Judges Sermon # 4 Judges 3:1-11 June 4, 2017
“The Good News of Jesus Christ: Simple to Grasp, yet Mighty to Save”
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
Are you ever at a loss for words when you are trying to explain the gospel to someone? Are you afraid to talk about Jesus Christ, because you think you’ll make a mess of it?
If so, I have good news for you: the basic gospel is straightforward, clear-cut and uncomplicated, and you don’t need to be Billy Graham or Ravi Zacharias to share it with others. The Good News of Jesus Christ is both simple to grasp and yet it is mighty to save!
Listen to what the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 2:1-5. He wrote that when he came to the Corinthians, he didn’t come with eloquence or superior wisdom; instead he came to them in weakness, fear, and trembling. But he did come with two powerful things: one was the straightforward message of Christ crucified; the other was the power of the Holy Spirit. And what came out of his weakness and the clear proclamation of the gospel? Their faith rested not on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” You see, even Paul made the gospel simple to grasp, yet God the Holy Spirit made it mighty to save!
The same dynamic is at work for you and me, as we speak to people about Jesus Christ. And we find that the same principles were at work with Othniel, the first judge, in Judges 3:1-11.
“These are the nations the Lord left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan 2 (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience): 3 the five rulers of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in the Lebanon mountains from Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo Hamath. 4 They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the Lord’s commands, which he had given their ancestors through Moses. 5 The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 6 They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods.”
The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. 8 The anger of the Lord burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. 9 But when they cried out to the Lord, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. 10 The Spirit of the Lord came on him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The Lord gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. 11 So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died.
Here are four encouraging truths from this section of God’s Word:
- The Message of the Lord’s Salvation is Simple to Grasp
What we have in the account of Othniel the judge is how the Lord saves people, in a bare bones message. Simply put, The Lord uses Othniel to save his people, without any distracting drama or special effects. Unlike the stories of some of the other judges, here we see none of Gideon’s trumpets, nor Samson’s jawbones, nor Jael’s hammer and peg. No.
God starts us off with a basic pattern of salvation in the account of Othniel.
The people sin and rebel against the Lord, as they worship and serve idols;
Their sinful habits and addictions boomerang, as the idols they worship come to enslave them;
They suffer the results of going after the gods of other nations, and end up oppressed;
So they cry out to God for help, and in his mercy, He sends a savior, who is spirit-empowered;
And through him, they have peace, while they stay under that savior’s protection!
Now compared to the stories of Gideon, Samson, or Jael, the story of Othniel wouldn’t make much of a movie or novel, would it? The Bible gives us just the basic facts of what the Lord did through him, and little more. That’s why we don’t have Sunday school lessons about Othniel. That’s why Tom Jones never sang a song about Othniel, like he did about Samson and Delilah.
That’s why we don’t have a Bible distribution group called the Othniels, as with the Gideons.
Dale Davis comments: “There are nothing but bare essentials here – and those are about what the Lord had done… It is likely that we have this first episode in such a stripped down style precisely so that we will see clearly what is most essential – the activity of the Lord. Sometimes interesting people can obscure that, and we end up watching these fascinating folks, but never see what our God is doing.” Examples: a charismatic preacher; a gifted teacher; an author with a flair for words.
It is the Gospel, plain and simple, that we see here through Othniel – a gospel message that is simple to grasp, but mighty to save. Have you grasped it, by faith? Do you know that it is mighty to save you? Are you sharing this simple but mighty message with others?
- The Power behind the Lord’s Salvation is His Alone
When we read about Samson’s exploits in Judges 13-16, the men might be impressed with his physical strength: “How many Philistines can he bench press?” Or when we read about Deborah and Jael in Judges 4-5, the ladies might want to emulate such strong and brave women.
But when we read about this first judge, Othniel, there’s nothing distinctive about him that impresses us. What we do read is that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Othniel (v. 10), and that The Lord gave the King of Aram Naharaim into Othniel’s hands, so that Othniel could over power him and his army. (v. 10)… and the land had peace for 40 years (v. 11).
The clear message is that salvation and deliverance is from the Lord, and from the Lord alone. He is the One who empowers people with His mighty Holy Spirit. He is the One who defeats Israel’s oppressor. He is the One who raises up kings. He is the One who brings them down.
