Pictures of Faith: Certain Mercy—Joshua 2

Heaven will be home to some unlikely people, and Hebrews 11 records some of them—Barak, Jephthah, Samson. But today, we’re thinking about the most unlikely figure from that list of Old Testament persons who trusted in a Redeemer who was to come.

Rahab not only came from among Israel’s enemies, the Amorites, but she was a professionally immoral person, a harlot. What does it look like when a harlot from among Israel’s enemies is saved by faith?

In the backstory to Joshua 2 Israel has long since been freed from Egyptian bondage. But now, after God’s great feats under Moses and Aaron, the nation has wandered for forty years. Joshua leads Israel, and he’s urging its people to take the land God has promised: … be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD God is with you wherever you do (1.9).

Then, Joshua sends spies. Will the debacle of Numbers 13-14 be repeated from forty years earlier—when only he and Caleb believed the LORD would deliver the land to them? No, this time things will be different, largely through the ministry of an Amorite prostitute named Rehab.

Rahab tells a falsehood (:1-7). After crossing the Jordan, the spies slip into Jericho and mingle in the home of Rahab. This home might have been a brothel—perhaps a loud and seedy place where a stranger could get lost, mind his business (or not!), and gather news. But, somehow, the spies’ cover is blown. Soldiers arrive, and Rahab hides them on her roof and covers for them with some barefaced lies: I didn’t know where they were from … they went out last night … I don’t know where they went (:4-5).

Some have struggled with the way the New Testament rewards Rahab for her deceit. (See Hebrews 11.31 and James 2.35). Important to remember is that God has removed the authority of the Jericho leaders. So, we’re justified  in concluding that they know longer deserve to know the truth. Rahab is changing her allegiances. Her faith “looks” like something. That’s the point James 2 makes. And living out her newborn faith will look like a heart-change toward the one, true, God of Israel.

Rahab falls on God’s mercy (:8-14). Late at night, when the bounty hunters have departed, Rahab visits the spies on the roof of her house. It’s here we see her heart, together with the evidence of God’s mercy and her right response to God’s work. She shares what’s been going on in Jericho, and in her own heart. She cites God’s work in Egypt, the destruction of the Amorite kings Og and Sihon, and gives her new estimation of the God of Israel: … the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on earth beneath (:11b). Then, Rahab falls on God’s mercy: Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign (:12). “Kindly” … that’s the Hebrew word hesed, “unfailing, loyal love based on a covenant relationship”. Rahab is saying, “Show me how to be on the side of the one, true God; I want to be in relationship with Him and you!”

The evidence of God’s mercy in Rahab’s life is a changed heart toward God. That’s what faith looks like in the life of an Amorite prostitute, or anybody for that matter!

Then, Rahab enters into covenant (:15-23). The rest of the passage is about how Rahab helped the spies escape, and about the terms of the deal they make with her. She’s spared their lives; they’ll spare hers in the coming invasion, but she’s got to stay at home and reveal her whereabouts with the scarlet cord they give her. But, here I have a question and an observation. Why is the wall mentioned in verse 15? Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall, so that she lived in the wall. 

We join the original readers of this account in knowing what is going to happen to these walls. They’re all coming down, right? (See Joshua 6). And, we get to puzzle over the irony that Rahab is being told to stay at home on the wall that’s about to fall. I’m not sure how the mechanics of this worked, but we know that Rahab kept the terms of the covenant and was spared. The point here, though, is that there’s only one way out of Jericho, and it’s through God’s mercy!

The picture of Rahab and her family huddled on the wall trusting in the one, true God and flinging herself on God’s mercy because of her changed heart makes an easy intro to talking about the cross of Christ, doesn’t it?

Among many New Testament verses, Romans 14.10b-12 makes it clear where we’re all headed: For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, ‘As I live, says the LORD, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God’. So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. 

We’re not all prostitutes, but we’re all sinners. And, we’re all in need of God’s mercy. For us who live after the coming of Jesus, bowing the knee before we meet God looks like trusting God’s mercy in the work of Christ. The wall of Jericho involved God’s judgment but involved a way out through God’s mercy. God’s judgment on Jesus at the cross is all about God’s mercy, because Jesus took our sins on Himself. We show we “get” this truth by a changed heart toward God, involving trust in Jesus and His work. This looks like a changed heart toward, just like it did for Rahab.

So we say, my right response to God’s mercy is a changed heart toward God. 

The account of Rahab in Joshua has a happy ending. Rahab is not only numbered among the faithful of Hebrews 11, she’s numbered among those who joined Israel (6.22-25). She’s also numbered among the physical ancestors of King David and Jesus Himself! (Matthew 1). Most importantly, she joined the family of God through God’s mercy and by faith.

How about you? Have you ever read this Old Testament account this way? Have you ever seen before how it points toward Jesus and His work? And have you recognized your need for God’s mercy, understood how Jesus took your sins on Himself at the cross and then trusted Christ?

If not, why don’t you trust Him right now? And then, you can say with all God’s people: “the LORD [MY GOD], he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. And, I have received His mercy, in Christ!”

Pictures of Faith: Certain Remembrance—Exodus 2.23-4.17

Have you ever felt forgotten by God? Maybe you were serving with all your might, but the circumstances (the ones we talked about last week, maybe) didn’t line up with your best efforts.

When you (and I) feel forgotten by God, maybe we need to ask a follow-up question: What would it look like for God to remember you? 

In Exodus 2.23-4.17, God remembers Israel by sending the Nation a (reluctant) deliverer. Israel is oppressed in Egypt as slaves. All the good will we see at the end of Genesis has melted away into 400 years of bondage. But then … God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. And God saw the people of Israel—and God knew (2.25, ESV).

God raises up a deliverer in the person of Moses—a burnout figure pasturing his father-in-law’s sheep in the wilderness. But when God appears to, summons and commissions Moses at the burning bush (3.1-9), it isn’t like Moses is thrilled to be God’s deliverer. Moses has tried the delivering thing before (see Exodus 2), and now he’ll need to get over himself to recognize God’s remembrance. And, it’s here that we see that nothing has changed for us. Moses’ objections to God strike us as remarkably contemporary. We who live after the cross and know Jesus sometimes have the very same objections when we realize that the cross of Christ is all about God remembering us!

Here are Moses’ four objections to God’s remembrance, in the way we’d say them:

Objection #1: “I’m not worthy” (3.11-12). 

Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt? (:11). Shepherds were untouchables in Egypt, and now Moses, who used to be in Pharaoh’s court, has identified with the Hebrew people, shepherds. And he probably figures he’s in retirement from the delivering business. How does God respond? But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain (:12).

Do you ever feel unworthy? The self-esteem movement might respond to our sense of unworthiness by telling us that we’re good enough, smart enough and have a right not to be bullied. But what does the New Testament say? We are worthy because Jesus is worthy. For as by the one man’s disobedience [that’s Adam] the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience [that’s Jesus] the many will be made righteous (Romans 5.19).

