The Head and The Neck

Sermon Text – 10.07.2018
[1 Kings 21:7-16 and Proverbs 31:10-16, 30]       
     A man is the head of the house, master of his domain. A man is the head of his family. Sort of. In 2002, a movie called My Big Fat Greek Wedding was released about a young Greek woman with an over-bearing family who falls in love with a non-Greek man. Over the course of the film, the young woman grows more and more independent, but as you can imagine her parents are divided about their daguther growing up. Her mother is very supportive, but her father is not quite. You’ve all heard the phrase – “a man is the head of the household,” but personal experience tells us that it’s almost always more complicated than that. The relationship between a husband and a wife can be a tricky thing, and one of my favorite – somewhat odd – descriptions of that dynamic comes from My Big Fat Greek Wedding – well here, let’s take a look. [show movie clip]. The man is the head, but the woman is the neck and she can turn the head any way she wants.           Today is the start of a brand new sermon series called The “Gentler” Sex, and I give quotation marks around “gentler” because what we are going to find is that these women are not what you might call “gentle.” We are going to take the next few weeks to examine the lessons from some of the most deadly women in the bible, and at the same time contrast that with the description from Proverbs 31, which is often held up as the best description of a godly woman. Now, I know some of the men in the room might be thinking – Pastor JJ, I have no interest in becoming a godly woman, what are you doing here? What could I possibly learn from this series? But ask yourself – if the actions of the men of the bible, men like Jesus, can be held up as an example for all of us – why can’t all of us learn from the women too. Not only can all of us learn from these stories, but not every story is a good example. Sometimes a story is told as an example of what NOT to do. Case in point, today we are going to kick things off with possibly the worst woman in the bible – Jezebel.    
         Now, the character of Jezebel exists for roughly 16 chapters in the bible, from 1 Kings chapter 16, all the way up to 2 Kings chapter 9. It’s not all about her, but she’s a background character for most of that story. Our scripture lesson for today comes right smack in the middle of all that. But in the very beginning, Jezebel shows up in chapter 16. [read v.29-33]. Now, we kinda jumped right in, but basically there’s this guy Ahab, and he becomes king of Israel. Now, he was already bad news, but then he marries Princess Jezebel, who immediately leads him down the wrong path. Jezebel came from a kingdom that worshipped the false god Baal. And she convinced her husband to worship Baal too. And not just a little bit, he’s out there building temples and altars for this false god. Then Jezebel sets out on this conquest to destroy the Jewish religion, to wipe out the prophets of God. There’s this guy Elijah, and another guy Obadiah, maybe you’ve heard of them before – they were prophets at this time and they spend a LOT of their time running and hiding in caves because Jezebel and her people were hunting for them. So this is who Jezebel is. She’s the queen who led the King astray, the neck that turned the head and her goal was to wipe out worship of God, and get everybody to worship Baal. And she uses her influence and her connection to the king to get what she wants. So in this first stage of the story we see that Jezebel is a bad influence on Ahab. Chapter 21, verse 25 says, [read it].     
      Then we get to our scripture lesson in chapter 21. The beginning of the chapter sets the stage a little bit. On day the king notices a really nice vineyard next to his palace. He decides that he wants that vineyard, and so he goes over and meets the owner Naboth, and offers to buy the vineyard. It’s right next to my palace, it’s very nice, I’d like to buy it. So far, so good. But this vineyard is like Naboth’s family farm, he can’t sell his family inheritance. So he tells the king, “No, I’m sorry – it’s not for sale.” Verse 4, [read it]. Now, can’t we just pause for a second – when you read that, what does it make you think of? Maybe it’s just me, because I’ve got a two year old in the house – but it sounds to me like King Ahab is acting like a spoiled child. Right? So, ever the helpful wife, Jezebel steps in to get things done. She writes a letter, in Ahab’s name, with Ahab’s seal – so she’s not helping him, she’s taking over his position basically. And then, verse 9 [read v.9-10]. So, Jezebel sets up this little trap to make sure Naboth is falsely accused and killed. Throw a party, a little prayer meeting for prayer and fasting and then have these two guys falsely accuse him and destroy him. Everything goes exactly to plan, Naboth is killed and Jezebel tells Ahab, “Alright, mission accomplished, he’s dead, you can go claim the land.” So first we see that Jezebel is a bad influence, but then we see that she spreads that bad influences into Naboth’s life too.
Now, before we move on – I always wish I had more time to tell these stories – but just very quickly, there’s a little bit of poetic justice in the end of the story of Jezebel. We won’t go into the details but in 2 Kings chapter 9, Jezebel dies when her servants turn on her and throw her out the window of the palace, and then she gets eaten by dogs. Yikes, but what I’m trying to point out here is that in all three pieces of this story – the marriage to Ahab, Naboth’s vineyard and her gruesome death – there is one  clear message that comes through. In life – it matters who we surround ourselves with. The way we treat people sticks. It matters who we surround ourselves with. The people around us have an impact on who we are – for better OR for worse.
