Friday, March 27, 2015


I’ve been preaching through the Old Testament book of Numbers for over a year in our evening service. Numbers is important – the apostle Paul, after describing an event recorded in Numbers, says, “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). A few weeks ago, someone glanced ahead to see what was in the text for the following study. As we were dismissing, he asked (with obvious skepticism), “what about chapter thirty-three?” Most of the chapter is a list of place names, most of which are referenced only here. It’s a travel journal describing the years between the Exodus and the entry into the Promised Land for the children of Israel. It includes scant details. The original accounts in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers are far more interesting from a narrative point of view. So what do we learn from this text? Actually, something very important.

“These are the journeys of the children of Israel, who went out of the land of Egypt by their armies under the hand of Moses and Aaron. Now Moses wrote down the starting points of their journeys at the command of the Lord. And these are their journeys according to their starting points” (33:1,2).

It’s important that Moses writes this chronicles “at the command of the Lord.” We’ll see why in a moment. I’ve broken the long list down into its forty-two camping points to make a little more manageable.

One: Rameses (33:3-4)
They departed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the day after the Passover the children of Israel went out with boldness in the sight of all the Egyptians. For the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn, whom the Lord had killed among them. Also on their gods the Lord had executed judgments.

Two: Succoth (33:5)
Then the children of Israel moved from Rameses and camped at Succoth.

Three: Etham (33:6)
They departed from Succoth and camped at Etham, which is on the edge of the wilderness.

Four: Pi Hahiroth (33:7)
They moved from Etham and turned back to Pi Hahiroth, which is east of Baal Zephon; and they camped near Migdol.

Five: Marah (33:8)
They departed from before Hahiroth and passed through the midst of the sea into the wilderness, went three days’ journey in the Wilderness of Etham, and camped at Marah.

Six: Elim (33:9)
They moved from Marah and came to Elim. At Elim were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees; so they camped there.

Seven: By the Red Sea (33:10)
They moved from Elim and camped by the Red Sea.

Eight: In the Wilderness of Sin (33:11)
They moved from the Red Sea and camped in the Wilderness of Sin.

Nine: Dophkah (33:12)
They journeyed from the Wilderness of Sin and camped at Dophkah.

Ten: Alush (33:13)
They departed from Dophkah and camped at Alush.

Eleven: Rephidim (33:14)
They moved from Alush and camped at Rephidim, where there was no water for the people to drink.

Twelve: In the Wilderness of Sinai (33:15)
They departed from Rephidim and camped in the Wilderness of Sinai.

Thirteen: Kibroth Hattaavah (33:16)
They moved from the Wilderness of Sinai and camped at Kibroth Hattaavah.

Fourteen: Hazeroth (33:17)
They departed from Kibroth Hattaavah and camped at Hazeroth.

Fifteen: Rithmah (33:18)
They departed from Hazeroth and camped at Rithmah.

Sixteen: Rimmon Perez
They departed from Rithmah and camped at Rimmon Perez.

Seventeen: Libnah (33:20)
They departed from Rimmon Perez and camped at Libnah.

Eighteen: Rissah (33:21)
They moved from Libnah and camped at Rissah.

Nineteen: Kehelathah (33:22)
They journeyed from Rissah and camped at Kehelathah.

Twenty: Mount Shepher (33:23)
They went from Kehelathah and camped at Mount Shepher.

Twenty-One: Haradah (33:24)
They moved from Mount Shepher and camped at Haradah.

Twenty-Two: Makheloth (33:25)
They moved from Haradah and camped at Makheloth.

Twenty-Three: Tahath (33:26)
They moved from Makheloth and camped at Tahath.

Twenty-Four: Terah (33:27)
They departed from Tahath and camped at Terah.

Twenty-Five: Mithkah (33:28)
They moved from Terah and camped at Mithkah.

Twenty-Six: Hashmonah (33:29)
They went from Mithkah and camped at Hashmonah.

