Mercy at the Bottom

Scripture: Jonah 1:1-17, Jonah 2:1-10, 1 Kings 17:1-24
Date: 05/26/2001 
We often get the best glimpse of God when we are at the bottom, in difficult situations. The stories of Jonah and the Prodigal Son both teach us how God reaches us when we are at the bottom. Many more stories are covered.
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Note: This is a verbatim transcript of the live broadcast. It is presented as spoken.

Morning. Happy Sabbath. I’ve learned a lot since the last time I stood before you to bring a worship hour message. Those of you who know me know our family has been through some very unwelcome growing experiences. And I think probably the most valuable messages a pastor can share with a congregation are those that grow out of a personal experience. And I won’t go a lot into our personal experience that we experienced on our trip to the Philippines but that’s the birth of some of these thoughts. I’d like to talk to you this morning about how we find God’s grace, his mercy at the bottom. Mercy at the Bottom is the title for the message, which is of course, often where we get the best glimpse of God. And perhaps I could begin with an illustration. You know, I love snorkeling, scuba diving, skin-diving.

We did have one day… we planned on at the end of our evangelistic meetings in the Philippines Karen and I were gonna, of course, meet there and after the meetings were over we were going to take a couple of days. You know, you fly that far you may as well see the sights a little bit. And we were going to explore some of the islands and the reefs and had a trip all planned. But we did take one day to go to a place called Batangas and do some scuba diving and some snorkeling before the meetings began. And uh, in diving there’s a lot of glories in the ocean, but they don’t float at the surface.

The most beautiful things you’re going to see around a reef, you have to go down to them. Which is why you take the time to learn how to scuba dive. You can’t stay down very long. They’re somewhere between fifteen and thirty feet from the surface. You get too close to the surface and the beautiful things of the reef are destroyed in the storms, but if you get down a little deeper, that’s where the real beauty is. And after I’d used up my two tanks of oxygen scuba diving then I went out with some of our crew that’s here today and we went snorkeling. And I’ve learned a few tricks to do what they call free diving where you hyperventilate a little bit and you develop your lungs you can go down and you can stay down. Because when you’re snorkeling if you have to see everything from up at the surface it’s not near as beautiful.

You get down there and you look at those iridescent, cosmic colored fish just swarming in schools. I tell you if you really want to get a thrill go through a school of these beautiful fish, angel fish with all these colors and feel them, the little currents rippling around you from their fins. There’s nothing quite like it. The water has to be warm to really appreciate this. That I will say. I’ve never gone snorkeling off California. They’ve got Great White Sharks out there. But that’s sort of a crude illustration to make my point. We’re going to look at a number of case studies from God’s word this morning about how we best find God’s grace, his mercy, at the bottom.

Now probably one of the most dramatic examples you’ll find of someone who really hit the bottom…. Who do you think I’m going to say? Jonah. I can’t think of anyone in the Bible that went lower than Jonah, can you? You can find this, of course, in the book of Jonah. And he received the word of God to go preach to the Ninevites. That seemed unpleasant to him. He was not relishing that. He had concerns. He was afraid. Whatever his reasons were, instead of going east to Nineveh he went west. And the Bible says that he went from Gath-hepher. That, I discovered, is very close to Nazareth. About 1200 feet above sea level.

It’s another way, perhaps, that Jonah was a type of Christ. And he went down from there to Joppa. Then it says he went down into the ship. Then he went down in the lowest parts of the ship. Then he got thrown over and he went down one more time. Jonah went down, down, down, down. And of course after he was tossed overboard and he began to sink God prepared a great sea monster to swallow him up. If he thought it was going to be a problem to go preach to the Ninevites that was nothing compared to being swallowed by a sea monster. You know one thing that I’ve discovered, I heard a pastor say that, “big problems are cannibals that swallow all the little problems”. You think a splinter can ruin your day until you get hit by an arrow. Sometimes the little inconveniences of life can ruin our day. We’re frustrated and feeling sorry for ourselves until you have a really big problem.

You know, when you really make it to the bottom, you’re swallowed by a sea monster, and you’re in the dark, things suddenly fall into perspective. And Jonah had a new point of view when he went to the bottom of the mountains. You know, he actually says he made it to the bottom. You can read it in Jonah chapter 2. Read the whole thing, verse 6 to 10, “I went down to the bottoms of the mountains” can’t get any lower than that. “The earth with her bars was about me forever. Yet, hast thou brought up my life from corruption” (God brings us up after we go down.) “Oh, Lord, my God, when my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord and my prayer went up to you in your holy temple.” Doesn’t matter how low you are, if Jonah can catapult a prayer from the bottom of the mountains to God’s throne in heaven then he can hear you, amen? There’s nowhere you can flee from his presence. “Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own mercy.” Don’t miss that. It was mercy that he found at the bottom. “But I will sacrifice to you with a voice of thanksgiving.

I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord. So the Lord spoke to the fish and it vomited Jonah out on dry land.” You know, that’s a sign of God’s mercy. Could have vomited him out in the middle of the ocean. He took him to land, right? Placed him on the shore. And then you know the Word of God came to him again the second time the same as the first time saying “go to Nineveh” and Jonah then had to do what he was supposed to do the first time. It was a little easier after he’d been to the bottom to do God’s will. Now my point is, you can find the mercy of God even at the bottom of rebellion. Jonah was in rebellion to God’s will, in rebellion to God’s Word, and still he found mercy. Amen? Some people think, “I’ve gone too far. How can God forgive me?” Even at the bottom of rebellion you can find the mercy of God.

