Strength for the Journey: “No Respect” – Numbers 20

Rodney_Dangerfield_1It was the comedian Rodney Dangerfield that coined the phrase: “I don’t get no respect!” He was born Jacob Rodney Cohen, November 22, 1921 and died in California on October 5, 2004. He developed hundreds of monologues on the theme of being disrespected. Early in the 1960’s, with a divorce at his back, debts mounting, and no opportunities to move forward in show business, Rodney figured out that his problem was that he didn’t have a persona on stage that people could identify with – one that would distinguish him from similar comics of the time. He began to develop a character for whom nothing goes right – with the chief cause a lack of respect for him. Brought on as a last minute replacement on the Ed Sullivan show, his fortunes turned in a few months. By the 1980s he had a number of film roles, including Easy Money, Caddyshack, and Back to School. He is remembered for famous one liners like:

• I get no respect. I told my psychiatrist that everyone hates me. He said I was being ridiculous – everyone hasn’t met me yet.

• I get no respect. My psychiatrist told me I was crazy and I said I want a second opinion. He said okay, you’re ugly too.

• It must be true that I am ugly… I have never gotten any respect. When I was born I was so ugly the doctor slapped my mother… and countless others…

I mention that comedian, because he drilled in his monologue a complaint that God had long ago with His own chosen leaders of His people – and one He may have with us – God gets little respect! “What?” you reply. “Don’t we build church buildings in His honor, sing praises to His name, and spend hours listening to messages from His Word?” Perhaps we do, but that isn’t the sign of respect and honor God truly wants. He isn’t in this to be the center of the newest hymnal, nor to have more buildings built in His honor. The Creator of the Grand Canyon doesn’t need US to figure out how to put some rocks together and make something beautiful in His honor.

Here is the truth: God doesn’t measure our reverence for Him by the number of dollars we give, the hours of sermons to which we give attentive ear, nor the care with which we practice our ministry work for Him. God measures reverence by the care we give to following His Word as He gave it. When we ignore His Word, or when we relax our ears from carefully listening and in turn ease away from bringing our hands to strict obedience to what He has commanded – we show Him supreme disrespect.

Key Principle: When we don’t follow God’s Word carefully, we show that we don’t truly hold Him in the high place He belongs in our life. He is not MORE to us if His Word is not MORE to us!

The story in our lesson is NOT about the children of Israel, but about two GOOD men and their SIMPLE sin. It is about the LEADERS that no longer took special care to listen to God’s Word carefully, but relaxed their obedience – and thereby showed a lack of real respect for God.

How did Moses and Aaron lose the sense of AWE of God’s MAJESTY? How did God’s Word become something that was casual and able to be take lightly?

The answer is found in the fact that they gave greater regard to their circumstances than to the Holy Words of the Lord above. Note the context, because that has much to do with the problem. Moses and Aaron lived with:

The Problem (20:1-5)

Disregard: For one thing – it came at a time when Moses and Aaron had gone a long way with God.

Numbers 20:1 Then the sons of Israel, the whole congregation, came to the wilderness of Zin in the first month;

A careful reading of Numbers 20-21 shows this section to detail the last stage of the journey of Israel – from Kadesh around Mount Seir to the heights of Pisgah, near the Jordan, and the various incidents connected with that journey (compare Numbers 33:37-41). This is near the end of Moses’ life – and thirty-eight years into the trip. The opening comment mentions a “first month” – which must be compared to Numbers 33:37-41 (cp. Num 20:28).

In the end, we can see that thirty-seven years has passed, and Moses and Aaron have been at it a LONG TIME. More than thirty years has passed since Numbers 13 and the spies incident.

• People have lived their whole lives after the departure from Egypt.
• Many younger men know little of God’s miracles by experience – they know by Word alone.
• Moses has been in charge as long as they have been alive – and people that have contended for leadership have been put down – time and again.

The biggest issue is not the OUTSIDE WORLD, but what is going on INSIDE the leaders. They have gotten used to the title – and they have become complacent about the PERSON they serve. Familiarity brings contempt.

Here is a warning: When you have a long history with God, when you have walked a long path, and you accept that God need not throw lightning bolts to be firmly believed by you – you do not require signs and demonstrations of His might any longer. He has done the marvelous in front of you – and you believe His Word without the fireworks. At the same time, we must learn that is becomes necessary in that time to work not to lose the AWE of the Creator and His deep relationship with us. Like any relationship, it is easy to “settle in” and eventually lose the driving passions of youth –that is not unusual. Yet, in losing the passion and zeal that comes with stirring miracles and Divine displays, we should at the same time be gaining a depth of love and understanding of God’s greater purposes – but that is not always the case. In our loss of passion, we can also lose AWE – a sense of the sheer MAJESTY of our Creator and His love for us.

Moses and Aaron became USED to a relationship with God, and a ministry for God. They grew into thinking of themselves as PARTNERS and not servants. That seeded a subtle disregard in their heart. They no longer saw their intense NEED of God for every decision, every hour. As they “owned” their part as leaders – God lost the dedication that marked the days of their desperation years before. DISREGARD was the one problem –and it had very clear four very symptoms:

Discomfort: The people were now facing the “hard” desert at Zin:

Numbers 20:1 Then the sons of Israel, the whole congregation, came to the wilderness of Zin in the first month;

Things grew particularly tough! None of the desert experience was EASY in our modern sense of the term. Time went by SLOWLY in the camp. Days were intensely hot, and nights were often uncomfortably cold. Much of their day was taken up by dealing with the needs of survival. The weather and MOLD were as much an enemy as a neighboring tribe. The leaders were aging – they had been at it for an entire generation – and Moses recognized that he wasn’t getting any younger. It is quite possible that Moses felt the time drawing near to his own end (perhaps Miriam and Aaron were showing signs of their demise) and began moving the people toward the closer position. The problem is, that was a more uncomfortable and difficult place.

Central Sinai is not what the pictures often show. Southern Sinai is the rocky and mountainous part. The softer beds and sands are found in the center of the peninsula, where Wadi el-Arish offers sandy stretches on either side of the wadi (dry river) bed. Pitching a tent in el-Arish is MUCH easier than in Zin – where the rock IS the surface of the ground. Driving spikes for a tent in Zin is nearly impossible… it is a hard, hot and hostile environment – even by wilderness standards.

Disillusionment: The loss of Miriam:

Numbers 20:1b “and the people stayed at Kadesh. Now Miriam died there and was buried there.

Personal pain stung the leader. Moses lost his companion, friend and sister. His link to his family was growing thinner – and that made it an especially painful loss. The tenderness of a sister was lost – and the memories of a lifetime of camping trips couldn’t make up for the sense of deep loss.

Beyond that pain was the realization that the team was aging and dying out. Moses was attending more funerals and doctor appointments than anything else in his schedule. Life seemed to be more about maintenance than excitement. What started as powerful flashes of God’s power now seemed to be dying out in a whimper at the grave side.

Desperation: severe shortage of water:

Numbers 20:2 There was no water for the congregation…”

God’s care seemed lagging. Again the issue of water that plagued Moses’ entire journey reduced the loyalty of his people to a hostile and complaining lot. Who could blame them? They were thirsty, and the God of all provision didn’t seem to be watching. With the personal loss of Miriam, Moses may have felt the lack of water more than in the past. Death had left its sting, and Moses was nursing a hurt in the face of non-stop complaints.

Disputes: the people came against the leadership.

Numbers 20:2b “…and they assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron. 3 The people thus contended with Moses and spoke, saying, “If only we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD! 4 “Why then have you brought the LORD’S assembly into this wilderness, for us and our beasts to die here? 5 “Why have you made us come up from Egypt, to bring us in to this wretched place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, nor is there water to drink.”

Listen to their complaints.

• First, we should have died trying to enter the land like our brothers who snubbed God’s direction and charged in! (20:3).

• Second, why did YOU bring us here to THIS wasteland? (20:4).

• Third, why did you MAKE US leave Egypt (a place of abundance) for this wasted and dry place? (20:5)

Discord was rising. The people were hurt, and as so often is the case – “Hurt people hurt people!” They lashed out against Moses and Aaron, because they couldn’t slap God in the face at the moment of their intense thirst. The older among Israel’s children KNEW Moses didn’t cause the trip or the lack they now faced – but there were many present who had not seen God’s hand in their generation. Yesterday’s powerful display became old news – and the current generation could not live off of the passing generation’s lessons learned in the blowing of the wind across the water, or the fire falling as a guardian before the face of Pharaoh. Without a new display, the miracles of God would swiftly become tales of mass hysteria. They needed a fresh move of God if they were to be stilled in the face of their startling lack.

Are we really so different? When God led a handful of people safely through storms of the Atlantic Ocean, they fell on the beach and knelt on the sands of the New World. They came, according to their own words, to both escape persecution of their religious faith and to bring the Gospel to the red man. Most of what we know about the Pilgrim expedition, and their original “Thanksgiving” of 1621 comes from original accounts of the young colony’s leaders, Governor William Bradford and Master Edward Winslow – from the quills in their own hand. They tell a tale of marvelous provision of a personal God, His Divine intervention at every turn of the journey. That tale has been reduced to a godless version for our contemporary school children that still get a day of Thanksgiving off of school – but don’t have a God to go with it – at least not one endorsed in our educational system. We did not begin where we are – and neither did the people in the Sinai so long ago…they needed a fresh fire from Heaven – as often so do we!

Note also that the people brought up the ONE TIME when people simply threw the leadership of Moses overboard and went off to defeat the Canaanites. The scene was particularly painful to Moses – though for much of the crowd is was as distant as Richard Nixon and Watergate – an old scandal only addressed by grey-headed pundits.

There it was – a time of particular toughness, when the leader was in pain, the needs were abundant and discord was growing in the ranks… Moses was looking for a way to get out of leadership and find a retirement home to check into – he was empty inside and surrounded by an angry and thirsty mob. His companion was an old man with a stick – and things didn’t look like they were going particularly well.

The Reaction (20:6-13)

First, there was the “appearance” of worship (20:6-8).

Take a moment and look at the next paragraph – because what it reveals may surprise you. Moses REACTED in frustration rather than responded in worship. He ACTED OUT rather than withdrawing to God for a time of healing. Initially, that is not what it looks like. Watch Moses and Aaron go into the doorway and drop on their faces… and God showed up with more instruction. That looks like worship, doesn’t it?

Numbers 20:6 Then Moses and Aaron came in from the presence of the assembly to the doorway of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. Then the glory of the LORD appeared to them; 7 and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 8 “Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink.

Come on, can’t you hear the keyboard playing in the background, the lights low in an intense moment before God? They approached, they acknowledged God’s holiness and their broken condition, and God’s manifest presence appeared before them. His Word came. It was not uncertain or garbled – it was specific and measurable. God told both men to assemble the people, speak to the rock cliff before them, and have on the ready ways to collect a flow of water. God made clear HOW they were to do what they were about to do. Don’t skip the details here – they are at the heart of the story. God’s work, done God’s way was about to supply God’s people. All looks right – but that is because we cannot see the heart of the leaders. We see only the appearance of worship – not the place where it MUST OCCUR – in the human heart. Surrender was not present, only the physical signs of it. Knees were bent, but hearts were not yielded – and that is show without substance. The God who hung the stars is never impressed with a man’s ability to put on a show.

Let me say it with unmistakable clarity – the service is not where we can see if one truly worshipped. It is seen in the life AFTER the worship time. It is seen in what the person who fell, cried, sang and held their hand high with their BIC lighter raised and lit before God – did AFTER they left the room. One can have an EXPERIENCE of the soul – the part of me that is emotionally affirmed – but not have a real move of God within. That can only be tested by my obedience to God’s command and call.

Second, there was “selective” obedience (20:9-13)

Again, I am choosing my words carefully to reflect the issue that God made clear in His response. Look at what Moses did in the face of God’s revelation:

Numbers 20:9 “So Moses took the rod from before the LORD, just as He had commanded him; 10 and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank.

Moses stepped out between the rock cliff and the assembly. He had in his hand the rod of God’s revealed truth. God popped buds from a dead stick years before to show a sign of endorsement of the Aaronic priesthood. Now the stick that was once a symbol of LIFE and ENDORSEMENT would become a tool for disobedience and sinful display in the hands of a hardened veteran leader who was not listening carefully to God’s Word anymore.

Listen to the tenor of Moses’ speech before he slammed the rock. He called the people REBELS. That was true – but not terribly understanding in light of the current troubles. The people were THIRSTY, and the canteens were empty. Yes, they said some harsh things to Moses, and their hearts were not right. In his stung state, feeling the loss of Miriam, perhaps he took things more personally. At the same time, Moses had many times in the past pleaded with God to save them – and now he seems too disgusted and too tired to care if they perished or not. Leadership wore him down. The faces of his friends had disappeared, and their children had – one by one – replaced them in the camp. He was surrounded by strangers – old and exhausted.

Moses didn’t speak to the ROCK – he spoke to the people. He didn’t speak to the CLIFF – he smacked it with the holy symbol of God’s endorsement. He didn’t do it ONCE – he did it TWICE. He got the desired result – water flowed… but he did it with all the stiffness of his younger self – striking down the Egyptian in the city long before. His will prevailed over God’s will – and that made clear that his time with God just before was not one of surrender – true worship – but one of a perfunctory visit to the Almighty in the face of a camp crisis. It was his moment on the capitol steps, singing with Congressman and Senators “God Bless America” when the pain of the nation gripped them after 9/11. The “worship” was verbal not “cardial” – as the heart was not moved beyond emotional stirring into the realm of the spirit – where surrender to God actually occurs. Worship only occurs when surrender occurs. There is no other form of true worship.

Why strike the rock? As we have seen on other occasions, the place where sedimentary rock and metamorphic rock (like granite) joins can become a place of water storage in the desert. Moses knew that. I have seen it, and watched a Bedouin guide get water by striking a rock in the desert. I have seen a wilderness camp instructor do the same thing in western Pennsylvania. Moses did what he KNEW, not what he was TOLD. He did the right thing the wrong way. He relied on his ability not God’s miraculous power. Only God could get the water by speech.

Finally, there was God’s Offense (20:12-13).

That’s right. God got offended. Listen to what the Most High said to His servant gone AWOL in heart:

Numbers 20:12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” 13 Those [were] the waters of Meribah, because the sons of Israel contended with the LORD, and He proved Himself holy among them.

You didn’t BELIEVE Me. You didn’t TREAT ME AS HOLY right in front of My people…Now look at the END of verse 13. God PROVED Himself HOLY among His people by excluding the leaders from entering the Promised Land. The penalty is SO VERY BIG, that we have to spend a moment here and reckon the scene. God wasn’t impressed with the prayer time, or the bowing – if it did lead to LIFE CHOICES of obedience. Time in church won’t make God happy if the Word that you hear there doesn’t change your life choices. If the revealed truth of God is not followed – the sheer reverence we are to have for Him is not real. God knows that when we surrender, we walk according to His desires. When we do not – we walk according to our own plans. How can it be measured? The answer is found in the text. When we don’t heed the Word of God, we snub the claim of God to lead us – and we take the throne to ourselves – doing things the way WE THINK they should be done. In that moment of decision, we supremely disrespect God, and He is aware of the decision as well as the disrespect. It is not simply the decision God responded to, but the self-willed heart that produced it.

Let me ask a pointed question: We have engaged this lesson by choice. Are we willing to embrace the truth of it? Is it not plain that what God truly wants from His people is their careful observance of His Word, and then a vigilant obedience to that Word? If that is the case, then we will only be able to judge whether or not we worshiped in this hour by the care we take to perform what God has instructed in the coming hours. We are not working FOR His love – but rather working BECAUSE we recognize His Majesty, His uniqueness, His absolute and distinct right to have control of the daily life choices of His followers. Here is the real question: Is Jesus in charge of us? If not, there are some results we should anticipate…

Three Results (20:14-29)

Moses heard God’s punishment at Meribah – that neither he nor Aaron would see the Promised Land before death. There appears no reaction in the text. Moses kept going with the plan to get the people home. If he felt remorse and pain, it is not contained in this record. What IS contained in the three stories of results is that things didn’t go as Moses planned them.

Delay of the Progress (20:14-21)

Numbers 20:14 From Kadesh Moses then sent messengers to the king of Edom: “Thus your brother Israel has said, You know all the hardship that has befallen us; 15 that our fathers went down to Egypt, and we stayed in Egypt a long time, and the Egyptians treated us and our fathers badly. 16 But when we cried out to the LORD, He heard our voice and sent an angel and brought us out from Egypt; now behold, we are at Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory. 17 Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or through vineyard; we will not even drink water from a well. We will go along the king’s highway, not turning to the right or left, until we pass through your territory.'” 18 Edom, however, said to him, “You shall not pass through us, or I will come out with the sword against you.” 19 Again, the sons of Israel said to him, “We will go up by the highway, and if I and my livestock do drink any of your water, then I will pay its price. Let me only pass through on my feet, nothing [else].” 20 But he said, “You shall not pass through.” And Edom came out against him with a heavy force and with a strong hand. 21 Thus Edom refused to allow Israel to pass through his territory; so Israel turned away from him.

Moses sent for permission to pass through Edom, east of the Dead Sea, to allow the children of Israel to get OUT of Zin and move to a position perched over Canaan in the east. God’s plan was to have the land east of the Jordan partially settled with Israel, but Moses didn’t seem to know that.

Moses sent a messenger with a plea and a history of the people (20:14-17). Edom flatly refused (20:18). Moses responded with an offer of payment for passage (20:19), but this was summarily rejected as well (20:20) and this response was underscored by a sizeable force sent to end the discussion. Moses withdrew, and the people were back in the tough landscape of Zin, walking in REVERSE of their goal. Water or no, that cannot have been an easy march with that crowd!

Diversion of the Prize (20:22-24)

Numbers 20:22 Now when they set out from Kadesh, the sons of Israel, the whole congregation, came to Mount Hor. 23 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor by the border of the land of Edom, saying, 24 “Aaron will be gathered to his people; for he shall not enter the land which I have given to the sons of Israel, because you rebelled against My command at the waters of Meribah.

Time passed. After a period back in Kadesh (far west of the Edomite mountains) Moses directed the people BACK to the edge of Edom. The Edomite army was back home at their farms by then, but Moses felt the urge to push again to their border. It may have felt like thrashing around to his followers. When they reached the border of Edom, God spoke again to Moses and Aaron. Mount Hor is situated “in the edge of the land of Edom” (Numbers 33:37). Since antiquity, writers like Josephus identified that mountain with one called today Jebel Nebi Harun (“Mountain of the Prophet Aaron” in Arabic), a twin-peaked mountain about 5000’ above sea level in the Edomite Mountains (east of the Arabah valley). Even today the summit has a shrine called the Tomb of Aaron, which may cover the grave of Aaron.

