Thursday, April 29, 2021

April 29 - Judges 19, Acts 13

 Key verse: Judges 19:12

Big idea: Cycles of decline end in a crash.

Judges 19 is a horrible story, and in that sense a fitting end to the book of Judges. Over and over again, the moral decay of the nation has spiraled deeper and deeper until now, there is nothing but death. Even the most basic family relationships are broken down, and so there cannot be anything but disaster. The scene opens with another Levite, which would not be so ominous if we had not read about the wicked Levite in the previous chapters who served as a hired pagan priest. It is hard to escape the parallel: this chapter also begins by reminding us that there was no King in Israel. The Levite's wife is not mentioned, but he has a concubine who has left him and returned to her father in Bethlehem. He goes to her, intending to speak sweetly to her and convince her to come home. Apparently, he is successful because she is going to go back with him, but her father delays. For several days, he continues to drag out the limits of hospitality to prevent them from leaving. Finally, the Levite decides to leave, but foolishly late in the day.

As sunset hastens, he is close to the city of Jebus, a Jebusite city which remained unconquered, although it would eventually be taken and renamed Jerusalem. It is ironic that this somber tale begins in Bethlehem, where King David and Jesus would both be born, and passes by Jerusalem, where God's presence would be revealed in Temple and Cross. The Levite does not stop in Jebus, fearing the way he will be treated by pagans. Instead, he decides to go on to the Benjamite city of Gibeah, which would be the hometown of King Saul. But when he gets to Gibeah, he finds that the Israelites act like pagans. He is left to sleep in the city square, until an old man from the same region where he lives who is staying in Gibeah temporarily welcomes him into his house. 

Have we finally found a hero in this story? Alas, what follows is nearly a beat for beat recapitulation of the story of Sodom. The climax is when the host offers his daughter and his host's concubine to the mob, and tell them to (literally) do what is right in their eyes. This host gives into the spirit of the age, where there is no king and every man did what was right in his own eyes. Our text gets more somber still. The concubine is abused all night, stumbles to the porch and died. Her husband wakes up in the morning and goes out to callously tell her it is time to leave, only to find her dead already. Sodom is now within Israel, the tribes are set up for an inevitable conflict, and all of the things that God had been doing through His people seemed to be in jeopardy. Of course, it won't be. There will be much sorrow because sin leads to disaster, but God's grace goes farther still.

Discussion idea: Why is it so hard to reverse the decay of sin? What areas in your life have things seemed to spiral out of control? How does God resolve this runaway train?

Prayer focus: Thank God for the provision of Bethlehem and Jerusalem - that our sin does not continue unbound forever but had been dealt with once and for all!

Key Verse: Acts 13:2
Big Idea: The leaders of the churches of Jesus are chosen by Him.

What makes a leader? We might provide different answers to this question. Most of us would agree that getting a promotion does not make someone a real leader; John Maxwell says that position is the lowest level of leadership. Just as there are plenty of people with positions who are not leaders, there are plenty of leaders without a position. Then what makes a leader? Is it charisma? Intelligence? Skill? All of these things help a leader to be more effective but are not what makes the leader. Fundamentally, good leaders are followers first. In the church world, a leader is someone who is following God, and to whom God delegates a portion of His leadership. We do not choose our leaders, we recognize the ones God has already chosen.

In Acts 13, we see this in a big way. Barnabas and Saul are chosen to go out as missionaries from the church at Antioch, but it is a strange double-choosing. On one hand, God has selected them, and it is God who is sending them out. On the other, the church at Antioch sends them. But the church at Antioch is not presented by God with a choice about what they would like to do; that is not their role. The task of the church members is to identify what God is doing and to follow in His footsteps. This is true in every decision we make in churches, whether selecting pastors and deacons, choosing a missionary to support, or more mundane things. The question can never be "What do I want?" It always has to be "As I have been serving God and praying, what is God leading me to do?" If we follow His leadership, we will be wise leaders ourselves.

Discussion Idea: Who is someone you want to be like? Why?
Prayer Focus: Pray for the wisdom to see God's will, and to duplicate His leadership.

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