Walking Through the Veil IV: Love Covers

 

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Have them make a chest of acacia wood, two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold molding around it… Then put in the ark the Testimony, which I will give you. Make an atonement cover of pure gold two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover… Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the Testimony, which I will give you. There above the cover between the two Cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites. – Exodus 25:10-22 (10-11, 16-18, 21-22 printed)

 

What is Holy

The innermost section of the tabernacle is the Holy of Holies, or the Most Holy place. Remember, holy is not necessarily the focus on moral rightness, but it is the act of setting something apart. So the inner room was the place most set apart from everything else: all other activity, all other purposes, even all other people. The Most Holy place was created for one purpose: to fulfill what God wanted for mankind.

There above the cover between the two Cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites. – Exodus 25:22

To this end, there was only one item within the Most Holy Place: the Ark of the Testimony (Ark of the Covenant). In the order of things, the Ark was first and most important. With the Ark, only certain people had access to it. Outside of the times of moving it, no one except the high priest had access to the Ark, and that was only for one day a year. Handling the Ark was only to be done in a particular way, and those that did not heed God’s purpose with regard to the Ark paid a hefty price:

They moved the ark of God from Abinadab’s house on a new cart with Uzzah and Ahio guiding it. David and all the Israelites were celebrating with all their might before God, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, cymbals and trumpets. When they came to the threshing floor of Kidon, Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he had put his hand on the ark. So he died there before God. – I Chronicles 13:7-10

There were things that God was very serious about, and the place of importance of what the ark was to Israel was one thing that He refused to play with.

The Original Design

The Ark was one unit with three parts:

  • The Chest – the chest was made from Acacia wood, overlaid with gold, representing the place where God and man came together.  The Chest was made to originally contain the tablets of the Testimony – the Law, or the Ten Commandments. Over time, other things were added to the chest, but in the pattern given to Moses on the mountain, The Chest only contained God’s word for His people. Jesus effectively was the Chest, holding God’s word for his people
  • The Cover – While it seems strange to call out the cover to the chest, it had significance in what it hid, as well as in what it received. The cover hid all of the items that were contained within the Chest, as well as being the receiver of the blood of the sacrifice. Even though the items remained intact, they only existed behind the cover. They had no effect beyond the cover. While the Chest was wood and gold, the cover was pure gold. The cover kept what God had provided for his people intact, but also provided a shield or buffer for the tenets of the Law. Galatians 3:13 says Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” Jesus, effectively is the cover for us
  • The Cherubim – Two cherubim, or celestial beings covered the chest and cover. They were specifically set to look toward the cover with their wings outstretched to shadow the area between the cover and their wings. The Cherubim were also made from pure gold. The Cherubim represent God’s commitment to His word for his people. Jeremiah 1:12 says, The Lord said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.

 

 

God told Moses that he would meet him between the cover and the Cherubim. God’s meeting with Moses was not so much a physical, logistical meeting, but a place of God’s purpose. To understand this, we must look at the second aspect of the purpose for the cover.

He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: he shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. – Leviticus 16:15-16a

The cover was the place that would receive and hold the blood of the sacrifice. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest had one job: offer sacrifices first for himself, then for the nation. He would take the blood from the sacrifice and sprinkle the blood on the cover as well as in front of it. God would “see” the blood and forgive the sins of Israel committed until that day. This was very similar to God’s command when Israel was about to leave Egypt:

Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs… The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. – Exodus 12: 7,13

When it came to the Ark, God could have focused on what was in the Chest to determine how to react and respond to Israel, but he chose (and chose ahead of time, mind you) to focus on the point of atonement and forgiveness. God would meet Moses “between his forgiveness and his intention to fulfill his word”.  This is also the place that God chooses to meet us:

What Was Placed in the Ark?

Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold covered Ark of the Covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. – Hebrews 9:3-4

Over time other things were added to the Ark of the Testimony. The items were not just keepsake items, but spoke to specific things God was doing in the lives of Israel, and what they did to prompt God’s action in these events

1)   Aaron’s Rod that Budded – After people were grumbling against Moses and Aaron in particular, the Lord wanted to demonstrate whom he had chosenThe staff belonging to the man I choose will sprout and I will rid myself of the constant grumbling against you by the Israelites… The Lord said to Moses, “Put back Aaron’s staff in front of the Testimony to be kept as a sign to the rebellious. This will put an end to their grumbling against me, so that they will not die.” – Numbers 17:5, 10

2)   Jar of Manna –the Israelites complained about having no food, to which God supernaturally supplied manna from heaven. Then Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar and put an omer of manna in it. Then place it before the Lord to be kept for the generations to come.” As the Lord commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna in front of the Testimony that it might be kept. Exodus 16:33-34

3)   Tablets of the Law –Moses had received the law, written by God. Following this he was told about the people corrupting themselves. Moses intercedes for the people and God relents of his anger, but when Moses sees them, he gets angry himself and throws down the tablets breaking them in pieces

All of the items with the exception of the Law were initially placed before the Lord (before the Ark), but eventually made their way inside the ark. They could be seen as points of failure for Israel – their rejection of God, their grumbling against God, and them taking matters into their own hands. On the other hand, they can be seen as God watching over his word to perform it – His provision, his choosing, his word, none of which could be stopped by the actions of people. The Most Holy place, the place most separated was a place where God fully represented his intention and action on behalf of mankind.

Making Atonement

In the courtyard and in the Holy Place, there were activities happening all the time. In the Most Holy place, however, God signified only a certain time that any activity happened.

When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and the sins the people had committed in ignorance. – Hebrews 9:6-7

For God, his atonement, or making things right was not a daily ritual or a regular occurrence. God wanted to show the difference between the daily activities of his people, and his completed work:

When Christ came as a high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves, but he entered the Most Holy place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. – Hebrews 9:11-12

For the high priest to make atonement, he had to dip his finger in the blood to sprinkle it on the ark cover.  In this, the high priest not only had to identify with the sin but also of the sacrifice that was given for him and for Israel. The high priest had to engage in the sacrifice – touching the sacrifice at the most intimate level.  Paul makes a statement about himself that is hard to understand, until you understand it from the standpoint of engaging in the sacrifice:

Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. – Colossians 1:24

This sounds like Paul is saying that the work of Christ is not complete enough to save, that it takes something of us to fulfill it. However, when seen in light of engaging in the sacrifice, you can see that Paul was wanting to fully touch the sacrifice of Jesus… to engage it to the point of knowing that “when the blood was sprinkled on the cover”, that forgiveness and making all things right would be done for those he was ministering to.  For the Colossian church, Paul wanted nothing more than the absolute complete work of Christ to be realized in them – for them to see nothing of his own human effort, but to see only the work that God did behind the veil. Our lives are to be the same for those in our lives: engaging the sacrifice of Jesus for them… touching the blood to sprinkle on the cover to declare them at one with God.

Introspection and Action

Who are you to go to the cover for? Think of, engage in the sacrifice that has been made for you, and with that understanding, approach the place where God meets you on behalf of others in your life. Seek “at-one-ment”, or the making things right on their behalf.

Walking Through the Veil V: Resting In the Mystery

 

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And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” And the Lord said, “I will cause all of my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” – Exodus 33 (17-23 printed)

The Disappearing Deity

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt.” – Exodus 32:7

While Moses was on the mountain with God resting in His glory and receiving both commandments and patterns that would become the tabernacle, the people got impatient. They were ok with ascribing their departure from Egypt to God, but the disappearance of Moses caused them to begin to doubt where, or even who this God was. Israel was used to the Egyptian culture where gods were everywhere, so if one disappeared, there was always another to take its place. The command of the god, then, was only as valid and relevant as the tangible presence of the god itself.

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” – Exodus 32:1

They had been given instruction to wait while Moses went into the cloud, but the efficacy of that command waned the longer Moses remained away. The people were ready to move, to get to the place they felt they were supposed to be, and the barrier, or restriction to wait was not something they were willing to continue doing. They knew where Moses went, but they did not know what was happening on the other side of the cloud.

Supporting Players

Inside the tabernacle, everything had a place. Typically when we look at the elements of anything, including the tabernacle, we focus on the main players: the captain of the team, the MVP, the “big shiny object”, the featured star or principal performer. The supporting players however play an important role: not only when they get their 15 minutes of fame, but also as they relate to the whole.

