God’s Word and the Holy Spirit: A Marriage Made in Heaven

During a recent Sunday school class reflecting on the chapter “Listening to God” from Paul Miller’s book A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World, we discussed the different problems of listening to God only in his word and not through the Holy Spirit and to the Holy Spirit while not using God’s word. One of the ways we portrayed this difference was as personal, impactful, and emotional. Using the word of God alone was characterized as being dry, legalistic and fruitless without the Holy Spirit and listening to the Holy Spirit only and not God’s word would leave you wafting on the wind of emotion and whim.  While these are accurate as far they go, we see this picture morphed into one where the Christian life is characterized as on-fire versus dull or dead, emotional versus emotionless depending on whether the Holy Spirit is involved or not. This seems to miss the main point.  While this brief post certainly won’t dive deeply into the theology of the work and person of the Holy Spirit, he is clearly portrayed as an enabler, providing power. He is sometimes referenced as the Comforter and other times as a Helper. It’s not a dichotomy of head versus heart but rather we are capable or not. In other words, without the Holy Spirit, God’s word holds no power for us. Not only are we unable to fully understand it, it does not transform our lives. Equally, God’s Spirit works through His word, not in a vacuum, to accomplish His work.The scriptures are inspired, or “God breathed” after all.

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When the Sadducees attempted to trick Jesus into a conundrum about the resurrection, his response to them was: “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. (Matthew 22:29 ESV). It’s not as if the Sadducees and Pharisees had never looked at God’s word, but they did not know its power. They did not know it because it was not open to them. I believe that we come into this world wholly depraved; that doesn’t mean we’re as wicked as we possibly could be, but it does mean every aspect of our lives is tainted by sin, including our thought life. We are dead and only God’s enlivening power may give us life and enable us to follow Him. So reading God’s word without that enabling power easily degrades into a list of do’s and don’ts. It has no transforming power in itself. On the flipside, the Spirit without the purpose of God’s word can use us as a vessel but doesn’t change us. We see an example of this in Saul as he was chasing David:

Then he himself went to Ramah and came to the great well that is in Secu. And he asked, “Where are Samuel and David?” And one said, “Behold, they are at Naioth in Ramah.” And he went there to Naioth in Ramah. And the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay naked all that day and all that night. Thus it is said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” (1 Samuel 19:22-24 ESV)

Saul prophesied with no change in himself. He was a mere conduit and soon thereafter the Holy Spirit no longer used that conduit. Saul did not obey God’s word and the Spirit left him (as did his kingdom).

If we think back to that early manifestation in Acts 2 of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the disciples, we see an interesting “before and after” picture. Was the difference between not having emotion and then having emotion? Prior to their receiving the Holy Spirit, the disciples were holed up and hiding in fear from the Jewish leadership and the Roman authorities.They had lots of fearful emotion.On receiving the Holy Spirit, they went out under the leadership of Peter and spoke to a large crowd of which three thousand surrendered their lives to Christ. They spoke with boldness and confidence with people questioning whether these could be simple fishermen. They also had emotion and spark.

So these are not examples of “being on- fire” or emotional with the Holy Spirit and dull without it. There is plenty of life and emotion in Saul, one of greed for power and anger at and fear of David, prior to the Holy Spirit coming upon him. For the disciples, there was fear in the face of imminent threat before they received the Holy Spirit. Rather, it is a portrayal of the Holy Spirit’s work as empowered emotion followers moved to be in line with God’s call to us.

Just prior to the reading of God’s word we often pray to have his word illuminated for us, that He would open our eyes and ears to fully understand His word. That’s not simply a tradition or a rote habit but rather a request for the Holy Spirit’s power in help to understand His word. We see the same notion as Paul prays for power in the inner man to be strengthened to know God’s love:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21 ESV) [emphasis mine]

So, both God’s word without the Holy Spirit and seeking the Holy Spirit without the discipline of God’s word are both essentially powerless. It is only when the two are married that the true enabling power of God transforms us so that we may understand and respond to His word. We need God’s power (as the previous series God’s Grace to Us for his Glory discussed, especially in the posts Refining His Call and His Presence). We need his power even to be given the strength to understand the extent of His love.

Yes, there are mysteries surrounding the work and person of the Holy Spirit. On this side of the grave, we will not fully understand Him and will have an eternity to begin to know and love Him. However, the Bible is clear that He is a Helper and a Comforter. He doesn’t jack us up and get us pumped so that we can have victorious and lively worship of Christ. For the Hebrews, this whole idea of separating out emotion and mind, this Platonic breakdown between physical and mental. did not exist. It is the whole person Jesus redeemed. Upon our death, if prior to His coming again, we will immediately go to heaven in spirit but, at the culmination of time when he does come again, our bodies will be resurrected and our whole person, with our emotions, intellect, body, and soul, will serve Him. That is the power of the Spirit.

 

 

God’s Grace to Us for His Glory: He is in our Midst

First, for any who have read all of the post in this series, I want to say thank you for your patience during this journey together into seeing God’s work in His people. I say journey because there have been discoveries along the way that I didn’t see on the road map at the outset. In particular, while the focus has been on our deep and abiding need for God, the focus should be on God’s character, not simply our need of Him. He shows His glory through our deep and abiding need of Him. The theme, then has been our great and gracious God who chooses to glorify himself in us and our deep and abiding need of Him. So, as we come to this last post in the series, I simply want to say that it has been a privilege to go through this series with you.

Second, and more importantly, I bring you good news of great joy; for today we remember that the babe born in the manager is, in deed, the Anointed One; our King and Savior. [14] And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 ESV) Today, we celebrate that glory. We will first turn our attention to His glory in Exodus 40 where, despite the sin and foibles of His people, the Lord gives them His own glory by dwelling with them in the tabernacle. Next, we see the fruition of God’s glory in the resurrection of His Son, full of grace and truth in Mark 16 and in the work the Holy Spirit in Acts 2.