My second example, another familiar one, most of these stories you know, but I’m going to tie them together so you have a common theme that I hope will give you hope. It’s the Prodigal Son who found mercy when at the bottom of pride. Now, when that young “whipper snapper” felt that his father’s restrictions were a little too much for him and he didn’t like his older brother bossing him around he went to his father and said, “Dad, I know you’re up there in years, but you probably aren’t gonna die for a while. I’d just like to get my inheritance now. My brother gets a double portion. I only get a little bit. Why do I have to wait?

I want to get out and make my own decisions. I’m going to really make my mark in the world.” And he had a lot of that youthful arrogance so the father humbly divided his inheritance to his son. And this young man took everything after a few days and he went into a far country and he enjoyed his liberation for a while. “Free at last!” he thought. And he was riding high. The Bible says that he was “squandering his father’s substance with prostitutes and riotous living” at least that was the accusation of his brother. And then a famine arose and he soon wrote his last check and began to get the late payments in the mail and his beautiful garments that he had bought with his father’s hard-earned money began to show stains and tears. And soon he was in want and nobody gave him anything and it was humiliating. Had to join himself to a citizen that herded pigs, the lowest possible occupation for a Jew. And soon he found himself out there slopping pigs, coveting the pigs’ food! Feeling the suction of his sandals in the mire, he finally came to his senses. Had to be humbled.

He had to hit the bottom before he came to his senses. You know there’s something about when you reach the bottom it really clears your thinking. And he said to himself, “What in the world’s wrong with me? Here I am dying with hunger, coveting the pig food, and my father’s servants eat better than me! I’m going to humble myself. I’m going to arise and go to my father.” Now, did he find mercy? Did he find mercy from the father when he went home? He had to find that mercy after hitting the bottom of his pride. You know, a potter, before he can make a beautiful vessel out of a lump of clay… any of you ever see them work with a wheel? Potter’s wheel? If you go to India and some of these other countries they still use the foot-driven wheels where they got a big flywheel that’s weighted and they push it. No motor. But before they begin making the beautiful vessel the potter beats the clay and you think he’s taking out his frustrations. Any of you seen this before? He’s got a lump of clay and he’s pounding it with his fists and he’s folding it and he’s pounding it. You know what they’re doing? They’ve gotta get the air bubbles out because if they don’t get the air bubbles out the vessel is going to be flawed when it goes through the furnace and it will break. And God in order to prepare us to be vessels for his using, sometimes he’s gotta beat us down to the bottom, get all of the selfishness out so that we can make it through the fire. Good news is that we don’t go through the fire alone. Amen? He goes through it with us.

The next case study, third one. We’re going to look at two widows because they’re very similar. God gives his mercy when we are at the bottom of our resources. The bottom of our resources. Now you know there were two widows… it’s interesting the parallels and the similarities you see between Elijah and Elisha. They often modeled each other’s behavior. They both went and stayed with widows that had sons and they both resurrected boys. They weren’t the same stories but a lot of similar experiences between Elisha and Elijah. Elijah, the first one, of course, during this terrible famine… Incidentally, you know why there was a famine? He prayed that God would bring the people to the bottom so that they would finally look up and turn to God. And it worked! Sometimes God, to get our attention, to bring us to our knees, he has to put a load on our backs.

He’s gotta knock us down before we really look up. And so he was praying that there would be a famine and there was, and it was very severe. So he goes to a Gentile woman, a widow, who has virtually nothing left, but God is going to bless her and God blesses her when she’s at the end of her resources. I Kings, chapter 17, now this is not all on the screen. I’d like for you to read it. And the first widow, it says, Elijah says, “Go make me, get me a drink of water” and she’s on her way to get him a drink of water then he says, “and can you make me a little loaf of bread, a little cake, a bun, something to eat? Everyone’s starving.” Well, she’d get a drink of water. There was still some water in the well, but nobody had any food and that was too much! She was at the end of her resources and the Bible said, she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I do not have bread.

Only a handful of flour in a bin” in a barrel. You’ve heard the expression, “The bottom of the barrel”? Comes from this story. She had reached the bottom of the barrel. “And a little oil in a jar. And see? I’m going to gather a couple of sticks…”Look at this pitiful picture. She doesn’t even need to get logs to cook her last meal. All she needs is a couple of twigs because all she’s got is a little bit of bread and a little, she’s making a little cake with a couple of sticks. A pitiful picture. And she says, you’re asking for my last meal. It’s going to be the last meal for my son and I. She’s at the end of her resources. “I’m gathering a couple of sticks that I might go and prepare it for myself and my son that we might eat it and die.” And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear. Go and do as you’ve said, but make me a small cake from it first.”

