BACK TO BETHEL
Dear Friend in Christ:
God can deal with our sin, but what He will not accept is us being dishonest about our sin. My purpose in this letter is to point out from the scripture how God has dealt with sin and sinners, even after they have had great spiritual experiences.
My friend Mike Coleman brought a message about Thomas who doubted the Resurrection of Jesus, after Jesus had promised that He would rise again following His Crucifixion—and even after the other disciples had seen the resurrected Christ! Thomas had walked with Jesus for more than three years. But Thomas said that he would not believe unless he saw and touched Jesus’ scars. Later, when Thomas was gathered with the other disciples, Jesus walked in through closed doors and showed His scars to Thomas and invited Thomas to touch them. Thomas fell down and worshipped Jesus.
From that story, Mike drew this lesson: when we show our scars (our testimony), people believe. It is important to realize that Jesus’ scars are the result of our sin. We have all been scarred by sin and we must not try to hide that truth. We must not seek to hide our failure to obey in an attempt to convince others of our righteousness. Please remember that 2 Chronicles 7:14 is written to God’s people. If we are going to return to our first love, we must return to honesty about ourselves.
There is a lot to love about the Bible, The word of God. It is an honest book about dishonest people, and it does not hide their sin. Those who did try to hide their sin eventually got into serious trouble. Achan is a great example (see Joshua 7:19-26). The Pharisees are another example (see Matthew 23). But those who deal with their sin before God receive amazing grace and are forgiven and restored (see 1 John 1:9). That applies to Christians.
So why do we hide our faults and our sins? I believe we do so because of pride. Also, we do this because too often our culture, whether or Christian or secular, will not restore, forgive, and love those who confess. They cancel. Because we hide our sins, but expose the sins of others, we get into trouble with God. Jesus forgave prostitutes but condemned Pharisees. Confession prepares for healing (see James 5:16; 2 Chronicles 7:14).
Let me be clear: God hates sin, but loves sinners in spite of their sin. Also, I am not suggesting that we tell everybody all our sins. I am saying that we confess our sin to God and to those we have sinned against. If we humble ourselves in those ways, then we can walk humbly before God and others. I believe that most of us long to see revival in the Church and in our nation. Humility is the beginning and the path to see the power of God. He is calling us back to our first love when we humble ourselves and repent of our sins. Also, God is calling us to love others in their weakness as Jesus did. When we see our weakness, it is easier to love others in their weakness.
Let’s examine one example of God’s love for a terrible sinner, how God revealed Himself to that man, and how that man strayed but was called to return. This story has many disturbing and shocking details, but in the end, the Lord brought redemption.
JACOB AND ESAU (GENESIS 25-35)
I cannot explain Jacob and certainly not the mind of God, but Jacob’s journey is a story of amazing grace! (Of course, ours is too.) Before his birth, it was prophesied that the older would serve the younger and that was contrary the expectation in every family. Jacob was always reaching for success. He was the youngest twin with Esau the oldest. Even in Rebecca’s womb Jacob was grabbing Esau’s heel and held to it in birth. Hence, “Jacob” means “heel grabber” or “supplanter.”
In the Bible, “Birthright” means inheriting the father’s authority in the family and a double portion of his resources that belonged to the oldest son, Esau. Jacob wanted it! Esau was a man of the field, red and hairy. Jacob was close to his mother and a good cook. One day Esau came in from the field tired and hungry, and wanted some of Jacob’s stew, but Jacob offered him a deal: “Sell me your birthright and I will make you some stew.”
Esau’s reply was, “Look, I am about to die, what good is this birthright to me?” Esau was careless about his blessing. He made the deal which would cost him dearly!
The day came when their father, Isaac, was old, blind, and near death. It was time for him to bless his older son and give him the birthright. Esau was in the field but Jacob was in the house. With Rebecca’s help, Jacob disguised himself as much as he could to seem like Esau. He brought some tasty food into blind Isaac. Isaac wasn’t totally convinced, but blessed Jacob anyway, not only with his blessing, but a blessing very similar to God’s blessing of Abraham (see Genesis 12:1-3). Jacob lied and stole his brother’s blessing!
