Sermon August 6, 2107 Judges 8 “Will You Finish Well?”

Judges Sermon # 11     Judges 8:1-35   August 6, 2017 

“Will You Finish Well?”

 Pastor Louis Prontnicki    Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church

Of all the track and field events in high school, I think the hardest event to give your all to, and even to watch, is the 3200 meter (the two mile) race. There are two reasons for this. One is that usually only three people are competing in the event, so competition factor is low. There is rarely a photo finish to the race. The other reason is that unlike the cross country race, the 3200 meter event is eight boring times around the same track. Even the most dedicated parents can lose interest in watching their child jog around the track, when it might take 10-15 minutes to do so.

But if you are running that 3200 meter race, there’s one thing you want to do: you want to finish well. You want to cross that finish line with as much speed as you can, and feel like you gave it your all.

The Christian life is like the 3200 meter race, right? Except that instead of eight times around the track, it’s 52 times (weeks) around the track of life, times the number of years you live. For many people, that’s around 4,000 times around the track of life!

Sometimes you feel like your life is going nowhere, in circles, and the finish line seems so far away. There’s few people cheering you on, and you are tempted to just walk to the finish line, or maybe even drop out of the race.  But the grace of God in Jesus Christ call us to finish well, and that should be our aim, our desire: “Lord, help me, in whatever circumstances you have put me, to finish this earthly life well, to your glory!”

 

Let’s consider one of the many leaders in the Bible who did not finish well, so we can be warned from his negative example.  I’m talking about Gideon, in Judges chapter eight.

Now Gideon made it into the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith”. By God’s power and grace weak and timid Gideon was transformed into a mighty warrior, and the Lord used him to defeat the dreaded Midianites, and to give peace to the Israelites for 40 years!

And yet… and yet….Gideon did not finish well. What went wrong? What can we learn from his sins? And most importantly: You each need to ask yourself: will I finish well? Will I finish out my years in a Christ-honoring manner?

Let me say two things to those who are younger, and feel that you are just starting out: (1) the disciplines of grace that you establish now will enable you to finish well later, and (2) the sin habits you put off now will keep you from stumbling later on. So this is for everyone.

Now I am not going to go into detail regarding Gideon’s good track record up till this point. We’ve already seen him in Judges 6-7 as a man of faith who overthrows the idols of his people, and also as a mighty warrior, who wisely uses the resources God gives him, in order to gain victory over God’s enemies, the Midianites.

Yet here in chapter eight, we see Gideon slowing down on the path of faith, and getting distracted by temptations of pride and personal vengeance. We see this mighty warrior becoming more interested in gaining glory for himself than in giving glory to God. He begins to think that since God used him to achieve this mighty victory, he really must be a big man, and he starts acting like God, instead of serving God.

Let me highlight a few of the ways in which Gideon takes his eyes off the finish line and starts looking in the mirror:

 First, Gideon Becomes Overconfident. (8:7-9)

Then Gideon replied, “Just for that, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will tear your flesh with desert thorns and briers.” From there he went up to Peniel and made the same request of them, but they answered as the men of Sukkoth had. So he said to the men of Peniel, “When I return in triumph, I will tear down this tower.”

  Notice Gideon’s words: “I will tear your flesh”  “When I return in triumph (or peace)…I will tear down this tower.”   Gideon is becoming overconfident and arrogant. He doesn’t say, “If the Lord wills, I will do such and such,” but rather Gideon boasts “I will do this and that!”

He is like a runner who relies on his or her past successes, and slacks off on training.

Brothers and sisters: watch out that your years of experience and your past successes do not tempt you to become overconfident in your abilities. Such arrogant pride in what you think you can accomplish will cause you to take your eyes off of Jesus, and you will not finish well. Rather, you and I need to walk humbly with our God; we need to confess our daily and total dependence upon Him, for without Christ, we can do nothing.

Second, Gideon is Determined to Get Even (8:18-21)

18 Then he asked Zebah and Zalmunna, “What kind of men did you kill at Tabor?” “Men like you,” they answered, “each one with the bearing of a prince.” 19 Gideon replied, “Those were my brothers, the sons of my own mother. As surely as the Lord lives, if you had spared their lives, I would not kill you.” 20 Turning to Jether, his oldest son, he said, “Kill them!” But Jether did not draw his sword, because he was only a boy and was afraid. 21 Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Come, do it yourself. ‘As is the man, so is his strength.’” So Gideon stepped forward and killed them, and took the ornaments off their camels’ necks.