Put me first, even at the end of your resources, and see if I don’t come through for you. Well, she does it. Elijah says to her, he makes a promise, “For thus says the Lord God, the bin of flour shall not be used up nor shall the jar of oil run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.” Well, you know, not only did she take God at his word, God kept his promise. And every time she reached into the bottom of the barrel there was always more flour. It continued to multiply. As long as she tipped the little cruse more oil poured out. And that’s a similar story than you’ve got in II Kings chapter 4 where you’ve got that widow who comes to Elisha and she says that the creditor is coming to take away her sons because she had actually cosigned, she took out a loan and they were collateral. He said, “What do you have?”

She said, “I have nothing in the house but a little jar of oil. Just a little oil.” He said, “You take that oil and you bring it back into your house and you begin to pour it into empty vessels and it will multiply.” You see when we consecrate the feeble resources that we have to the Lord, when we reach the bottom is when he works the miracles. You know, when the Lord took the Children of Israel through the wilderness did he start giving them manna from heaven the day that they stepped over the Red Sea, into the wilderness? Or did the manna begin to come after they began to feel the pinch of want? Did God give the water from the rock, or the waters of Mara, were they cured while their mouth was still filled with moisture? Or was it when they began to experience thirst that he worked a miracle? God always seems to work the miracles at the end of our resources. I heard somebody say, “Prosperity has killed far more than adversity.” More people are going to miss out from the Kingdom of God because of prosperity than adversity. Adversity makes a man wise, not rich. And God often sometimes waits until we’re at the end of our resources before he works that kind of miracle. Beethoven composed his most beautiful and his deepest music after he went totally deaf. He had reached the bottom. And that’s when you heard the best music. So he often does this with our resources at the end.

The next one. Case study number four in finding mercy at the bottom. You know the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican that went to the temple to pray. God shows his mercy when we’re at the bottom of our own righteousness. Very two diametrically opposite individuals go to the same God to pray. Different attitudes. Different prayers. The Pharisee, he stands and he prays thus with himself, “Lord, I thank you that I am not as other men. I pay tithe of all that I’ve got and I fast twice a week and I’m glad I’m not like this extortioner back there.” He was very self-righteous. But Jesus goes on to say, “The Publican stood afar off and he bowed his head” he wouldn’t so much as lift up his head to heaven “he smote upon his breast and he said, Lord be merciful to me a sinner.” He had reached the bottom of his own concept of his own righteousness. And you know what Jesus said? This man asked for mercy, he confessed he was a sinner and he was a big sinner and he knew it and he went home forgiven. He found mercy because he had reached the bottom of his own righteousness.

He knew what he was. The interesting thing was the Pharisee, he missed out on mercy because of the concept that he had of himself. So many people have left the presence of God and wonderful opportunities to be blessed because of pride. Nothing unfits us more to receive God’s mercies than our own self-righteousness and self-sufficiency. I heard a story that I first didn’t believe it was true. And I actually looked it up. You know, I want to make sure what I’m telling you is true. If it’s not true I’ll tell you it’s a story. But there was this couple that went to visit the president of Harvard University and the man was wearing a threadbare, homespun suit. The woman was wearing one of these faded gingham dresses and without an appointment they marched in to visit the president of Harvard. The secretary said, “Do you have an appointment?” They said, “No, but we’d really like to see him.” She said, “He’s a busy man. He’s a very important man.” They said, “Well, we’ll wait.” And so she reluctantly allowed them to sit hoping they’d get tired of waiting and go, but they waited for hours. And pretty soon she poked her nose into the president’s office and she said, “You know, this couple that came to visit you, they’re not going away. Maybe if you just speak to them for a minute or two they’ll leave.”

He said, “Ah… I’m so… All right. Send them in.” So they come in and he eyes them up and down and he thinks, “Oh! These people! Look at the way they’re dressed.” And he’s got his nose in the air. “I’m a busy man,” he said. “You didn’t have an appointment, but what can I do? Hurry up!” And they said, “Well, our son went here for a year and he enjoyed it very much. And he died. And we would like to do something. Some memorial for our son.” And this man was very insensitive. The president said, “Do you really think that we’re going to set up a statue for everybody that attends Harvard and dies? The place would look like a cemetery!” They said, “Well, no. We were thinking that maybe we could dedicate a building to our son.” He said, “Do you have any idea,” looking at their clothes one more time, “how much a building costs? Why we’ve got seven and a half million dollars in this plant here!” And the wife was quiet and she lowered her eyes for a minute and she looked at her husband and she said, “Is that all it costs to build a university? Let’s build our own.”

He didn’t realize that he had been insulting Leland Stanford who then went to Palo Alto and built Stanford University. Because of his self-righteousness, Harvard could have been a much bigger college than it is today, but they missed the blessing because of the pride in their hearts. And how many people still do that today? We miss out on God’s mercy. “Nothing improves a man’s driving like the sudden discovery that his license has expired.” What is it that produces real righteousness? An awareness that we don’t have any. When we realize that in God’s presence our righteousness is worthless it’s suddenly improves our driving. We don’t want to get “pulled over”, so to speak. It’s when we’re self-secure that we’re going to have nothing but our righteousness to plead in the day of judgement. When we know that ours is filthy rags, then God can work with us.

