When You’re In A Tangled WebErwin W. Lutzer | April 30, 2006
Selected highlights from this sermon
Asa was a great king, but he made a terrible mistake, and his heart stubbornly turned away from God. Even on his deathbed, he refused to repent.
All too often, we get caught up in sins and avoid repentance. Usually this happens because we don’t want to face the consequences of exposing our sins.
But we can’t delay. It’s time to repent. It may be difficult. We may even lose a job. But the consequences of continuing in a bad decision always outweigh the consequences of repentance.
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” Those are the words of Sir Walter Scott. Today we are speaking on the topic of entanglements and the decisions that are involved in the web of human relationships. You’ve gone on in a certain pattern and it appears as if you just can’t turn around.
I think for example of a woman who spoke to Rebecca and me who is involved in the medical community. She said that she was living with this terrible conscience because in her office there were illegalities that were happening, which is code for “cheating.” Of course, we say to her, “Well, why don’t you just become a whistle blower?” But she said, “The situation isn’t that simple.” She also has profited from the deceit and the dishonesty. Her boss already told her, “If you blow the whistle on us we are going to hire an attorney, he will go after you and he will destroy you.” For her to come clean really means her whole life. That’s the price she has to pay.
I think of those who have committed crimes. One man who I’ve told you about in a different context illegally filled out a form so that he could get workers compensation. He said that the accident happened on the job even though it didn’t. He was deceitful. His pastor said, “Don’t you think that you should come clean?” He said, “What do you think? Do you think I am that stupid? Do I want to go to jail?”
A man who had told a lie and had stolen something called me one time and said, “I’ve stolen this and I lied and said I didn’t. If I tell the truth, I’ll be fired and I need the job.” “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”
I may be speaking to someone here who is having a secret affair. Or maybe it is a very complex business deal; you’ve bought into it little by little and now suddenly the noose is around your neck. If you were to come clean, goodness knows what could happen.
Our story today that we are going to tell is found in the book of 2 Chronicles. I know that the Old Testament is not that familiar to many of us and you may find it difficult to find 2 Chronicles. It is right after 1 Chronicles. If you want to know where it is in the pew Bible, I checked it this morning. I think it is page 368.
It’s the story of an Old Testament king by the name of Asa. Asa was the third king of Judah, and he was born into this world with a very wicked father and mother. In fact, his mother, the queen mother, was apparently sponsoring idolatry and he had to depose her. He was a courageous king. For 36 years, he followed the Lord fully. Chapters 15 and 16 of 2 Chronicles are just a delight to read. Of course we will only refer to a few verses and then you can read the whole story for yourself on another occasion.
Asa first of all followed the Lord fully and wholly for those 36 years. What did he do? When Asa became king, he took away all of the idols. It says in verse two of chapter 14, “And Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. He took away the foreign altars and the high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim and commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, to keep the law and the commandment.”
What Israel was doing is they were buying into other gods and they would build these altars on the hills and in different places. Then they would go and everybody would have his own god and his own idol. They could go to their own temple to worship, or their own worshiping place, let’s put it that way. And Asa said, “Enough already. We are the followers of the true God.” In those days there was no freedom of religion. So he went and he tore down the idols and he commanded, “Everybody in my kingdom: seek the Lord God who brought us here.”
Something else that happened is that there was a war. The Ethiopians came against him. It says in verse 11 of chapter 14, “And Asa cried to the Lord his God, ‘O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O Lord, you are our God; let not man prevail against you.’ So the Lord defeated the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah.” Wow!
Last night as I was re-reading this I underlined the different places in my Bible where it says that he “sought God.” He asked the children of Israel to seek the Lord, and they began to seek the Lord and to seek His guidance and His strength. That’s going to have to be a sermon series sometime in the future. The average Christian thinks they have found God through Jesus so they don’t have to seek Him. Even though you’ve found God we must seek Him nonetheless, to know Him better, to rely upon Him with more determination, and to understand His ways. He had 36 years of following the Lord fully. And chapter 15 has much of the same material.
Now after doing that we come to another stage in his life and that is that he follows the Lord half-heartedly. Not with a whole heart but with a half heart, that’s chapter 16. In order to understand I need to give you a little bit of background. Follow this carefully or else what you are reading might not make a whole lot of sense.
Here is Asa, he’s ruling over the kingdom of Judah, which has its headquarters in Jerusalem. Think of the map of Jerusalem. In those days the kingdom, even though you had all the tribes and they were all descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, even though that was true the kingdom was split for reasons that I will not explain here. However, it is interesting as to why they were split. And then there was a border king who reigned in the north from a capital called Samaria, which is up across the way from Galilee.
