Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Blessings of the Consequences of Righteous Living


I have bad news for all of you.  Doing the right thing does not always have a good outcome.  In fact, as Christians, we often see that doing the right thing ends up pretty badly.  It can be very discouraging, but it shouldn't be.  First of all, as we will see, doing the right thing does not end with the good thing we do, it ends with how we handle the consequences of our actions.  I hope that we will see today that keeping our eyes on God and our hearts in eternity, those bad consequences for good actions take on a whole new meaning.  I hope that we will be encouraged to do what is right because while we may face hardship in this world, we will be rewarded in the next.  So let us take a small tour of people who did what was right and faced the earthly consequences for their actions. 
"You, O king, have made a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, shall fall down and worship the gold image; and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. There are certain Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego; these men, O king, have not paid due regard to you. They do not serve your gods or worship the gold image which you have set up." Then Nebuchadnezzar, in rage and fury, gave the command to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. So they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, "Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up? Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?" Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up." Then Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the expression on his face changed toward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. He spoke and commanded that they heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. And he commanded certain mighty men of valor who were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, and cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their coats, their trousers, their turbans, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.  Daniel 3:10-21 NKJV
In this story, we have 3 Jewish young men who were commanded along with everyone else to bow down before an idol of Nebuchadnezzar with the penalty of burning in a fiery furnace if they refused.  They refused and were brought before Nebuchadnezzar.  Nebuchadnezzar gave them a chance to live if they would only bow before the statue the next time the music played.  They could have done the wrong thing and lived, but they chose to do the right thing and face the consequences.  Note their reply: "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up."   May we have that same heart.  They were not afraid to face death knowing that they worshiped the true and living God.  They were ready to face the consequences for acting righteously.  Now in a movie this is where the emperor would have a big change of heart and command everyone to stop worshiping the statue and our heroes would go free.  This is not a movie, though, this is reality.  Nebuchadnezzar was infuriated at their reply and commanded not only they be thrown into the fire, but to make that fire even hotter.  They followed through their righteous act by accepting the consequences of those actions and look how it ended.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, "Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?" They answered and said to the king, "True, O king." "Look!" he answered, "I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God." Then Nebuchadnezzar went near the mouth of the burning fiery furnace and spoke, saying, "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here." Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego came from the midst of the fire. And the satraps, administrators, governors, and the king's counselors gathered together, and they saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed nor were their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them. Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God! "Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this." Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the province of Babylon.  Daniel 3:22-30 NKJV
God saved these three young men, God was glorified, and in the end they were blessed with promotions.  They accepted the consequences of their actions and trusted in God to saved them.  God acted miraculously and the man who made himself into an idol bowed before the true and living God.  How would this story have ended if they were afraid of the consequences and just bowed before the idol to save their lives?

Sometimes God does not immediately deliver us from the consequences of righteous actions.  Sometimes we must spend some time under those consequences.  Even in those times, we must be encouraged.  Let's take a look into the life of Joseph for our example.
And it came to pass after these things that his master's wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, "Lie with me." But he refused and said to his master's wife, "Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. "There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her. But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him by his garment, saying, "Lie with me." But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. And so it was, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and fled outside, that she called to the men of her house and spoke to them, saying, "See, he has brought in to us a Hebrew to mock us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. "And it happened, when he heard that I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me, and fled and went outside." So she kept his garment with her until his master came home. Then she spoke to him with words like these, saying, "The Hebrew servant whom you brought to us came in to me to mock me; so it happened, as I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me and fled outside." So it was, when his master heard the words which his wife spoke to him, saying, "Your servant did to me after this manner," that his anger was aroused. Then Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison, a place where the king's prisoners were confined. And he was there in the prison. Genesis 39:7-20 NKJV
If anyone deserved a pity party for doing the right thing, it was Joseph.  He was sold into slavery by his own brothers.  He was sent away to Egypt, a foreign land.  He was made a slave and became the best slave he could be with God prospering all that he did.  Then his master's wife thinks that he is attractive and pleads day after day with him to sleep with her and day after day he did the right thing and refused.  Then one day she decided to be even more aggressive and grabbed his clothes and tried to drag him to bed.  He fled, leaving his clothes behind.  For all that good he did, he was thrown into prison.  His life just gets better and better.  Even in prison (and you can read ahead to see the account), he was a model prisoner and was given much authority.  Still, it was prison, and his life was from worldly standards pretty bad.  And it was all the result of doing the right thing.  So how did Joseph end up?