James, chapter 4, verse 10, this is a good Scripture and it sort of embodies the message today. Matter of fact, I want to go and do more than that. Turn to the book of James. This will not be on the screen. James chapter 4, I’d like to read a little bit of what it says before and after. Let me tell you where to start when I find it. Verse 7. No. Verse 6. “But he gives more grace. Therefore he says God resist the proud but he gives grace, he gives mercy, it’s safe to say, to the humble. Therefore submit to God, resist the devil and he’ll flee from you. Draw near to God and he’ll draw near to you. Like when the prodigal son started coming home the father ran to meet him as soon as he saw him drawing near. “Cleanse your hands you sinners, purify your hearts you double-mind.” Now this is kind of heavy but it’s Biblical, friends. “Lament and mourn and weep.”

You know what he’s saying here? I want to make sure that if you miss everything you don’t miss this. I’m not suggesting that you’ve gotta go squander your savings account like the prodigal son before you’re really going to experience conversion. I’m not suggesting that you’ve got to leave the church and run from God like Jonah and get into all kinds of trouble and hit the bottom and then you’ll be really converted. No, the Bible says you can choose to do that now. We can willingly say, “Lord, I am going to go to the bottom.” You’ve heard me say this before but it’s worth repeating. I think it’s a quote from Oswald Chambers. And he said, “I used to believe that the best gifts of God were on shelves one above the other, but the longer I’ve walked with the Lord I’ve come to discover that the best gifts are on the lowest shelves. You get them by kneeling.”

The best gifts are at the bottom. When you want gold you’ve got to dig. Sand floats on the surface. You’ve gotta dig down for the gold. You want pearls? They don’t bob on the surface in oysters. You’ve gotta dive for them. And the best gifts from God come at the bottom. Now, we’re looking at stories where people found themselves at the bottom, but that’s not the teaching of the Bible that you’re supposed to just wait until suddenly God throws you at the bottom. Sometimes it happens that way. Capitalize on it when you’re there. But you can choose to humble yourself and then you find mercy and God lifts you up. I’m not done. I want to read this again from James. He says, “Draw near to God and he’ll draw near to you. Cleanse your hands you sinners and purify your hearts you double-mind.” Verse 9, “Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” Now some pastors would stop right there and it would be very depressing. But listen to what the ultimate goal is, verse 10, “Humble yourselves in the sight of God and he will lift you up.” Does the Lord want to leave you at the bottom or is he going to use the bottom to bounce you? He wants to get you up, but sometimes you gotta hit the bottom before you bounce, amen? “And he will lift you up.” That’s the plan.

Case study number five: Story of the Good Samaritan. We want to look at the man who fell among thieves. This is reaching the bottom of hope. Think about it. He’d just been to church. It says he’s coming from Jerusalem. There’s a lot of religious traffic that day. We can deduce there must have been some religious service going on and he’s jumped by thieves. Doesn’t say he was a good man or a bad man. It doesn’t say it has anything to do with his behavior. We’re so quick to ask, “Why did this happen? What did that person do wrong?” And there are cases where you can see the judgement of God, but sometimes bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. “The sunshine falls on the just and the unjust and the rain does likewise.” And the man falls among thieves who beat him mercilessly, strip him of his clothing, take his resources and then while he’s laying there, just almost out of hope finally a priest comes by and he thinks, “Ah! My prayers are answered.” And the priest just passes by on the other side. A Levite comes.

These are people from his church. And he stops and maybe offers a prayer. He looks on him and then he leaves him. This man has just about lost all hope. The buzzards are circling and he figures, “That’s it.” And then, to make things worse, a hated Samaritan comes by with a donkey. And he thinks, “Oh no. This is… Now he’s going to finish me off.” He had reached the end of hope. He’d reached the bottom and then God sent somebody to lift him up. You know, God wants to use you and me, I’m talking about being on the bottom and so far we’ve been studying our being on the bottom and how we respond to that. Part of being a Christian is recognizing when other people are on the bottom they are opportunities for you to reflect Jesus. And we, like the Good Samaritan, are to go to those people who have reached the bottom of hope and minister to them as we can and give them hope, give them the oil of God’s Spirit. We’re to bind up their wounds with the righteousness of Christ’s Robe. Put them on the beast. We trade places with them. You ride, I’ll walk. And then it says that they pay, the Samaritan pays the innkeeper to take care of him. He took care of him himself and then he passed it on and this is a symbol for you and us to try to help those who are at the bottom. That’s what Christianity is all about.

Was it the religious leaders and the rich who followed Jesus or was it the poor? Jesus came and the ones who were at the bottom really appreciated him. Like the man let down through the roof, he had to reach the bottom before he saw Jesus, didn’t he? And that’s typically true for us as well. I think it was Abraham Lincoln that said, “God sure must love poor people because he made so many of them.” You know, we miss a lot of opportunities to receive these blessings that God has for you and me because he will put people in our paths who have lost all hope. When we were in the Philippines we took a few days to go around town. And I’m going to give more of a report, the studio people are editing a video so we can actually show you some footage of the meetings there and some of our experiences and the baptisms and it’ll be very interesting.