Through the perfect life and the holy God-satisfying death of Jesus we are made worthy for right relationship with God when we trust in Jesus. God’s answer to Moses anticipates this. I’m worthy, and I’m going to do this for you, God tells Moses. But, you’ll need to respond in faith to see it … God remembers you by giving you His Christ!

Objection #2: “I can’t do this by myself!” (3.13-22). 

If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?; what shall I say to them?” (:13). Moses expects to be asked about the nature of the god who has sent him, and God responds: I AM WHO I AM (:14). God is the one who is always present. Moses won’t be by himself!

Do you ever feel alone? The New Testament reminds us that Jesus, by His very nature, is with His people. Before Abraham was, I AM, Jesus says in John 8.58 (and was killed for saying it). And then in His final words to his disciples: And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28.20) … God remembers you by giving you His Christ!

Objection #3: “I won’t be believed” (4.1-9). Here, God gives Moses three signs involving his staff turned into a serpent and then changed back to a staff (God’s power over nations); Moses’ hand turned leprous and then healed (God’s power to restore broken health); and, Nile water turned to blood (God’s power to judge). Importantly, these are power signs for God’s people, Israel. Moses is afraid he won’t be taken seriously by his own people.

Do you ever worry that you won’t be taken seriously if you bring up the cross of Christ as a serious solution to peoples’ problems? You hear of fellow Christians’ struggles and learn of their work with counselors and psychiatrists and then just feel so silly asking, “So … what does your pain have to do with the Gospel?”

The New Testament assures us that Jesus will make Himself known through you in the hour of your need. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Sprit of your Father speaking through you (Matthew 10.19-20). Jesus is talking about our testimony to His cross! And there we encounter ultimate reality in Christ’s work that is supremely real! … God remembers you by giving you His Christ!

Objection #4: “I don’t know how!” (4.10-17). 

I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue (:10). Moses is not really a local-yokel, but he knows the rhetoric necessary to persuade Pharaoh.

God responds: Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now, therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak? (:11-13).

Do your problems ever seem too complicated for you? The New Testament tells us to go to the cross of Christ. The Apostle Paul got this. In 1 Corinthians 2, pressured by Greeks in love with smooth, Sophist teachers, Paul proclaimed the Gospel of the cross of Christ, crisp and clean: And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (:1-2).

God’s remembrance of Israel looked like His providing a deliverer—Moses, reluctant as he was. God’s remembrance of you and me looks like His providing Christ and His cross—Jesus, willing and able. The problem we each have is that so often we don’t really believe God remembers us by giving us Christ. We’re like Moses, trying our hand at self-deliverance and then being a burnout in the end. We worship on Sunday, but search for worthiness, feel alone, worry about the evaluation of others and don’t know how to solve our problems during the week.

The Good News here is that Christ meets us in every area of our lives and then goes with us as we learn to trust Him.

God remembers you by giving you His Christ!

 

Pictures of Faith: Certain Provision—Genesis 37

Have you ever wondered why God is so quiet in the midst of your life circumstances?

Reading through the Old Testament would seem to suggest we might expect God to be “louder”. In Genesis 15, God confirmed Abraham’s faith by localizing His glory into a shape and passing through pieces of severed animals, covenantally putting Himself on the hook for sinners. In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with “a man” we later recognize to be the pre-incarnate Christ in the form of man, though not yet in the flesh of man. But then we come to Genesis 37, the section leading to the culmination of Genesis, and in the life of Joseph we resonate with the way God deals with His covenant people Israel. He’s quiet, working through the circumstances of Joseph’s life. And, in observing God’s plan of redemption for Joseph and his family in the midst of circumstances, we learn something about the ways of God in our own lives as well.

God’s plan of redemption for Joesph and his family was carried out through family brokenness (:1-11). In reading the account we know something Joseph and his family didn’t yet know: There’s about to be a severe famine, and everybody who isn’t provided for is going to die! How will God care for His covenant people? He’ll work through one very dysfunctional family.

The account begins (verse 3) with Joseph—the favorite son of his father— pasturing his father’s flocks with his half-brothers. Tension develops when Joseph brings a bad report to his father involving his brothers’ misconduct. The text says, literally, that after that, “They added still to hate him … and couldn’t speak peacefully to him” (:4). Joseph might have contributed brokenness as well, since the word “bad report” is related to the word “to whisper”. Perhaps, he’s a snitch, a tattle-tail.

But God is in all this. Joseph has two dreams. He dreams (verse 5) that he and his brothers were bundling sheaves in the fields and his brothers’ sheaves bowed down to his. Then (verse 9), he dreams that the sun and moon and stars bowed down to him. The symbolic meaning isn’t lost on his family: “Are you indeed to reign over us?” his brothers ask. “Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” his father asks. Joseph doesn’t seem too guarded in sharing his dream. Perhaps there’s a layer of pride God is addressing in the circumstances to come.

Sin often runs in families, doesn’t it? And the setting of God’s redemption of the covenant family serves to remind us that God works especially in flawed family situations like yours, and like mine. 

God’s plan of redemption for Joseph and his family was carried out through plans of sinners (:12-28). The story develops when Jacob, the father, sends his favorite son out to look for his other sons. Joseph doesn’t find them where they’re supposed to be but twelve miles to the north. And as they see their brother approaching wearing his multi-colored coat (the symbol of his father’s affection) they say, “Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of these pits” (:20). One brother intervenes, so Joseph ends up alive in the pit, but as he’s shouting from the bottom of the pit he has to be thinking about the experience of his great-grandfather and father, noting that he’s among the only righteous ones in the covenant family and asking, “Where is God?! Why doesn’t God make Himself big and loud in my circumstances?”

God’s plan of redemption for Joseph and his family was carried out through unresolved grief (:29-36). Joseph is sold to some traders, and his brothers prepare the rouse by slaughtering a goat and dipping Joseph’s precious robe in the blood. “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not,” they request of their father. Jacob weeps inconsolably, and though he’ll find consolation at the end of the story he’ll go for years believing his son is dead.

All this serves to remind us how senseless our grief might seem in the moment. Like Jacob, we might go years not seeing what God is doing. Maybe, God’s work will remain quiet and hidden to us for the remainder of our lives. But, He is working …

Verse 36 is a transition to the rest of the story. Joseph is sold to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh. And, in the next chapters, we’ll see Joseph bring glory  to God: “It is not to me [to interpret dreams]; God will give Pharaoh an answer” (chapter 41). God will reveal to Pharaoh through Joseph that there will be a great famine; Joseph will be raised to a position of greater authority in Egypt; and Joseph’s brothers will come to him, bow down and be saved.

So, here’s the story, big picture: If Joseph doesn’t get down to Egypt to become prime minister, everybody’s dead … If Joseph doesn’t get thrown into the pit, everybody’s dead … If Joseph doesn’t obey his father to go looking for his brothers, everybody’s dead. Joseph’s account ends in chapter 50 with one of the great summary statements of the Bible: As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as we are today (50.20). God not only ordained the end in Joseph’s life, He ordained the means as well.

