Sunday, October 3, 2010

October 3rd - The Pleasures of Sin

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Text – Zechariah 5:5-11, Proverbs 9

Today we approach Zechariah’s seventh vision, one of the more difficult ones to tell you what the exact details mean, but one where the greater point shines forth. We’re going to look at the attractiveness of sin, the world’s efforts to elevate it, and God’s ability to suppress it.

Let’s do just a bit of review, there isn’t much coming forward in this vision from the last ones, but I didn’t clarify a major point last week that I really apologize for missing because it’s an important point.

The last two visions talked about the Word of God, if we are in God’s New Covenant, in the church, symbolically depicted as a lampstand, then how does the Word of God relate to us? It is as a blessing. But if we have broken God’s everlasting covenant and are outside of the church, then how does the Word of God relate to us? As a curse.

How did God redeem us from the curse of the law? By hanging his blessed Son on a tree, for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” Was Jesus hanged on a sycamore or oak tree? He was hung on a cross; what is the cross made of? A tree. Is it a living tree? No, it is a dead tree; I think we could call it a tree of death. Christ redeemed us from the curse by becoming a curse for us, he has given us his blessings, he died on a tree of death to grant us access to the tree of life; for whosoever believes in him will not perish, but will have eternal life.

What part did God play in the sending of the curse and in cursing his Son? Did they surprise him? No, he accomplished both by his own power. The only real tie-in that I see between the sixth and seventh visions is that both are being sent by God’s will. The wickedness we see today is not outside of God’s plan, indeed it comes from the same place as the curse, it may be that this vision is the curse in manifestation. So let’s read this seventh vision.

Zechariah 5:5-11 Then the angel who talked with me came forward and said to me, "Lift your eyes and see what this is that is going out." And I said, "What is it?" He said, "This is the basket that is going out." And he said, "This is their iniquity in all the land." And behold, the leaden cover was lifted, and there was a woman sitting in the basket! And he said, "This is Wickedness." And he thrust her back into the basket, and thrust down the leaden weight on its opening. Then I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, two women coming forward! The wind was in their wings. They had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between earth and heaven. Then I said to the angel who talked with me, "Where are they taking the basket?" He said to me, "To the land of Shinar, to build a house for it. And when this is prepared, they will set the basket down there on its base."

I’m going to do my best today to teach this like it should be taught. That’s what I always do, but today it could be tempting to try to take some of the offense out of this message, but I want you to see just how God sees the world and that outward beauty is not everything, I’m going to teach this along with Proverbs 9, because the two are closely tied together. If you’re not offended by the end of this lesson, then I’ve done something wrong.

v.5 Then the angel who talked with me came forward and said to me, "Lift your eyes and see what this is that is going out."

Visions six, seven, and eight all proceed out of Heaven, God sending forth either his law, or his plan, or his ministers. Zechariah is going to see a measuring basket, he’d know it was a measuring basket because these were really common in Israel, they hold about 7 gallons of whatever you want them to hold. When he asks what it is, he knows it’s a measuring basket, he wants to know what it’s measuring.

v.6 And I said, "What is it?" He said, "This is the basket that is going out." And he said, "This is their iniquity in all the land."

This verse is translated to interpret the passage for us. I’m not sure if I like that, though if you were reading the Bible in a year and only spent four days on Zechariah, I think I would like this interpretation, though this verse says something different in the Hebrew than what it says here, though they did a good job capturing the meaning of the passage without capturing the wording. What Jesus actually says here is that this is the resemblance of the world, or this is what God sees the world as, the original doesn’t have any meaning of sin, the translators are interpreting rightly what they read in verse 8. So what this measuring basket holds is what God sees the world as. So let’s see what this basket holds.

v.7 And behold, the leaden cover was lifted,

Wait, let’s stop there. The first thing we see is that whatever this basket is holding is protected by a big heavy weight. God is keeping what is inside inside…we see something odd here for a measuring basket, you wouldn’t put a heavy weight over seven gallons of grain. What do you think a weight would be used for? Whatever is inside is living and wants to escape!

Proverbs 29:18 Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.

Second Thessalonians tells us that God is also restraining the spirit of antichrist:

2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.

Let’s then look at what’s inside:

v. 7-8 and there was a woman sitting in the basket! And he said, "This is Wickedness."

Strange. I don’t know where to start, there are several exceedingly great points here. Let’s start with the fact that the woman is called Wickedness, because I think that’s important. This isn’t the part that’s meant to offend you, but if I taught this wrongly, then it could.