Set up the tabernacle according to the plan shown you on the mountain. Make a curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim worked into it by a skilled craftsman. Hang it with gold hooks on four posts of acacia wood overlaid with gold and standing on four silver bases. Hang the curtain from the clasps and place the Ark of the Testimony behind the curtain. The curtain will separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. – Exodus 26:30-33

The curtain, or veil, was such a supporting player. It would get no love or notoriety until the time Jesus came, when at his crucifixion it was torn in two. It’s place in the tabernacle, and even the way in which it was constructed showed that in God there is no such thing as a supporting player – that everything he does has a specific purpose in bringing us back to himself and showing his character, his glory and his love.

Job of the Curtain

When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. – Hebrews 9:6-7

The Veil, or curtain’s job was simple: divide this from that. Within the confined space of the tabernacle, from Courtyard to Holy Place to Holy of Holies, there were certain places that were prescribed for only certain people. While all the congregation of Israel could gather in the courtyard for the purpose of sacrifice, only the priests were allowed in the Holy Place.  Similarly, only the High Priest was allowed behind the Veil.

They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?”… Moses also said to Korah, “Now listen, you Levites! Isn’t it enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near himself to do the work at the Lord’s tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them?” – Numbers 16:3, 8-9

Separation can be hard to accept. Korah was able to accept the separation that he operated in when it came to the rest of Israel, but felt that he deserved or desired what Aaron and Moses had, “had” being the operative word. For God, the place given to Aaron and Moses was not a badge of honor, but a place of communion where God came to do business on behalf of the entire community of Israel. Korah saw it differently, and therefore, in his attitude tried to force his way into the presence of God. Korah didn’t fully understand what was really happening on the other side of the curtain.

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law. Deuteronomy 29:29

Korah tried to force the hand for the things God wanted to keep secret, and that resulted in his death. When we fail to accept God’s purpose in an action he is doing, it also results in us experiencing a kind of death – we fail to experience the full life that God has for us.

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” – Exodus 33:18

Moses’ request is a very interesting one. Interesting because he had just spent 40 days in the glory of God, and had experienced the glory of God on a regular basis – when the glory of the Lord would descend upon the Tent of Meeting, Moses would go meet with God. Furthermore, Moses was having a direct “face to face” conversation with the Lord. For whatever reason, this was not enough for Moses, so he made a request to fulfill something in himself. Philip made a similar request to Jesus:

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” – John 14:8

While both requests had merit and came from a sincere heart, they were not in line with what God was doing. God was at work behind the veil, and fulfilling those requests would have ended in death or separation from God’s purpose.

And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, The LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” – Exodus 33:19-20

God was keeping certain things secret. The time was not yet for the revealing of His face.  The purpose of the veil then was very important: to keep the things God wanted as secret.

This is the work of the Kohathites in the Tent of Meeting: the care of the most holy things. When the camp is to move, Aaron and his sons are to go in and take down the shielding curtain and cover the ark of the Testimony with it.  – Numbers 4:4-5

When the ark was in the tabernacle it was fully hidden from everyone but the high priest, but from time to time Israel had to move, which meant disassembling the tabernacle. It was important to God for the ark of the Testimony to remain hidden, so the veil was used to keep the ark out of the site of Israel and of the surrounding communities.

The Making of the Veil

Make a curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yard and finely twisted linen, with cherubim worked into it by a skilled craftsman. – Exodus 26:31

God’s design of the veil was very similar to the door to the tabernacle itself, the actual Tent of Meeting, and the door to the courtyard. All were made from 4 different colored fabrics: blue, purple, scarlet and linen. The Veil had one other characteristic the others did not: cherubim were woven into the actual fabric. Josephus, an historian during the early days of the church described the veil in Solomon’s temple this way:

before these doors there was a veil of equal largeness with the doors. It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful. Nor was this mixture of colors without its mystical interpretation, but was a kind of image of the universe; for by the scarlet there seemed to be enigmatically signified fire, by the fine flax the earth, by the blue the air, and by the purple the sea; two of them having their colors the foundation of this resemblance; but the fine flax and the purple have their own origin for that foundation, the earth producing the one, and the sea the other. This curtain had also embroidered upon it all that was mystical in the heavens, excepting that of the [twelve] signs, representing living creatures. (Wars 5.5.4)

To Josephus, the veil was much more than just a shield, but it was a picture of creation itself. Not only the physical creation, but of all creation, terrestrial and celestial. Scripture gives us another description of what the veil represents:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. – Hebrews 10:19-22

If the veil was Jesus’ body, then for Moses, Aaron and the Israelites, they had to wait to see what God was really doing.  Not only did they have to wait for it, they had to rest in the place that God had them in, knowing that God was still working, even though they couldn’t see it. God kept his purposes hidden, reserved until the right time

But only the High Priest entered the inner room and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. – Hebrews 9:7-8

On the one hand, God was showing his plan to Israel; on the other, he would not reveal it until the right time.  The veil was both a declaration and a sign of God’s plan for Israel and the world, and a shield for the most intimate part of that sign: the part that God would play alone.

Walking Through the Veil III: Consumed, Cleansed and Connected

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Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am – it is written about me in the scroll – I have come to do your will, O God.’ “ – Hebrews 10:1-10 (5-7 printed)

The Day Trip

Giving an offering in the days of Jesus was not like it is now. In today’s economy, offerings are convenient, to the point that we don’t have to give much thought to it. Offerings are also relegated to “church upkeep and ministries”, so we “give” for the sake of maintaining the operation of the church. While this was in fact a part of offering, it was by no means the main function or reason for offering.

For many, offerings were far from convenient. People had to come from great distances to bring their offerings, and there was preparation that had to happen before the trip ever happened.

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household… The animals you choose must be year old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. – Exodus 12:1-3,5-6

For Israel, the offering needed to not only have certain requirements met, but it also had to be “separated and cared for”. From the 10th day to the 14th day, the animal was to be brought close to the family, cared for and inspected. There was an intimate relationship between the person offering and the animal they were offering.

Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written” he said to them, “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.” – Matthew 21:12-13

Jesus took issue with those that tainted the intimacy of the offering, by selling “pre-examined, pre-approved” animals for sacrifice. Those selling made it possible for people to have little investment in the offering, and to just give what was required, but not have any connection to the act itself.

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, we went away sad, because he had great wealth. – Matthew 19:21-22

Jesus had an encounter with a man looking to obtain eternal life. When confronted with the life that he was to live, he was quick to say that he had been doing that since he was a child (inferring that this was a ready habit, no personal connection was made – also, that he did not get any sense of connection to God and the life he offered through the practice he was keeping). What else is there? What am I missing? Jesus told him to touch the thing that he was most intimately connected with, offering that, effectively as a burnt offering to the Lord.

David said to him, “Let me haves the site of your threshing floor so I can build and altar to the Lord, that the plague on the people may be topped. Sell it to me at the full price.” Araunah said to David, “Take it! Let my lord the king do whatever pleases him. Look, I will give the oxen for the burnt offerings, the threshing sledges for the wood, and the wheat for the grain offering. I will give all this.” But King David replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.” – I Chronicles 21:22-24

 

David had sinned before the Lord, and as a result, a plague began to move through Israel. As David cried out to the Lord, he was instructed to build an altar on the threshing floor of a member of his kingdom. Araunah was more than happy to assist David by giving him everything that he needed, but David knew something about offering that Araunah didn’t think about: an offering is not an offering if there is not an intimate connection with it. For David, he could have ordered the land taken, or simply received it from Araunah, but if he had, it would have had no value to him. Especially in light of the reason for the offering, David had to display full commitment to the task – it cost him to give the offering.

The Significance of Offerings

There were a number of offerings that were brought to the altar in the courtyard of the tabernacle:

  •        Burnt offering
  •        Peace offering
  •        Drink offering
  •        Sin offering
  •        Meat/grain offering

Each of the offerings had special significance, and pointed to an aspect of life that God would address in the redemption that would come through Jesus.

