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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Sunday, February 25, 2007

God Is Not A "One-Hit Wonder"

Dan Ledford waxes eloquent:

God is not interested in simply “getting you to believe in him.” God is not a one-hit wonder.

You know what I mean by that? In the music business there are musical artists known as “One-Hit Wonders.” They have one musical hit and that’s it.

The Penguin’s “Earth Angel” from 1955.

Barry Mann’s “Who Put the Bomp (in the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp) from 1961.

Van McCoy’s “The Hustle” from 1975.

Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” from 1988.

Los Del Rio’s “Macarena” from 1999.

Every decade’s got ‘em. They had one hit and one hit only. Some people treat God as a one-hit wonder.

He created the world, but that’s all.

Jesus forgave me back in 1978, but that’s all.

I already believe, but that’s all.

What is God doing in your life right now? What is he trying to do in your life right now? Are you letting Him? What is God saying to you? Are you hardening your heart towards him?

God is always at work in our lives. He is always speaking to us. He is always trying to change something. Sometimes these are minor changes. Sometimes they are major. Are you dealing with a minor crisis in your life to address a minor heart change; or a major crisis to address a major heart change?

Whether it is major or minor, we have the same need – God’s grace. We always need to encourage and be encouraged to see God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

God is speaking his grace to you right now. Don’t harden your heart to it. Don’t run away from His Word.

Don’t run away from Him. Let Him in. Let others in. This can’t wait until tomorrow.

Receive His grace while it is still called Today.

Read the whole thing.

Matt's Messages - Offerings

“Offerings”
Life in the Wilderness
February 25, 2007
Numbers 7:1-89

There are just 89 short verses this morning in Numbers chapter 7! This is the longest chapter of the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible) with 89 verses. Don’t worry, I’m not going to read all of them.

Numbers 7 is another one of those chapters that you’ve never heard a sermon on and probably never will again! In fact, it’s one of those chapters where when you come to it, your eyes have a tendency to roll into the back of your head and you lose concentration. This is one of the “counting sheep” kind of chapters, good to read before going to bed to cure insomnia.

But this is God’s Holy Word! Upon closer inspection, this chapter tells quite a story!

It’s a story about “Offerings.” Giving. Worship in giving. And there are principles here that carry all the way into the New Testament about how the people of God are to give to God.

We’re going to get into the details this morning, and then I’m going to draw out 5 implications for our giving today.

“When Moses finished setting up the tabernacle, he anointed it and consecrated it and all its furnishings. He also anointed and consecrated the altar and all its utensils. Then the leaders of Israel, the heads of families who were the tribal leaders in charge of those who were counted, made offerings.”

Now, this part is actually a flashback.

So far in the book of Numbers, we’ve watched as the people of Israel were mustered, numbered, organized, structured, purified, consecrated, and (last week) blessed.

They are getting ready to march towards the Promised Land for conquest. It probably seems like it’s taking forever to get there. But there was a lot to prepare! And we have a least one more week after this one before they get on the road!

Well, you needed to know some of that stuff to make sense of this stuff, but chronologically, this takes place a month before the rest of what we’ve read.

This is associated with the dedication of the tabernacle, and specifically, the dedication of the altar which happened in Exodus chapter 40.

This chapter is about the offerings that were made to accompany the dedication.

Verse 2 says that the leaders of Israel, the tribal-family-heads made offerings. V.3

“They brought as their gifts before the LORD six covered carts and twelve oxen–an ox from each leader and a cart from every two. These they presented before the tabernacle. The LORD said to Moses, ‘Accept these from them, that they may be used in the work at the Tent of Meeting. Give them to the Levites as each man's work requires.’ [Remember the Levites from chapters 3 and 4? Remember what their work was? Taking care of the mobile Tent of Meeting. These carts will work great for them! V.6] So Moses took the carts and oxen and gave them to the Levites. He gave two carts and four oxen to the Gershonites, as their work required [What did they do? Chapter 4:21-28 said that they carried the tabernacle curtains. v.8], and he gave four carts and eight oxen to the Merarites, as their work required [What did they do? Chapter 4:29-33 said that they carried the frames and the big super structure of the tabernacle–so that’s why they need twice as many. v.8]. They were all under the direction of Ithamar son of Aaron, the priest. But Moses did not give any to the Kohathites, because they were to carry on their shoulders the holy things, for which they were responsible.”

Remember that? No carts for them. They had the holy things that were inside of the tabernacle to care for and they had to carry them on poles on their shoulders. No carts or oxen would do.

But that’s not all that was given. V.10

“When the altar was anointed, the leaders brought their offerings for its dedication and presented them before the altar. For the LORD had said to Moses, ‘Each day one leader is to bring his offering for the dedication of the altar.’”

How many days will that be, then?

Twelve. Twelve successive days of a special offering. One for each tribe.

Day One: Judah. V.12

“The one who brought his offering on the first day was Nahshon son of Amminadab of the tribe of Judah. His offering was one silver plate weighing a hundred and thirty shekels, and one silver sprinkling bowl weighing seventy shekels, both according to the sanctuary shekel, each filled with fine flour mixed with oil as a grain offering; one gold dish weighing ten shekels, filled with incense; one young bull, one ram and one male lamb a year old, for a burnt offering; one male goat for a sin offering; and two oxen, five rams, five male goats and five male lambs a year old, to be sacrificed as a fellowship offering. This was the offering of Nahshon son of Amminadab.”

Now, we were introduced to Nahshon son of Amminadab back in chapter 1. He was the leader of the tribe of Judah. And he brought, on Judah’s behalf, all of these offerings. They were expensive, extensive, and expressive (to use a phrase from a couple of weeks ago).

These offerings were obviously to be used in the service of the tabernacle. The plate, bowl, flour & oil, gold dish, bulls, rams, and lambs were all for sacrifices. Four different kinds of sacrifices are listed here: grain, burnt, sin, and fellowship sacrifices.

Nahshon brought these forward on day number one.

Day number two of this dedication. Verse 18.

“On the second day Nethanel son of Zuar, the leader of Issachar, brought his offering. The offering he brought was one silver plate weighing a hundred and thirty shekels, and one silver sprinkling bowl weighing seventy shekels, both according to the sanctuary shekel, each filled with fine flour mixed with oil as a grain offering; one gold dish weighing ten shekels, filled with incense; one young bull, one ram and one male lamb a year old, for a burnt offering; one male goat for a sin offering; and two oxen, five rams, five male goats and five male lambs a year old, to be sacrificed as a fellowship offering. This was the offering of Nethanel son of Zuar.”

Does that sound vaguely familiar to you?

We were introduced to Nethanel son of Zuar back in chapter 1. He is the leader of the tribe of Isaachar.

What did he bring on day 2? The exact same thing as Judah did on day 1.

And the same thing happens 10 more times in 10 more days.

24-29 Eliab son of Helon, same offerings.
30-35 Elizur son of Shedeur, same offerings.
36-41 Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai, same offerings
42-47 Eliasaph son of Deuel, same offerings
48-53 Elishama son of Ammihud, same offerings
54-59 Gamaliel son of Pedahzur, same offerings
60-65 Abidan son of Gideoni, same offerings
66-71 Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai, same offerings
72-77 Pagiel son of Ocran, same offerings
78-83 Ahira son of Enan, day number 12, tribe of Naphtali, exact same offerings as the last 11 days.

Why did God make sure that all of this got recorded in His Holy Word?

We’re going to talk about that. Verse 84 has the total round up.