Do you think the woman represents wickedness because all women are irredeemably wicked or wickeder than men? No, of course not, we know that the Bible says ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, Zechariah just said this is the appearance of ALL land. I believe, and we’ll look at the verses that make me believe this, that this woman must be pretty cute and attractive and she represents the allure of sin as well as the actual sin.

Some sin is ugly and nasty and only certain people enjoy it, but most sin has a pleasure that comes with it. Sin can be really fun, if it wasn’t people wouldn’t do it…though some people sin and are miserable for it.

Hebrews 11:24-25 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.

The attractiveness of the female form is an amazing representative of this, John calls it the lust of the flesh and eyes.

1 John 2:16 For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.

Before you think God hates women, let’s read Proverbs 9 where both wisdom and wickedness are represented by women:

Proverbs 9:1-6,13-18 Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town, "Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!" To him who lacks sense she says, "Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight."

The woman Folly is loud; she is seductive and knows nothing. She sits at the door of her house; she takes a seat on the highest places of the town, calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way, "Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!" And to him who lacks sense she says, "Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant." But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Hell.

So let me give you the practicality of this, and it’s pretty much the same for both the ladies and gentlemen in this class: not all that is beautiful is good and not all that is frugal is bad. Guys, the girls that show off the most are the ones you want the least, because everything they are is on display; while the modestly dressed and reserved ones are a depth of beauty that goes far beyond their appearance.

Ladies, there is a reason that sin is compared to a woman, because just by wearing immodest clothing you can ignite a fire in a man’s heart that cannot be put out. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, you do us a huge favor when you dress modestly. The true danger of seeking the fleeting pleasures of sin is that it is insatiable, it will burn every last bit of fuel you give it and still want more. Lust cannot be satisfied just once or through one inappropriate look, and so you only have two choices, to feed your sinful desires indefinitely, or to kill your sin immediately. John Owen put it better than I ever could, he said, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.”

Guys, Job said we should make a covenant with our eyes to avoid looking at the fleeting lust of the eyes. And ladies, besides the opportunity to cause someone to lust, you have to also worry about pride, having an obsession with guys finding you attractive. I’m not lying when I say that each and every one of you is beautiful beyond words, and I hope you realize when I say that it is also considering your inward person. You have a tremendous responsibility to practice discretion in what you wear and how much you show to the world. You have one chance to preserve a gift you will someday give to your future husband when he is privileged to something the rest of the world has never seen.

I hope this at least makes you think, and even a little uncomfortable. This is a sin area that we avoid discussing way too often in the church and one that, if we get it right in this class, will bless you and me and hopefully the whole church for the whole next generation. The only part of teaching middle school that I don’t like is the never ending cycle of seeing young ladies flaunt themselves and young men follow their eyes wherever they take them. By me saying this now hopefully I’ll never have to smack one of you guys in the back of the head when I catch you looking at something or someone you shouldn’t, and I’ll never have to ask you ladies to remove a picture off of facebook or put on a sweater in the middle of summer to cover yourself up, things I’ve had to do in the past.

Let’s conclude this thought with a bit of humor, but also great depth, through a Proverb and then move on with Zechariah:

Proverbs 11:2 Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.

There are vast and reaching reasons why God symbolizes wickedness with a beautiful woman, because the fa├žade can and does hide all manners of uncouthness and evilness; a little honey can hide the taste of poison. God sees to the inward person; describing that sin makes everything ugly and that even if there is a bit of external beauty, it’s like a gold ring in the nose of a pig.

Back to the basket: there is a measuring basket full of wickedness. What do you think this means? That our sins aren’t just a pinch or a little bit, but are filling up the fullness of what God allows us to do. Imagine God’s patience as the payment for this measure, that when sin is filled God’s patience runs out. We see this in reality in the destruction of the Amorites as God waited for them to sin to the full measure before he destroyed them.

Genesis 15:16 In the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.

We see a measure for nations and also a measure for the human heart,

Acts 8:22-23 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.

Acts 13:10 You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?

Let’s look at this from the standpoint of modesty, let me use the guys as an example. Just thinking someone is pretty is not a sin, but if you fail to kill the possibility of sin, of becoming obsessed with that person and having no intention of marrying them then you are sinning against five people: her, you, her future husband, your future wife, and above all you sin against God.

James 1:15 Desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

We’ll see the gospel in just a bit, but let’s look at what happens next:

v.8 And he thrust her back into the basket, and thrust down the leaden weight on its opening.

We see that God is more than capable of restraining sin, yet he lets sin happen every day. This was alluded to when we read earlier that God is restraining the spirit of antichrist in what Paul calls the Mystery of Iniquity, God showing us why righteousness is good and evil is bad, showing why he is God and we are not, that he is able to use everything for good, even evil, as demonstrated most amazingly when he took the most wicked execution tool ever, the cross, and used it to save his people. We see though that as he thrusts Wickedness down, there is no love between God and evil.