The king of the north, which was called Israel, (the south was called Judah,) his name was called Baasha. Baasha had an agreement with a heathen king by the name of Ben-hadad of Syria. Therefore Baasha felt very confident and he began to hassle the border, trying to hassle Asa. He would build fortifications across the border and pretty soon he cut off all trade. He cut off all communication and people couldn’t go from the north to the south.
What would we expect Asa, being in Jerusalem, to do? Well, for 36 years he’s done nothing but follow God. He’s served the Lord and he’s called on God to help him. Now after 36 years of faithfulness he doesn’t. He makes a huge mistake which results in some entanglements. Notice we are in chapter 16. After verse one explains what is happening, Baasha king of Israel went up against Judah and built these fortifications. Asa, of all things, how could you do this?
This is what Asa did. It says in verse two, “Then Asa took silver and gold from the treasures of the house of the Lord and the king’s house and sent them to Ben-hadad king of Syria, who lived in Damascus, saying, ‘There is a covenant between me and you, as there was between my father and your father. Behold, I am sending you silver and gold. Go; break your covenant with Baasha king of Israel, that he may withdraw from me.’ And Ben-hadad listened to King Asa.” And lo and behold Ben-hadad now attacks the one with whom he had a covenant, because he breaks that covenant. He attacks the north, he attacks Baasha and Asa has his problem solved.
But Asa, how could you do this? Why didn’t you consult God? You did it before and God was faithful. Now you not only have a treaty with a heathen king, that’s bad enough, but you robbed the treasures of God from the temple. You took the gold and silver from the temple, you desecrated the temple to buy this guy off and to bribe him into your deal. Asa, what is this?
If we had a conversation with him he would say, “I made a deal with the devil until I got across the bridge. I needed to do this given the situation. And you know what? Before you criticize me, it worked, okay?” Alright Asa, Asa crooning with Frank Sinatra, “I did it my way.”
Well, God isn’t too happy. It says in verse seven, “At that time Hanani the seer (that means the prophet) came to Asa king of Judah” and he had a speech. These prophets, oh how they would ruin peoples’ day. You know it’s just like some preachers today, they just ruin people. People learn to live with these guilty consciences and these preachers come along and they preach on topics like that. They stir up all this guilt and they tell people to seek God when they’re perfectly content not doing so. These people are really miserable people, these prophets, and these preachers.
Alright now, because you relied on the king of Syria and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. That’s true. “Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with chariots and horsemen? And yet you depended upon the Lord and God gave them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.” He trusted in a pagan king rather than God.
If we were to talk to Asa and say, “Why did you do it,” it would turn out to be either because of pride or despair. Either pride that says, “I can handle this on my own,” or despair, “You know this business of calling on God and seeking Him? Sometimes He’s so slow to answer. And furthermore, what if God gives me an answer I don’t like? What I’m going to do is I’m going to do it my way and I’m going to do it quickly and it works.”
Well, let’s read how he ended, because he followed the Lord with a whole heart and he now follows the Lord with a half heart. He now finally dies with a stubborn heart. Verse 11, “The acts of Asa, from first to last, are written in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel. In the 39th year of his reign he was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but sought help from physicians.”
That might be okay to go to a physician. But the emphasis in the text is that he went only to physicians and wouldn’t call on God. He said, “I did it this way and I’m sticking with my game plan.” He would not repent. Why do you think that when the prophet came to Asa, having made his foolish decision, why didn’t he say, “I’m as guilty as sin. I’m going to turn to God now. I’m going to seek God and go into His presence and say, ‘God, really I need you. Forgive my stupidity and my sin and I’ll do whatever you ask, as far as possible to make things right.’”
Why didn’t he do that? There are a couple of reasons. First, it’s difficult to repent of something that worked out so well. You know what happened? Ben-hadad came against Baasha and basically took care of him and Asa is at peace. You can’t argue with success. Yes, of course there was deceit in his business deal. But look, his business is prospering and families are being fed because of the work that’s there. You have to look at the big picture. After all, it’s working!
You remember Moses when God came to him a second time and told him, “Speak to the rock, don’t smite the rock.” Moses was so angry he just said, “Here now, you rebels,” and he struck the rock and water flowed. God says, “You disobeyed me and you’re not going into the land,” and Moses argued with God on a number of different occasions about it. After all, weren’t they interested in getting water? The whole assembly thought Moses was a hero because everybody was drinking water. You can’t argue with that, can you? How am I going to repent of something that turns out so well? Sometimes in an overabundance of grace God will take a foolish decision, a sinful decision, and some good consequences may flow from it.