Well to keep this post to some reasonable length, I will paraphrase a bit.  Two of the king's servants were thrown into prison with Joseph and each had confusing dreams.  God gave Joseph the interpretation of those dreams and his prophesies all came to be.  This reputation ultimately came to the king who was also having troubling dreams that no one was able to interpret and so he called for Joseph.  Joseph gave him the interpretation of those dreams and how to handle the coming famine that those dreams prophesied.  Here is how Joseph was rewarded.
And Pharaoh said to his servants, "Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?" Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you." And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt." Then Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on Joseph's hand; and he clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. And he had him ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried out before him, "Bow the knee!" So he set him over all the land of Egypt. Pharaoh also said to Joseph, "I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no man may lift his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt."  Genesis 41:38-44 NKJV
Joseph could have wallowed in his own personal pity party, but he continued to act righteously even through the consequences he received for prior righteous acts.  He followed through his righteous actions by accepting the earthly consequences and continue to act righteously through them.  He never lost his trust in God.  He did not give up when sold into slavery.  He did not fall into temptation with his master's wife when he could just as easily taken the attitude that he "deserves" some sin for the hardship he is undeservedly facing.  He could have just gave up in prison.  But, in the end, he kept true and faithful to God and God was glorified and he was blessed.  If he just gave up at any point before this, he would have spent his life in slavery or in prison. 

Sometimes, though, God does not deliver us at all from the earthly consequences for righteous actions.  For our example, we turn to John the Baptist.
For Herod had laid hold of John and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife. Because John had said to him, "It is not lawful for you to have her." And although he wanted to put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. But when Herod's birthday was celebrated, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, "Give me John the Baptist's head here on a platter." And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her. So he sent and had John beheaded in prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. Then his disciples came and took away the body and buried it, and went and told Jesus.  Matthew 14:3-12 NKJV
John the Baptist, the herald of Jesus and preacher of righteousness spoke out against Herod's marriage.  He spoke out for righteousness and for his deeds he was thrown in prison.  In the end, his speaking out for righteousness cost him his head.  It cost him his life.  There was no rescue, no great sermon, no last minute heroics, and no great miracle.  His head was given as a birthday present as the result of a dumb promise.  May we not be discouraged by the unceremonious end of this great prophet of God.  Despite what it looks like from a worldly perspective, let us see how God used it.
When Jesus heard it, He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself. But when the multitudes heard it, they followed Him on foot from the cities. And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick. When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food." But Jesus said to them, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat." And they said to Him, "We have here only five loaves and two fish." He said, "Bring them here to Me." Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes. So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children.  John 14:13-21 NKJV
After the death of John the Baptist Jesus went off alone to pray.  When the multitudes heard the news, they went to Jesus.  Jesus performed many miracles at that place, including feeding 5000 families with five loaves of bread and two fish.  John paid the ultimate price, and as a result God was glorified.  Just in case you are worried about John, I am sure he was not complaining.  Where was God through is prison and execution? He was in Heaven waiting for His servant to come home.  John the Baptist lost his head but gained his eternal reward soon to be fully realized when Jesus died on the cross.  No, John the Baptist was not complaining, he was celebrating that even his death was used for God's glory. He accepted the consequences of his righteous acts and through that Jesus performed many miracles to many people.  How would the gospels be different of he chose not to follow God and not preach righteousness, even to Herod.

