Monday, December 09, 2013
December (1) 8, 2013 Second Reformed Church
Moses and the people of Israel had crossed the Red Sea and begun to make their way from the Sinai Peninsula to the land of Canaan. It was a journey – by the most direct route – of about 250 miles. They could have made the journey in about a month. Yet, they didn’t arrive for forty years. Why?
Several months into their journey across the Sinai – since they stopped for the Ten Commandments, it took longer – Moses sent forty spies into the land of Canaan, as God commanded, to see the land that God was giving them, that they might be filled with joy and give thanks to God, and we read:
“And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the people of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, ‘We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.’
“But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, ‘Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.’ Then the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.’ So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, ‘The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them’” (Numbers 13:26-33, ESV).
Thirty-eight spies said it was too dangerous to try to take the land. Two spies – Caleb and Joshua – said, believing by faith God’s promise that He was giving them the land, that they should go and take the land. The people took the words of the thirty-eight to heart, and they cried out, “We’re all going to die! We should never have left Egypt; let’s appoint a leader and go back to Egypt.”
And God told Moses that everyone over the age of twenty, except for Caleb and Joshua, would die in the wilderness, and then they would go into the land that God promised to give them. That’s why it took forty years. They didn’t believe God. Their eyes and their fear got the better of them. They thought God was too weak to bring them into the Promised Land.
After forty years, the people of Israel, Caleb, Joshua, and Moses, went to the edge of Canaan. Joshua had been appointed Moses’ successor, and Moses died on Mount Nebo, overlooking the Promised Land. Joshua led the people across the Jordan, and saw in the distance, the frontier town of Jericho.
Our text for this morning reads: “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.”
As we consider what happened, we discern three doctrines:
If we believe in the promises of God by faith, we need no other deliverance.
Through faith, we trust God, even when what God has said doesn’t make sense to us.
Through faith, we patiently wait on God, even when we think we need something now.
Let us turn to Joshua chapter 6 to see what happened:
“Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in. And the Lord said to Joshua, ‘See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor.’”
As we have already noted, Jericho was a frontier town – it lay outside the main metropolis and served as protection for the bulk of the people. It was a military town, set up to protect Canaan proper. The spies who had gone in forty years earlier had not lied – Jericho was a secure facility, inhabited by unusually large, strong soldiers. To the naked eye, it was suicide to try to attack the town – the walls were shut, the guards were on alert, Israel didn’t have the strength or the weaponry to take the town. The inhabitants of Jericho knew what these two million people were up to as they approached Jericho – there was no way to surprise Jericho.
But what was God’s promise, “See I have given Jericho into your hand with its king and mighty men of valor.” God was fighting for Israel – and the battle was a done deal. God’s promise is in the past tense – “I have given Jericho into your hand – it’s done – it’s yours. There is absolutely no question that the city will fall to you, because it has already fallen to Me.”
The problem was never that God was too weak to take the city for Israel; the problem was that Israel doubted and sinned in disbelieving God’s promises.
The fact of the matter, for them and for us, is that if we believe in the promises of God by faith, we need no other deliverance. If God has made a promise, it will come to pass, and we don’t need to fret and worry and groan and wring our hands, because God will make the possible reality.
They should have known that – we should know that – they saw the miracles in Egypt, they saw the Red Sea divide, they saw God’s provision of food and water for them in the wilderness, they saw God bind Himself to them as their God and they as His people, and so forth – still, they saw one big fort filled with mighty men, and they were willing to go back into slavery.
And before we say, “Stupid Israelites,” remember that every time you and I sin, we are telling God that we don’t believe Him. Every time we worry and doubt that God’s promises will not come to pass, we are telling God that we don’t believe Him.
In our culture, perhaps the best way to see if you trust God and His promises is to take a look at your check book. God has promised to provide us with all of our needs; do we give thanks to Him for that by giving to the work of His Church? Do we give the minimum that He has required of us – ten percent of our gross income? Have we learned to give more – generously – joyfully?
Paul, writing about his status, wrote, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8, ESV).
