairly explicit (on several occasions) about what would happen to Him, it is clear that they were either not listening or not believing–perhaps a little of both.  And while each individual disciple ran through the events of the previous night in their mind, wondering what they could have done to change things, they all probably ended up at the same place–What just happened?  How do we go from everything right to everything wrong in less than 24 hours? They had left everything they knew, spent three years following a man who appeared to be what Jews had been waiting for for thousands of years. And after feeding thousands, healing hundreds, and even raising someone from the dead, a man they thought was more than a man lies buried in a tomb.  What had just happened? 

I am left to wonder how many Christians get stuck on Saturday–the day after everything you value is lost.  It is a day full of disappointment and sorrow and anger and confusion and despair and a hundred other emotions.  It is a day spent listing every unmet expectation, unrealized dream, and crushed hoped.  It is a day spent blaming one’s self, others, even God for the “bad” that has happened that you didn’t deserve. And it is also a day that is spent wallowing in self-pity about all the “good” that hasn’t come to pass–the things you thought you deserved, perhaps even earned from all you sacrificed for others or God.  

Living on Saturday may have been even harder than the shock of Friday for the disciples–I know it is for me.  As Christians, we can usually survive the devastation of the moment; it’s living all the post-devastation moments that prove difficult. In truth, the Christian life is not exempt from Good Fridays or Bad Saturdays.  Faith in Christ doesn’t remove the experience of suffering–it helps us to experience suffering differently. Good Fridays remind us that suffering is part of life.  Bad Saturdays remind us that things do not always go as we might hope. But to understand either one of those, we need Glorious Sundays.  We need to get to Sunday–the day of hope, the day of joy, the day of victory and revelation of all that God was and is doing.  Sunday reveals to us that the suffering of Friday (or any day) is not senseless–it is in fact really good.  And Sunday also reveals to us that the disillusionment of Saturday (or any day) and unrealized plans is the result of God having a better one–it is in fact not really bad.  

See you Sunday.

A Terribly Good Friday

For his anger is for a moment, and his favor for a lifetime.  Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30.5)

As I tucked my kids into bed last night, I reminded them that this (Thursday) was the night that Jesus ate his final meal with his friends before he would be arrested and murdered.  I have tried to imagine what Jesus was feeling knowing that within hours, one “friend” would betray him, one friend reject him, and everyone else would run and hide. His own people would falsely accuse him, his religious leaders illegally try him, and his government would refuse to defend him.  What could he possibly have felt?

I seems like I have the tendency to (wrongly) believe that, because he was without sin, somehow that makes him without emotion.  If he is fully human, than we know that cannot be the case, and he demonstrates as much during his three years of ministry as he gets angry, weeps for friends, shows compassion for many, etc.  But I begin to wonder what “sinless” emotions might look like?  Does it mean he never felt lonely?  Does it mean he felt sorrow for others but never himself?  Does it mean he never experienced anxiety?  I am not sure, and I am confident there are many theologians who have spent countless hours writing countless pages in an effort to answer such questions for the three people who will read them.

I am a bit more simple-minded.  Perhaps having “sinless emotions” simply means that, unlike sinners, Jesus didn’t allow his emotions to govern his attitude (and therefore his actions) because they were governed by the Word God.  His security was not found in an unpredictable world, but in the sovereignty of God the Father.  His acceptance was not found in an unloving world, but in perfection relationship with God the Father. His hope for future “success” was not found in a perverted world, but with God the Father in heaven.  Though he cried, though he questioned, though even plead with God for mercy, he remained strong, courageous, and faithful in the darkest of hours. His emotions never overwhelmed Him with the fear of men, Satan, or death because they were overwhelmed by a deep unwavering trusting-fear in God.

To you O LORD I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy:  What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit?  Will the dust praise you?  Will it tell of your faithfulness?  Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me! O LORD, by my helper!  You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.  O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever. (Psalm 30.8-12)