We’ll announce that when it’s ready. But one day I was walking around town with some of our crew that was there and as we were going down under this under-crossing. In Manila, the streets, it’s gotta be the worst traffic in the world. People are, and if you want an experience drive in the back of a jitney. The traffic is so close when you’re in the back of one of these little vehicles that you can reach out and dust the dandruff off the shoulder in the car next to you. I mean, it’s just really intimate driving. And it takes you sometimes three hours to go ten miles. Unbelievable! The streets are swarming with people and of course it’s hot and sometimes muggy and there’s also a lot of poverty there, not as bad as India, but there is plenty of poverty there. And I remember at one point, we were walking into this underpass, and there was a very, obviously poor lady who was sleeping on a piece of cardboard and she had a naked baby at her breast and her feet were rotten with some kind of infection. And I walked by and I looked at that and I saw that lady trying to nurse the poor baby and she was obviously destitute and I thought how helpless she looked, exhausted, sleeping in the middle of the day, hot, thousands of people walking all around and stepping over her and as I went by a little voice said, “Do something for her.” And I thought, you know, she was not nursing the baby in a very modest posture, and I thought, “Well, I’m a man.

That might make her feel inconvenient.” I didn’t know what to do and I kept arguing with myself as the group walked away and I never did anything. And you know I’ve regretted it ever since. I could have said something to Lalani or one of the girls in the group and said, “Go give her some money.” It would have been nothing for us. I mean, it’s fifty of our dollars, no, fifty of their dollars for one of ours. We could have changed her day. It wouldn’t have cost anything. You know, God brought me, I just felt convicted, in contact with somebody that was at the bottom and the angel said, “Do something.” And you know, we’re just so used to excusing ourselves. We’re too busy. We’re on our way. We think of all the obstacles, and we do like the Levite and pass by on the other side and we miss these opportunities.

That’s what Christianity is all about. That would have been a great sermon to anybody who might have been watching of what these Christians are doing in this town and we miss those opportunities. Like the story of a king who was trying to find out what the character of his subjects was made of. And he took this boulder and he put it right in the middle of one of these frequently traveled roads and then he hid off at a distance and watched to see what the people would do. And a lot of the citizens and the dignitaries came by and they saw this boulder and they complained about the king and they said, “Don’t we pay enough taxes? They ought to take care of the road!” And they all, you know, they kicked it and cursed it. And finally a peasant came by who was carrying just a little bag of vegetables on the way to the market and he saw the boulder in the road and there was nobody else around so he puts down his bag carrots and potatoes. And he strains and groans, gets some sticks and rolls this boulder out of the road and then he goes to pick up his bag and he noticed that under the boulder was a purse with a note. And he opened it up to several gold coins inside and the note says, “This is from the king. This gold belongs to whoever took the time and the effort and energy to remove the boulder from the road.” You know, so often we miss the blessings when we don’t help people that are at the bottom. And so often the reward is at the bottom of the boulder. Amen?

Number five. No! Number six: at the bottom of our strength. You ever been there? Physical strength. Emotional strength. Jeremiah tried to do God’s will, was working for the Lord, and serving the Lord. Wasn’t’ well appreciated, getting up there in years. Not only was his message spurned but the king had him thrown in the dungeon and not only in a dungeon but in the dungeon there was a well that didn’t even have any water in it. And Jeremiah was dropped off in this well. He couldn’t climb out. Matter of fact, he could never get out by himself. He needed help. The Bible says, “there was no water but mire.” And so Jeremiah sank into the mire.

Talk about being at the bottom. Ever been at the bottom of a well? Calling for help? Nothing to drink, just muck? That’s a pretty fitting description. You know, after I found this illustration in the Bible I found a quote by Spurgeon that I thought fit perfectly. “Stars may be seen from the bottom of a deep well when they cannot be discerned from the top of a mountain.” Did you know that that’s a true, scientific fact that in the daytime you can see stars when you’re in the bottom of a well looking up? How many of you knew that? That you might not see “from the top of a mountain.” And it’s still true that sometimes we get a better picture of God when we’re at the bottom of a well. You think we can understand and relate to how much Jesus loved us when we’re basking in prosperity or do we see it better when we share in the sufferings of Christ?

You get the best picture of God’s love for you in adversity and you see his mercy at the bottom. Jeremiah could not get out of the well. Somebody else had to come along and help him. He had no strength. He needed someone else to share their strength with him to pull him out of the well. Paul had some afflictions. The Bible tells us that Paul had a thorn in his side, some physical affliction. We’re not exactly sure, but I am fairly confident that his thorn in his side was very bad eyesight. Now, I’ve given you Bible evidence for that. Have you noticed that in the Bible Paul is never alone? Now, if you’re like me, especially you men who are listening, we like to do things ourselves. And one of the signs a little boy is growing up, he says, “I can do it myself!” It’s just something in the male genes. And it’s humbling to have to depend on the strength and aid of others. People who are struggling with handicaps, it’s frustrating that they’ve always got to depend on the strength and help of others to carry on. Paul is never alone. He’s always got someone who’s partnering with him because he was bumping into walls and walking off the dock! He needed help. And you know we need each other spiritually. Jesus sent people out, how? Two by two. In Jeremiah’s story there was this Ethiopian named, is it, Ebedmelech who God sent to pull him out of the well. Jeremiah could not climb out. He said tie this around, and the weed will pull you out.