Twenty-Seven: Moseroth (33:30)
They departed from Hashmonah and camped at Moseroth.

Twenty-Eight: Bene Jaakan (33:31)
They departed from Moseroth and camped at Bene Jaakan.

Twenty-Nine: Hor Hagidgad (33:32)
They moved from Bene Jaakan and camped at Hor Hagidgad.

Thirty: Jotbathah (33:33)
They went from Hor Hagidgad and camped at Jotbathah.

Thirty-One: Abronah (33:34)
They moved from Jotbathah and camped at Abronah.

Thirty-Two: Ezion Geber (33:35)
They departed from Abronah and camped at Ezion Geber.

Thirty-Three: In the Wilderness of Zin, or Kadesh (33:36)
They moved from Ezion Geber and camped in the Wilderness of Zin, which is Kadesh.

Thirty-Four: Mount Hor (33:37-40)
They moved from Kadesh and camped at Mount Hor, on the boundary of the land of Edom. Then Aaron the priest went up to Mount Hor at the command of the Lord, and died there in the fortieth year after the children of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt, on the first day of the fifth month. Aaron was one hundred and twenty-three years old when he died on Mount Hor. Now the king of Arad, the Canaanite, who dwelt in the South in the land of Canaan, heard of the coming of the children of Israel.

Thirty-Five: Zalmonah (33:41)
So they departed from Mount Hor and camped at Zalmonah.

Thirty-Six: Punon (33:42)
They departed from Zalmonah and camped at Punon.

Thirty-Seven: Oboth (33:43)
They departed from Punon and camped at Oboth.

Thirty-Eight: Ije Abarim (33:44)
They departed from Oboth and camped at Ije Abarim, at the border of Moab.

Thirty-Nine: Dibon Gad (33:45)
They departed from Ijim and camped at Dibon Gad.

Forty: Almon Diblathaim (33:46)
They moved from Dibon Gad and camped at Almon Diblathaim.

Forty-One: In the Mountains of Abarim (33:47)
They moved from Almon Diblathaim and camped in the mountains of Abarim, before Nebo.

Forty-Two: In the Plains of Moab (33:48,49)
They departed from the mountains of Abarim and camped in the plains of Moab by the Jordan, across from Jericho. They camped by the Jordan, from Beth Jesimoth as far as the Abel Acacia Grove in the plains of Moab.

I mentioned that it was important that Moses wrote this “at the command of the Lord.” Despite their sin throughout the wilderness wanderings, not one of their failures is mentioned in this chronicle. Up to this point, Numbers has not held back at all in mentioning the faithlessness, disobedience, and sin of Israel. In this list, however, the debacles associated with certain place names go unmentioned here. It’s about grace. At any one of these places God could’ve destroyed the people in their sin and been perfectly justified. Forty-two place names that highlight the patience and grace of God.

Read Numbers 9:15-23. They did not move unless God moved. They did not stay unless God stayed. From a “human responsibility” point of view, they were utterly tied to a following of the Lord wherever He went, whenever He went. From a “God’s sovereignty” point of view, God never left them without His presence for a single moment in the wilderness. Each of these forty-two place names emphasizes this point. God never abandoned His people, and they didn’t take a step that wasn’t in the shadow of His Presence.

God provided for them in the wilderness. “I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn out on your feet” (Deuteronomy 29:5). There were times He allowed them to hunger in the wilderness so that they would lean on His Word more and more: “He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you” (Deuteronomy 8:3-5). Each of these forty-two places represents both preservation and discipline, both from a loving Father (read Hebrews 12:1-17...often).

They were delivered from Egypt, the kingdom of slavery and darkness, brought through the wilderness (in forty-two steps), and ultimately into the Promised Land. We can relate. We are currently in the wilderness of this world, between the bondage to darkness from which we came and the true heavenly Promised Land that awaits. “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in Whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13,14).