The bottom line is that uncertainty and meandering accompanied the delay that resulted from the leaders outward show of worship without inner surrender. The people withdrew, the people returned, the people didn’t know what would be next. Vision dies when worship fades. Direction becomes uncertain when obedience becomes lax. Many a movement, and many a ministry can testify to the pattern illustrated on the slopes of Mt. Hor long ago. The prize of the Promised Land was no longer the destination – for Aaron the destination was replaced with the grave. –as it has for so many movements and people who wouldn’t take God’s Word seriously. Surely Aaron would have died one day, but the commentary on his life that accompanied that death would likely NOT have been a penalty for disobedience as it was here.

Death of the Partner (20:25-29)

Meandering Moses now faced a third penalty – another sting from death:

Numbers 20:25 “Take Aaron and his son Eleazar and bring them up to Mount Hor; 26 and strip Aaron of his garments and put them on his son Eleazar. So Aaron will be gathered [to his people], and will die there.” 27 So Moses did just as the LORD had commanded, and they went up to Mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation. 28 After Moses had stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on his son Eleazar, Aaron died there on the mountain top. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain. 29 When all the congregation saw that Aaron had died, all the house of Israel wept for Aaron thirty days.

The camp was broken-hearted, and weeping could be heard from the tents round about. There was no good way to say goodbye to his brother – that is certain. Yet, the taste of death is all the more bitter when it comes on the back of hardness and disobedience. Moses and Aaron never crossed into the Promised Land in this life – they never reached their full potential following God. What more could they have done for Israel during the early days of the conquest? Would the period of the Judges have been so dark so quickly had they entered and established the people? We cannot know. What we CAN know is this: When we don’t follow God’s Word carefully, we show that we don’t truly hold Him in the high place He belongs in our life. He is not MORE to us if His Word is not MORE to us!

Gordon Dahl once said, “Most middle-class Americans tend to worship their work, work at their play, and play at their worship.” I simply argue that worship is a dangerous playground. When the writer H.G. Wells said, “Until a man has found God, he begins at no beginning and works to no end!” he set the stage properly. I was meant to WORSHIP – and that happens when I take His Words seriously, and then follow them carefully.

One Hour, One Book – The Epistle to the Philippians (Class Notes)

Introduction:

I posted this especially for those who need the notes to go along with the audio presentation of “One Hour: One Book” for Philippians.

ailing1As Paul was imprisoned:

• Progress was slowed
• Attacks increased
• Divisions showed

Three Issues are obviously addressed in Philippians:

1. Paul was imprisoned – some preaching with wrong intentions (1:12-30).
2. Doing good, but wrong priorities – bad roots (2:1-30).
3. Wrong priorities produced wrong fruits – living it out wrongly (3:1-4:9).

The letter can easily be broken into three parts:

• The Prayer (1:1-11)
• The Prescriptions (1:12-4:9)
• The Pattern (4:10-23)

Part One: The Prayer: “Losing frustration and Gaining a Positive Heart” (1:1-11)

Our quick definition of prayer: “a process of exchanging burdens for energy as I spend time with my Savior.” In the case of Paul in the Philippian letter, his prayer was:

• Public (1:1-2)
• Positive (1:3-5)
• Projecting (1:6)
• Personal (1:7-8)
• Pointed (1:9-11)

It seems that Paul got smarter as he prayed. God opened his heart to some of the answers, so he wrote to share them.

Part Two: Eleven Treatments for the Ailing Church (1:12-4:9)

1. Vision (1:12-18a) Helping people on earth see what Heaven was doing.

2. Transparent Leadership (1:18b-26): Explaining the divided heart that comes with living one world but waiting for another.

3. Focus (1:27-30): Cherishing each other and seeing the value of others.

4. Standards (2:1-18): Seeing clearly the bench marks of obedience: humility (like Jesus) and calm, reasonable demeanor.

5. Teamwork (2:19-30): A fierce unity born of concern, cooperation, commitment and consideration.

6. Praise (3:1): The call to face the world with a song of rejoicing.

7. Vigilance (3:2-9): The ability to spot those who attempt to swap religion for relationship and true spiritual life.

8. Goals (3:10-21): the recognition of both a process of growth and efforts to strive toward pleasing Jesus in my life.

9. Resolution (4:1-4): the commitment to close any breaches of relationship with brothers and sisters in Jesus.

10. Prayer (4:6-7): the exchange of burdens for peace.

11. Deliberation (4:8-9): the intentional selection of thoughts that please God.

Part Three: The Seven Part Pattern of Paul (4:10-23)

Paul lived the truths he taught, modeling the walk with Jesus as well as teaching with words. While he sat and waited to appear before Emperor Nero, he taught through example to:

• Celebrate, don’t complain! (4:10,19-20).
• Offer concern, not command! (4:10b).
• Be content, not contentious! (4:11).
• Cope, don’t be careless! (4:12)
• Collect, don’t consume! (4:13).
• Confirm, don’t criticize! (4:14, 17-18).
• Be considerate, not contemptuous! (4:15-16).

Essentially, Paul’s letter to Philippi made clear: “From the right roots (priorities) come the right fruits (actions and behaviors).”

Strength for the Journey: “Bench Time” – Numbers 19:7-22

riding bench1Did you ever get BENCHED by your coach? One of the most emotionally challenging times for any athlete is the time they have been “benched”. This is a time to watch, encourage those on the field and stay engaged… but that is hard to do. Bench warmers invariably become critics, especially if they are benched by the coach for reasons that are not mutually agreed. Why bench a perfectly good player? Sometimes they are ineligible to play at that moment because they have an attitude problem. Perhaps they have been so overstressed physically, the coach has decided a break from the game will prevent a breakdown in their body. In any case, the best athlete’s know they cannot run “wide open” all the time without breaks, and they aren’t necessarily the most qualified person to know when they need to be set down for a time. Athletes have been known to continue to unwisely play with injuries rather than go to the bench. Benching is part of the coach’s job. Here’s the problem: bench time will only truly help if they will truly use that time to recoup their energy, and restore their vigor for the game ahead. Bench time doesn’t change our attitude, it just gives us time to think about it. The choice to change is ours.

That is perhaps a “cryptic way” to introduce the story of our text in Numbers 19. God benched workers in His service, and they hadn’t done anything disobedient or wrong – He simply took them out of the lineup and called them “ineligible” for a time. One Biblical term for this ineligible state is the Biblical term “DEFILED”. Especially for modern Christians, we need to recognize the ancient context for this term. For many Christians, they read the term “defiled” in the Bible and ALWAYS think of it as a reflection of some specific sin committed by the defiled one – when that is often not the case. Sometimes God set aside an obedient and committed follower for the purpose of giving them specific time to renew their walk with Him while He cared for the physical, spiritual and emotional effects that living in a fallen world had on them.

Key Principle: God knows how to bring comfort, but we don’t always know how to receive it. We must carefully open our hearts to God’s “washing and waiting” work, when God benches us, to be fully restored and equipped to face the future.

This will take a few minutes to develop in our text, but if we are patient, there is great reward in this truth. God knows there are times in our lives that we need to get alone with Him and have Him bind up the wounds of our hearts from dealing with the blistering effects of sin – both in our world and in our lives. As we seek to understand this truth, let’s divide the text of Numbers 19 into three parts:

• Numbers 19:1-6 is the pattern of redemption – the ultimate payment for sin and its effects that must be judicially cared for before the face of a righteous God. Without the payment of sin’s debt, there is no washing and no resolution.

• Numbers 19:7-19 offer the practice of benching – some examples of specific cases of defilement. These offer a reminder that we have specific times in our lives that we need to stop, wash and wait. They aren’t about OUR sin, but about the fact that we live in a FALLEN WORLD. That reality, along with the reminders of our frailty, must remind us that we have times when God will bench His followers – because they need time off with Him to be restored.

• Numbers 19:20-22 contains verses that offer some purposes of benching – general defining statements that help us recognize the purposes God had for giving this law to our older brother Israel.

Again, not to confuse you, but to offer clarity, let me state two very important underlying assumptions of this study:

• First, modern believers who came to God through Jesus are not legally in view in the physical practice of the commands of Numbers. I am not a Jew, and I was not at Sinai making any covenant agreement with God – even in seed form. My ethnicity, so far as I know, had me physically in the loins of another people at the time. I am not suggesting that God wants us to kill bulls outside the camp. I am saying that He commanded Israel to do so, and then included the record of it in the Scripture. Since, as Paul reminded Timothy of old that “all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for doctrine, reproof and instruction”, we are looking for eternal principle in temporal law. In other words, what is revealed about the character and desires of our Changeless God in the actual and specific laws He gave to Israel of old? That is the point of the study. We don’t want to SPIRITUALIZE away the fact that they were told to kill bulls, we want to see the patterns in it that God intended us to see – so that we can address in our lives the things that move our Father’s heart.

• Second, we absolutely recognize that PART of the purpose of the laws given by God was for dealing with health issues: bacteria and disease spread in a people that did not know have access to our modern physical sciences and hygiene. We must make that point strongly. God told them what He told them, in part, to help them keep from spreading rampant disease amongst the camp of Israel (and later the nation of Israel). The fact is, though, that not all the laws that protected against the spread of disease are limited to that singular application of the text. Let’s take a look…

The Pattern of Redemption (Numbers 19:1-6)

In our last Numbers lesson, we spent time reviewing the incredibly important pattern found in the first part of this chapter. Again, we didn’t spiritualize away the bulls, but showed carefully that writers of the Christian Scriptures dropped back to the explanation of Numbers 19:1-6 to show how Messiah fit a pattern of redemption.

Take a look at the verse to renew our thinking…

Numbers 19:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 2 “This is the statute of the law which the LORD has commanded, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel that they bring you an unblemished red heifer in which is no defect [and] on which a yoke has never been placed. 3 You shall give it to Eleazar the priest, and it shall be brought outside the camp and be slaughtered in his presence. 4 Next Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger and sprinkle some of its blood toward the front of the tent of meeting seven times. 5 Then the heifer shall be burned in his sight; its hide and its flesh and its blood, with its refuse, shall be burned. 6 The priest shall take cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet [material] and cast it into the midst of the burning heifer.

When looking closely at the opening verses of the chapter, we made the points that:

• God defined what sin is and how to fix it. He did it throughout the Bible. Sin isn’t a behavior deemed by popular culture to harm humankind (in their ever-changing and limited moral mindset) – it is the violation of the stated will of the Creator of the Universe. In other words, if you dismiss a personal Creator, you open the floodgates to consensus morality. That is why modern men are swift to dismiss the Creator from the room.

• The sacrifice was to be made under the auspices of the priest, and outside the camp. The writers of the Gospels kept this pattern in mind when they highlighted the place and personnel involved in the Crucifixion story (as we saw in our earlier lesson).

• The sacrifice was to be made of a faultless bull, and it was to be totally destroyed – in that case reduced to ash. Both the guiltlessness of Messiah and the total forfeiture of His body followed that pattern.

• The accompanying of hyssop, purple cloth and wood all played a role in the sacrifice – something the New Testament writers point out in the scenes of Messiah’s death. There was a cross beam carried by Simon the Cyrene. There was a purple robe placed on the bleeding body of Messiah. There was a hussop brush hoisted to His mouth on the Cross.

The essential truth each point illustrated was simply this: God carefully offered both the instructions for a specific sacrifice, and a pattern for the future solution for sin that He eventually provided in Messiah’s coming and dying for us. Jesus came to replace Levitical “atonement law” with “total and complete justification”. As the writer of Hebrews argued, Sin was cared for ONCE FOR ALL at the Cross. It was a place of gruesome pain, foul smells, horrid punishment and bloody death. Messiah gave His life for us, and that satisfied God’s judicial requirement for redemption from the mutiny with God and brought the one and only escape from personal payment for sin by substituting Jesus in our place. The only continuing need we have is to ACCEPT THE GIFT. Without doing that, the gift lay in front of men and women, with no one choosing to unwrap it and take it as their own. Only acceptance of the gift activates the effect in an individual life. As one guy said recently: “You gotta grab it and keep it to call it your own!”

That was the pattern aspect of the Red Heifer’s sacrifice, and the application of it – as New Testament writers appropriately did –in the sacrifice of Messiah. That was a model that was to make the coming of Messiah’s story more evident as it unfolded. At the same time, the original purpose of the sacrifice was to gain the ash that had its own purpose in the story.

Follow the ashes back to the original story – and that will open the door to the second part of the chapter… The truth is disclosed that there were BENCH TIMES God has planned for followers to experience.

These were NOT because that follower had sinned – but because MAN HAD SINNED, and they lived in a fallen world that was swallowed up by the effects of the mutiny…

The Practice of Benching (Numbers 19:7-19):

God brought cases of defilement that required BENCHING of His followers. First, let’s establish that a believer could be BENCHED without doing wrong – because that needs to be demonstrated from the Scripture. Pick up the reading in Numbers 19:7-10:

Numbers 19:7 The priest shall then wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward come into the camp, but the priest shall be unclean until evening. 8 The one who burns it shall also wash his clothes in water and bathe his body in water, and shall be unclean until evening. 9 Now a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place, and the congregation of the sons of Israel shall keep it as water to remove impurity; it is purification from sin. 10 The one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening; and it shall be a perpetual statute to the sons of Israel and to the alien who sojourns among them.

Note the three men that were defiled and in need of “bench time” in the verses.

• First, there was the PRIEST that had followed every requirement of God’s stated law in verses 1-6, but had HANDLED AN ANIMAL AS IT WAS SLAUGHTERED. He was to WASH and to WAIT until that evening (19:7).

• Next, there was the one who BURNED the sacrifice. He also obeyed, but he HANDLED THE CARCASS of the animal – and he was due to WASH and WAIT until that evening (19:8).

• Third, the man who GATHERED up the ashes of the red heifer when the fire completely consumed the animal was to do his work gathering and storing (19:9) and then he was to WASH and WAIT until the evening (19:10).

What is CLEAR was that ALL THREE were walking in obedience and doing what God told them to do. None of them were held back from doing God’s work because they were in sin, or walking opposed to God’s stated intent. In other words, you don’t have to be DOING WRONG to get put on the BENCH for a period of time by God.

If it wasn’t sin, then let me ask: “Why were they “benched” for a time?” One could argue effectively that the first two handled something that was a health hazard. That was much less likely to be the case in the third man – who was dealing with the ash, as opposed to the carcass. Handling ashes was far less likely to cause specific bacterial danger. What if the issue wasn’t simply bacteria? What if the health hazard was only PART of the picture? What if handling something sacred, something so sobering, so intertwined with the lost state of mankind had its own need to sit on the bench and reflect awhile? Keep that thought for a moment and then recognize why the ashes were to be kept. The were a solution for defilement both for Israel and those who lived among her. The ashes would be used to purify those defiled.. and the preparation of them was a HOLY ACT. It was surrounded in sober and careful practice, and followed by a “time out” of reflection and waiting.

Let me posit this: Even when you are walking in obedience to God, there are times when you will handle the issues related to and resulting from the mutiny since the “Fall of man” in very specific ways. In times like that, God may bench you for a time so that you can be comforted by Him and regroup under His gentle hand.

Remember the penalties of “the Fall” in the Garden back in Genesis 3:7?

“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. 8 They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” 11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom You gave [to be] with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

What came from the fall was:

• LOSS of INNOCENCE – “eyes were opened” (3:7a),
• DEATH of intrinsic positive SELF IMAGE – “knew they were naked” (3:7b),
• SHAME – “covered themselves” (3:7b);
• DISTANCE from God – “hid themselves” (3:8)
• GUILT – the FEAR to be seen of God – “I was afraid because I was naked” (3:10).
• BLAME: Man tried to blame the woman (3:12)! Woman blamed the tempter (3:13)!

Coming out of the Garden in chapter three, humankind encountered a new world. The rules were different from the ones that humanity was created to live within. Adam, his wife and his children were faced with adapting to a world that was alien to them. The distance created by rebellion left a vacuum in His heart that was shaped like God, but could quickly be filled with a self-enthroned man. Man lacked the intimate and loving work of the Father within, and he would face moment by moment the choice of yielding to God’s hand or being full of self.

Yet, something even more powerful came into being as a result of the Fall… Bigger than shame and guilt, more powerful than the urge to blame…blistering forth came the shackles of death, and the grief of separation. In fact, in the background to that cataclysmic moment, you can hear the words of Scripture in the anthem behind the scene… (Ezekiel 18:4, 20) “The soul who sins will die.” DEATH came from the Fall. Paul wrote it to the Romans: “The wages of sin is death…”

Look back in Numbers 19 for cases that defile – REASONS WHY ONE WAS BENCHED FOR A TIME:

One who handles a dead body, as in Numbers 19:11 The one who touches the corpse of any person shall be unclean for seven days. 12 That one shall purify himself from uncleanness with the water on the third day and on the seventh day, [and then] he will be clean; but if he does not purify himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not be clean. 13 Anyone who touches a corpse, the body of a man who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD; and that person shall be cut off from Israel. Because the water for impurity was not sprinkled on him, he shall be unclean; his uncleanness is still on him. Very likely, this directed our thoughts back to the loved ones who carefully washed and prepared their brother, sister, mother or father for the grace. They hadn’t sinned; they were doing what they should do. At the same, the sinful state of fallen man brought death, and handling death brought time on the BENCH.

Those in the locus of the dead are defiled, even if they didn’t touch the person, as in Numbers 19:14 This is the law when a man dies in a tent: everyone who comes into the tent and everyone who is in the tent shall be unclean for seven days. 15 Every open vessel, which has no covering tied down on it, shall be unclean. Though the people in view were likely not those who handled their loved one’s body, they lived in the place where the loss was felt sorely. They watched and waited, as their loved one slipped away. They were BENCHED as well for a time.

One who handles the remains of the dead are defiled as in Numbers 19:16 Also, anyone who in the open field touches one who has been slain with a sword or who has died [naturally], or a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean for seven days. In view here may be one who happened upon a fallen one – whether they knew the person or not. It also regarded one who plowed up bones in a field, even if they didn’t know at the moment why these bones were present. They were BENCHED.