“These were the offerings of the Israelite leaders for the dedication of the altar when it was anointed: twelve silver plates, twelve silver sprinkling bowls and twelve gold dishes. [Are you catching a key number?] Each silver plate weighed a hundred and thirty shekels, and each sprinkling bowl seventy shekels. Altogether, the silver dishes weighed two thousand four hundred shekels, according to the sanctuary shekel [that’s 12 times 130 plus 12 times 70]. The twelve gold dishes filled with incense weighed ten shekels each, according to the sanctuary shekel. Altogether, the gold dishes weighed a hundred and twenty shekels. [That’s 12 times 10.] The total number of animals for the burnt offering came to twelve young bulls, twelve rams and twelve male lambs a year old, together with their grain offering. Twelve male goats were used for the sin offering. The total number of animals for the sacrifice of the fellowship offering came to twenty-four oxen [12 times 2], sixty rams [12 times 5], sixty male goats [12 times 5] and sixty male lambs a year old [12 times 5]. These were the offerings for the dedication of the altar after it was anointed.

Anybody catch the key number?

Twelve days, twelve tribes, twelve exact same offerings.

Offered in the same order that they camp around the tabernacle East, South, West, and North, and then set off to march.

And this is the end of the matter, verse 89, when all is said done:

“When Moses entered the Tent of Meeting to speak with the LORD, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the Testimony. And he spoke with him.”

Now, we’ve seen the details. What does all of this mean for us in 2007?

This chapter was about these tribes, through their leaders, giving offerings. And I think there are at least 5 things for us to think about here and apply to our lives:

#1. WE GIVE BECAUSE GOD FIRST GAVE TO US.

As I was working my way through the details of this passage this week, I suddenly had this question pop into my mind: “Where did they get all of these things? Gold, silver, and so forth?”

What’s the answer to that? Egypt.

Israel was in slavery in Egypt and didn’t have lot of nice stuff.

But when God did the Red Sea Rescue in the book of Exodus, He made the Egyptians give their best to the Israelites when they begged them to leave (Exodus 12)!

They had these things to give because God had given them to them in the first place.

It is no accident that this section on offerings comes right after last week’s section blessing!

The LORD bless you and keep you.
The LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
The LORD turn His face toward you and give you peace.

We give because the LORD has first given to us.

Some people have the idea that the offering plate is a way of earning your relationship with God.

Give a little, get a little. It’s payment time for earning God’s favor.

“God has to bless me now because I’ve given to Him!”

No! When the offering plate comes around, we give because God first gave to us.

He doesn’t need our money.
He isn’t impressed by our money.
He isn’t bribed by our money.
He isn’t blackmailed by our money.

It’s not our money!

It’s His money. And He graciously gave it to us in the first place to take care of.

And when the plate goes by, we get the chance to give back in worship a portion of what He’s given us.

What has God given you? It’s from that that He calls us to give.

#2. WE GIVE FOR THE LORD’S WORK.

Look again at verse 5.

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Accept these from them, that they may be used in the work at the Tent of Meeting. Give them to the Levites as each man's work requires.’”

The Levites belonged in a special way to God (we’ll see that again next week). And their work was the LORD’s work. So it was funded the LORD’s way–by the giving of the LORD’s people.

Now, today, we don’t have the tabernacle and the levitical priesthood.

I am not a priest any more than any of you are. We are all priests in the New Covenant.

And this building is not sacred like the tabernacle was.

Now, we are all temples of the living God.

But the LORD’s work still requires funding. And He still funds it the same way–through the giving of the LORD’s people.

So when the offering plate comes by, the money is to be used to further the work of the LORD.

That can take a lot of different forms: compassion giving to people in need, salaries of ministry staff like myself, building upkeep for the ministry programs we have here including this Sunday morning worship gathering, missions, etc.

But all of it should be used to further the work of the LORD which in this age is the planting, growth, and development of gospel-centered churches that are making gospel-centered disciples of Jesus Christ.

And that’s what we believe 100% of our budget here should go to.

So when the plate goes by, we give for the LORD’s work.

#3. WE GIVE VOLUNTARILY OUT OF OUR HEARTS.

Now, this one was a little harder to see, but where does it say what and how much these tribes were each supposed to bring?

It doesn’t, does it? In verse 11, the LORD tells them to take it 1 day at time for 12 days. But He doesn’t say what or how much.

I’m not sure how they decided what or how much to bring. Perhaps Nahshon and the tribe of Judah set the standard and everybody just followed suit. I don’t know.

But I think it points to the idea that they gave willingly, voluntarily, on their own.

They definitely seem happy to give, don’t they?

One major emphasis in giving in the New Testament is on giving cheerfully.

Giving is not a tax. It’s gift! It’s something you’re happy to do.

You give out of the overflow of you heart, not just because you ought (even though you are commanded to do so. God does command giving–in fact, He command cheerful giving!).

Here’s one reason why I think that this chapter goes on and on and on.

I think this was a big-time, joyful, celebrative, festive occasion.

The altar was being dedicated. And all twelve tribes were going to have a happy part in dedicating it.

Each and every day for twelve days in a row, it was time for another tribal leader to step forward and joyfully volunteer the resources that God had placed in their hands back into God’s hands for God’s work.

We give voluntarily out of our hearts.

Do you give cheerfully?

As we noted earlier in the service, we have been experiencing a budget shortfall here at church. For the last several months, our offerings have not covered the expenses that our church family has approved for the 2007 budget. We told the members about that at our last meeting, and as a Leadership Board, we’ve been trying to address that problem.

One of the ways that we’ve addressed it is to freeze all what we’re calling “non-essential” spending.

Another is to make the need known to you and to give some biblical teaching on the subject of giving. Isn’t it interesting how God arranged for this passage to show up right now in the life our church? I think that’s cool!

But in making the need known and teaching on it, we don’t want anyone to give out of sense of guilt and mere obligation.

Instead, we want all of us to give voluntarily from the heart.

Cheerfully, because we know that God has given it to us in the first place.
Cheerfully, because we know that God loves a cheerful giver.
And cheerfully, because we know that we’re being used by God for the furtherance of His kingdom when we give.

We give voluntarily out of our hearts.

And along with that #4. WE GIVE TOGETHER IN HARMONY.

Here’s why I think all twelve tribes gave the exact same offerings.

Because they were equally together giving as God’s people.

The bigger tribes didn’t try to outdo the smaller tribes.
The smaller tribes didn’t think they were second fiddle.

The richer tribes didn’t try to impress everyone else with what they gave.
The poorer tribes didn’t try to give more than they could so that they would seem more spiritual.

They were all together equally responsible for the dedication of the altar and the work of the Levites.

Everyone had a part to play. They all worked together in harmony.

Which is a picture of what the church should be.

Not that we all give the same amount. We give, for the most part, privately so that there aren’t comparisons made.

But we all give; and we all give to the same cause; and each little bit that each of us gives adds up together to accomplish a lot!

We give together in harmony.

I don’t know who gives what here at church. I don’t want to know, and I will never know.

But My guess is that some of you give a lot and you really don’t have much more to give.

And probably some of you give some and might be led to give more. You might need some adjusting to your financial priorities.

And I’m guessing that some of you probably give very little and need to be challenged to grow in the grace of giving.

Let me recommend a couple of resources on that. I highly recommend two books by Randy Alcorn. One is The Treasure Principle which Blair mentioned last week and that several of us read as a Summer Book Club book a few years ago. And the other is a follow-up to that called, The Law of Rewards which is biblical teaching on how our giving goes ahead of us and our treasures get stored up where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves cannot break in and steal. Both of these are very good and helpful for thinking through our giving habits.

Heather and I have recently decided to make a change in our giving, too.

One of the commitments we’ve made to give towards for the last several years is now over, and we have an extra amount of money that we need to figure out where to send.

And we’ve decided to give that money each month for the rest of this year to the church.

We give to the church already, but this will be over and above what we normally give to the church (a new commitment) because we want to be giving together in harmony with all of you–and defeating this budget shortfall and helping pay down our indebtedness.

I’m hoping that we will all give together (on whatever level we are each led) in harmony because that’s the way the church is supposed to be.