This idea of “the first month” in Rameses followed by forty-one other place names becomes an important symbol in the rest of the Bible for God’s provision and discipline. The forty-two of Numbers 33 becomes 42 months, 1,260 days, or 3 ½ years of God’s care and perfecting of His people in the time between their deliverance and homecoming. Let’s look at how the Holy Spirit uses this concept in the rest of the Bible.

“The fourth beast shall be
A fourth kingdom on earth,
Which shall be different from all other kingdoms,
And shall devour the whole earth,
Trample it and break it in pieces.
The ten horns are ten kings
Who shall arise from this kingdom.
And another shall rise after them;
He shall be different from the first ones,
And shall subdue three kings.
He shall speak pompous words against the Most High,
Shall persecute the saints of the Most High,
And shall intend to change times and law.
Then the saints shall be given into his hand
For a time and times and half a time.
But the court shall be seated,
And they shall take away his dominion,
To consume and destroy it forever.
Then the kingdom and dominion,
And the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven,
Shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High.
His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And all dominions shall serve and obey Him”
(Daniel 7:23-27).

“A time and times and half a time.” 3 ½ years. Forty-two months. The people of God persecuted but preserved and ultimately given “an everlasting kingdom” (the eternal reality of which the earthly Promised Land of the O.T. is a symbol). This vision of Daniel’s describes the rise of the new covenant people of God in Christ during the days of the Roman Empire (the fourth beast) in the A.D. first century (and really, until today). Life is not easy for the people of God, but they will be preserved until they receive the Kingdom eternally. Daniel 7 is one of my favorite chapters – I think a good understanding of it goes a long way to understanding the rest of the Bible and our circumstances today as the people of God in the world.

Revelation contains three references to this time period:
  • “Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod. And the angel stood, saying, ‘Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there. But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months. And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth’” (Revelation 11:1-3).
  • “Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days...the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent” (Revelation 12:6,14).
  • “And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months. Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven. It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation. All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:5-8).
Each of these is a different view of the same period – that which is described in Daniel 7. From the unbelieving nations (11:2) to the serpent/dragon/devil (12:12-17) to the “beast rising up out of the sea” (13:1, the “sea” representing the unbelieving nations - 17:15; cf. Psalm 65:7; Isaiah 8:7; 17:12,13), the Church will be hounded during this time period between salvation and homecoming. During this wilderness wandering in the world, God will preserve and provide for His people. The Church will give testimony (1:2,9; 6:9; 11:7; 12:11,17; 17:3,6; 19:10; 20:4) to Christ, holding to Him alone, even above love for life (12:11,17). He will also test her dedication to Him, purging her of idolatry and faithlessness. This Exodus pattern is also found in Hebrews 3-4.

The Bible as a whole tells this story. In the Old Testament (specifically Numbers, in this case) it is a type, or shadow, of New Testament experience for the people of God. Forty-two camping locations between Egypt and the Promised Land represent our long experience from the waters of baptism at salvation to the opening of our eyes in Glory. In that time God will show His great grace to us, despite our many failures, idolatries, and faithlessness along the way – for we are covered with the blood of the Lamb. Along the way God will test us and purge us, even as He preserves and provides for us. The world will hate those in the camp of the saints as we wander, for they are instruments of that serpent of old. But one day we will cross the Jordan and be home. This is an unshakeable and unbreakable promise, our hope step-by-step as we go forward. 42 months. 3 ½ years. 1,260 days. Time, times, and half a time.

Let’s keep going, Church.
The La Sal mountains from Arches National Park, October 2013

Thursday, March 19, 2015

What I Wish I Could Say (a.k.a. Ugh, the Most Unpopular Blogpost Ever)

Things I wish I could say...