The voices in your ears are saying, “But I have to pay my bills. And I have to have a buffer for anything that might happen.” Beloved, God wants us to be wise with all that He has given us, but wise planning does not cause us to be disobedient or to be paralyzed in fear about what might be!
Whatever stumbling block is before you that keeps you from being able to trust Christ with your money, your possessions, whatever it might be that you are hanging on to – other than Christ – like a life preserver, whatever fortress looms before you and is causing you to shake in fear, remember what Solomon wrote, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10, ESV).
Run to Christ! Be safe in Christ! Trust Christ! Believe in the promises of God – and act on them – for we need no other deliverance.
God continued His instructions:
“’You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before him.’ So Joshua the son of Nun called the priests and said to them, ‘Take up the ark of the covenant and let seven priests bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark of the Lord.’ And he said to the people, ‘Go forward. March around the city and let the armed men pass on before the ark of the Lord.’
“And just as Joshua had commanded the people, the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams' horns before the Lord went forward, blowing the trumpets, with the ark of the covenant of the Lord following them. The armed men were walking before the priests who were blowing the trumpets, and the rear guard was walking after the ark, while the trumpets blew continually. But Joshua commanded the people, ‘You shall not shout or make your voice heard, neither shall any word go out of your mouth, until the day I tell you to shout. Then you shall shout.’ So he caused the ark of the Lord to circle the city, going about it once. And they came into the camp and spent the night in the camp.
“Then Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the Lord. And the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark of the Lord walked on, and they blew the trumpets continually. And the armed men were walking before them, and the rear guard was walking after the ark of the Lord, while the trumpets blew continually. And the second day they marched around the city once, and returned into the camp. So they did for six days.”
If you’re going to take a heavily guarded fortress, this is not a good plan. The people of Israel were out in the open, walking around the walls of the city – in silence, where the people of Jericho could easily have killed them. They were tiring themselves out walking round and round, day after day – making themselves less able to fight when the time was right.
And what a strange sight this must have been to the people of Jericho! “Look at these weird Israelites: they’re not protecting themselves, they’re not trying to attack, and they’re just walking around in circles – day after day. I think there’s something wrong with them.”
What God told them to do was bizarre, was it not?
God tells us to do strange things:
We read the history of Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, who was a leper. He heard there was a prophet in Israel who could heal him, so he traveled to Israel and asked for Elisha, but Elisha wouldn’t meet with him, though he did send his servant out with a word from God:
“And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, ‘Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.’ But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, ‘Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?’ So he turned and went away in a rage. But his servants came near and said to him, ‘My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, “Wash, and be clean”?’ So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (I Kings 5:10-14, ESV).
Sometimes we are left scratching our heads: why did God tell Naaman to wash in the Jordan, when there were better rivers in Syria? Why did God tell Israel to walk around Jericho, when they should have been preparing for battle, not making themselves a target and wearing themselves out?
Paul wrote, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (I Corinthians 1:26-31, ESV).
Sometimes God does things and commands things that don’t make sense to us – “I want to teach Jonah that I have chosen people to be mine out of all the peoples of the world, so I will have a fish eat him.”
The fact that something God says doesn’t make sense to us in some way is irrelevant – of course we should search the Scripture to try to understand, but if we do not, in the end, it doesn’t matter, because if God has said something, it is so, and our right response, no matter what we think or feel, is to obey. We are to trust that God – being God – knows what He is doing – His mind is greater than ours, so we must submit.
It is through faith, then, that we trust God, even when what He commands doesn’t make sense.
God has promised Israel that Jericho was already in their hands, and God told Israel to march around Jericho in silence for six days, and they trusted God and obeyed God – though they surely had no idea what the marching did for their conquering Jericho.
The point we sometimes miss – in these texts – and in our own lives – is that God did not tell Israel to march around Jericho because it would weaken the walls and make it easier for them to conquer Jericho, God told them to march around Jericho that their faith and trust in God and what God had promised would grow.
