Judges: Grace for Gideon

Sermon by Cory Brock on May 31

Judges 6

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Well we’re carrying on in the book of Judges tonight as we’ve been marching through it all of these Sunday nights lately and we’ve come up to, as Wiley mentioned, chapter 6, which is the story of the call of Gideon. And it’s a little bit of a longer reading tonight, so I just want to dive right into the text. So I’m going to pray and then we’ll read verses 1 to 27 in Judges chapter 6. So let’s pray together.

Lord, we come tonight to rest in Your holy Word, to rest in the fact of Your existence, to hear the words of Jesus Christ, to see Jesus Christ, to be changed by the Holy Spirit. And so we ask that You would meet with us now as we read from Your Scripture. And we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

So let’s read together from Judges 6 verses 1 to 27. This is the Word of the Lord:

“The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds. For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number – both they and their camels could not be counted – so that they laid waste the land as they came in. And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the LORD.

When the people of Israel cried out to the LORD on account of the Midianites, the LORD sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery. And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. And I said to you, ‘I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.’

Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, ‘The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.’ And Gideon said to him, ‘Please, my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.’ And the LORD turned to him and said, ‘Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?’ And he said to him, ‘Please, LORD, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house.’ And the LORD said to him, ‘But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.’ And he said to him, ‘If now I have found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. Please do not depart from here until I come to you and bring out my present and set it before you.’ And he said, ‘I will stay till you return.’

So Gideon went into his house and prepared a young goat and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour. The meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the terebinth and presented them. And the angel of God said to him, ‘Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour the broth over them.’ And he did so. Then the angel of the LORD reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes. And fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes. And the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the LORD. And Gideon said, ‘Alas, O LORD GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.’ But the LORD said to him, ‘Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.’ Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord and called it, The LORD is Peace. To this day it still stands at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites.

That night the LORD said to him, ‘Take your father's bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it and build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of the stronghold here, with stones laid in due order. Then take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah that you shall cut down.’ So Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the Lord had told him. But because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day, he did it by night.”

This is God’s holy Word.

This passage is about a lot of different things, but it’s also, I think, about one thing, and that’s God’s grace. What’s God’s grace? God’s grace is not a thing. God’s grace is that He loves us despite our failure to love Him, despite our sin. This week, this weekend, with the chaos that we’ve seen across our nation, we know one thing for sure and that’s that we need to come and see how much human beings need the grace of God, need God’s grace to come down, fill us up, to change us. And here we learn that God’s grace in this passage is not monolithic, it’s not mono-dimensional; it’s multifaceted. It’s got aspects. It’s got sides to it. God’s grace comes in this passage like a prism with all sorts of different ways that it’s expressed. And we’ll see that God shows His grace, His love towards sinners, in first the way that He judges. Second, in the fact that He raises up the humble. Third, in the gift He continues to give of sacrifice. And finally, in simply how He reveals Himself at the end of the passage. So these are all gifts of God’s grace, they’re all here, and we can only touch on each of them briefly tonight.

God Shows His Grace in the Way that He Judges 

So first, the first thing at the beginning of the passage that we see is God is gracious in how He judges. This is not a popular idea in the modern world, but the Bible teaches over and over again that even in the manner that God judges, He shows love, that He shows grace. And you see it in the very first section of the passage, verse 1. It says that, “The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” The people of Israel went back to idolatry as they’ve done a few other times already and are going to do a few more times after this. And so they’re oppressed for seven years so far, and in that time it’s been seven years of idolatry, of worshipping the gods of the Amorites the passage tells us. And the oppressor in this particular cycle is Midian – Midian, the Midianites. Midian was a son of Abraham actually in Genesis 25 and he became nomadic, a wanderer, and his people, the Midianites, still when we come to Judges 6 are nomads; they’re wanderers. And they’re relatively advanced technologically. They use camels, which we think was a new thing in the history of using camels like horses, using camels as a form of technology. So they’re mightier than the Israelites.

And basically what happens in the oppression narrative is this is the most detailed account of oppression, these six verses, outside of Samson, the story of Samson, in the whole book. And basically what happens is the same thing that happens in “A Bug’s Life.” So you remember “A Bug’s Life”? Of course! The grasshoppers, every year, come to the ants. The ants gather all these crops, all this food that they’re going to eat over winter, and the grasshoppers led by General Hopper come in and they require a tribute from the ants. They take all their gathering of food and leave them half-dead, starving, scrambling to find food for the winter. Well that’s basically exactly what’s happening here. Every single year, Midian comes in and they take the crops, they take the animals and it’s left Israel, as one commentator put it, “living the life of eating rats in a cave,” as one commentator said it. That’s where Israel is. They’re culturally primitive living in caves at this point. And the reason, the reason the passage says in 6:1 is because “they did evil in the sight of the Lord,” and it says next in the next clause that “God gave them to Midian because of their evil.”