Joseph’s story also points us to somebody else. There was once another son who (really!) lived an impeccable life, and He was the favorite of His Father. And one day He was obedient to go looking for His brothers, and He found them in the wrong place. And they hated Him, and they stripped Him of His garments, and they killed Him, and He went down to the pit of death. But God raised Him and He went on ahead of us as the first-born from among the dead. And, if Jesus doesn’t die and go down to the pit of death for us, everybody’s dead!

God never turned up like a bolt of lightening in Joseph’s life, but He’s there working through (not in spite of) the details of Joseph’s life, just as He did in the life of our Lord.

Israel needed this message. They needed to remember as they crossed into the Land of Promise that the whole reason they had been removed to Egypt involved God’s plan for their redemption. Likewise, we need to remember that God’s sovereign plan for us will be accomplished in Christ through the circumstances of our lives.

What circumstances has God allowed into your life? Talk to God about this, why don’t you? Ask Him to open your eyes to make you sensitive to what He’s doing in your life and family through your circumstances. Maybe you won’t understand everything right away. Joseph didn’t. But, if you’re in Christ He will accomplish His purpose for your life, and He’ll use those circumstances that you might prefer to have removed to do so.

And, like Joseph, you and I might learn to say: God’s sovereign plan for me will be accomplished in Christ through the circumstances of my life. 

Pictures of Faith—Certain Victory! Genesis 32.22-32

Have you ever striven with God? Do you strive with Him still?

Such striving might look like the desire to relate to God through performance. Or, it might look like trying to wrestle something from Him—some perceived entitlement, or something your sense of justice requires, perhaps.

The biblical patriarch Jacob knew a lot about striving—about wrestling, with everybody. Today in Genesis 32 we see Jacob carrying on the family quest for blessing with God. But, will he receive it by faith? Or, will he try to wrestle it from God on his own terms?

Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, received God’s call in the ancient land of Ur. And, some 2,000 years before Christ, Abraham became the father of all who would respond to God by faith (Genesis 15.6; Galatians 3.7). Taking God at His word (that He would bless Abraham and His descendants with land, a descendant—the promised redeemer, it turns out!—and a blessing for the whole earth), Abraham departed for the land God showed him. And, he became the paradigm for those who are saved by faith—faith in Jesus, for us; faith in a promised redeemer, for those coming before Christ.

Read Genesis 32.22-33, why don’t you? Then, notice a few results of Jacob’s striving.

Jacob’s striving resulted in his being alone (:22-24a) Jacob had always been a heal-grabber. That’s what his name means. He’d been the favorite of his mother and had always striven for his father’s affection. In doing so, he’d tricked his brother, Esau, out of the family blessing. He’d impersonated his brother in deceiving his father. He’d fled to his uncle, Laban, only to be tricked into marrying Laban’s older daughter, Leah, but had then gotten his uncle back through some brilliant, if pre-scientific, trickery with goats and genetic engineering. Now, Jacob is headed home and must face his brother, Esau. His servants inform him (32.6), We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him. 

Don’t blame Jacob for being afraid. He sends gifts on ahead to his brother whom he assumes to be angry. He sends his family on ahead. And then, he remains alone, on the far side of the River Jabbok, just across from the Promised Land. And, he meets God …

This alone is instructive for us. When we come to the end of our ourselves each of us must do business with God, alone. So, if you face surgery, your friends and church family might rally around you, but you go under the gas by yourself. In the same way, we’ll each stand before God alone, and there will be no props or crutches or anybody (but Christ!) to hide behind.

Jacob’s striving brought him to weakness (:24b-25). And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day … (:24b). Didn’t see that coming, did we? Even so, there’s word-play to suggest that Jacob’s life had been pointing toward this encounter his whole life. YaKov … YaBok … YeVek. These are the Hebrew words for “Jacob,” “Jabbok” and the action of wrestling. The word root of the three common consonants means “to get dusty”. Everything about this passage points to Jacob’s striving. This man is standing between Jacob and his objective.

When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him (:25).

First, who is this man? The “Angel of God” or the “Angel of the LORD” appears throughout the Old Testament. He claims divine authority, exhibits divine attributes, performs divine actions, receives divine homage, and identifies Himself as God. (Check out last week’s passage, Genesis 22.15-16, as an example.) His appearances grow more seldom as we approach the coming of Christ, until we come to a different messenger who identifies himself as Gabriel “who stands in the presence of God”.

We’re looking in this passage at the pre-incarnate Christ! Christ in the form of man, though not yet in the flesh of man. Familiar New Testament passages help us see how appearances of Christ (we dare not yet name Him Jesus!) are much in keeping with Christ’s shepherding of God’s elect throughout all time.

Consider, for example, Colossians 1.16-17: For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

And, while Christ wrestles with Jacob, He “… did not prevail against Jacob”. How so? Certainly, we’re looking here at a foreshadowing of Jesus’ limiting of Himself at the incarnation. We might also be looking at Christ’s unwillingness to override Jacob’s will. Jacob is about to give in, but he needs to be weakened first. And, he is weakened, at the point where Christ simply touches him. I believe this is where Jacob, finally, is saved!

There’s something for us to learn about faith here. Faith is the recognition of our own weakness and the embracing of the strength of another. Those of us who have trusted in Christ have done this. And, I believe, Jacob finally ceases striving and depends on God here.

Jacob’s striving ends in blessing (:26-32). The passage ends with four exchanges:

The first is about the source of blessing (:26). Man: Let me go, for the day has broken. Jacob: I will not let you go unless you bless me. Notice that he’s fought the man, now he’s clinging to Him. It’s like he’s saying, I’ve tried to get the blessing for myself, now I realize you had it all along.

The second exchange is about the condition of blessing (:27). Man: What is your name? Jacob: Jacob. In saying this, Jacob is acknowledging that he is a striver.

The third exchange is about dominion (:28-29a). Man: Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed. Jacob: Please tell me your name. Notice here that the one naming exercises dominion. (Think of Adam in naming the animals.) Notice, also, that Israel means, “one who strives with God”. Jacob has fought everybody, and but for God’s mercy he’d persist in having his own way with God as well.

The fourth exchange is about mercy (:29b). Man: Why is it that you ask my name? There’s a break in the pattern here. The man’s question reminds us of Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush. In the end, God asks the questions, and the one asked responds in faith.

Jacob: So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” 

Then Jacob limps off to meet Esau having discovered weakness. And (the next chapter shows), he reconciles with his brother, because those who have made peace with God are free to make peace n the horizontal plain of human relationships.

There’s abundant application for Israel here, the first readers of this passage.  In the Wilderness, before entering the Promised Land, they needed to remember that their strength would not be as the strength of other nations. There’s, likewise, application of us. What did Jacob plead for from the man?: Please tell me you name!