God didn’t tell Naaman to wash in the Jordan because it had some magical power – Naaman recognized that – God wanted Naaman to understand that healing was not found in the water itself, but in faith and trust and obedience of God, the Great Physician.
And, so, God sometimes tells us to do things that we would be strengthened in faith and trust of God.
Finally, we read:
“On the seventh day they rose early, at the dawn of day, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, ‘Shout, for the Lord has given you the city. And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent. But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it. But all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.’ So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city. Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword” (Joshua 6:1-21, ESV).
On November 28th, I went to the emergency room at St. Barnabas with what I thought was “merely” an infection. I was expecting to wait for quite a while, get some anti-biotics, and go home. However, they suspected something more was going on, so they sent me for a CAT scan and found that, indeed, I not only had an infection, but a salivary gland duct stone – and they said I could not leave the hospital. As I waited for a room, I objected to God and told Him that I had to get home and finish this sermon, etc.
Unbeknownst to me, the same day, Al Weinstein was admitted to emergency having an infection after having two surgeries to remove parts of his stomach and colon, after being diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer seven weeks earlier. He received his room assignment first.
Around 11:30 PM, I was finally brought to a room, where I met my roommate, Al Weinstein. Over the next five days, we got to know each other, and we began to talk about the God of the Bible. I was released about twelve hours before Al, but we exchanged phone numbers and pledged to keep in contact. We have called each other twice already this week to check in.
We said that God told Israel to walk around Jericho to build their trust in God and the promises from Him that they received by faith. Why did God have them walk around Jericho for seven days? Could it have been five? Could it have been eleven? Could it have been one?
Israel was beginning to take the Promised Land, why did God drag out their taking of the first outpost?
We, at least, see God teaching Israel to be patient. God was teaching them to trust, but they could have sincerely trusted and still prayed to God, “Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up!” By making them wait, He was teaching them that through faith, we patiently wait on God, even when we think we need something now.
I wanted to get out of the hospital and get home. I had work to do. I had the work of the Lord to do – to finish preparing this sermon, to preach last Sunday. But God said, “no.” Why?
If nothing else, I know that God kept me from being with you, so I could be with Al Weinstein and befriend him and begin to talk with him about God. Al said he wants to come visit us when he is back on his feet. Please pray for him – for his health and salvation.
Paul explained to the Philippians that he was always content: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13, ESV).
What was Paul’s secret? How could he be content in poverty and riches as they came his way? In Christ, Paul knew:
If we believe in the promises of God by faith, we need no other deliverance.
Through faith, we trust God, even when what God has said doesn’t make sense to us.
Through faith, we patiently wait on God, even when we think we need something now.
The walls of Jericho fell by the Hand of God – not by anything Israel did. And in preparation for conquering Jericho, God taught Israel to believe in Him for deliverance, to trust Him – and to work that trust out in obedience, and to be patient until God says the time is right.
May God teach each one of us likewise.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for the history of Joshua and the conquest of Jericho, that we would be reminded that our deliverance is in You Alone, and not through anything we do. We ask that you would help us to trust and obey You in all that You have put before us in Your Word. Help us to be patient as we wait on You and long for the Second Advent of Your Son Jesus, in Whose Name we pray, Amen.
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
In the Providence of God, I had a salivary gland duct stone which laid me up in the hospital for five days, so I missed preaching the first Sunday of this month. Thankfully, it passed and the infection is passing, and I am healing and getting back on my feet. D.V., then, I propose the following schedule for the rest of the month:
12/8/13 Advent 2
Hebrews 11:30 "Joshua"
12/15/13 Advent 3
Hebrews 11:31 "Rahab"
12/22/13 Advent 4
Hebrews 11:32-34 "And, Part 1"
12/24/13 Christmas Eve 7 PM
Luke 2:1-20 "The Faith of the Shepherds"
John 1:1-18 "Faith in the Incarnate God"
Join us at 10:30 AM for worship -- except as noted.
