Dear radio friends,
The men of Israel were confessing their allegiance to the throne of David. God’s people were uniting under David, that great type in the Old Testament of the only king of the church and the leader of God’s host: our Lord Jesus Christ. After Saul’s death, there had been seven years of war between the house of Saul and the house of David. But now men were coming forth with the confession: “Thine we are, David. We are on thy side, thou son of Jesse. Peace, peace be unto thee, and peace be to thine helpers; for thy God helpeth thee.”
Among those who were coming forth were two hundred men of the tribe of Issachar. Of them we read in I Chronicles 12:32, “The children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment.” The tribe of Issachar was the ninth son of Jacob born from Leah. The Scriptures tell us that there were, in the generations of Issachar, repeated evidences of God’s covenant faithfulness. Many examples were given, in the history of Israel, of their spiritual strength and fortitude. At the time of Saul’s death, many of the ten tribes who supported Saul were undecided as to what to do. What king shall we follow? Many were waiting to see what would happen and would not commit themselves. But the Holy Spirit gives a word of praise to two hundred men from Issachar. They understood their times. And they knew what Israel ought to do.
That is the desperate need of the church of Jesus Christ today – men for these times, men who understand these times and have the courage of faith to know what ought to be done.
Our Lord Jesus Christ condemned the leaders of His day because, according to Luke 19:44, they knew not the time of their visitation. And Matthew 16:3, They could not discern the signs of the times. There are many in the church world who do not know the times, do not want to be bothered with the times, the issues of doctrine and truth, holiness and separateness of the church, the battle to hold the banner of the truth, the spirit of Antichrist working the error. For all of these things they have no eye and no heart. They are wrapped up in their own personal life.
There are others in the church who are swept along with the times. The spirit of the age preys upon the youth in the church, so that they will conform themselves to this world and begin to parrot the phrases and the mentality and assume the attitude of this world.
Do you know the times in which you live? Do you know what the church and what believers are supposed to be doing in these times? These are the questions that press themselves upon us in this year 2002 – that we be men for the times.
We read that the children of Issachar were men that had understanding of the times. Understanding is a spiritual grace in the heart, which comes only from the secret place of God. The Holy Spirit is not referring to human understanding. He is not saying that these men were capable of acute political analysis, that they had a degree in sociology, that they were asked by CNN today to give an interpretation on the trends of the economy or of politics. But it refers to a spiritual understanding, something only a child of God can be given. It is something that is a result of walking with God. Psalm 119: “I have more understanding than all my teachers, because I keep thy precepts.” Understanding is when the truth of God is in our heart, giving us an awareness of or an insight into the present world and of our place in it. Understanding is the ability to interpret this world in which we are called to live in the light of God’s Word and not only to perceive the reality of the world but to know clearly our calling in this world. It is to see into, it is to discern the meaning of God’s Word. Understanding, then, is to live out of the life of Christ and to know the love of God that makes me His child in this present world of darkness.
Do you have understanding? Do you have spiritual understanding today? Do you know what God has made you? Do you know what this world is in the light of God’s Word? Do you know where the world is going? Do you live in intimate fellowship with God?
You see, I am not merely asking you a list of questions. I am not trying to attain your spiritual intelligence. I am not asking you if you can parrot responses to me. But I am asking whether the work of grace is in your heart, so that you have spiritual understanding, you know that you are God’s child, and you live with Him in this present world. And do you, then, understand your times?
Each time, or age, in history has its own spirit or flavor. The Scripture teaches us that, as far as the heart of man is concerned, the direction of the world of sin is always the same. In Ecclesiastes we read, “There is no new thing under the sun.” Man is depraved and alienated from God. The world is filling up the cup of wrath even to the uttermost – so says the Scripture. But there are expressions of depravity and tactics of the world which vary from age to age. That is true also for the church. There are times when the church is strong, and times when the church is weak. Do you understand your times? Do you see through to the central issues of your day?
For the men of Issachar, the danger of their day was fracture and splinters – each tribe going its own way, individualism, a divided kingdom, each tribe becoming a roving band so that the devil and the world could cut up God’s people piecemeal, one at a time. The great need was to be drawn together under the Old Testament type of Christ, David. They understood their times. Not a surface understanding. They saw, in the words of Genesis 3:15, that it is always the devil’s attempt to cut the people of God up and to isolate them from their hope in Christ. They understood their time and they knew what they ought to do in their time.