12, 12, 12, 12, 12.

We give together in harmony.

And #5 and last. WE GIVE OUT OF FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD.

We can’t forget verse 89.

It’s not just tacked on to the end and sits there by itself. It’s the culmination of this chapter.

“When Moses entered the Tent of Meeting to speak with the LORD, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the Testimony. And he spoke with him.”

That’s relationship!

That’s a relationship with God!

Because of the altar that was dedicated those twelve days and the sacrifices that were sacrificed on it, Moses could enter into the Tent of Meeting and approach God and talk with Him.

A Holy God enthroned at the center of a Holy Camp between the two cherubim above the atonement cover (the mercy seat) on the ark of the Testimony–a His throne!

And Moses could talk with Him there.

Did their offerings earn that?

No way. But God made it possible through their offerings for them to know Him in relationship/fellowship.

And that made their offerings all the more worth it!

Now think about this.

What they had was a just a shadow of what we have because of Jesus!

We don’t need any Moses now to mediate for us. There is now one mediator between God and man–the man Christ Jesus!

We don’t need an altar for sacrifices. Jesus is the fulfillment of all of the sacrifices.

We don’t even need a tabernacle. God became flesh and tabernacled among us in Jesus.

They had a shadow. We have the real thing–Jesus.

How much more should we give, we who know Jesus through the New Covenant in His blood than those who gave so richly under the Old Covenant?

You may have been taught that tithing is the biblical thing to do. Give the first 10% of your income to the Lord. That seems to be the biblical pattern in the Old Testament.

How about in the New?

Well, in the New tithing was done poorly by the Pharisees who tried to make it a legalistic thing.

And Jesus had harsh words for them, but He didn’t say that tithing itself was bad.

I think that tithing was a good law in the Old Testament, and it’s a good place to start in the New Testament.

But we have a fellowship with God through Jesus that is beyond anything that they knew in the Old Testament. We have grace in abundance.

I think that more grace means more giving for God’s people.

Randy Alcorn suggests that we think about 10% as the floor, not the ceiling for New Covenant Christ Followers. And I think that’s right. For years now, Heather and I have worked at increasing our giving, not just in total dollars, but in percentage of our income. And I recommend that for you to consider, as well.

Israel only had the shadow. We have the real thing in Jesus.

If we belong to Jesus.

Do you belong to Jesus?

We give out of fellowship with God.

If you don’t have a relationship with God by trusting in Jesus Christ alone, you can’t really give in the right way.

In fact, you probably don’t want to give. You probably think that church is all about getting your money.

But Jesus Christ died on the Cross to pay the penalty for the sins of all who believe in Him.

And if you trust Him for salvation, your priorities about your things, you stuff, will change.

If you don’t belong to Jesus yet, please don’t give to the church. Instead, get right with God through Jesus, trusting in what He did on the Cross for you. And He’ll change your pocketbook priorities for you.

We Give Because God First Gave to Us
In Jesus. And everything we have comes from Him.

We Give for the Lord’s Work
Everything we give goes to the furtherance of the Mission.

We Give Voluntarily out of Our Hearts
God loves a cheerful giver.)

We Give Together in Harmony
Each person doing their part. No one standing out. No one getting the glory except for Jesus.

We Give out of Fellowship with God.
They only had the shadow. We have the real deal–Jesus Christ.

We give our offerings to Him.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Oops!

I sent out tomorrow's sermon too early!

Review of Amazing Grace Movie

Terrific, inspiring, and powerful. Made me want to read some books on Wilberforce and to do something meaningful with my life.

Unfortunately, it was not on the "production values" level of other Hollywood movies and probably won't get much big time attention, but it was a great movie worthy of the title.

Highly recommended.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Confronting Your Spouse

A biblical thing to do (in love) according to John Piper.

Great quote:

But the main reason we can say that wives, as well as husbands, should seek their husbands’ transformation is that husbands are only similar to Christ in the relationship with their wives. They are not Christ. And one of the main differences is that husbands need to change and Christ doesn’t. When Paul says, “The husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church” (Ephesians 5:23), the word as does not mean that husbands are identical to Christ in authority or perfection or wisdom or grace or any other way. They are not “equal to” Christ; They are “as” Christ. They are, unlike Christ, sinful and finite and fallible. They need to change.

Wives are not only submissive wives. They are also loving sisters. There is a unique way for a submissive wife to be a caring sister toward her imperfect brother-husband. She will, from time to time, follow Galatians 6:1 in his case: “If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” She will do that for him.

I'm so thankful for a wife who is also my loving sister who is willing to hate my sin and work with me for my transformation!

Homeschool Humor

From this week's Beam of Sonlight (the e-zine from the group where we get our homeschool curriculum):

We had just finished doing the grammar exercises on an activity sheet for Language Arts 5, and my 10-year-old was doing his copy work when he looked up and said,

"To Be or not To Be,
that is an infinitive.

Amazing Grace Tonight

We've got a bad case of Cabin Fever in this house right now.

Thankfully, Heather and I get to go out tonight to dinner and a movie.

We're going to watch the Amazing Grace movie that premiers today.

John Piper has been writing tributes to William Wilberforce (the main character) this week.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Church Membership: Good? Biblical? Important?

Over the last few years, I have grown more and more convinced of the biblical basis for church membership and congregationalism. What used to be just a good idea to me has grown in my estimation to being crucial for church health.

Here are a few excellent e-sermons I've read on the topic.

Why You Ought to be a Formal and Active Part of a Local Church Part 1.
Why You Ought to be a Formal and Active Part of a Local Church Part 2.
Congregationalism: Defending and Displaying the Glory of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Wordy titles, but good content!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Mr. Snowman


He only lasted one day, but he was loads of fun!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Matt's Messages - I Will Bless Them

“I Will Bless Them”
Life in the Wilderness
February 18, 2007
Numbers 6:22-27

I’ve been looking forward to this message in the book of Numbers. There are a few famous mountain peaks in the book of Numbers that I’ve been looking forward to viewing with you, and this little 6 verse text is one of them. It’s beautiful and life-giving.

For the last two months, we’ve been watching as the men of Israel are counted, organized, structured, and mustered into an army ready to march towards the Promised Land.

The camp has been purified and consecrated. Preparations are fully underway for Israel to leave Mount Sinai and march towards Canaan.

And one more thing they need before they go is to receive the blessing.

God talks (again) to Moses and tells him how Aaron and the priests are to bless the people from now on–and I would say, especially as the people are obediently preparing to march into battle.

And He says this–Numbers chapter 6, verse 22:

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Tell Aaron and his sons, 'This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:

‘The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.’

‘So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.’’”

This is a beautiful passage of Holy Scripture, isn’t it?

It’s a lot more beautiful than the censuses and laws of Numbers so far, isn’t it?!

It’s beautiful, I think because it’s full of God and full of God’s blessing.

Verse 22.

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Tell Aaron and his sons, 'This is how you are to bless the Israelites.’‘”

And this beautiful blessing that I have been speaking over you every Sunday this year.

Say to them: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Five quick points this morning:

#1. GOD DESIRES TO BLESS HIS PEOPLE!

I love this. I never noticed this until this week.

Whose idea was this blessing?

We normally refer to this blessing as the Aaronic (or Aaron’s) Benediction. Or the Aaronic Blessing. Because Aaron and the other priests were the ones who were supposed speak it over the Israelites.

But it wasn’t Aaron’s idea, was it?
And it wasn’t Moses’ idea, either, was it?
Even though Moses was supposed to train Aaron in it.

No, this blessing is God’s idea.

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Tell Aaron and his sons, “This is how you are to bless the Israelites.” Verse 27, “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

What a promise!

This is God’s idea–to bless His people.

The Lord takes the initiative in blessing.