We know His name: His name is Jesus. And, at the crack of morning, after the long dark night of the soul, when we’ve finally come to the end of ourselves, the risen LORD will meet us next to the empty tomb (so to speak) where we’ve been raise with Him … And He will bless us.

And, maybe, we’ll walk with a limp. This is because, between Jesus’ two comings, the most joyous, victorious, fruitful, powerful Christians are at the same time the most beautifully broken … and till Jesus comes, they limp.

God’s blessing replaces my striving when I come to Him in weakness and by faith. 

Have a blessed week in the LORD. Like Jacob, cease striving with God. Do limp, if you must, but come to Him by weakness and by faith. In Christ, there is salvation, blessing, and certain victory!

 

 

Pictures of Faith: Certain Worship—Genesis 22.1-19

Is there something God has given you that you’re in danger of valuing over God Himself?

Last week in Genesis 15 Abraham received the certainty of God’s blessing (land, descendants, blessing) by faith, in spite of his doubt and in spite of promised hardship and trouble. This led us to discuss the way those of us trusting in Christ have every blessing in Christ, even though we must be sustained by faith as we await the fulness of blessing at Christ’s return.

This week’s passage, in Genesis 22,  is about Isaac, sort of. Abraham has received the promised son from “his own body,” but will now be tested to see if He still trusts God now that he has received the promised son.

The passage is a paragon of excellence in ancient literature, but, this doesn’t mean it’s made up (like a parable). This story is also beautiful for its historicity and truth. All Jews trace their heritage back to Abraham, and we’re looking at the beginnings of God’s great story of redemption that culminates in the very “real” work of Jesus on the cross that makes God’s work in the blood, sweat and tears of my life “real” as well.

Abraham’s fear of the LORD is tested by God (:1-3). 

After these things God tested Abraham … take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and off him there as a burned offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you (ESV). Important here is that Abraham has already sent away Ishmael (21.14), the son of the flesh whom he had received after attempting to manipulate the blessing. And important to generations of Israelites reading this account is the place—Moriah. We find the Mountains of Moriah again in 2 Chronicles (the end of the Bible, to the Jewish mind) where King Solomon builds the Temple at the place where God had “appeared” to David (2 Chron 3.1) and where God would appear to and provide for His people.

So Abraham rose early in the morning …

Abraham’s demonstration of his fear of the LORD involved a willingness to surrender that which was dearest to him (:4-8). 

Abraham departs, and on the third day of the journey Abraham arrives at the place of worship and instructs his servants to remain while he and Isaac make the sacrifice. He knows two things at this point: God had promised him that the blessing would come through Isaac, and God had commanded him to sacrifice him. And yet, “we” [plural] will come again to you. Hebrews 11. 19a gives the clue we need here: He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead. Abraham really expected to kill his son, but he also expected God to raise to back to life!

Abraham’s demonstration of his fear of the LORD resulted in God’s provision (:9-14).

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the alter there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the alter, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham! And he said, “Here am I.” He said do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me (:9-12).

Notice what God now knows by experience, along with Abraham: Abraham truly fears God, and Abraham would not withhold his son from God. In other words, Abraham isn’t willing to exchange God Himself for that which he loves most!

And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looks, and behold, behind him there was a ram caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnet offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided (:13-14).

In the end, God Himself provides the sacrifice necessary. That’s a picture of Jesus on the cross, isn’t it? But, there’s also significance in the wording. The word “provide” (verse 14, ESV) can mean either “to provide” or “to appear” or “be seen”. Second Chronicles 3.1 talks about how the LORD was “seen” by David at this very place of sacrifice. Verse 8 of our passage, in the mouth of Isaac, says the LORD will “provide” the sacrifice. It’s both, isn’t it? The God who provides sees the hearts of His worshippers and will be seen by them. So at Mount Moriah, the site of the Temple in late Old Testament history, the worshipper could bring his best offering to God. If he brought his first-born son (not for sacrifice, but for service!), he could know that God would provide for his needs, though he loses the economic services of his son. And there at the alter the worshipper would “see” the LORD.

But this true story foreshadowing God’s redemption goes deeper still, doesn’t it? There was a day when God the Father—like Abraham before—took His Son, whom He loved, and laid Him on the wood, and then raised His hand with the knife, so to speak. And on that day Jesus—like Isaac before—laid on the wood and resisted the desire to call down legions of angles who would have rescued Him in an instant. And, on that day there would be no angel to stand between the Father and the Son. And the “knife” fell … And on that day the Father and the Son passed the test that Abraham had foreshadowed millennia before. And because THEY passed the test, the blessing is as good as done, and we in Christ are the beneficiaries.

The willingness of both Father and Son to sacrifice what was dearest to them resulted in God’s provision for sinners, and the LORD appeared to us for salvation.

Abraham’s demonstration of his fear of the LORD resulted in blessing (:15-19). Then, God confirms His covenant with Abraham through the mysterious messenger. I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offering shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice (:17-18).

Millennia after the writing of Genesis, the Apostle Paul will understand this “offspring” to be a collective singular. Hear Galatians 3.16: Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 

The Old Testament worshipper would recognize that God had promised to preserve the blessing for the physical descendants of Abraham, the Jews. They will (future tense!) enjoy the blessing, when they say Barak h’ab Beshem Adonai (“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD” (Luke 13.35). But, we know that the blessing will come ultimately through ONE descendant. And it’s through Jesus (the ultimate seed) that those from all nations of the earth (Jew and Gentile) will be blessed.

So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived in Beersheba. 

Abraham’s demonstration of his fear of the LORD involved a willingness to surrender that which was dearest to him which resulted in God’s provision and confirmation of blessing.

And, about us …

And then what about us? Sometimes, God asks us to give up something he wants us to have, if we’re in danger of valuing the thing or the person more than God Himself. Then, if it’s in His plan, we may receive it back.

True worship requires fear of God. Fear of God requires desiring God for His own sake, not just desiring His blessings. Desiring God for His own sake requires offering up that which is dearest to us … Perhaps, we’ll receive it back, cleansed and set apart for God’s purpose in our lives.

Do you have a true story from your own live about something you’ve delivered to the LORD but then received back? As we think about our own hearts, we need need to read or hearts, along with Genesis 22, from the vantage-point of the work of Christ.

Our worship will involve a willingness to release that which is dearest to us, in exchange for which, we will know God’s provision and blessing in Christ.

Pictures of Faith: Certain Blessing—Genesis 15.1-21

I hate clutter! And part of these late-spring to early-summer evenings and weekends is doing something about it.

We ask two questions in our family fight with clutter: Are we using this? And, do we have a place for this thing?If the answer to both those questions is “No!” then the clutter in question has to go—to the dump, in our former urban life, or to our present junk pile (that reminds me each time I see it that I really need to get a truck …).