Another reason Asa possibly didn’t repent is he is thinking to himself, “You know, this decision has ramifications beyond me. What am I supposed to do now? Am I supposed to go to the King Ben-hadad and say, ‘Hey Ben-hadad, you know that contract we had? It’s over.’ And then should I try to get the pagan king to give the money back? Are you kidding? A pagan king isn’t going to do that. It’s so entangled and such a mess. It worked, but it’s such a mess. Let’s just let it go.” So he dies stubborn.
God says to Asa, “I’m going to get your attention. I’m going to give you a disease on your feet so that you remember me up here. Desperate people pray, and I am going to make you desperate.” The text says that, “Even though his pain was severe he repented not.” That is the way he ends on the pages of Scripture.
Now this is a difficult message to preach. I woke up early in the morning thinking about it and saying, “The problem with this is that this is a series of messages titled, ‘Making the Best of a Bad Decision.’ I should have entitled this, ‘Making the Worst of a Bad Decision.’” This is the worst that you can do when you’re in a mess - to maintain the direction you are going no matter what.
Now before I conclude today what I’d like to do is to simply talk to you. This isn’t so much a sermon as it is a counseling session. Pull up a chair, pour a cup of tea or coffee if you need to stay awake, and let’s have a little talk about these matters on a practical level.
One of the things that we learn is that the farther we go down the wrong road the more difficult it is to turn around. I want to help you turn around today but it’s hard!
Back in 1974 my wife and I were in northern Wisconsin with some friends in the middle of winter. They weren’t too familiar with their new house, but they said, “There’s a restaurant we want to take you to for dinner.” So Rebecca and Lori and I, she’d have been two years old at the time, we set out with the other couple in their green Buick. We were going to go out for supper and it was zero degrees outside. They began going up this road to the restaurant. Mile after mile we went, and no one else had traveled the road and it had snowed greatly a couple of days before.
The big Buick was beginning to get deeper and deeper into the snow, maybe six inches and then mile after mile after mile out in the middle of nowhere. You say, “Nowhere doesn’t exist!” It does in northern Wisconsin in winter, I can tell you.
What should we do? Clearly, we were on the wrong road. Finally, we knew we had to turn around. There were no cell phones. If people were to come looking for us they would have never gone there because that wasn’t the way to the restaurant. We finally came to a crossroad and we said, “Life or death, we are turning around here.” So he goes in and tries to back out, and that heavy car just sinks into the snow. I remember he told me later that if someone would have come along and said, “Give me $10,000 and I’ll get you out of the mess,” he said he’d have gone for it just like that!
What do we do? We tried to back the car up but of course it was stuck. We did have a shovel but we weren’t dressed very well because we were on our way in this big, warm, nice Buick to the restaurant. So what happened is that we started to shovel and it didn’t help much.
But, I remembered back on the farm when we were stuck what we did is we put boards under the back wheels. What I did is I went into the forest and picked up as many twigs and branches as I could carry and we laid them under the wheels. Lo and behold, the car lurched back about a foot or two and we said, “We have a method here that will work. If we are patient we’re going to turn this thing around!” An hour and a half later we were turned around going home. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
I learned some lessons that day about turning around. The first lesson is that when you are on the wrong road you lose time that may never be regained. You know, we actually never got to that restaurant. We had a bowl of hot soup that tasted so good, and that’s it. I’ve never been to that restaurant. I’m sure they have, but we’ve never been there. So you lose time when you are on the wrong road.
Secondly, when you are on the wrong road the ruts can mislead others. Now I have no evidence that someone was misled because of the ruts that we left behind, but it’s certainly possible that somebody else thought, “Oh, here’s a road that goes somewhere!” The tragic stories that I could tell you even this past week of somebody who got off on the wrong road year after year after year. Now they have come back to fellowship with God but all of their children and their family are still on the wrong road. Oh, the impact in the lives of others when we are on the wrong road.
Third, the mistake can’t be corrected by taking a side road. Some people think, “Sure, this isn’t the right road. But maybe if I turn over here this will lead somewhere.” Probably not! We could have taken a number of roads I’m sure that would have led us deeper into the wilderness. If you don’t get back to where you are supposed to have been it just does not work to keep going in the wrong direction or choosing some side road, which is an alternate trip to nowhere.
The most important lesson we learned is that there is no convenient place to turn around. There’s a reason why you say to yourself, “I’m just going to keep going. There is no use turning around.” Some of you are in predicaments like that, aren’t you? The woman in the medical community that I began this message with would say, “There’s no good place to turn around. Here I am part of the establishment that is corrupt. I benefited from the corruption and they said they are going to destroy me if I am going to be honest.”
