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Ben Fleming: God is Faithful, Deuteronomy 7:9

September 18, 2023

Audio Recording

God is a covenant God who made a plan from the beginning to show His faithfulness to humanity.

Discovering God
Discovering God
Ben Fleming: God is Faithful, Deuteronomy 7:9
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Sermon Transcript:

:00 You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us.

00:06 This one is a tough one because faithfulness requires not just an agreement to a relationship or an entering into an agreement, a relationship for a period of time, a long-term period of time, in this case with God and us. It's forever. but it's also a reference to keeping promises made within the context of that relationship. So the first thing that comes to my mind being a pastor and having just done my 95th wedding this last weekend, is weddings and how we make covenants and vows of faithfulness in the middle of all these things. And, there's other relationships, other covenants that we make in the world, but I couldn't really think of too many that have such explicit language that we use where we stop our whole lives when we throw a party in order to say this vocabulary of covenant, this language of covenant to each other in front of friends and family.

00:58 And so I do what I did with these couples. What I do is every couple and usually spend at least a little bit of time with 'em beforehand, make sure that they understand what they're getting into as best as possible. and then I give them a script of what a wedding looks like. Here's how a traditional quote unquote wedding goes. And you can add this and you can move this and you can do this, but within the script that I give them is the language that my dad, my dad who's a pastor who did my wedding. it's the language that my dad put into our wedding script when he talked to my wife and I about doing the wedding for the first time. And I do this to kind of honor him and his legacy. It makes me think of my dad and it's got some heavy, pretty traditional language in it that most couples end up getting rid of or editing to some degree because of the weight and the heaviness that comes by.

01:46 There's, well, I use the word thereto in the middle of that script, all right? That's kind of intimidating for some young couples. but all of the language, whether you use mine or not, it, it's usually a pretty substantial big statement that we're making within the scope of our vows and our, I dos, it's, I so and so take you so and so to be my wedded wife, to having to hold from this day forward for better or for worse, for richer, or for poor and sickness and in health, forsaking all others, keeping only unto you for as long as we both shall live. I do. And I stand there and I look at them, these sweet usually young people, and go, you don't you wish as I'm, I'm reading this stuff and I'm going, this is insane. This is so hard. Has anybody else read this stuff that having to hold from this day forward for better, for worse, for rich, and for poor sickness and held love, honor, and cherish?

02:54 Oh, I rarely look at my wife and go, how well have I cherished recently? , are you feeling cherished? What does that mean to you? Sometimes these kids are 19, 20, 21. I'm going, you have no shot at doing this right? , I got married at 22 and about a year in, you know, it wasn't a whole lot of, I love honor, comfort to have and to hold from this day forward. It was a lot of, all we have left is oatmeal and peanut butter, and if it remains this way for the next two months, I am leaving you and never talking to you again.

03:35 Things broke down really quickly, , and it's, it's, does that mean the language should change? No. Does that mean that covenant should change? No. It means that human beings, especially, this is just hard work. It takes a lot to make a covenant with somebody and find ourselves faithful in every single one of these pieces. And, and that's not just in a a, a marriage covenant, but that's in a friendship relationship. And, that's in, I believe how we relate to each other as a church community here. We don't believe that we're just another, entity that exists in the city that provides a service. but we're a people that are trying to do our best to commit to each other so that we can show the world the gospel and we can care for each other in the middle of all that. That's faithfulness.

04:26 but of course we are incredibly fallible in all of these areas of faithfulness. And so that enters in the point that God's faithfulness is incredibly valuable. Now, how does God expresses faithfulness or what are some ways that we know that God is faithful? I'm gonna share with you a few stories, starting the Old Testament in Genesis chapter 15, and then we're gonna continue these stories as we go. So the background of this initial scripture in Genesis 15 is that, creation has happened and then the flood happens with Noah, and then the world is being repopulated again. And then you hear this story along the way, called the Tower of Babel. Now, the Tower Babel is about this group of people, and the word one is used a lot in, in this context that they were one culture, that they were one people with one purpose.