12/8/13 Advent 2
Hebrews 11:30 "Joshua"
12/15/13 Advent 3
Hebrews 11:31 "Rahab"
12/22/13 Advent 4
Hebrews 11:32-34 "And, Part 1"
12/24/13 Christmas Eve 7 PM
Luke 2:1-20 "The Faith of the Shepherds"
John 1:1-18 "Faith in the Incarnate God"
Join us at 10:30 AM for worship -- except as noted.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Due to a number of people wanting to get a head start on their Thanksgiving food preparations, we will not have our Wednesday evening study tonight. Please join us next Wednesday at 7 PM, D.V., as we look at the doctrine of Unconditional Election.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
November 24, 2013 Second Reformed Church
The Destroyer came and killed the first borns of Egypt, both human and animal, of all those who did not have the mark of the blood on the door posts and the lintel of their doors, but the people of God, the Hebrews, Israel, marked their doors, and the Destroyer passed over them and did not kill the first borns as they celebrated the first Passover.
In the morning, when the Egyptians found all the first borns dead, Pharaoh told the Hebrews to leave, and the people of Egypt also urged them to leave, giving them their jewels and gold as an added incentive – fulfilling the promise God made to Abraham that the people would leave after four hundred years and take the treasure of Egypt with them.
God led the people by a pillar of cloud, and they walked towards the Red Sea, believing the promise that had been made to them through Moses that they would be delivered from captivity in Egypt and make their way to the Promised Land.
These people were following God – and Moses – by faith. They had never seen the Promised Land – they had only heard of the promises and the stories of the sons of Jacob who had come to Egypt in the days of the great famine. Yet, they were assured of the things they hoped for and they had a conviction about the things that they had not seen. That is what faith is – the means by which we receive the Word of God and believe it with absolute assurance and conviction, based on what God has said and revealed about Himself – the promises He has made and the things He has said were and are and will be.
The author of Hebrews turns to the Exodus as the next example of faith for the first century Christians to whom he was writing:
“By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.”
We see in this historical example the rage-filled pursuit of the Hebrews – the believers – by the Egyptians – the unbelievers, the victory of the believers and the ruin of the unbelievers. As we remember that the Church was being persecuted by Nero and the Romans in the first century, it is not hard to see why this example is included. Nor is it difficult to apply this example to the Church in general and to see it as a type of the end of the Church and the world.
And, so, we can find four doctrines here:
First, the world will attack the Church with increasing rage as we near the end of the age.
Second, the Church ought not to be surprised by the world’s attack, but stand strong in faith.
Third, God will deliver the Church from the world.
And fourth, God will bring the world to ruin in the Judgment.
Let us look at the account:
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, “They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.” And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.’ And they did so.
“When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the mind of Pharaoh and his servants was changed toward the people, and they said, ‘What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?’ So he made ready his chariot and took his army with him, and took six hundred chosen chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the people of Israel while the people of Israel were going out defiantly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh's horses and chariots and his horsemen and his army, and overtook them encamped at the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.”
Moses and the two million or so Hebrew slaves made their way from Egypt towards the Red Sea, following God’s instructions, not knowing how they would get across the Red Sea. And God told Moses to tell the people that when they got to the Red Sea, they should stop and wait.
Meanwhile, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and Pharaoh once again changed his mind and gathered together all of his troops – their chariots and their foot soldiers – with Pharaoh, himself, in the lead, and set off after the Hebrews with great rage.
Just as Pharaoh and his army raged against the believing Hebrews, the first readers of the book of Hebrews would understand that Nero and the army of Rome was raging against the believing Christians. And we see today, around the world – the unbelievers – are raging against believing Christians. Yet, we ought to take heart and not be surprised, as Jesus said:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’ (John 15:18-25, ESV).
David wrote of this rage of unbelievers over a thousand years before Jesus: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us’” (Psalm 2:1-3, ESV).
So, we see that it has always been that the nonbeliever will ragefully attack the believer – and all the more so, now that the Savior has come. The world will attack the Church with increasing rage as we near the end of the age.
“When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: “Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians”? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’ And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.’”