Number seven. You know the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Jesus tells in the Gospel of Luke there is this rich man who is dressed in purple and he feasts lavishly. He has a banquet every day. And there is a poor beggar that lays at his gate full of sores desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table and the dogs came and licked his sores. Talk about being at the bottom of dignity. And that’s what our subject is with this one. Being at the bottom of dignity. I mean, here he is a poor, starving beggar covered with sores and dogs are coming to lick and you can’t even get a few crumbs from the rich man’s table. You feel like the offscouring of the world in a situation like that. How many here would say that this man had reached the bottom? The interesting thing was the rich man thought that he had the good life and the beggar thought, “I’ve reached the bottom and I don’t see any way out.” But evidently he had some faith in God because it says that when the beggar died his next conscious thought was he’s ushered into the bosom of Abraham.

His situation drastically changed after he’d been to the bottom. Now the rich man’s situation changed too. He went from banqueting to Hades and what a dramatic reverse of fortunes. You know the first thing Jesus said in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are” what is it? “the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Realizing that we are spiritually bankrupt, recognizing that without God’s help we are at the bottom is one of the most important aspects of being saved. You ever gone picking apples out of an orchard just because you want one to eat? I don’t mean you’re going pick apples but you want an apple and you go to an apple tree. You know where the best place is to get an apple? Off the ground. You pick one off the tree, it may not be ripe. You ever heard the expression, “An apple will drop when it’s ripe”? Always say that to pregnant ladies. The apple will fall when it’s ripe. Especially the last month, they’re sure they’re ready. But there’s some truth to that. The ones that are still on the tree you might pluck one off and if it comes off hard it’s usually bitter. When they’re on the ground you often find the sweet ones down there. And sometimes you’ve gotta reach the bottom to see that.

Number eight: Jacob, the bottom of our relationships. The bottom of our relationships. Ok, the story, real quick, Jacob, at the urging of his mother, he dresses up like a goat so he could look like his brother, Esau, and he deceives his blind father into giving him the blessing of the firstborn. Well, it sort of backfires. His brother finds out and begins to look for a hit man to get rid of his brother. His father, of course, is furious at his dishonesty and being deceived. He’s lost the respect for his mother who initiated the deception. And under the pretense of going to look for a wife because no woman will marry him because Jacob is such a trickster. He has to go marry his cousin. You notice he’s over forty when he finally finds a bride. He might have been difficult. The first thing he says to his brother when he’s hungry, “Sell me your birthright.” Jacob had problems with his relationships. Read about his relationships with Laban and his wife. But at his lowest point he leaves home. He’s got no wife, no mother, no father, no brother. He’s all alone and evidently he prays.

He reaches the bottom. The Bible says that he crossed over the Jabbok with nothing but a stick in his hand. And for somebody that wanted to have the inheritance that’s not much. And when he reached the bottom he goes to sleep. And he has this dream. And when he’s reached the bottom of his relationships with earthly relationships God tells him behold I am with you and will keep you for I will not leave you. Not only did he say you are not alone but he had a whole multitude of angels going up and down this heavenly escalator that he saw in his vision. You know when you’re at the bottom of your relationships suddenly the Lord becomes very precious. When it seems like every human support has been withdrawn and you feel like nobody cares all you’ve got is God and that’s when you really discover who he is.

When I was living up in the mountains and… (I hope you don’t get tired of me referring to that but you know it’s something that was an important part in my life.) I was alone. I was a hermit by choice. But I remember reading a scripture and it says, “When your father and mother forsake you the Lord will take you up.” And it’s sometimes when you’re at the end of every earthly relationship that you realize how important your relationship with God is, that you’re not alone. Psalms 23, verse 4. Any of you know what that says in Psalms 23 verse 4? “Yea though I walk through the lowest part of the… the valley.” That’s what a valley is, it’s the bottom of a mountain. “When I go through the valley of the shadow of death I’ll fear no evil,” why? God says, “You’re not alone. I’m with you.” When you reach the bottom of the mountains that’s called the valley and it’s dark and you’re covered by the shadow of death you’re not alone. Jacob reminds us that when we reach the bottom of our relationships God does not leave us.

Job. Job is a very important study. This is the ninth character we’re going to consider. The next step down for Job would have been death. You lose not just one child but all of your children in one day. You’ve heard the story about the man who wrote that song “When Peace Like a River”. He lost, I think, four daughters in that shipwreck out in the ocean and he was able to turn to God. Job lost all of his children. He lost all of his possessions. He lost virtually everything and then he lost his health on top of that. Sat out in a dump taking pieces of broken pottery and scraping these agonizing boils and then his friends come to comfort him. You’ve heard the expression, “Job’s comforters”? His friends did the opposite. They discouraged him. His wife instead of trying to buoy him up said, “Curse God and die. I can go get another husband.

God is obviously not with you.” I mean, he’s just reached the bottom and it wasn’t because he did anything wrong. Sometimes God even brings those that he loves to the bottom so they can witness for him. Where do you think we are the most brilliant witness for the Lord? On the mountain in the sunshine or when we are shining in the valley in the darkness? A good book, you’ve heard me recommend it before, I think it’s still in print, by Marvin Moore called Witnessing Through Trials and it tells some wonderful stories about how people were able to witness for God at the bottom and Job, of course, is a great example of this. James, chapter 5, verse 11. Oh, incidentally, Job reached the end of his patience. He was at the bottom of patience. Now, I’m not making that up trying to be clever. That’s what the Bible says. James 5, verse 11, “You’ve heard of the patience of Job and you’ve seen the end of the Lord that the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy after Job suffered.” And, boy, did he suffer! Did he find mercy after hitting the bottom?