I wish Christians would be just as passionate in fighting for currently-existing traditional/biblical marriages as they are in opposing the legality of gay unions. I support traditional/biblical marriage, and am confessionally Baptist (both the 1689 Confession 25.1 and the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 art. 18). But don’t lose sight of marriage in fighting for marriage. Pray for the married couples in your congregations. Men, hold men accountable for being bullies, jerks, absent, unloving, adulterers, etc. Women, hold women accountable for bad-mouthing their husbands to others (or the children), never being content, thinking happiness (which they think God wants for them at any cost) is with another man, etc. Churches, hold members accountable for unrepentant sin in marriage. Couples, seek help sooner rather than later. Provide examples of a loving marriage by being open about your love for each other. I’ve heard complaints over the years that this couple or that couple was a little too affectionate in worship (“he was playing with her hair,” “they sure were snuggled up,” “they were just distracting”). Wish I could’ve seen it. I’m personally distracted by couples who grow in bitterness the longer they’re married. Show off your love for each other – we desperately need those role models, Church! I am my brother and sister’s keeper. I will fight for your marriage with you. I will rejoice with you, and be broken-hearted with you. I am passionate about it.

I wish Christians would be just as excited about “Jesus Christ, Who having not seen you love...yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:7,8) as they are pissed off at the bogeymen on the political stage. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: most of the political stuff we throw out there is “preaching to the choir,” and will not do a single blasted thing to change anyone’s mind about how they’ll vote. Both sides have their witty little sayings that make the other side look small and stupid. The argument "you're a total idiot" never convinced anyone. Promote Jesus. We could do with a little more apostle Paul (“I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” 1 Corinthians 2:2) and a lot less...well, you know (I’m not even going to talking about the theological compromise we’re willing to engage in to be on the same side politically). I’m politically conservative (not a compromiser or moderate). I vote. I pay attention to what’s going on and stay informed. I get frustrated by injustice and game-playing. I truly admire and support my dear brothers and sisters who are fighting the fight at considerable personal sacrifice. But I also try to maintain relationships with liberals because I care more about their eternal fate than anything else, and making fun of how stupid and logically inconsistent they are doesn’t serve that care for them.

Along that same trajectory, I wish Christians would talk more about Jesus than Israel. I support Israel. I dig Netanyahu. But those two things have nothing to do with religion, faith, or theology (though I recently saw someone use one's attitude toward the State of Israel as a test of Christian orthodoxy...something utterly alien to all of Church history!). Without Christ, the citizen of Israel will “be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:8). So will the prime minister (and I’m thankful he was re-elected). He’s not my hero or my hope. He’s a part of “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1). Because apart from faith in Jesus Christ they’re not, even if we agree politically.

I remember a professor in my first semester of college saying, “if you want to know what’s most important to a person, listen to what they talk about the most.” I have never forgotten that (though I’ve forgotten a lot else about college). I would love to hear Christians talk about the glories of Christ, salvation through Him alone, and the display of Christ’s love for His Church in Christian marriages. Yes, and be engaged to see a biblical Christian ethic brought to bear on legislation, leadership, and justice in our country and in the world...but that should be the fruit, not the root. And it ought to be done in a way always glorifies and rejoices in the root, Jesus Christ. Where is your joy, hope, glory, peace, passion, life? Please, oh please, let it be in Jesus Christ alone, and, I beg you, let that become what you talk about the most!

Wish I could say that. And I love you more than I can say, so I just did.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Rock

“The burden of the word of the LORD concerning Israel. Thus declares the LORD Who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him, ‘Behold, I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that causes reeling to all the peoples around; and when the siege is against Jerusalem, it will also be against Judah. It will come about in that day that I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it will be severely injured. And all the nations of the earth will be gathered against it’” (Zechariah 12:1-3).