Where do you turn, some of you who are engaged in illegal activity? You say to yourself, “I can’t turn around. I just need to manage my conscience as well as I can.” It’s difficult to turn around and there is no convenient time. But here’s what I want to tell you: every mile that we went forward only meant that there was a mile to come back. Eventually we were a mile deeper into nowhere.
What about you? Do you think it’s going to be easier for you to turn around next month or next year, or five years from now? I don’t think so. What the Holy Spirit has to do is to show you today there is grace right where you are at to say, “I have to leave the path that I’ve chosen. It’s leading nowhere and I need to turn around,” specifically to turn to God.
Also, the cost of continuing down the wrong road is greater than the cost of turning around. You see, in the end the person in the medical community, and I keep referring to that story, in the end she may say to herself, “Well, you know I just need to become a part of this whole mess that I’ve been caught up in.”
The fact is it’s terrible to live your life displeasing to God when the pleasure of God and God’s pleasure should be your first priority, no matter what it takes to get back on the main road. Yes of course what she should do is resign and blow the whistle, to be in fellowship with God, to be in fellowship with others and no longer having to manage a conscience that troubles her 24/7. Pleasing God is more important than pleasing others. At the end of the day, what you want to do is to have God’s approval, is it not?
Finally, the good news is that God stands by to help us when we truly do seek Him. We can take a page from Asa’s life during his first 36 years rather than a page from his last five years. He died in the 41st year of his reign after 36 years of obedience. We can say to ourselves, “I’m not going to die in stubbornness. I’m going to be able to die in fellowship with God and respond to Him.” And what does the text say that the prophet said to Him? “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.” God is here today to give you strong support to do what is right.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, what should I do?” Well, that depends who you are today because I am speaking to two different classes of people. If you’ve never come to trust Christ as your Savior and rely on what He did on the cross, if that’s never happened, believe it or not your first obligation is not to clean your life up. Your first obligation is to run to God and become a child of God. That’s number one and that’s always number one.
When you do that, Jesus Christ wipes your slate clean in terms of your relationship with God. There are other issues that will have to be dealt with in time, but the first issue is your relationship with God. Jesus died in your place so that you could be reconciled.
I love to tell the story of a man by the name of Roger, not because homosexuality is the only sin, by no means. But he was one who was deeply involved in that lifestyle and came to trust Christ as Savior. He estimated that he had 1500 different relationships. His life had been a total mess. But he came to faith in Jesus Christ and died very gloriously. What a marvelous testimony. In fact, I even took him to a studio to interview him and get his testimony because it was so remarkable.
I want you to visualize today that I have two books here. One book says, “The Life and Times of Roger.” We open it up and it is filled with all kinds of impurities that we don’t even like to look at it. Let’s suppose the other book says, “The Life and Times of Jesus Christ.” We open it up and it is a life that is filled with beauty and obedience and loveliness. The pleasure of God rests in this life.
When you come to trust Christ as Savior what Jesus says in effect is, “Let’s tear out all the pages from your book and let’s trash them.” And then Jesus tears out the pages of his book and He takes his pages and He inserts them between your covers. We look at it now and it says, “The Life and Times of Roger,” but we open it up and there is nothing but beauty and holiness and purity. In fact, that book is so lovely that God adores it. That is the Gospel; Jesus dying for us in our place to forgive us, to reconcile us to God.
Once you’ve done that, then of course you do what Asa did, you call on God and say, “God, help me. I don’t know what steps to take to do what is right. Now that I am forgiven, now that I have a legal relationship with You, and the deck has been cleared and fellowship with You has been restored, now I have to ask the question: How do I live that out in terms of making the best of a bad decision? How do I begin the process of making sure that my conscience is clear before God and before man?’” And if you lay it before God and you genuinely take your hands off of it and say, “God, this is yours,” you may be surprised at how God meets you. What does the verse say? “The hand of God is strong toward all those who desire to please him.” Where are you at today?
Let’s pray. Father, we pray please, may we not be like Asa. May we be like Asa in his first 36 years and not be like him in his closing years. I don’t know all the people for whom this message was intended, but I know that they’ve listened. I’m praying that You will grant them the grace to receive You and to seek You.”
Before I close now, what is it that you need to say to God today? What has God said to you? Not so much what I’ve said, but what has God said to you? You talk to Him. He’s waiting to hear from you.
Hear, O Lord, our prayers, particularly those who see no easy way out of a series of bad decisions. You know our helplessness, You know our need, but there is the promise that Your hand is strong toward those whose fear You. God, I pray that this message will have impact this morning, tomorrow, and weeks to come. May those who heard never forget, in Jesus’ name, amen.”