 

Finally, we’ll review the series together as it culminates in God’s glory. We’ll see God’s character revealed through His work in and through His people. The glory is revealed in His instruments of grace as well as in His instruments of wrath. We are reminded throughout that: I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols (Isaiah 42:8 ESV)

 

 

His Glory in the Tabernacle

 

The context of where we pick up today is that the two new tablets have been made, the covenant is renewed and the construction of the tabernacle and all related items for worship have been constructed. [16] This Moses did; according to all that the LORD commanded him, so he did. (Exodus 40:16 ESV) The tabernacle has erected and made ready for worship.  [33] And he erected the court around the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the screen of the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work. (Exodus 40:33 ESV)

 

Now it’s God’s turn to take a more visible, direct role: .

[34] Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. [35] And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. [36] Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. [37] But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. [38] For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys. (Exodus 40:34-38 ESV)

 

Of course, this is but a foretaste of God pitching His tent among us by becoming man; He is truly Emmanuel, God with Us. His very glory is physically manifested in the tabernacle. As Ryken previously pointed out, glory is “the totality of his perfections.” (Ryken,  1040). To dive into this a bit more is writing of the glory that filled the tabernacle: “The cloud of God’s glory was a theophany – a visible manifestation of the invisible God. God’s glory is the weightiness of his divine being, the infinite perfection of his triune deity. Glory is the whole God-ness of God. But on occasion God has bade his glory visible in a resplendent cloud of radiant light. It was this glorious cloud that descended on the tabernacle, filling it with light” (Ryken, 1159)

 

God promised to lead His people Himself and fulfilled that promise. He continued with them for 40 years in the wilderness, never forsaking His people. He is their cover by day and their light by night. The Divine Shechnia is first brought among his people in the tabernacle but culminates is tabernacaling in our hearts. [31] “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, [32] not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. [33] But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [34] And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34 ESV)

His resurrection and sending of the Holy Spirit

Jesus, full of truth and grace, breaks the curse of death in His sacrifice and resurrection:

[16:1] When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. [2] And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. [3] And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” [4] And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. [5] And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. [6] And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. [7] But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” [8] And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mark 16:1-8 ESV)

 

He rises that we might have life in Him. God’s character is shown forth in depths of His love that He would bear such a price to pay for our ransom; to substitute Himself for our just punishment so that His grace and justice shine perfectly together. Hence we can say with Paul:

[14] For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, [15] from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, [16] that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, [17] so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, [18] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, [19] and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. [20] Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, [21] to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21 ESV)

 

God’s character comes clear in His desire for corporate and intimate relationship with us in the promised in Ezekiel and fulfilled in Acts:

[19] And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, [20] that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. [21] But as for those whose heart goes after their detestable things and their abominations, I will bring their deeds upon their own heads, declares the Lord GOD.” (Ezekiel 11:19-21 ESV)

 

This, ultimately, is my hope for Pilgrim: that as we behold God, He will knit our hearts to one hear and give us new hearts in Him.

 

2:1] When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. [2] And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. [3] And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. (Acts 2:1-3 ESV)

 

Summary:

  • His promises and our need – He is faithful and we cling to His steadfast faithfulness
  • His call – He calls us and we crave relationship with Him
  • Our failure to perceive – We fail to understand Him and His ways, and He continue teaches us and prompts us.
  • Living out His call – He desires that we grow in our relationship with Him and He enables that growth.
  • His Work – He works out His grace in our lives
  • His Guidance He guides us as we so desperately need.
  • His Rebellious People: Part 1 Grumbling – He is gracious to His rebellious people; He does not allow them to wallow in their rebellion but brings them up short to guide them in the way of life.
  • His Presence: Gift or Giver – He is willing even to give Himself for us.
  • His Refining Call – He sanctifies us that we may have relationship with Him.
  • His Response – He graciously call His people.
  • His Rebellious People – We fail but He doesn’t
  • He is in their midst – He cares even to dwell in our own hearts.

God’s Grace to Us for His Glory: Even More Rebellion

Introduction

In the twelfth post of the series, we’ll return to two of the saddest moments in history: Israelites worshipping the golden calf and the people calling for Jesus’ crucifixion. These events seem inevitable after the fall of Adam, but they are incredibly sad nonetheless. They both point to our deep depravity, our faithlessness, our irresponsibility, lack of leadership and our great God. Most importantly, the show our inability to grasp the complete “otherness” of God; we cannot operate as if He were another creature like us.

In today’s post, we look at

  1. The people’s failure
    1. Golden Calf
    2. Call for Jesus’ crucifixion
  2. The people’s faithlessness
    1. First Law given, convent assented and promptly ignored.
    2. The triumphal entry leading to the crucifixion
  3. The failure to take responsibility
    1. Aaron
    2. Pilot
  4. Leadership in the midst of crisis
    1. Moses – before God’s judgement
    2. Chief Priests – call for crucifixion
  5. God’s Response
    1. Relent and yet hold accountable
    2. His own Son to suffer and die that we might live

The People Rebel and Worship the Cow: The Golden Calf (Exodus 32)

Now we turn back to the Israelites prior to their dismissal from the Sinai. Let’s set the stage. Moses has delivered the Ten Commandments to the people and the have assented to the new covenant:

Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the rules*. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.” [4] And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. [5] And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. [6] And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. [7] Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” [8] And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Exodus 24:1-8 ESV)

 

*from his encounter with God providing the 10 commandments and more in Exodus 20

Now Moses goes back up to the mountain to meet with God to receive the tablets and instruction into his worship and the tabernacle. If you ever thought worship was unimportant or how we worship is something God leaves up to us to devise, this section of Exodus is a wake up call – Moses spent 40 days and nights on the mountain all of the details of how to build His house of presence where they worship to the priests’ clothes to teaching on the sabbath; that’s some pretty serious time and focus on it.

The People Call for Crucifixion: The Call for Jesus Crucifixion (Mark 15:6-15)

Barely had the cries of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest” (Mark 11:9-10) died on the lips of the people before they would turn against Jesus, before they would call for his crucifixion.