And look, what this teaching – the book of Job tells us that suffering is not in any way necessarily the consequence of the way we live. That sometimes suffering happens to us. And Job’s friends were smited and called guilty because they tried to tell Job that the reason he suffered was because of his sins. And that’s absolutely true. And at the same time, the Bible teaches here and in so many other places that there are consequences due to sin and particularly that God has built into the pattern of reality that sin, patterns of sin, beget deep consequences. That the more we break the order of the world as God made it, it will break us. And that’s what’s happening here twelve times over and over again through their idolatry. Paul says this in Galatians chapter 6, that “God will not be mocked.” What a person sows, they also will reap. That patterns of sin lead to a broken self, lead to a broken life. And what that means is because God has built in consequences, judgements to patterns of sin in our life, that means that the law of God, the rules, the way that God tells us to live is not arbitrary. God’s laws are never busy work. They’re never arbitrary. There is a cause-effect built into creation. God’s laws reflect the basic nature of ultimate reality. And when we walk against ultimate reality, the way God made it reflecting God’s own being, it breaks us.

And so in Christianity, Christians, Christians unlike most modern people groups with differing world views, can actually say that truth begets ethics. Truth leads to values. The way we should live is driven by the way things are, reality itself. And so when God says, “Honor the Sabbath Day,” that’s not arbitrary. That’s not for no reason. He says because you can’t live well Monday to Saturday, work well, be successful unless you have a day of rest. He’s built that into the fabric of reality. Even crops need a year off. See, God’s laws reflect the truth about ultimate reality and that means that when we break them there are built in consequences due to the pattern of sin. Christianity says life has got to be based on truth. 

And in verse 6 – chapter 6 too, verse 6 – they were driven by this oppression, brought very low, to the point where they cry out for help from the Lord. And I think this passage is asking us, is telling us, is showing us, that every single human being at some point in our lives we get caught up in some pattern of sin where it becomes easier and easier and easier over time to do the thing we know is wrong and it starts to eat us up, it starts to kill us from the inside out; it starts to have external consequences in our circumstances. And every single human in that moment has to answer, “What are we going to do with the consequences of being brought low because of what we’ve done? That God, in love, has built in real judgments for patterns of sin.” 

And there’s two options and we don’t really know which one the Israelites were doing here. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians you can either regret sin or repent of it. When you regret sin, all it is, is you’re saying, “I hate the circumstances that my sin, my choices have brought me to.” But when you repent, you say, “Lord, shake me up! Wake me up! I see that You are ultimate reality, that Your being is expressed in the reality of creation, that walking against Your path is walking against creation itself! I see I want to live for You. I want to put this away for Your sake, for Your glory!” There’s a huge difference in regret and repentance and God has built into the pattern of reality that the consequences of our sin often cost us and then call us to one of the two, to one of the two choices. You see, the commentators all point out that in verse 10 when the prophet comes down he says, “You have not obeyed the voice of the Lord,” and at that moment we expect total judgment and instead what happens is verse 11 – now the angel of the Lord comes and sits under a tree to meet a man. God responds to repentance. He’ll do it. 

God Shows His Grace in the Fact that He Raises Up the Humble

Secondly, though – what else? God reveals His grace in this passage in another facet, in another dimension, through this principle, this motif that we see throughout the whole Bible that God raises up the humble. He chooses the weak. He goes after weakness. You know every single person loves the underdog story and it’s because in the story of redemption God comes and chooses the weak over and over again. He chooses Gideon here. That’s what happens. And if you look at verse 15 you see that when the angel of the Lord chooses Gideon, Gideon says, “How could it be me because I am from the weakest clan in the tribe of Manasseh and I am least in my father’s house?” Now it’s not just those two. It’s also that Manasseh, one of the tribes of Israel, was considered one of the weakest tribes as well. They were living outside of Canaan, allotted a land distinct from the rest of the Israelites even. So this is a thrice-time weakness. It’s that he’s from the weakest clan, he is from the weakest family, weakest tribe, weakest clan within the tribe – that means weakest family – and then within that family he is the youngest or the least in some way. Weakest physically or the youngest perhaps. There is a Davidic parallel here. It reminds us of what will be with David where God’s going to choose the youngest of Jesse to rule over the greatest. 

