The following sermon was preached on Wednesday night, March 24, 2010 at FBC Benbrook
One of the many things that makes the book of Judges so difficult to read is reconciling the stark spiritual darkness of this historical time period on the heels of exodus story. Just a few years before the events of the first chapter of the book of Judges, the people experienced one of the most miraculous periods of human history. After revealing Himself at the burning bush, God poured out His miraculous power in unprecedented fashion for all the people to see. And this was no private viewing open only to the priestly community. All of the common folk saw the Nile turn to blood, or the frogs invade the land, or the sky turn black. Even the youngest child walked across the dry ground with the waters of the Red Sea held back by the power of God. Each day, the manna appeared, and the pillar of fire was always before them.
But the generation that experienced the wonders of God up close and personal were not exactly the most faithful lot of people. When push came to shove, when the water hit the wheel, when they had to put their money where their mouth was, the people faltered in their faith. Despite seeing all of the great power of God on full display, they simply could not believe that God could help them defeat the giants of the land of Canaan. Because of their unbelief, the Lord let that generation pass away in the wilderness, and He would start over with the next generation.
The children of the exodus, the young ones who were old enough to see what was going on but not old enough to have any decision making power, this generation would be allowed to enter the land of promise. Joshua would lead them into land flowing with milk and honey. And the hopes were high that they would not adopt the unbelief of their parents, but that they would trust in the Lord and in the power of His might.
Under the leadership of Joshua, the people were, for the most part, faithful. With a few exceptions, the people trusted and obeyed the Lord. It must have been quite a faith challenge to march around the walled city of Jericho for days on end, but the people remained faithful and witnessed the power of God at work.
But the time would come for that generation to be gathered to its fathers, too. In the waning days of Joshua’s leadership, he would challenge them to remain faithful to the Lord. In his famous farewell speech, Joshua said,
14“Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” 16Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods! 17It was the LORD our God himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18And the LORD drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the LORD, because he is our God.” (Joshua 24.14-18 NIV)
Joshua was not too convinced, and he warned them of how hard it would be to stay faithful to the Lord. But the people stayed faithful as long as Joshua was alive, and even as long as the elders who ruled with Joshua, who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel, remained alive. But when they died…
Dark clouds of unbelief moved quickly across the land to hide the bright faith of Moses and Joshua. The book of Judges foreshadows this shift in faith with these words,
8Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of a hundred and ten. 9And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. 10After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. 11Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. 12They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger 13because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. (Judges 2.8-13 NIV)
Second Generation Faith
One of the great challenges of the people of God has always been the passing of the faith from one generation to the next. Scholars who study this kind of thing call it “Second Generation Syndrome.” This is the experience in any organization when those with the vision that began the organization have passed, and another set of leaders take over. This has been analyzed in the business world, the realm of non-profits, and in churches. The organization is founded with the passion and vision of the first generation, but it is the second and third generations that will determine whether the organization will be more than a blip on the screen.
When the first generation of Joshua and the elders passed away, the next generation was left without those who had personally witnessed everything that the Lord had done for Israel. Those who had seen and believed were no more. Now it was up to those who had not seen, whether or not they would believe. Unfortunately, the next generation neither knew the Lord or what He had done for Israel. The faith had not transferred.
There are so many questions to ask. Why did the second generation not embrace the faith of the first generation? Was the first generation to blame because they didn’t pass along the faith or was the second generation to blame because they didn’t pick it up? How does one generation pass the faith along to the next? I doubt I can try to answer all of these questions, but allow me to make a few observations about this struggle from the book of Judges.
Before I do, let me say that this is one of the greatest challenges facing the church today. I do not need to tell you about the decline in both church attendance and in the percentage of professing Christians in our nation today. The difference between the percentage of senior adults who profess Jesus as their Savior and Lord and the percentage of young adults who do the same is staggering. Fewer adults attend church today than ever before, and in 40 years, church attendance in America will be roughly half of what it is today if current trends continue. One in four young adults describe themselves today as either agnostic, atheist, or unaffiliated. And while other denominations have been declining around us, for the first time ever, the Southern Baptist Convention has reported two consecutive years of a decline in church membership. The question of passing the faith from one generation to another is not an insignificant question, but it is a question of the very life and health of the people of God.