05:21 And essentially what the, the writer of scripture is trying to communicate is that this was a monoculture that a now thought of them as so themselves as so powerful that they decide to build this tower, to show themselves and the world that not only are we a powerful people, but we consider ourselves to have a power that is like gods or akin to Gods. And so they build this tower to show their existence among the cosmos in relation to the world that they are not like everybody else. Well, what God does, he takes the one culture and he scatters it into all different cultures and languages because their desire, and ultimately what they've done is they've shed so much blood on the earth that it's grieved the heart of God and God would rather scatter them instead of them thinking that they are the superior one monoculture.

06:09 And so God goes on a mission to find out who can lead this world or begin something in this world that is actually more in the vein that I am looking for. And what God does is he finds a man named Abram who is a bit of a shepherd type, who is virtually alone with he and his wife. There's no one else around. He's an immigrant. And God speaks to this immigrant after making some promises already. He makes this incredibly massive gesture that should make some sense for us today as I explain it. So it says in, in Genesis chapter 15, verse nine says, the Lord told Abram, bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtle dove in a young pigeon. And so Abram presented all these things to him and it to him and killed them. And then he cut each animal down the middle, laid the halves side by side.

07:00 He did not, however, cut the birds in half. Some vultures swooped down to eat the carcasses, but Abram chased them away. I love the little detail in verse 11. That's fantastic, you know, and he's going through all this ceremony and then Abram's running around going, no, now it's real people, everybody. Okay? As the sun was going down, Abram fell into a deep sleep and a terrifying darkness came down over him. And the Lord said to Abram, you can be sure that your descendants will be strangers and a foreign land will they be, they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years, but I will punish the nation that enslaves them. And in the end, they will come away with great wealth. As for you, you'll die in peace. You'll be buried at a rip old age. And after four generations, your descendants will return here to this land for the sins the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction.

07:50 And so what has happened so far is that Abram has made the preparation for a covenant in light of these words. So what would've happened back at this time, if there was a wedding going on, the fathers of each family would've done, would've prepared a sacrifice much like Abram did with this heifer and these animals. And one would say, my daughter will be faithful to your son and would walk through the entrails of the sacrifice. And then the other would say, my son will be faithful to your daughter and would walk down the center of these entrails. And so what happens is now Abram has been put to sleep and it says in in verse 17, after all these preparations have been made, it says, after the sun went down and darkness fell, Abram saw a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch pass between the halves of the carcasses.

08:37 So the Lord made a covenant with Abram that day and said, I have given this land to your descendants all the way from the border of Egypt to the great Euphrates River. What God does in this moment is what I believe that God does today. He encouraged us into, he encourages us into an environment of faithfulness where again, we're not only talking about a long-term relationship with each other, but a relationship in which we fulfill our promises. But God does something different than what would've been done by the patriarchs of these families at a time of a marriage blood covenant at the time. God walks through the sacrifice himself twice instead of once, and then allowing Abram to go through the same sacrifice himself. This is significant because it's God letting Abram know and letting us know now who are reading this text that God understands, that fallibility that I talked about in our wedding vows before He understands our sinful nature and our ability to often fall short on the promises that we make. And so what God does is an incredible thing, and he makes the promise himself on both sides saying, not only will I create this covenant with you, but I myself can uphold that promise and that covenant of faithfulness.

09:55 Do you know that God understands who you are and where you sit right now and what you have done, and his covenant and his promise of faithfulness is not waiting on the edge of a knife for you to screw up or to find yourself outside of faith or to doubt or to wonder or to make mistakes. Instead, God's faithfulness happens because God is faithful. He takes both sides of the covenant that we have with him understanding our fallibility. And so that's a promise that God makes to Abraham about his people, about his nation, the people that would become Israel. And then God makes an even grander promise in Genesis 22 to Abraham. Abraham in this case, he says, the angel of the Lord calls again to Abraham from heaven. This is what the Lord says because you've obeyed me. You've not withheld even your son, your only son.