It’s not something (contrary to popular belief and our twisted way of thinking, it’s not something) that we have to beg and scrape and earn and pry out of God’s stingy hands!

God desires to bless His people.

That is God’s gracious disposition towards those of us who bear His name.

Isn’t that good news?

If you understand what blessing is, it is.

Blessing is getting God’s best.

It may or may not have a physical dimension to it. In the Old Testament, blessing was illustrated again and again by wealth, possessions, military success, growing families, healthy crops, etc.

But all of that was mainly a picture of what blessing is at heart: Getting God’s Best.

And if somebody was “blessed” that meant that they were in a state to be congratulated because they had received God’s best.

All of the good things, the gifts, the blessings that God had to offer.

And this passage shows us that God desires to bless His people.

We don’t have to trick Him into it.
We don’t have to talk Him into it.
We don’t have to earn our way into blessing.

God’s gracious disposition is to give it!

God desires to bless His people.

Notice what this blessing consists of.

#2. GOD BLESSES HIS PEOPLE AND KEEPS THEM. V.24

“The LORD bless you and keep you.”

A blessing is a unique kind of prayer.

It is a prayer that asks God to do something, but it is worded in such a way that the words directed towards the person or people you want God to bless.

We’re not used to talking this way very often.

But these words were spoken to Israel by the priests for God and in such a way that God would hear and do what is said.

“The LORD bless you and keep you.”

This talks about God giving His best to His people and protecting them.

That would be very important, especially as they headed into war.

Isn’t it good to be “kept?”

I think of Psalm 121 when I think of God’s keeping me.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills–where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip–he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD watches over you–the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all harm–he will watch over your life;
the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

Isn’t it good to belong to a God who blesses and keeps us?

Does that mean that bad things don’t happen to Christians?

No. It means that even those bad things that happen to us are ultimately turned to our good and that God will keep us through them all for Himself.

Like everyone else the last two weeks, our family has been besieged by sicknesses. Actually, Heather hasn’t been able to come to worship the last 3 out of 4 Sundays due to sickness in our family.

What sustains you when you are sick?
What sustains you when troubles come your way?

“The LORD bless you and keep you.”

#3. GOD MAKES HIS FACE SHINE UPON HIS PEOPLE AND IS GRACIOUS TO THEM.

This is what blessing looks like. V.25

“The LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.”

Don’t you just love the figurative language here?

God’s face shining on you?

Like He shone on Moses back in Exodus?

But here it’s not the afterglow of His back, it’s the full shine of His face!

“The LORD make his face shine upon you [what does that do?] and be gracious to you.”

This is the language of personal relationship.

When God delights in His people, His face shines on them. And then He gives them good things, His best, which they do not deserve.

That’s grace!

Grace is undeserved blessing.

“How are you today?”

“Better than I deserve! I’m blessed! The LORD is shining His face upon me.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some sunshine!

It seems like February is the darkest month of the year.

I can’t wait for the sun to come out and burn off all of this snow.

Don’t you just love the feel of the hot sun streaming into a room this time of year?

“The LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you!”

And notice, there are three parts to this blessing. It reminds us of the Trinity.

You know, the name LORD (for YHWH) isn’t grammatically necessary for this sentence to work in Hebrew. But God tells Moses to tell Aaron to say it three times.

LORD, LORD, LORD. V.26

“The LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

#4. GOD TURNS HIS FACE TOWARD HIS PEOPLE AND GIVES THEM PEACE.

Here the idea isn’t so much the shining as the happy personal gaze is directed at the people. The King James had “The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.”

Many commentators say that this is the equivalent of God’s smile!

I almost titled this sermon, “God’s Smile.”

God smiles on His people and gives them...shalom, peace.

Shalom is more than just the absence of hostility. It is the presence of wholeness, health, goodness, well-being, and peace. Shalom.

And shalom is God’s gift. It is the gift the comes from God’s Smile.

Can you have shalom even in the midst of trials?

When you lose your job?
When your relationships are falling apart?
When you are tempted by a powerful addiction?
When you run out of money?
When your health fails?

Absolutely.

Because you know that God’s smile is on you, you can have peace.

“The LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

This is what it means to be blessed.

To experience the keeping of God.
To experience the grace of God.
To experience the peace of God.

To experience the shining smile of God!

And God desires to bless His people!

#5. THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS TO BEAR HIS NAME! V.27

“So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

Aaron’s blessing somehow put the name of YHWH on the Israelites and through that they experienced all of the blessing that God had for them.

This is what it means to bear God’s name: blessing!

Now, they didn’t always experience all of the blessing that they could have.

Disobedience brings danger and there will be plenty of disobedience in the book of Numbers.

Right now, however, we see only obedience. Everything that YHWH asks, Moses and the Israelites are doing.

And with obedience comes blessing.

But for those who truly bear the name of the LORD, even disobedience isn’t the end of the story–blessing is.

Because that’s what it means to bear the name of the LORD!

“I will bless them.”

And for us today, this blessing ultimately comes through Jesus Christ.

He is the Lord whose name we bear as Christians.

And it didn’t come easily.

It came through a Cross.

Did Jesus experience this blessing on the Cross?

The LORD bless you and keep you?
The LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you?
The LORD turn His face toward you and give you peace?

No! He experienced the exact opposite.

He experience the wrathful frown of God so that we could experience His smile!

Therefore, let me give you three points of application.

#1. Bear Jesus’ Blessed Name.

The Gospel of John 1:12 says that to all who received Jesus, to those who believed on His name, He gave the right to be come children of God.

All of God’s best, God’s blessing comes to us through God’s Son, and we must bear His name to receive His blessing.

Have you received Jesus as your Rescuer and King?

If you have, you have the smile of God–even when it doesn’t feel like it.

If you have not, you need it.

Or you will experience the wrathful frown of God for all eternity.

I challenge you today to receive Jesus Christ as your Rescuer and King and begin to bear His name by faith as a Christ-follower.

You will never regret it and you will experience God’s smile.

Application #2. Enjoy Jesus’ Blessing.

Everything we read in verses 24, 25, and 26 is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus.

Because of Jesus the LORD bless you and keep you.
Because of Jesus the LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
Because of Jesus the LORD turn His face toward you and give you peace.

That is yours to enjoy!

Enjoy Jesus’ Blessing!

Sometimes I feel like my job as preacher is to show us where we go wrong and try to get us back on the right path.

But I love it when I get a passage like today’s to just bask in and enjoy the sunshine!

Enjoy Jesus’ Blessing!

He is the smile of God for you.

And application #3. Bless Others In Jesus’ Name.

Israel was blessed to be a blessing.

We learned that back in Genesis when the word “blessing” first came on the scene (chapter 12).

Israel was blessed to be a blessing.

And so are we.

We need to think of ourselves as priests like Aaron and his sons helping others to bear the name of Jesus and enjoy the blessings that come from Him.

Bless Others in Jesus’ Name.

I’ll bet if you spent just few minutes thinking about it, you could come up with a practical list of 10 things that you could do by Wednesday that would be a blessing in someone else’s life.

“I Will Bless Them.”

And you could be the conduit of that blessing to someone else.

We aren’t supposed to be cul-de-sacs of blessing but conduits of blessing.

And one way of doing it is to actual bless people.

Fathers and Mothers blessing their children, maybe with these exact words.

Friends blessing each other.

Brothers and sister in Christ blessing one another.

My wife and I like to sing a blessing song to our children by Michael Card that is based on this passage:

The Lord Bless You and Keep You
The Lord Make His Face Shine Upon You
And Give You Peace
And Give You Peace
And Give You Peace Forever

The Lord Be Gracious To You
The Lord Turn His Face Towards You
And Give You Peace
And Give You Peace
And Give You Peace Forever

One time I was away when Robin was a baby and she wouldn’t calm down and go to sleep, and Heather just kept singing that song to her until she finally had peace and went to sleep.