All this has something to do with Bible reading. In the great continent that is the Old Testament there are stories that need to be brought down from the attics of our lives and put to use right where we live. Hebrews 11, in the New Testament, references fourteen Old Testament characters worthy of note. Each of these great saints provide of a picture of faith before the coming of Christ. Each of these, from Abel to Barak to Jephthah to Samuel, shows us what it looked like to be saved by grace through faith in God’s promises before Christ came to complete the work of redemption. And many of these (Samson is included!) show us what saving faith looks like, despite failure and doubt.

Abraham and Certain Blessing—Genesis 15.1-21

For our purposes in these fleeting summer weeks at Woodland, we begin with Abraham. He began, very likely, as a star worshipper in around 2,000 BC in the Chaldean city of Ur, in present-day Iraq. In one of those great red- letter moments in Scripture, God called him and told him “Go …”. Go from your homeland and your family, and I will give you a land, descendants and a blessing, God said (Genesis 12). And, in one of the great events in human history, Abraham obeyed God.

But then Abraham began to doubt. He doubted because God took His time in fulfilling His promise. He doubted because his rascal nephew Lot came away with the good of the land where Abram dwelled. He doubted, because he and his wife, Sarai, were getting on a bit—too old to see the promise fulfilled by natural means.

And in the midst of doubt, the Genesis account takes us to Genesis 15. Read it, why don’t you?

Abraham’s faith looked like dependance on God for Certain Blessing, in spite of his doubt (15.1-11).

The passage begins with two exchanges between Abraham and God. The first deals with the promised descendant (:1-6). “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great,” God says, repeating the promise (:1, ESV). Abraham responds, “What will you give me, for I continue childless … “(:3-4).

God responds creatively and memorably: “And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said, ‘So shall your offspring be'” (:5). And with that picture of Abram standing under night sky our Genesis narrator summarizes what has been true of Abraham since chapter 12: “And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

The New Testament picks up these verses in Galatians 3.7 to show how dependance on God by faith (not anything we could contribute by our work) has always been the means to right relationship with God:

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scriptures, foreseeing that God would justify Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed’. So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. 

But, Abraham still doubts. God has spoken to his question about the descendant, but what about the land? In the second exchange (:7-11), God reminds Abraham, “I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess” (:7). Abraham responds, “O LORD God, how am to know that shall possess it? (:8, emphasis mine).

Notice how Abraham has moved from questioning God to questioning himself. He is, after all, a man of faith in God, but if God asks him to DO something in order to receive the promise, Abraham isn’t sure he’s up to it.

So, God tells Abraham to lay out the articles of covenant making—heifer, goat, turtledove, pigeon. This would have been no surprise to Abraham. Whereas we go to the bank and sign papers to make covenants, Ancient Near Easterners would divide animals in two and then walk together through the pieces, looking to the mutilated animals and acknowledging what would happen to them if they didn’t keep the promise they were making.

Notice how the narrator gives detail: “Birds of prey came down on the carcasses …” (:11). Abraham is waiting for God to tell him to walk through the severed animals. He’s waiting for God to tell him what he must do to keep the covenant. And, God is taking His own time to turn up.

Abraham’s faith looked like dependance on God for Certain Blessing, in spite of hardship and trouble (15.12-21).

Can you see the picture now? If you’ve ever sat on a hillside on the Fourth of July waiting for the darkness and wondering when and if the fireworks will ever start, you just might have an ounce of the sensation Abraham felt.

And, God does turn up. But instead of telling Abraham what to do, God puts Abraham into a “deep sleep” (a word used to describe the deep concentration of a prophet). Then, God repeats the promise of the blessing, and explains how the Nation of Israel (the first readers of this account 600 years later) would receive the blessing after suffering hardship. And when God really appears it is as the localized form of Himself in His Shekineh glory in the form of billowing smoke and lighting. And, God passes through the pieces ALONE!

What has God just done? When we borrow money at a bank the loan officer will want to know how we intend to secure the loan, and the collateral for the money borrowed will need to be greater than the thing borrowed. If God is to make a deal (and it’s His word that’s on the line), what can He use as security that is greater than Himself? NOTHING! … Since God can appeal to nothing greater than Himself, He will secure His promise using Himself as collateral (see Hebrews 6.13-15). Now, if either party fails to keep its obligations, God will absorb the penalty for lawbreaking.

Where does this leave God? On the hook for sinners, right? Where does this leave Abraham? It leaves him blessed—not on the basis of his work, but on the basis of God’s work received by faith. Where does this leave the Nation of Israel, connecting the God they were following with Abraham’s God? It leaves them confident in their God of promise who will give them the land possessed by their enemies.

And, where does this leave us? 

Mark 15.33-34 describes what happened when the bank of God’s justice foreclosed on sinners:

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me’? 

Galatians 3.13 further explains how this works in God’s plan of redemption:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. 

At the end of the day Abraham was made right with God by faith in the God of Promise. But even so, he didn’t trust or obey God perfectly. And, at the end of the day, the Nation of Israel didn’t obey God perfectly. And, at the end of the day, we haven’t obeyed God perfectly.

But Jesus obeyed God perfectly. And when we put our faith in Him we, like Abraham, are made right with God on the basis of His work on our behalf.

God’s certain blessing is mine by faith in Jesus, but it won’t be fully realized till I’m with Him.

In our time between Christ’s two comings, we’re a bit like Abraham waiting on the side of the hill. We want the full blessing we have coming to us in Christ, but we’re waiting on Christ’s return. Like Abraham, we’re saved by faith in God who took the burden of covenant bearing on Himself in Christ. Unlike Abraham, we don’t look to the night sky, but to the Cross of Christ.

So, when this summer I doubt God’s purpose in my life, I need to remember God will give me what I truly need. And when this summer I experience hardship and trouble, I need to long for Christ’s return. Abraham didn’t receive the full blessing right away, and we won’t either. But, God’s blessing is certain, and like Abraham, we can rest in the God of Promise.

When we bring this fantastic character study down from the attic to where we live, there’s some questions we can ask:

Where do we, like Abraham, doubt God’s purpose in our lives? How does this true account of the roots of our covenant faith help us think about these areas? 

Where am I, like Israel in receiving this promise, experiencing hardship and trouble? And, how does this account help me look forward to Christ’s return? 

How does this character study from the Old Testament change the way I think about God’s love and acceptance for me? 

 

Distraction … (Again!): Matthew 4.1-11

This is a weekend for grads. Congratulations to each of you!

But especially in your happy time, there’s a message for you (and the rest of us, too): Somebody wants to distract you. Using morally neutral stuff, like technology, or using what the Bible calls your “flesh,” there’s an enemy who wants you to lose your first love, to make you unfruitful and unproductive for God …

At Woodland we’re spending these late-spring weeks helping each other think about what our responses to distraction say about where we put our trust. Are we truly trusting God, or do our responses to distractions indicate a self-dependence that needs to be confessed and made right before God?