And what we see here is that there is a principle. We can call it the principle of Gideon. God, over and over again, chooses to confound the strong through the weak. And some people have started calling this in the past decade or so in the Christian theology realm, this is a work of God’s upside-down kingdom. This is upside-down because in the eyes of the world what is right-side up? In every single age, every single century, the right-side up way is that the strong, what’s normal – the strong subdue the weak. Humans seek prestige and power and might and autonomy. Power – that’s what’s right-side up in the eyes of the world. And you know, it’s the principle not of David but of Saul, the king that is to come. He was chosen because he was the tallest. And you know, thank goodness for me that God doesn’t work that way, right? He, instead, He works in an upside-down way. He comes in and says that God’s plan is to take what is lowly, to take what is foolish in the eyes of the world, 1 Corinthians 1, and confound the wise. And that’s because He takes what humans consider most glorious and says, “That’s nothing. Let Me show you My glory.” I think that’s why He does it over and over again.

Now this is the principle of Gideon, and he’s weak, but God is going to make him strong. And Gideon is an unexpected messiah, but look, this motif, this principle is so steady in Scripture it is a sign of the One standing right in front of him. The principle of Gideon, that the weak, that God will choose weakness, the One that’s standing right in front of him – who is it that’s calling Gideon here? And the text tells us first that Gideon doesn’t know. He calls Him lowercase “lord,” and in Hebrew that just means he’s saying you’re some type of master, ruler. He thinks He’s a human; that this angel of the Lord has taken on some kind of human form; He’s bearing a staff and Gideon calls Him a kingly master, an earthly, human, kingly master. He doesn’t know who this is, but what does verse 14 says? “But the Lord turned with His body to Gideon and spoke,” meaning the text is telling us that this is the angel of the Lord and He is the Lord. This is God that’s met him, taking on some form where Gideon thinks He’s a human being holding a staff. 

And in verse 22 when this episode is over, Gideon says, “I have seen the angel of the Lord.” And then God has to say, “But don’t worry, you’re not going to die.” Because the reader expects that he should have died. Why? Because he saw God over and over again in the Old Testament, the Son of God comes down to earth as the messenger of the Lord, the angel of the Lord bearing authority, meeting people face to face. The Bible teaches it over and over again. And this is the paradox of the angel of the Lord. He is called in the Torah – in Genesis to Deuteronomy – the captain of the host, the head of the army, the most mighty, the divine warrior himself. But the principle of Gideon, the captain of the Lord’s army, the divine warrior, the most powerful, the Son of God, the angel of the Lord standing right there, He will be the one that will come under it. He will be the one that becomes ultimate weakness. He will win by losing. He will die. He will go and display His absolute power in absolute weakness at the cross on the hill of Golgotha. It’s Him! It’s the one standing in front of Gideon himself, knowing what is going to happen to Him, knowing that He’s calling the weak to raise up and confound the might of the strong – it’s what He will one day do. 

And so here, we’re meant even in this Old Testament story, to hear the call of the Gospel to be weak, to go low, to die to self and look at the One who became ultimately weak for us so that He could make us strong in the middle of history. It’s calling us to live a life that’s upside-down from the right-side up manner, what’s normal in the eyes of the humans in this world. You see what happens to Gideon later on in this passage? He becomes what one of my seminary professors called “humbly confident” or “full of humble strength” – something that Jesus gives us through the Holy Spirit, “humble strength.” On the one hand, the call is, “Take on total weakness as humility in yourself.” That’s our call. On the one hand, we are called to be so courageous that we’re willing to be unimportant in the eyes of the world. We’re called to give our life away that much that we don’t care about being important in the eyes of the world at all. And then on the other hand, Gideon becomes – we didn’t read it in but in verse 32 – he tears down the altars of Baal and the Asherah poles and they name him the Jerubbaal, the Jerubbaal if you will. It literally means that he has become “the Baal killer,” the killer of idols, the killer of sin! He has become a warrior.

Look, that’s Ephesians 5 in the New Testament. Give up yourself. Give yourself over to the true Man of power, Jesus Christ. Give your life over for His glory and – total humility – and then you get the armor of God. You become a warrior for Christ. You become strong in Him. You kill idols. You become Jerubbaal; you kill idols! And that’s the principle of humble strength. God raises up the humble. Jesus told us over and over again, “The first will be last.” Go low. Wash feet. Take up humility if you want to be strong, if you want to have strength in yourself. If we are confident in God, if our identity rests so squarely in the fact of Jesus Christ, then we stand above the shakiness of the right-side up kingdom, the shakiness of successes and failures and little human glories that come and go in our lives. If we say, “Not my glory, His glory, therefore I can’t be shaken because He can’t be shaken,” then we’re going to be okay. We’re going to be okay! 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, this week was his 75th death memorial, 75th anniversary of his death, and in one moment in his writings he’s talking about putting on a life of humility before God and others and this is what he says. “That” – putting away our glory for the sake of God’s glory – “That is turning the Christian faith from mere phraseology into reality.” That’s what makes it real – when we give up everything and say, “You, You are the King.”

