The Faith of Martha

Jesus knew that Lazarus was dead, and also that murderous hostility awaited Him in Judea. Nonetheless, He had the Father’s work to do, and therefore He, followed by His disciples, proceeded to Bethany, the home town of Lazarus, and his sisters Martha and Mary.

It was Martha who first heard that Christ was in the vicinity, and she hastened to Him at once. Martha is frequently criticized, largely because she was a service-oriented person and her love for the Lord Jesus did not match that of her sister, Mary. However, in this 11th chapter of John, we find that Martha, too, was a woman of faith. This sermon shows how that Martha, though Christ had disappointed her hopes to heal her brother, still maintained her faith in the Lord Jesus. This is no small thing, for many have had the faith they claimed utterly shattered when God did not respond to their pleas as they hoped. Martha’s faith was not perfect, was not as strong as it ought to be, and yet it was the genuine article. This gives us hope for ourselves, for we often find ourselves to be like Martha, coming short in many ways, and yet true lovers of, and believers in, Jesus Christ.

Departing from Egypt with Sarai his wife and all their large household, as well as his nephew Lot, Abram journeyed into the south, or the Negev, in the southern part of the land of Canaan. Abram went thither, not like a poor wandering Bedouin, but as a very wealthy man. In all the currencies and commodities of that day, God had blessed Abram with extraordinary wealth: livestock, silver, and gold, he possessed in abundance.

But Abram’s heart was not set upon these things, but rather upon the God Who had called him to this strange sojourn. From the south, he returned to the area between Bethel and Hai, where he had first settled for a time in Canaan. Evidently, he returned to that place intentionally, not just because it was familiar to him, but because he had built an altar for worship there. Like every individual called by grace, Abram’s heart was set upon the worship of his God. There was no formal place of worship yet established in the world, but there in the region of Bethel was a spot hallowed by sacred memories, and an altar ready for the offering of sacrifice, and to thence Abram repaired. Though he from time to time erred, as we have just witnessed during his foray into Egypt, Abram’s heart was fully set upon the worship and service of God, setting for us an excellent example as our father in the faith.

Righteousness to the believer,

Freely given, comes from heaven,

God Himself the Giver.

Christ has wrought this mighty wonder;

God and man by Him can

Meet, and never sunder.

All the law in human nature

He fulfilled; reconciled

Creature and Creator.

Every one, without exemption,

That believes, now receives

Absolute redemption.

Robes of righteousness imputed,

White and whole, clothe the soul,

Each exactly suited.

‘Tis a way of God’s own finding;

‘Tis His act, and the pact

Cannot but be binding.

Here is no prevaciation;

Justice stands, and demands

Full and free salvation.

It did turn out that Abram’s fears were well-founded, for when he came into Egypt, the princes of Pharaoh’s house saw Sarai and commended her to their king. The establishment of a harem of beautiful women being a common practice by powerful rulers of that age, and Pharaoh being under the illusion that Sarai was Abram’s sister rather than wife, he took Sarai into his own house, intending to make her one of his wives.

It is somewhat of an ironical twist to this story that Abram, although he had exposed his wife to the danger of defilement by his cowardly subterfuge, ended up being enriched in the process. Paying his respects to Abram as a wealthy man of property, and apparently in gratitude for the procurement of his sister, Pharaoh treated Abram very well. Verse 16 seems to indicate that Pharaoh laded Abram with gifts of slaves and livestock in because of his “sister” that he had taken. Thus, the Lord can use even our own sins and errors for our blessing in the long run.

But Pharaoh did not realize that he had been deceived, and that he was dealing with God’s favorite. To protect Sarai from the danger to which she had been exposed, God plagued Pharaoh and his household with severe plagues. Scripture does not inform us what these plagues were, but in some manner—again not defined—Pharaoh and the Egyptians discovered that it was God’s judgment upon them for taking the wife of Abram.