This “burden of the word of the LORD” is really an echo of a previous vision, seen by Daniel. Daniel, in knowing and interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, first saw a statue representing the four great kingdoms between his day and the coming of Christ (Babylon, Mede-Persian, Greek, Roman). Then he saw this stone: “You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and crushed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. This was the dream; now we will tell its interpretation before the the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy” (Daniel 2:34-36,44,45). This “stone” is a Kingdom set up in the days of the Roman Empire which “will itself endure forever” and “filled the whole earth.” Compare this with a similar vision (this time of Daniel), in which an eternal kingdom is set up in the days of a fourth beast which also represents the Roman Empire.

To the “Son of Man” is given “dominion, glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed” (7:14). I love this chapter of the Bible. This proclamation of the Kingdom is repeated several times:
  • “...the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come” (7:18).
  • “...that horn [one of the rulers of the fourth kingdom] was waging war with the saints and overpowering them until the Ancient of Days came and judgment was passed in favor of the saints of the Highest One, and the time arrived when the saints took possession of the kingdom” (7:21,22).
  • “...the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him” (7:27).
The awesome thing about this chapter is that it is both the “Son of Man” and the “saints” who receive this eternal Kingdom. With the fullness of biblical revelation in the New Testament, we know that the saints receive because they are “in Christ,” in union with the Son of Man Who alone has been given absolute authority “in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). It is because of this that the Revelation can say we will “reign with Him” (Revelation 20:6; cf. 2 Timothy 2:12).

Now, what about this “stone” of Daniel and Zechariah? It is a people. Daniel describes it as a “Kingdom” in Daniel 2 (which we know to belong to the unified “Son of Man” and “saints”), but Zechariah says it is about Jerusalem.” How are we to understand this? What Jerusalem?

The New Testament picks up on this “stone” language and completes our understanding of this metaphor. The N.T. doesn’t do this in isolation, however. It builds on a song of the O.T.:
“The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief corner stone.
This is the LORD’s doing;
It is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:22,23).

Jesus, in the parable of the vineyard (Matthew 21:33-41//Luke 20:9-16), builds upon the story by identifying Himself not just as the “Son” of the story, but also the “Stone” of Psalm 118:22,23. He ends the teaching by saying, “And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust” (Matthew 21:42-44//Luke 20:17,18). Does this sound familiar to Zechariah 12:3?

The “rock” identified by Zechariah as Jerusalem cannot be national Israel or the ethnic Jews. “...Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written [in Isaiah 28:16], ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed’” (Romans 9:30-33). The “stone” here is Jesus, the One in Whom both Jews and Gentiles are saved if they believe. This is why, with the apostle Paul, our “heart’s desire and...prayer to God for them is for their salvation” (Romans 10:1). Outside of Christ there is no hope, no security, no deliverance, and no salvation, no matter what nation or city or ethnicity you claim.

The “rock” identified by Zechariah as Jerusalem cannot be national Israel or the ethnic Jews. “For thus the LORD spoke to me with mighty power and instructed me not to walk in the way of this people, saying, ‘You are not to say, “It is a conspiracy!” in regard to all that this people call a conspiracy, and you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it. It is the LORD of hosts Whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, and He shall be your dread. Then He shall become a sanctuary; but to both the houses of Israel, a stone to strike and a rock to stumble over, and a snare and a trap for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Many will stumble over them, then they will fall and be broken; they will even be snared and caught’” (Isaiah 8:11-15).

Does this mean that Jesus, the “Son” and “stone,” is the Jerusalem of Zechariah’s “burden of the word of the LORD”? Yes, but that’s not all.

“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father Who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter [Πετρος], and upon this rock [τη πετρα] I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven’” (Matthew 16:13-19).

Upon which “rock” will Jesus build His Church? Not Peter – the question of 16:13 is not “who do people say Peter is.” The “rock” is the heaven-revealed confession of “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” With those who make this confession, there is an authority that spans both heaven and earth (the answer to the petition of Matthew 6:10).