What can we learn from the story of Judges 2? Let’s make a few observations.
The Failure of the First Generation
While the blame cannot be totally laid at the feet of the first generation, we must take a serious look at the failure of the first generation to pass the faith along to the second generation. How is it that an entire generation grew up neither knowing the Lord or knowing what the Lord had done for Israel? Embedded in the Law were specific provisions for the first generation to pass the faith down to the second. For instance, in Deuteronomy 6 (which is the most famous passage of all the Law, the John 3:16 of the Old Testament, the single verse which every good Jew would have committed to memory) the Law commands,
4Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deuteronomy 6.4-7 NIV)
It was the first generation’s primary task to talk about the covenant between the Lord and Israel with their children. They were to work to impress His commands upon their children, they were to speak of them constantly to their children. The Law was to be upon their own hearts in such a way that it constantly overflowed in their conversation with their kids.
Every year, the entire nation would act out the great and wonderful things the Lord did for them in the exodus story through the Passover meal. The Passover meal was an annual reminder of God’s deliverance and salvation from bondage to Egypt and His gracious hand to bring the people into the land of promise. As part of that annual celebration, the Law commanded that the first generation take the time and effort to explain the meaning of the celebration to the second generation. When Moses established the Passover he said to the people,
24“Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. 25When you enter the land that the LORD will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. 26And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ 27then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’” (Exodus 12.24-27 NIV)
Embedded in the Law was the requirement of the first generation to pass the faith down to the second generation. It was the first generation’s responsibility to make sure the second generation knew the Lord and knew everything He had done for Israel.
What makes this such a challenge for the church today is that we have to pass the faith to the next generation while allowing them to express that faith in their own ways. Each generation develops its own style of worship, its own ways of organization, its own ways of doing missions, and its own ways of making decisions and choosing leaders. Each generation must make the faith their own by capturing it with their heart and soul. At some point, the faith must transfer from being “my father’s faith” to being “my faith.” And that happens when I have the freedom to express my faith in a way that resonates with my soul.
The first generation has to allow the second generation to express their love for God with their own musical style. The first generation has to allow the second generation to form community in a way that resonate with them. The first generation has to allow the second generation to embrace God’s call for their life wherever it may lead. And it will always be a temptation for the first generation to want to force the second generation to adopt their forms of faith, their ways of worship, their ways of doing church and finding community.
I am proud of our church because in many ways you are giving the second generation the freedom to express the faith with their own musical style and with their own formations of community. You may not like the music in the second service, but you have given the young adults in our church the freedom to express their faith with their songs. You may not like cell groups, but you have given young adults in our church the freedom to find community in a way that is different than traditional Sunday School. This is all to your credit.
But there is still a word for us today. Not only must the first generation give the second generation the freedom to express their faith, we must also give to them the faith itself. The Law commands the first generation to have the kind of faith where the commandments of the Lord are upon our hearts. They have changed us. Our relationship with the Savior has transformed who we are and how we live. Our faith is such a part of the fabric of our being that we speak of it as sit at home, as we walk along the road, and as we lie down at night. It is a faith that is lived out constantly before the second generation. The young adults of today’s generation are walking hypocrisy meters. They can sniff out disingenuous faith from a mile away. When the first generation speaks of faith in public but their private lives betray their public faith, the net result is that the second generation despises the faith.
The Absence Of The Word Of God
Another observation we can make about the second generation from the book of Judges is the odd disappearance of the Word of God. The Lord gave Joshua very clear instructions regarding the Law after Moses died,
7Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Joshua 1.7-8 NIV)
When it came time for Joshua to die, one of the last things he did was to record “these things in the Book of the Law” (Joshua 24.26).
Which is why it is so surprising that the Law is not mentioned a single time in the book of Judges. In fact, the only references in the entire book to the commands of the Lord are in the first three chapters which covers the transition of power from Joshua to the next generation. After the transfer of power is complete, the people of God go into complete radio silence regarding the Law. Which makes us ask the question, “How can these things be?” But we have already pondered that question. Instead, look at what happens when the Word of God is disregarded by an entire generation.