Doubtless greatly upset by this discovery, we may perhaps think Pharaoh should have reacted violently against the one who had deceived him. But let us stop a moment and realize that, since Pharaoh recognized that the hand of God was against him, it would have been doubly foolish for him to attempt to murder one who was in such high favor with the deity who had just smitten his household so severely. Instead, he called Abram, and rebuked him for his duplicity, which had exposed his own wife to danger and put Pharaoh himself in jeopardy of becoming an adulterer. Thus rebuked, Abram, with Sarai safely alongside, was sent out of Egypt, to return to the land that God had promised them.

As he journeyed southward, Abram was confronted with the peril of famine. The autumn and spring rains were vital to the agricultural societies of Canaan, and if the rain failed, so did the crops, with devastating results. With little fodder for his flocks and herds, Abram departed to Egypt to escape the grievous drought.

But there in Egypt, he encountered trouble of a different sort, and showed that, though a man of great faith, he was yet a man of weakness and sin, just like we his spiritual descendants. Though Sarai herself was past the prime age of feminine beauty, it appears that the Lord must have maintained her physical attractiveness in an exceptional way, for Abram was fearful that the Egyptians would take notice of her, and kill him upon some pretext in order to seize her for some nobleman’s harem. And so, he counseled Sarai to say that she was his sister, so that they may be preserved.

We cannot countenance the lie which Abram told, and undoubtedly he would have done much better to trust implicitly in God. Surely the One Who promised would not allow the one to whom He had given those promises to die an ignoble death at the hands of the pagan Egyptians! And yet, as Calvin suggested, there may have been some spiritual reasoning circulating in Abram’s thoughts. Mindful that God’s promises were contained in him, as in a vessel, he may have considered that he this was the most pragmatic way to ensure that the promise was not killed at an early stage, before he ever had a son. We see Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, later employing similar reasoning in inventing a ploy to make certain the blessing went to Jacob instead of Esau. Though we cannot justify the deceitful methods used in either case, it may perhaps mitigate the guilt of the act in our minds when we consider it from this perspective.

The Pandemic of Pornography

There are countless spiritual dangers which threaten to engulf souls in eternal destruction today. Never has temptation been more ubiquitous, more easily accessible by the plethora of devices we own and can even carry in our hands. Chief among these temptations is a pandemic far more dangerous than the Coronavirus, that being the pandemic of pornography. No segment of society is isolated from it, or safe from it. From young children to old people, both men and women, the irreligious and the church goers: every strata of society is touched by it.

If the fear of God and the love of Christ is in our hearts, this is a temptation from which we must flee, even as Joseph did from Potiphar’s wife. Our Saviour said that to look upon a woman and lust after her is to commit adultery in our hearts; and that it is better to cut off a right hand or pluck out a right eye than to succumb to temptation and sink down to hell. Accordingly, this message encourages us to take every step necessary to guard ourselves against the danger of pornography, and also to warn others lest they be caught up in this deadly snare.

There in Canaan, the Lord appeared to Abram again. This He did from time to time, doubtless to let the patriarch know that He was ever mindful of His servant. Here, He re-established His promise to give to Abram’s seed the land. The worldling would think, “Poor Abram! Uprooted from hearth and home, and he does not even get to possess the land of promise!” But Abram, a man of faith, knew that the land itself was only a part of God’s promise. He looked for something beyond a mere patch of ground, to the ultimate and final deliverance that would come through his Seed, Who would grant him entrance into that city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. In this faith, he built an altar to the Lord, and worshipped there.

From thence, Abram went to a mountain on the east of Bethel, where he again built an altar and worshipped the Lord. We see in Abram’s life the centrality of worship and sacrifice. It appears that wherever he tarried for any length of time, he would build an altar, to show that at this place He was paying to Jehovah the gratitude owed unto Him. Doubtless, upon those altars he offered sacrifices, each of which showed that his hope for forgiveness ultimately lay in a bloody offering.

Funeral Sermon for H.B. Ferguson

On December 30th, my maternal grandfather H.B. Ferguson passed away at the age of 88. I was honored to be requested to preach his funeral sermon, which was held in our congregation. For my text, I took Proverbs 20:7, “The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.” This verse was a fitting description of Papa’s life. He married my grandmother as a young man, just recently enlisted with the Air Force, and was faithful to his vows for 68 years of marriage. He served his country for 20 years, among other things risking his life as a tail gunner on a B-29 bomber in Korea and as a boom operator on a KC-135 tanker in Vietnam. Afterward, he settled in Gore, Oklahoma, and for 30 years ran a boat selling and repair shop, which drew customers even from out of state because of the quality of his work and his honesty as a businessman. His kindness and generosity as a father and grandfather will ever remain legendary in his own family. He was a solid Christian, a wonderful family man, a man of unquestioned integrity, and a patriot in the truest sense of the word.