Offering Symbolic of Scripture References
Sin Jesus taking on our sins, replacing us and wiping them away God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God – II Corinthians 5:21
Grain Worship for God’s goodness and provision This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever. – John 6:58
Drink Many times combined with the grain offering, often described as joy In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you. – Luke 22:20
Peace Reconciliation and restoration of relationship For He himself is our peace who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations – Ephesians 2:14-15
Burnt Offering Full and complete surrender to God Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done

 While each of the offerings were accepted by God they were only as effective as the one giving the offering:

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. – Hebrews 10:1-2

Endless, year after year, offering after offering… think of the level of commitment by those bringing their offering. The cost for each person, each family. The cost of livestock, food, time, and even intimate connection. Doing it once is costly and inconvenient, yet having to do it over and over again requires so much more. It requires a lifestyle of dedication:

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?  Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seen times, but seventy-seven times (or seventy times seven) – Matthew 18:21-22

God required Israel to have a lifestyle of offering and sacrifice, but not because God was interested in constant sacrifice – in fact, God was not interested in the actual sacrifices themselves:

Therefore when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me. With burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, Here I am – it is written about me in the scroll – I have come to do your will, O God.” – Hebrews 10:5-7

The sacrifices pointed forward to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus. Furthermore, seeing the cost, commitment and intimacy that people would go through for sacrifices that were temporary, if God’s sacrifice is that much more, that can actually take away sins, how much is his commitment and dedication to us?

The Laver

Make a bronze basin, with is bronze stand, for washing. Place it between the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and put water in it. Aaron and his sons are to wash their hands and feet with water from it. Whenever they enter the tent of Meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also when they approach the altar to minister by presenting an offering made to the Lord by fire, they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. – Exodus 30:18-21a

Of all the elements specified for the tabernacle, the laver stands out for one reason: it is the only item that was not given specific measurements by God. Every other item not only had the material and exact construction specified, but the instructions were given down to the smallest measurement. Some reason can be seen in 1) its placement in the courtyard, and the activities associated with it.

Like Looking in a Mirror

The laver was to be used by the priests only to wash before performing their duties. The laver itself was made of polished bronze

They made the bronze basin and its bronze stand from the mirrors of the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting – Exodus 38:8

These mirrors were combined to make a polished face that the priests would have to look at every time they came to wash. Washing was therefore more than symbolic: it was reflective. Whenever the priest went before the Lord, he had to 1) look at himself, and 2) wash the areas that were in contact with the world. Not only this, he would have to do the same when he was in a position to usher others before the Lord through burnt offerings.

Being clean before the Lord makes sense to us, but there was more than just ritual cleansing:

The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, ands wrapped a towel around his waist. After that he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do you realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me… Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” – John 13:2-8,10

Coming to the tabernacle to present ourselves before the Lord, we would expect to pursue constant cleansing. Jesus connected this cleansing with something deeper than just purification. He associated it with relationship. Looking into the laver, recognizing our humanity in the presence of a Holy God any approach to God would have to be with reverence.

The priest also had to deal with the people – those that came to offer for their own sins, to sacrifice for thanksgiving or surrender or whatever, and before the priest could deal with the people, he had to deal with his own self:

Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as for the sins of the people. – Hebrews 5:1-3

The priest was constantly facing his own humanity in approaching God and in approaching others. Facing his own humanity made him able to accept and perform the sacrifice, for he could identify with the people who were bringing the sacrifice:

Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. – Hebrews 13:1-3

The priest did not clean at the laver to give him an advantage or better status. He did it to assist those who were approaching God.

 

Walking Through the Veil II: From Core to Courtyard

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This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up to the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored”, says the Lord. – Haggai 1:7-8

Living on Good Intentions

Israel had been in bondage in Babylon and Persia. By God’s hand, under the orders of Cyrus, King of Persia, Israel was allowed to go back to Israel:

This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them.” – Ezra 1:2-3

Israel went with this instruction, and began to build, but before they could get anywhere with it were pressured into stopping by external forces. The pressure was so strong that it would be 16 years before they got back to the work. In that time, Israelites continued to live in the land unhindered. They worked, raised families, and never had to go back to Persia. They were, in fact, free, but something was still missing. They were not experiencing the blessing they expected as the people of God. Why? Because their purpose for returning to Jerusalem had been left undone and untended: the temple had not been rebuilt.

Some Israelites were close enough to see it on a daily basis; others probably never had to see it at all. They knew what the regulations were for going to the temple and giving offerings, but for them, other things took precedence.

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’” – Haggai 1:2

Israel had every intention of returning to the work, but those intentions never became tangible. Whether they were waiting for a change in government, new inspiration, or a word from the Lord, they felt justified in spending time and effort on their own life and lifestyle, while allowing the central figure of their nation to lie in waste.

Stop: What is one thing you have intended to do this year, but haven’t started, or haven’t been consistent in? Get out your calendar and schedule that event for the first available week, and do not take no for an answer. Place reminders in your calendar so you have no excuse. Do not schedule it too far out so you remain in intention-mode. Make sure your goal is short term and attainable. 

God’s Focus: What is Important To Him

Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin? Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: give careful thought to your ways.” Haggai 1:3-5

God was not saying that their paneled houses or their lifestyle was a problem per se. Rather, he was saying that their focus was an issue: When they should have been focusing on the place of God in their lives, they 1) neglected the place of God, and 2) placed their time, attention and resources into other things. God wanted to bring Israel back to their purpose in him, not just for ministry, but also for relationship. He was not looking for them to give up their houses, but to dedicate time, priority and resources to the place he was to have in their lives. Jesus, in speaking to the Pharisees and teachers of the law had this to say:

Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter without neglecting the former. – Matthew 23:23

The religious leaders were so intent on external signs of righteousness that they would literally count out blades of dill or measure out grains of spice so people could see how dedicated they were to the tithe, all the while letting other areas of their lives go untended. Jesus told them that they needed to spend their time and effort, practicing the more important areas, while making sure the other areas were not neglected. It was all a matter of priority: First things needed to come first, and everything else would fall into place after that:

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matthew 6:33

For God, this was of primary importance. So much so that he pushed other things aside for Israel to recognize where their focus was to be:

You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why? Declares the Lord Almighty. Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. – Haggai 1:9

God was serious about his house, and wanted Israel to be serious about it as well. As we consider the place of God’s house in our lives, we need to see God’s definition of his house under Jesus:

But Christ is faithful as the son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold on to our courage and the hope in which we boast. – Hebrews 3:6

We are God’s house – his dwelling place, and he takes great care to ensure that his dwelling place is a place that will bring him pleasure, and one in which he can glory.

Stop: Look at an area in which you do well. Why do you do well in that area? How detailed and dedicated are you to that area? Look at an area in which you are not doing well. While not neglecting the former, practice the area you need work in for a period of time to establish a new habit. Schedule this in your calendar with reminders.

Helpful tips on how to establish new habits: http://zenhabits.net/how-to-establish-new-habits-the-no-sweat-way/

 

How God Builds a House

Since we are God’s house, we can see the construction of the temple as an example of the methods and priority God uses in building our lives – and that we should take in constructing our lives before God.

The Order

Element Scripture Reference
Ark of the Covenant / Mercy Seat Exodus 25:10-22
Table with Bread of Presence Exodus 25:23-30
Lampstand / Lamps Exodus 25:31-40
Tabernacle Exodus 26:1-30
Veil (separating most holy from holy) Exodus 26:31-35
Tent Entrance (separating holy from common) Exodus 26:36-37
Altar Exodus 27:1-8
Courtyard Exodus 27:9-18

Notice that God started from the inside and worked his way out:

Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. – Matthew 12:33

Instead of focusing on fixing the externals, God wanted to work on the core first. Everything else was dependent upon the core being established. The courtyard and altar would have no meaning if there was no mercy seat for the blood of redemption to be sprinkled upon. Stars operate under a delicate balance of fusion at the core that pushes energy out, and gravity surrounding the star that pushes energy in. If the core “runs out of fuel”, it stops pushing energy out, and as a result the star begins to implode.  Israel was in the process of implosion before God, which is why he was so drastic in his measures to get them back to the core – to building from the inside out.

The Structure

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. – John 14:1-3

God’s structure in building is:

Gods_Structure

He established the building first (Exodus 25:1 – 27:18. Then he put people (the priests) into that building  (Exodus 28:1 – 29:30). Then he established the practices (ministry) for the people (Exodus 29:31 – 30:37). Note, that, first, the place has to be established before those serving or taking part can inhabit it. So it is with us – God wants to establish us before he establishes other’s place in our lives. In addition, the “practice” or what we would refer to as “ministry” could not take the place of or precede the establishment of the building.

