So, for the next few weeks I wanted to share from the books of Psalms, chapter 119. This psalm is the longest chapter in the Bible and it’s actually an acrostic poem, the stanzas of which begin with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet; and the verses of each stanza begin with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Today we’re looking at the first three, of 22 letters in Hebrew—Aleph, Bet, and Gimel. I choose this chapter because it speaks to my heart every time I read it with truth and hope.
“Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord.
Blessed are those who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart—
they do no wrong but follow his ways.
You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed.
Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!
Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands.
I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws.
I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me."
So you hear about what we’re supposed to be—blameless. And how do we do this? “By meditating upon His laws and seeking to please Him”. The Psalmist correctly sees a connection between being blameless and earnings God’s favor. And being in God’s favor means that God can look upon us and have mercy on us.
And as you all know, none of us are blameless unless we’re being incredibly wise and careful of not committing deliberate sin, and have found a way to find “cover” from the unintentional things we do that displease God. The only “cover”, when this Psalm was written, would have been a blood sacrifice to atone for, or hide from God’s eyes, the bad things we did. And at this time, one had to keep offering the sacrifice of an innocent animal to keep things right with God.
I am blameless before God. Are you? But I am blameless for one reason: The blood of Jesus has covered all my sins—now, last year, and for tomorrow. I am blessed because of this. And that undeserved gift compels me study His word and do my part of living my life as living sacrifice for Him—so that others might also be drawn to Him!
The next letter is “bet”, or some pronounce it “beth”. It’s addressed to the youth.
“How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees.
With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth.
I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches.
I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.”
I wish I could think of a means of convincing any teenager or young adult to believe me when I tell them there is unimaginable joy that comes from obeying Him; but I really can’t explain this anymore than I could describe the taste of chocolate to a person that had never tasted it. I can only hope that some of you might take a chance in trusting me. You can avoid so much loss, brokenness and hopelessness in the next few years by listening to these words from the Psalmist. If you hide His word within you, by reading it, believing it and trusting, you will be a light in your school and among your friends, and you will enjoy an abundant life.
You will have a life, over-flowing with optimism, excitement, and great expectations—one not found when you are frantically looking for a boy-friend or girl-friend, or hoping to excel your friends scholastically, athletically, or even by discovering a new way to become the next Elon Musk! And let me add that there’s nothing wrong with pursuing any of these things, but if your sights are set on pleasing Him, your future IS BRIGHT! His favor is smiling upon you….
And the third letter today is Gimel. It’s a plea for God to help us
“Be good to your servant while I live, that I may obey your word.
Open my eyes that I may see the wonderful things in your law.
I am a stranger on earth; do not hide your commands from me.
My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times.
You rebuke the arrogant, who are accursed, those who stray from your commands.
Remove from me their scorn and contempt for I keep your statutes.
Though rulers sit together and slander me, your servant will meditate on your decrees.
Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors.”
This is a sincere petition for those of us who really want to live godly lives, but are having trouble. The Psalmist tells us to keep these things in mind:
1. We need our eyes opened!!! When I read the Bible, I don’t always “get it”. So when we begin to read God’s Holy Word, we must pray for illumination! “Open my eyes that I may see the wonderful things in your law”…and He will, if you humbly ask Him,
2. It’s our first time on this earth, and if we feel that we don’t belong here it’s good. If we love God with all our heart, we will discover more and more that we’re aliens—and we’re in the enemy’s territory. The longer you are here, the more you hide His word in your heart, the more more homesick you will become for what He is placing within your heart.
3. Even while we pant and thirst for the truth of God’s laws, remember that we are often surrounded morons that do not seek Him—and some might be sitting in the pew right beside you every Sunday!
But there are many that don’t read the Bible, let alone the Old Testament, because they think that God’s laws doesn’t apply to us or is archaic. In truth, there are many regulations that were customary and others were brought to a higher level of understanding by Jesus. For example, the sabbath day observation became an obsession for the Pharisees—they wouldn’t even help a person that was hurt on the sabbath, so Jesus set it straight.
And think for a moment about the laws of eating unclean food and associating with unclean people—the Gentiles, or “dogs”. You might recall in the book of Acts that Peter goes into a trance and God lowers a sheet with unclean meat, and tells Peter to “kill and eat”, but Peter refused because it was against Jewish law to eat unclean food. The God tells Him, “do not call unclean what God calls clean…”. This was in preparation of him sharing the gospel with a non-Jew—-a Gentile.