As the hearts of the Israelites turn quickly from the Lord to their old god’s of Egypt, so too the people turn from Jesus to their selfish ways. This is Passover week, yet their minds are set on the insurrectionist Barabbas. Their focus was on political opposition to Rome, not on freedom from the oppressing Egypt’s of their hearts nor the recognition of God’s grace in the Pascal lamb by whose blood the angel of death was kept from entering their homes.

We see, too, the desire of Pilot to wash his hands from any responsibility; he doesn’t quite reach the comedic heights of Aaron’s pathetic excuse in Exodus 32:24, but nonetheless, he could have stood firm.

Along with the similarities, there are a number differences including the start difference in leadership between Moses & the chief priests. While Moses not only intercedes for the people, despite his own anger with their betrayal, he even puts himself on the line for them: “But now, if you will forgive their sin – but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written” (Exodus 32:32). The chief priests, on the other hand, whip up the crowd into a frenzied mob calling for Jesus’ crucifixion. This is not only a serious lack of leadership, but actively leading in rebellion against God.

God’s Grace to Us for His Glory: His Response to His People

Introduction

Our theme in this series is our deep and abiding need of God. This is a bedrock fact for all people, whether they recognize their need or not. It is “In him we live and move and have our being” (Act 17:23 ESV). I’m here to declare good news: that need is met and is met by God Himself in the second person of Jesus Christ. I say these words in an ordinary way and they’re received in an ordinary manner. Yet this is an astounding and stunning truth. I do not deserve to have this need met. Indeed, I desire neither approbation or an audience with the Lord; rather, without Christ, I deserve His wrath and eternal punishment. Yet the God of the universe meets our needs by giving His very self. Here we are, with a God who, for His own good pleasure, chooses to pitch his tent among us and in our hearts.

The Israelites didn’t deserve to have an angel guide them to the promised land and yet Moses pleaded that an angel was not enough; they needed the Lord. So the Lord Himself guides the Israelite; but Moses and the people must be made ready to travel in the Lord’s presence. He gives the Law again; he renews His covenant with them. Moses and the Israelites are reminded with whom they are traveling. The disciples too, must learn a new lesson about the One who meets their needs. They must come to realize that this is not a journey that they can make on their own. He is their guide, He is the one who sustains them and meets their needs along the way and He is both the road that carries them and the gate that lets the into the heavenly country.

In this eleventh post in the series, we rejoin the Moses and the Israelites after Moses makes his plea for God to go with them and to show him the glory of the Lord. Next we’ll rejoin the disciples after the rich young man walks away disheartened. Finally, we’ll reflect on how God makes clear our utter dependence on Him ( [27] Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27 ESV) and the utter joy of depending on Him, for this is “..a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” Exodus 34:6-7)

 The Lord Guides His People: Graciously guides his people (Exodus 34)

Now we turn back to the Israelites after the Lord has told them they must leave the Sinai and graciously granted to Moses His promise that He would go with them and even that He would show Moses some of His glory. We must always remember, however, that our God is utterly and completely holy. For the Lord to be in the midst of Israel or for Moses to even glimpse part of His glory, they must be made ready. For Moses and Israel, this comes in the form of covenant renewal and the Law. Today, we will focus on what God does to make them ready for Him: He reveals Himself and calls them to renewed covenant.

 

Read Exodus 34. Go ahead, I’ll wait 🙂

 

Moses asks to see God’s glory and so he does experience a theophany, a physical manifestation of the invisible God. However, the main form in which God reveals Himself and His glory takes place in His word. He speaks His own special name and speaks to Moses of His great nature:

“…a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness… (Exodus 34:6 ESV). He shows His glory to Moses primarily by the same means of grace available to us: His Word. As Ryken puts it: “That is what God wanted Moses to see: the goodness of His divine nature. And in a way, this was also his glory. For what is the glory of God? It is the weightiness of his being, the totality of his perfections.” (Ryken,  1040) Ryken further points out that this verse almost becomes a confessional statement for Israel. It is quoted by David, Joel & Jonah; in all it’s quoted or referenced a dozen times.

 

The glory of the Lord is reveled in His character:

  • Compassionate – he ha a passion with and for His people.○ Gracious
  • Slow to anger – not frustrated until He lashes out, rather willing to wait for the sinner to return in repentance.
  • Abounds in love and faithfulness. This is chesed, the steadfast love or loving kindness we discussed in the the first session. It is a convanent love and can connected to faithfulness
  • Forgiving (NASA- lift or carry – to take away our burden. – wickedness, rebellion and sin)

So it is with this God, who writes the ten words again and renews his covenant with His people, that the people will follow. They will travel and be utterly dependent on the God who “will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you. (Exodus 34:10 ESV).   They will have the rod and staff of His law keeping them from straying on the way. The people are called to obedience; to obey Him in the way they are to come to Him and how they are to treat one another. This passage perfectly illustrates God’s sovereignty  in that He makes it possible, He supplies the Law, He initiates the covenant and He perfectly upholds the covenant and man’s responsibility; they are to obey. God ultimately upholds our end of the covenant as well, through Jesus.

 

The Lord will graciously guides His people to the promised land, but first He guides them to His own character because their ultimate home is in Him.  He is the land of milk and honey, he is the heavenly country he is both the beginning and the end of the journey.

The Lord saves His people: Salvation is possible with God (Mark 10:23-31)

 

The disciples have seen the success in this world doesn’t guarantee success in the next.The riches in this world will not guide to the next; the Lord is the only one who can guide and does guide us.

