Sunday, August 28, 2016

Curses and Blessings

There are parts of Scripture that are abundantly clear. Here, think John 3.16. Then, there are those other parts of Scripture. We read them and think, ‘What in the world is going on here?’ There’s lots that’s just unclear, but usually there’s still something that can be gained. We’re going to look at one of these texts this morning. So, listen as I read from Genesis.

The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed. Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.” Genesis 9.18-27

There things here that are beyond me. I really don’t know what it was that Ham did that was so terrible. But there are still some things we can learn. And one of those things comes from how Noah responded. He cursed Ham and blessed Shem and Japheth. Yahweh is identified as the God of Shem with Japheth enjoying some of that blessing by being associated with Shem. But Ham is cursed with servitude in his descendants through Canaan. Through Noah God cursed the one and blessed the other. And doing that made a huge difference. This morning I’m going to take the part of this text that I understand. I’m going to talk about curses and blessings.

Let me tell you right off what my goal for this morning’s sermon is. I want you to be afraid, deeply afraid, because the God you worship curses. But at the same time, I want you to be enormously excited because the God you worship blesses. 

I’m going to talk about God’s curses first and then His blessings. And as horrible as His curses are that’s how great His blessings are. So, you need to hear the whole sermon.

God curses. That is, He brings evil into the life of a person or a group of people. What are some examples of that? A really good example that you are all familiar with would be what happened to Adam and Eve. Because they rebelled they were cursed with death and exile.

Here’s another example that might not be as familiar. It comes from David as he reflects on what it was like after his sin with Bathsheba but before he repented.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Psalms 32:3

God cursed Adam and Eve. God cursed David. In both cases, it made a huge difference.

Now, the first question, and this brings things closer to home. Does God curse Christians? If the answer is no, then we can skip all of this about God’s curses and just talk about the blessings. But the answer is not no. It’s yes.

David qualifies as a believer, and he was cursed. But in case anyone isn’t so sure about that, there’s this familiar passage from Paul’s first letter to the saints at Corinth.

For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 1 Corinthians 11.29,30

That sounds like a curse, no? I think that we can safely conclude that God does, in fact, curse Christians.

That leads to this question. Why does God curse Christians? I would think that the answer is obvious, but it’s still good to say it. He curses Christians - as well as those who aren’t Christians, for that matter - because of their sin. There is some sin that they are refusing to deal with, refusing to repent of. That Psalm that I just read is a good example of this. Life was really bad for David. God was cursing him. That didn’t change until Nathan confronted David and he repented of his sin with Bathsheba. That’s when the curse was lifted. 

Now, let me anticipate what some might say at this point. ‘Yes, but how bad could it be? After all, even if I am cursed by God I’ll still make it to heaven, right?’ Let me translate that. ‘It really doesn’t matter how I live as long as I believe in Jesus.’ Is that true? No, it is not.

But do I have a verse? Actually, I have lots of verses, but one will do here. Listen to what Jesus said to His apostles as He sends them off to face persecution.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10.28

What’s He saying to these twelve disciples? He’s warning them that God just might curse them, body and soul, by sending them to hell. And what will determine whether that happens? It’s how they live in the face of persecution. So, yes, it really does matter how we live - even if we believe in Jesus.

I think that we all would do well to remind ourselves from time to time, ‘I need to be careful. It could happen to me. I could end up in hell.’ After all, that is exactly what happened to one of those twelve whom Jesus warned.

Now, there is much more to be said about God’s curses, but this will have to do for now. And it is my hope that as you reflect on what I have said that you will be afraid, very afraid, that God might curse you, even to the point of destroying you, body and soul, in hell.

I’m going to talk to you about how to avoid that fate in a bit. But first I want to talk about God’s blessings.

If God’s curse is His bringing evil into your life, then His blessing is His bringing good into your life. And there are plenty of examples.