All three of these people – the one who handled the dying or cared for the body of their loved one, the one who lived in the place where their loved one died, and the one who happened upon the remains of one – whether they knew them or not – were all defiled. Again, there clearly was a health issue here – at least in the first two cases – but that doesn’t seem to be the whole story. Handling dried old bones presents very little danger more than the handling of other dirty and old objects. It seems like God wanted to say something MORE than just – “Get clean or you will spread disease!”

Let me offer a few observations without going very far from the text itself.

• First, passing through the end of life with a loved one is obviously exhausting and heart rending. The process of death is neither pretty nor a light-hearted matter. I am in that room often. It is HARD. It is SAD – in the best of circumstances. Even among believers, it feels terrible to know that they will not be a part of our daily lives this side of Heaven. The plain fact is that although “absent from the body, present with the Lord” is our loved one – we MISS THEM TERRIBLY. I sit with dear friends that have lost the other half of THEMSELVES. They struggle to smile because the pain is so real. They don’t lack faith. They just miss their loved one. Life isn’t the same on a planet that only has memories of them. I love my life here, but I admit that as the years pass, it gets harder as the shepherd in a place where I bury so many of my close friends… it comes with the work. You take the blessings with the challenges – that is life!

• Second, dealing with death, no matter how long we anticipate it – is a shock to our system. Grief is a PROCESS, and it doesn’t move by quickly. The deeper the love, the longer the grief. The five stages of grief defined by behaviorists are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These are the way we learn to cope with the one we lost – and no stage is simple. People are complex beings, and grief is a deep process. It comes in waves, and often creates inner turmoil that is incredibly unsettling – even to the most balanced among us.

Here are three simple truths that I believe can be gleaned from the BENCHING or DEFILEMENT text:

  • There is a specific time – immediately following the strain and shock of the death of a loved one – that we should NOT try to move on. In the text, there was a specific week of “down time”.
  • There was a specified process to get “cleansed” during that time. This is both physical and hygienic, and spiritual. The down time was not just to CRY, but a time to seek God and receive comfort from His hands. That is why the defilement was considered a SPIRITUAL MATTER – not just a physical threat to health.
  • There was a limit of time to be set aside. NO ONE thinks that grieving could have been completed in a week – NO ONE. The point is that there was to be an end to TIME OFF and TIME AWAY from the community. Everyone knew how long it was. There was no confusion of expectation. You took the week off, and you went through the process, then on the eighth day – still with a hole in your heart that missed your loved one – you GOT UP AND WENT BACK TO YOUR LIFE.

If you don’t hear carefully, what I am saying will sound COLD, and UNCARING. If you hear what I believe is part of the intent of the text – I think you will see that is NOT the case…Look for a moment at the verse that remind us “How to get clean” in defilement among our ancient brothers:

Numbers 19:17 Then for the unclean [person] they shall take some of the ashes of the burnt purification from sin and flowing water shall be added to them in a vessel. 18 A clean person shall take hyssop and dip [it] in the water, and sprinkle [it] on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the persons who were there, and on the one who touched the bone or the one slain or the one dying [naturally] or the grave. 19 Then the clean [person] shall sprinkle on the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day; and on the seventh day he shall purify him from uncleanness, and he shall wash his clothes and bathe [himself] in water and shall be clean by evening.

Note there is a specific number of days and a specified process. The fact remains that you cannot control the grieving process, but you can keep yourself from withdrawing back inside like a turtle in the midst of danger. There is a way that you can eventually get moving ahead in your life.

There is always a temptation to retreat from people in the pain process. God specified how long you should collapse into His arms, and when to get up. Never ending dramatic displays of pain were not acceptable. There was a process – a very painful process – but one that God brought by His own hand to comfort our broken hearts.

The Purposes of Benching (Numbers 19:20-22)

God didn’t create legislation without intention and purpose. He offers a command – but He also teaches us about ourselves, and our world. The end of the passage says:

Numbers 19:20 But the man who is unclean and does not purify himself from uncleanness, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, because he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD; the water for impurity has not been sprinkled on him, he is unclean. 21 So it shall be a perpetual statute for them. And he who sprinkles the water for impurity shall wash his clothes, and he who touches the water for impurity shall be unclean until evening. 22 Furthermore, anything that the unclean [person] touches shall be unclean; and the person who touches [it] shall be unclean until evening.‘”

• Clearly, the text says that the mentioned cleansing process is REQUIRED. (19:20).

• In addition, the ramifications of being lax in this area are much bigger than just ONE FAMILY. It will affect the WORSHIP CENTER (19:20b).

• The condition wasn’t just related to the DESERT experience – they would carry it as a law for all their generations (19:21).

• Benching for defilement was God’s idea – and God’s prescription for those who were in contact with the extremity of the results of the Fall.

Let me suggest that God had a very important principle He wanted to communicate:

God knows how to bring comfort, but we don’t always know how to receive it. We must carefully open our hearts to God’s “washing and waiting” work, when God calls on it in us, to be fully restored and equipped to face the future.

In our rush ahead and “never look back” society, we forget how important a process of getting through the difficult times can be.

If we don’t take the time to receive God’s comfort and grow through the process – it will leave a scar on our lives. It did on mine, because I was too young to know this truth when it happened… I am reading from a People Magazine article called: ”The Birth of a Settlement” (November 1982) by James R. Gaines

James wrote: “Last July 2, a 27-year-old American emigrant living in the West Bank settlement of Tekoa was murdered. His name was David Rosenfeld. By nightfall, a young Arab from the tiny village of Ferdis had confessed to the killing. The next morning Israeli soldiers blew up the home of another suspect in Ferdis, Muhammad Ali Mubarak, 26; a dozen members of his family, including his father and mother, were committed to the streets…Born in Philadelphia, David [Rosenfeld] graduated from George Washington University with a B.A. in history in June 1979. That summer, two days after their wedding, David and Dorit Rosenfeld emigrated to Israel. Dorit’s first impression of Tekoa was dispiriting: She found it isolated, grim. But David saw in it every settler’s vision, the reclamation of his biblical homeland. An instant convert to the cause, he took to it with a convert’s zeal: He spoke to friends of the lush vegetation that would one day be coaxed from the barren hills that stretched out in every direction from his perch atop the Herodion, and as supervisor of that out-of-the-way site he dreamed of vastly expanding tourism… David was stabbed more than 80 times that morning. He had left his Uzi submachine gun at home. A few minutes later a young American archaeologist, Randy Smith, found him lying face down in the ticket office of the Herodion in a spreading pool of blood. Numbed by the sight, Smith found himself absently counting the wounds in David’s back. The young soldiers who came to the scene tried vainly to resuscitate David but soon gave up, sickened and openly weeping.”

I was arrested for a time, but after I was released later that day I went back to work. I shouldn’t have. Healing was required. I just didn’t know it. Psalm 126:5 says: “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. 6 He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying [his] bag of seed, Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves [with him].” Someone reminded me recently that: “It is helpful to remember that it is not the SORROW but the SOWING while weeping that brings forth future sheaves.” There is a process of washing and waiting – and then there is the working while weeping. Eventually, if we allow God to deal with our pain, we will feel it slipping ever so slowly away…

Knowing Jesus: “Sounds of the Heart” – John 17

prayHow do you really get to someone’s heart? How can you REALLY know what they care about? One of the things I have discovered about people is that you get to know them much better by listening to their prayers. That probably sounds so “churchy” for a beginning, but think about it…

When I “chat” with people, a lot of the time is taken up by very surface things – the weather, our respective jobs, our families and how our kids are doing. That is great, and we need that kind of discourse, but that doesn’t really help you hear what is deeper. All of us face struggles, hurts, hurdles and hassles that we have learned to keep below the surface. When I sit alongside a sister or brother is Christ, and we spend some time below the Cross speaking to our Savior – other things come out…deeper things. Sometimes it is about fear – anxiety about the future, about relationships and where they are going, or deep concern about the life choices of their grown children. Other times it is about hope – longings for a better job or a more peaceful home life. In any case, when I pray with someone I hear more of their heart. One time that is especially true is when they know they will soon be with their Savior.

The last time Pastor Ralph Wiley (after whom the main hall of Grace Church is named) and I were together we prayed about a few things. Ralph grabbed my hand and prayed for our church and the ministry of the school. He prayed that God would give me wise and helpful partners in ministry, and he prayed that I would eventually loosen up in the pulpit just a bit – something he poked me about the whole time we worked together. He always thought I was a bit too serious about everything. I loved that man – he was an encourager to the last breath! The last time Pastor Vince Lohnes (after whom the smaller hall across the way is named) sat together and talked we prayed together. He thoughtfully asked the Lord to continue to guide me and teach me, and he asked Jesus to make me ever sensitive to my wife. I have thought of both of these men and their prayers often.

Today we get a unique glimpse into the heart of Jesus. In this lesson we will “listen in” as Jesus prayed for His followers – including the ONE TIME you and I were specifically mentioned in the Bible. Jesus prayed for His Father to move on the last assignment – He prayed for Himself. Then He asked God to care for the Eleven that walked into the olive grove at Gethsemane with Him, and finally He prayed for the many that would find Him because of their testimony… and that includes many who are studying this passage today! Some of His words unveil deep truths about His burden, His love and His grace.

Key Principle: Jesus showed us what He viewed as essential in His ministry, and how real ministry should be measured.

Jesus Prayed for Himself (John 17:1-5)

The prayer of Jesus opens with the call for the Father to bring all things in the earth ministry to a close, and Jesus read the hour and completed the mission:

John 17:1 Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, 2 even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. 3 “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. 4 “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. 5 “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.

The opening of the prayer as recorded showed Jesus bringing to His Father a recognition that He understood the times about Him, and He was ready to complete the work ahead. It was offered in three parts:

Father, the hour has come” – I hear you, and I see what has happened. I recognize Your hand in the time. This was a RESPONSE, not an order. The Father ordered the time, the Son watched for the signs and responded (17:1a). In reference to the Second Coming, Jesus made the point that all the planning was in His Father’s hands – and that the Son did as the Father directed. He said: Matthew 24:36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.”

Glorify Your Son” – the timing brought a REQUEST not a demand. Because it is time, I have a need. Place the weight on me – and withdraw your protection from Me that the enemy may throw the attention on Me – for I must now do the work I was sent here to do (17:1b).

You gave Him authority over all people…” – the request was followed by a REMEMBRANCE – a little history to place the request in context (17:2-5). The remembrance reinforced that Jesus understood the signs properly, and the work ahead was annunciated and fully accepted by Him (17:2).

• First, the goal of the work was made plain – to offer men and women eternal life (a reconnection to the Father through the sent Messiah (17:3).
• Second, the acknowledgment of the completion was reiterated – Jesus knew the work was fulfilled as planned (17:4).
• Third, the desire of Jesus was laid bare – to pass through the necessary pain and be restored to the place He was before He agreed to come to earth and become the Sacrifice (17:5).

Essentially Jesus said: “Father, I see the times and I know it is time for you to let loose the enemy. You told Me what to do, and I completed it all. I want to come home and restore My place to where it was in the ions before time.

Part of the process of prayer can sound like we are informing the Father – but we are never sharing anything of which He is not fully aware. He knew it was time, but desired His Son to say out loud that it He understood the time, and was prepared to face the end. If we learn anything from this, it is that Jesus said out loud before the Father what He felt beneath the surface, and how He reasoned inside. Sometimes people mistake God’s desire to hear the words pour from our heart to our mouth. If He knows what we are all about, why should we tell Him? The answer is simple: He told us to tell Him.

The benefits of prayer probably go much farther than we will ever comprehend – but the simple truth is that we are doing what He told us to do when we pray. It is not unlike the desire of a spouse to hear the words “I love you” from the love of their life – years after they have made the commitment to be together for a lifetime. We dare not operate on the “they already know that I love them” ideology. They want to HEAR the words – and we need to say them. The same is true of exposing our heart in words of prayer – we need it and He desires it.

Jesus Prayed for His Eleven Disciples (John 17:6-19)

The whole prayer was not about the timing and the work. Jesus moved to praying for His followers – where most of the comments for the rest of the prayer are directed. As the lash and nails drew near, Jesus was not unaware of the pain – but chose rather to focus on the needs of His followers…

John 17:6 “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. 7 “Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; 8 for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received [them] and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. 9 “I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; 10 and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.

As we take apart the requests He made for the Disciples, a picture emerges from His heart:

• The fact is that Jesus saw in them something NONE of us would have picked out. Even AFTER His Crucifixion, could we HONESTLY say that we could see the potential in this motley band of misfit men to “turn the world upside down?” I doubt it.

Beloved, we are much more attuned to the FLAWS of our followers than their potential.

Many of us as parents have learned to see the PROBLEMS with our children perhaps a good bit more clearly than we see the their real potential. Jesus looked past the petty seating argument of the men walking into the Upper Room. He looked past Peter’s stupid exclamations of undying faithfulness, and John’s youthful misunderstanding of the days ahead. Jesus saw what God could and would do in the lives of the men He had disciple over those years. Can we not do the same? Should we not look with positive anticipation that the God that has been ever so patient with us will continue to work in them?

Paul reflected this as he wrote to the Philippians in 1:3 “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 [For I am] confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Was Paul delusional in thinking that they would grow up? After all, he wrote an entire letter to correct their thinking and behavior?

No. Paul knew that NO believer becomes mature in human hands. God is at work in our children. God is growing concerns in the hearts of our disciples. The process of spiritual growth is not primarily human – discipleship is a physical manifestation of God at work in a life. Rejoice! Our success rate just began to look much brighter, and our load for carrying the work is much lighter – when we understand that we aren’t at the center of all of their growth and change! Post a sign in your heart beside the disciple: ‘Caution: God at Work!’

• Jesus showed that at the core of His heart there was a desire to reflect the honor and glory to His Father – not to get it for Himself. I can see “they have really begun to see Your hand in all that I have done” – they are beginning to LOOK PAST ME to see You (17:7-8). Jesus came to restore a relationship to His Father – not (strictly speaking) for Himself. That issue is made clear numerous times in the Epistles, as the “other-person centered” nature of Jesus was highlighted (Philippians 2). It was not to fulfill His own desire, but rather to fulfill the desires of His Father that He came, that He died, that He reconciled.

Here is the great secret of Heaven – the Son hungers to have His Father lifted above all. The Father has desired to lift up the Son before all. Neither hungers self-affirmation – they desire to be fulfilled in watching THE OTHER lifted high! This is a picture of ideal relationship. The best marriages I know are the ones that have two people committed to EACH OTHER and each bent of the satisfaction of the other. Selfishness is the antithesis of godliness. The selfish person hoards while the godly gives. The selfish ever hungers; the godly are ever filled from above and overflow blessng to those around. Godliness is, at its very core, other-person centered.

• Jesus said: “It is for their benefit that I ask”. He came to and for the world, but He had a very profound love for those who trusted Him and followed Him – in light of the coming dangers. As Jesus had “waived off” personal protection from the Father in the beginning of the prayer – here He calls for its renewal over His followers (17:9-10). Jesus made His request on the basis of RELATIONSHIP with the Father.

Why is this important? The answer is found in the fact that the relationship is the basis for every request – as it is in our prayers. Our personal relationship with the Father, based on the work of His Son to clear our guilt and reconcile us to God is the basis upon which we are told to ask of the Father our requests. We CAN ask, because we have been granted audience through Jesus. That is the point of the writer to the Hebrews:

Hebrews 10:19 “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since [we have] a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith…”

The central issue is this: God hears my desires and requests because Jesus built the bridge of relationship – restoring what Adam destroyed in rebellion. He made it possible, but I must open my heart to make it work. A bridge never crossed is of no value. I must ask. I must call upon Him. I must draw near over the provided bridge, and not gape endlessly at the chasm created by rebellion. Jesus built it, and I must cross it. I have Divine permission. I have Heaven’s call to come close…

Jesus wasn’t done. The eleven were still close to His side, and even closer to His heart. He said:

John 17:11 “I am no longer in the world; and [yet] they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, [the name] which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We [are]. 12 “While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. 13 “But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil [one]. 16 “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

• He said: “I am leaving but they aren’t – Father pull the protection over them!” Look closely at the call of Jesus for protection – and the need for it in John 17:11-12. How did He describe that call? He said “Guard them in YOUR NAME”. If He had said “Guard them in your TITLE” I would have shared how God’s title is a contraction of the term “GOOD” – and all that He does DEFINES what is good.

That is not the case. God has many titles, but only ONE NAME – the Tetragrammaton: YHVH. It is a form of the “to be” verb and means: “I Am.” God is the ever-present One. The NIV translators made that point in their translation of Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

I love the way Judah Smith said it in that small viral You Tube clip. He said:

IF in fact it’s true that Jesus rose from the dead – He conquered the final enemy – death itself. And… everything has changed. If He rose again… life will never be the same as we know it… the Gospel is the Good News. The Good News about God sending His Son who came to TRIUMPH in this life… Who came to live a SINLESS LIFE… a PERFECT LIFE… a SELFLESS LIFE… that He would give His life as a sacrifice on the Cross. But He did not just DIE… He ROSE AGAIN on the third day. Resurrection is what makes the news GOOD!”

The singer gently sings: “Immanuel, You are here with us! You are here with us! Unfailing love, you have overcome! You have overcome!

Back the preacher comes to say: “We keep preaching the champion that our King Jesus really is… JESUS is the Resurrection and the LIFE. JESUS is the victorious King of Ages…

Graphics of the beating and crucifixion fill the screen as the singer plays gently of Immanuel. I love that clip because it reminds us of two things:

  • First, that the coming of Jesus, the death of Jesus in our place, and the Resurrection of Jesus – that proved His Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice – is GOOD NEWS. It is not a scourge that condemns mankind, but a GIFT to offer escape the one who recognizes that without Jesus their life will soon collapse.
  • Second, it emphasizes that Jesus IS Immanuel – God with us. He is not a God of yesterday, or a figure assigned a role in the ancient past. He is a LIVING, RESURRECTED and ALIVE God – with a Father Who acts as guardian of my current needs. His Father is the ever CURRENT REFUGE and help in times of trouble. Your BILLS, your ACHES, your TROUBLES – they are all known to the Father. Nothing surprises Him. Nothing.

The ENEMY has no power greater than the One within us. The Holy Spirit breathes out the truth that Jesus has OVERCOME the grave the former prince of the earth. Satan is losing his grip on the earth.

STOP for a moment. Don’t forget that. He is a ROARING LION. You don’t have the power of yourself to defeat Him. He desires to destroy you, to keep you defeated and demoralized. At the same time… Jesus HAS overcome. The darkness you see on the news is a temporary gasp of breath to one who is ALREADY DEFEATED!

