An Appearance of Godliness (Pt 24) -The Lord is Winnowing His Harvest

Mat 3:8-12 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. (9) And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. (10) Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (11) “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (12) His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

John the Baptist is here declaring an often repeated theme in Scripture. Namely, that the Lord Jesus is and ultimately complete will, cast all wicked counterfeits who presently dare to infect His church into unquenchable fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand. Even now He is separating the wheat from the chaff.

In this series we have considered many case studies from real life about people the Apostle Paul warned Timothy about:

2Ti 3:5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

Such people obviously are going to be found in the visible, local church. They put on their disguise of godliness, but it is just a sham. They are not born again and have no desire to be. Their “christianity” is a religion of a false gospel, a hypocrisy of the Pharisees who outwardly look white and impressive but inwardly have souls that reak of death.

Here then is a sobering question – why are we not seeing Christ’s winnowing happening in the majority of local churches? In fact, why is this winnowing separation of wheat from chaff being denied? I can assure you that where the gospel is faithfully preached and practices, where Christ’s people gather and love His Word, chaff is going to be separated from the wheat.

1Jn 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

See it? The norm that the Lord presents to us in His Word is that there is going to be separation even now in this present world in the visible church. We should be encouraged when we see it. But why isn’t it happening except rarely? I can tell you. Because a false ear-tickling handling of Scripture is being preached.

Every single one of the cases of an appearance of godliness that I have presented to you in this series ended with – they went out from us. They hated us. The chaff was separated from the wheat. And yet I can confidently tell you that most seminaries, church growth types, pastors and other “christian” organizations would count this as a failure on our part. If the numbers aren’t increasing, you are a failfure.

God’s Word is fire and hammer. It is food for the souls of His people – green pasture beside still water. But it is a stench of death to the counterfeit:

2Co 2:15-17 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, (16) to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (17) For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

This is a fundamental mark of a true church – this winnowing. In Scripture the pattern that we see is more people leave the church than enter it. And yet I heard a typical statement from a rather self-serving pastor once that went like this:

It should be very easy to enter the church and very hard to leave it.

Would you not agree that this is precisely backward from what God’s Word says? The only door is Christ and to enter His kingdom we must be born again. It is a radical door that is entirely of Christ’s making, not ours. It is in that sense, difficult to enter – indeed, it is impossible apart from the miraculous, creative work of Christ in us. And it is NOT hard to leave the church! Many have done so all these years of church history. MOST people leave:

Joh 6:66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.

Christ is winnowing His church right now. If you do not see that winnowing process happening in a church, you can be assured that Christ is not there.

An Appearance of Godliness (Pt 23): King Joash

2Ki 12:1-3 In the seventh year of Jehu, Jehoash began to reign, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zibiah of Beersheba. (2) And Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all his days, because Jehoiada the priest instructed him. (3) Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away; the people continued to sacrifice and make offerings on the high places.

Sometimes the appearance of godliness can persist for a long, long time before the fraud is exposed. Such is the case in the life and reign of King Joash (aka Jehoash) of Judah. These were the days of the divided kingdom – Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Joash was king of Judah, the captial of which was Jerusalem. He was of the line of David, the northern king and kingdom being a fraud.

Joash was crowned king when he was only seven years old, having been hidden from the murderous impostor queen, Athaliah who had murdered all of the other descendants of the royal line. Joash’s life was preserved because a courageous lady named Jehosheba took the infant king and hid him for 7 years (being reminciscent of the infancy of Moses and the actions of Pharaoh’s daughter).

In the seventh year of Joash’s life, a priest named Jehoiada came on the scene. You probably have never heard of him, or if you ever did, you have long since forgotten. This should not be. Jehoiada is one of the most remarkable men of faith to be found in the Bible. He protected Joash and it was Jehoiada who ensured that the rightful Davidic king would be anointed and come to power. Joash was crowned and the wicked Athaliah put to death.

Then, look at what Jehoiada did-

2Ki 11:17 And Jehoiada made a covenant between the LORD and the king and people, that they should be the LORD’s people, and also between the king and the people.

It is at this point that we read:

2Ki 12:2 And Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all his days, because Jehoiada the priest instructed him.

A time of wonderful reformation and revival in Judah took place. The temple, long neglected due to the wicked idolatry that permeated the land, was repaired. But then something remarkable happened. It’s like one of those movies or novels in which the glorious and good times of “Camelot” occur and yet…there is this troubling minor note playing in the background all along. And now that theme shows itself:

2Ch 24:15 But Jehoiada grew old and full of days, and died. He was 130 years old at his death.

Did you notice that Joash did what was right because Jehoiada the priest instructed him? And again, “…Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all his days, because Jehoiada the priest instructed him.” Once Jehoiada departed from the scene however, check out what happened:

2Ch 24:17-18 Now after the death of Jehoiada the princes of Judah came and paid homage to the king. Then the king listened to them. (18) And they abandoned the house of the LORD, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols. And wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this guilt of theirs.

2Ch 24:20-22 Then the Spirit of God clothed Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, and he stood above the people, and said to them, “Thus says God, ‘Why do you break the commandments of the LORD, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, he has forsaken you.’” (21) But they conspired against him, and by command of the king they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the LORD. (22) Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness that Jehoiada, Zechariah’s father, had shown him, but killed his son. And when he was dying, he said, “May the LORD see and avenge!”