This is what the Bible tells us. Not only did God restore Job to his health and he restored another family, but the Bible says that he gave him twice everything that he had before. God is very merciful. I think it was Harriet Beecher Stowe that said, (well I know it was. I wrote it here.) “When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you until it seems as though you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up for that is just the place and time the tide is going to turn.” Now, so often when we think we’ve reached the bottom and we’re ready to throw our hands in the air that’s when you need to hang on the tightest. Like Jesus cling to the very earth when you reach the bottom because God is about to turn the tide and he did that for Job.

Now I picked as number ten an interesting one Manasseh. Manasseh, at the bottom of rank. Manasseh was, of course, the son of Hezekiah, had a good family, good father, knew the Lord. God worked miracles for him. But he was a young man and he was exalted too quickly. He got too much too fast and he became proud and he began to scorn, looked upon the religion of his father with jaded eyes and he began to find interest in the pagan religions of the world. He began to scorn them, scorn the truth and he began to pray to idols and sacrifice his children in the fire. The Bible tells us “he reigned longer and was more wicked than any other king.” Manasseh. Killed Isaiah the prophet. Wicked king. But you know the Bible tells us that he brought him to the bottom to save him. Perhaps his father Hezekiah stored some prayers for him.

Hezekiah had him late in life and he knew, “I might not see him to maturity” because God told Hezekiah you’ve got 15 more years and that’s it. Hezekiah probably spent a lot of time storing prayers in Heaven for his son Manasseh and towards the end of his life God was going to cash in on those prayers by bringing Manasseh to the bottom. The Bible tells us, II Chronicles 33, verse 11 to 13, “Therefore the Lord brought upon them the captains of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh with hooks…” Now, we’re not sure what that means. Some say he took him “through the thorns.” That word is a nebulous word. It can mean that he was drug though the thorns. Can you imagine that as a torture? You’ve probably seen the old cowboy movies they used to do that with captives. Tie them off on the saddle horn. Drag them through the cactus. Maybe you never saw that one. Or it could mean, sometimes they used to put a ring in their nose and they’d lead their captives back like that. But anyway it was not pleasant. That’s something you can know. And he “took him by hooks, bound him with bronze fetters and carried him off to Babylon.” Now “when he was in affliction,” there in the dungeon in misery in Babylon at the bottom, can you imagine going from being king to captive?

Talk about a deduction in rank. Talk about a demotion. “He implored the Lord his God, and he humbled himself greatly…” You see what he did? He was at the bottom physically but he had to choose to go to the bottom spiritually. God cannot make you be humble. He tried to do it for the Pharaoh and the Pharaoh self-destructed. He would not humble himself. Through circumstances sometimes God will try to bring us to our senses at the bottom but we must choose to humble ourselves. He humbled himself greatly. He knew what kind of sinner he had been. And the Bible says, “He implored the Lord his God, the God of his fathers, he prayed to him: and God received (he received) his entreaty. He heard the supplication of the king and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom and Manasseh knew the Lord was God.” Have you ever been passed by for a promotion? You felt like that your position, your rank, whatever your station in life is, that you’re at the bottom? You know you can’t really get promoted when you’re at the top, can you? You’ve gotta be at least one notch lower to be promoted. And sometimes it means that we’ve got to reach that place.

Now if you don’t mind my quoting from the writer of Hebrews, “What shall I more say? For time would fail me” to tell you of Gideon, God had to reduce to three hundred, bring him to the bottom. Samson, talk about someone who saw the bottom. I mean, Samson did more to conquer the enemies of God’s people when he was the weakest in the dungeon, in the prison, than he had done in his freedom. He brought him to the bottom. Peter had to weep bitterly before he was converted. Indeed, all of the disciples, before the New Testament Church was born, they were at the bottom that day when Jesus was in the tomb and the Bible says “then the Lord lifted them up.” But ultimately Jesus, I always like to end by pointing you to Christ, and there’s several times even in the life of Christ when Jesus reached the bottom, he found mercy. You remember the story when he was in the wilderness battling the devil forty days. He’s hungry. He’s weak. And the Bible says that when he persevered, he had patience, he resisted the devil, what happened? God sent angels to him to comfort him. And you can find that, it says in Matthew 4, verse 11, “Then the devil left him, and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.” That’s the beginning of his ministry. At the end of his ministry again he went to the bottom. He went to the garden of Gethsemane.

He knows he’s about to be betrayed by one of his own, and his own people. He’s clinging to the earth and praying, agonizing, sweating blood, and the Bible says God sent angels again to him. “Then an angel appeared to him from Heaven strengthening him.” Jesus found mercy at the bottom. And, of course, beyond that after he was beat by the crowds, talk about reaching the bottom. Nobody, can you imagine? You know, Manasseh going from being a king to a captive. What if you’re the King of the Universe and the Creator and you come to Earth, and not only come to Earth, but you come to Earth and become a captive and are spit on by your creation and buffeted and abused and insulted? Can you go any lower than that? And then, of course, he was crucified. Be humiliated like that, and then die. But you know mercy came after Jesus went all the way to the bottom for you and me.