 

[23] And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” [24] And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! [25] It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” [26] And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” [27] Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” [28] Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” [29] Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, [30] who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. [31] But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:23-31 ESV)

 

 

First and foremost, we must be clear – salvation is impossible with man alone. Salvation is possible with God. It is this simple clear, stark message that is foolishness to the Greeks and and a stumbling block to the Jews. However, if we reflect on what we’re being saved to, it becomes crystal clear. We are being saved to life with God – face to face. This is a life in complete and whole relationship with God. We can’t have relationship with God without God. So we see that:

 

  • He must make the way (A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; our helper he amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing)
  • There will be those people and things that will not go on the journey with you (let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also)
  • The way will still be hard with persecutions.(the body they may kill)
  • But people and things will be found along the way that will supply our needs (God’s truth abideth still; his kingdom [including his church] is forever)
  • The road we travel is the King’s way to His thrown

 

We must also remember the kingdom that we enter; it is not the kingdom of Joe or of Jill it is the Kingdom of God. Whoever would put themselves first will be placed last in this kingdom and whoever would put God first and themselves last, will be first in His Kingdom. The Lord guides not only in the “where” of the heavenly country but in the “how” of following His way, not our own.

 

So it’s clear, we’re stuck on our dependence on the Guide. We can’t do it on our own; we can make it our way but must follow His. One might think we ought the chafe under this restriction – don’t we want to boldly strike on on our own, in our own way and thus end up, where? Are we able? Do we have God’s characteristics outlined in Exodus 34:6. Do we know the right way as opposed to His instruction? Where is the destination? Is is the kingdom of Joe; another name for Hell. No, this dependence is a joy. It is a dependence for which we’re designed. It is a dependence on one who is completely reliable, capable and full of loving kindness. It is a dependence is a joy now and makes way for the ultimate joy – being with Jesus face to face.

Questions for Reflection:

 

  • How does learning more of God’s character, having a clear theology of God, help us to practically depend on and be guided by God?
  • What are the “houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands,” He provides along the way.
  • David Livingstone seemed to give up all for the Kingdom yet he says he never made a sacrifice (in a statement to Cambridge University, 1857). how can this be?  Hint: “All these [sickness anxiety or danger] are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us.”

God’s Grace to Us for His Glory: His Refining Call

Crossroads

Our tenth post in the series has us finding Moses & the Israelites and Jesus & the disciples at a crossroads. For Moses & Israel, they were looking at a godless prospect as they journeyed to the Promise land. Jesus and the disciples were moving focus away from His earthly ministry (and the only ministry the disciples knew) to taking the way of the cross.

Moses on the Mountain: Moses encounters God (Exodus 33:12-23)

We saw in our last post that the Israelites were confronted with a holy God who could not accompany them on the journey to the Promise land without being consumed by His justice. They faced the prospect of losing that which made them unique and marked as God’s people, namely His presence among them. They would not lost His protection or provision, but He would not go with them. (Thanks again to Curtis for pointing out the alternate reading of the self-motivation for this concern. whether from good or selfish motives, the Israelite’s realized what a disaster this would be. Moses stands in the gap and pleads for himself, his people and God’s own glory that God go with them.

 [12] Moses said to the LORD, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ [13] Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” [14] And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” [15] And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. [16] For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” [17] And the LORD said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” [18] Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” [19] And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. [20] But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” [21] And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, [22] and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. [23] Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:12-23 ESV)

There some things we can learn from Moses’ intercession for God’s people:

  • The people have recognized their need of God, have thrown off their jewelry and repented.
  • Moses put himself before God for the people; he puts himself on the line.
  • He humbles himself and the people before the Lord acknowledging that they are nothing without Him.
  • He makes the plea based on the Lord’s promises (v14) and for His name’s sake and glory (v16).

At this point, God’s seals this promise to be with His people by showing Moses His glory. God will be in their midst and He will make provision to deal justly and graciously with His people. As we look at questions this text engenders, we’ll reflect on ways we may intercede for others. Now we’ll will turn to Mark where the focus is on the person and work of Jesus, the Father’s ultimate provision for dealing justly and graciously with His people.

Disciples in the field: The disciples are prepared for the coming cross (Mark 8:31-37)

We find in Mark the disciples looking at a prospect without Jesus in their midst (as they had known Him) and moving on without Him (on this earth). It is clear that the disciples don’t fully understand the words or acts of Jesus (and they won’t until they receive the Holy Spirit). They do know, however, that He is unique, He has the words of eternal life and they can think of nothing better than to be with Him. His presence among them and their following Him is what sets them apart. So, while they don’t fully understand what their is saying and doing, they do know that they want to be with Him. Now, they are about hear, that is all going to change:

 

[31] And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. [32] And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. [33] But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” [34] And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. [35] For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. [36] For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? [37] For what can a man give in return for his soul? [38] For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:31-38 ESV)

 

The disciples are going to have their perspective changed; it’s not the crowds, miracles or earthly ministry – it’s Christ’s sacrifice so that we may live. The disciples world’s are being turned on its head and they don’t quite get it yet. It is a radically refining call on their hearts, not only to follow Jesus, but follow Him to the cross. NOTE: He calls the crowd along with His disciples.

 

Their world seems upside down to them. Their one and only hope is talking about His death. Peter takes Jesus aside to set Him straight. btw, think about that one for a minute – a fisherman in first century Israel is going to straighten out the first person of the Godhead. They are confronted with their own choice – do they treasure Jesus or the “whole” world? Are they willing to give up what this life has to offer to gain what Jesus has to offer. They clear don’t follow fully what He’s saying (arguing who’s the greatest or, who will sit at His right hand), but they do know enough to cling to Him. They do know that they must be in His presence. They do know that He is their all. For the time being, that’s enough. As we hit those moments where our own perspective is flipped and we may not see how God’s sovereign hand is in it, we can cling to Him and His presence. We may know the truths, but they’re not penetrating. We hold fast, in those time, by holding fast to Him. We we do so, we indicate that we treasure Him more than we treasure our own understanding.

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  • For whom should we corporately and personally “stand in the gap” or intercede before the face of God? Under what circumstances and in what way.
  • How should we “stand in the gap”? What lessons can we take from Moses’ approach?
  • How do we corporately or personally manifest, reflect, live-out that our greatest treasure in Jesus in worship, in ministry and in relationship.