So, now let’s take that image – the horrible inspiration of Jezebel and compare it to the Proverbs. Proverbs 31 says, [read v.10-15]. Now, this is going to be really important because we’re going to come back to this a couple times in the next month. When you’re reading the bible, specifically the Old Testament, sometimes we have to look deeper than the words. The language can be outdated – people don’t really spin their own clothes much anymore, and I don’t think there’s a woman in the room who would consider it a compliment to be compared to a merchant’s ship. Honey, you look so great – just like a giant cargo ship, you know? Gentlemen – do not compare your wife, mother or daughters to a cargo ship. So we gotta look deeper than the words. And what I want to point out is that every piece of the description of the godly woman is about how she influences the people around her. Nothing about her looks, personality, charm, intelligence – none of that. The highest description is about how she affects the people around her. The influence she has on her family, friends, and community. Supporting, and loving and leading and providing. Think about this – what if your goodness was not about what you can do for you, but was instead about what you do for the people around you? Now, I love this last bit. Verse 16. Now just, remember Jezebel and Naboth – that guy with the vineyard, remember that story while I read this. [read v.16]. Do you think maybe the writer of Proverbs knew the story of Jezebel? A virtuous woman inspects a field and buys it, not like Jezebel who manipulated and murdered to get what she wants.        
     Whew. Okay, here’s the thing. The story of Jezebel makes a couple of things really obvious. First, we are influenced by the things around us. Movies, television, music, advertisements, social media, and most importantly – the PEOPLE around us, all of that shapes who you are. We are manipulate-able. That’s not a word, but you know what I mean. If you watch only conservative news outlets – that will influence the way you understand the world. On the other side, if you get your news from late night comedy shows or a liberal media source alone – that will influence the way you understand the world just as much – but in the other direction. Right or left isn’t my point here – the point is that we are influenced by the things around us. Some people say, “Well that doesn’t affect me, it’s just a movie, or it’s just a song.” Or some people think that they are stronger when they don’t let things bother them. “I can watch anything, and it doesn’t bother me.” Doesn’t affect me. But in reality, the stuff around us changes us. Maybe just a little bit, but it adds up – it piles up in our mind. The truth is that admitting that something has an influence on you – that’s the first step to real strength. Because rather than lying to yourself, you have admitted to yourself that you know where you struggle and you know what you can and cannot let into your life. The first thing we realize from Jezebel is that we are influenced by the things around us, and of course the other side of that is that we have an influence on the world around us. We are not passive, we influence the world.     
      So that’s all pretty basic – we influence people and they influence us. The story of Jezebel hits hard on the fact that it matters who surrounds you in life, but there’s one more level. The good news this morning is that God influences us. In fact, God wants to be the greatest influence of your life. God loves you and he cares about what happens in your world. There are a lot of voices out there in the world. People say, “God doesn’t care about what music I listen to, or the things I watch on TV or the people I hang out with.” But that’s simply not true. God DOES care. God cares about what happens to you, and I think God cares about that stuff because God knows. He can see how every ripple in life will affect us, he knows how the things around us change us.       
    But here’s the best part – there is a way to turn down the volume on the world, and turn up the volume on God. So that is my challenge to you this week – the application. Turn God up and turn the world down. Just imagine God’s goodness coming in and washing over all the other garbage in our lives. Imagine the flood of God’s love washing away the bad influences in your life. We all have excuses for the bad things we do. We say things like, “I drink because I’m disappointed in myself and my life and I don’t have a better way to cope.” Or “I’m addicted to pornography because of the way movies and TV have taught me to look at women.” Oh, I’m sorry – was that too far? I heard a pastor say one time, “There are two types of men – men who struggle with porn and men who lie about struggling with porn.” We give ourselves a pass on the bad influences of life, we give up and say there’s nothing we can do about it. This is just the world we live in. Even our kids do it. “I spend all my time looking perfect on social media, because I have trouble accepting what I see in the mirror.” Or “I can’t stop staring at my phone because I’m afraid to be alone.”  Or “I lie about who I am and what I want because I’m afraid my friends will judge me.” And if any of you have felt those things, and to all of you who are crushed under the weight of some other bad influence in your life – the good news for you this morning is that God loves you, and I just want you to let that message flood your life and wash away all your excuses, all the things in your life that are holding you back. I want you to look at the Jezebels of your world and say, “get out and don’t come back.” I’m not going to listen to your voice anymore. Because God, the God up in heaven, he loves you. God loves you and wants to be the greatest influence in your life – stronger than all the other broken desires of this world. If you let him in, if you call on the Holy Spirit, you can let the voice of God drown out all the noise of this world. Turn him up to 11 and the world down to nothing.       
    Jezebel was a bad influence – understatement of the year. But when you hold her up against the example we find in Proverbs – we find both the bad example to avoid AND the good example to follow. And so I’ll leave you with this. Pay attention. Pay attention to what is in your life. The influences working on you, and the influence you are putting out into the world. Most importantly, pay attention to the voice of God, and make sure He is the loudest thing you hear. Amen.

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