As I said, Esau was an outdoors guy; he could have killed Jacob and wanted to do so, but Jacob fled to Haran where he had relatives. Weary from his journey, he stopped at a small place named Luz, and laid his head on a rock. Then he had an amazing dream: He saw a ladder reaching to heaven, angels ascended and descended upon it; the Lord stood at the top of the ladder (see Genesis 28:13-22). The Lord gave him an amazing blessing that included His being with Jacob on the journey, return home, and descendants that would bless all the families of the earth! Jacob renamed that place Bethel, which means, “House of God.”
Have you ever thought that all will go smoothly after a great experience with God? It certainly did not with Jacob! He continued to Haran and his relatives. As he approached Haran, he met beautiful Rachel. Love at first sight! She led him to Uncle Laban and Jacob asked for her hand in marriage. Laban said he would give her after Jacob worked for him for seven years. Jacob agreed with great anticipation, but he got tricked. Laban gave him his older daughter, Leah. But then he made another deal with Jacob: after seven more years of labor from Jacob, then Laban would give Rachel. So, after fourteen years he got the woman he asked for. There are so many sinful behaviors detailed in this story that are deeply offensive, but this is what happened.
Jacob had a few tricks as well. He managed to get a lot of Laban’s livestock and sneak away in the night with all of his family and much of what had belonged to Laban. (Rachael also took a family idol.) Laban chased and caught up with Jacob’s troop and they made an uneasy covenant with one another. Together, they offered this prayer: “May the Lord watch between me and you while we are absent from one another.” Given their history, it was the right prayer.
Jacob and Laban separated, and Jacob returned toward home as the Lord had led, only to hear that Esau was coming toward him with 400 men! To appease Esau, Jacob sent all he had as a gift to Esau. Then Jacob had an all-night prayer meeting and wrestled with God. Finally, the Lord touched Jacob’s hip, threw it out of place, and then blessed him with a new name – Israel, meaning “Prince” or one who rules (see Genesis 32). Amazingly, Esau received Jacob peacefully! Praise the Lord! Then they parted and went in different directions.
However, another terrible and shocking problem arose. Jacob’s daughter, Dinah is raped by a local tribal member. In revenge, Jacob’s sons dealt with that tribe in trickery. They say that they will allow Dinah to marry the rapist if all the men in the tribe are willing to be circumcised. They accept; there was a celebration, but the three days after the circumcisions, Jacob’s sons killed them all including the rapist.
The word got around to other tribes and Jacob’s family came under grave threat. That is when the Lord said to Jacob, “Go back to Bethel.” But He also said, “Get rid of the idols and purify yourselves.”
Even after Jacob’s first great Bethel experience, he had issues of deception and sin. There were idols in his house. The Bible doesn’t tell us that God excused all of that, but God loved him through it all. What I wonder today is, can we love people “through it all?” Truth will not travel over broken bridges! We must become bridge-builders, not bridge breakers. Sometimes distance requires long bridges and strong bridges! God’s faithful love called Jacob back to “Bethel” … back to first love. Bethel was still there; return was still there for him and it is for us! Martin Gurri in his book, “The Revolt of the Public,” said that the further we get apart, the louder we shout at each other. To win sinners to Jesus, we must stop shouting and begin loving as He did. We must show them that love is still there.
You may know the story of David’s journey from shepherd boy to king. In the midst of this journey, there is David’s wicked sin against Bathsheba and Uriah. God did not excuse David. Yet, even in David’s sin, God still loved him and restored him. Yes, there were sad and terrible consequences for David, but restoration and reconciliation were still there. Psalm 51 provides a magnificent example of how reconciliation came about which began with deep, authentic humility and repentance.
Then there is Peter’s story. He walked with Jesus three-and-a-half years, then denied that he even knew Jesus–three times with an oath! But Peter was restored, forgiven, and became one of the greatest apostles. He led thousands to Christ and wrote books in the Bible (see John 21:1-19).
It is my belief that God wants to bring His Church back to its first love, the church of the book of Acts, but it will require humility, repentance, and seeking His face. I pray that God will give us the amazing grace to do that and to restore us to His love for sinners.
Please continue to remember CSM in your prayers and in your giving this month. We praise God for a wonderful 2022 CSM Gatlinburg Leadership Conference where we focused on “First Love.” The Lord met us. Videos are up on our Charles Simpson Ministries Page and our CSMPublishing YouTube Channel.
Brother Charles Simpson
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Charles Simpson is an internationally-known author, Bible teacher, and pastor, serving in ministry since 1955. He is also Editor-in-Chief of One-to-One Magazine and ministers extensively throughout the United States and the nations.