God’s Grace to Us for His Glory: His Presence

In this ninth post, we’ll discuss on the gift of God’s presence in our lives specifically focusing  to problems: a) the gift without the Giver (Exodus 33:1-6) and b) the gift over the Giver (Mark 10:17-22). As much as we desire and even need His gifts, we fundamentally need Him. In today’s session, after a bit of review, we’ll first look at that rare moment when Israel gets it – they recognize their deep and abiding need for God Himself. Next, we’ll look at the rich young man in Mark and how he fails to get it. Finally, we’ll look at the temptation we face, personally and corporately, to put priority and focus on God’s lesser blessings and miss the greatest of them all – our relationship with Him. This is reinforced in Question 90 from the Westminster Larger Catechism :

Q. 90. What shall be done to the righteous at the day of judgment?

A At the day of judgment, the righteous, being caught up to Christ in the clouds, shall be set on his right hand, and there openly acknowledged and acquitted, shall join with him in the judging of reprobate angels and men, and shall be received into heaven, where they shall be fully and forever freed from all sin and misery; filled with inconceivable joys, made perfectly holy and happy both in body and soul, in the company of innumerable saints and holy angels, but especially in the immediate vision and fruition of God the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, to all eternity. And this is the perfect and full communion which the members of the invisible church shall enjoy with Christ in glory, at the resurrection and day of judgment [emphasis mine]. We are also reminded by Jonathan Edwards that are chief joy is complete in him: “The happiness of the creature consists in rejoicing in God, by which also God is magnified and exalted.”

 

Context for our passage: a wide, broad & fast road to rebellion

To provide context for our current passage, we will skip wonderful and significant material, to some of which we’ll return later. Here is a brief outline of events:

  • After traveling, then grumbling about bitter water, recall we left the Israelites at the springs of Elim
  • They next grumbled about food for which they longed to return to the meat pots & bread they had in Egypt – where they would get a side order of slavery to go with their meal. The LORD provided manna.
  • The Israelites defeat Amalek with Moses’ staff held high.
  • They devise the system of elders to judge matters.
  • The LORD makes covenant with his people and provides the 10 commandments.
  • The LORD provides more details of the Mosaic law
  • The covenant is confirmed.
  • The LORD provides instruction for his people on how He is to be worshipped detailing everything from contributions to the sanctuary, constructions of the Ark and tabernacle and everything in it.
  • The LORD outlines how the camp of Israel is to have Him at its center in the Tabernacle
  • The Golden Calf – somewhat similar to a couple talking about how the will set up house together and then the wife has an affair with another man.
  • There is death for those who were not on the LORD’s side – sword and plague.

 

Moses on the Mountain: The gift without the Giver (Exodus 33:1-6)

 

We are at the point of the people receiving the LORD’s command to leave:

[1] The LORD said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ [2] I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. [3] Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 33:1-3a ESV)

So far, so good. It’s tie to leave and God will meet his promise to provide the land; moreover, He’ll send an angel to drive out all enemies. Good news, right? However, the other shoe drops:“…but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Exodus 33:3b ESV)

He would consume them, not because He can’t control His anger, but due to His absolute holiness. Their sin, in His presence, invokes that response. His holiness cannot mix with sin unpunished; justice demands wiping it out. Note the graciousness in even this response to His people: they will not be obliterated. Somewhat surprising, given their history, the Israelites understand the implication. They understand what a disaster it would be for them to move on without God Himself in their midst. There is nothing that would make them a unique people; they would inhabit the land but become like all of the other people. But primarily, they may start to see that there is nothing greater, higher or better than God Himself. There is no gift, no place, no person, no wealth not activity that is greater than God Himself. He is so amazing, so divine that we require to be strengthened in the inner-man to know Him:

[14] For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, [15] from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, [16] that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, [17] so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, [18] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, [19] and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19 ESV)

So the Israelites may remain enslaved in their idolatry or shake it off and acknowledge the one and only God. They, by God’s grace, chose to repent: [4] When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. [5] For the LORD had said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do with you.’” [6] Therefore the people of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward. (Exodus 33:4-6 ESV)

By throwing off their jewelry, they shake off their chains to idolatry it represents (as seen in it’s use with the Golden Calf and again referenced in Ezekiel: You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men, and with them played the whore. (Ezekiel 16:17 ESV).

We will see, in the next session, that God “relents” as Moses intercedes for the people. God makes provision for dealing with their sin so that He can be among them. However, the key point I would like to highlight is that the veil is briefly and partially pulled back for the Israel: the promised land is of no lasting worth without God’s presence among them.

Disciples in the field: The gift over the Giver (Mark 10:17-22)

 

Nicely enough, the Israelites finally get it – there is nothing more important the Lord and His presence among them. He is the pearl worth selling all else to obtain. Alas, the rich young man does not see it so:

[17 ] And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” [18 ] And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. [19 ] You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” [20 ] And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” [21 ] And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” [22 ] Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:17-22 ESV)

 

So here we have the rich man coming before Jesus. He believes he’s been a good Jew, but he’s conflicted enough to seek affirmation from  Jesus of his righteousness. Jesus, initially, seems to follow the thinking of the day: I can be righteous through keeping the commands, despite the fact that this seems to ignore the reason for sacrifices. However, there is this preliminary question – why do you call me good if only God is good. He can only call Jesus good if he recognizes the divinity of Jesus. Jesus focuses on the commandments. As the young man indicates what he kept the law since he became a responsible son of the law. So, as he does so often, Jesus draws his gaze to the heart issue: sell all that you have an follow me. He cannot bring himself to do this and hence, proves that he has broken the commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.(Exodus 20:3 ESV). Recall what the Westminster Larger Catechism says this law requires from question 104: What are the duties required in the first commandment?

  1. The duties required in the first commandment are, the knowing and acknowledging of God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify him accordingly, by thinking, meditating, remembering, highly esteeming, honoring, adoring, choosing, loving, desiring, fearing of him; believing him; trusting, hoping, delighting, rejoicing in him; being zealous for him; calling upon him, giving all praise and thanks, and yielding all obedience and submission to him with the whole man; being careful in all things to please him, and sorrowful when in anything he is offended; and walking humbly with him. We are to esteem him before all things, including wealth.