10:50 You're willing to sacrifice everything for me. I swear by my own name that I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number. And now it's beyond just the people who will be enslaved for 400 years, says they will be like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies and through your descendants, all the nations of the earth will be blessed all because you have obeyed me. Again, this is a callback to the story of the tower Babel, a people that were considered a monoculture that wanted to make evidence of their superiority culturally over all the rest of the world who have been scattered. Now, God says, the rest of the world, all of the earth, what this literally means, this nations of the earth means people of the ground, which is this callback in this story, God's callback in this story to the very creation of all the earth that he creates, the sun and the moon and the stars and the earth itself, and then from the earth, from the dust, from the dirt comes the creation of Adam.

11:56 What God is saying to Abraham at this moment is, not only will this nation come from you and your descendants, but because of your faithfulness in this moment, but ultimately because of my faithfulness, all of the world, anybody that is descendant from the people of the ground will find blessing in my faithfulness that includes every single one of us in this room today. A w Tozer says it this way, God's faithfulness is not dependent upon your faithfulness. Upon our faithfulness. He remains faithful even when we are faithless.

12:32 Now again, Abram is not perfect or Abraham is not perfect. In the middle of this story, after the first covenant is made with Abram, Abram almost immediately goes out and finds people that they're unfamiliar with the tribe, a nation, and he's so frightened, he says, Sarah, who is his wife, he says, what you need to do is you need to go and tell them that we are brother and sister, and what will happen to you is that you'll get abused and you'll get raped and you'll get used, but I'll get rich and then I'll try to figure out a way out of all this stuff. And then it happens again. They go into Egypt and a similar thing happens. Sarah gets taken, and then he ends up with all of these, this money and these resources and livestock and female servants, and he begins to build this empire on the back of the abuse of somebody else in his life. And then they take one of those female servants and in their doubt about the faithfulness of God.

13:25 Abram takes Hagar whose name is literally translated as immigrant, this one from Egypt. He takes Hagar, he sleeps with her, she bears a child, and then he shuns both of them. He abuses them and pushes them out before the nation of Israel is underneath the enslavement of Egypt. Abram, the father of all these nations abuses an immigrant himself. He is very imperfect in this scenario. And yet God is faithful because God is faithful. This is even more evidence Now in the story of David, this is in two Samuel in chapter seven, it says, now I'll make your name famous as anyone that's ever lived on the earth. I'll provide a homeland for my people, Israel, planting them to a secure place where they will never be disturbed. Evil nations won't oppress them as they've done in the past. Starting from the time I appointed judges to rule over my people Israel, I will give you rest from all your enemies.

14:26 Therefore, the Lord declares that he will make a house for you, a dynasty of kings, for when you die and you're buried with your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, your own offspring. I'll make his kingdom strong. He's the one who will build a house, a temple for my name, and I'll secure his royal throne forever. I will be his father, he will be my son, and if he sins, I will correct and discipline him with the rod like any father would do. But my favor will not be taken from him as I took it from Saul whom I removed from your sight. Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever. Now, at this point in time, it's important to understand that our relationship with the faithfulness from God does not just come on a one-to-one basis.

15:11 It's God with you or God with Ben or God with you. Instead, this idea of faithfulness comes in the form of community. It's about a people, a nation, a collective, a broader perspective than a lot of times what we like to take in when it comes to our personal faith, right? Do you have a personal relationship with God? And I think I understand what we mean when we ask people that, or have you ever been asking people that a lot? Do you walk into work and go, excuse me, do you have a personal relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Maybe you haven't been doing that. I think I understand what we're saying, but really God always in terms of scripture is referencing this relationship that he has through Abraham or Abraham, but to a nation in a world and through David, but to a nation in the world.

15:59 And so what would be really difficult to understand it sometimes, especially is these years past or judges and kings happen in the old nation of Israel, or then the, the prophets happen and then there's hundreds of years of silence that follow immediately after before Jesus comes. There's these big gaps of difficulty in wrestling that happen for people because God is doing something for an entire nation. And sometimes one person can't always see exactly how God is being faithful, but God calls us into this difficult, sometimes murky and muddy relationship. Now, we don't like faithfulness a whole lot because it requires something from us that goes beyond necessarily what like the world would encourage us to do in the world. We don't really have covenants anymore, right? We have, we have contracts and we have laws. Now, why do these contracts exist? Really the gist of it is, and there's actually scientific evidence to back the sub. We like contracts because we don't like being screwed over. That's the basis of the contract. Sometimes our relationship with contracts is what happens after our phone updates and we get onto the phone and it goes, do you agree to all this text you could read for months?