Jesus knows about distraction. And He’s the only one who has ever responded rightly to distraction. In Matthew 4.1-11, the passage we typically call The Temptation of Christ, we encounter a recasting of the ancient struggle between God’s people and God’s adversary. This battle started (as far as humanity is concerned) in the Garden of Eden where our first parents were distracted and failed. God’s people fought another round in the wilderness when Israel complained and failed. Now, on the way to the cross, Jesus will be allowed to entertain the possibility of taking what is rightfully His, but without having to die. That’s distracting!

Will Jesus be successful where Adam failed? Will Jesus obey God where the Nation of Israel wandered for forty years? In Jesus’ encounter with the Devil the plan of redemption seems to ride on the edge of a knife.

Read Matthew 4.1-11, why don’t you? When you do you’ll see Jesus in the wilderness, preparing for His mission of redemption, but “hungry” and vulnerable to distraction. You’ll also see that Jesus’ obedience to God, despite distraction, is why He is worthy to represent sinful humanity to God. 

Satan’s strategy unfolds with three distractions.

Distraction #1: Desire of the body (:3-4). Satan begins his attack in verse 3: “… if you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Notice that Satan assumes the truth of who Jesus is. It’s like he’s saying, You are the Son of God. I know it, and you know it; so just take what’s yours? Exercise you rights!

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” Jesus responds (:4). Notice that this is a direct quote from Deuteronomy 8.2-3 where God has allowed Israel to be tested, but the Nation wouldn’t be satisfied in God. In contrast to Israel, Jesus is saying, If my Father wants me to endure this test, I won’t satisfy my need apart from Him. Real life is obedience to God and His Word. And God will meet all my needs, even in ways I don’t expect.

Notice also that Eve’s distraction resulted in her taking the fruit that she deemed “good for food” (Genesis 3.6). Jesus passes the test where both Israel and our first parents failed; and not just because He didn’t act on His own terms, but because He actively took refuge in God and God’s Word.

Distraction #2: Desire of the eyes (:5-6)—including the desire to be popular and spectacular. Jewish tradition at the time, based on Malachi 3.1, said that when Messiah arrived he would appear in the sky over the Temple. So, Satan (mis)quotes Psalm 91.11-12:” … on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” Make yourself spectacular, and the people will follow you, he says. Notice that Satan passes over verse 1 from Psalm 91, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”

This doesn’t surprise Jesus. He responds from Deuteronomy 6.16, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test,” a verse that rebukes Israel for failing to praise God when God really did do something spectacular in providing water  from the rock at Massah. It’s like Jesus is saying, I’ll not do something outrageous thinking that God has to bail me out in a way that will impress everybody. I’ll obey God on His own terms; I’ll take refuge in Him and His Word. Then God will give me my inheritance in His time. Notice also how Eve became distracted by the fruit from the tree that was good for food and saw ” … that it was a delight to the eyes”.

Are we ever tempted by the desire to be popular or spectacular? Jesus knew the temptation to accomplish His end by catching everybody’s attention, but he passed the test where Adam and Eve and Israel all failed. Jesus took active refuge in God.

Distraction #3: Desire for glory and abundance. In a last effort Satan offers Jesus everything that belongs to him but in exchange for worship. He’s really suggesting that Jesus claim everything that’s his, but by-pass the cross. And where would that have left us? Dead in our sins, right? And where would that have left Satan? Continuing to reign as the “god of this world” (2 Cor 4.4). Satan’s quarrel is not with us, but with God; he wants to share God’s glory.

Jesus responds by quoting Deuteronomy 6.13 and 10.20, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”

Where Israel showed what was in their hearts by turning to other Gods, Jesus will honor His Father alone. Where Eve knew that the fruit of the tree was ” … desirable to make one wise” (according to ones own estimation), Jesus embodied true wisdom and took refuge in God.

Jesus’ obedience to God is why He is worthy of my trust in my distraction. There’s one more layer to this textured account that involves Eden and Israel, because it also involves us.

First John 2.16 reads, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” My struggle with distraction is also a recasting of Eden—only, when I respond rightly, I get to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, not Adam and Eve.

We’re saved by grace through faith in Jesus, who responded rightly to distraction and went to the cross. My growth in holiness involves a struggle, while we wait for Jesus to return for us.

How is the battle going for you? If you’ve trusted in Jesus by faith, then you get to occupy the high ground Jesus has won for you. Still (thinking Ephesians 6.10-20), you still have to stand and fight.

Below are some questions that will help us evaluate where we are in our struggles with distraction:

Am I taking refuge in Jesus and His cross in my distraction? You and I will be distracted, but when we are we need to return to the cross and go on in obedience.

Am I laying claim to something I believe God has given me, but on my own terms? Does God want us to be comforted? Yes, but not in any relationship. And ultimately in Him.

Am I fighting distraction with my body? We’re not souls with bodies, we are bodies and souls, and fighting distraction often means putting our bodies in certain places and putting them on their knees, so that there’s no confusion whom we serve.

Am I laying down boundaries that put me in the right place to hear from God? If you struggle on the internet a smartphone may not be the device for you.

Am I growing in my desire for Christ and His things? Jesus didn’t respond to distraction just by not doing things. His obedience was a positive seeking after God through His Word.

 

So, grads and everybody. Have a great Memorial Day weekend, and a great summer, and a glorious life. But, remember there’s a real battle going on, and make certain you find your refuge in God alone, because He wants to be God of your distractions as well …

 

Distraction! 1 Kings 11.1-13

Some years ago our family sat in our Honda minivan at an ordinary intersection in our medium-sized Midwestern city. My fellow drivers to my right got their yield light and the lead car moved out. Only, this driver didn’t drive with purpose as you’d expect; he kinda jerked his way in the direction of his destination, like the wobbly, unsteady way a turkey buzzurd flies. A glance at the driver diagnosed the problem: he was staring (mouth open) at his phone, only generally aware of his other responsibilities. A second car moved through the intersection; same thing, only this driver was (not making this up) driving with her knees and composing a text with her thumbs. A third driver rolled through staring at a piece of paper.

“Is anybody really driving today?!” I said, turning to Amanda. But before she could respond the fourth driver rolled through. We recognized him as a friend of ours from church, and (oh, joy!) he had both hands on the wheel and was watching the road!

Today we live sixteen miles from the nearest traffic light, but the lesson of that illustration holds true: we are a distractible and often distracted people, are we not? And, as we move into the summer months when we’re out of our regular routines and thus vulnerable, we need to help each other think about what our response to distraction says about where we put our trust. Are we truly trusting God to order our lives, or does our fiddling around in the world of distractions indicate a self-dependence that needs to be confessed and made right before God?