 

In contrast with the Israelites who finally get it, the rich young man misses the mark. He substitutes worldly wealth for the true treasure of Jesus and the security of worldly goods for the rock of salvation. So much of our life, or lack thereof, in Christ may be seen in our substitution: my sins for His pardon, my weakness for His strength, and my sorrow for His joy or do we substitute His joy for some fun, His freedom for lawlessness or His strength for my control. If we cling to the poor substitutes of this world, as the rich young man did, we too will walk away sad. While sitting here in the clear light of God’s word, this all seems so obvious. However, the temptation is great and subtle. It doesn’t look like that’s the choice point. It may look like a simple choice between sacrificing time with church and family for a period while establishing your career on the traveling. In fact, you may be putting your success (and people’s perception of you) over God’s call to you. (By the way, this is not to say that all business travel is sinful; it’s the heart issue that’s key.) .

 

Let’s us fervently, passionately and whole-heatedly seek our treasure in Jesus, our joy in glorifying Him. As Paul reminds us: Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8 ESV)

 

 

God’s Grace to Us for His Glory: His Rebellious People – Part 2 More Grumbling

In this eight post in the series, we will look once again at the Israelites complaint again Moses, and by extension, God for their lack of water (and today contains an interesting twist), we will look at the Pharisees and their grip on their traditions to the exclusion of God’s call, we’ll explore how both of these tie to our desire to not only get what we want but also the way we want it. Finally, we’ll explore ways we might be tempted, personally and corporately, to want God’s will delivered in our way.

So we’re back for more – Israelites being tested and failing miserably. There will be a slight twist this time, however: they will bring charges against God for their plight during the test. We will also find the Pharisees bring charges against Jesus’ disciples and, by extension, Jesus Himself. We will find this pattern in other parts of the Bible – we desire to place, C. S. Lewis puts it, God in the dock.[1]

God on Trial: No Water Provided, God Charged with not providing, protecting or being present as promised.

[17:1] All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. [2] Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” [3] But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” [4] So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” [5] And the LORD said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. [6] Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. [7] And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Exodus 17:1-7 ESV)

Here, I will heavily rely on Philip Graham Ryken’s Exodus[2]. In this we’ll see the complaints laid out:

  1. Give us water to drink (Exodus 17:2a ESV): the charge is that God did not provide provision in the way the people demand.
  2. “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (Exodus 17:3 ESV): God did not protect us in the way we think He ought; it is tantamount to murder.
  3. “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7 ESV): God seems to AWOL; He isn’t manifesting His presence to us they way we think He ought.-

Our temptation is to cry out: the unmitigated gall of these people; to dare to think they have some standard to which God must measure rather than the reality that they deserve His judgement. Yet how many times do we, at least internally, question God’s provision, if not complain or grumble about it. Are we demanding? Do we believe that He out to protect us from pain and sorrow? Do we doubt God’s presence?

 

The Israelites file their case against God; the word “test” (Hebrew word rib) found in verse 2 & 7 is the term for a covenant lawsuit (Ryken 450) They convene a court of Elders to form the jury in this capital offence case for which they are ready to stone Moses. Now we see our amazing God in action, rather than adjudicate this complaint, He simply takes the judgement on Himself and delivers His people in the same stroke. As the elders gather to witness God’s judgement and his presence is on the rock that is struck with the rod of His own authority; as He takes the unjust punishment, He provides life-giving water. He simultaneously disproves all of the charges once again: He provides the water, He protects His people by taking their just punishment on Himself and His presence is clearly among them. Where will we see this again, of course, in Jesus Himself. As Paul says:

 [1] For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, [2] and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, [3] and all ate the same spiritual food, [4] and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4 ESV)

 

The Israelites spiritual amnesia will kick in again, just as we will fail to fully abandon ourselves and cling in full trust to Jesus. God Himself has taken our punishment on Himself for our failure to trust and His Spirit works to build up our faith.

 

We see our deep and abiding need of Him to even come to Him in anything resembling an appropriate manner and relationship. Now we’ll turn our attention to our friends the Pharisees; we’ll see that they have this same demanding attitude, but in their case it’s a demand that salvation be set forth in a way we can obtain it with clear, measurable goals we can reach without assistance. We want to keep the law ourselves, know who’s in and out and look down on the outsiders because they failed where we succeeded. Fundamentally, we don’t want to need anyone else or depend on God; we want to be able to sing “I did it my way – and you didn’t”.

 

 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

 

“‘This people honors me with their lips, 
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:1-13 ESV)

 

Clearly this wasn’t an issue with hygiene but OT ceremonial law. The Pharisee took ceremonial washing designed for priestly washing at the moment of sacrifice and applied that to all of life. Think of how tempting this is; if it’s good to do for the priestly duty of sacrifice, how much better to do it all the time! Hey, we’ll go a step further and apply the higher standard to all meals. It’s always better to have the higher standard! We will consecrate all of our lives to be holy! Moreover, because this is such a great idea, we’ll require everyone do it if they’re a good Jew. See how tempting this line of thinking is: we reach higher for God and encourage (force) others to reach higher too.

 

The irony is, of course, that this is really a much lower standard with the appearance of piety. God’s standard is not just measured by external activity, but by our hearts. Alas, there is so much wrong here:

  • We can’t do the consecrating by our outward efforts; only God makes us holy. As much as we want to define how we approach God and what it takes to be clean, we cannot. He is the definition and standard of holiness; there is nothing we can do in ourselves to be made holy.
  • By adding on, we’re burdening the people. The yoke is heavy and it doesn’t touch the heart. So we have more burden but a lower standard because it doesn’t take into account the attitude or heart.
  • By appealing to the traditions of the elders, appealing to authority outside the Bible, we are looking to man not God. Indeed, we’re supplanting God’s call with our made up rules

Jesus didn’t conform to current practice; it drew attention away from the heart and following God by substituting man-made rules. This was especially insidious with the notion of declaring what you owned under Corban and not available to help parents or others while using it up during your lifetime. Where God’s law conflicts with man’s law, we want to believe man’s law wins.