Do you understand the times? The times in which we are called to live this year, and to serve the only King, are times that are closer than any previous time to the end. The last days are upon us, upon whom the end of the world shall come. Now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed. Paul says in II Timothy 3, “This know that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, and without natural affections, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof. From such turn aside.” And of the church, the Word says in II Timothy 4:3, 4, “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth.” Your Bible tells you that that time will be a time of abounding lawlessness, when what God calls evil will be called good, when sinful lusts are promoted, when there is departure from the truth in the church. Then the Lord Jesus Christ will return. Do you understand that?
Our hearts have been filled with horror and shock in the year 2001. Our hearts go out for the suffering and for the grief. But did you understand what happened in all of the terrorism? Did you hear the footsteps of Jesus Christ? Men begin to deify freedom and the flag, when society unites on feeling, when society says, “All faiths are one: Allah, the God of the Jews, the God of the Christians – we can all unite and we can all pray together.” Do you understand the time? Do you understand that man is creating God after his own (man’s) image? Men condemn terrorism and say that we must all unite to pray to God to stamp out terrorism, but at the same time they defend abortion, homosexuality, what God abhors. There is a uniting of man on one basis: that everything must be accepted except the living God and His gospel. Beloved, always the gospel would be received in favor by the world if it is presented merely as one way of salvation. The offense comes because it is proclaimed as the only truth and way and because it makes relentless war upon all other ways.
Do you know the time in which you live? The men of Issachar had understanding of their times – to know what Israel ought to do. Our text tells us that their understanding produced action; they acted according to their knowledge. The basis of their actions was their settled conviction of God’s truth and what that truth implied for their life. There were many who were tossing the issue in the air and were undecided: “Shall we follow the house of Saul or David, or shall we forget them both? Maybe we should just wait and see. Saul didn’t turn out, let’s see what David comes to – that former sheepherder.” But the men of Issachar knew what Israel ought to do. They did not just have conviction for what the truth was. But their conviction led them to action. They knew what was in the best interest of God’s people.
The Lord, through Samuel, had anointed David to be king. God had spoken of the house of Judah as the house among the twelve tribes out of whom Shiloh would come, out of whom would come the one who would rule with His scepter. Understanding then, in the light of the Word of God, why David had come to ascendancy, knowing that all of Israel was to cling to the promise of the coming Messiah, the two hundred men from Issachar knew what they must do. “This is what we must do: in the light of the promises of God’s Word, we must cling to the house of David.” And they were decisive. That is the need of our day. The need of our day is for the church to have men to stand up and to say, “For all my brethren and companions’ sake, this is what we must do.” In the din of confusion and false doctrine in the church of Jesus Christ today, the church needs men who will stand up and say, “This is what Israel ought to do.”
There is a need for this in your life as a young person. The great temptation in the days of your youth is to say, “Although I consent to all of these things of God’s Word and of the Reformed faith as true, I will not yet act upon them. In the light of God’s Word I know what I should do. I should forsake my youthful lusts and parties and drunkenness. I should witness to the acquaintance that I made at college. I should attend the Bible study class. I should get myself into the spiritual habit of prayer to wrestle with God and to grow in grace with God. All these things I know I should do. But there will be time later.” Beware, my brethren. Do not fritter away the impulses of the Holy Spirit in wishing, intending, meaning, hoping one day – until your conscience is dead. Arise! Give all diligence to make your calling and your election sure (II Pet. 1:10). Be decisive in spiritual matters. Beware of “free thought,” of supposed enlightened positions, of making no judgment on matters of doctrine under the guise of charity, of a fear of being called “narrow-minded.” Know the truth, confess the truth, buy the truth, and act on your convictions!
There is a need for all of us to hear this Word of God. What is the need of our time? A decisive, humble, unflinching stand for the entire Reformed and biblical truth.