So this gospel that is simple to grasp is also mighty to save, because it is the power of the Lord at work through men such as Othniel, to save. That’s what the Apostle Paul said in 1 Cor. 2:1-5, as we saw earlier: he came to them in weakness, but he came with the straightforward message of Christ crucified and with the power of the Holy Spirit. And as a result, those who believed had a faith which rested not on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16)
“Savior, you can move the mountains. God you are mighty to save, you are mighty to save.”
Do you believe that the Lord is mighty to save? Are you stepping out in faith because He is?
- Our Suffering Can Lead Us to the Lord’s Savior
The people of Israel forgot the Lord (v. 7), and therefore the Lord’s anger burned against them (v. 8), and He sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim, for eight years [to wake them up!]
Note that Israel’s history of slavery to a foreign oppressor was not the result of economic or military factors. Rather their suffering and oppression were the result of their blatant rebellion against the Lord, and God’s covenantal wrath upon them. They deserved this suffering, as it was the consequence of their sinful choice.
Yet even here, the Lord’s wrath and chastisement have a redemptive purpose. Dale Davis writes that it is “the heat of His jealous love by which He refuses to let go of His people; He refuses to allow His people to remain comfortable in their sin.”
You see, for Israel to be suffering as slaves to a foreign oppressor is actually the beginning of their salvation, as it forces His people to lose their grip on serving Baal. Their suffering because of sin opens their eyes to the foolishness of their idolatry, their addictions, and their rebellion against the Lord. Like the Prodigal Son, who had enough of working in the pig sty, the people come to their senses and see how desperately they need a savior!
What about you? Have your sufferings led you to God’s ultimate Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ?
Now you might astutely observe that often Israel’s crying out for help to God was only because they didn’t want to suffer anymore, not because they were truly turning from their sins. That’s right. But do you know what? As we saw last Sunday, God’s heart is moved by our misery… even when we are not truly repentant. The Hebrew word for “Cried Out” (za’aq, v. 9) does not itself imply repentance; rather it is a cry for help when one is in deep distress. Therefore the Lord may have raised up a deliverer not because His people repented, but in response to their misery and pain. “Who can ever plumb the depth of the Lord’s pity for His sinful people….who are moved more by their distress than by their depravity?” (Davis). This is often true in my heart: I cry out to God in my distress, my pain, my hard circumstances, rather than our of a sense of my sinfulness and how I am offending my Holy God! “Lord, soften my heart; soften our hearts!”
- We Must Come Under Jesus as Savior, to Know Real Peace
We read in v. 11 that the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died. That is, as long as they lived under the rule of Othniel, they experienced peace, without fear of oppression from their foes. But once Othniel died, we read in the next verse that once again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and they fell under the power of the Moabites for 18 years.
Friends, God has given us a leader, a true judge, who will bring us everlasting peace – peace with God and peace with each other – if we will gladly submit to his rule over us. His name is Jesus Christ, and He is the Prince of Peace, forever! Let me ask you: have you surrendered to King Jesus? Do you know His peace that passes human understanding, and is greater than all your troubling circumstances?
Commentator George Schwab writes that we need a leader, like Othniel, who is full of the Spirit, who can go up against evil and be victorious. We need a covenant-keeping military leader who can deliver us from evil. And we see in Othniel a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ, who possessed the Spirit (John 3:34), and who vanquished sin, Satan, and death itself. And through him, we can wage spiritual warfare… against the true “King Double-Evil,” the prince of the powers of this evil age (Eph. 2:2, 6:12)
You know, in the Book of Judges, Israel’s conflicts with foreign oppressors grew worse and worse, and as the nook of Judges runs its course, we see that there is no end, no final solution for lasting peace in sight. But by looking ahead to Jesus, we see a solution for true peace in sight, as sin and death are finally swallowed up in the victory of Christ at the cross and His resurrection!
The Gospel of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior: Simple to grasp, yet mighty to save. Have you grasped it? Are you experiencing the power of the gospel, to set you free from your idols, your habits, your addictions? Do you know the Peace of Christ, which passes all understanding?