 

Jesus is so strong on this matter that he makes clear that OT dietary restrictions are set aside (as he latter sets aside temple worship in John 4:21-24. This was another moment when there is an attempt to add-on to God’s call that we see Jesus react with alacrity.

 

Beware the pharisaic slippery slope!

  1. Raise the bar (must do morning quiet time at 5:30 am, read Calvin’s Institutes in Latin).
  2. Require others to follow suit or their not real Christians or true reformed Christians,
  3. Now the “raised bar” of external behavior is the whole bar; intentions of the heart are ignored.
  4. God’s law, is supplanted by a new man-made law.

There is NO “the gospel and…”; we can make no further requirement; as Paul makes clear in Galatians, the gospel and any other criteria is no gospel at all. No extra burden is enough to justify us but it is enough to bear down and overwhelm followers of Christ. It is enough for unbelievers to confuse Christianity with a set of rules rather than a vibrant, intimate relationship with Jesus.

 

Questions for Reflection

  1. What ought we to do to help keep ourselves in check that we desire to follow God and His ways, not demand he meet our ways
  2. How do we avoid the Pharisaic slippery slope?

 

[1]Lewis, C. S.  God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics. Ed.. Walter Hooper. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1970.

[2]Ryken, Philip Graham. Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory (Preaching the Word). General Editor R. Kent Hughes. Wheaton, Il.: Crossway, 2005.

God’s Grace to Us for His Glory: His Rebellious People: Part 1 Grumbling

In this seventh post of the series, we’re going to be presented with a picture of the Israelites brought into difficulties and grumbling about it, look at some alternate ways to respond to difficulties, review how hearts are hardened against God’s word and ways to avoid a hard-hearted response to His Word. Finally, we’ll pose some questions related to difficulties for us and an open heart: And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, Ezekiel 11:19 ESV

 

God tests us (sometimes with serious tests) and we can often grumble.

 

At this point, we’ve seen the LORD God  bring the Israelites out of Egypt with a strong hand; he protected them from Pharaoh’s army as they encamped by the Red Sea with His own presence in fire and cloud and now guiding them away from the Philistines into the desert.

 

 [22] Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. [23] When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. [24] And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” [25] And he cried to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There the LORD made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them, [26] saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.” [27] Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water. (Exodus 15:22-27 ESV)

 

 

The first thing to note here is that, as tempting as it may to dismiss the Israelites as a bunch of faithless complainers, they did have a serious issue – no water found for three days in the desert. The had their families, livestock and other animals with them for three days without any clear supply of water. Now they finally find some water and it’s undrinkable. This is a non-trivial disappointment. This is quite a bit more challenging than being at the end of a long run and cresting what you think will be a last hill only to find another one above it. The main point here is that the problem is a real problem and we shouldn’t trivialize it.

 

However, even when the problem is important and real, one might say especially when it is important and real, that is the time to call on the LORD rather than grumble. It is precisely in those dark moments that we ought to call on the LORD. He is faithful even when we’re faithless and He is good. Are you in a dry and weary land? Is there no relief on the horizon. Did apparent relief disappear like a mirage? Cry out to the LORD. Implore Him to rescue you. Acknowledge your deep and abiding need for Him; indeed, it appears that is the test – do we turn to Him or grumble to ourselves?

He make a provision and His grace is abundant. Even after he made the water sweet, He reminds us of our covenant relationship then provides even more graciously. A spring for every tribe; a palm tree for all the elders and their wards.  A provision to stay and rest before the next challenge. God is good, full of lovingkindess that endures through all the generations.

 

Biblical models of faithful response to difficulties

 

So we hit a really serious problem with no help in sight like no water for three days and the only water we see isn’t drinkable. How do we respond. Well, we won’t be able to go into detail here but let me highlight three examples that you can dive into more on your own:

■    Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah and the firey furnace (pet peeve – hate using their Babylonian names)

  • Early on determined to follow the LORD [8] But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. (Daniel 1:8 ESV)
  • Trusted the LORD no matter what the consequences, knowing that in life or death, He directs us in the right path. [17] If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. [18] But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18 ESV)
  • Constant prayer and supplication: -Dan 6:10, Dan 9:3-19

■     David throughout the Psalms brings his heart’s desires in dire times to the LORD. Some good examples: Psalms 4, 17,  55 & 102

■   Nehemiah, as he heard of the difficulties of those who went to Jerusalem before him (Nehemiah 1:4-11) and as he met opposition:

[10] In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.” [11] And our enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.” [12] At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.” [13] So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. [14] And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” Nehemiah 4:10-14 ESV)

 

Hardened hearts

 

Lest we dish the Israelites too hard for their grumbling, we now look on a time when God’s provision is being made manifest in Jesus ministry and it is that provision (and all that it means) which is attacked. The Israelites doubted God enough that they weren’t sure a provision would be made for them; the Pharisees and Herodians doubted God enough that the didn’t trust the provision he gave to them (both in physically healing and in the provision of His Son healing us from sin).

[3:1] Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. [2] And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. [3] And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” [4] And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. [5] And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. [6] The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. (Mark 3:1-6 ESV)

 

We see in play here a number of triggers to avoid legalism that we previously discussed:

  1. Appealing to extra-biblical rules. The Pharisees are relying on rabbinical texts outside of the Bible to guide them It would be too much to fully argue that this view isn’t biblical but some salient points are:
  2. God himself calls us his healer in the above passage in Exodus
  3. We are warned against work and labor, not healing and helping.

In other parts of the law, we are commended to heal and to show mercy (Ex 21:19 & Micah 6:8 even as God himself provides the model: Deut 10:18)

  1. The fruit of their plan is destruction, not life
  2. The were looking to accuse him, not restore him to the covenant

 

While the Lord Jesus heals, they seek to destroy.

 

 

Questions for Reflection

  • Where are some areas we. corporately and personally,  may be tempted to grumble where we ought to seek the LORD. What are some avenues of turning to Him?
  • Are there area where we might see some hardening of the arteries, if not a fully hard heart?