All of a sudden, the people of God saw the Egyptians in the distance – raging towards them, barreling down on them, and the people were afraid. They even sarcastically asked Moses if he had brought them out in the desert because there were not enough graves in Egypt. They were moaning and ready to give up and go back into slavery under the Egyptians, and Moses told them to have faith – to believe in the promises of God they had received and to be confident that they would be delivered through the Red Sea and into the Promised Land, just as God had promised. This was God’s will; this was God’s fight. So, shut up.
Notice, Moses was not denying that the Egyptians were a great force, and they probably could have taken the people back into slavery, if they had merely escaped of their own design. But this was the promise of the Almighty God Who cannot lie. God promised that He would bring His people back into the Promised Land – so it would happen. Now, as we know from the rest of the history, God did not promise to bring everyone into the Promised Land – we must not put words in God’s mouth that He did not say.
But Moses was telling the people to remember what they had believed – the promises that had received through faith – the miracles they had seen in Egypt – to stop moaning and worrying, but to stand strong in their faith and be quiet unless they had something constructive to say.
Nero and Rome were frightening, we are frightened by events and people that come up against Christ and His Church, but we are called not to turn back in fear and moaning, but to take the promises that we have been given, to look at the history of what God has done and believe, and stand strong -- trusting – in faith, based on all that we know from God and about Him.
Jesus, God in the flesh, came to earth as the fulfillment of the promise God made to provide a Savior – One Who would make a way for sinners to be right with God. And we know what they did: they raged against Him, and tortured Him, and put Him to death.
Jesus explained that if they did that to Him, they will also do the same to His followers. Why? Jesus said, “Whoever believes in [the Son] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:18-20, ESV).
Understand, when we sin, we try to keep our sin hidden – we don’t want the world to know our sins, much less our brothers and sisters. So much more does the world – nonbelievers – who love their sin, because they do not believe in Jesus, the Son of God – want to keep the Light from exposing their sins. So their natural reaction was to kill the Light, so their sin would not be revealed. Though that is foolishness, because God knows everything that is ever done, and the day will come when all will be exposed for all to see.
Since we are followers of the Light, our faith and belief exposes the sin of unbelievers, so they hate us as well – the world continues to try to kill the Light in all the followers of the Light.
John explains – in commenting on the murder of Abel by Cain – “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (I John 3:13-15, ESV).
As we’ve said, that does not mean that we should seek out persecution, only that we should not be surprised when it comes. It also does not mean that every nonbeliever is going to be against us in the same way. We see in the world around us many countries where people are put to death for confessing faith in Christ, but nonbelievers do not usually kill believers in the United States – but they may eventually. Right now, what we see is largely a silent tolerance – so long as we keep silent. We often talk about this being a Christian country – it is not.
Wikipedia currently states that 73 to 80% of people in the United States say they are Christians. But that number is distorted – many people call themselves Christians who have no faith at all, who deny belief in the God of the Bible and the Savior He has sent. Pastor Mark Driscoll said in a recent interview (http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2013/11/22/mark-driscoll-accused-plagiarism-radio-host/) that the number of confessional Christians – people who believe what the Bible says and have received Jesus as Savior – is actually closer to 7 to 8% of the population in the United States. What about the other 72% from Wikipedia? There is such a thing as a cultural Christian – those people who call themselves Christian based on their heritage or belief that being a Christian means you’re a good person – these are nonbelievers. That’s why people who call themselves Christians rage against God and His Word.
That’s why the Church ought not to be surprised by the world’s attacks, but stand strong in faith.
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground. And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.’
“Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.
“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.”
God told Moses He didn’t want to hear the complaints; He wanted to see obedience. And God told Moses to stretch his hands out over the Red Sea, and it would part, so the Hebrews could walk on dry ground to the other side. Meanwhile, God would harden the hearts of the Egyptians all the more that they would follow Israel into the Red Sea as they crossed to the other side.
So Moses stretched out his hands, and God sent the wind to part of the waters, and they became a wall on the right and on the left, and the people of God walked down into the Sea on dry ground and began to walk across to the other side.