Lift up your eyes to the heights of Heaven! Our God is not on the ropes wondering of our future. He IS our FUTURE. He IS our LIFE. He IS our DESTINY. He IS our RESURRECTION. He IS our only needed HOPE.

Did you see the end of the prayer for the eleven? It is very telling as to what Jesus’ intentions were for His followers!

John 17:13 “But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil [one]. 16 “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

• Their heart filled with Joy: Father, I want them to be FULL OF MY JOY! (17:13).

• Their Priorities based in the Word: I want them to experience that JOY based on the Word I have given them – not based on the affirmation of the world around them! (17:14).

• Their Protection from the Father: I don’t want them removed from the world, but rather walking through it, protected from the clutches of the wicked one! (17:15).

• Their Distinctiveness from the World: They are not to be a PART of the world’s system anymore, but to be distinct from it because of their firm hold on the truth of the Word (17:16-17).

• Their Feet moving on mission: They are to be pushed out, launched into the world with the distinctive marker that I will be known for – the Cross (17:18-19).

Jesus made known the cry of His heart for His followers – that they would be a JOYFUL lot – not burdened by the darkness of the fallen world – but by singing the songs of the coming victory! He wanted them to CLING to the Word, and not be troubled by the rejection of the world. He called on the Father to love and protect them as He did while He walked with them. He wanted the TRUTH they lived to make them stick out. All this, and He wanted them to LIVE IN THE WORLD. They were not to find an excuse to withdraw themselves in some monastery circle – but to be bold and on mission to show the grace of Jesus in their walk!

Jesus Prays for the Future Believers (John 17:20-26)

If all that is NOT ENOUGH to get you excited, here is the part of the prayer that has to do with the believers that are sharing Jesus with the world today… those who are all around you as we read this together…

John 17:20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, [are] in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. 24 “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. 25 “O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; 26 and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

Jesus said: “I know my eleven will be effective, so now I want to turn to those who will be following Me in future generations (17:20). Here are my seven requests for them:

Unity: That they might be ONE, just like We are One in Essence, Father (17:21a).

Distinctiveness: That they may be walking distinctly in OUR WAY, so the people around them will see the difference (17:21b).

Attention: That they may garner the attention of the world by their behavior, so the world will consider My origin – sent from above (17:22).

Reflection: That they may be so like us in their unified deportment, that they would reflect your face, Father, and My face (17:23).

Evidence: That everyone would see the evidence of My true message in the love between all of us! (17:23b).

Destiny: That they may one day be gathered to Our place, and see what Our home is like above (17:24)!

Love: That they may grasp inside the love You gave to Me, and I give to them (17:25-26).

Jesus called on the Father and cried out that His people should be defended – and not be torn apart by the enemy. At the same time, He asked that they not be allowed to tear each other apart from within. He wanted them to stick out in a world that calls for individuality, but in actuality lives by a strict rule of tolerance that abhors anything but the moral consensus of the masses. He wanted the church to get the attention of the world, but to do so by our holiness, and our wholesome love for each other. He wanted His followers to be a reflection of His teachings, and look like Him in conduct. He wanted the changed lives of His followers to give powerful, irrefutable evidence of the truth of His message – that He brings LIFE and HOPE to those who felt DEAD and USELESS. He longed to have His followers eventually join Him in Heavenly places – to see all that the Father has to show! He yearned for a people that would, all along the journey, grasp the love of God – at least in some small measure.

Jesus held up both GRACE and TRUTH.

Randy Alcorn wrote an interesting article I read the other day, in which he made the point beautifully: “Truth-oriented Christians love studying Scripture and theology. But sometimes they’re quick to judge and slow to forgive. They may be strong on truth, weak on grace. Grace-oriented Christians love forgiveness and freedom. But sometimes they neglect biblical study and see moral standards as “legalism.” They’re strong on grace, weak on truth. Countless mistakes in marriage, parenting and ministry boil down to failures to balance grace and truth. Sometimes we neglect both. Often we choose one over the other. It reminds me of Moses, our Dalmatian. When one tennis ball is in his mouth, the other’s on the floor…The church I used to pastor (and still attend) was picketed by 30 pro-abortion protestors. Why? Some of our people go to abortion clinics and offer alternatives, passing out pro-life literature and sharing the gospel when they can. So one rainy Sunday morning, our church parking lot was invaded by Radical Women for Choice, Rock for Choice and the Lesbian Avengers. Hearing they were coming, we set out donuts and coffee. I spent an hour and a half with a protestor named Charles, who held a sign saying, “Keep Abortion Legal.” We talked a little about abortion and a lot about Christ. I explained the gospel. I liked Charles. But when you believe as I do — that abortion is killing children — it’s a bit awkward serving coffee and holding an umbrella for someone waving a pro-abortion sign. Yet because of the opportunity to share Christ’s grace, it seemed the right thing to do. It’s not just truth that puts us in awkward situations. Grace does also. On that morning we were picketed, some street preachers showed up to take on the abortion activists with signs shouting hell and damnation. Their message contained truth, but their approach lacked grace. One of the street preachers barged between my daughter and me and a few of the Lesbian Avengers, just as we finally had an opportunity to talk with them. The door of witnessing was slammed in our faces … by Christian brothers. We tried to reason with the street preachers. (By the way, I believe there’s definitely a place for street preaching.) After all, this was our church, and we didn’t want them screaming at our guests — even if they were screaming truth. Most cooperated, but a few decided we were waffling on truth, and it was an abomination for us to offer donuts to people who needed rebuke. The following Sunday, two street preachers picketed our church, scolding us for our “pathetic” attempts at donut and coffee evangelism. In twenty-five years, our church has only been picketed twice — two weeks in a row! — first by radically liberal nonbelievers for speaking truth, and second, by radically conservative believers for showing grace. That’s how it is on this tightrope walk between truth and grace. When you stand for truth, you’re held in contempt by some non-Christians (and even some Christians). When you offer grace, you’re held in contempt by some Christians (and even some non-Christians). When you try to live by grace and truth, in some eyes you’ll be too radical; in other eyes, not radical enough. Grace-only folk don’t understand why Jesus said, “Fear him who has the power to throw you into hell” (Luke 12:5). Truth-only folk don’t understand why Jesus hung out with sinners, and why He hung on a cross for them. Attempts to “soften” the gospel by minimizing truth keep people from Jesus. Attempts to “toughen” the gospel by minimizing grace keep people from Jesus. Grace and truth are both necessary, but neither is sufficient.”

Listen to Jesus’ prayer. He wanted us to stand together, and to reflect His face. That’s going to require both grace and truth – and if you look at what the Master prayed, you can see what He valued. Jesus showed us what He viewed as essential in His ministry, and how real ministry should be measured.

Strength for the Journey: “Bathing in Ashes” – Numbers 19:1-6

models3When I was a kid, I liked to build models. I especially liked building ships, planes and World War II reconstructions. I could spend hours putting a battle scene together, only to rip into it like the scars left after actual warfare. I lived in my imagination, and recounted battles of long ago. Some were real battles that I read about – others were a product of a pre-teen lost in a vision of the his own little plastic world. It wasn’t until a few years later I got firecrackers, and then things really got interesting… but that is for another time. I confess that I learned a great deal by observing models – and it seems that is something I was made to be able to do.

Whether on the shop floor or in an art class, God made many of us to pick up patterns and reproduce by models. Like many men, I confess that I often didn’t follow the directions – rather I looked at the picture on the box. I wanted my copy to look like the one on the box – because that is what I bought. In the store, all I had was the picture on a box, and that was the pattern in my mind. The value of seeing a complete version in a picture was that I could recognize when I made my copy successfully.

God also loves models. He paints pictures of spiritual truths, and shares them with us – so that we can celebrate His unfolding plan with Him. He gave models to Israel long ago that help us know about the way He accomplishes things in men – like redeeming a lost man or restoring a fallen brother. These patterns are often more clear later in Scripture – because God’s story is progressive. He sometimes introduced something into the Scripture, and only many years later cleared up why that element was necessary. The text we are studying in our lesson today is one of His most elaborate models — that of the “Parah Adumah” – or the “Red Heifer”. This picture showed how God modeled restoration for the defiled – and redeemed the filthy. The model vibrantly pictured the coming plans of Redeemer – and left us with a picture on the box to look at when Messiah came to redeem and restore.

Key Principle: God planned very carefully the details of our redemption – and offered pictures long before to make the process clear.

The fact is that salvation and reconciliation to God had a pattern long before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. God didn’t leave man guessing – He offered the general model of the sacrificial system to help us understand substitution and atonement. He also offer a model in the form of one specific sacrifice- the Parah Adumah. The pattern of that sacrifice was so clearly a pattern of future redemption, that details of it became important to the story of the Good News (Gospel) account. Let’s look at the text and draw out the sketch to be filled in with the Gospel details.

Pretend that Numbers 19 is a “paint by numbers” pattern. God drew out the black and white lines, and then later added the colors in another time, on the hillside called Calvary…

Underlying the pattern is this: God demonstrated in the pattern that redemption and reconciliation to God were essential – because of an internal nature of continual mutiny and rebellion.

God established clearly that people cannot and will not follow rules – and will not act in a way that honors His moral authority over their lives. We are born with a desire to do things our own way. Isaiah knew it, and wrote the words of the Lord in Isaiah 53:6 “All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.” Listen to those words carefully and you will hear the pattern… All men and women do what they CHOOSE, but God took the pain of that mutiny and the effect of that rebellion – and placed it on HIS OWN SHOULDERS. Those who know God because of the choice to give our lives to Jesus understand this clearly. Isaiah prophesied of something that has changed our lives.

The very first part of the Bible is the Law – but one of the major features of reading the Torah (the Law) is that it clearly established the lines of acceptance and violation – and like the fingerprints left on the wet paint with the sign “DO NOT TOUCH” – the Law made clear man was badly broken inside. The Law offered standards – in part – to visually help us all understand that we don’t do what God said – even when it is clear – because we DON’T WANT TO. That was Paul’s point in Romans 5:12 “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

Don’t get lost in the verbiage. Paul said that one man mutinied in the Garden, and passed that fallen and broken state to all his children. One outcome of that rebellion was immediate separation from God – a broken relationship that separated us from spending an eternity with our Creator. Physical death of the body is a mere symbol of a spiritual reality – things are broken since the Fall. Yet, without the Law, it would NOT have been clear how broken man truly is. The fact is that we are optimists about ourselves and our own intentions. The Law showed that we simply WON’T do right. We just CAN’T on our own. That wet paint sign is too tempting. That speed limit sign is for other people. We know better… or at least we live like we do.

Our story in Numbers is a great sampling of human failure!

Walk back into the story of the Israelites in the desert we have been following. Constant rebellion made Moses’ life ridiculously difficult. Think back over the last few chapters:

• First, the spies were sent into the land, and their negative report left Israel in tears (Numbers 13). God promised them the land – and FEAR kept them from obedience. Disappointment set in.

• Next, growing out of disappointment came the sore of open INSURRECTION that pressed Moses to fall before God to defend the people and keep them from summary judgment – but in God’s patience the people only stepped up rebellion further! They rushed hastily into the land against Moses’ clear command. It was a disaster. The people of God were routed and the enemies of Israel were celebrating and picking up the spoils of war (Numbers 14).

• In the wake of that awful decision to fight without God’s direction and presence, God regrouped the people with Moses and presented some NEW LAWS. These were meant to both encourage the people that they WOULD be entering the land, and warn the people that future rebellion would need to be faced soberly, with the consequences of sin clearly outlined (Numbers 15).

• No sooner had God offered encouragement, then (in Numbers 16) another leadership rebellion pushed the camp into chaos. The text recounted first how Moses dealt with rebels, and then how God dealt with them. This rebellion left no body bags or burials, the earth SWALLOWED the rebels up in one moment.

• By Numbers 17, God used the staff of a man to show His power, direction and approval. God used a stick to show endorsement – bringing empowering new life and productivity to a dead stick.

• In Numbers 18, the issue came up a third time — WHO WOULD LEAD THEM. By that point, the text was clear – people didn’t like God’s choices for them – they wanted to make their own. Are we really any different? I don’t think so!

Five chapters, three open rebellions, and earth swallowing and body bags… you would think anyone reading this account would stop right now and evaluate their walk and their obedience… but most of us pass by these images like a traffic accident on the highway. We know the results of rebellion MAY someday befall us, but we keep driving along, hoping that it won’t happen today… The setting of the sacrifice of Numbers 19 is clear – we need God to step in with answers to our sin-sick nature – or we won’t be able to change. If God doesn’t clean us up, we won’t get clean – period.

Zoom into Numbers 19 and pick out with me some of the elements of this paint by numbers sketch, so we can fill in the colors with later Scripture:

Element One: Sin violation is both an issue of sacred and secular authority –

It simply cannot be relegated to only one. Note the opening in Numbers 19:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying…

In Numbers 19:1, after wave upon wave of flagrant rebellion, God spoke to both the civil leader (Moses) and the religious leader (Aaron) to directly answer the rebellious violations in the camp.

He didn’t divide religion from state laws – because it isn’t really possible to do so. We need to be clear here…It is a foolish errand to attempt to divorce religion from the state – simply because state laws are formed as a reflection of moral precepts that are deeply rooted in religious life.

Americans today aren’t truly trying to separate church and state- they are trying to replace WHICH “church” the modern state follows. They prefer the moral relativism of today’s experts in atheistic humanist lab coats, not what appears to be archaic Biblical precepts. When people argue for “separation of church and state”, they are not arguing that NO moral precepts under gird civil law, they are arguing that they don’t like the moral precepts upon which our laws have historically been based. They chip away at the foundation, supposing they are gaining more personal freedom by dislodging the Biblical root of our jurisprudence.

With each decade we spend more and more to keep ourselves safe in a society that cannot agree on the simplicity of what is “good” and “right”. We cannot agree on the most basic protections and principles. In our unbounded celebration of growing American diversity, we seem to have lost our essential core value system – and we cannot find common ground with our own founders.

In point of fact, all laws are rooted in moral principle – and the modern attempts are nothing more than merely dislodging the Biblical foundation and replacing it with a new national religion – naturalistic humanism.

I am not arguing that there is no difference between the law of the state and the Bible, I am arguing as did President Washington – that state morality was intended to be rooted in Biblical precept. He said: “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.” (George Washington). Those who long to preserve the Biblical foundation to our state heritage are not trying to change the country – we are resisting the replacement of the ethical system upon which our laws are based.

Element Two: Both sin and its remedy is defined by God.

The standard is inscribed by God’s Word – not by popular opinion. Numbers 19:2 “This is the statute of the law which the LORD has commanded, saying…

Men will never figure out what is RIGHT and GOOD without God. We cannot see the truth in the fallen world, because all creation has been affected by the Fall. In a recent defense of homosexual unions, one so-called “Christian” author claimed in an interview that since “such things happen in nature” it must be against the natural order to forbid such unions. The author has overlooked two important truths:

  • First, Romans 8:20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. In other words, you cannot get a clear picture of what God intended by looking at a fallen world that is waiting to be fixed by God.
  • Second, because of the sin nature, we all want to NATURALLY do things that the law must not sanction. Lust is natural, so restriction is both warranted and helpful. Laws are intended, in many cases, to BLOCK us from doing what we would do if we could.

The point is this: only GOD can be trusted with the answer to where we are today. We are broke inside, and increasingly, as we stray from Biblical moorings in society, we are broke on the outside as well. The answers are not found in NATURE, nor are they found WITHIN MAN – they are found in God’s Word. He created all things, and He knows both their PURPOSE and their DESTINY.

Element Three: God has provided a way to fix what is broke in man.

God provided a substitute to die in our place outside the camp. Numbers 19:2 “…‘Speak to the sons of Israel that they bring you an unblemished red heifer in which is no defect [and] on which a yoke has never been placed. 3 You shall give it to Eleazar the priest, and it shall be brought outside the camp and be slaughtered in his presence.

The paint by numbers line sketch is simple here. There must be an unblemished substitute that is killed outside the camp under the authority of the Priest of the people.

The Gospels unfold the gruesome story of Jesus before Annas, then the High Priest Joseph Caiaphas and a court of the Sanhedrin early one Friday morning two thousand years ago. Blindfolded and slapped by Caiaphas’ men – Jesus was eventually remanded into Roman custody before being nailed to the Cross outside the city wall of Jerusalem.

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews fills in the color on the sketch in Hebrews 13:11 “For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest [as an offering] for sin, are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. 13 So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. 14 For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking [the city] which is to come.”

The author called the early Jewish followers of Jesus to STOP trying to fit in to the world about them, and take on the reproach of the Savior. Embrace the reality: we don’t fit here anymore. We aren’t called to be popular – we are called to be Christ-like. His most important contribution to mankind was made OUTSIDE the walls of the city – in a place of filth and sorrow. He was our substitute, and His life was take because of our sin. That is an essential element of the Gospel: God sent His Son to fix what we could not repair given any amount of time or effort. On a hill outside the ancient city of Jebus, Abraham took his son Isaac and offered him up to God. On another hill nearby – outside the city called by that time Jerusalem – God offered up HIS SON. The first time the sacrifice was stopped, the second time it was NOT.

Element Four: Total faith in the offering set up by God was ALL it would take to fix the problem.

God didn’t tell them to make the offering and then set out to please Him by building a great Temple or helping a little old lady across the camp’s major camel traffic lane… What God provided was complete. Numbers 19:4 Next Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger and sprinkle some of its blood toward the front of the tent of meeting seven times.

Eleazar took a small amount of the blood from the animal onto his fingers and sprinkled it toward the very heart of the camp, where the Mishkan – the “Tent of meeting” stood. He didn’t do it once – he was commanded to be careful to do it SEVEN TIMES. You needn’t look hard in the Bible to find out that God likes the number seven. The Bible opens with the story of the complete cycle of the week in Genesis 1:1-2:3 – the story of the seven days. Pass the Torah and its many references to the Shabbat every seventh day and pause to look at Joshua marching around Jericho for seven days, complete with seven blasts on the trumpet on the seventh pass of the seventh day. Pick up Joshua 6 and you will read these words:

Joshua 6:4 “Also seven priests shall carry seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark; then on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. 5 “It shall be that when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people will go up every man straight ahead.”

We could go all the way through the Bible, where we would finally end in Revelation with a judgment of seven seals in Revelation 6, followed by seven trumpets in Revelation 8-9 and seven bowls in Revelation 16.

Here is the point: Seven was the perfect number of completion. It was the JUST RIGHT that Goldilocks was searching for in the den of the bears. It was COMPLETE.