God’s Grace to Us for His Glory: His Guidance

In this sixth post, we’ll explore how God enables us through guiding us. We see this in the cloud of glory guiding the Israelites and the disciples being guided through the Holy Spirit.

God guides us in practical, protective and paternal ways

We will see that the Lord’s character is made manifest in not only what He does, but how He does it:

[20] And they moved on from Succoth and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. [21] And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. [22] The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. (Exodus 13:20-22 ESV)

The cloud of glory from when light shines – shekinah glory. He leads them in practical ways:

  • cool cover by night, warm pillar of fire by night
  • the guides are visible at just the right time
  • protective – they kept the marauding Egyptians away until the time was ripe
  • It is His presences – He Himself guides us with His own presence among us. This is not long distance guiding. He gives Himself

The LORD not only knows where to guide us, but how to guide us as well. He guides to protect and to build relationship and trust.

God guides the disciples through the Holy Spirit

Similarly, God guides the disciples in a practical, caring way where He gives Himself.

[10] And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. [11] And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. (Mark 13:10-11 ESV)

He provides practical protection in their various trails by being the one who speaks for them. He allays their anxiety, as He did Moses before them, by speaking for them – giving them the words to say. It is available for their great need and it is God Himself within them building the most intimate of relationships.

[26] But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. [27] Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:26-27 ESV)

The Holy Spirit is sometimes call the Helper and the Comforter. He promises His very self. His promise of peace is not some separate thing He will provide, but by giving Himself, shalom comes with it. His presence, His light and His voice are the peace that strengthens and enables us to follow and to minister.

Questions for Reflection

  • So we focus on the “what” of ministry, but it’s clear from the Lord’s example that we need to provide equal emphasis on the “how”. Are there ways that we can improve our ministry, corporately or personally, where we don’t change the “what” but the “how”.
    • Build personal relationships; build friendships rather than approach people as projects. The Lord had a rather intimate core group of 12; we need to build closer relationships.
    • Build those relationships through gentle, genuineness.
    • Be persevering in our relationships
  • The LORD’s ministry is personal; He gives Himself. Should we do likewise or is this within the special domain of God. If we should give ourselves in ministering to one another, what does that look like?

God’s Grace to Us for His Glory – His Work

In this fifth post in our series on God’s grace given to us that we might glorify him are some reflections on His work. We look back on the Israelites and his work of freeing them from Egypt so that they may worship Him and their failure to believe that He could see them past the obstacles to obtain the promised land. We’ll also see His work among the disciples, in this case the feeding of thousands, and their inability to see Him and His power in that work.

 It is by God’s Mighty Hand

The LORD is the one who does it. He initiates, enables and receives the glory.

[4 ] So Moses said, “Thus says the LORD: About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, [5 ] and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. [6 ] There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again. [7 ] But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, that you may know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. [8 ] And all these your servants shall come down to me and bow down to me, saying, ‘Get out, you and all the people who follow you.’ And after that I will go out.” And he went out from Pharaoh in hot anger. [9 ] Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 11:4-9 ESV) [Emphasis mine]

[7 ] “Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. [8 ] They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. [9 ] Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. [10 ] And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. [11 ] In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover. [12 ] For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. [13 ] The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:7-13 ESV)

There should be no doubt – it is the LORD who brought them out of Egypt, who set them free. The Israelites have now seen:

  • The angel of the LORD put the first born of Egypt to death.
  • The “plunder” of Egypt as the Egyptians give them gold, silver & clothing

These are the times, the memories to which we must cling so that we continue to remember and trust when the way looks dark and the LORD’s sovereign direction is unclear to us. They may fade from us all too quickly, as was the case for Israel. As the see the Egyptians purse them with their horses and chariots, they said to Moses:

[10] When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD. [11] They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? [12] Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” (Exodus 14:10-12 ESV).

They have seen the 10 plagues, they have received the plunder of Egypt and they are free from their bonds, yet they still grumble and complain. Notice, too, that they claim to Moses rather than appeal to the LORD. Moses, who has encountered the Lord, seen His work and has learned to cling to Him, may express His confidence, in the very same circumstances as this:

[13] And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. [14] The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:13-14 ESV)

Let us hold fast to the LORD, so that we to may stand firm. As the Lord saves them out of the hand of the Egyptians, they see the LORD’s work, they are once again encouraged as they witness the pillar of fire and cloud to protect Israel from the chariots of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea and the subsequent releasing of the waters onto the pursuing army, removing that army. At this moment they can join with Moses, in this homage to the LORD

[15:1] Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD, saying, “I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song,  and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. (Exodus 15:1-2 ESV)

Even this fear, He shall accomplish. It is the LORD and no other who saves.

God shows His mighty hand through Jesus’ miracles

In the midst of Jesus earthly ministry, with its proclaiming the good news, healings and removing demons, we are told of Jesus compassion on His hungry people and the feeding of the four thousand. He takes a few small fish and seven loaves bread and feeds the crowd. It is after this that the Pharisees demand a sign and Jesus warns the disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees. This warning was taken as a literal concern about the Pharisees ingredients for bread; they have seen the feeding of four thousand and they worry about having bread:

[14] Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. [15] And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” [16] And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. [17] And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? [18] Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? [19] When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” [20] “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” [21] And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” (Mark 8:14-21 ESV)

The Lord is at work, He has shown His mighty hand through, among other things, the feeding of the four thousand. Yet we continue to worry as if He is unable to take care of us or we believe He is able, but unwilling. Yet the feeding of the four thousand is evidence against both – He is compassionate, shepherd of His people and He is able to take seven loaves and a few fish to feed thousands. Let us cling to this, remember it and stand firm.

Questions for reflection:

  1. What are some practical ways that we may remember, to establish memorials of what the LORD has done for us? Are there any now?
  2. The LORD is gracious in allowing us multiple co-witnesses of His work. Are there specific ways, corporately, that we can remember what the LORD has done for us at Pilgrim?
  3. What are some warning signs for us that we’re seeing without perceiving and hearing without understanding, as the Israelites and disciples fell into?