God has many ways of restraining sin, one of which is our conscience, telling us what is right and wrong, second is the Bible, explicitly telling us what is right and wrong, and another is shame, making us feel bad when we sin; the Christian also has the Holy Spirit who leads us and is grieved, saddened, when we sin. I believe God’s major tool for loosing sin is when he removes shame, I want to read you a passage in a bit from Ezekiel where God is furious at Israel’s sin, I’m going to read it because of the choice words God uses, first though let’s read verse 9.

v.9 Then I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, two women coming forward! The wind was in their wings. They had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between earth and heaven.

This is the ONLY place in the whole Bible that remotely says that angels can be female, though because it’s a vision I don’t think we should make that jump. It sounds like angels are only male and Jesus explicitly said that angels never marry, so it'd be weird if there were boy and girl angels. What we should see these women as is sin elevating sin, think of them again as embodying wickedness, and we see that through a sort of strange way: they have wings like storks. The stork in the Bible is representative of uncleanliness, it is a carnivore and scavenger that will eat anything; these women, whether fallen angels or just symbolic of more evil, are definitely meant to convey that evil is elevating evil, and the wind in their wings means they are able to move swiftly, accomplishing evil things very quickly.

Deciding the best order to teach this in is difficult, there is so much to say, so let’s read Ezekiel 16 so I can get to where I want to get to.

Ezekiel 16:15,23-25,28-29,30,31 You trusted in your beauty and played the harlot because of your renown and lavished your sexual favors on any passerby; your beauty became his. And after all your wickedness (woe, woe to you! declares the Lord GOD), you built yourself a vaulted chamber and made yourself a lofty place in every square. At the head of every street you built your lofty place and made your beauty an abomination, offering yourself to any passerby and multiplying your harlotries. You played the harlot also with the Assyrians, because you were not satisfied; yes, you played the harlot with them, and still you were not satisfied. You multiplied your iniquities also with the trading land of Chaldea, and even with this you were not satisfied. How sick is your heart, declares the Lord GOD, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute, yet you were not like a prostitute, because you scorned payment.

Do you get the point that God hates it when sin is elevated and made the ultimate goal of everything? Let’s see what those winged women are going to do with this basket of wickedness.

v.10 Then I said to the angel who talked with me, "Where are they taking the basket?" He said to me, "To the land of Shinar, to build a house for it. And when this is prepared, they will set the basket down there on its base."

I really wish Zechariah would have asked, “What are these two winged women?” But he doesn’t, and so this is one of the details I can’t tell you exactly what they mean, though I think we’ve seen it pretty closely that they represent more sin. They are taking the basket to the land of Shinar, which is in Babylon. This is played out exceedingly in the New Testament that the world is referred to as Babylon and Christians are the exiles from our home in Heaven.

The word for house is more than just a plain building, but it’s less than a temple. It’s like a really nice house, even a palace. The two winged women are building a palace for wickedness, I don’t think it would be wrong to allegorize that they are making sin comfortable, even to the point of worshipping their sin.

We run into problems as Christians with displaying the 10 Commandments in public, or reading the Bible in school. Do you know why the world hates these things? I mean, what is to hate about any of the Commandments morally? If everyone kept them we’d have a nice society. The problem is that the Law and Word of God make people uncomfortable in their sin, they don’t want to hear of a judgment to come, they want to eat and drink and be merry and at the end of the road die and not face judgment. But comfortable sin is living in a lie, we need to know that apart from Christ’s saving work, we are set to be judged, and that in Christ’s saving work we are changed to hate sin and seek not to make it comfortable, but to kill it.

Romans 8:13-14 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

Finally, are you and I counted in this appearance of all the world? Are we full of sin? Absolutely, I bet you we’ve all broken every one of the 10 Commandments in spirit if not in flesh, and the measure of our sin is draining God’s patience. But let’s look at some verses to conclude why we do not despair and why we turn from making our sin comfortable to striving for holiness through Jesus Christ.

Let’s look first at my all time favorite Bible verse:

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Psalm 86:15 You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

Psalm 116:5 The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.

While we were filling up the full measure of our sin, Christ filled up the full measure of righteousness, and in his fullness he humbled himself to become nothing, pouring out his life on cross so that we who are poor in spirit may be rich in spirit in Christ. He has canceled our sin and made us abound in his grace.

Therefore, let us put sin to death in our lives, not pampering it, not worshipping it, and certainly not living with it. Else we see that our God is also full of wrath towards his enemies, and will make a complete end to them, even pursuing them into the darkness.