God promised to deliver the Hebrews out of Egypt and out of their bondage in slavery, and God did. When the people came up to the Sea, it was not a problem for God, the Creator – God just parted the Sea so they could walk across.
God has promised to bring all of His Plans and Promises to pass. The problem is when we waver in our faith – when we take our eyes off of God, when we begin to doubt all those things that we received by faith from God’s Word. It is then that we start to stumble.
Remember what happened after the feeding of the five thousand:
“Immediately [Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’
“And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (Matthew 14:22-33, ESV).
God tells us not to doubt but to receive His Word by faith and believe. God will do what He said. Will we suffer? Probably. Will we be put to death? Possibly. Will God keep His Word and bring us into the Fullness of the Kingdom? Absolutely.
As God said on several occasions, “’Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?’” (Jeremiah 32:27, ESV).
And God says of those who persecute Him and His Church: “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, ‘As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill’” (Psalm 2:4-6, ESV).
As Jesus said to the church at Thyatira, “Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star” (Revelation 2:25-28, ESV).
Through faith, we can endure whatever the world brings against us. Faith will find a way through any trial that is for the sake of Christ, and God will work that faith out in deliverance. For God will deliver the Church from the world.
“The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, ‘Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.’
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.’ So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
“Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.” (Exodus 14:1-31, ESV).
As God planned, the Egyptians followed the Hebrews into the Sea, and as the last of the Hebrews made it to the other side – twelve hours or so later – the pillar of fire and cloud turned and struck fear in the hearts of the Egyptians, and they said, “Let’s get out of here – the Lord is on their side!” But God gummed up the chariots’ wheels so they couldn’t move – the Egyptians were stuck in the mud. And Moses stretched out his hands again, and the sea closed over the Egyptians and killed them. And the people of God feared Him and believed in Him with great assurance and conviction. God had proved Himself to His people once again, and, for now, their faith was strong and they believed in God and His Word.
Here we have God’s judgment on the nonbeliever – some He will bring to ruin in this lifetime – and all those who never believe, He will bring to ruin in judgment at the end of the age.
John paints a picture of the end of the unbeliever like this:
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15, ESV).
In the end, our hope is that the Church – all those who believe – will be delivered. Sadly, God will bring the world to ruin in the Judgment. We understand it to be sadly, because we ought not to desire anyone to be left out of the Kingdom. We rejoice that our persecution will end and that God will be glorified for our persecution on His behalf, but we ought to seek the salvation of all people and mourn those who die outside of the faith.
This Exodus was an event of hope for those who went through it and for the Christians suffering in the first century, as it should be an event of hope for us. In it we see:
The world will attack the Church with increasing rage as we near the end of the age.
The Church ought not to be surprised by the world’s attack but stand strong in the faith.
God will deliver the Church from the world.
And, God will bring the world to ruin in the Judgment.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, Who loves His people and keeps His promises, we thank You that You will bring Your people – the Church – through history into Your Kingdom as conquerors. Help us to trust in You at all times and not fear what people and kings and nations might do to us, but hold on in hope and with great faith to all You have said and promised, seeking that You be glorified in all things, and looking forward to that day when we will be with You in glory forever. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
"Moses, Part 4”
November 17, 2013 Second Reformed Church
Last week, we saw Moses approach Pharaoh after the ninth plague and demand that he set the people of God free – and Pharaoh refused. Pharaoh threated that he would kill Moses if he ever saw him again, and Moses, fearlessly, having faith in God and His promises, declared that he would never see him again. Yet, his final word was the revelation of the tenth plague – that God was going to come to kill the first-born of all the people and all the animals of Egypt, after which, Pharaoh would tell them all to leave – and Moses stormed out of the presence of Pharaoh.
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt’” (Exodus 11:9, ESV).
Then God spoke to Moses and instituted the Passover – and we do well to hear what God said:
“The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, ‘This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.
“Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord's Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.
“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. On the first day you shall hold a holy assembly, and on the seventh day a holy assembly. No work shall be done on those days. But what everyone needs to eat, that alone may be prepared by you. And you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as a statute forever. In the first month, from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses. If anyone eats what is leavened, that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwelling places you shall eat unleavened bread.
“Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, ‘Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. And when you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, “What do you mean by this service?” you shall say, “It is the sacrifice of the Lord's Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.”’ And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.
“Then the people of Israel went and did so; as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did” (Exodus 12:1-28, ESV).
Again, our text this morning reads: “By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.”
As we consider the Passover, we understand:
First, faith is necessary to receive the Sacrament.
Second, Jesus received the Wrath of God on Himself that was due us.
Third, we are not touched by the Destroyer, because Jesus bled for us.
“By faith he kept the Passover”
The Hebrews were slaves in Egypt. Moses had made it impossible for him to ever return to speak to Pharaoh. And now God had told Moses to institute the Passover, after which, the people of God would be able to leave Egypt.
Moses received these instructions and this promise from God by faith: Moses received what he knew about God through his years shepherding sheep and from God speaking to him as he dealt with Pharaoh. Being thoroughly convinced of God’s Attributes, he received this promise of something he had not seen – the death of the first-borns and the deliverance of the whole nation – as fact. And so he kept the Passover by faith, believing that God’s Word is true.
The Passover was a type or a foreshadowing of Jesus, His Work, and also of the Sacrament that He left us. Let us quickly look at how the instructions about the lamb parallel Jesus and then look at the Passover’s transformation into the Lord’s Supper [cf. Owen, Hebrews, vol. 7, 166-167]:
The Passover centered around the picking of a lamb, killing it, being marked by its blood, and eating it. We read, “The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29, ESV).
The lamb was to be taken out of the flock – he was to be one of many sheep. So, Jesus is a human being just like us – Jesus, the Lamb of God, was taken out of humanity, as the author of Hebrews explained, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:14-17, ESV).
This lamb was to be taken out of the flock – separated for his purpose. Likewise, Jesus was also separate and separated from other men by His being free from sin: “For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26, ESV).
It was also to be without blemish. Peter picks up this language, writing, “but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (I Peter 1:19, ESV).
It was to be slain for his people. As Jesus was, and John writes, “and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8, ESV).
The lamb was to be slain as a sacrifice. And Paul writes, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (I Corinthians 5:7b, ESV).
The lamb was to be roasted. One commentator points out that this is symbolic of the Wrath of God that Jesus suffered for all of the sins of all those who would ever believe in Him which we see in Jesus’ exclamation of the Father deserting Him on the cross: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46, ESV).
In verse forty-six of Exodus 12, which we did not read, the instructions continue, saying that the bones of the lamb are not to be broken, which we see fulfilled in Jesus, “But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.’ And again another Scripture says, ‘They will look on him whom they have pierced’” (John 19:33-37, ESV).
And, finally, in commanding that the lamb be eaten in its entirety, one commentator explains that this is an image of this being a sacrament that is to be received by faith wholly for the reception of the grace it was given to deliver.
As we turn to the Gospels, we see how Jesus turned the Sacrament of the Passover into the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper:
In the Upper Room, Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples, and after Judas had been dismissed to his great sin, we read: “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom’” (Matthew 26:26-29, ESV).
The Passover and the Lord’s Supper both pointed to deliverance – deliverance from slavery in Egypt and deliverance from sin. Both pointed to the Deliverer: God. By the Father’s Mighty Right Arm, He delivered the people of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt and gave them a perpetual sacrament which pointed to deliverance from sin by the Mighty Right Arm of the Savior, Jesus, the Son of God. And Jesus explained that the Sacrament is no mere memorial – though we do remember what happened when we receive the bread and the cup, just as the Hebrews would remember what happened as they received the elements of the Passover, the Passover had to be – and the Lord’s Supper must be – received by faith to benefit from it and to have a sure hope of the things to which it looks forward to – the Savior and His First and Second Comings.
