Friday, 29 January 2010

7. WORSHIP, praise and service

You often hear the statement that the first use of the word 'worship' comes in the story of Abraham's intention to sacrifice Isaac. And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.” Gen 22:5 but this is really only true in an English version. The Hebrew word usually translated 'worship' is Strong's H7812 - shachah and means 'to prostrate oneself'. It is the physical attitude of unconditional surrender and of utter compliance with the will of another.

If we were to draw a stick-figure of a man 'worshipping' it would be of someone lying on their face before another. Not that I am advocating any 'method' of worship, I am trying to identify the essence of worship. It contains within its sense the idea of surrendering to someone much more powerful who will now be served without hesitation. It is the thought captured in Psalm 2 where we are admonished to Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, And you perish in the way, When His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him. Psa 2:12 This is the kiss of willing obeisance rather than of affection.

Christ's rebuke to Satan's temptation was “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ” Matt 4:10 It is an entirely appropriate answer to someone who had said “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” Matt 4:9. The Greek word for 'worship' used here is also highly suggestive. It is the word Strong's G4352 - proskyneŇć In its origins it meant 'to kiss towards'. Again it is the picture of absolute submission to another; it is a good Greek equivalent of an original Hebrew word.

Digging a little deeper unearths another vital theme. In the wilderness temptations all Christ's answers come from the book of Deuteronomy and 'you shall worship the lord your God, and Him only you shall serve' is a quotation from Deuteronomy where it says You shall fear the LORD your God and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name. Deut 6:13 It is significant that 'fear' is changed to 'worship' by the Lord in the wilderness. True worship is close to fear but has the element of a willing surrender in it too.

True worship is beyond words or forms; it is an inward disposition. An old friend of mine used to say 'the language of true worship, like the language of true love, has a very small vocabulary'. Do not be rash with your mouth, And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; Therefore let your words be few. Eccl 5:2

Friday, 22 January 2010

6. Godwards - thou shalt be unto me...

Its key purpose, and this may shock, was not evangelism but to be a people centred upon God and available to him. OK that's where we left off last time. Let me re-emphasise the point with a couple of prepositions and some pronouns...

The nation that became the OT covenant community were given this 'if.. then..' promise. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” Ex 19:4–6 NKJV I have my eye on that little phrase which is repeated twice in this passage.. 'unto me'. This is God staking his claim on this people. If they accepted the terms of the covenant they would become 'his' in a way unique among all other nations and if they accepted the terms of this covenant they would become a 'priestly kingdom and a holy nation to me'. The whole orientation of these opening words is 'Godwards'. There is no mention of a promised land nor of a commission; these would come in due time but are not the main focus.

In the 'Missing Jewel of Worship' A W Tozer commented "We're here to be worshippers first and workers only second. We take a convert and immediately make a worker out of him. God never meant it to be so. God meant that a convert should learn to be a worshipper, and after that he can learn to be a worker. The work done by a worshipper will have eternity in it."

Did you ever notice the order in this well known verse? Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ” Matt 4:10 NKJV. Worship first, workers second. What is true of the individual is true of the covenant community and is true of the local expression of that covenant community too. The 'purpose' of the universal church and the local church is to 'worship and to serve' in that order.

These are not two different 'views' of the local church, this is a single view with two aspects. The church that worships will inevitably serve, but the church that serves may never discover the wonder of worship.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

5. The Song of Moses and the song of the Lamb

Meanwhile, back at the 'church'. BTW If you want to read these blogs on 'the church' scroll to the bottom of the page where you will find various 'topic categories', choose 'church' and you can read the whole series...

The heading for this blog is taken from Rev 15:3 where we see those who sing these two songs. The Song of Moses we know from Exodus15 but the Song of the Lamb? I think it is the song of the 'redeemed' in Rev 5:9-10. So how are these two songs linked? They are both songs of deliverance with a view to the future. The book of the Revelation constantly uses themes from Israel's captivities in Egypt and Babylon and looks towards God's ultimate deliverances and to the purpose of that deliverance.

The Song of Moses is very interesting. There are a couple of themes in it which are surprising. At this point of Israel's history God had not promised to enter into a national covenant neither had he mentioned the possibility of a sanctuary in which he would live among them. Nevertheless there are pre-echoes present in the song of Moses. ...You have guided them in Your strength To Your holy habitation. Ex 15:13 NKJV and even more remarkable... You will bring them in and plant them In the mountain of Your inheritance, In the place, O LORD, which You have made For Your own dwelling, The sanctuary, O LORD, which Your hands have established. Ex 15:17 NKJV In the first reference Moses might have had in mind Sinai as God's habitation but the second reference clearly follows the possession of the land of Canaan. Let me make the point more clearly. God does not mention a national covenant until Exodus 19 and even then there is no mention of a sanctuary. The sanctuary, that I may dwell among them, comes into the story at Ex 25 after the national covenant has been enacted. And yet here, prophetically, Moses refers to the ultimate purpose of the possession of the land, it is to be the place of God's sanctuary.