Stop: Take note of how much time you spend in “service” to the Lord, vs. how much time you spend “building His dwelling place “ (aka, You). What comes first? In the areas where external things, or service comes first, purposely reverse it for one week. 

What God Emphasizes

Moses spent time with God on the mountain – 40 days to be exact. In that time, God showed him the pattern of the heavenly tabernacle. When he came down from the mountain, not only did he have a vision of what to build, God continued to give him explicit instruction on how to build it, to ensure that it was to God’s exact specification. God didn’t stop there though – He repeated one thing to Moses, so that Moses would not forget his direction: make this according to the pattern you saw in the mount. As God was giving Moses instructions over the various parts of the tabernacle, he threw in the reminder:

-       Exodus 25:9 – Make this tabernacle and all its furnishing exactly like the pattern I will show you.

-       Exodus 25:40 – See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.

-       Exodus 26:30 – Set up the tabernacle according to the plan shown you on the mountain.

-       Exodus 27:8 – Make the altar hollow, out of boards. It is to be made just as you were shown on the mountain.

God did not want Moses to just be “inspired to build” and then go off on his own to build what he thought would be acceptable to God. God wanted Moses to stay in tune with him, building a dwelling place that God could take pleasure in, so he had to keep him reminded of his instruction.

We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. – Hebrews 2:1

Stop: Take one word/direction you have received from the Lord. Repeat it to yourself daily for one week as a reminder of what you are to do. Place it as a reminder in your calendar so that you see it and repeat it daily. What is the result after one week? How solid is that word in your mind and heart? 

Other ways to solidify his word: get flashcards and carry one with you every day. Schedule time to look at it, repeat it, pray over it and practice it. Do this until you are ready for the next one. Also look in your App Store for memorization apps. Finally, journal things you have received, and routinely go back to review those words/instructions.

God’s Motivation

There were two elements that were critical to the structure of God’s tabernacle: The veil and the curtain to the tent. They were important because they separated the different sections of the tabernacle into 3:

-       The Holy of Holies, or The Most Holy Place

-       The Holy Place

-       The Outer Court (Courtyard)

These sections relate to God’s motivation for us, and what our motivation should be in all things, as seen in the 2 greatest commandments:

Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hand on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-39

In these two commandments, love was to be directed to 3 areas:

  1. To God, as primary
  2. To self, as the basis for others
  3. To others with the same degree as self

God’s construction of his temple gave his people the opportunity to see how God relates to us individually, to us in community, and to us in the world.

Becoming God’s People V: A Strange Sight

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You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites. – Exodus 19:4-6

A Kingdom in the Making

God’s plans for Israel were about to start taking shape. They had been released from Egypt, seen their enemies eliminated in ways they could not have imagined, and saw God do miracle after miracle to prove His ability to care for His people. He stopped them in the middle of the journey to reveal his heart and his plan for them, and to show them who they were to be. Being a nation and possessing the Promised Land was what they were all about, and seeing things unfold gave them hope that their days of suffering were finally at an end.

For many of the Israelites, this was the fulfillment of all the stories they had heard about God, and the promise of Abraham that they had held onto for so long. Many years later a similar scene played out with Jesus and the disciples:

After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” – Acts 1:3-5

The disciples were listening to what Jesus was saying, and saw that he actually had the power to do what he said, especially after he rose from the dead. Like Israel, the disciples saw the fulfillment of what they had longed for – the end of their days of suffering, and the beginning of a kingdom where they were the focus. The disciples saw a nation ruling that was not part of the promise, and could not wait for a king to step up and make things right. For us, we have desires and images of what life is supposed to be – who we are supposed to be and what we should accomplish and when. It is when those thing do not happen that we “look for a king” to make those things right – for the restoration of our kingdom.  While God does indeed want to bring restoration to us, it is rarely just to bring our suffering to an end. God’s purposes are much greater, and he gives us opportunity to partner with him in revealing his heart to the world.

To and Through

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” “Which ones?” the man inquired. Jesus replied, “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.” “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. – Matthew 19:16-22

When the disciples were speaking with Jesus, they were looking for him to do something for them. They wanted the kingdom to be restored to Israel. The young man that approached Jesus was also looking for something to be done to him. He wanted a connection between the works he did and entry into eternal life. The man by anyone’s standards was living a holy life – following the commandments, being respectful, etc. The man however was under the impression that the blessing of God could be obtained simply by doing good deeds. He held a works-based view of holiness, that God would accept him for an act that he did. Jesus called him to a deeper understanding, not just of himself, but of God and his heart. Had the man yielded his heart, he would have received not only the riches that come from the kingdom of heaven, but the ability to allow his blessing to flow through him to others. The man missed out on the opportunity to experience the fullness of what holiness really is.

The disciples knew that Israel was supposed to be a holy nation, but at the time they were a colonized people under Rome. All aspects of their life, even including worship, were governed by Rome, a nation that prided itself on the other gods they followed. When Jesus rose from the dead, he seemed poised to be able to establish that holy nation that Israel was to be.  What the disciples did not see was that Jesus had a deeper revelation, a deeper fulfillment and a deeper calling for them – a kingdom that was not a kingdom of “to” but rather a kingdom of “through”:

He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:7-8

For Jesus, holiness was not an end to itself, but it was a means to many ends. Holiness was not only to affect the life of the one submitted to it, but through that submitted life, others would be touched and be able to experience that same blessing of holiness.

Holiness Defined

The Hebrew word for holy in the phrase “holy nation” is qadowsh (קָדֹושׁ). Qadowsh means holy, sacred, and set apart. In fact, the root word for qadowsh (קָדַשׁ qadash)primarily means set apart, dedicated, consecrated, prepared, and in some instances, to be honored. When God, then, was saying he would make Israel into a holy nation, he was not specifically talking about making a nation that simply did not do bad things, or a nation that shunned evil. God was making them into a nation that was set apart. God wanted to make a nation that was different.

When the day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day. But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” – I Samuel 8:19-20

Israel had watched God work in them, but when Samuel could no longer lead, and his sons were not great leaders, the true heart of the people came out: “give us a king, so we can be like everyone else”. Israel wanted identity based on what they saw around them. They didn’t want to be set apart, they wanted to blend in. This was because they were focused on themselves. They were willing to take what God was doing for them, but not as a sign of his love, because they still did not see themselves as a nation. In their mind, until they looked like everyone else, they were not to be measured with them, and were therefore not worth being considered. We can also think that we do not have value or are not worth being considered because we don’t meet an external standard or have not achieved things that others have. The strength of our voice is tied to the stuff of our life: the less we can show the less our voice matters.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; god chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things, and the things that are not, to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption Therefore as it is written, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” – I Corinthians 1:26-31

Paul dealt with a people who wanted to fit in with the successful, with the intellectual and thought that to be considered, they had to fit a standard. He told them that God did not call them because of what they brought to the table – that he did not consider them because they were so much better than the world. In fact, it was just the opposite – they were different from the world, and God would use them to shame and dishonor that which is in the world.

Why Be Normal?

Where Israel had been previously cast aside, not valued and not considered, God chose Israel and put focus on them.  The question we can ask ourselves is, “Why”?

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The Lord did not set his affection on you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. – Deuteronomy 7:7-9

Just like with Paul, God revealed that his calling of Israel was not because of what they were able to bring to the table. They were not a great nation with lots of people – they were the small nation that had been in captivity for years. However, God chose them because he loved them, and out of that love for Israel God declares and demonstrates that love to the world.

An Abnormal Life

One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him. He is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” – Job 1:6-8

Job was successful according to the world’s standards, but that was not what caught God’s attention. God was drawn to Job’s heart. When Satan came before God, he gave the indication that he was looking for people to destroy. “Have you considered my servant Job?” God was indicating that Job was different.  The word “considered” in Hebrew, suwm (שׂוּם), means to set, to found, to appoint. This is very similar to the meaning God used when he declared Israel a holy nation. God was basically saying, “have you set apart Job, because I have”. Job was considered by God, and never ceased to be considered by Him, even when everything was gone. In fact, it was at the point that Job, by our standards, needed validating the most that God used him to pray for his friends.

It was the difference of Job that God used. It was the difference of Paul, who came to Corinth in weak appearance but strong faith. It was the difference of Israel who carried the promise God made to Abraham. In all of this, God considered those who the world would cast away, and used them to show his heart. Peter, speaking to people who have been persecuted and scattered says:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – I Peter 2:9-10

For Peter, the castaways of the world were considered in God, and they would be used to show God’s heart and love.