1 Peter 2:4-10, drawing on Isaiah 28:16 and Psalm 118:22,23, speaks of Christ as the “stone,” but also describes those who believe in Him as “living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (2:5). Again, by the union with Christ, those who believe in Him are themselves the “stone,” as well. Those who believe in Christ are the Jerusalem of Zechariah 12:3 by virtue of union with Christ by faith.

The apostle Paul, in his allegory of Galatians 4:22-31, says of the “present,” literal, and earthly Jerusalem, under the Mosaic covenant made in “Mount Sinai in Arabia,” is “in slavery with her children.” The Church, on the other hand, is the child of “the Jerusalem above,” which is “free.”

The apostle John sees “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). The angel tells him, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” He immediately sees “the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (21:9,10). It is only the Church which is described as Jesus’ bride (Matthew 25:1-10; Mark 2:19,20; Ephesians 5:22-33). Those in union with Christ by faith, both Jew and Gentile, are the true Jerusalem – that which hurts those peoples and nations who gather against her (cf. Daniel 7:21; Revelation 11:7; 13:7; 17:6,14; 19:19; 20:7-9), the inheritors of the eternal and unstoppable Kingdom, and the priestly people who are the indwelt Temple of the true God.

This is the encouragement of the saints. Those who hate the Christ and His Church will be broken. Do not be distracted by the noise, numbers, and power of the opposition, but rest in the promise of the Word and the Person of the Son. Pray for the salvation of the peoples of this lost world, be they Jew or Gentile, that they might hear the preaching of the Gospel, be baptized in repentant faith, and be joined with the Christ and His Bride, the true Jerusalem – together, the eternal and unbreakable Rock.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Nothing of the Gospel

“Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, ‘This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.’ And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ So he said, ‘Teacher, say it.’ ‘There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered and said, ‘I suppose the one whom he forgave more.’ And He said to him, ‘You have rightly judged.’ Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.’ Then He said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ Then He said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you. Go in peace’” (Luke 7:36-50, N.K.J.V.).

Oh, be careful how you read, hear, and meditate on this narrative, beloved! The easiest thing in the world is to miss the Gospel in it. That doesn’t seem possible, right? There is a woman who is a notorious sinner, broken and adoring Jesus at His feet. Jesus praises her above the religious leader and announces her forgiven. Gospel, right? Not if you miss the most important point.

You see, we’re tempted to give too much value to the woman’s actions (7:38,39,44-46). There is a tendency to see her humble, even humiliating actions as the merit by which she receives her forgiveness. She’s worthy of forgiveness, we all-too-easily consider, because she has abased herself in front of the people in Simon’s house and even Jesus Himself. If we come to that conclusion, though, we miss the Gospel entirely. The woman’s tears, kisses, hair, and perfumed oil do not merit her forgiveness. Not even a little bit. Don’t make bad theology because of the powerful emotional tug of the moment. I fear – given our emphasis on musical/emotional experience in worship and the most popular books Christians are apparently reading – that the dear woman’s actions can be misunderstood as being the ladder on which she is able to climb from the pit of sin up to an intimate relationship with the great Lover of souls, and that’s just not true. In fact, if this is our assumption, we miss the Gospel, and, no matter how sweet the situation is, missing the Gospel is an eternally deadly error.

Merely using our imaginative senses to dwell in the woman’s actions isn’t enough. This will lead to an anti-gospel in which emotional is the new law and spiritual sensuality is the new legalism. Just as in every gathering of the people of God in Christ for worship, the actions of adoration are capable of damning us unless there is doctrinal explanation in the preaching. We have that in this text, too. The guiding principle by which we understand the woman’s actions and the grace Jesus grants her must be His explanatory parable in 7:41,42.

“There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?”

What did the debtors offer to get out of debt? Nothing. “...they had nothing with which to repay.”

As far as the woman’s infinite, eternal debt to God for her sins (her sins before God are unendingly more serious than her reputation in her community for those sins), her tears, hair, kisses, and perfumed oil are “nothing.” Does that seem harsh? If it does, we’ve cleansed the story of the Gospel in our reading of it.