The definition of morality becomes a very fluid concept. Once right and wrong is divorced from commands of God, morality is determined by what seems right in our own eyes (see Judges 21.25). Our emotions and selfish goals become the guiding light for morality, and when that happens, a nation is on a dangerous course to self destruction. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it only leads to death” (Proverbs 14.12).
Furthermore, the definition of holiness is lost. One of the most disturbing stories in the book of Judges is the story of Jephthah who makes a horrible vow unto the Lord as a display of his faith (see Judges 11.29-40). Had his faith been informed by the Law, he would have known that the Lord despises the sacrifice of children. The Law clearly says, “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire” (Deuteronomy 18.10). And yet he makes and carries out a vow to the Lord that does exactly what the Lord despises. Because the Law was missing in this time period, the people created their own brand of holiness and worship. And when we worship the Lord in ways that seem right to us, we will always pervert the worship of God.
We are witnessing in our own day the disappearance of the Word of God. While the Bible continues to be the most published book of all time, and while the number of copies of the Bible continue to rise in our nation, the Words of the Lord are disappearing from our midst. Churches have by and large either become ear ticklers or self help clinics. The words of the apostle Paul to Timothy are no less relevant today. Paul wrote,
1In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (2 Timothy 4.1-5 NIV)
The church has embraced the “Brown Gospel,” seeking only what God can do for me. The prosperity gospel is what sells on TV. By and large, the major denominations have all caved to the pressure from society and have rewritten the standards for sexual immorality. So called “Christian denominations” are now preaching that Christ is only one of many ways to God. The result of this treatment of the Bible is that an entire generation is coming of age that does not know the Lord as He has revealed Himself but knows of a god created in our image.
You have probably heard of the latest turmoil in Stephenville. The drama department at Tarleton State University is presenting four plays on Saturday, one of which is called “Corpus Christi,” a play that depicts a gay Jesus who performs a marriage ceremony between two of the apostles (James and Bartholomew) and who kisses his friend Judas during their senior prom. The student director, who grew up a devout Mormon, said that he wanted to convey the turmoil that gay Christians sometimes experience and create a sense of acceptance, tolerance, and unconditional love. John Otte, who is himself gay, says, “We all share this world. We’re no different. Everything Christ has said applies to us as well.”
This is what happens when the specific Word of God is replaced with the generic word of god. In the generic word of god, the values of man are placed on the lips of Jesus. Jesus would want us to accept everyone regardless of their lifestyle choices. Jesus would not judge. Jesus would not reject anyone but would love everyone. But in the specific Word of God, where the words of Jesus are actually recorded, the eternal triune God speaks very clearly. Listen to the words of Jesus, part of the “everything Christ said” that applies to us,
12“Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. 13I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. 14“Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. 16“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” (Revelation 22.12-16 NIV)
When the Word of God disappears from a generation, they begin to fashion idols in their own image, and god begins to look strangely like just another one of us.
The Absence of Thanksgiving
One last observation about the second generation. One of the perils of the second generation is that we forget the source behind all of the gifts in our lives. Moses warned the people of this very problem. He said to them,
10When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Deuteronomy 6.10-12 NIV)
Moses would repeat these words in Deuteronomy 8,
10When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. 11Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today. (Deuteronomy 8.10-18 NIV)
How quickly the second generation forgets. How quickly the second generation turns the gifts of prosperity into the pride of accomplishment. “My power and my strength have produced this wealth for me!”
When thanksgiving and praise disappears from our hearts, when we forget that all of our benefits are gifts from the Lord, when we forget that everything we enjoy is the results of God’s kindness and grace, then prideful rebellion is soon to follow.
When we see that the first generation failed to pass the faith along to the second generation, when we see that the Word of God disappeared from their midst, and when we see that thanksgiving and praise was replaced by pride, it is no surprise that the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord. It is no surprise that they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers who had brought them out of Egypt. It is no surprise that they followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. And it is certainly no surprise that they provoked the Lord to anger.