From this passage, it’s very possible that after his initial victory over the Midianites, what drove Gideon was his desire to get revenge on these two men, who had murdered his older brothers. That is, Gideon’s big push to not let any Midianites escape was motived by wanting to get even with these two murderers. He even wanted to get his son Jether to kill these men, so that his whole family might join with him in this spirit of revenge.

  How does that relate to us? Well, while few of us might have such a vengeful spirit, many of us might be driven by a desire to “get even” or to get ahead of someone else that we see as a rival. Think about a recent conversation that you had: did you desire to get the last word in? Were you anxious to tell a story of your experience that might top the other person’s story? In so many subtle ways, we all want to come up with a story, a hardship, or an experience that gets us even with the other person, if not ahead of them. Is that you? If so, you need to die to that sinful tendency, or you will not finish well.

Third, Gideon Desired Self-Glory (8:22-27)

22 The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us from the hand of Midian.”23 But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.”

Don’t take this at face value. This is a typical middle-eastern way of acting like you don’t want something, when you really do. This is Gideon’s way of accepting the offer to be king, but in pseudo-humble manner. Consider the evidence that Gideon really wants glory for himself.

First, he named his son, Abimelech, which means “My father is king.” (8:31, 9:1)

Second, he requested and accepted tribute/ plunder from his people (v. 24)

Third, he took many wives for himself, just as a king might do. (v. 30)

Fourth, and worst of all, Gideon took the people’s gold and made an ephod.

Now an ephod was like an apron worn by the high priest, in his role as a mediator between the Lord and the people. Now there already would have been a ephod associated with the worship at the tabernacle, so Gideon is usurping the role of the priest, especially related to his ability to discern God’s will.

 Perhaps Gideon thinks that as the Lord had spoken to him and directed him before (chapters 6-7), he would continue to be used as God’s mouthpiece to the nation, as their priest and prophet.

Gideon seems to be seeking to be a priest over Israel, as well as their judge/savior/king. But only the Lord can be the true king (23), and only the Lord can be our true Savior and High Priest (in the person and work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.)

So Gideon didn’t finish well: He was satisfied to judge or deliver the people in battle; he wanted more glory for himself as their king, their priest, and their prophet!  Sadly, Israel followed Gideon as their pseudo-king/priest, and this led the people into spiritual adultery again.

Are you finishing well, or are you faltering? Are you like Gideon, starting out well and then faltering in the later laps of the race? Why does that happen? Sometimes it is because we are at our most vulnerable just after our greatest triumphs. Sometimes we are most prone to fall into temptation after we have experienced God’s grace and power for a tough task. Why? Perhaps we let our guard down? Perhaps because we think we are strong in ourselves? Maybe it’s because we relax our spiritual disciplines? Take heed: the more impressive your achievements for the Lord, the greater will be your temptations. (That’s one reason the Lord sometimes sends a “thorn in the flesh” – 2 Cor. 12:7-10 – to keep us humble and dependent on Him.)

There are many reasons for not finishing well in the Christian life:

One is complacency or laziness- we don’t want to “work up a sweat.” Prov. 20:4 “If you’re too lazy to plow, don’t expect a harvest.” It could be that you are more interested in your own comfort/ self-centered. Why do you tend to falter?

Don’t think it won’t happen to you. One study of 50 leaders in the Bible showed that only 30% of them finished well; more than 2/3 of them did not finish well.

So what do you do to ensure that you will finish well?

  1. Keep your eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-3 “Fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith… Consider Him who endured… so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”)
  2. Practice the disciplines of grace (Heb. 12:11-14 “Discipline produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it…Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy.”)
  3. Keep growing: spiritually, intellectually, even physically (Psalm 92:12-15 “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. {14} They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh [they are ever full of sap!] and green…”)
  4. Invest in others, like Aquila and Priscilla did (Acts 18:2, 18-19, 26; Rom. 16:3; 1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Tim. 4:19) This couple minister to Paul, Apollos, to Timothy, and to many saints, by mentoring and opening their home, in Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome, etc.

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How will you finish your Christian life? Running, with joy?  Walking? Limping?  Or maybe not even finishing? Disqualified? All’s well that ends well…. So see to it that you end well!

Let us run the race set before us with perseverance… fixing our eyes on Jesus.

For He is the One who declared at the end of His race, “It is finished!” (John 19:30)