No think about this. God’s laws are eternal and not to be voided, but here, there appears to be a “law” that God Himself tells Peter to set aside. But it’s only in Leviticus 11:7 that eating pork is forbidden to God's people for the very first time. There are “commands” of God—for example the ten commandments, along with how to treat other people, and then there were a lot rules about diet, how to cut your beard, how to wear a robe, even the kind of underwear a priest should wear—there were 613 of them. But these were rules, I believe, for an ethnic people living in a very different time. It appears that God made that clear in the book of Acts. We have over 20,000 laws in the USA just about guns—no one knows the number of laws in the USA, but it’s huge, and some are rather silly and ignored.
So after all of this, Peter goes to see Cornelius, a Gentile, goes into his home and evidently eats with him! Peter even admits, in Acts 10:28 “He [Peter] said to them [Gentiles]: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile.” Then, later, when he returns to Jerusalem and the other disciples and followers of Christ hear about this and confront Peter and breaking the law!
But there are two points we need to press: First, there was no such law in the Old Testament about any of this! As a matter of fact, in Luke 7:2 you recall that there was a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, and he was sick and about to die. The centurion, who was a Gentile, had heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to Jesus, asking him to come and heal his servant. When elders came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them. So think about this: The elders of the Jew had a good relationship with this Gentile centurion and Jesus didn't think twice to visit this Gentile!
So first, no law, and not even a regulation of Jewish law, forbade Jews and Gentiles to associate—- but cultural and ethnic customs did. Sometimes our customs are dead wrong…. The mores and rules of our society, even if we think that we are an enlightened, spiritual and moral culture, are not necessarily what God wants….or what mankind needs. We need to be careful of supposing that just because we agree on what’s right, it does not make it right.
So, based upon scripture, “sola scriptura”, how do we distinguish from God’s eternal law, cultural regulations, and accepted customs? Or perhaps think of it this way: How do you know the law, the letter of the law, and God’s intention of the law?
There is answer—-simple, clear and irrefutable. It’s the last word on all spiritual matters: The Holy Spirit! He instructs us, makes things clear, un-clutters our mind and allows us to understand God’s point, purpose and practicality of the laws He’s given to us. I would never trust a bible scholar, or expect in Hebrew or Greek, or renown theologian—I trust the Holy Spirit. And so should you.
So for a moment, in closing, let’s revisit what happened when the church in Jerusalem confronted Peter about eating with a Gentile. It was wrong, in their way of thinking—-even in Peter’s way of thinking! But when Peter explained the vision, the words from the Holy Spirit, and what happened as a result of his obedience—-even though it went contrary to his custom, upbringing and personal beliefs, they had no further argument and rejoiced that the gospels was being offered even to the Gentiles! Did you hear that? They all agreed that this was good! Why?
1. They believed Peter’s testimony—-he had integrity—he walked with Jesus. So should your priest or pastor.
2. They were seeking truth—not gratification of their customs or cultural beliefs!
3. They listened to the Holy Spirit and were ready to see things new and different because the Holy Spirit filled their very souls!
Now, to be blunt, I have never seen myself as a typical preacher, in the common sense of the word, that is one speaks loud and long on Sunday mornings and craves the “amens” and words of encouragement from the congregation. I have always thought that I was called to prophecy—that is, to me a mouthpiece for God. So hear these words as prophetic—not as one hoping to comfort you or to win your approval or praise. I think that if God gave me a visions, or another minister of the gospel a vision, and it went counter to what you hold true as a Christian, I do not believe that everyone reading this would respond as the folks did in Jerusalem. I think that there would be division, some angry words, some shaking of heads, maybe even some folks blocking my devotions in the future. Why? Because we are so accustomed to holding fast to the way we want to see things and having things our way. We don’t like change and don’t want to be told that we’re wrong—even by the Holy Spirit.
I am not saying this to pick a fight, but it seems that most Christians today come to church not to be discipled, or taught by the Holy Spirit, or challenged by a pastor/prophet, but pacified, fed baby’s milk and then burped.
May God either change our hearts and fill our pews with people ready to hide God’s word in their hearts, hear the Holy Spirit, and be moved to take action. Souls are being lost because we’re not listening to Him….
Will you listen to the Holy Spirit today?