Without faith, the idea that an eighty-year-old man would lead the Hebrews out of slavery and out of Egypt – that the mightiest nation at the time would acquiesce and let them go – well, it would have been laughable. Similarly, the idea that a carpenter from Nazareth was the Savior was also a laughable idea without faith. Yet, through faith, we receive the Sacrament, and receive the grace to believe – not just knowing the words, but believing with our hearts that these things are true and have and will come to pass, and gaining understanding of what the symbols mean.
Faith is necessary to receive the Sacrament.
“and sprinkled the blood,”
God told Moses to have the Hebrews mark the doors of their homes – the doorposts and the lintel – with the blood of the lamb. The blood of the lamb was substituted for the first-borns of the families who marked their doors. The Wrath of God did not come down on the first-borns of all of the families that offered up a substitute in the form of the blood of the lamb as God had instructed.
And we understand that the offering of the blood of the lamb in the place of the first-borns was a temporary diversion of the Wrath of God. After all, it was God, Himself, Who sent the nation of the Hebrews into captivity as a punishment for their sin against Him: “Then the Lord said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions’” (Genesis 15:13-14, ESV).
As Paul explains: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18, ESV). Due to our first parents’ sin, God’s Wrath is against us, and there has always only been One Way to be delivered from that Wrath – to have an acceptable substitute take it on for us. The Sacrificial System, as we have seen in the book of Hebrews, was a system of partial, temporary forgiveness for sin – without something more, all would be deserving of the Wrath of God and eternal Hell.
James explains that only the Promised Savior could be the Acceptable Substitute in God’s eyes to take our sins upon Himself and suffer the Wrath of God for our sins and yet survive – as he explained from the prophecy of Isaiah: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7, ESV).
As we saw in the parallels of the Passover Lamb and Jesus, Jesus is a real human being, so He was able to take the place of real human beings, and Jesus is God, so He is able to survive the Wrath that poured down upon Him for all those who would ever believe. As Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV).
Out of love, God sent His Only Begotten Son to bear God’s Wrath against all those who would ever believe in the Son for salvation, so we would never have to suffer that Wrath, but would receive salvation – deliverance – just as the people of the Hebrews did from Egypt.
Jesus received the Wrath of God on Himself that was due us.
“so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.”
And so we that God delivered the Hebrews out of Egypt by receiving God’s instruction by faith and putting blood on the doorposts and the lintel of their doors. For all those who did this by faith we delivered from the Destroyer Who came to kill the firstborns of the Egyptians – all those who did not have the mark of the blood on them.
And here we have something interesting in the text – Who is it that is said would come to kill the first-borns of all those who are not marked by the blood? God repeatedly says that He will come and kill them, and then He says that He will send the Destroyer in or tell Him to pass over. The commentators do not agree, so let us leave it, for now, that God determines whether or not the Destroyer comes in, based on whether or not the household is marked by the blood.
The parallel ought to come quickly to us now, does it not?
Paul tells us, “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by [Jesus’] blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9, ESV).
And, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (I Thessalonians 5:9-10, ESV).
For all those who believe in the Savior by faith – all those Who receive what God has said through His Word about the Savior Who would come and reconcile a people with God – for them, Jesus shed His Blood on the cross, taking our sins and God’s Wrath upon Himself, and delivering us from the Destroyer – from the wages of sin that we would be responsible to pay, if we did not have Jesus for our Substitute before God.
We are not touched by the Destroyer, because Jesus bled for us.
And so we see, that all we who believe in the Lamb of God Who received the Wrath of God as our Substitute, and covered us in His Blood that we would not be subject to the judgment of the Destroyer, are delivered from our sin and its wages.
As Paul explained: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:1-4, 37-39, ESV).
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for saving Your people through the Blood of the Lamb. We thank You for the foretelling of the work of Jesus Christ, the Son and Lamb of God, through the symbols of the Passover. We ask that we would receive these symbols and this history by faith and believe with all our heart. And as we turn to receive the Sacrament that You have given to the Church, we ask that the Holy Spirit would help us to receive the elements of the bread and the cup with greater understanding and fuller devotion that we might witness to the deliverance that You have accomplished for us. For it is in the Name of this Jesus, our Substitute, that we pray, Amen.