Element Five: The solution was in death and a blood sacrifice.

Sometimes in our modern world, that offends our sensitivities. We are, thankfully, a “save the whales” community. We don’t kill animals just for the fun of it. There are sportsmen – but they will tell you that they do not attempt to be cruel to the prey in the hunt. Focus on the end of verse four and the phrase: “…sprinkle some of its blood toward the front of the tent of meeting seven times.”

Blood was the perfect cleansing solution. It came from a young cow that had one color hair and never had a yoke placed upon it, nor was she ever calved. The sacrifice was PURE and UNBLEMISHED – spotless of its own accord – and cut open and bled. Again the line sketch is filled in with color much later by the writer to the Hebrews in chapter 9:

Hebrews 9:11 “But when Christ appeared …12… through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? … 19 For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “THIS IS THE BLOOD OF THE COVENANT WHICH GOD COMMANDED YOU.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. 22 And according to the Law, [one may] almost [say], all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”

The life blood was the highest price one could pay. When you give up your life, you give all – and that is exactly what Jesus did. Nothing less than a full and complete sacrifice would do in God’s system of dealing with rebellion.

Let me be clear: Someone will pay for your sin. It will be YOU in eternal judgment, or it will be JESUS covering you with His blood because you CHOSE to trust in Him and Him alone for your salvation. There are no other options.

• You cannot work your way in: For Ephesians 2 expressly says: 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [it is] the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

• You will not “will power” your way to doing right deeds to balance the scales in your favor. Romans 5 states our position without Jesus very clearly: 6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. We, apart from the work Jesus did at the Cross for us – are completely HOPELESS and HELPLESS.

We must never fail to be absolutely clear about this ONE THING: Jesus is THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life. He said it clearly in John 14:6 “No one comes to the Father by but me!

Element Six: Tossed into the sacrificial fire were reminders of the sickness of man and the prescription for the cure.

Number 19 continues with a strange mentioning of some items that were tossed into the fire as the sacrificial red heifer was reduced to ashes in a fire. Numbers 19:5 “Then the heifer shall be burned in his sight; its hide and its flesh and its blood, with its refuse, shall be burned. 6 The priest shall take cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet [material] and cast it into the midst of the burning heifer.”

The animal was thoroughly inspected. The Mishnah reminds that even two hairs of another color would disqualify the animal for sacrifice. The heifer was fully inspected, and being found blameless – it was put to death. Luke reminds us of that scene in the sacrifice of Jesus, where He was found guiltless – but nevertheless killed… Luke 23:4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” 5 But they kept on insisting, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching all over Judea, starting from Galilee even as far as this place.

The animal was slaughtered, and the carcass was burnt, but the bones were not broken, reduced by the fire itself. John 19:36 made the point that at the death of Jesus “For these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, “NOT A BONE OF HIM SHALL BE BROKEN.”

While the heifer was burnt, the priest would tossed in cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet into the sacrificial fire. These three elements are not only found HERE, but also in Leviticus 14:4 as part of the cleansing and restoration of a LEPER.

  • The cedar was an important wood in ancient times – possessing resistance to disease and rot. It is impossible to know what kind of wood the sacrifice of Jesus took place upon – but it is no stretch to understand that a piece of WOOD was prominent in the story or redemption at the CROSS>
  • The hyssop was used to offer Jesus a drink on the cross (Matthew 27:48), but was a poetic expression in the Bible for cleansing – as in Psalm 51:7, when David said “purge me with hyssop” — admitting he was a bad as a leper. It was used to put the blood of the lamb on the door post at the Exodus.
  • The scarlet was the color of the mocking “king’s robe” put on Jesus at His torture by the soldiers (Matthew 27:28). A cloth of the wealthy, Luke reminds us that Pilate and Herod Antipas became friends over the JOKE of King Jesus passed between them that day.

The object is not to become obsessed with symbolism, but it is also to be able to understand the connection between the model and its fulfillment. God knew what He was doing from the beginning of Creation – and we can trust the plan is unfolding as He planned.

Babbie Mason wrote these words, “God is too wise to be mistaken. God is too good to be unkind. When you don’t understand and can’t see His plan, when you can’t trace His hand, TRUST HIS HEART.” This is one aspect of properly understanding the wonder of God’s Word.

God planned very carefully the details of our redemption – and offered pictures long before to make the process clear.

Let me close this lesson with a word of warning. God unfolds His plan over ions of time – but you and I don’t have eternity to make up our minds to follow Him. We live, staring in the face of a ticking clock. The days of our lives are numbered, but unknown to us.

There is a fable which tells of three apprentice devils who were coming to this earth to finish their apprenticeship. They were talking to Satan, the chief of the devils, about their plans to tempt and to ruin men. The first said, “I will tell them that there is no God.” Satan said, “That will not delude many, for they know that there is a God.” The second said, “I will tell men that there is no hell.” Satan answered, “You will deceive no one that way; men know even now that there is a hell for sin.” The third said, “I will tell men that there is no hurry.” “Go,” said Satan, “and you will ruin men by the thousands.” (William Barclay: The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 2 [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975], p. 317. From a sermon by Matthew Kratz, The parable of the Faithful & Wise Servant, 7/17/2010)

The most dangerous delusion is that delay is acceptable because there is plenty of time.

Knowing Jesus: “The Season’s End” – John 16:5-33

season end1The hardest moment for one who has been in the spotlight of adulation, is when the lights go off. When the season ends, many stars of the field don’t know how to live OFF the field. They seem to survive, and even thrive on the roar of the crowds, and the hounding of the fans. I am sure it seems like a hassle, but the fame brings a rush to their soul – and they become addicted to the popularity.

Can you imagine being the losing candidate for the office of the President of the United States? What is getting up the morning after that loss like? For two solid years, you changed shirts in a moving bus, met countless people, flew across the country, were hounded night and day… your every word was a recorded statement. Your every expense was scrutinized. You couldn’t speak ad lib, nor could you get a nap when you were completely exhausted. You plowed endlessly, spoke powerfully, pondered aloud insightfully….and then suddenly… nobody, not anyone of importance… seemed to care what you thought. Who remembers the names of all the losers? They are left for obscure trivia games and memory buffs.

I mention this because it happened long ago to the followers of Jesus in the Gospel account we have been studying together. This “season end” was something recorded in the Gospel accounts that is incredibly instructive to our time. When the disciples reclined at the table of the Last Supper and then walked down the hill of Jerusalem on the night in which Jesus was betrayed they faced a huge change. They went from walking at the center of crowd’s affirmation and attention of the crowds to becoming an underground movement – struggling for their very existence. Fame is fleeting, and popular movements have a way of becoming a sword against the once lauded…

Why is this lesson so incredibly important? Beloved, we may well be living a “change of season” again. It may not last – another revival of truth may be rising again. We are working for it. We are praying for it. We are longing for it. At the same time – like the Cross itself – it may not be the Father’s will to turn our nation again to its knees. If it is not – we will need each lesson from the hours of instruction Jesus gave on the “night of the reversal of fortune for the disciples” all over again.

Key Principle: When our message goes from accepted to despised, we have a plan, a partner and a promise.

It was only hours before the nails, the lashes and the thorns. Jesus felt the end coming, and the weight of man’s sin was already pressing upon Him. The Spirit of God flooded John’s mind with the powerful memories – the sights, smells and the sound of the Master’s voice. The last night of Jesus’ teaching was recalled in great detail.

First, the seven important teachings were recorded in John 13 and 14 were from the “Upper Room” sayings of Jesus, earlier in the evening around the dinner table.

Cleaning was required to be a part of Jesus’ team: Jesus explained cleansing to His men as the basis of our relationship to God (John 13:4-20). This was the essential precursor to a relationship with God, and contained a necessary maintaining act to enable us to follow the marked path for life God provided.

The battle wasn’t on in the physical world: Jesus removed the cloak over the battle with His enemy (John 13:22-30). Jesus knew that for His people to follow God, they would need to be shown the markers of the spiritual struggle. They would stand against the powers of darkness – and they would need to learn to see what they were really fighting.

His departure was planned, and their work together was essential: Jesus explained His course – it began with a departure (John 13:31-38). Jesus wanted them to know that NO WILL POWER was sufficient to carry them through the days and hours ahead. They would NEED each other. They would need to care for one another in their wounds. They would need to be HUMBLE and not BOASTFUL, other person centered and not self-centered.

Jesus wasn’t done in His first trip here: He proclaimed another coming – but leaving served a vital purpose (John 14:1-6). He wasn’t abandoning them – He was working on their behalf in another place – preparing for their coming. He promised to rejoin them and bring them home to a wedding feast.

Jesus wasn’t just a well-intentioned teacher: He described His connection with the Father in Heaven (John 14:7-15). How could He make the bold claim that He will return? How can we elevate this builder from ancient Nazareth to the level of one that can surpass time and space, and even conquer death? Jesus unflinchingly claimed a relationship with God that was a direct reflection of the Father’s will, the Father’s power, and the Father’s access. A mere human Jesus, an ancient humble teacher, an honorable actor on humanity’s stage – leaves man LOST and UNFORGIVEN.

Help was on the way: Jesus explained the Comforter to come (John 14:16-25). He claimed that His departure would not leave the disciples alone, but the Spirit would be our constant companion until our Prince returns.

Jesus left simple instructions: Jesus outlined the call to follow Him (John 14:27-31): The call included walking in peace (14:27), rejoicing in Jesus’ work (14:28), recognizing the greatness of the Father (14:28b), trusting in His Word (14:29) and moving out from the protection of the huddle (14:31).

Out the door into the night air they walked. With each step He was saying a goodbye that was painful and accepting the harsh blows that would soon be His. The walk was filled with His words in John 15 and 16 – reminders of the journey from the Upper Room to Gethsemane where Jesus touched on six subjects (recalled by John):

The follower’s attachment to Jesus – Vine and Branches (John 15:1-11): Without constant drawing from the source of strength in Jesus – the followers would fail. No other source could replace their utter dependence on His work done for them, and His power flowing through them!

The follower’s relationship to other followers – Love one another (John 15:12-17): Jesus commanded followers to imitate His love – seen in His availability, His compassion, and His hunger to help the hurting.

The follower’s relationship to the lost world – expect trouble ahead (15:18-16:4). Jesus promised they would be increasingly unpopular, unloved, falsely accused, and badly treated – just as He was about to be. They were to stay the course and speak His Word regardless of its popularity or common acceptance.

All of these teachings we have seen in our journey – but the last three of these six teachings we want to focus on for a few minutes. These incredible words offer a PARTNER, a PLAN, and an important PROMISE to the believer who faces a change of the winds of popularity.

The Partner

The follower’s relationship to the coming Holy Spirit – you have a coming helper (John 16:5-14): Jesus came back to the theme from the Upper Room (cp. John 14:16-25) and added that this new helper would make the truth shine through them.

Before we get lost in the many words that have been spoken concerning God’s Spirit in the modern church, stop and examine what Jesus said about our partner…

First, Jesus made the point that His followers needn’t be saddened that He is not walking among us now, because the Spirit offers us something even greater than His physical presence with His disciples (16:5-7). He said:

John 16:5 “But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ 6 “But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.

Second, Jesus made it clear the Spirit was sent here on a three-part mission from Heaven:

John 16:8 “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. 12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear [them] now. 13 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose [it] to you.

Take that apart, and you will see that the Spirit has these three objectives:

First, He will work in the LOST to bring conviction that He spoke and lived the truth (16:8-9) and help them become convinced He is exactly Who He claimed to be (15:9). Look at what a comfort that truth is!

o We do not ARGUE people into the Kingdom of God.
o We don’t PROTEST them into the throne room of the King.
o We don’t SHAME them into following Jesus.

We teach His Word – and do it with love and grace. We accept their harsh words, as those who “know not what they are doing” but stand un-apologetically by the Word of the King.

How does that “weak” and “un-aggressive” method work in such a “dog eat dog” world? It works incredibly well – because the transformation isn’t dependent on our snappy methodology and our pointed arguments – it is underscored by the work of the Spirit of the Living God! It is by His power, His conviction, His permeation of the hardest heart – that lives are pulled from darkness to light. We carry the message; He brings the convicting power. We have the privilege of laboring beside the powerful partner of the Spirit of God.

Second, He will work in the HARDENED MEN to bring about the signs of judgment that are already planned for those who maintain a mutiny against God (16:11).

The Spirit will make it clear, even to the most casual observer, that apart from the Word of God and the work of God – things are heading the wrong way. An example? When the Boy Scouts last week looked squarely in the face of their LOGO bears the phrase ‘Timeless Values’ and then voted to change positions to openly accept homosexuality in its ranks – they established clearly the organization’s values are not timeless, but governed by changing tides of polls, politics and public opinion.

I like what John Stemberger said: “The BSA is teaching our kids that when your values become unpopular, just change them. …when your convictions are challenged, just cave to peer pressure…The BSA is teaching our kids that public opinion polls are more important than principles. Today, the BSA is teaching our kids that you should not stand up for what is right instead you should stand up for what is popular….The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to “prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Scout Law…BSA is teaching our kids through its new mission that we don’t make ethical and moral choices through the values of the Scout Oath and Scout Law but we make them like a rank Washington DC politician, by putting your finger in the air and seeing which way the wind is blowing or by looking at the latest polling results…What kind of a message are we sending to young people about being brave when its top adult leaders don’t even have the courage to stand up to the peer pressure of their own adult peers when the bullies in Washington DC, Hollywood or even some of their own renegade councils start pressuring and harassing them?

We didn’t want this change. We don’t believe that such a position will teach true masculinity – nor do we any longer believe those who promoted this change even understand the concept apart from the winds of culture. The Bible has definitive words about what a man and woman are, and what they were made to be for each other. The Bible has words about the behaviors this group now endorses. If you put your young boy in that place, expect to reap a whirlwind of trouble – because trouble is coming.

Churches will withdraw our support, and the government – ever ready to pick up the slack to promote a “new morality” will step in. What happened with daycare a decade ago will now happen with scouting – we will find increasing numbers accepting government help at the expense of being able to speak plain truth. Frankly, young boys might as well be lumped with young girls and camp together – if there is to be no moral distinction about sexuality. Make no mistake: this social experiment will end up devastating lives.

Is there a precedent? Sure there is. Under the guise of “fairness” our politicians thrust women into combat units. The aftermath is a raft of complaints of all kinds of sexual harassment. What do we do about it? More courts, more trials, more regulations, more laws – fewer safe places and even fewer consistent values. In the absence of a decimated morality –all we can do is continually sue each other.

Do we despair? No, because truth – though languishing – is not dead. The Spirit of God is at work convicting people in the world that their solutions just aren’t working. People keep chipping away at all vestiges of the Bible in our modern life – but they feel less safe. They see the uncertainty rising, and they feel something is wrong. We don’t have to get in their faces – they will see it when they sit beside the bed of a boy scout that suffers the effects of this ridiculous kowtowing to a minority of senseless bullies.

Finally, Jesus didn’t ONLY tell us what the Spirit would do in the UNBELIEVER. He also carefully told us that our Spirit partner in the work was going to do some incredible things in OUR LIVES.

• The Spirit will work in the BELIEVER to point out error – as Jesus did when He was walking with them (16:10).

• The Spirit will bring further revealed words (16:12) to add to the explanations the Savior offered us.

• The Spirit will remind the believer of God’s Word, guiding the believer in the meanings of the words (16:13a).

• The Spirit will lead us to more deeply worship and adore Jesus (16:13b).

• The Spirit will warn us of the turns in the road ahead in future events (16:13b).

• The Spirit was given to care for us (16:14).

Our partner is the HOLY SPIRIT, and that makes our message far more powerful and our lives far more sensitive to God’s leading. We have a partner, but we have more… we have a plan…

The Plan

The follower’s relationship to Jesus at a distance – with the departure of Jesus the time for tears was near (16:15-22). For the men that walked with Him, the transition to prayer was going to take some adjustment. Jesus told the men three things:

First, since all the Father’s knowledge and possessions are also His, and He knew the departure was about to happen (16:15-16). John 16:15 “All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose [it] to you. 16 “A little while, and you will no longer see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.

Second, He knew the hearts of men and what confused them (16:17-19). John 16:17 [Some] of His disciples then said to one another, “What is this thing He is telling us, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I go to the Father’?” 18 So they were saying, “What is this that He says, ‘A little while? We do not know what He is talking about.” 19 Jesus knew that they wished to question Him, and He said to them, “Are you deliberating together about this, that I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me, and again a little while, and you will see Me’?

Third, He knew the tears they were about to shed would quickly give way to an unstoppable joy! (16:20-22). John 16:20 “Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy. 21 “Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. 22 “Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one [will] take your joy away from you.

Beloved, we have seen this all the way through Scripture. Despite the voices of those who try to drown out sound principle with popular pablum – God hasn’t directed our lives to always be easy. He walked the disciples through the pain and loss – so that He could lead them into JOY. Paul captured it so well in Romans 8:18 “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. … 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for [our] adoption as sons, the redemption of our body…”

The partner is the Spirit of God. The plan is to pass through the troubles and pain and continue in stubborn JOY, awaiting God’s promise to make all things new again! Yet, there is something more… there is the PROMISE of God.

The Promise

The follower’s relationship to Jesus’ promises – they would need to grow in trust of what He told them to get through the days ahead (John 16:23-33).

Jesus promised that God would supply any need we had in the mission, because we asked it in the name of our Master. John 16:23 “In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. 24 “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.

Jesus promised that the Word would get CLEARER – not fuzzier. He would be even MORE DIRECT than He was walking the hills of Galilee long ago. John 16:25 “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; an hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but will tell you plainly of the Father.

Jesus said that we would have access to the Father directly, and He would respond in LOVE, because we have followed the Son. John 16:26 “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father.

Jesus promised that even though the disciples appeared to understand the Word of Jesus clearly, they would find following Him difficult in the days ahead – when the pressure was turned on them. John 16:28 “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again and going to the Father.” 29 His disciples said, “Lo, now You are speaking plainly and are not using a figure of speech. 30 “Now we know that You know all things, and have no need for anyone to question You; by this we believe that You came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 “Behold, an hour is coming, and has [already] come, for you to be scattered, each to his own [home], and to leave Me alone; and [yet] I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.

Jesus promised that in the final day – there would be no one to defeat Him. He will overcome all who attempt a final mutiny. No one, no one, no one …will stand before the power of His Word. John 16:33 “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

Near the final words of the Bible are the fulfilling words in Revelation 19:11-18:

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it [is] called Faithful and true, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. 12 His eyes [are] a flame of fire, and on His head [are] many diadems; … 13 [He is] clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white [and] clean, were following Him on white horses. 15 From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. 16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” 17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which fly in midheaven, “Come, assemble for the great supper of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great. 19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. 20 And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. 21 And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.”