A Strange Sight

Moses had seen a lot of things. Born Hebrew but growing up in Pharaoh’s place, then running for his life and tending sheep for 40 years. One day he noticed a bush on fire. That would not be enough to catch anyone’s attention. What did catch his eye was the fact that the flames seemed to have no effect on the bush. The flames and the bush were perfectly fine coexisting.

So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight – why the bush does not burn up.” – Exodus 3:3

This was truly a different type of sight. What was supposed to happen did not. When Moses saw how different it was, he was drawn. When our lives are different and we are coexisting with the Spirit of God, people are drawn to what they see. At the right time God showed Moses the truth about the tree, and he gives us opportunity to do the same with those that are drawn to us.

Introspection:

  • What suffering are you waiting for God to bring to an end? Are you interpreting his love and intentions based on that being fulfilled?
  • How would you describe the life and character of your kingdom? Where does God fit in your kingdom?
  • What good things make you feel like you are closer to God? What is he calling you to that would make you sad to do?
  • What does God want to do through you? Who, specifically does God want to touch through you?
  • What are people drawn to in you? How do you transfer that to the Lord?

Call to Action

  • Ask someone in the congregation how they see God coexisting with you. Spend time with the Lord thanking him for that area of your life
  • Ask God for one area outside of yourself that you can be used to show his love.

Maturity Steps

Becoming God’s People IV: Serving God; Serving Mankind

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You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites. – Exodus 19:4-6

Stepping Stones

As God was about to transform Israel into the nation he had in mind, he took care to plan out the steps to their growth. He demonstrated a pattern of behavior in Egypt that Israel would see working out in their lives. We too can see that same pattern, and by recognizing it we can take comfort in the path God has us on.

You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. – Exodus 7:2-4

Ten signs – each building upon each other, each addressing a particular area and stronghold in Egypt – tearing down each of the gods worshipped by Egypt. Once done, God could move Israel into the next step in their process. He did the same in his declaration in Exodus 19:

Maturity StepsStarting with God’s faithfulness to bring Israel from Egypt, he gave them steps toward becoming the nation he desired them to be. Israel’s obedience was to be in response to God’s faithfulness, and that was to extend not just to specific situations, but also to an entire life of relationship and covenant. From this Israel would realize the full love of God and value they had in him. All of this was to be in place before the next step, being a kingdom of priests, could be initiated.

For us, many times we can try to use ministry to validate our person or our level of Christianity. However, for God our fulfillment is to come long before our ministry – He wants our lives, our actions and our relationships to be based on his faithfulness, and out of that ministry would flow

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. – Matthew 10:5-8

The disciples had already been with Jesus, received from him, and had just been given power to operate in the way he did. However they were to do it not focusing on any gain or status it would give them. They were to give out of what they had already received. Another time Jesus sent out 72 others with the same authority:

The seventy-two returned with joy, and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” – Luke 10:17-20

The 72 were excited about what they were receiving back from their activity, and in one sense, rightly so – it’s not every day that one sees spirits submitting to what is declared. Jesus did not want them using their authority for personal gain or recognition. He was more concerned about changed lives – that people were truly set free. Jesus also wanted the 72 to realize what was at the base of their ability to minister: God’s faithfulness, their obedience, the covenant, and God’s declaration that they were a treasure.

Just as God took Israel down a particular path and systematically brought them out of Egypt, he works with us to bring us step by step into the people we are to be

But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. – II Corinthians 3:16-18

Understanding this pattern becomes important as we move into areas of serving, so that we do so with the right heart and expectation.

Priesthood Understood

In the previous lesson we saw a religious leader, a Pharisee who stood before the Lord and was thankful that he was not like other people. A person who had separated himself enough from society that he felt justified as a symbol of God’s righteousness. When Jesus came he challenged the mentality of the hyper-religious of the day

Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:19-20

Jesus was calling people to be more than just “self aware” of their own righteousness. The context of this discussion on righteousness was their relationship to others. Jesus wanted his followers to show true, authentic righteousness with others. “With others” or “for others” is the basis of the priesthood – it is serving God and serving others.

Priestly Characteristics

When we think of priests, we tend to think of activities they do while in the temple. Priests, however only spent a portion of their time actually in the temple. Their characteristics, however, were always to be evident. Here are some characteristics as seen in scripture:

Characteristic Scripture Reference
Intercession Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. – Hebrews 7:25Then Abraham approached him and said, “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? – Genesis 18:23-24
Mediates / Stands in the gap So Aaron did as Moses said, and ran into the midst of the assembly. The plague had already started among the people, but Aaron offered the incense and made atonement for them. He stood between the living and the dead, and the plague stopped. – Numbers 16:47-48The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy, and mistreat the alien, denying them justice. I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none. – Ezekiel 22:29-30
Represents others before God Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. – Hebrews 5:1
Shows compassion / empathy He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. – Hebrews 5:2But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city? – Jonah 4:10-11

Whether a priest is actively serving in the temple or not, these character traits should be evident and active. This is necessary because God was not looking for people to simply serve Him – he wanted people that would exhibit these characteristics to others.

Kingdom Life

Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom…

God was making a distinction with Israel. Yes, he controlled and owned the entire world, but with Israel he wanted to establish a special relationship. In a kingdom, the inhabitants know who their king is, understand their place in the kingdom, and know the lengths the king will take to protect the life of the kingdom. God didn’t just want to take Israel to the Promised Land and have them fend for themselves, or get lost in the shuffle of all of the other nations. He wanted people to understand the King by virtue of the kingdom they interacted with. Inhabitants of the kingdom served the king and represented the king’s interests. When God established Aaron as high priest, this was no different:

The Lord said to Aaron, “You will have no inheritance in the land, nor will you have any share among them. I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites.” – Numbers 18:20

Aaron was to receive what he needed from God, and out of that domain to serve God and his people. As we look to Jesus as our high priest, we see the same philosophy:

I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from him I tell the world. They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him. – John 8:26-29

Jesus understood kingdom life, and structured his life around God as his inheritance. Because of this, he was able to be a faithful priest in all things. In the same way, God wanted Israel to come to a place of understanding His faithfulness to them that they would be in tune with and active participants in what he wanted to do in the world.

The Comfort of a Whale

Jonah hated Assyria, for he saw them in light of what they did to Israel. Jonah did not see people, he saw an enemy – an enemy that needed to be wiped out.

The Word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. – Jonah 1:1-3

Jonah could have taken the opportunity to preach destruction on Nineveh, and probably would have taken joy in doing so. When God called him, however, he recognized the kingdom he was in. He did not run for fear – he ran because he knew that God wanted Jonah to perform as a priest to the nation that he hated.

But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. – Jonah 4:1-3

Jonah wanted to be identified with the destruction of Nineveh. He wanted to receive something from their suffering. God, however wanted Jonah to be fulfilled in Him so he could stand in the gap for a people God loved. God wanted all of Israel to have this same philosophy, and he calls us to walk in the same way. As we do, we are able to actively demonstrate the life, love and purpose of God to the world.

Introspection

  • Does it seem like God is random in his actions toward you? Do you feel that he does have a plan for you?
  • What are the things that validate you? What are you hoping for that will make you fulfilled?
  • What part of God’s moving (prophetic, healing, etc.) brings you joy and excitement? What are the stories you tell of God’s activity, and what do they say about your focus?
  • How does your righteousness compare with others? Why? What do you base your righteousness on?
  • How does your life measure up to the characteristics of the priest mentioned above? What can you do to get closer?
  • How do you react/respond to the world around you? What would you do if God called you to people who hurt you?

Call to Action

  • Ask God what you have made your inheritance. Repent of the things outside of him that you have sought fulfillment in and dedicate yourself to his kingdom purpose in your life.
  • Look for an opportunity to stand in the gap for someone else, both inside and outside the congregation. Actively engage God on behalf of those for whom you are standing in the gap.

Becoming God’s People III: Being God’s Treasure

to download a pdf copy of this message, click here:Third in the Becoming God's People Series

You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites. – Exodus 19:4-6

God was introducing Israel to a new paradigm. Basically, everything about their life, their purpose, their worth was going to change. God started the change with a change in their calendar:

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.” – Exodus 12:1-2

Following this He began to redefine who Israel was and who they would be. It was important for Israel to adopt this new identity, value system and way of thinking, because God was not looking to have a people just like all others. God wanted to use Israel to point the way to a better life, and as such, they had to believe it themselves, and not only that – they had to walk in it.