There are myriads of confessing Christians who no longer know their right hand from their left in doctrine. There is a spiritual color-blindness that has come upon the church. The church is unable to distinguish between what is false and true. Everything looks the same. Everybody is right. Nobody is wrong. Everyone in the end will be saved no matter what he believes. Election, reprobation, predestination, justification, sanctification, regeneration, atonement, baptism – we do not know what those mean. Do not use big words like that! Besides, we do not want a party spirit. We are undecided.
That is a jellyfish condition for the soul. Beloved, if you wish to be men for the times, then throw aside indifference and know what you believe. If you believe a little, if you believe nothing exactly, those whom you try to help in the Christian faith are going to believe nothing. If the church is to do good in God’s cause, then the church must hold fast our profession and bring the truth. There is needed a decisive, humble, unflinching life of holiness. Be decisive, not abrasive. Walk with God. And from His presence live your life and leave your witness by how you act and by what you say.
Today there is an unspoken shame about being holy – afraid to let the light shine, to be considered a “prude.” I don’t want that! To be called “Miss Goody,” “holier than thou”? Be decisive! Tell your fellow worker when he asks you about the weekend where you have been and why. Let your college friends and your high school friends know by how you carry your body and how you act in sexual matters that they do not even have to ask. Let them know by how you live that they do not have to ask about drinking and dancing and fornicating. Let them know by how you live that you have decisively confessed that you belong to the Lord Jesus Christ.
If you are to be men for the times and understand the times, then you must know what Israel is to do. You must be men of prayer, because it is through prayer that you are given understanding. It is prayer that brings knowledge to understanding. There is only one way to understanding hearts: prayer. Go to the throne. Wrestle. There, in prayer, the truth is woven into your soul.
You must be men and women of the Word. The Lord traced the sad state of His day back to this. It was not a lack of education. It certainly was not a lack of religious ceremonies and temples and synagogues. There were all kinds of those things. The Lord said, “Here is the problem. Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures.” Make the Word of God your priority. Are you going to be a man for these times? Are you going to live exemplary? Are you going to make a difference in the church of Jesus Christ? Then know the Scriptures. We would almost cry out today, “Lord, raise up Luther from the ground. Resurrect John Calvin. The church has need of them.” And God responds, “No!” What the church has need of is the Word of God. God made Luther and Calvin and Augustine, Tyndale and all of the others, through the Scriptures. “To this man will I look, even to him that trembleth at My Word.”
Be men of the church. All of the decisive action of Issachar was centered in the glory of God in His church. Be decisive, that the people of God are to live united under the King, Jesus Christ, in the church. Love the church. Love the instituted church. Join the instituted church where the truth is confessed.
And if your problem becomes that you think that you cannot go there anymore because the people are so sinful, then God says one thing to you: “You have two problems. Here they are. You are not looking at Me and at what I have done in the church. And you are not looking at what’s behind your own nose.” The biggest problem the church has is you and me, the sins that you and I know about in our own hearts. That is the biggest problem.
Love the church. Love her as a member of the body of Jesus Christ. Join her. Be decisive.
They had their brethren, we read, at their commandment. These two hundred men of Issachar were men of spiritual influence. Their brethren looked up to them and their brethren said, “We will walk like they do.” The little boys in the church, the little girls – they look. Do you know who they look at? They look at you, young people. They look at you, elders and pastor. They look at you, married couples. They watch you. They will live, by the grace of God, as do you. Be decisive.
Will you stand with the world, or with the church? Will you shrink away from controversy for the truth? Will you witness of Jesus Christ when witness costs you nothing? Will you try to pass through these days without any decisive action? Are you going to be a Christian but not a Christian over much? Are you going to stand aloof while the church fights the good fight of faith over against an overwhelming foe? Are you going to excuse yourself from the ranks of the church by pointing out the defects of the church members? Are you going to be disloyal to Christ? Are you going to try to be neutral?
By the grace of God, let us respond: “Thine we are, David; and on thy side, son of Jesse!” Then we will hope and pray. And we will strengthen ourselves with the Word of God. And we will go forth, come what may. Though we are weak, we will confess: “Thy Word is true. I am Thine, oh give me wisdom.”
God make you good soldiers of Jesus Christ. God make you men and women for these times.
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, write the Word upon our souls. In Jesus’ name, Amen.