This woman’s actions, no matter how sweet and tender they are, do nothing to gain her forgiveness before the divine Creditor she has offended in her sin. In the same way, there is nothing any of us can do, no matter how good-intentioned or sincerely sentimental or religiously disciplined, to “repay” the debt we owe because of our sin. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

It is the great grace of the creditor, when he “freely forgave them both,” that is the Gospel in this story. They had “nothing with which to repay,” and he “freely forgave them both.” Anything else is not the Gospel, and will not save.

In response to the graceful forgiveness of the Gospel, which she believed by faith (7:50), she lives out a response by weeping, drying, kissing, and anointing – she “loved much.” Her actions are beautiful, touching, and appropriate to what she has received in the grace of the Gospel.

It is not our adoration that is the saving power of the Gospel, but His kindness on behalf of those who have “nothing with which to repay.”

“...when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, Whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).

This is Good News, and merits our own humble acts of love forever and ever. May we love much, for we have been graciously given forgiveness for much.
"The Anointing with Oil and Tears," by Sadao Watanabe (1979)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Faith-Filled Daughters

“Then came the daughters of Zelophehad the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, from the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph; and these were the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. And they stood before Moses, before Eleazar the priest, and before the leaders and all the congregation, by the doorway of the tabernacle of meeting, saying: ‘Our father died in the wilderness; but he was not in the company of those who gathered together against the Lord, in company with Korah, but he died in his own sin; and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be removed from among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession among our father’s brothers.’ So Moses brought their case before the Lord. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘The daughters of Zelophehad speak what is right; you shall surely give them a possession of inheritance among their father’s brothers, and cause the inheritance of their father to pass to them. And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: “If a man dies and has no son, then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter. If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. And if his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to the relative closest to him in his family, and he shall possess it.”’ And it shall be to the children of Israel a statute of judgment, just as the Lord commanded Moses” (Numbers 27:1-11, N.K.J.V.).

I had the opportunity to teach this passage last night after our Sunday evening time of prayer. As with so many obscure stories in the Bible, this is one that wouldn’t normally give us pause or make it into those children’s Bible story books that summarize the Scripture by highlighting major stories. But this is a great story, and if repetition says anything (which I think it does), the Holy Spirit Himself regards it as important. Aside from this passage, the four daughters of Zelophehad are mentioned three more times in Scripture (Numbers 26:33; 36:1-12; Joshua 17:3-6).

Is this merely Ancient Near Eastern case law, good for nothing except sleep aid to those of us 21st century members of the new covenant in Christ? No! We see some important principles in this passage that assure us of God’s immutability and the uniformity of the Bible as a whole.

First, there is a matter of faith. I will never tire of battling the caricature that the Old Testament is law-keeping and the New Testament is faith. The greatest verses in the Bible on justification by faith don’t originate in the New Testament, but the Old (Genesis 15:6; Habakkuk 2:4b)! Chapter 26 in Numbers is a long census (one of several – this is how the book gets its name). Why another census, since the book begins with a lengthy and detailed one? Because the Exodus generation showed itself to be unbelieving. Not disobedient to the Law (though that certainly was a fruit of unbelief), but lacking faith in the Word of God and the God of the Word. After the spies had returned from scouting out the Promised Land, the people put more faith in the fearful report of the majority of the spies than in the Promise of God that He was going to give them the land. Faithlessness merits wrath, judgment, and death, for faithlessness is sin.

“And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who complain against Me? I have heard the complaints which the children of Israel make against Me. Say to them, “As I live,” says the Lord, “just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will do to you: The carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above. Except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in. But your little ones, whom you said would be victims, I will bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised. But as for you, your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness. And your sons shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years, and bear the brunt of your infidelity, until your carcasses are consumed in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know My rejection. I the Lord have spoken this. I will surely do so to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die”’” (14:26-35).