And, finally, sometimes the consequences for a righteous act is immediate and severe.  For our example, we will look to the Apostle Stephen.
And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. Then they secretly induced men to say, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God." And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council. They also set up false witnesses who said, "This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; "for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us." And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel.  Acts 6:8-15 NKJV
Stephen then goes on to deliver a powerful and convicting sermon to those who sat in his judgment.  I am skipping ahead a little but I invite you to read the sermon.
When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.  Acts 7:54-60 NKJV
This was no Billy Graham altar call.  They did not drop to their knees in repentance and come to know Jesus as Lord.  No, they plugged their ears, dragged him out, and stoned him to death.  A rather painful and humiliating way to die.  He had no time in prison to minister.  He had no appeal.  He was just dragged out and hit with stones over and over again until he was dead.  Even in his gruesome death, he still called on the Lord not for his own sake, but for the sake of those stoning him.  He showed grace to his executioners and trusted that the Lord will be waiting for him in glory.  So how was God glorified in all this?  How did the consequences of his righteous acts glorify God?  Well for that we need to skip ahead in history a little bit.
Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" Then the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads." So he, trembling and astonished, said, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" Then the Lord said to him, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."  Acts 9:1-6 NKJV
I know many of you think this is quite a stretch. I understand as I am skipping some bit ahead and attributing Paul's conversion to Stephen's sacrifice.  I do not think it is a stretch at all.  I believe it is exactly what happened.  First note that God specifically mentioned Paul (then Saul) at Stephen's execution.  In fact, this is when Paul is first introduced in Scripture.  We also learn that Paul consented (meaning he voted for) Stephen's death.  After that, Paul went on a persecution rampage becoming a terror of the new and growing church.  How can Stephen's death be attributed to Paul's conversion when there is a lot of persecution in between?  There is a phrase that is often overlooked.  Jesus said to Paul "It is hard for you to kick against the goads."  We skip over it because we do not know what it means.  Goads were what one would put in front of the plow to make it uncomfortable and difficult for the ox to kick and also protect the driver from being kicked.  To attribute that to Paul would mean that God was doing things in Paul's heart and life that let him know that what he is doing is wrong and probably making it uncomfortable for him to do it.  Also note how fast he was converted.  Jesus identified Himself and Paul immediately submitted himself under the authority of Jesus.  I believe the text is clear that God was working in the heart of Paul and all we know that could have reached Paul was hearing the testimony and watching the death of Stephen.  From that we see that Stephen's acceptance of the consequence of his righteous act was the seed that was planted into the heart of Paul.  Jesus came to Paul on the Damascus Road to complete that which had started.  God was glorified in the death of Stephen in the conversion of Paul.  If Stephen did not follow through his righteous acts by accepting their consequences, where would the church be today? 

We need not look very far for real modern day examples of consequences for righteous acts.  Our church was watered with the blood of martyrs whose deaths became great witnesses to the power of God in their lives.  Even today, God spreads His message through those persecuted, imprisoned, and executed for their faith.  There are various websites like Voice of the Martyrs that have accounts of modern heroes of the faith going through terrible things for their faith.  So what consequences to we face for righteous acts that compares to the examples I gave today?  Are we afraid of our family alienating themselves from us?  Are we afraid of losing friends?  Are we afraid of not being accepted at work or even losing our job by not compromising our values?  What consequences do we fear that keep us so many times from doing right?   In America, we do not face prison (though more and more each day it looks like we might), we do not face execution, we do not face stoning (like that Christian woman in Pakistan is currently facing), we do not face fiery furnaces, we do not face torture and whippings, we do not face being sewn in half, we do not face being wrapped in animals skins to be torn apart by wild animals in full public view, we do not face being burned alive, and we certainly do not face crucifixion.  All of those have happened or currently happen to our brothers and sisters even to this day.  But the greatest example is our Lord.  He came to earth for our sakes, he never told a lie, never coveted his neighbor's anything, never stole anything, never acted in violence, never fornicated, never told a dirty joke, but what he did do was reach out to the lost and lonely of the world, performed many miracles, healed many people, raised people from the dead, and gave glory to God for everything.  His earthly consequence for his righteous acts was to be humiliated, beaten, scourged, and crucified.  He accepted the consequences for His righteous acts and God was glorified in that what he went through paid for all our sins.  The fruit of the consequences of his righteous acts was our salvation.  He died so that we may live.  He suffered so that we may be forgiven.  May we have that same heart.  Act righteously and follow through by accepting its consequences.  God saved the world through the consequences of righteous acts, just imagine what God can do through you.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:10-12 NKJV

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