We need to bless others in Jesus’ name.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Amazing Grace Sunday

Tomorrow is Amazing Grace Sunday. Read about it here.

Here's a review of the new movie by a biblical scholar.

And here is a special page devoted to the movie at ChristianityToday.com.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Matt's Messages - The Law of the Nazirite

“The Law of the Nazirite”
Life in the Wilderness
February 11, 2007
Numbers 6:1-21

We are continuing our Life in the Wilderness series of messages on the book of Numbers.

The people of Israel are camped at the base of Mount Sinai. They have been numbered, organized, and structured.

The men have been mustered into a massive army that is getting ready to march in and conquer the Promised Land.

The Levites have been counted and assigned their duties to care for the Tent of Meeting and all of the holy things that come with it.

Last week, we read about how the camp was to be purified. The Holy One of Israel was present in the center of the camp, so the camp needed to be holy.

Today, we look at yet another set of laws–these ones are about some holy people.

People who had chosen a special vow for a special period time.

People had chosen to take the vow of the Nazirite.

Numbers chapter 6 is about “The Law of the Nazirite.”

This law continues the theme of purification and takes it one step further: consecration.

The Hebrew word for “Nazarite” comes from a root word that means “to vow.”

These were people who had taken a vow and consecrated themselves in a special way to the LORD.

And Numbers 6:1-21 gives us the law of the Nazirites, the divine laws which regulated these special vows of consecration.

This section can be divided up into three parts:

The Vow’s Consecration (verses 1 through 8).
The Vow’s Corruption (verses 9 through 12).
And the Vow’s Completion (verses 13 through 21).

Let’s pray together, and then we’ll look at each one in turn and try to apply this to our lives.

[prayer]

#1. THE CONSECRATION OF THE NAZIRITE VOW. V.1

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of separation to the LORD as a Nazirite, he must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or from other fermented drink. He must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. As long as he is a Nazirite, he must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins. During the entire period of his vow of separation no razor may be used on his head. He must be holy until the period of his separation to the LORD is over; he must let the hair of his head grow long. Throughout the period of his separation to the LORD he must not go near a dead body. Even if his own father or mother or brother or sister dies, he must not make himself ceremonially unclean on account of them, because the symbol of his separation to God is on his head. Throughout the period of his separation he is consecrated to the LORD.’’”

Okay, now this is strange!

These people were different (to say the least).

We aren’t used to this sort of thing, so we need to slow down and consider it carefully.

Look again at verse 2.

“If a man or woman [notice that this vow is not gender specific, it’s open to both sexes] wants to make a special vow, a vow of separation to the LORD as a Nazirite...[follow these laws.]”

Okay, let me ask a question. Was this vow just for Levites and priests?

No. This was open to any Israelite who wanted to make a special vow of special devotion for a specific period of time.

Why would they want to do that? Well, the book of Numbers doesn’t say.

Most of the time, when special vows are being made they are in thanksgiving and gratefulness for something good God has done.

They are often thanksgiving vows praising God for His blessing in someone’s life.

So these may be especially thankful people. We’re not sure.

There are other reasons to take vows, there could be multiple reasons for these people to separate themselves to the LORD as Nazirites. They might have felt called to a special ministry of dedication.

All we know for certain is that these people wanted to make this vow (it was not mandatory) and that it had certain rules that went with it.

Rule #1: No Grapes! V.3

“If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of separation to the LORD as a Nazirite, he [or she] must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or from other fermented drink. He must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. As long as he is a Nazirite, he must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins.”

I had never noticed before that the Nazirites weren’t even allowed to eat grapes, raisins, or grape seeds, or skins!

It’s not just that they weren’t allowed to drink alcohol, they weren’t allowed to get anywhere near the vineyard!

Why? Because grapes are bad?

No, because grapes are good!

This is a fast. These men and women were deliberating saying No to something good for a time period to say Yes to something even better. That’s what fasting is.

No to something good for a time to say Yes to something even better.

The fruit of the vine was a symbol of joy and abundance.

So, perhaps, the Nazirites with their fasting from grapes and grape juice were symbolizing, grieving, sadness, mourning, and repentance. I’m not sure.

Perhaps they were just saying “the LORD is my joy!” I don’t need the fruit of the vine to be happy!

Rule #2: No Haircuts.

No grapes, no haircuts. Verse 5.

“During the entire period of his vow of separation no razor may be used on his head. He must be holy until the period of his separation to the LORD is over; he must let the hair of his head grow long.”

This would have made these people stand out.

I don’t know if the women would still keep their hair up or if they would have let it dangle to the ground to show that they were Nazirites.

But it would have really stood out among the men.

No haircuts for the entire period of the vow. [Insert bald jokes here.]

No grapes, no haircuts.

Rule #3. No Dead People. V.6

“Throughout the period of his separation to the LORD he must not go near a dead body. Even if his own father or mother or brother or sister dies, he must not make himself ceremonially unclean on account of them, because the symbol of his separation to God is on his head.”

Last week, we learned that if anyone had contact with a dead body, they had to go outside of the camp for a time of purification.

This says that the Nazirite was never to have that contact during the period of their vow–even if it is their closest relatives! This was a serious vow.

If they did, they would be unclean and their hair would be unclean.

You see, this long hair was the visible symbol of their separation to God.

V.7 “The symbol of his separation to God is on his head.”

I almost titled this message: “Holy Hair, Batman!”

This long hair said to the Nazirite and to the people around them and to God that they were set apart in a special way to God right now. V.8

“Throughout the period of his separation he is consecrated to the LORD.”

We often miss this part of the Law of the Nazirite.

We focus on what they weren’t allowed to do (No Grapes, No Haircuts, No Dead People), and we miss the point: these people (for a time) were fully consecrated.

“Throughout the period of his separation he is consecrated to the LORD.”

Now, why is that important?

Well, was Israel supposed to be consecrated?

Was Israel supposed to be set apart for the LORD?

Was Israel supposed to be holy and to love nothing more than the LORD?

Was Israel supposed to be different from the other nations?

Was Israel supposed to be clean and separated from every other nation on Earth?

Absolutely.

And they never were...perfectly.

So whenever “an Israelite saw a Nazirite, they would have been reminded of their own calling to serve the Lord” (Iain Duguid, pg 78).

These people were walking illustrations of consecration.

They were weird! They would have stood out.

Remember “Cousin It” from the Adam’s Family?

These people were the “Jesus Freaks” of the nation of Israel.

They stood out. Did you notice how many times the word “separation” appeared in the first 8 verses?

Question for you: Do you want to be consecrated?

Praise the Lord, He doesn’t ask us to be consecrated in the same way in the New Covenant!

But He desires total consecration of us today, doesn’t He?

Romans 12:1-2, “I urge you, brothers, 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.”

God wants us to offer ourselves–all of us to Him and to His service. 100%

V.8 “Throughout the period of his separation he is consecrated to the LORD.”

Now, of course, sometimes these Nazirites couldn’t keep their vows because of some unforseen circumstance.

And so, thankfully, there are laws to cover failures. Defilements. Corruptions.

#2. THE CORRUPTION OF THE NAZIRITE VOW. V.9

“If someone dies suddenly in his presence, thus defiling the hair he has dedicated, he must shave his head on the day of his cleansing–the seventh day. [If someone just up and you had no choice but to be there, you took the normal time out period of seven days for purification. And on the seventh day, you shave you head. V.10] Then on the eighth day he must bring two doves or two young pigeons to the priest at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. [Small blood sacrifices.] The priest is to offer one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering to make atonement for him because he sinned by being in the presence of the dead body [sinned against his vow, there is a category of unintentional sins]. That same day he is to consecrate his head. [Starting over.] He must dedicate himself to the LORD for the period of his separation and must bring a year-old male lamb as a guilt offering. [Really, this is a rededication.] The previous days do not count, because he became defiled during his separation.”