17:19 Sure, yes. I don't know. This is my first born involved in this or what and really what they want. The apple's not looking for some kind of intimate relationship with you, right? They wanna know that when you complain or you have a problem or you have an issue, that you sign a contract and you cannot sue them. That's what the basis of this whole thing is about. There's, there's something dehumanizing about it that takes out this relationship piece for us. And Pastor Dave Daley was telling me a story before this service. He said, it's funny when I think about contracts, I think about this phase that my mom went through where she was having me sign contracts about everything, okay, do you agree that your curfew will be 10:00 PM Do you agree to abide by the bylaws of this curfew? Do you understand your punishment for missing curfew? And Dave was like the, there was almost this detachment of like, is this mom there? Like, what happened to mom, mom's, lawyer's not around anymore.

18:21 And it's complex, right? And I, I've shared something similar to this a few times over the last few weeks, but I think it's important. My, my preacher tendency is to stand up here and say, and the world doesn't value faithfulness and it's difficult for us to value faithfulness, but because this is such an incredible value to God, you must express in every situation your faithfulness to everything and everyone, and every promise you made, you must bring it all the way to fruition in the way that you had intended at the very beginning. And it sounds good, it preaches great. I might be able to get a couple of you to clap, but then I've existed on this world for a little bit and I go, man, sometimes we use this idea of God's faithfulness and relationship to stay inside of marriages that are physically abusive, that are emotionally or spiritually abusive. I've seen this idea of faithfulness within churches, from church leadership to manipulate and to keep people inside of community. We like to come to the front of the stage and say, look, we're a family. And for some of you, you're like, that's so triggering. I don't want a family, I want a church. And a lot of that is because the idea of faithfulness, the, the goalposts get moved all the time.

19:39 We wanna be family until your behavior looks like this, and then you'll be shunned. No, we're a family. We're committed to each other until you don't accomplish some of the things that I expect you to accomplish, which is why it's so funny to me again, and we've all done this. I'm not trying to call out somebody specific or whatever. It's so funny how a lot of times in today we'll connect to a church because we like the, the sound of it or we like the visual of it, or we even just, you know, purely love the, the teaching and the preaching and, and the teaching and preaching is so good and oh my gosh, when this isn't really the basis for faithfulness. Great preachers are idiots almost all the time. Great music comes and goes, and atmosphere is atmosphere, but there's this community and this faithfulness that, that I believe that God is calling in us into that is we're gonna care for one another and gather around one another and count on each other and be there for each other.

20:44 And that's a tough thing. And so what I don't wanna do today is talk about faithfulness in this really blanket way that says, no, that promise that you made, you've gotta go ahead and fulfill it in every single way, no matter how much physical pain it causes you, no matter how broken and hurting or unsafe your children are. That's not what I'm trying to communicate today. But I don't wanna say that at the expense of, if you want to this full experience of discovering God and you want this full experience of faithfulness, you're gonna have to walk through really deep, awful garbage times are gonna get hard. And there's something worth it on the other side of this difficult journey of faithfulness that I gotta be honest with you, and I hate it when preachers say all the time, well, you know what the world does. And I'm like, well, I'm kind of part of it and I've experienced that too. And times are tough. But what a lot of kind of the, the, the cultural thing that we do today is that if it doesn't suit me right now, then I'm just gonna cast it all the way out, then I'm not gonna return to it. And whatever will suit me is what I will walk forward with in life. This isn't faithfulness. This is some kind of a la carte existence that God is not calling you into.