This one is from the same psalm of David that I quoted from a bit ago.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Psalm 32.1

Then, there are the Beatitudes. Remember how they all begin? ‘Blessed are ...’

Now, I’m sure that you all know about God’s blessings. But there’s one thing in particular that I’d like to spend a little time on. I’m not sure that you expect enough from being blessed by God.

What would you say if someone asked you, ‘So, how’s life?’ A common response goes something like this: ‘Okay, I guess.’ Let me translate that. ‘Meh.’ It’s not bad but it’s not especially good. I don’t think that that’s nearly good enough, not for a Christian.

Listen to something Paul wrote to some Christians.

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think … Ephesians 3.20

As you consider your life, does it feel like God is doing exceedingly abundantly above all that you ask or think? If your answer is anything other than a hearty ‘Yes!’ then I have a question for you. Why not? I am convinced that God can bless us to such an extent that we will be able to say, ‘Life is good!’ Not just okay, but good because of the blessings of God. I actually think that that is supposed to be the normal situation of Christians. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that God’s blessing will make life easy and comfortable. Not at all. But God does bless, exceedingly abundantly. And that makes a huge difference.

Now, let’s put what I’ve said about God’s cursing and God’s blessing together. What are we to do to avoid being cursed? Or to say it the other way around, what are we to do to be blessed? Here, let me mention one of the questions for membership. It’s the third question. Listen.

Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance on the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes the follower of Christ?

You all answered that with a ‘Yes’ when you became a member here. So, how are you doing at this endeavoring? How are you doing at working at following Jesus? Now, if your answer is something like, ‘Okay, I guess’, that’s not good enough. It results in a life that’s also only, ‘Okay, I guess’. But in His kindness, God provides motivation to change that.

On the one side, there is the motivation of fear. It’s the fear of God’s curse. It’s the fear that you will fail as a disciple, that you won’t make it to heaven but rather spend forever in hell. That’s one motivation. Let’s call it the fear of the Lord. This is one big reason why this theme of the fear of God is in the Bible. It’s to motivate us all to flee from being anywhere close to even the possibility of being cursed by God. It’s to motivate us to actually endeavor at this thing called following Jesus. That it is in the Bible is an expression of God’s love for us. He wants to motivate us.

But then there’s the other motivation, the motivation of becoming so blessed that you can honestly say that the Father is doing exceedingly abundantly above all that you ask or think. If fear is to motivate us to run away from the curse, this is to urge us on to run toward the blessings.

These things, the cursings and the blessings, are intended to motivate us to endeavor to live as becomes the followers of Christ. And what does that look like? It’s all about the hard work of the obedience of faith and repentance of sin. And please note how I put that. This is hard work. There is this terrible attitude out there when it comes to faith and repentance - and thus to following Jesus - that boils down to, ‘Sure, sure, I get all that stuff.’ That’s not what following Jesus is about. Being a faithful disciple is something that takes effort, great effort at times. Avoiding the curses and enjoying the blessings boils down to really working at following Jesus. You work hard at obeying. And when you stumble and sin, and you will, you work hard at repenting. Understanding the curses and the blessings will motivate you to live this way.

Now, the ball is in your court. What will you do with what I have said? The key to real change is prayer. That’s always the key. Ask the Father to help you to get it when it comes to His curses and His blessings. Don’t make it complicated. A simple prayer like, ‘Father, I get this, at least a little, but I need to get it more. Help!’ - that works. As you do that sort of thing you will find the Spirit pointing out sins that you will need to confess and virtues that you need to pursue. Simple, honest praying will be necessary - and will bring results. As you do that you will be taught to fear and to be excited.

It is my desire for us, together, to become a people amazingly blessed by God so that we all can say, ‘Life is good because God is blessing us!’ And as that happens, other things will happen also. Beside the obvious joy that will be woven into our life together there will be a powerful witness to the world around us. As we work at this endeavoring and God responds with His exceedingly abundant grace, they will see, and they will come to us.

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