Years later, Jesus was teaching in the temple, handling the confrontation of the religious leaders.

Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him. To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “f you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.” – John 8:30-35

The Jews who believed in him also believed that they were free, but Jesus showed them a deeper truth – they weren’t walking in true freedom. There were things in their lives that kept them bound, even though from what they could see, they were as free as they needed to be. In reality, their freedom was based on their understanding of freedom, and how they compared their state with others. We have never been slaves of anyone. This was coming from a nation who was at that time under Roman rule.

As Jesus defined what real freedom was for those who believed him, God also had to redefine many ideas Israel had about life: submission, obedience, faith, purpose, possession and value. God is also doing the same with us, defining and redefining our lives and bringing us into that understanding so we can walk in His truth.

Stating the Obvious

“Treasure” is not a concept that normally needs a lot of explanation. Things of value, things that will benefit us or just things that will please us are treasures to us. Supply and Demand is based on this fact, that regardless of the actual net worth of a product, if there is enough demand for it, its value, or “treasure equivalent” skyrockets. Stores create artificial or perceived demand to further validate our “need for that treasure”. Treasures make us happy, they fulfill us, they give us self worth.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. – Matthew 13:44-46

Jesus has been preaching about a kingdom that he is inviting people to enter. In the parables, he is describing how the kingdom works. Following one parable, Jesus explains who the “players” are in the parable:

The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age and the harvesters are angels. – Matthew 13:37-39

So the parables are more than just nice stories – they speak of spiritual realities that we are able to enter into, when we understand how the kingdom is demonstrated in other areas of scripture.

New Found Treasure

In the parable, Jesus describes the actions of two men. Each of the men came upon their treasure in very different ways, but the result was the same. The first man stumbled upon something that was immediately recognized as prized. The treasure was hidden, and by the nature of the parable, was either unknown or forgotten by the owner of the field. To think of all the times the owner cared for the field, maybe planted crops or used it for grazing his animals, daily overlooking something of extreme worth that could have been discovered with some effort.  This treasure could have also affected the area of the field negatively, causing it not to produce. In any case, when the man found the treasure, he knew it was to be preferred above anything else the man had. The man now had one focus: get the treasure.

The second man’s focus was different. He was in pursuit of a particular treasure, and was meticulous until he found it. One he found it, he was persistent in his efforts, selling everything until he could buy the treasure.

As a parable of the kingdom of heaven, you can see how God is when it comes to his treasure:

Prized Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says “rejoice with me, I have found my lost sheep” – Luke 15: 4-6
Preferred I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. – Luke 15:7
Pursued You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us

Israel was just coming out of a lifestyle of torture, abuse, forced possession and no value. In Egypt they were not prized, they were used. They were not preferred – they were pushed aside. And the only pursuit of them was if they tried to get away. God wanted them to know a new life that would come with the covenant – a life where they could begin to feel real worth and purpose.

King of the Hill

God spoke of Israel as being his treasured possession. In this it was understood that Israel was prized. God went so far as to say that while the whole earth was His, Israel would have a special place and significance. Fast-forward to Jesus’ interaction with those who believed in him and you can see what this turned into: We are Abraham’s descendants…  this became a badge to be worn, a sense of entitlement and almost a statement to the world that they were “God’s favorite”.

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee ands the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. – Luke 18:10-14

Being special does not mean being better. Being set apart is not to be a sign of status. Being called is not an avenue to condemn. Jesus said that the tax collector went home justified (not just feeling better about himself, but having been made right by God), where the Pharisee received nothing. This man was a treasure that was stumbled upon, that God declared his worth, preferred him over the Pharisee and pursued him to establish righteousness in him. The key for this man, and what caused the change in his life, was the pursuit of God, not his own self worth. In fact, it was only by the pursuit of God, by God declaring him to be a treasured possession that his life did change. So it is for us, when we allow God to declare how He values us, what our place is in his kingdom, we are changed by the value he places on us, and our desire is to continue to change to fully become the person he has already said we could be.

This My Son

Jesus continued, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.” – Luke 15:11-16

This story can actually go by many titles. The biggest focus is on the younger son, of course, because of all that he does wrong and how the father restores him. The story however is nothing without the father. The father had every reason to disown his son, to not allow him back, to agree to his son’s terms, make him a slave and make him pay everything back. The father however saw a prized possession. When the son returned home the father pursued the son to bring him back to the position he was meant to be in. The father preferred the company of his son to the separation he felt when the son left. Before the son entered the new life that he thought he would be experiencing, the father began to order the son’s life, declaring the value he had in the son:

But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is found.” So they began to celebrate. – Luke 15:22-24

The father didn’t just utter an empty value statement. He followed it up with actions that fit the statement. He didn’t just talk about making the son feel special and wanted, he backed it up. As this is a parable, it can also be applied to other areas where God pursues His people: you will be my treasured possession is not just a statement but the basis for all of God’s actions toward us after that. It is God breaking out the best robe (remember the significance of the robe in covenant), marshaling all of his servants to prepare the banquet, bringing the fattened calf (do you get the impression that the father “sold everything” in preparation of finding his treasured possession?).

For us, when God declares us as His children, as His valued, treasured possession, it is not an empty show of words. We can expect a show of his love as demonstration of the declaration.

Being Like the Father

There is another son in the story. He doesn’t leave. He doesn’t ask for the inheritance. He is living in the father’s presence, but does not experience the father’s value. This son has it hard because he is living, not through the father, but through the experiences of his brother:

But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him.” “My son”, the father said, “you are always with me and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is found.” – Luke 15:29-32

The older brother never heard the value the father had in him. Consequently, he judged his life, not by the constant connection he could have had with his father, but with the life that he saw in his brother. Thank you God that I am not like this man… The father had to show the older son that he was also preferred; that he also had value, and that he was to be like his father in his joy over his brother returning.  When God declared his value over Israel, his goal was to make a people that had his heart – a people that would not just occupy the Promised Land, but would be the image of the heart of God for the rest of the nations. God does the same with us, not only declaring his love and value over us, but transforms us into the image of His Son, so we can show His heart to the world.

Introspection:

  • How would you describe your worth? Would you say you are valuable?
  • What is God’s “self-talk” about you? Do you think that God really prefers you?
  • How do you compare yourself to others? Should you?
  • Do the “nations” (others) around you see the heart of God in your living? What can you change to make that happen?
  • Who do you value? How do they know?

Call to Action

  • Spend time with God to understand why you are valuable to him. Thank him for the value he places on you.
  • Find one way that you can demonstrate your value of one person in the congregation

Becoming God’s People II: Relationship and Responsibility

to download a pdf copy of this message, click here:Second in the Becoming God's People Series

You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites. – Exodus 19:4-6

Setting a Proper Foundation

Israel was in a time of intense transition. As much as they appreciated seeing their oppressors hit with the plagues and eventually drowned in the waters of the Red Sea, their new found freedom brought with it a whole new set of challenges. After 430 years living in Egypt, Israel did not know how to live free. Furthermore, they were never in a position to have to defend themselves against an enemy.

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt armed for battle. – Exodus 13:17-18

Armed for battle, and yet the signs of battle would have sent them right back into the bondage they had grown accustomed to. Today, prisoners who leave prison very often intentionally go back, because the known life inside prison is, at least perceived to be better than the unknown life on the outside. Similarly for us the two lessons we can take from this are:

  1. We can prefer the limiting life of the familiar when God is calling us to the uncomfortable and unfamiliar to grow us. Habits surface during times of ease and times of extreme pressure, and when we are either not used to the new life God is bringing, or if we are challenged in our ability to be successful, we will tend to go back to what we know [Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish”, Simon Peter told them. – John 21:2-3a]
  2. Our deliverance can both take time and a path we would not have chosen– There was a shorter distance God could have chosen to get the Israelites to the promised land sooner, but he knew what was facing them if they took that path: a situation that would have destroyed their faith. God chose rather to go the long way, and He will do the same with us if the longer path will be a better guarantee of getting us to His desired destination.