21:58 Again, going back to my marriage, I made all those ridiculous promises on my wedding day thereto, I give you my life. And the second year of my marriage, I was like, this sucks. I want out. I don't like her. She doesn't like me. And I'm 23 and a half and I know what I'm doing now. You know, , I mean, it was everything. You guys, marriage is beautiful and awesome and romantic. There was just some times where I was like, I don't wanna, I don't want to eat together. I don't want her to tell me what to do ever again. I don't wanna sleep next to her. I just want my own freaking bed one time. Like I am sick of this. We've got no money, no food, jobs, pet sets are falling Speaker 3

22:51 .

22:57 And what did we do? A couple of 23 year old totally idiotic kids that didn't know beans from buckshot. What did we do? We kept going. And it's still not perfect, but it is beautiful and it was worth this terrible struggle to the point where we can even laugh about all the most difficult times, what made us stronger and better and more beautiful. What equipped us for a lot of difficulties and ills of life, the idea that we wanted to be faithful to each other and continue to walk forward. And that's a hard thing to do and it's worth it.

23:41 So how does this relate to to Jesus? Well, in John chapter three, Jesus has arrived on the scene and he meets with this man named Nicodemus. And Nicodemus is a religious leader in the area, and he's got questions. And he's afraid that if he's associated with Jesus, that he'll get ousted or persecuted or killed and, and so he comes to Jesus at night so that he can ask some questions under the cover of darkness. And Jesus begins to tell him about this idea of being a born again person. You gotta be born again. And Nicodemus responds with what I think every one of us would respond. And he says, am I? You gotta stop. Am I going back into my mother? And Jesus is like, oh no. And I wanna be like, Jesus's a good question, man. I mean, you kind of said it right?

24:36 And Jesus's like, that's not the point. And he continues on in verse 10, and he said, Jesus replied, you're respected Jewish leader and you don't understand these things. I assure you, we will tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won't believe our testimony. But if you don't believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one's ever gone to heaven in return, but the son of man has come down from heaven. The son of man is Jesus. He's talking about himself. And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the son of man must be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. So what Jesus does to relate to Nicodemus in this moment is he shares a small story of history so that it'll make more sense to Nicodemus.

25:18 Now, thank God Jesus came with stories about farmers and seeds and stuff, because if it were math, I would never find salvation . And some of you were like, math would be nice. No, thank you. My son's in third grade and I'm almost classed out right now. You guys . And he's like, Hey dad, I need help with this. And I go, okay, chat G p T. This is your new teacher. A little bit of ai. What Jesus does is he tries to relate to an emus, but he shares this really profound truth about this, this time, this incident that involved a bronze snake took place during the Israelite journey and the wilderness after they had been bitten by poisonous snakes as a consequence for the disobedience is what the scripture says. And God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and lifted up on a pole, and anyone who looked at the bronze serpent would be healed from the snake bites. This event symbolizes God's mercy and healing power. It teaches that God provides a way of salvation and healing even in the midst of judgment and sin. So what Jesus decides to do when he's talking about salvation, he's talking about what he's going to do for the world, is he takes a moment to share this historical story that can be summed up in this while people were getting what they deserve.

26:45 Mercy came into the picture. So I know it's difficult to understand, Nicodemus, this womb and like being born again and all this stuff. Let me talk to you about something that I know that you know really well. Let me talk to you about this situation where people were getting what they deserved. Now, again, in a traditional, regular covenant or in a contract, God would be well within his rights to look at the people of the world, especially when all of our dysfunction, all of our wars, and all of our bloodshed that grieves the heart of God. Like we started this whole story with in a conventional contract, it would make sense for God to go, you are in breach and you owe me,

27:30 And then after this, this relationship is over, and that's what we do, right? A contract says, while you were in disobedience, you owe me. Jesus is never really arguing that people aren't getting what they deserve. That's not his thing. He's not saying no, they don't deserve that. They don't deserve that. He's saying, I understand, but all of you deserve some element of punishment because of the way that we thought and the way that we manipulate and how often we get insecure and we hate people. He's not saying, look, this isn't what people deserve, but he's saying, I understand what we deserve, but because there's a covenant that I have made both sides on him because I am faithful. I see people, and while they're getting what they deserve, mercy enters into the picture.