So, even if he has 99 days in on a 100 day vow, he has to start the clock again right here because of the corruption of his vow.

This is serious stuff!

Now, what does this show?

Well, for one thing, it shows that God knows that we live in an imperfect world and that we are imperfect people.

And He has graciously provided for our imperfections.

Do you see the grace here?

Yes, this is serious! Unintentional sin is serious!

But what does God have here? Provision. Sacrifice. Substitution. Atonement.

What does that remind you of?

Jesus.

God knows that we cannot keep our vows on our own. No matter how serious the vow and how serious the punishment if we do not keep it!

And, in His grace, He has provided a sacrifice of substitutionary atonement for our sins.

In the last section, we’ll see that even those who successfully completed their vows needed to offer a sin offering!

Because even our best efforts are still tainted with the stain of sin.

Our good works need saving, too!

Praise God for Jesus!

“[Jesus] Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (1 Peter 3:18).

That’s why Jesus died.

“[Jesus] died for sins once for all, the righteous [Him] for the unrighteous [you and me], to bring you to God.” (1 Peter 3:18).

Have you come to God through Jesus Christ?

I urge you to be sure that you have.

Only those who come to God through Jesus Christ and Him alone have eternal life.

And only those who come to God through Jesus Christ and Him alone can be fully consecrated.

Now, the last bit of law here is what the Nazirite was to do to complete his or her vow.

#3. THE COMPLETION OF THE NAZIRITE VOW. V.13

“Now this is the law for the Nazirite when the period of his separation is over. He is to be brought to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. There he is to present his offerings to the LORD [catch this, there are at least 8 of them!]: (1) a year-old male lamb without defect for a burnt offering, (2) a year-old ewe lamb without defect for a sin offering, (3) a ram without defect for a fellowship offering, together with their (4) grain offerings and (5) drink offerings, and a (6) basket of bread made without yeast–(7) cakes made of fine flour mixed with oil, and (8) wafers spread with oil. [One commentator [Ronald Allen, pg 752] says that these offerings were “extensive, expensive, and expressive.” That’s right! V.16] The priest is to present them before the LORD and make the sin offering and the burnt offering. He is to present the basket of unleavened bread and is to sacrifice the ram as a fellowship offering to the LORD, together with its grain offering and drink offering. Then at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, the Nazirite must shave off the hair that he dedicated. [Time for a haircut!] He is to take the hair [which has been the symbol of his vow] and put it in the fire that is under the sacrifice of the fellowship offering. [Their hair becomes a sacrifice!] After the Nazirite has shaved off the hair of his dedication, the priest is to place in his hands a boiled shoulder of the ram, and a cake and a wafer from the basket, both made without yeast. [He’s identifying with the sacrifice.] The priest shall then wave them before the LORD as a wave offering; they are holy and belong to the priest, together with the breast that was waved and the thigh that was presented. After that, the Nazirite may drink wine. [Feasting time! Joy and abundance again. V.21] This is the law of the Nazirite who vows his offering to the LORD in accordance with his separation, in addition to whatever else he can afford. He must fulfill the vow he has made, according to the law of the Nazirite.”

I have never in my life slowed down to think about this before.

If you had asked me a few weeks ago to explain the Law of the Nazirite, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you more than the 3 Rules: No Grapes (and I would have said just No Wine), No Haircuts, and No Dead Bodies.

I’ve never thought or studied about this lavish ceremony at the completion of their vow. They give almost every offering in the book of Leviticus at one time[!] for this ceremony!

And did you notice in verse 21 that it says they are to give not just all of these offerings, but also in addition “whatever else he can afford.”

“Extensive, expensive, and expressive” is right!

And here’s what I got out of that this week: the Lord is worth it!

The Lord is worth the extensive, expensive and expressive!

The Lord was worth the strangeness of being one of these Nazirite weirdos, giving up good things and normal things for His sake.

The Lord was worth getting the strange looks and putting up with the inconveniences of Nazirite life.

And the Lord was worth the elaborate ceremony at the end.

Extensive, expensive and expressive!

Eight sacrifices and “whatever else he can afford!”

The Lord is worth it!

It’s worth it to be consecrated wholly to Him.

So, let me ask you again: Do you want to be consecrated?

Not like a Nazirite but like a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

Do you want to be consecrated?

What stands in your way?

Something you enjoy? Maybe something you enjoy too much?

Is there something you should fast from?

Giving up something good for a time, for the sake of something better?

Maybe you don’t want to be “different.”

You don’t want to stand out. You don’t want to be known as a “Jesus Freak.”

I understand that. You’re afraid.

But know this, the Lord is worth it!

He’s worth standing out for. He’s worth sticking out like a sore thumb!

When we understand both how much we’ve been given and how much He is worth, we can know that the Lord is worth it!

Do you want to be consecrated?

What can you do today to move in that direction?

Some of you need to start with salvation.

God has provided Jesus as a sacrifice for your sins. You need to trust in Him alone to get to God.

He is the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through Him.

Consecration starts with repentance and faith, in your heart, turning and trusting in Jesus and His Cross alone.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Consecration involves putting everything in His hands. Every detail of our lives, every relationship, every dollar, every possession, every job, every decision, every attitude, every necessary change.

What do you need to do today to be fully consecrated?

You probably know better than I do.

What’s holding you back?

Who was the biggest Nazirite in the whole Bible?

It wasn’t Samuel was probably a life-long Nazirite.
It wasn’t Paul who seems have done a Nazirite vow in the book of Acts.

Who was it? Who was the biggest Nazirite in the whole Bible?

Samson was.

Do you think that Samson wanted to be consecrated?

He sure didn’t act like it.

He hung around a lot of dead bodies–even old carcasses!
He partied a lot–even with the enemies of Israel.
He never seemed to shy away from the fruit of the vine.

And He let himself get a fatal haircut.

He didn’t want to be consecrated. He didn’t even realize when the Spirit of the Lord had left him.

But at the end of his life, after the Philistines had gouged out his eyes, Samson could see like he never had before that the Lord was worth it.

And he sacrificed himself with a prayer to the Lord and pushed down the pillars that held the Philistine temple together.

What Samson’s story could have been like if he had not waited to be fully consecrated!

If he had been thankful for what God had given Him and hopeful of what God had in store, and fully entrusted Himself to God and kept his Nazirite vows.

What Samson’s story could have been!

What will your story be?

Will be “I Surrender Some?”

Or “I Surrender All?”

He’s worth it.

Friday, February 09, 2007

I Love Being a Pastor

I get to study the Bible indepth, visit with people, counsel, disciple, preach and teach, pray, go to meetings, represent the church, and lead.

It's a great job!

Tickle Pic


The family that tickles together...stays together.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Calgon Moment or Christ Moment?

Dan Ledford reminds us which one we're supposed to trust in.

An excerpt: "You must create new habits – new ways of coming to the cross in a crisis. You need an accountability partner to help you do this. You need an accountability partner who will pray with you and for you – and remind you of God’s forgiveness and acceptance, which is found at the cross.

You need an accountability partner who will recognize when you are calling out “Calgon, Calgon, take me away;” instead of calling out, “Christ, Christ, you have saved me.”

When you are facing trials in your life, look to what is to come by looking at what God has already done. Go to the cross of Christ in your crisis and find the desire and power to do His will."

John Piper on Hot Orthodoxy

One of my living heroes, Pastor John Piper, has just begun to blog at the new DesiringGod Blog.

Piper's theology has most directly influenced my own Hot Orthodoxy (see my second blog post ever).