The collected bodies of mutinous men lay strewn about the earth before the power of the Words of the Savior. Let them rage against the truth. Our day of popularity may have passed – but the truth will not die. It is far too stubborn to be bent by the polls of men who press forward in their own folly.

They will ignore God’s principles – and break down the family – only to quadruple the need for public mental health services because of their social experimentation.

They will call truth intolerance, and redefine lust as love. They will make the lie believable and proclaim the truth as bigotry.

Do not run! Do not withdraw. We have a partner at work where they cannot see. We have a plan to stand through the storms affixed to the Word of the Master. We have a promise that NOTHING set up against Him will stand at His coming. Take courage, follower. Smile, we aren’t done yet.

When our message goes from accepted to despised, we have a plan, a partner and a promise.

Strength for the Journey: “Shooting Blanks” – Numbers 18

pregnant_womenMany Christian mothers – real followers of Jesus in the US today, admit to having a sinking feeling when they watch the news regarding the family. When the leader of our nation stood to proclaim “God bless Planned Parenthood!” many of them turned our heads, and across the nation – mom’s mouths dropped open. One of the most desperate injustices in our nation since the enslaving of the black man was just enshrined in a “Christian blessing” – and the sense of outrage for many was nearly unbearable. “What are we to do?” they asked across the web. No… this isn’t a partisan tirade about the President, nor a speech at a political fundraiser. Yet, the church, once the conscience of the nation, seems muddled in its response to truth on this Mother’s Day.

We celebrate motherhood in America – but we no longer revere it. We see child-bearing as an issue of convenience, not a privileged act. How dare we stand back in horror when women who were instructed that the life within is not sacred if not convenient, decide to have the baby but not raise the child well! Casey Anthony partied while her baby was not cared for – so said a public that largely condones that young women’s abortive rights. Yet it stands to perfect reason – if the very birth is subject to convenience, why not relegate the child as it is raised to the precinct of convenience? Why set aside time from a career to nurture a child if that little one is for my benefit, and should fit into my plan? Why give up prestige, position, influence and even fun – for the sake of a child – if they are supposed to be an extension of that which is convenient? With the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of unborn, we are training a generation how to think about their offspring – whether or not we intend to. We are taking the holy and blessed act of procreation and making it into an optional activity set to the whims of style and convenience.

Again, we look at a moral issue, and we are tempted to feel lost and powerless… and we are NOT. There IS an answer more powerful than protest, and more proactive than painful muttering. We can prayerfully, powerfully and purposefully engage our world with Jesus – and we MUST. As we study together, I hope it will become clear exactly what I mean by that – as it oozes from the Word’s lesson today.

Believers don’t want to back up further – we want to make an impact on our culture that is sliding over the moral edge. At the same time, we may feel like it isn’t working well. Can you identify with this story?

The leadership guru John Maxwell shared a story about a man at Pearl Harbor. According to John, the man went to a Bible study the night before Japan attacked. At the study, the man was unable to respond to a simple question: “Is there a specific verse or truth from the Bible that you are learning?” He was a Christian, but he was stagnant – and there was nothing coming to mind. Early the next morning, December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked. Strikingly, the guns on the ship he was aboard were all filled with blanks. The man aimed and fired for some fifteen minutes at the attacking force with fake ammunition. He gave his best aim, but had nothing to shoot that would help the situation.

In some ways, that is much of the body of Christ in America at this moment. There are reasons, and there are remedies. Why are we in the slide without power?

Our nation is filled with prayer-less churches. The smallest gathering in any church – even the best ones – is a prayer meeting. It is boring to many. It isn’t immediately fulfilling to some. “It takes too much time”, others say. We seek to do battle with the attacks of our enemy by placing on our armor, but abandoning the last part of Paul’s teaching to the Ephesians, when he said: “Praying always”.

Our nation is filled with needy churches. People who have been trained to hear self-improvement rather than self-discipline fill our pews. “What is in it for me?” worship has largely unseated “What does my Master desire?” services. We comes seeking a miracle, not the Miracle-worker. We come looking for a healing, but not truly desiring the Healer. Many of us, if we truly admit it, are here – year after year – in the church of need, and the church of self. If we felt no particular need, our attendance would be optional.

Our nation is filled with distracted churches. We are too often focused on joy in the wrong life. We are so active in bringing Heaven and its delight into the present world, we have lost the sense that fairness and free-flowing constant blessing is the promise of the world AFTER this one. We speak of Heaven at funerals, but swiftly turn back to earth for almost every other occasion. Prosperity has pulled our eyes from ABOVE to the earthly horizon beneath.

Consequently, our nation is filled with CLOSING and SHRINKING churches. It is not that the Devil has been found to offer something better. Our streets are not safer without the message of the Gospel. Our universities and schools do not produce more generous, more selfless, more gentle students without Christ. There is a brutishness and hardening to the effects of Darwinist philosophy.

Yet, our time is NOT DOOMED. We are not without remedies.

We are not alone in the fight. We have the power of the Savior, the union-producing bond of the Spirit, and the sharpened blade of the Word of God. We have an Intercessor, and we are servants of the Creator of all things. We are NOT VICTIMS of a world gone haywire in sin! We are ambassadors in a foreign land – a world that is NOT OUR HOME, and never WILL BE OUR HOME. If we will but heed the voice of the Master clearly recorded in His Word – the sharpened blade of truth will be our guardian as we move forward. He has chosen us to bear fruit, and He has empowered us to accomplish the task of delighting the Father.

To show where God taught this lesson, we want to go back in time to family fight of the tribes of Israel in a place where there was a challenge against the legitimacy of God’s rule over His people.

The smaller issue was the selection of the Aaronic priesthood, the larger issue was clear: Can God make the rules when they are not popular and don’t make complete sense to everyone under them? God responded with a sign of life and new growth for those who would yield. To those who would not, He showed a sign of terrible sickness:

Numbers 17:8 Now on the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds. … 10 …the LORD said to Moses, “Put back the rod of Aaron before the testimony to be kept as a sign against the rebels, that you may put an end to their grumblings against Me, so that they will not die.” … 12 Then the sons of Israel spoke to Moses, saying, “Behold, we perish, we are dying, we are all dying!

There issue was WHO GOD CHOSE TO LEAD THEM, our issues are something else. Yet it all comes down to the same basic issue. Is God in charge? The people snubbed God’s Word concerning leaders – and tried to redraw the lines of standards – much like the moral line re-drawing going on in our day with the definition marriage, the right of God to predefine the sexual identity of each person, and the sacredness of human life in every form. The laws of our nation are moving from the familiar base of the Bible to the unchallengeable and brutish worship of the god of science.

God’s response was to reiterate the priesthood, and tell others to pick up a bucket and start helping. He made clear who would care for sin, who would help them in practical service, and who was ineligible to assist in any of the issue. In eternal principles, He is doing the same thing today.

Key Principle: God called US out of our community to act on His behalf and serve Him. We are the hands and feet of Jesus to our neighbors and our nation – and that is where our impact will be most acutely felt – when we do it HIS WAY.

Tucked in a story of Israel in the desert, God offered six important principles about making an impact for God in our generation:

Six Principles to Impact a Generation

Before God did anything else, He showed the people how SIN would be cared for in His system. We have no impact without the message of salvation placed right out front.

1: We will not make an impact until we make clear how sin is dealt with. God appointed interceding priests to interceded and bear guilt for sin, (in the case of the High Priest) directly handling the message of forgiveness (18:1,5,8).

Numbers 18:1 So the LORD said to Aaron, “You and your sons and your father’s household with you shall bear the guilt in connection with the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear the guilt in connection with your priesthood…5 “So you shall attend to the obligations of the sanctuary and the obligations of the altar, so that there will no longer be wrath on the sons of Israel…8 Then the LORD spoke to Aaron, “Now behold, I Myself have given you charge of My offerings, even all the holy gifts of the sons of Israel I have given them to you as a portion and to your sons as a perpetual allotment.

Clearly, under the Law of God – a Priest was to intercede for a man in matters of sin. A sacrifice was offered to abate God’s wrath – or nothing else mattered. If God is against you – who can be FOR you? That was true them, and is true today. It is important that we understand how SIN is cared for before we try to offer any help to the world. It is the greatest feature of our message – the good news that we can be freed from bondage to selfish service and sinful practice.

Instead of an Aaronic priesthood, we have the Priest who handled the sacrifice at Calvary. Hebrews 5:6 names Jesus as the priest for the believer of the church age. Hebrews 7 clearly argued that He offered a fully effective and complete offering for our sin, and He did it by offering HIMSELF! Hebrews 9:12 (ESV) says: “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”

Let me be very clear: you must choose to accept God’s priest, or you will suffer – just as those long ago suffered because of their rejection of the priests chosen by God.

Churches that tell you that they alone can offer you salvation, have not accepted the direct relationship we have with one intercessor – Jesus Christ. When a church attempts to stand between you and God and offer salvation only through their procedings, they deny the truth of the Scripture: 1 Timothy 2:5 says: “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Churches that offer a system of hard work to get to Heaven – some list that you can perform in order to be made right before God, deny the essence of the gift of God in the Gospel: Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [it is] the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

God gave you a way to know Him – accepting the sacrifice of Jesus on your behalf. We need to deal with sin before we deal with any other issue. At the same time, if you try another way – you will find yourself unaccepted. God makes the rules, and God knows what satisfies Him.

The church must powerfully and unashamedly remind people that Jesus came to save sinners – and we are the very sinners He came to save. We cannot shrink into sermonic “self-help sessions” on Sunday and “helping the poor social philanthropy” through the week to interface with our community – without clear pronouncement of the lost-ness of men and the Good News of Jesus. Without the Gospel, the church is a “mute band of do-gooders” that focus merely on the fallen condition of this world. Yet, it was not that way in the early years. Any careful study of the New Testament will yield this observation: the message preached by the Apostles focused on the life after this one, and the need to have sin dealt with before we stand before God.

2: Impact is muted when we – the servants – do not understand our position and purpose. God gave interceding priests some appointed helpers to act practically care for His ministry (18:2-3, 7a).

18:2 “But bring with you also your brothers, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, that they may be joined with you and serve you, while you and your sons with you are before the tent of the testimony. 3 “And they shall thus attend to your obligation and the obligation of all the tent, but they shall not come near to the furnishings of the sanctuary and the altar, or both they and you will die… 7 “But you and your sons with you shall attend to your priesthood for everything concerning the altar and inside the veil, and you are to perform service. …”

In Israel, Levites helped priests. They were born into the service of God and service to the priest. In the church, you were BORN AGAIN into the service of God and His Priest – Jesus the Messiah. He is the sacrificial lamb, but He is also the Priest of the perfect sacrifice – Himself.

Look at the instructions:

• Put the servants close to the priests (18:2). Is it too much of a stretch of the passage to suggest that the servants of the priest are most effective when they are NEAR the priests? It certainly is TRUE. Your close walk with Jesus will make you effective.

• Make sure the servants attend to the needs of the priests (18:3). We are most effective when we are attending to what our Priest has told us to do!

• The purpose of the servant is to bless the priest – to perform service for Him and to Him (18:6).

• The work of the servant on behalf of the priest is a holy work for which he was selected. It is the stewardship of an entrusted and vital work of caring for men and women God is forgiving and growing (18:7).

As long as we believe the focus of the Christian message is really about God serving US – we will miss our role as servants of God. When we grasp that we are His workmanship, created to do the works that please Him, we will begin to make a real difference in our workplace, and our community. Servants of self with theological training and a healthy vocabulary of “God words” help no one. We cannot drive forward safely while focused on ourselves in the mirror.

3: Impact is hampered when servants don’t accept that the Master alone makes the rules. Here is the fact: No servant could be from the outside (18:4, 23).

God was less concerned with seeming democratic and inclusive than many are in the modern church today. He was less worried about a recruiting job, then He was about making sure those who were serving we TRULY THE ONES HE CHOSE to do so. There was a very important and unbendable restriction…

18:4 “They shall be joined with you and attend to the obligations of the tent of meeting, for all the service of the tent; but an outsider may not come near you….23 “Only the Levites shall perform the service of the tent of meeting…”

• Her worship team bands must come from among believers – for one cannot lead in worship if one does not have a relationship with God in Messiah.

• Her operations, services and missions must be staffed solely with those who have been BORN into that service – no outside will do. That may seem to the world bigoted, intolerant and undemocratic… but God’s work is not up for a vote. God is still under the impression that what He created is for Him and He can establish the rules over it.

God said only Levites could serve in the Tabernacle. Period… Now let’s be honest: God seems a bit “out of touch” here, don’t you think? He doesn’t seem to realize that some of the more talented singers may not have been born Levites! A few Asherites could really carry a tune…

Here is the problem: Every attempt to make different rules than the Master is another manifestation of the spirit of mutiny within man. I hear echoes of how women shouldn’t be restricted from the Pastorate because they are so capable and so talented – and so educated. How intolerant to take the clear arguments of the Bible and stand by them when there is such a shift in public understanding!

Let me say it lovingly, but clearly. The church doesn’t belong to us, and we don’t get to write the rules. God already did. The same arguments used to invite women into the Pastorate could be used to invite Asher’s children into Tabernacle service. If we aren’t going to follow clear, concise and pointed argument of the Scriptures as we define our church polity – we aren’t going to follow what God expressly said. When we make up our own rules, people in our culture may be more comfortable, and we may seem more relevant. The fact is, however, our work for God becomes in that moment our work for our community, and our own acceptance. It isn’t HIS WORK unless we do it HIS WAY. Every compromise of God’s Word – even when it is well received by the world – kills the believer’s ultimate impact.

4: Impact is enhanced when servants are fully dependent on their Master for provision. God commanded a means of provision for His servants (18:9-19).

God indicated four precious promises concerning His provisions to the Levites:

God’s provision is holy – it should not be accepted lightly. We should be ever so thankful for the richness of God’s provision for us and our families. We are servants, and our Master has cared for us well: 18:9 “This shall be yours …[it] shall be most holy for you and for your sons. 10 “As the most holy [gifts] you shall eat it; every male shall eat it. It shall be holy to you. We don’t WORSHIP the provision – we use it. At the same time, as we do, we recognize the distinctive importance of using it well.

God’s provision is encouraging because it is one of the many ways we see Him keep His word. 18:11 “This also is yours, the offering of their gift, even all the wave offerings of the sons of Israel; I have given them to you and to your sons and daughters with you as a perpetual allotment. Everyone of your household who is clean may eat it… 19 … It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the LORD to you and your descendants with you.” Believers serve our Priest, our Master. He gives us the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe. He has abundantly blessed us above most any on the earth. We must see it as His way of fulfilling His Word. Remember, salt in the Bible was a symbol of LOYALTY – and it is God’s faithfulness that keeps us supplied!

God’s provision is rich – He has not tossed loose scraps at us but wonderfully blessed us! 18:12 “All the best of the fresh oil and all the best of the fresh wine and of the grain, the first fruits of those which they give to the LORD, I give them to you. … 14 “Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours. How very good God has been to His servants! What a wonder to know His love, His provision, His care!

God’s provision is from His property – it is from God’s own portion – and we should handle it as we would HIS property! We use what He allows. We set aside for Him as He commands. 18:15 “Every first issue of the womb of all flesh, whether man or animal, which they offer to the LORD, shall be yours; nevertheless the firstborn of man you shall surely redeem, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem. 16 “As to their redemption price, from a month old you shall redeem them, by your valuation, five shekels in silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs. 17 “But the firstborn of an ox or the firstborn of a sheep or the firstborn of a goat, you shall not redeem; they are holy. You shall sprinkle their blood on the altar and shall offer up their fat in smoke [as] an offering by fire, for a soothing aroma to the LORD. 18 “Their meat shall be yours; it shall be yours like the breast of a wave offering and like the right thigh.

We are not Levites, but we are still servants of the Great Priest of the Living God. We are not receiving PROMISES in this passage, but PRINCIPLES. As God has dealt in the past with His servants, so He deals now with them – and He has kept a record of these principles to teach us!

Before we lose the illustration provided for us by God, let me mention two more principles that weigh heavily on my heart – when I look at the servants of Jesus today…

5: Impact is lost when servants don’t fully trust – and try to “hedge their bets”. Servants trust in God’s provision – and increasingly learn to have no trust in earthly provision (18:20-21, 23-24).

18:20 Then the LORD said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land nor own any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel…23 … among the sons of Israel they shall have no inheritance. 24 “For the tithe of the sons of Israel, which they offer as an offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance; therefore I have said concerning them, ‘They shall have no inheritance among the sons of Israel.’

The PROVISION of God came at a price – they wouldn’t be able to get what others around them got. They would have an inheritance from His hand – but none from the common system of their day. That is a huge issue for a servant today – just as it was for them! Let’s be clear: servants that put their trust in this world corrupt their trust in their Master. Hedging bets – one foot in trust of God and another is trust of this world’s supply – is not the way to go. Jesus reminded the wealthy and self-satisfied Laodicean Church that they made Him SICK in Revelation 3.

One Pastor commented in a message I heard long ago: “This is not some brash, rude and obnoxious group of sinners… not a group of murderers, a den of thieves, a meeting of town drunks and lushes, or a brothel of prostitutes in a seedy part of town … Jesus was addressing a church – people organized under the banner of being a force for God. What made Jesus sick to His stomach was a group that wanted to do operate church the way the world operated.” They wanted to focus on THIS WORLD. They wanted to seek RICHES in this life. They couldn’t take a profound stand on issues because they NEEDED APPROVAL in this culture.

I want people to want to be a part of our church. I don’t want to get in everyone’s face and make them uncomfortable. I am not trying to make God’s Word hard, or God’s love ineffective. God says we should hurt for people, and so we do:

• Hebrews 13:3 “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.”

• Proverbs 21:13 “Who so stops his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.”

• Luke 6:36 “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.”

Don’t for a moment think that we want to heartlessly and coldly condemn people – that isn’t true. I love the story about the old rabbi:

A rabbi was renowned for his personal piety. One day a devoted disciple was overjoyed meeting him walking on the way to the synagogue. The disciple loudly remarked, “Teacher, I love you!” The old man looked squarely into the face of the student and simply asked, “Do you know what hurts me, my son?” The disciple was puzzled. He stuttered, “I…I don’t understand your question, rabbi. I am trying to tell you how much you mean to me, and you confuse me with your irrelevant question”! “My question is neither confusing nor irrelevant,” retorted the rabbi. “If you do not know what hurts me, how can you truly love me?” 