Isn’t this remarkable? For nearly 40 years King Joash appeared to be a truly godly king. But as it turns out, the real power of godliness rested in the priest, faithful Jehoiada. Who was Joash, really? He was an unregenerate, faithless man whose “godliness” was merely external. Have you ever known someone like this? They have no inner “spark plug” of godliness. All the show of religion that they make is something that is the result of someone or something else outside of them. In the case of Joash, that someone was Jehoiada. But the moment he was gone…

I have certainly known people just like this, and I suspect that most of you have as well. That troubling “minor key tune” is always playing in the background. You sense that they have to be constantly pushed in the right direction. Their religion is something that is like a mirror reflection of the truth, yet not the truth itself. And when the eventual test finally comes, their true self is revealed.

People like Joash are traitors. They are betrayers like Judas. So many of you have told me of your experience with this kind and I have known far too many of them as well. The test comes. For all appearances these people can be counted on when you expose your abuser. You tell them. You trust them. But when whatever that “Jehoiada” has been is gone that has been the real push to their “godliness,” they turn out to be an enemy of righteousness.

Paul warned Timothy, and us, about such people:

2Ti 3:5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

And again –

1Ti 5:24-25 The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. (25) So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.

Therefore, we must be wise. We may not immediatley recognize a Joash, but we must be aware that his kind exist, and that their numbers are not few. Trust in the Lord, but take care about trusting in men.

An Appearance of Godliness (Pt 21) – Celebrity “Christians” and their Fan Clubs

Mat 11:7-11 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? (8) What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. (9) What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. (10) This is he of whom it is written, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ (11) Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

A friend recently told me about an experience he had years ago when he was at a Bible conference. He said that a very famous preacher was the featured speaker and just before he was about to come on “stage” my friend saw and heard numbers of young seminary students rushing down the aisle to get front row seats. They were excitedly muttering about how so and so was about to speak and they wanted to be right up front close to him.

This is a terrible and widespread evil in the church today. Christian celebrities and their fan clubs. After all the widely publicized sin scandals uncovered among those on high pedestals, you would think we would learn. Apprarently most do not.

I remember having a somewhat similar experience long ago. Another popular and essentially worshipped celebrity of the church was holding a conference on youth ministry. There were many hundreds of people in the audience and of course the thing opened up with what you would expect – pastors and other church leaders trying to be “hip” (I suppose that word evidences me as out of touch. “Woke”? “Lit” Whatever). But they were trying to be “relevant” for the younger people present. And as you can imagine their first opening tactic was to play music soooo loud that it literally vibrated your chest! Words were of course totally unintelligible but we were all told they were fine, Christian words.

At the “intermission” all pastors and youth ministers were requested to come “backstage” to meet with the celeb personally (this of course promotes churches connecting with him and giving more $$$) and so I went back rather reluctantly. What did he have to say? “I want you all to know that I LOVE your kids, and I am going to go out there on that stage in a moment and I am going to LOVE your kids to Jesus!” That said it all for me. The guy oozed arrogance. I have marked him as a phoney ever since.

Now, I would suggest to you that Jesus, in the Scripture quoted above, was confronting the crowds with this very same celebrity motive and mentality.

Mat 11:7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? (8) What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.

You recall that the crowds had gone out into the boondocks to see John the Baptist because the buzz around town was that a prophet, or Elijah, or maybe even the Messiah had shown up. But mostly they went out there not to repent of their sins, not to hear a message about repentance, not to prepare themselves for the way of the Lord. No. They went there for the show. They figured that they wanted in on some temporary excitement that was in reality nothing more than a weed being blown around by wind, but it was exciting and entertaining – a circus if you will.

Jesus then told them who John really was –

(9) What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. (10) This is he of whom it is written, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ (11) Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

What should these crowds have been doing? What should have been their motive? To go out to hear God’s Word preached by His messenger, and then to respond to that message in real repentance and humility, preparing themselves to receive the Messiah who was even then at hand. But they weren’t. They were just like the crowds that ran after Jesus later only in order to get more bread and fish from him for lunch.

Professing Christians go to conferences and concerts. Why? To hear the Word of God? To see Christ more clearly? To repent of their sins? No. They go for the show. They go for an appearance of godliness that is devoid of God’s power. They go for….well, just look at the advertisements for the thing. Big names. Famous names. Going to be there in person. Going to give autographs after the show. And the Lord says of such people that they are nothing more than a weed being shaken by the wind. Those that travel far and wide to see them are fools. “Hey, why did you drive for 4 hours to get here and spend hundreds of dollars for a motel and food and tickets? Oh, well, I heard that a weed was going to be shaking and I just had to see it.

But all of this is far worse than stupidity. It is sheer disobedience to the Lord. It is a means the enemy uses over and over to plant his evil servants among us and delude us and enslave us. It feeds the oppression of the weak and innocent. It promotes a false gospel and takes people to hell. It scandalizes Christ’s name to the world – how many of these famous ones are going to be found out before this year even ends – that they were fakes and perverts and abusers all along?

And so we are reminded once again:

2Ti 3:5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

Avoid such people. STOP seeking them out.

1Co 2:1-3 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. (2) For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (3) And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,