God Shows His Grace in the Gift of Sacrifice 

But thirdly and briefly, we have to hold on and press pause because we cannot get that life, that life of humble confidence, unshakable strength, without, just simply by willing it. And we see that here as well in the third dimension of the way God shows grace. Gideon needs the grace of sacrifice in this passage. And you know, every single religion in all of human history has included sacrifice of some sort. And that’s because humans deep down know that they need to be forgiven through the work, the death of something else. And here in this passage Gideon’s biggest weakness is not his weakness – it’s not the family, it’s not the weaknesses in the eyes of the world. It’s that he is a pagan; he is an idolater. And when God first confronts him in 13, you see it really clearly. He’s grown up in Joash’s house and Joash is clearly a man who worshiped Baal. He has to tear down his own dad’s Baals and Asherah poles. And this is what he says to the Son of God. This is what Gideon says. “Lord, if the Lord is really with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all the wonderful deeds that the fathers told us about? Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt but now the Lord forsook us and gave us away!” 

This language from Gideon completely condemns himself because he is not awake to the fact that his idolatry, his sin, his rejection of the living God is what brought him and Israel into the hands of the Midianites. He doesn’t see it. And in this way and in several others he is an Abraham parallel. He is like Abraham was in Genesis because remember, Abraham was a pagan, born into a pagan household, worshiper of many gods, called all of a sudden out of Babylon into Canaan. And the first place God meets him in the land itself, the angel of the Lord comes and meets Abram under the oak, the terebinth – exact same situation here. The angel of the Lord has come and called this pagan under the oak, under the terebinth tree. 

And what does Abram do? He says, “Wait! Hold on!” Abram didn’t know who he was talking to. He said, “Let me bake you bread.” And what happens here? Gideon says, “Will you wait here while I go and make you a meal?” And Gideon goes in, just like Abram, and he makes three things. He takes an ephah of flour, which is enough flour for a full grown man to stand inside of, a tub that big; a lot of flour in a land that’s starving. Bread, drink, broth, and meat he brings Him. The three elements. And what the angel of the Lord does is He takes that, He puts it on a rock, and instead of just eating with this man like a covenant meal, He puts His staff down and He burns it up and the angel of the Lord, God, the Son of God here, transforms what Gideon thinks of as a normal meal, a meal of peace, into something more than that. And the something more than that comes right out of Leviticus 7. This is a sacrifice of peace. And in a sacrifice of peace you need three types of food – bread, liquid/drink – wine or broth – and meat. Exactly what they have here. You need three individuals. You need an offeror, you need a priest, and you need the Lord in heaven. The angel of the Lord here becomes the priest and the offering of peace. Gideon wants to have a normal meal; He makes it into a sacrifice, the angel of the Lord.

What is happening? This is the angel of the Lord, the Son of God, the true High Priest saying to Gideon, “You deserve to die, you deserve to be burned up for your idolatry, and you don’t even see it. But I’ll take a substitute instead to declare you justified.” This is like, this is justification; this is substitution that leads to freedom. This is God saying, “Because of the death of another, I will let you go. I will choose you.” Donald McLeod, one of the great theologians in Scotland, I heard him tell a story once, or write a story – I can’t remember where I first heard it – but he was teaching in Africa, teaching a group, and there was a young man who came up to him afterwards that knew almost no English; English was a vague second language. But Donald was trying to convey the Gospel to these people. And the young man said to him, “He die. Me no die.” Donald had waxed eloquent for so long and it was the only thing the man understood; it was the only thing he knew to say. He just said, “He die. Me no die.” Justification by the gift of substitutionary sacrifice. He, this Son of God, would one day die. Me no die. 