I love that story because it reminds me that love begins with understanding and ends with help. The mark of a loving Christian is not to feel sorry for those who are in pain—but to help them. Love’s mere speech quickly evaporates but love’s true labor lingers, encouraging even the hurting heart.

I desperately want us to reach people where they are… but it will not be truly spiritually effective if we lose the distinctive voice of the Word – where the power of the Spirit of God is.

6: Finally, real servants have their most lasting impact when they recognize we don’t own even what we use. Even when God provides for the servants, they are to give from that provision (18:25-32).

18:25 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 26 “Moreover, you shall speak to the Levites and say to them, ‘When you take from the sons of Israel the tithe which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present an offering from it to the LORD, a tithe of the tithe. 27 Your offering shall be reckoned to you as the grain from the threshing floor or the full produce from the wine vat. 28 So you shall also present an offering to the LORD from your tithes, which you receive from the sons of Israel; and from it you shall give the LORD’S offering to Aaron the priest. 29 Out of all your gifts you shall present every offering due to the LORD, from all the best of them, the sacred part from them.’ 30 “You shall say to them, ‘When you have offered from it the best of it, then [the rest] shall be reckoned to the Levites as the product of the threshing floor, and as the product of the wine vat. 31 You may eat it anywhere, you and your households, for it is your compensation in return for your service in the tent of meeting. 32 You will bear no sin by reason of it when you have offered the best of it. But you shall not profane the sacred gifts of the sons of Israel, or you will die.'”

The gifts of God are given to us to STEWARD and give back to God. At the end, when all my life’s labors are over… when I stand face to face with my Savior, He will measure all my labors. My minutes will be scrutinized by the maker of time. My works will be judged by the One who gave all of Himself for His Father’s glory. IF…and I mean IF…there is ANY good thing I have done when the fire burns away the dross from my life’s work – the crown I will take is NOT FOR ME. It is to be cast at His feet. Can we not clearly see it? We steward God’s gifts and live for God’s honor and glory. It is our purpose, and it is our JOY!

God called US out of our community to act on His behalf and serve Him. We are the hands and feet of Jesus to our neighbors and our nation – and that is where our impact will be most acutely felt – when we do it HIS WAY.

There is a YouTube of Mercedes Benz automobile commercial that shows their safety test facility, and a car colliding with a cement wall. They invented and patented a uni-body construction that effectively makes a head on collision survivable. Many car companies copied the design to get the safety rating improved in testing. It seems to work very well. Someone asked the company spokesman as the car looped visually in crash after crash… “Why they do not enforce your company patent on the energy-absorbing car body? The man replied: “Because some things in life are too important not to share.” That is true. If it is true in regards to safety in this life, how much more in terms of eternal life?

One Hour, One Book – Ephesians (Class Notes)

ephesus1Introduction

The situation in the Roman Empire grew more tense with each passing month. Taxes were rising as the need to supply the expansion of the army became a growing strain. The once great “land owner” armies of the Republic had slowly given way to a professional fighting force from the time of Scipio Africanus and the Carthaginian Wars to the time of Nero (when Paul was writing). The Roman pubs (popinae) were filled with soldiers discussing the new fronts and continual offensives that had stretched the army to the breaking point.

By the time of Paul, the Roman army could not continue its expansions without the assimilation of new ranks from the conquered Barbarians. Yet, these Barbarians were not considered “true” Romans by the whole of the “rank and file”. A great many were brought in to the legions, trained and educated to understand the “civilization” that Rome offered. Still, the older native Italians did not assimilate them without some hostility. Many such Barbarians became the support troops to the Roman legions, guards and transport officers. Many of the harshest jobs or most painfully boring assignments were given them by an establishment that still quietly favored native Romans.

Perhaps such “civilized” barbarians were assigned the tedious work of guarding the prisoner Apostle. It may have been the quiet discrimination that he saw in the ranks that got him thinking about the problems of the Ephesian church. After all, was not the same kind of discouraging discrimination occurring in the small developing church? Teachers from Judea were assailing the small flock with the notion that God wanted all Gentiles to become Jews to in turn be followers of the Hebrew Messiah. Paul prayed continually that the small group of Gentile-born believers would not feel pressed into utter discouragement. The Spirit may have captivated Paul with the way the problem of assimilation was handled by the legions of Rome to assist him in his writings to the church. No doubt Paul used terminology and imagery from the army of Rome in his encouragement and instruction to the Ephesians; an obvious one is found in the armor passage of Ephesians 6:10ff. Both Paul and the Ephesian believers knew the way the assimilation problem was addressed by the Roman army. Note how Paul uses the provisions of the army as a pattern in his letter to the Ephesians about their own “assimilation” and status as believers.

In order for the Empire to gain the loyalty of the captured barbarian fighters, several provisions were given to them.

• First, they were offered a basic education in their new identity as Romans. They were expected to cease living as a barbarian, and understand their natural place in the order of the society (cp. Ephesians 1:5; 2:12,19). They also needed to understand those in stations above and below them (cp. Ephesians 3:10).

• Second, they were offered a piece of land, establishing an inheritance (cp. Ephesians 1:11) for the first time in their lives (as many were from roving and foraging tribal bands). With this land was a NAME and a FAMILY.

• Third, they were taught how to act as a true Roman, and how to become a “civilized” citizen (cp. Ephesians 4:1, 17-23).

• Fourth, they were trained in their rank and work as a soldier (Ephesians 4:8; 6:10ff). Though some served in key positions (some Emperors chose foreigners as personal guards), for the most part, they were given service positions of a lower station.

Under an emotional and spiritual attack by well meaning but misdirected first century Jewish believers, the small but growing band of believers at Ephesus had a “self-image” problem not unlike assimilated barbarian soldiers in the legions of Rome. They were caught up in the battle that defined much of Paul’s teaching and writing (i.e. the battle to see God’s commitment to Israel and to the Gentile world as separate but equal and linked priorities to God). Some were pressing the Ephesians to come under the covering of the covenant God made with the Jewish people at Sinai in order to follow after Jesus. In the end, the net effect was that same as many movements in Christianity through the ages – they were made to feel inadequate in what God called them to be if they did not do things the according to the standard of a certain group within the faith.

The same was true of other groups of believers, like the Corinthians (1 Cor. 7:18-20).

• The letter to the Ephesians was therefore to lift and encourage the beleaguered Gentile believers, and to assure them they were fully accepted by God apart from the covenant promise God was upholding eternally to the Jewish people.

• Beyond encouragement, the letter also offered a call to that small group to walk in a way that showed they were a part of the Kingdom.

• Finally, Paul warned them about being casual in their walk for the days were part of an ongoing battle that promised to continue until Jesus returned.

The book can be easily divided into three parts: The Call of the Believer (Encouragement, Chapters 1-3); The Conduct of the Believer (Instruction, Chapter 4:1-6:9); The Conflict of the Believer (Warning, 6:10-20).

The Historical Setting of the Writing:

Paul wrote the letter at about age 55 while he sat under house arrest in Rome. Other letters like Colossians and Philippians were written about this time.

Paul lived and traveled under five Imperial rulers in his life –

• Augustus (23 BCE-14 CE)
• Tiberius (14-37 CE)
• Caligula (37-41 CE)
• Claudius (41-54 CE)
• Nero (54-68 CE)

Augustus, Tiberius and Caligula were princeps during Paul’s unsaved life, and none seemed to care much of the beginnings of the Christian movement.

Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome because of unrest evoked by Christians: “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Emperor Claudius] expelled them from Rome” (Suetonius, Life of Claudius, 25:4; Acts 18:2).

Officially, Emperor Claudius died at around noon on 13 October 54. Unofficially, he died during the preceding night or just before dawn. The “missing” hours were needed for Agrippina, after having a significant hand in her husband’s death, to make the proper arrangements for the smooth transition of power. Initially, Agrippina made little effort to conceal her expectations control. She had several enemies openly killed, and was even found on coinage.

Though the first years of Nero’s reign (54−59) were widely regarded as excellent, the accession of Nero as the fifth “princeps” in 54 saw a young and inexperienced prince elevated to the most powerful office in the world, and it was a recipe for disaster. Nero initially did quite well, in particular because of the influence of advisors Seneca, Nero’s tutor and Burrus, the Praetorian Prefect, who held his vices in check. He ruled with reason and moderation on the surface. Behind the scenes, there were worrying indications as Nero chafed against the influence of his mother (who placed his counselors around him. As he grew into the role, he showed less and less interest in mundane administration, but treasured writing poetry and pursuing music, and the thrill of gaming. Agrippina his mother did not like what she saw. What she didn’t see was his deep drives in sexual vices.

Nero, at one point early fell in love with a freedwoman named Acte (55 CE). Seneca and Burrus tolerated the affair, but Agrippina was appalled. Agrippina publicly upbraided her son for his feelings, and began to extol the virtues of Britannicus (a possible rival to the throne). Nero had Britannicus poisoned and his mother removed to her own house, and her imperial guard was withdrawn. She faded from the coinage of Rome from that time. The next we hear of her is in the writings of Tacitus in the year 59.

By the year 59 CE, Paul was awaiting trial in Caesarea, and that year marked a turning point in Nero’s reign for three reasons:

• First, he performed on stage for the first time. Nero had been devoting himself to playing the lyre, singing, acting, and composing poetry. To put Nero’s desire to perform in perspective, we must appreciate the fact that stage performers usually came from the lower orders. The Roman aristocracy found them repellent. He knew his mother would never approve of such behavior.

• Second, he fell in love with Poppaea Sabina (of Pompeii): a beautiful woman that was in her second marriage when Nero and her rendezvoused in love (She was married to general Otho). She was later to die, likely being kicked to death while pregnant by Nero himself, if Suetonius is to be believed.

• Third, he killed his own mother. An ex-slave called Anicetus built a collapsible boat to make the murder look like a maritime accident. When she survived, Nero dispatched with a column of troops, who surrounded the villa, and Agrippina was then hacked to death by her son’s soldiers.

Later in 59 Nero indulged a fantasy and donned racing chariots, an even newer low for the Roman princeps. His lyre-playing and singing annoyed the social upper classes. By the year 60 CE, Nero staged the “Neronia” (humbly named after the sponsor!): a literary, musical, gymnastic, and equestrian competition modeled on Greek spectacles.

Paul likely met Nero for his first hearing in the end of the year 61 CE (following William Ramsey’s date) or perhaps in year 62 CE.. He had been staying at his own expense under guard in a small area close to the Tiber (near or at San Paolo alla Regola in Rome) where tanners and dyers had their operations. He lived in modest chambers and offered us letters like Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. Particularly in Philippians, one can see the hope of the future, as Paul felt optimistic that he could explain his faith in non-threatening terms to the state. He wrote to the Philippians toward the end of his house arrest, anticipating the trial with confidence:

Phil 1:12 “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, 13 so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, 14and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.

In essence, the charge made against him regarded an issue for Jewish courts – the violation of a barrier in the Temple past which he was accused of taking a non-Jew. It was not a capital crime, and Paul felt he could argue effectively. Dr. Luke apparently volunteered to come along with Paul in his transport, which implies openly that he traveled as his slave to Rome in Acts 28 (or would not have been afforded the opportunity). He suffered the shipwreck on the way, but offered the confidence and hope Paul needed on cold nights facing his trial. During the time of his house arrest, Paul seems to have sent his companions on deliveries (Luke may have carried Philippians, Aristarchus and Epaphrus were sent back toward Asia Minor. Demas was with him, but Paul had doubts about his reliability. The last part of his time in Rome he was mostly alone, but he was soon released and began to travel again.

While in Rome in the year 62 CE, an earthquake (subduction in the Bay of Naples) caused a tsunami with a tidal wave that swamped the ships at Ostia harbor near to Rome, ruining as much as one third of the Alexandrian grain. Coins were minted to show the people that all was well in spite of the disaster, but Nero must have found himself scrambling to meet the needs of the people for bread in that year. Paul was released to travel more between the years 62 and 65.

Each of the “Prison Epistles” share a common organization that reflected something important about Paul’s practice during this confinement. Each began with a specific prayer (cp. Ephesians 1:15-23; Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:9-12) that Paul continually offered for the believers in that city. The prayer, when examined carefully, yields the outline of the argument of the letter. In essence, the prayer’s answer was (at least in part) the revelation God offered to them through Paul’s pen. It is worth remembering that God’s answer came through Paul’s systematic obedience, day after day, praying that God would answer a need. Eventually, God did answer. Paul had the joy of not simply “getting” an answer to his prayer; he got to “be” an answer to the prayer! Think of it! We have these letters, in part because one believer prayed for others! What can God change for future believers because of YOUR faithfulness?

Let’s look carefully at the prayer in this letter. In Ephesians 1:15-23 Paul prayed continuously that God would reveal to them (1:16-17) three specific things: 1) an understanding of the hope of their calling (18a); 2) a knowledge of the rich inheritance that those distinctly called to God’s Kingdom could exhibit (18b); 3) an absolute trust in God’s unstoppable might in the midst of any conflict (19-23). One can make a direct link to the argument of the letter for each of these three revelations. The first (understanding the promise of their calling) is directly related to chapters one through three. The second (their distinction of inheritance) relates thoroughly to the conduct portion of the book (4:1-6:9) where Paul calls on them to walk in a manner worthy of their inheritance, or their “distinctive class” in the society (4:1). The third (grasping God’s might) can easily be linked to the third section (6:10-24) concerning the protection God has supplied for the battle of the Christian life. The outline of the letter, then, is internal and expressed through the prayer of Paul in the beginning. If you look carefully, the same pattern exists in each of the “Prison Epistles”.

Part One. The Call of the Believer (Chapters 1-3)

Chapter 1. The Divine Heritage: What can lift a believer that is suffering in an attack on his life and testimony?

Ephesians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and [who are] faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly [places] in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, [that is], the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. 13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation– having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of [God’s own] possession, to the praise of His glory. 15 For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which [exists] among you and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention [of you] in my prayers; 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 [I pray that] the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. [These are] in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly [places], 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

Paul carefully exposed the hope (or more accurately “solid assurance”) of the calling of each Ephesian believer in three ways in the beginning of the letter. First, he reminded them of the unique heritage God bestowed on them. As with a physical son, blessings were bestowed by virtue of their birth into a powerful and wealthy family (Ephesians 1). Continuing this encouragement, Paul moved into the initiative of God in their blessing. They were not simply sons, they were chosen (as in adoption). They were the object of God’s great affection (Ephesians 2). Finally, Paul openly proclaimed they were not a secondary idea in the plan of God, they were part of the fabric of His design and choosing (Ephesians 3).

All of us go through times of feeling a distance with God, times of testing in our walk and times we cannot see clearly through the fog of this world into the beauty and purposes of the next. The church of Ephesus was set in a town that was glorious, but commercially declining. It was a town in which hostility came easily to anything that would undo the tradition and history of the place and its pagan goddess, Diana (cp. Acts 19:27). Paul wrote to the local body of believers that had come from a pagan lifestyle (Eph. 2:11; 3:1) in an effort to lift them spiritually, as well as to assure them that they were fully accepted by God, a teaching that ran contrary to the Judaizers that were attempting to bring the believers into the bondage of acting out a covenant that was not made with them at Sinai.

Chapter 1. After greeting them (1:1-2), Paul set out to encourage the Ephesian believers as he told them that he continually praised God because of the work God did on their behalf:

• He chose them to be distinctly set apart (3,4).
• He adopted them (as Gentiles!) in the work of Jesus deliberately (5-7), wisely and willfully (8,9) to bring everything together under Christ’s mighty rule (10).
• He purposely gave them an inheritance that they may be the first of many to praise and glorify God (11,12) when they trusted His Word and were cemented into a relationship through the Spirit’s power (13).
• He gave His Spirit as a promise of the new inheritance to reassure them (14).
• When Paul heard about their faith he began praising God for this (15,16) constantly praying that they would receive more wisdom and Divinely uncovered truth concerning implications of the great call of God for them: hope, riches of the inheritance, a deep understanding of His mighty power available to them, and a knowledge of the powerful exalted position of their Savior!

Application (timeless truths for all believers of every age):

1) Remember that God recruited them thoughtfully, and specifically chose His army to gain victory in the battle: You are not a “mistake” -He is qualified to choose the right ones!
2) God gave an unshakeable inheritance to them. You have an incredible future planned for you -He has guaranteed it!
3) God moved into their hearts to offer incredible power and to reassure them when they felt beaten down. You can be lifted countless times – He has power to keep restoring and rebuilding you!

Yet, all these things needed to be clearly understood for them to keep their heart in the battle! The key to real encouragement is the understanding of God’s perspective on who we are and what we are worth!

Chapter 2. The Divine Initiative: What in the world is God doing?

Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [it is] the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. 11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” [which is] performed in the flesh by human hands—12 [remember] that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both [groups into] one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, [which is] the Law of commandments [contained] in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, [thus] establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner [stone], 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

Paul continued the encouragement by helping them look past the circumstances of their daily lives. Peering into the veil of the spiritual world, Paul told them a tale of God’s great rescue work and His eternal purpose:

• You were shackled in the dungeon of the dead, enslaved by a wicked prince that forced you to entertain him in the filthiness of the flesh (1-3),
• Yet God was moved by love and rescued you (giving you life! 4-5).
• He has granted you royal privileges that include full rights to His throne (6) in order that he might someday show all realms His true self! (7)
• He is gracious, our mighty Savior, a wondrous Creator of good things (8-10).

Paul then carefully explained that because of what God called them to be a part of in Jesus, believers must remember their former state of distance from God (as part of the unbelieving nations) was something completely cared for by God in their salvation. There were two implications he highlighted:

• They were NOT second-class believers as some Messianic Jewish teachers were inferring (2:11-18).
• They were different, but fully part of the new structure that God built to be whole and unified (19-22).

Application (Timeless truths for believers):

1) When God found us, we were lost and unlovable, but that won’t stop a God who sees through the present into the future (1-3).
2) When God makes something happen, it happens, no matter who objects or protests. When God says you are “in”, you are “in”! (4-5)
3) The greatest privileges are God’s alone to give to His creation, and they have been poured out on those he rescued from darkness (6-7). When discouraged, remember, we play a role in eternal history whenever we choose to participate. We have the King’s ear, and access to His throne room.
4) When we walk in the confidence of His work in us we show His victory over sin. When we walk in the sins of the flesh, we contradict what He has said that we were created for (7-10).
5) God flies everyone first class, and doesn’t distinguish between our backgrounds and former failures. He transforms failures – it is what He loves to do! (11-18).
6) God wants us to share, and celebrate unity. We can find a thousand ways to divide us, but His objective is to build a united Body of Messiah that gives glory to Him! (19-22).