Here's his thoughts today on Hot Orthodoxy inspired by a quote from Andrew Fuller. Amen.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Matt's Messages - Purity in the Wilderness

“Purity in the Wilderness”
Life in the Wilderness
February 4, 2007
Numbers 5:1-31

Today, we’re picking up from where we left off in our study of the Book of Numbers which I have titled: “Life in the Wilderness.”

Let me ask you a couple of questions to see if you remember where we are in our desert trek:

Where are Moses and the Israelites? [They are camped at the base of Mount Sinai.]

In chapter 1, they took a census. Why? [To number the army of Israel.]

Where is the army supposed to march? [To Canaan to conquer the Promised Land.]

How many fighting men does Numbers say there were? 603,550.

In chapter 2, we were told how the nation of Israel was supposed to campp–which tribes went where. The 12 tribes are organized in a circle around what? [The Tent of Meeting.]

Inside of that bigger circle and camped in a circle around the Tent of Meeting is what tribe? [Levi.]

In chapter 3, Moses counted the Levites. How many were there? [22,000.] And that was roughly the same number as what? [The firstborn of Israel.] And the Levites were special/holy to the Lord in the place of the firstborn.

And in chapter 4, the Levites who were of the age of active duty were counted. And we found out what the ministries were to be for those 8,580 active duty Levites. They were in charge of the holy things.

Notice the concentric circles. At the center was the Tabernacle with its completely holy: Holy of Holies. Then the Holy Place, then the rest of the Tabernacle inside of it’s tent, then the Priests and the Levites who are holy to the Lord, then the rest of God’s holy people–Israel camped in a concentric circle around the Holiness of God.

Now, in chapter 5, we are told some of what Moses and the Israelites were to do to keep the camp holy. To keep the camp in the wilderness pure. “Purity in the Wilderness.”

Now understand, we’re still getting ready for the big march. Israel is still getting ready to march towards Canaan. They aren’t quite ready yet.

They have been numbered, organized, and structured, but now they also need to know what they need to do to be purified.

Numbered, organized, and structured, but also purified.

And, as you can imagine, as we see how Israel was purified, we’ll be sure to see some timeless principles that point us to how Jesus purifies us, as well.

There are three sections to chapter 5. Let’s look at the first one. Verses 1-4.

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Command the Israelites to send away from the camp anyone who has an infectious skin disease or a discharge of any kind, or who is ceremonially unclean because of a dead body. Send away male and female alike; send them outside the camp so they will not defile their camp, where I dwell among them.’ The Israelites did this; they sent them outside the camp. They did just as the LORD had instructed Moses.”

Now what do we have here?

God wants this camp to be pure. God commands that the Israelites send people–who have an infectious skin disease (which would have included Hansen’s disease or leprosy, but that’s not all that this word is talking about, an infectious skin disease), or a discharge of some kind, or someone who has come into contact with the ultimate unclean thing–a corpse–to send these people “away from the camp.”

In other words, outside of the concentric circles.

Why? V.3

“Send away male and female alike; send them outside the camp so they will not defile their camp, where I dwell among them.’”

God wants these circles to be pure. He lives among His people in the center of their camp. And He wants them to pure like He is pure.

Now, what is so bad about skin disease, discharges, and touching a dead body?

Nothing really. All of those things were considered “unclean” by the Lord and therefore by His people.

Unclean. And it’s not that those things were evil in and of themselves, but that clean and unclean were categories that pictured the categories holy and unholy. Righteous and unrighteous.

God deemed certain things–here things that were connected with death and decay–to be unclean. And unclean is a picture of unholy.

And therefore, to keep picture clear, those things that are unclean (impure) must be put outside of the camp.

Now for most of those people, this was a temporary arrangement. If you touched a corpse, you were outside of the camp for a time, but then you could wash and return.

All of them were a picture of the holiness of God and the purity of the camp in the wilderness.

This group of people who were getting ready to march towards Canaan were to be different from every other nation that ever was.

A pure and holy God was in their midst!

And therefore, they needed to be a pure and holy people.

Now, this week, as I was studying this, I had the hardest time seeing what in the world this had to do with you and me in 2007.

I mean, there’s a SuperBowl tonight, why should I care about Numbers 5:1-4?

And then it struck me. How does the New Testament pick up this kind of language?

Hebrews 13!

The writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus went “outside of the camp!”

Hebrews 13:12&13 says, “Jesus suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.”

#1. JESUS MAKES US CLEAN!

Jesus left the Holy of Holies–Heaven!–and took on [not just an infectious skin disease, a bodily discharge, or contact with a corpse–but what those things were bold pictures of–] our sin. And He went outside of the camp in our place.

In a few minutes, we’re going to eat the Lord’s Supper.

Among other things, it is remembrance of the fact that Jesus went outside the camp for us.

Which means we can come into God’s presence.

Isn’t that good news?!

That’s the Gospel. And it’s the greatest news in all of the world!

Last week, I got to preach at our sister church plant in my home town of Shelby Ohio.

Their name is Core Community Church, and my message was how to stay “Gospel to the Core.”

I told them about our saying around here: “The Main Thing is to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing.” And the Main Thing is the Gospel.

The Gospel teaches that a Holy God became man and went outside of the camp “to make people holy through his own blood.”

Jesus makes us clean. Have you trusted Jesus Christ to make you clean?

Have you trusted in His sacrificial, bloody death for your sins?

If you have, you are clean.

If you have not, you will be sent outside of the camp–away from the presence of the Lord.

Trust Jesus today.

Jesus makes us clean.

And not only that #2. JESUS FORGIVES OUR SINS.

That’s what the next passage is about. Verses 5 through 10.

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites: 'When a man or woman wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the LORD, that person is guilty and must confess the sin he has committed. He must make full restitution for his wrong, add one fifth to it and give it all to the person he has wronged. But if that person has no close relative to whom restitution can be made for the wrong, the restitution belongs to the LORD and must be given to the priest, along with the ram with which atonement is made for him. All the sacred contributions the Israelites bring to a priest will belong to him. Each man's sacred gifts are his own, but what he gives to the priest will belong to the priest.'’”

Now, we could make the mistake of thinking this changes the subject. But I don’t think so.

I think that God is still talking about purifying the camp.

Here the sin isn’t just pictured by uncleanness. It’s real sin: one person sins against another, probably by stealing or defrauding them in some way. The actual wrong done isn’t clear here. But it seems to be financial to some degree.

Now, what does that do to the camp in the wilderness?

It makes it impure, doesn’t it?

If relationships have broken by interpersonal sin within the camp, the whole camp is affected.

So this impurity must also be fixed.

And notice, when we sin against someone else, who are we ultimately sinning against?

God. Look at verse 6 again.

“When a man or woman wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the LORD, that person is guilty and must confess the sin he has committed.”

That’s an important principle to keep in mind. When we sin against people, we’re ultimately sinning against God.

Remember when David sinned with Bathsheba? Who did he sin against?

Well, Bathsheba for one in tempting her as he did.
And Uriah, her husband. David stole her from him.
And then Uriah died because of David.
And the rest of David’s family were sinned against.
And the nation was harmed by David’s sin.

So what does David pray in Psalm 51 when he becomes repentant?

David prays, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight...”

Now, David doesn’t mean that other people weren’t sinned against at all.

He means that nothing compares to His sin against the LORD.

Ultimately, our sins against one another are sins against God.

So what do we do about it?

Well, confession is called for. Verse 7.

“[He or she] must confess the sin he [or she] has committed.”

And restitution is required. “He must make full restitution for his wrong.”

Plus 20%. “...add one fifth to it and give it all to the person he has wronged.”

That’s a great principle. Give back what has been stolen with interest.

And there is also a sacrifice needed. Verse 8 talks about “a ram with which atonement is made for him.” That also shows how this sin involves God. It requires a sacrifice.

I don’t think it’s hard to make the jump to Jesus here, is it?

When we sin against each other, we’re sinning against God.