Israel got through the first hurdle – getting out of Egypt. They had another journey, and foes to face just getting to the Promised Land, and once inside, there would still be things to face. For this, Israel needed a basis upon which to enter the land and succeed. A basis upon which to understand the things they would face, and upon which they would make their decisions. That basis was what God provided in bringing them into covenant.

Understanding Covenant

Although the term “covenant” gets loosely used in modern society, real covenant is hardly understood. Covenant is used as a replacement for a contract, a promise or an agreement, but it is so much more than that. The benefits to understanding covenant are many, not the least of which is understanding some of the more difficult language in scripture. Taken outside of covenant the language can seem harsh, judgmental or exclusive, but in the context of covenant has a completely different meaning.

One of the best ways to understand covenant is to look at a covenant ceremony

Step Description Scripture Example
1 Exchange Robes – the robe represented the “skin” or the person. By putting on the other person’s robe, you were effectively saying that you were “in” the other person, and they in you. And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt – I Samuel 18:3-4
2 Exchange Belts – The belt was both the covering for the core of the person (the spirit) and the holder for any weapon the person had. In exchanging the belt (and weapons included) you were giving your protection to the person, covering them in every area See above
3 Cut the covenant – an animal is sacrificed, cut into pieces and laid on the ground. All covenants are made with a sacrifice, and no covenant is made without blood. Blood represents life, and covenants are only made through the full dedication (giving) of one’s life Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other. The birds however he did not cut in half – Genesis 15:10In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it because a will is in force only when somebody has died. It never takes effect while the one who made it is living. That is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood – Hebrews 9:16-18
4 Mingling of blood – this can occur with either the blood of the animal, each other’s blood, or both. In the case of the animal, the pieces that have been cut and placed on the ground have the blood flowing from them, and the covenant parties walk between the pieces in figure 8 fashion. Doing so, they not only go in and out of the pieces, but they stand in the blood of the mingled pieces, so there is a blending of the blood. In the case of the individuals, they would cut either hand or arm and clasp them together to mingle the blood. This represented the oneness of the two individuals When the sun had set and darkness fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces – Genesis 15:17
5 Terms of the Covenant –  the parties, usually the stronger party would state the history that brought them to the place of covenant and/or speak of the character of the parties coming into covenant. Then while walking through the pieces each party would state the responsibilities, or terms of the covenant, and would declare the penalty for breaking the covenant. The penalty was usually something like “may God do to me what was done to this animal if I break this covenant But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates me from you.” – Ruth 1:16-17Also look at Deuteronomy chapters 5-8
6 Exchanging Names – Each individual would take part of each other’s name. In most situations the lesser party in the covenant would “wear” the name of the greater more prominently, but the greater would also be known by the individual Then He said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God. – Exodus 3:6I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. – Leviticus 26:12
7 Covenant sign – a mark or scar made in the body that would not be removed. This mark forever identified you as a person in covenant. The stronger the covenant, the bigger the scar. Some tribes have been known to make a cut along their entire torso and fill the cut with gunpowder so it would never fully heal, and display the wound proudly as a sign they were in covenant with a powerful king I have set a rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. – Genesis 9:13You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. – Genesis 17:11
8 Witness – Covenants were always made in the presence of witnesses, so there was accountability for the covenant. The witness could be other people, or a monument set up. “See!” he said to all the people. “This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God. – Joshua 24:27

*the entire chapter of Joshua 24 is a great example of a covenant ceremony

No Not Negative

Why so graphic? Why so much blood, so many harsh conditions? Why would anyone enter a covenant that could be considered so scary? Believe it or not, the covenant was not negative. It was completely symbolic of how strongly each party was willing to commit to each other. While the conditions for breaking the covenant were horrendous, they only served to show that the individuals had no intent of breaking it, and would do everything in their power, up to and including death before the covenant would be broken.  Covenants are about enduring relationship, about commitment to each other that is enforced with everything each person has.  Henry Clay Trumbull in his book, The Blood Covenant: A Primitive Rite and its Bearing on Scripture writes of the Dayaks of Borneo:

Yet again, this covenant of blood friendship is found in different parts of Borneo. In the days of Mr. Ellis, the Rev. W. Medhurst, a missionary of the London Missionary Society, in Java described it in reporting a visit to the Dayaks of Borneo, by one of his assistants together with a missionary of the Rhenish Missionary Society.

Telling of the kindly greeting given to these visitors at a place called Golong he says that the natives wished to establish a fraternal agreement with the missionaries, on condition that the latter should teach them the ways of God. The travelers replied that if the Dayaks became disciples of Christ they would be constituted the brethren of Christ without any formal compact. The Dayaks however insisted that the travelers should enter a compact with them according to the custom of the country, by means of blood. The missionaries were startled by this thinking that the Dayaks meant to murder them and committed themselves to their Heavenly Father, praying that whether living or dying, they might lie at the feed of their savior. It appears, however that it is the custom of the Dayaks, when they enter into a covenant to draw a little blood from the arms of the covenanting parties and having mixed it with water, each to drink in this way the blood of the other. Mr. Barenstein [one of the missionaries] having consented [for both] to the ceremony, they all took off their coats and the two officers came forward with small knives to take a little blood out of the arm of each of them. This being mixed together in 4 glasses of water , they drank severally each from the glass of the other , after which they joined hands and kissed. The people then came forward and made obeisance (bowed) to the missionaries as the friends of the Dayak king crying out with loud voices “let us be friends and brethren forever, and may God help the Dayaks to obtain the knowledge of God from the missionaries!” The two chiefs then said, “Brethren, be not afraid to dwell with us for we will do you no harm; and if others wish to hurt you we will defend you with our life’s blood and die ourselves ere you be slain. God be witness and this whole assembly be witness that this is true. “ Whereupon the whole company shouted, “Balaak!” or “Good, Be it so!”

Dwelling, protection, strength, sacrifice, and giving all – this is what a covenant is all about. It is for this reason that the stronger party almost always initiates the covenant. The lesser party can enter into the covenant and has responsibility within the covenant, but the life within the covenant is maintained by the stronger party. In the case of the missionaries to Borneo, they offered what they could, which was a means to God, but they could not offer protection from the enemies of the Dayaks. The Dayaks on the other hand were able to ensure safety and life for the missionaries, and because of this initiated the covenant.

Notice the language of the Dayaks, and think about the language God uses for us: if others wish to hurt you, we will defend you with our life’s blood, and die ourselves ere you be slain. This is standard language in covenant, allowing us to understand the sacrifice of Jesus. For the Israelites coming out of Egypt God’s covenant to them would have ensured them of safe passage, protection, and provision as they went through the wilderness and settled in the Promised Land.

Understanding Obedience

Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” – Luke 22:25-26

Obedience is a dirty word in modern society. It conjures up images of bondage, restriction, denial and oppression. People use commands of obedience for their own benefit (you have to obey me because I am _____). The commandments of God are seen as irrelevant because we see them in light of a “Pharaoh complex”, not a covenant reality. Therefore, we hold loosely to anything having to do with obedience, preferring a language of grace. Obedience and grace, however, are not mutually exclusive, nor are they polar opposites, when seen in light of covenant.

When reciting the terms of the covenant, both parties had responsibility to each other:

Therefore take care to follow the commands, decrees and laws I give you today. If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep his covenant of love with you as he swore to your ancestors. He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land – your grain, new wine and olive oil – the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you. – Deuteronomy 7:11-13

Obedience then is wrapped up in the life of the covenant – it is an outflow of the covenant, and the lesser party’s means of realizing the continued blessing of the covenant. Consider the athlete who is under the tutelage of a coach. The better the coach, the more the coach can demand obedience from the athlete, not because the coach wants to limit the athlete, but so the athlete can optimize their performance. The athlete willingly submits to the requirements of the coach, knowing that it is for the athlete’s benefit. Similarly, God promises life and blessing for those who obey – not a limited restricted life, but an optimized life.

The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. – John 10:10

Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us that we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so that we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. – Deuteronomy 30:11-16

God was in effect telling Israel, I know what it takes to get you to the Promised Land and to give you the life you deserve, but you have to trust me in this. Let me take the lead and do what I say, for I won’t steer you wrong.

Mingled Blood, Mingled Language, Mingled Life

Obedience and keeping covenant are not separate. They are both part of covenant life that is held together by our trust in God who keeps covenant. God reestablished his covenant with Israel after they left Egypt, but before they got to their destination, as he wanted a people who could live in relationship with Him, regardless of their situation or surroundings.