We get help here. From the biblical accounts of Adam and Eve, to Lot, to Esau, Jacob, Moses and the Nation of Israel, we have rich material from which to study what our responses to distraction say about our heart conditions. But, my favorite study is King Solomon. Consider the heights from which he fell. Solomon had received wisdom from God (1 Kings 3.12); Solomon’s subjects flourished under his practical wisdom (4.20); Solomon even served as a kind of priest-king, thinking especially of his intercessory role in the dedication of the Temple (8.22-23). Still, he got distracted, and he fell, badly.

My response to distraction shows my heart! Solomon’s desire to order his kingdom through his many wives was revealed in his heart-response to distraction (1 Kings 11:1-8).

That Solomon took many wives would not have been considered unusual for a king. Kings did this to show their virility, but also to manage their material holdings. Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites (peoples to the east) are mentioned; then Sidonites (to the northwest) and Hittites (to the northeast) are mentioned. Israel had either conquered (1 Samuel 8,10) or begun trading with these peoples (1 Kings 8,10).

Conventionally wise as this might have been, God had told Israel, “Don’t do it”: … you shall not intermarry with them (Deut 7.3-4) and [your king] shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away (Deut 17.17).

So, it should not surprise us that Solomon’s distraction with his many wives (and their gods!) moved from the material to the spiritual, but not all at once and not right away: When Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God … (:4-8).

That’s a frightening statement for me. It means that Solomon served the better part of forty years becoming more distracted with his heart growing colder toward God and God’s things.

What are the distractions of our age? We’re in a hinge of history, aren’t we? As a Gen-Xer I can remember a world without personal computers, without cell phones, without email. (My family’s first cordless phone was exciting.) But, today, some futurists are predicting that the day is coming (probably in about 2050) when virtually nobody alive will be able to remember what it’s like to live off-line.

Theological David Wells writes,

There is no doubt that the pings and beeps of the internet are highly distracting. But the real question is, What is this doing to us? What is it doing to our minds when we are living with the constant distraction? How do we live in this parallel universe? It’s a universe that can take all the time we have. So how do we share our time between the virtual universe and the real universe? What happens to us when we’re in constant motion and addicted to visual stimulation? 

My response to distraction matters! Solomon’s desire to order his kingdom through his many wives was met with consequences for himself and for others (:9-13).

And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what the LORD commanded (:9-10).

The story is a sad one. The most prosperous of Israel’s kings, who had been been given wisdom by God and who had been promised that obedience would result in an everlasting throne, had the kingdom torn from him and from his son: … I will tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant (:11).

Even so, there’s good news here. Like a tiny trickle of water that bubbles into a brook and then widens into a mighty river of grace, God will fall back on His previous promise to David, recorded in 2 Samuel 7.14, in which He had promised David an eternal throne. Look at verse 13: However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem that I have chosen (:13).

This is all Christ-language, isn’t it? The tribe is Judah, and Jesus will come from Judah to be Israel’s king (Isaiah 11.10). Solomon’s failed response to distraction resulted in a Savior, by God’s grace. And Jesus, as the final son of David, will not fail his people but will respond to God with whole-hearted devotion, winning salvation for us who trust in Him.

But, again, what does it look like to respond to the particular distractions of the Digital Age in a way that shows that we’re whole-heartedly devoted to God? We in the Digital Age are often dealing with technologies that are morally neutral. Smart phones can be used to draw people together for Christ’s purposes, or they can enable us as we waste vast amounts of time. Theological Dougles Groothius, writing in The Soul in Cyberspace, reminds us that, “Everything is a trade-off … A wise person will not shun technology but will ask what are the benefits? And what do I lose? And what do I gain?”

For us, thinking about distraction does involve evaluating moral content. That was the case with Solomon, since God had warned him off the gods and women. But, our situation also requires us to check our hearts to see what our responses to technologies says about whom we’re really allowing to order our worlds. It could be that we’re attempting to order our world in a way that indicates we’re not content to trust God.

My salvation is not in managing all the different realities of my life but in being changed by faith in Christ. My response to distraction shows me where I put my trust. 

Try this exercise in what I call “real space”:

Spend an hour reading a book. I get it. This will be hard, but feel your mind relax as it follows a sequence of ideas, and you give your mind time to process ideas one after the other.

Then, take a walk. And, as you do, ask the LORD some questions:

“How am I doing?

Are my affections (heart) being turned so that I’m trying to find my happiness in anything other than You?

Do I need to limit my use of technology to put it in its proper place? (Maybe shoving my phone in a drawer during dinner, or when I’m relating intentionally to my family or friends?).

Do I need to “fast” from my device for a time?

Then, read Psalm 46,

Be still, and know that I am God/ I will be exalted among the nations/ I will be exalted in the earth!

The LORD of hosts is with us/ the God of Jacob is our fortress. 

 

 

 

Stand in Warfare: Ephesians 6.10-20

This week at Woodland we finish up a good journey. We come to the end of our study in Ephesians.

We’ve seen how God has called out a people to be His church (chapters 1-3), and we’ve seen how we’re to respond as God’s “called out” ones (chapters 4-6): by walking … in unity, holiness, love, light and wisdom.

And now, suddenly, we’re to stand. Big bump of a contrast, isn’t it? While feeling like we ought to be advancing, we’re suddenly NOT to think about moving forward. The reason is that we have an enemy. And this brings us to our next and final unpopular idea—maybe even more unpopular than the submission and obedience we’ve been considering in recent weeks.

We westerners like spirituality. Who among us would ever get criticized for really living for something we can’t see, feel or touch? The problem we have in our culture is that we like to define the boundaries of our own spiritual experience. We like to be in charge, to manage things.

And now, suddenly again, we meet God’s enemy. And, he and his legions are a lot more than we can handle! For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (:12, ESV).

And God’s enemy (with his legions) hates the church. He hates us because while we rebelled with him, he isn’t made in God’s image, and he isn’t redeemed. We who have trusted Christ are.

So what are we do? We’re to put on God’s provision (:10-13)  … be strong in the strength of his might (:10) This not only describes how we’re to contend, but where our strength lies and whose strength we’re relying on.

Superb! But even while our salvation comes from outside us, we’re not passive in this. There’s still something for us to do.  … Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil … that you may be able to withstand in the evil day and having done all, to stand firm (:11 … 13) In other words, having been chosen in Christ and placed in the church, we’re still about to be attacked. The purpose of making use of God’s provision is to be ready for the particular attacks of the Evil One.

So … stand with God’s provision (:14-20). What follows is a description of a fully outfitted and equip soldier. While some have thought that Paul might be modeling his description after a Roman soldier (he might have been chained to one while he wrote), he isn’t describing a Roman soldier. He’s describing you! (if you’re trusting in Christ). And he’s describing God’s provision you and I must equip ourselves with BEFORE we’re attacked.

Before the particular attacks of the Evil One we are to take up truth, righteousness, peace and faith. These are likened to the belt, breastplate, boots and shield of the soldier. All these implements of warfare helped ancient soldiers stand TOGETHER. Then, just before combat the “helmet of salvation” and “sword of the Spirit” must be snatched up. These complete the soldiers defenses and give him an offensive weapon.