And Jesus is our sacrifice (like the ram) that makes atonement for us.

So Jesus Forgives Our Sins.

And that makes it possible for us to be fully reconciled to those we have sinned against.

Jesus Forgives Our Sins.

Remember the story of Zacchaeus?

“Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he?”

Really, Zacchaeus was an evil little man, an evil little man was he!

Zacchaeus was a tax collector who had gotten rich off of shady business deals and collaborating with Rome to milk his fellow Jews.

Had he sinned against his neighbors? You bet.

What happened when he met Jesus?

Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, you come down, for I’m going to you house ‘for tea’ (that’s how my wife grew up singing up, at least,)”

And then what happened? Zacchaeus believed the gospel, and Jesus forgave his sins.

Zacchaeus said (Luke 19:8), “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ [That’s more than 20%!] Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Jesus forgives our sins, and that makes it possible for us to reconciled to others.

Is there someone that you are estranged from?

Is there someone whom you have sinned against and haven’t made it right yet?

Is there someone who has sinned against you that you haven’t forgiven yet?

God wants purity in the camp. He wants a restoration of full fellowship wherever possible. And God makes it possible through confession, restitution, and the sacrifice of Jesus.

1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Romans 12:18. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

Jesus makes us clean and that makes it possible to come into His presence.

And Jesus forgives our sins and that makes it possible to be reconciled to Him and to others.

And #3. JESUS KNOWS OUR HEARTS.

I think that this last piece of case law points us in that direction. Verse 11.

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'If a man's wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him by sleeping with another man, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure–or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure–then he is to take his wife to the priest.”

Notice the repeated word “impure” in these verses.

We’re still talking about purifying the camp in the wilderness, aren’t we?

I’ve always wondered about this passage, and one of the things I’ve wondered is why it’s here at this point in the book of Numbers.

I think it’s because God is showing them through case law how the camp must be purified.

Adultery is not just forbidden by the Seventh Commandment; it’s not just a matter of unfaithfulness in a marriage; it makes the camp impure.

And the camp needs to be purified.

But what do you do when there is no proof?

Nobody’s been caught in the act (if they had, they’d have been stoned). There is just a suspicion, a jealousy (probably with some reason–they would have to be very careful about this–reputations are on the line, and a husband wouldn’t want to go public unless there was good reason).

But there’s no direct proof.

What do you do?

You take it to the Lord and leave it up to His judgment. Because He knows.

Verse 15. “Then he is to take his wife to the priest.”

Now this part could sound harsh to our modern ears, but it’s really merciful because in the Ancient Near East, in other cultures, husbands could toss their wives into the river upon suspicion or beat them or kill them even without proof.

This is going public before the priest (not in private in the tent) and it was fair–it would establish either guilt or innocence! It actually protected an innocent wife.

But it was an ordeal. V.15

“He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour oil on it or put incense on it [no joy here], because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder offering to draw attention to guilt. [Symbolism.] ‘'The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the LORD. Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar [probably from the basin for washing] and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. After the priest has had the woman stand before the LORD, he shall loosen her hair [probably to indicate openness and the possibility of a cure for looseness] and place in her hands the reminder offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse.”

Now, I don’t think that the water was bitter because of the dust.

Where was this dust from? The floor of the tabernacle. I’m sure it didn’t taste good, but I think it’s holy water and holy dust. And the bitterness will come if she is guilty. V.19

“Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, ‘If no other man has slept with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have defiled yourself by sleeping with a man other than your husband’–here the priest is to put the woman under this curse of the oath-- ‘may the LORD cause your people to curse and denounce you when he causes your thigh to waste away and your abdomen to swell. [That’s a roundabout way of talking about her reproductive parts. The curse is a miscarriage if she is pregnant and awful barrenness if she is not. This would be devastating to a woman in that culture.] May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells and your thigh wastes away.’ ‘'Then the woman is to say, ‘Amen. So be it.’” She agrees. She takes on the curse if guilty. And she does it symbolically, as well. V.23

“‘'The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. He shall have the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water will enter her and cause bitter suffering [if she is guilty]. The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the LORD and bring it to the altar. The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water.”

Now this is not magic. It always seemed like it to me. And it’s not just psychological trick to get her to confess, either.

It’s a highly symbolic public ritual that God instituted to give Himself, God, the final judgment of her innocence or guilt and to purify the camp. He actually here is promising to make the truth clear by His own power. V.27

“If she has defiled herself and been unfaithful to her husband, then when she is made to drink the water that brings a curse, it will go into her and cause bitter suffering; her abdomen will swell and her thigh waste away, and she will become accursed among her people. [The opposite is true, too!] If, however, the woman has not defiled herself and is free from impurity, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children. ‘'This, then, is the law of jealousy when a woman goes astray and defiles herself while married to her husband, or when feelings of jealousy come over a man because he suspects his wife. The priest is to have her stand before the LORD and is to apply this entire law to her. The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin.'’”

Now, we could talk about a lot of things from this passage, not the least of which is the importance of marital fidelity–it’s important to stay faithful to your spouse!

But what I want to point out that I noticed here is that God knows our hearts.

When there is no proof.

When no one else can see whether we are innocent of guilty, God knows.

Jesus knows.

Jesus Knows Our Hearts.

And that means two things to me.

First, that I shouldn’t fool around with sin! Because God isn’t fooling around. He knows.

I’m not getting away with anything.

I’ve been reading a book recently about cheating and the different ways that people do it. [Don’t worry, I’m not trying to get ideas!]

But it has struck me as I’ve read it that we often think that we can get away things.

Nobody has to know.

“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Right?

Wrong. It happens before the eyes of God.

And in a few chapters in Numbers we’ll learn “Be sure that your sin will find you out” (32:23).

Jesus Knows Our Hearts.

So first, that I shouldn’t fool around with sin!

But secondly, if I’m unjustly accused, I know that God will vindicate me.

Many of us have been accused of doing something that we haven’t. I do it to my kids all the time and have to ask for their forgiveness!

But this text reminds us that God knows. Jesus knows our hearts.

And if we have been faithful, even if others don’t believe us, God (in time) will vindicate our name and defend our cause.

Notice that there is no time frame here. It doesn’t say when her abdomen would swell and her thigh would waste away.

My guess is that after this solemn ritual, they went home and in the Lord’s time, He made it abundantly clear whether or not she was innocent.

Of course, God hasn’t promised New Covenant Believers to clear our names in the same way today. And He doesn’t command that we purify the church in the same way today, either, praise the Lord!

But He does promise to vindicate those who are wrongfully accused.

And He promises that the truth will win out in the end.

We can all take that to heart, especially when we are taking lumps for something we didn’t even do!

Jesus Knows Our Hearts.

Worship at the Lord’s Table

And as we step to the Lord’s Table, that fact that Jesus Knows Our Hearts, should cause us to search our hearts as we get ready to eat and drink this memorial meal.

Because this Table says, “Jesus Makes Us Clean.”

He went outside the camp, “to make [His] people holy through his own blood.”

Jesus Makes Us Clean. And if you are trusting in His CrossWork you are invited to eat and drink with us.

Because Jesus Forgives Our Sins. His death paid the penalty our sins deserve, and it makes it possible for us to be reconciled to one another.

And Jesus Knows Our Hearts. If we are innocent, He will vindicate us in His time.

But if we are guilty, we need to not fool around with sin, because He isn’t fooling!
He died for our sins!

“Jesus Paid It All!”

So we need to take this time to examine our hearts and ask God to purify them for Himself.

Because He is pure and holy and He wants us children to be holy and purified, as well.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Mitchell Zoo Video

Here's live footage of what our family is really like (in my brother's natural habitat of Indianapolis):



[HT and thanks: AM]

Friday, February 02, 2007

Sanctifying the Superbowl

The guys over at the Family Room have some suggestions for Sunday night.