I know what it is to be in need, ands I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:12-13

Paul could say this not just because he had experienced things and gotten through them, but because he knew where his strength came from – a God who keeps, or keeps watch over (guards) his covenant. This is what God wanted for Israel as they prepared to go into their new life: a people fully identifying with God, resting in His power and commitment to them, and fully believing in the life of promise He desired to give. This would be the foundation to Israel being a sign to the rest of the world, not of their goodness or righteousness, but of God’s desire for all to come to him. God’s desire for us is the same: for us to walk in covenant with Him, and thus to experience “life to the full”, having that life to be a witness to the world of a God who loves and desires relationship with all people.

Introspection

  • Where have you chosen the “familiar and comfortable” instead of the unfamiliar and uncomfortable path? What caused you to go back? Is there fear about choosing the unfamiliar?
  • Has the Bible and/or Christianity seemed to be more “law-based” than “life-based”?  Have you felt pressured to follow the commands for fear of punishment or curse?
  • What does understanding covenant do to your understanding of God’s heart for you? Do you believe that God has a positive destiny for you?
  • Have you felt that you were doing the “following God thing” in your own strength? Does following God sometimes feel like more of a burden than it’s worth?
  • Do you think the dreams/desires you have are actually achievable? What would it take to make them happen? Is God strong enough and dedicated enough to fulfill those dreams / desires?
  • Does your path to destiny seem to be taking too long? How do you feel about God who is taking you down a path that others don’t seem to have to take?

Call to Action

  • Look at a relationship you have in your life that should be a covenant relationship. Reach out to that person and reestablish it as a covenant, understanding the commitment it will take to maintain that covenant.
  • Spend time with God regarding the path He has you on. Confess your heart about where He has you and commit yourself to trust His direction
  • Ask God to reveal one area where you have rejected obedience, and repent of that rejection. Ask God to help you bring that area under the life of His covenant so you can follow it with joy.

Study for Next Week

Luke 15:11-32, the parable of the prodigal children

Becoming God’s People I: A Time of Transformation

Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites. – Exodus 19:5-6

Dormant Destiny

The people of God had a purpose, a calling, and a character that went back to the calling of Abraham.

I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you. I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse, and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. – Genesis 12:2-3

Abraham accepted this destiny and set out to find this place that God would point out to him, and to become that “father of many nations”. Abraham kept this vision and destiny before him – so much so that even when he made mistakes, they never deterred him from his ultimate goal.

Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised – Romans 4:20-21

For the children of Israel however, this calling and promise lay dormant while they were in Egypt. While they knew they were the people of God, and continued to tell stories of their past, the reality for most of them was that they saw their destiny tied to the day to day existence in Egypt. Even while they feared God and saw his hand in their lives, they were as far away from the full purpose of God as they could be. Living in a foreign land, surrounded by a dominant culture not their own and being pressed into submission by the land, Israel was being shaped into a mold not of God’s making.

Pressed and Molded

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” – Genesis 50:24

Israel did not go to Egypt with the mindset that they would be there forever. Over time, however, they started to settle into the land because they had favor: Joseph was a ruler in Egypt and had saved Egypt from famine, so it was natural for his family to be accepted. The longer they stayed, the lines of original destiny and purpose began to blur so that Egypt became home. Even when a new ruler came in and things went from good to bad, the concept of leaving wasn’t in the forefront of their mind. They wanted relief from their tasks, but they were not trying to get to the Promised Land.

Courage to Change

God began to reveal his destiny, first to Moses then to the leaders of Israel. At first glance the thought of God’s purpose for them was inspiring, but in light of the life of Egypt that surrounded them, Israel and Moses repeatedly shrunk back to what they saw as the real power in their lives: Egypt

God’s Words and Actions Israel’s Response
And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt… the elders of Israel will listen to you (Exodus 3:17-18 abridged) Moses answered “but what if they do not believe me or listen to me and say the Lord did not appear to you?” (Exodus 4:1)
Then the Lord said if they do not believe you or pay attention to the first sign, they may believe the second. But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground (Exodus 4:8-9) Moses said to the Lord, Pardon your servant Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue (Exodus 4:10)
Moses and Aaron brought together all the elders of the Israelites and Aaron told them everything the Lord had said to Moses. He also performed all the signs before the people, and they believed (Exodus 4:29-31 abridged) When they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them and they said, “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hands to kill us (Exodus 5:20-21)
And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant (Exodus 14:31) The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Exodus 16:3)

In order to bring Israel into their destiny, God had to put Israel in a place where they could begin to break the patterns that had become a part of their nature and culture.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12:1-2

Renew (ἀνακαίνωσις ) has at its base the concept of something that has not been there before. Renewal, then is not just getting a fresh perspective, but instituting a change to a different reality. Israel knew how to identify with the conditions of Egypt, but God wanted to give them a completely different perspective, not only of their experience in Egypt, but of who they were.

Note all of the action words Paul used pointed not to God, but to the people he was writing to:

  • Offer your bodies
  • Your spiritual act of worship
  • Do not conform
  • Be transformed
  • Test
  • Approve

Israel waited for 430 years for God to do something, and he did in a big way. God knew thought that if Israel did not actively participate in their deliverance, they would, in their mind stay in Egypt.  Similarly Paul urged the church to actively institute change, and he covered every area: body, soul (mind, will, emotions) and spirit. Setting their mind on a new reality, thinking about truth and life that up until that time was not even possible for them would cause them to be transformed – literally, changed into another form. This is the same word used of Jesus when he was transfigured before Peter, James and John. The three disciples saw a new reality when that happened, and God calls his people to facilitate that new reality by changing what our mind is filled with.

Lining Up the Scope

While in Egypt, Israel knew they were God’s people. They held to their traditions, they actively feared God and saw his blessing in their lives, and persevered under the harshest conditions. There was one thing that was missing though: a vision of the Promised Land.

Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Why, Lord have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”  - Exodus 5:22-23

Neither Moses, nor the Israelite leaders could see past the current need for deliverance or the familiar situation in front of them. They saw God’s answer as simply the elimination of trouble. God, however, did not only tell Moses that he would deliver Israel from Egypt: he told him that he would bring them to the land of promise

So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey… – Exodus 3:8a

Moses and the Israelites saw relief, but did not see purpose. They saw their desire, but did not see God’s will for them, and in the situation, could not tell if the situation they were facing was consistent with God’s will.  Paul said that when transformation happens because of a renewed mind, we would be able to test and approve God’s will

PathToHisWill

If Israel had changed their mind and accepted the reality that they were truly people of God and allowed that to transform them into the people they should have been, they could have faced the rejection by Pharaoh without questioning God’s will and intent.

We have not received the spirit of this world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit of God does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned. – I Corinthians 2:12-14

God’s deliverance of Israel was not just getting them out of Egypt. Jesus didn’t die just to save us from sin. His purpose was and is something more. There is a destination for us: for Israel, it was the Promised Land. For us it is His wonderful light:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – I Peter 2:9-10

Accepting a new reality, His reality, gives us opportunity to see His direction and purpose. It gives us the ability to accept our new label. It is what God wants to establish in us before we actually get to our destination.

Wilderness: The Training Ground

In the wilderness, God gave Israel the opportunity to establish a new reality – to think and act differently.  He did this so that he could establish his will for Israel inside of them. He did this so that those who were His people could truly begin to walk in the reality that they were children of God, and fully understand what that meant.

Similarly God is bringing us to the reality of what it means to be his child, but to fully walk in that we have to take action to line up with His word and His vision:

Introspection

  • What is God’s purpose / promise for you? Your family? Your church?
  • How does Egypt appear in your life? What are the things that mold you into the person you shouldn’t be?
  • Where have you asked God for deliverance but did not care where He would take you?
  • Look at an area where you are confident of God’s will. What makes you confident? How can you substantiate that?
  • Look at an area where you are not confident of God’s will. What do you need in order to be confident? Are you willing to adapt to line up to His will?

Call to Action

  • Take personal inventory on what fills your mind. What are the messages that shape your thinking?
  • Replace one thing from the world with a pursuit of God: a time of study; a time of intercession; a gift to an unsuspecting person;
  • Take an area that you are not confident of his will and seek counsel from another, and commit to prayer and study over that area
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Study for Next Week

Deuteronomy 7, focusing on Obedience and keeping covenant.