And that’s what Gideon gets. It’s not just for Gideon. He tells him then, “Tell down the Asherah poles, break down the altars Baal, and use them to make another sacrifice” because He’s going to do it again for the nation. He says that, He says, take two bulls, in the second episode, very briefly, and one of them, the second bull is seven years old to represent the seven years, the fullness – that number 7 – of idolatry that Israel has done before the Lord. And the seven year old bull goes to the altar to die. Justification by substitution. Redemption, freedom. The second bull goes free. Here in the Old Testament, it’s the Gospel. In the first sacrifice it was, “You are pronounced clean, Gideon, by the substitution of another.” That’s justification. And in a second offering, a bull gets to go free at the expense of another. That is the freedom of redemption, of being let go from the captive hold of sin. It’s playing out right here. And the angel of the Lord, the true High Priest Himself, He’s the one administering it and He will again. He will again when He goes and becomes the sacrifice. We know the blood of bulls and goats doesn’t do it; it’s just a symbol. This was all about Him – the one day sacrifice for us. This passage is begging us and calling us and pronouncing to us that we say tonight, “He die. Me no die.” That’s the confession. The cry out for forgiveness and justification before the Lord. The passage is calling us, begging us to do it. 

God Shows His Grace in How He Reveals Himself 

And the last thing here, the last facet of grace as we close, is that God also shows His grace then to a man who has been justified and redeemed and made into a warrior for Israel, a judge, by God simply giving Himself to this man. Now we didn’t read the very end of the passage, but I want to look at it just for a couple of minutes – verse 36 to 40. This is probably the most famous section of the call of Gideon. It’s the weird miracle that Gideon asked for. He asked God in 36 and 37, “I’m going to lay a fleece of wool out. Will You, in the night, come and put dew only on the fleece, not on the threshing floor ground?” And God does it. And then the next day he says, “Don’t be angry with me Lord, but will You do the opposite? Will You put dew on the threshing floor ground, not on the fleece?” And God does it. 

And commentators speculate like crazy about what this means, about what the symbols of the fleece and of the dew and all these different things are. But here’s at least one thing I think is happening here. In seminary, theology class 101, introduction, you know the first thing they say is you cannot know and commune with God unless God chooses to be known, unless God chooses to come down and commune with you. That’s the only way. And Gideon is saying, “Lord, You’ve changed me. You’ve called me out of pagan idolatry, but now if I’m going to do this, I need to know You. I need to know that You are real. I need to taste it. I need to see it. I need to be able to say that I have communed with a God that is not like the baals that I once served.” What God is doing in this miracle, I think, is in total grace in a way that Gideon does not deserve or any of us deserve is saying, “I am willing to reveal Myself to you. You sinner, you that don’t deserve it, I am willing to come down so far that I will commune with you.” 

And what He says more specifically than that, and this is the final thing, is that there is a huge difference between the mechanical religion of idolatry and the true religion of serving the true God. You see, in the mechanical religion of idolatry, of Baalism, Gideon would have known that “X + Y + Z = nature.” In other words, in Baalism what you did was you brought the required amount of some sacrifice on the required day, you shook your hands in the required way, you beat your breast in the required way and you could expect – it’s math – the gods would be pacified and nature would just keep cycling at normal. The rains would come down. It was about pacifying gods in order that you could get normal processes out of nature – rain, crops, etc.

And the first thing that God is saying here is, “Look, I made nature. All of creation, and I can flip it upside-down. You want dew on the fleece? That’s fine. If you want dew on the threshing floor and not the fleece, I can do it. I am not a creature like the things that you have been worshiping. You need to encounter Me. You need to see My absoluteness. You need to wrestle with the nature of God Himself, absolute deity in itself, and be confounded and be changed. You need to contemplate what we call theology proper – the nature of God.” That is what changes us. That is how we commune. We sit with the God who has revealed Himself and let His being just confound us. That is what is happening here. In mechanical Baalism, you do not commune with the creaturely idols. But in Biblical religion, in Christianity, you talk to the living God! You say, “Will You show Yourself to me?” He did! He has! He is in the Holy Spirit, in the inscripturated revelation, in the history of redemption, in Jesus Christ! This is a God who, in patience with us comes and says, “I will commune with you. I will do so much despite your sin.”

We grow into humble confidence by reveling and contemplating in the nature of God every single day, delivered to us through Scripture. Scripture is a window and a mirror. You look through it – the window – to see the truth about the nature of ultimate reality, about God Himself. And then when you see that, it becomes a mirror and it begs you to say, “What is God wanting me to do today? How is He wanting me to change? How is He wanting me to grow?” That’s what’s happening to Gideon in this miracle. Gideon needed to know and commune with a God that is so much greater than an idol, than a creature. 

And so do we. And Monday, tonight, Monday is a very, very good time to start doing it, to reveling and contemplating the real God. Let’s pray.

Father, we give thanks for the dimensions of Your grace and we ask Lord, now, that You would change us as we think on Your mighty and absolute being. If those, if many, if some are listening that don’t, haven’t tasted the pronouncement of forgiveness through Christ we do ask that their hearts, their eyes would be opened. We ask that they would be helped by others. And we pray this in Christ’s name, amen.

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