Chapter 3. “The Divine Purpose: The Secret God Whispered about YOU!”

Ephesians 3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; 3 that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. 4 By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; 6 [to be specific], that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, 7 of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. 8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; 10 so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly [places]. 11 [This was] in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. 13 Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory. 14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; [and] that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. 20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him [be] the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Paul carefully crafted an argument to encourage the believers of Ephesus. He first lifted them when he spoke of their Divine inheritance (chapter 1) and then strengthened the argument as he drew them into an understanding of the Divine Initiative that made their inheritance possible (chapter 2). Paul wanted them to see this as, not as a late breaking thought in God’s mind, but as part of His eternal purpose!

In eternity past, God had a secret. Not everything He was going to unfold was known to even the highest angels of Heaven. He waited for the right time and place, and whispered something that no doubt shocked the angels of the throne room. The name of every believer was part of the secret. Do you know what He said? YOUR NAME!

• God’s covenant with Abraham did not limit His ability to bless the whole earth, even the pagan nations (3:1-8).
• Men found this an unbelievable mystery (9), and even Heaven was shocked with the news (10)!
• It was not an afterthought for God; it was part of His original Divine plan (11).

What did this mean to the individual believer?

Application (The timeless truths for believers):

1) A believer can have bold and have confident access to the Father (12)
2) They can see past the troubles of this life, taking their troubles to a Savior who listens to people of every background that believe on Him (13-15).
3) God’s purpose in saving men is to give them:
a. Incredible and rich blessing in accordance with His abundance (16a).
b. Powerful might to stand in the encouragement of the Spirit within (16b).
c. Integrity and purpose that will demonstrate that Messiah is “at home” in their heart (17a).
d. Deep roots of passionate love for each other and for Him (17b).
e. Some small comprehension of how overwhelming His love for us is, and how much He desires to show it to us by filling us with Himself (17b-19)!

Paul was overwhelmed by what God wanted to do for believers, and closed in a worshipful benediction. Perhaps this was a chorus or a worship song of the early church. Perhaps, because of its great words, it ought to be one in our time!

Benediction Song (paraphrased):

“God is able to do more than we truly think He can.
He is more powerful than what we have experienced so far.
He is worthy of incredible praise and honor!
He will receive that in never-ending praise soon!”
(The Apostle Paul, Ephesians 3:20-21)

Part Two. The Conduct of the Believer (Chapters 4:1-6:9)

Paul argued that each Ephesian believer had a great calling of God, a great “Divinely-initiated” relationship that should lift and encourage any who examine it. Yet, there was a practical side to this call. The rich inheritance they received through the Father necessitated that they cease living as though they were not a part of their new “station” or “class” in society.

Chapter 4. The Walk of the Believer: What does the “march” of Jesus look like?

The image may be properly made (based on 4:1) that they were slaves that had been set free (2:1), then subsequently adopted by a family of great stature (2:11-13). They were supposed to change their lifestyle to match this calling! It was time for the believers to act significantly different than the world around them. It was time they get in step with the cadence call for the march with the Master. For a prince to live as a self-imposed slave was silly. They were free to live their new calling! They were to walk distinctly, as a marching army that had been trained to put off the casual stroll of the world and take on a distinctive look.

What does the “WALK of the believer” look like? Paul seems to have used five images well known to the Ephesian Roman citizens to instruct them on HOW TO WALK. Paul used that term “WALK” five different times between Ephesians 4:1-6:9.

Walk Image #1: The image of the FORUM SLAVE MARKET:

Let’s start with the first of the five “walks” found in Ephesians 4:1-3: Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Paul spoke of WALKING WORTHY by taking the Ephesians into the familiar shopping area or forum of Ephesus–to the well-known but unlikely teaching place of the ROMAN SLAVE MARKET of Asia Minor.

The Romans fully believed they had the right to own slaves. These were not just for the wealthy – slave ownership was common among Romans. The law demanded that dealers disclosed the ethnic origin (natio) of the slaves they were selling. In the market placards (tituli) were hung from the necks of the slaves for sale detailing their place of origin, abilities, their good and, less frequently, their bad points. Most were sold with “money back” guarantees.

Paul reminded the believers they were BOUGHT by Jesus, and need to live up to the tituli of their skills. Look closely at Ephesians 4:1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore (parakaleo: encourage) you to walk in a manner worthy (viewed as suitable because the cost “matches” actual value) of the calling with which you have been called,

Paul said: As I sit here under house arrest, unable to travel about freely, let me encourage all of you at Ephesus to walk in the way that matches the value of what our Lord paid to purchase each of you – and enlist you in His service. You are a servant purchased with His precious blood – the highest price ever paid. Walk like you were right for the chosen position He placed you in.
Here is the point: Jesus paid an incredible price for us – and we should serve the role that He placed us in with certain specific character traits. What are they? Serve with these five characteristics today:

1. with all humility (other person centeredness) Put the other people in your life before yourself.
2. with gentleness (prah-oo’-tace: feminine noun from the root pra-, emphasizing divine origin of its “gentle strength” which expresses power with reserve and gentleness). Care for others tenderly.
3. with patience (makro-thumia). Don’t easily boil or erupt with them.
4. showing tolerance (an-ekh’-om-ahee: endure, bear with) for one another in love (agape). Bear with their needs, and meet them where you are able.
5. being diligent (spoo-dad’-zo: be swift, quick) to preserve (tay-reh’-o: to guard) the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Catch every opportunity to build up and keep people together.

I am walking with Jesus well when I put others before myself – just as Jesus did in dying for me. I am pleasing Jesus in my walk when I am tender to others, not snapping or angry in responses to them. I make Jesus smile when I look with understanding at my needy brothers and try to meet their needs – even when it will cost me. I please my Lord when I am swift to hold believers together, and keep the unity that He gave us in Jesus. In a strange way, Paul said, rise to the price you cost God, and that will please Him.

Walk Image #2: The image of the THERMAE (ROMAN BATH):

Ephesians 4:1-6:9. The second use of walk was found in Ephesians 4:17: “So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 2 1if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in [the likeness of] God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Let be careful to look at the words and see what Paul was saying to the believers through the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

For the image of this WALK, Paul went to the familiar setting of a ROMAN BATH (thermae) and urged the Ephesians to GET CHANGED into the right outfit for their call in Jesus.

• All free Romans knew well the inside of a Roman bath. Most business contracts in the city were forged either in the shadow of the union hall called a COLLEGIUM or in the bath complex. Lawyers in Rome took client meetings at the baths.

• Every Roman bath had a locker room called an APODYTERIUM, where slaves stood guard over their master’s clothing, or had that clothing cleaned while the master bathed and lounged in the hot, tepid or cold bathing rooms – or perhaps in the porches or athletic gym areas attached to the baths.

• In every Roman bath complex where the artwork is still visible archaeologically, there are two themes – sexuality and pagan mythology. Nude statuary abounds, and some of it was quite provocative.

• Paul’s instruction to the believers was to recognize that the pagan mind doesn’t have the connection to God, and therefore has NO SENSITIVITY to pleasing God. They are self-centered about pleasure, and calloused about sensuality. They live to please apetites, not to please the God that made them.

Believers are to take off the old clothing of that life and put on godly behavior –that includes the distinctive behavior of right acts and holy deeds. In the end of the chapter (4:25-32), Paul applied the practice of this walk to WORDS about each other, PATIENT BEHAVIOR to one another, PEACE between believers, and the IMMEDIATE CEASING of anything that hasn’t been pleasing to God. Here is what God instructed through Paul:

Don’t walk like the world. Be distinct in pure thinking and pure words. Show good behavior between believers – not lustful and shady acts and words. If you are taking what isn’t yours – quit. If you are letting your mind wander – stop. It is time to change your clothes into new garb God wants you to wear! In this image God simply said: “Put on the distinctive clothing of one who walks in purity!”

Walk Image #3: An Image from the Roman Theatre

The third use of walk is found in Ephesians 5:1 “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. 3 But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; 4 and [there must be no] filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”

Rome was a vast empire, spread across three continents, with a variety of people groups and national backgrounds. They didn’t have a common alphabet, or common background. They were ethnically diverse with no common history. How can you mold that variety into an empire that sees itself as a singular people? The Romans used spectacles and entertainment to do it.

They borrowed from the Greeks the theatrical entertainment used in Greek cities to tell tales of pagan mythology and morality – but the Romans moved the plays into more action and less thought. They liked violence, and they liked crude groin humor.

The Greeks had Tragedies – where the gods and goddesses would mess with men and bring a turn of fortune to human characters. Comedies were produced to show how the foolish slave may show more wisdom than his wealthy owner – and surprise endings like that. Rising quickly in the Roman theatre was another kind of play – THE MIME. A mime didn’t act like they do in parks today – they were more like a “Saturday Night Live” presentation that was thoroughly base and sexual in its speech.

The characters and situations were farcically portrayed as they MIMICKED characters of government – much like Tina Fey imitated Sarah Palin on stage a few years ago. The coarse dialogue and ludicrous actions were to get the crowd laughing.

Paul seems to mention this by saying “Be imitators of God” (using the term “mimic”).

Mimicking God means to walk in love – to meet needs of those around you. Mimicking lost men was to walk controlled by insatiable lusts. Follow God meant NOT walking with a coarse speech. Our mouths should show our Savior. We should speak truth, not empty chatter. We should speak in a way that builds up – not sensual and base speech.

People should know we are believers by the way we speak. They should know by the way we encourage. They should notice that some words we used to use – we WON’T use now. They should see that even our sense of humor was changed by Jesus.

In this theatre image, Paul said: “Don’t imitate actors, imitate God!” His words are true, loving, encouraging and helpful – they are never base or inappropriately sensual. His children should speak like their Father speaks – not like the street speaks.

Walk Image #4: The Vigiles (Night Watchman) of Roman Street

The fourth image is found in Ephesians 5:7 Therefore do not be partakers with them; 8 for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light 9 (for the fruit of the Light [consists] in all goodness and righteousness and truth), 10 trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; 12 for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. 13 But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. 14 For this reason it says, “Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.

Roman cities were teeming with people in the daytime, but the streets were not full after dark. Because there was no refrigeration or way to keep food fresh, markets had to be resupplied every night for the next day’s commerce with fresh meat, fish, vegetables and fruits. Since the streets were so full, many cities would not allow load carts to occupy the streets during the daylight hours. As a result, the people on the street in the darkness of night were delivery carts, those leaving the brothels and pubs, and a range of seedy characters associated with the darker side of Roman life. Respectables traveled together from a dinner party as a caravan, and were accompanied by body guards. Theft and murder were much more common in a world that had so many poor in close proximity to the rich, and didn’t have the advantages of a “CSI” to find the guilty.

The Romans established the Vigiles Urbani (“watchmen of the City”) as both firefighters and police of Ancient Rome. In the beginning, the “Triumviri Nocturni” were privately owned slaves of the state, organized into a group that attempted to watch over the city at night. They were respected by law abiding citizens, and feared by thieves and thugs. They worked to please the magistrates of the city who called them to this excellent service.

Paul told the believers to be like the night watchmen – the vigiles. They needed to wake up in the darkness, and use the light of their torches to expose the dark deeds of men. They weren’t to be naïve, nor were they to be ANY part of the dishonesty and darkness.

The people of God carry a torch in the darkness. They help law abiding people to feel safe. They create safe places for people by their trustworthy character and their refusal to be involved in the shady work of wicked men and women. They work to please their Master.

Notice that Paul especially pointed out that when believers walk as children of the light, we get excited about learning what will bring our Master joy. Mature believers seek God’s delight – and not their own. They plan their day around things that will bring their Master honor – and not simply care for their desires.

Paul told the people to be like the NIGHT WATCHMEN that walk in dark streets – but they carry the light of the truth – and that brings a measure of comfort to others around them while it makes God smile because of them.

Walk Image #5: The Roman Pub (Popinae and Tavernae)

The fifth image of “walk” is found in Ephesians 5:15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.

Roman’s celebrated Bacchus – the god of wine – and his gift daily. They had a fundamental belief that wine was a daily necessity to daily life. They made the drink “democratic” and ubiquitous: it was available to slaves, peasants and aristocrats alike. Wine bars are found all over Pompeii and Herculaneum – cities uncovered by archaeologists.

The Roman popina (plural: popinae) was an ancient Roman wine bars, where a limited menu of olives, bread, and soups or stews were sold, along with a selection of wines of varying quality and taste. This was the common pub for plebians of the lower classes of Roman society – the part of Roman social culture where so many believers came from. Every one of them knew about the popina, as we would know about a “Chilis” or “Outback Steakhouse”.

The wine bar had simple stools and tables. They provided food and drink, but also often provided sex and gambling. Respectable Romans of the upper classes considered these as places of crime and violence. Though gambling with dice was illegal, huge numbers of dice have been uncovered in excavations of popinae in cities like Pompeii that most people ignored this law. Several wall paintings from Pompeian popinae show men throwing dice from a dice shaker. Prostitutes frequented popinae, met their customers and took them elsewhere. Some of them, perhaps many of them, had players of music, and provided background for drinking songs that echoed into the night.

Paul told the believers not to be foolish as the people who gambled away their money and fell into a drunken stupor. He called to their attention a different kind of song they could sing-the spiritual and uplifting song both on their tongue and in their heart before God.

The term DRUNK is literally “dominated by” – and refers to an issue of control. Don’t be CONTROLLED by wine – it is a waste. Rather, be filled with the Spirit of God – dominated by HIM. That domination of the Spirit – as opposed to “spirits” will lead to SONGS for the believers, and placing others ahead of ourselves.

Drunks don’t care about how loud they sing in the dark streets. They aren’t concerned about the baby they will awake. They are unaware, and empty of caring and consideration. Spirit-filled believers are filled with song that builds up, song that pleases the Master. They have songs of the heart, and songs of the lips while the do service with their hands.

Paul told the people to get out of the “spirits” of the PUB and into the Spirit of God.

Part Three: The Conflict of the Believer (Chapters 6:10-20)

Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual [forces] of wickedness in the heavenly [places]. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, 15 and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil [one]. 17 And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, 19 and [pray] on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in [proclaiming] it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.

Followed by some personal verses: 21 But that you also may know about my circumstances, how I am doing, Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, will make everything known to you. 22 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know about us, and that he may comfort your hearts. 23 Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible [love].

Why do believers with seemingly good lives fall into collapse and ruin? Why are young zealous Christians often very quickly “cooled off”? Why does it seem some don’t have the fire in their walk with God they once had? It may be because believers are getting hit by shots of the enemy, and aren’t using the protection and power God offered.

The last section of the letter relates to Paul’s desire they learn from God the “greatness of His power toward the believer” (1:19). He had prayed continuously they would finally understand how powerful God’s work for them had been. He wanted them to practically appropriate all the protection of an awesome and powerful God. As a result, God gave Paul a specific word on how that could be done in their lives – by putting on a specific set of armored protective devices.

Chapters 6. “Arming Yourself God’s Way” (Ephesians 6:10-20)

The armor of the Roman soldier became the image of the protective covering God provided for the believer. Paul took inventory and assessed the implements for the fight. He urged the believers of Ephesus to be strengthened in God’s power (10). How?

1) By using the resources God gave them (11);
2) By identifying the real enemy (11b-12);
3) By deliberately putting on all the protection provided by God (13). In 2 Corinthians 2:11 Paul stated that his ministry team was not ignorant of Satan’s devises. Sadly, he knew that many believers ARE ignorant of the war, let alone the strategy of defense. Paul wrote of two types of armor.

The FIRST TYPE was that armor which must always be at the ready. If there was a lull in the battle, the fighter was not to remove the first three implements. He indicated that in the verb form “always having” the:

a. Belt of truthfulness: (alethia: truth as content) vulnerable area, carefully protected (14); Paul was not addressing the truth of salvation (as in v. 17 and the sword, Word), but rather the commitment to truthfulness of the believer!
b. Breastplate of righteousness (holy choices): covering heart, able to take direct blows when positioned correctly (14b), breaks your heart when not maintained. In the Hebrew world, the “heart” is the mind! (Prov. 23:7; Mark 7:21). Paul does not refer to self righteousness (Eph. 2:8-9), nor of imputed righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21), but of a life practice of righteousness, or holy living.
c. Sandle guard straps fixed in position to provide a firm stand with the Gospel: metal tabs that protected the surface of the foot with cletes to hold the soldier in place. Paul refers to the unmovable faith in the Gospel to bring peace in the life of the lost.

The SECOND TYPE of armor was indicated in the poor translation of “Above all” (v.16). The grammar was NOT indicating the shield is more important, but is linked to the verb form of all of the next three items. They were to appropriate at the time necessary the:

d. Blocking shield of faith (theuron; large shield to block arrows; 4.5 feet by 2.5 feet., cp. Psalm 18:30). His reference is not to “belief” as such, but to “trust” that changes our view of ourselves and the world around us. When the battle rages, use the shield. 1) they were effective when locked together; 2) they were effective when held tightly and trusted and all remained in place.
e. Helmet of salvation (refers to the protection of the transformed mind) when we understand that our salvation has a PAST aspect: justification; a PRESENT aspect: sanctification; and a FUTURE aspect, our eventual glorification. We must see things through God’s eyes and learn to call the battle by His Word!
f. Sword of the Spirit: the WORD (RAMA: From the word “to pour, an utterance”) of God. The “machaira” dagger is not the broad sword, rhomphaia). A specific Word from God that He gives to take a direct shot at the enemy!

4) How can believers use the armor? (18)

• It is used in prayer (for God wants us to ask Him for what we need)
• Believers use it when they persevere in troubles.
• Believers use it when they stand with one another in love.

Summary:

Paul pressed a simple case to the beleaguered Ephesians. They were Divinely called to a new citizenship, carefully selected to depart the ranks of pagan barbarians and offered the chance to become a soldier in the great Kingdom of God. They were recruited into an army for which they had to serve faithfully with the equipment provided them. They could not allow the jeering of others to allow them to be derailed in their service of the King! They were not second to Jewish believers, they were to assimilate into the Kingdom while appreciating the unique nature of the choice God had made on their behalf. They were not encouraged to disparage God’s commitment to Jewish believers, but rather to walk in God’s unique commitment to them!