A picture of ancient warfare helps. Soldiers would stand side-by-side in an interlocking formation called a phalanx in which they would guard one another with their shields. The enemy would hurl pitch-drenched and flaming javelins into the wall of shields hoping to ignite the defenses, or at least disable the defenses so that the shields would have to be abandoned. Once members of the phalanx had been disarmed the enemy would rush in carrying short swords called  gladii. Hand-to-hand combat would result. If the soldiers could be separated from one another, the enemy would prevail.

Fascinating history lesson, isn’t it? But, we’re not talking about history, we’re talking about the church and our lives and right now. What does this warfare look like for us?

A good rule of application is that the response to any passage is organic to the passage itself. So, in Ephesians, we’ve just been told to walk … in unity, holiness, love, light and wisdom. We’re to do this as God’s church, together. What does God’s enemy want? He wants to divide us, so that disunity, lack of holiness, consuming self-love, spiritual and moral darkness and the quenching of the Spirit of God result. Salvation isn’t hanging in the balance, but fruitfulness, blessing and God’s glorification in our lives are.

Can you sense when that’s happening? That’s the “evil day” (:14). Even so, the faithful follower of Christ will prevail in the day of temptation and attack, because she has been outfitted with God’s provision.

To stand in spiritual warfare, put on God’s provision. 

We’re either under attack or we’re about to be attacked. That’s life between Christ’s two comings. Even so, we have everything we need to flourish in the Christian life. And, we have one another in this remarkable creation called the church. That’s the message of Ephesians.

So, we pray  …  at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication (:18a). keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints … (:18b)

All of this allows Paul to end his letter like he began. Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible (:23-24).

 

Think a bit about what this passage looks like in your life. 

When are you (and God’s other people with you) most prone to attack?

What does putting on God’s provision actually look like for you, in your thinking, attitudes and behavior? 

Why is God’s enemy worthy of your respect but not your fear? 

 

 

Walk in Wisdom—Followers & Leaders: Eph 6.1-9

Last week’s message and post from Ephesians 5.22-33 dealing with the topic of submission took us through some emotionally-charged territory. This week’s passage, dealing with obedience, is not much different

Like we’ve talked about, both of these passage belong to the same basic unit in Ephesians. In 5.18 we’re told to ” … be filled with the Spirit.” The Spirit, then, equips us to submit to one another out of reverential awe for Christ Himself.

And, whether we’re submitting or obeying, it’s ultimately Christ we’re serving!

How then do we show this reverence for Christ in our various human relationships—as wives and husbands, children and parents, “bondservants” and leaders? That’s where we’re going with this …

Children … obey your parents, because this is right (:1-3). Have you, parents, ever given the because-I-say-so answer  to the adolescent-cheeky “why?” question? Paul shades in that direction here: Because God has set things up so that children serve Him by obeying their parents. That’s why. But, he really does better than that. He quotes the law, the Ten Commands, “Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment with a promise)” (6.2; Ex 20, or Deut 5).

But, wait! says the teenager. That’s not the first commandment; it’s the fifth. Right you are. But how else are children to know the commandment “You shall have no others gods before me” (The First Commandment)? The Fifth Commandment (also thought by some among the ancients to be the first of the commandments dealing with human relations) functions as a kind of primary commandment for children. Honor and obey your parents and you will (generally speaking) live a long and prosperous life.

And, as with submission, Jesus honored this commandment with His own obedience to His Father in the work of redemption, didn’t He? It’s critical to see, how with the example of Jesus, both submission and obedience turn from the negative to the positive.

Parents … don’t frustrate, but disciple and instruct (:4). Now, fathers, in particular, are addressed with their own imperative. While our children are learning their obedience, we’re to make this obedience as sweet as possible.

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger …” How do we do this, Dads? Maybe, by demanding perfection according to some standard of our own. Or, maybe, by being passive and unemotionally unresponsive.

As I’ve pondered the connections within this teaching, it seems we frustrate most when we try to modify behavior without being concerned for the inner attitudes of our heart. Maybe, we can get away  with this when the child is very young: “Don’t run in the street!” But, as our children grow into the later elementary years, we get called out on this one.

Positively, “bringing up” has about it the idea of nurturing. And then “discipline” carries with it the idea of activity—doing something together where there is practice with correction. “Instruction” carries more of a verbal idea. Now, the child is being spoken to about what’s going on. The picture I get here is of a father with his son or daughter talking their way through life together. The father isn’t just aiming for right behavior, but the heart!

Certainly, the dad is realizing that power and authority isn’t enough to nurture children in wisdom. He is realizing that the Spirit of God needs to be at work too. And, the Spirit is the One whom the father is depending on to do that spiritual work in his child.

Dads, where are we doing this with our kids? Where are we (in activity and words) contending for our kids in those matters of the heart where we can’t obey for them? 

Those accountable to others … obey those who lead as you would Christ (:5-8). In the second half of this double-header passage, it’s important to identify what we’re NOT talking about. This is not chattel slavery (the horrific practice of our own nations’s past!), but bonded service. People in the ancient world could enter into bond service for a variety of reasons—like not being able to pay their bills, or not wanting to pay high taxes. And, sometimes, life might not be too bad for the teachers and accountants and household managers who found themselves in bonded service.

Still, they were not at their liberty. ” … obey your earthly masters … as you would Christ,” they are told. Significant here is the little distinction ” … masters, according to the flesh”. These are your overlords for now, in this life at the most, but not forever. You’re to serve them “as you would Christ”—with “fear and trembling … a sincere heart … not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers … doing the will of God from the heart … rendering service with a good will as to the Lord” (:5 … 8).

The reason given is that social status won’t be important in the future, but spiritual condition will. And, there will come a day of reckoning when our hidden service will be returned to us (Think: 2 Cor 5.10).

Curious, isn’t it, that Paul isn’t a social revolutionary. While encouraging bondservants to get their freedom when they can (for example, 1 Cor 7.25), he’s more interested in seeing individuals grow in godliness within the social norms that exist. Once again, emotionally-charged stuff for us Moderns.

Those accountable for others … don’t threaten, but know your own Master (:9). ” … do the same to them, and stop your threatening,” masters are told. In other words, all that has been said regarding bondservants is true for those accountable to God for them. And when the day of accountability comes, there will be no partiality with the judge. Partiality, “to have a face.” God isn’t going to give a pass because we had face recognition in this life.

To walk in wisdom (whether accountable to others or accountable for others) follow or lead in obedience to Christ. 

 

We move back and forth between following and leading, don’t we? Typically, we’re doing both at the same time in our different roles. But, whether we’re following (as a child or one who is accountable to another in a job or position) or leading (as a parent or in some supervisory role), we’re doing so in obedience or disobedience to Christ.

Whom has God given you to follow? Whom has God given you to lead? 

How is your heart doing in these different roles? Are you consciously aware that you are serving Christ?