A lack of faith in the Word of God is complaint against God, a despising of His promises, infidelity, evil, and a burden for the next generation of the Church.

It’s about faith, not Law-keeping.

“For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it (Hebrews 3:16-4:2).

Zelophehad (along with most of the rest of the Exodus generation, counted in the early chapters of Numbers) died outside of the Promised Land because he did not have faith in the “gospel” (Hebrews 4:2) which was preached to him. The following generation, the Deuteronomy generation (whose census is found in Numbers 26) rises up. They have carried the burden of their parents’ faithlessness for forty years in the desert. Did this burden lead them to an even more bitter faithlessness, or something else? The remarkable four daughters of Zelophehad show us that, for some of them, forty years in the desert was an exceedingly fruitful garden of faith.

They come to Moses, and want the land. This isn’t some embarrassing, selfish sort of quibbling over inheritance that we see all-to-often among siblings with the death of a parent. They are showing faith. Zelophehad, a member of the tribe of Manasseh, was promised a certain section of the Promised Land. He died. His daughters (Zelophehad had no son) come forth to claim it. This challenges the cultural trend of that day, not just among the Israelites, but all of the Ancient Near East. There was no law against what they were requesting, but it certainly challenged the traditions of the day.

Here’s what makes this about faith: they’re not in the Promised Land yet. Their father was promised a share in the Land, but he listened to cowardly, faithless spies and shared their faithlessness. He forfeited his own right to the Promised Land by not believing the promise. His daughters, however, come forward – by faith – to claim a part of the Promised Land. A land that is currently inhabited by giants (Numbers 13:33). A land yet to be conquered. This is faith. These four daughters are heroes of faith, which is why this story is repeated several times in Numbers, and why four verses in Joshua are given to telling us that those women stood on the land they believed God would one day provide.

Notice (back in Numbers 27:5) that Moses takes the daughters’ case to the LORD. The LORD is living and active among His people, still their King and Law-giver. He honors the faith of the daughters and makes them co-inheritors of the Land of Promise along with all the firstborn sons and tribal name-bearers. This is exactly what we should expect. It may not have been the culturally traditional way things were done then, but our God doesn’t take His cues from the mores of the culture. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

He is the One Who tells believing husbands that their believing wives are “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7).

He is the One Who so paradoxically and beautifully says that women of faith are “sons of Abraham” if their faith is in Jesus Christ: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29).

Only the ignorant say that the Bible puts women down. The God of the Old and New Testament gives a verdict in this civil rights case that is thousands of years before its time, and sets whole-Bible Christianity apart from countless other religions. Our society speaks of equality and twists common sense until it is unrecognizable, attempting to achieve parity through strange experiments and communication-frustrating, liberty-destroying politically-correct speech. All the while, there is in the heavenly, eternal Promised Land before the throne of God a great multitude purchased by the blood of the Lamb from every “tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9) – and from both God-created genders (both of which together reflect His image, Genesis 1:27). They are not segregated or put on different levels. They stand equal on a “sea of glass, like crystal” (Revelation 4:6).

The daughters of Zelophehad teach us a lesson about God. His righteous wrath against unbelieving Zelophehad was not as final as His mercy and grace toward Zelophehad’s faith-filled daughters. The LORD did not prefer the faith-filled sons of Adam to the faith-filled daughters of Eve, but treasured them all and eternally delights “in the ages to come [to] show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward [sons and daughters of faith] in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7).

It is also a Gospel message. It is not Law-keeping that gains the Promised Land, for as Paul says three different times in one verse, “a man [or woman] is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Galatians 2:16; cf. 3:11; Romans 3:20,28; Philippians 3:9). We, along with the daughters of Zelophehad, will find ourselves standing in the Land by faith in the promises of God, which are all finally and eternally fulfilled in His Son Jesus Christ.

“We who have believed do enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:3). I hope to see you there.
Art by Iris Vexler Tamir