After he died, he rose! And he’s still alive today. Can you say amen? He became a living Lord. And now, because he’s been at the bottom, nobody can say, “Lord, you don’t know what I’m going through!” The Bible says, “he is a faithful high priest because he has been tempted in all points just as we are, yet without sin.” You know, the Bible tells us that when the children, when some people on a boat, in the book of Acts, chapter 27, were in a storm and they’re trying to make it to shore. As they began to sense that they were approaching the shore, this is Acts 27:27, “They took a rope and they did soundings.” This is the time that word appears in the Bible.

You know what soundings are? Back in Bible times they did not have radar to find out what depth they were at. They found, at night, they were getting close to land by taking a rope with a lot of knots in it, had a weight on the end, they’d throw it overboard, let it out and if it went to the end of the rope and they didn’t touch anything, they knew they were still out in the middle of the sea. But if they let the rope out and then they realized that it stopped tugging down quickly after twenty knots they knew that they were twenty leagues down or whatever it happened to be. The land was getting closer because it was getting shallower. Had to reach the bottom to know where they were. You know, we can find out by sounding in God’s Word how close to the end we are, by studying the prophesies. You gotta sometimes get to the bottom of it. That’s what the expression means. And then finally an anchor is no good as an anchor until it reaches the bottom. You know a lot of these boats have anchors on them. They carry them around on the deck. Some of them are ornate and they never use them.

It’s for display. But in a storm an anchor is tested by how well it hangs on to the bottom. You know, the Bible tells us that “we have an anchor.” Who is that? Jesus is an anchor. Where does an anchor go? It goes to the bottom where it’s dark and it’s cold and it’s deep. And Jesus went down for you and I so that we can make it through the storm. Amen? All these stories in the Bible tell us that people found mercy, they found the mercy of God and sometimes we don’t see that until we hit the bottom, so to speak. You can choose to humble yourself before the Lord now and find that grace and the promise is he will lift you up. He doesn’t leave us on the bottom. That’s why Jesus went down for you and me.

I’d like to ask you to reach for your hymnal. We’re going to go to our closing hymn, is it 532? “Day by Day and With Each Passing Moment.” And I’d like for you to stand with me as we sing this and I’ll be making an appeal today.

Verse 1

The first part of my appeal this morning is as we prepare to sing the second verse. There may be some of you here today who are in jeopardy by prosperity. Now what I mean by that is, you’ve become maybe indifferent about your relationship with the Lord. You’ve been on the mountaintop for a while. Maybe things are going well. Maybe you’re trusting in your own righteousness. And you must choose to humble yourself if God is going to lift you up where he wants you to be. Some of you maybe have still never made a decision to surrender to Jesus. That involves going to the bottom. We are “crucified with Christ.” We must choose to humble ourselves and he promises to lift us up. And as we sing the second verse, there may be some here today and you’re recognizing that maybe you’ve become maybe indifferent about your relationship to the Lord or lax in your commitment to Jesus. You’d like to renew it or perhaps make it for the first time then I’d like to invite you to come. We will have some Elders and Pastors here to pray with you as we sing verse 2, please come.

Verse 2

Now the second aspect of this appeal is a little easier for us respond to. Some of you maybe feel like you’ve been to the bottom and you may still be there, and you’re asking the Lord to give you strength. You might be at the bottom of your strength. This verse just sang about that. You might be at the bottom of your resources. May be at the bottom of your relationships, the bottom of your righteousness, the bottom of your pride, the bottom of your position, all these different case studies that we’ve explored this morning. You feel like you’re at the bottom? You know, the promise is that he’ll not allow you to be tempted above what you’re able, but he’ll provide strength with every trial. And if you’d like to come and bring your burdens for the Lord this morning, the promise is “cast your cares upon him because he cares for you.” I’d like you to come and we’ll have special prayer together as we close our service. Let’s sing the last verse.

Last verse

Father in Heaven, Lord, I’ve sensed the presence of your Spirit here today as we have plumbed the depths of the bottom. There’s a lot of good theology in these stories, Lord, and we can relate to the experience of these, these people in the Bible who through various trials had to hit the bottom before they could bounce back up and experience your mercy. Lord, I pray that in a special way, first of all, you will help us to understand the concept of what it means to humble ourselves. To bring ourselves down, to choose to follow Christ and be crucified and buried with Christ that we might have new life, that you might lift us up. And then also, Lord, beyond that, we are praying in a special way for everybody here and those who might be listening who feel like they have reached the bottom. The bottom of their resources, the bottom of their strength, the bottom of their hope, whatever the case might be, Lord. I pray that they will know that they’re not there alone, but in all of our struggles if we turn to thee you will give us mercy at the bottom. Please bless us, Lord, so we can take these things with us not only through this day but through our lives. And that we can also recognize others around us who are struggling and about to lose hope at the bottom, Lord, and that we might be the means of lifting them up. Thank you for your presence here today. I pray that you will give us the joy of the Lord and your Spirit because we ask in Christ’s name. Amen

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