Funeral Sermon for Alamae Ferguson

Only two days later, my grandmother followed her husband into the presence of Christ, after a decline that began the day of his death. I brought her funeral message also, using the famous passage of Proverbs 31:10-31, which she fulfilled in so many ways. Her selflessness, patience, godliness, and ceaseless efforts at evangelizing her grandchildren will long be cherished by those of us who were under her influence. Though it has been sad and difficult in so many ways to lose both beloved grandparents in a week’s time, we can truly say that in both cases we do not sorrow as those who have no hope, but are confident that they are among those who sleep in Jesus, and will come with Him at His return.

Abram was obedient to the Lord’s command. He went forth from his home, and Lot with him. It is no simple matter for a man of 75 years to uproot from everything he has ever known and depart to live in a strange country where he has neither friend nor relative. Even in an era where men had longer lifespans than we presently enjoy, this could have been no easy thing. But true discipleship, a true relationship with the Lord, has always required absolute obedience to the divine command, no matter what difficulties obedience entails. Abram in this, as in so many other things, proved himself to be a true father to the faithful.

Along with Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, as well as his wealth and his slaves which he had acquired in Haran, where they had stopped on their journey toward Canaan until the death of Terah, Abram journeyed toward Canaan. We can only imagine the wondering gazes that must have greeted this strange caravan as they proceeded through Sichem to the plain of Moreh! This was not an age of much international travel; probably merchants and diplomats were about the only occupations who did much traveling in those days. Why, the Canaanites must have wondered, was this wealthy old man, with his family and slaves, traveling through their land, when he should have been relaxing comfortably in the lap of luxury back in Ur? Little could they have imagined that this man was the recipient of the divine promise, that the very land upon which they dwelt was Abram’s by a promise from the great Proprietor of all things.

God promises that His protection will be over Abram, saying, “I will bless him that blesseth thee, and curse him that curseth thee.” Those of a Premillennial Dispensational persuasion thinks that this applies to the Jewish people in any generation whatever, including our own. Though the modern nation of Israel is largely atheistic, and makes no pretense in the main of being faithful either to Judaism or Christianity, many Dispensationalists nonetheless leap upon this verse as proof that we must blindly support the nation-state of Israel in all circumstances. Now, regardless of the political merits of supporting Israel, I consider this a very shallow interpretation of Genesis 12:3. The true seed of Abraham are those who do the works of Abraham, regardless of their ethnic heritage; the true circumcision are those circumcised in the heart, not in the letter; they are those who worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. It is those who are of the faith of Abraham who are blessed with faithful Abraham, and this whether they be Jew or Gentile. Paul makes it very clear in writing to the Ephesians that the believing Gentiles are made inheritors of those very promises given to Abraham and to his seed. Therefore, we must conclude that it is the true people of God, the spiritual seed of Abraham, who are held in view here. Those who bless the people true church of Christ will be blessed with them, while they who curse them shall be cursed and destroyed. What a privilege to belong to that family so protectively overseen by the eye of the Almighty!

“In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” Glorious promise! At the same time that He begins to divide His church from the world by placing His truth within one particular family, God assures Abraham that His blessing will not be restrained to that one family. No, the time is coming when there shall not be a remote corner on the globe that shall not know Abraham’s God. In Abraham—better yet, in the seed that shall come from Abraham’s loins—all nations shall receive a blessing. Yes, this gospel preached before unto Abraham shall extend beyond his family to all the nations of the earth! That is what the book of Acts is all about. Best of all, it is perfectly fulfilled at that splendid moment in the book of Revelation, when a people gathered out of every kindred, tongue, tribe, and nation, gather in one glorious heavenly choir, and sing, “Blessing and honor and glory and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto Lamb forever!”