The nation of Israel would have an identity which was determined by the fact that the nation surrounded the Sanctuary or, to put it the other way about, that they would be a nation at whose centre God would have his own Sanctuary. There were to be, and this was their destiny, a kingdom of priests to God and a holy nation. This is a key feature of the old covenant community and again of the new covenant community. Its key purpose, and this may shock, was not evangelism but to be a people centred upon God and available to him.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Tsunamis, earthquakes, genocide, and the love of God

I first wrote this little article for a weekly contribution to Sermonindex about 6 years ago.. but now in the face of the Haiti earthquake I still have no better answer.

Tsunami toll could top 100,000”; The Times. “God is Love”; the Bible

time to pause and think

I have juxtaposed two stark statements as the heading for this week’s devotional meditation. How does the Christian consider these two statements? Do they cancel out each other? Do we make a choice of believing one or the other? If not, in absolute terms, do we close our minds to one or other of these ‘facts’? The question uppermost in my mind is ‘why did this happen’? At the risk, of you reading no further into this little meditation, I will tell you frankly, I don’t know. And I will go further, I don’t believe anyone else knows either.

It is not unbelief or backsliding to ask questions. The prophet Jeremiah was to become a witness to the death of his nation. Everything he recognised as God’s love gifts would be swept away; the Priesthood and the Temple, the Throne of David, the very nation would be dragged ignominiously into exile. As the horrors begin to unfold Jeremiah lifts up his voice’ Righteous art thou, O LORD, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously? (Jer 12:1 KJV)

It is a wonderful and honest statement. Underneath Jeremiah’s acknowledgement of God’s nature a question is bubbling. Jeremiah is trying to make sense of what he sees, as no doubt many have and many will in the future. It is a reworking of Abraham’s rhetorical question; That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? (Gen 18:25 KJV)

The legitimacy of the question was recognised by the Lord in Luke’s gospel; There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. (Luk 13:1-5 KJV) The word translated ‘suppose’ here is ‘dokeO’ to judge or decide. The Lord is asking the question ‘how are you thinking about these events?’

The astute will notice that so far we are doing pretty well for questions although answers are a bit short in supply. It is right to ask these questions and very human. We were created with the power of reason, and the need to link cause and effect. Somehow we have always known that every event must have a cause. This is the admission of every child who asks a question beginning with the word ‘why’. ‘Why’ demands that there is a reasonable basis to our universe. Some Christians shrink from such questions; they feel that somehow the question is impertinent. The command to … love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. (Luk 10:27 KJV) undercuts that escape from reason.

The mind or understanding however needs more that raw data to make its right deductions; it requires revelation. Paul prayed, in the Ephesians’ letter, that The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, (Eph 1:18 KJV) The understanding needs ‘light’ from outside as well as its own inherent deductive powers. In that wonderful chapter about ‘faith’ in Hebrews we have the statement By faith we understand that the ages were framed by a word of God, so that the things being seen not to have come into being out of the things that appear. (Heb 11:3 MKJV)

This kind of understanding must always begin with faith and faith, according to my own personal definition, is right response to revelation. The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God… (Psa 14:1a KJV). To ‘leave God out of the calculation’ is the Bible definition of a fool. Conversely The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. (Pro 9:10 KJV) Abraham and Jeremiah both begin their questions with two basic assumptions; that God is Righteous, and that God is God. In other words God had the power to do what He wills, but what He wills will always be righteous because He Himself is Righteous and He can only act in consistency with His Own character.

Abraham was about to see the destruction of Sodom, Jeremiah was about to see the destruction of Jerusalem, but for both the underlying question is how can God justify this behaviour? The spirit of both these men is identical. Abraham’s subsequent conversation was not the bartering of a village market, but the same response as that of Jeremiah. The KJV expresses the scene beautifully; …let me talk with thee of thy judgments... I heard a man recently who said that he is often angry with God; a chill went through my spirit when I heard the words. The man who gets angry with God is never going to get an answer the question ‘why’? We never get an answer to the question ‘why’ when we hurl it heavenwards through clenched teeth. The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way. (Psa 25:9 KJV) We may recall that Moses was described as ‘the meekest man in all the earth’; it is written of him He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel. (Psa 103:7 KJV) I think it is more than a simple Hebrew parallelism. Some people only every see God’s acts; the meekest man saw God’s ways.

To be pedantic, we would have to say that all that humans will ever see is the ‘outer-skirts’ of His ways. This was Job’s realisation; The pillars of the heavens tremble and are astonished at His rebuke. He quiets the sea with His power, and by His understanding He shatters the proud. By His Spirit the heavens were beautiful; His hand pierced the fleeing serpent. Lo, these are the edges of His ways; but what a whisper of a word we hear of Him! And the thunder of His power who can understand? (Job 26:11-14 MKJV) Speaking elsewhere of God’s ways the psalmist said; Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known. (Psa 77:19 KJV) What a vivid picture that is, especially when we recall that this passage is referring to the Red Sea and the Exodus. ‘God’s way is in the sea’; unimaginable, unpredictable, unrepeatable, untraceable. Theoretically you could visit this spot today, and find nothing but, in its fleeting moment, God walked here and did things of eternal consequences.

The words of Jesus in Luke’s gospel are an abiding warning against an understanding based on joining up the dots by the shortest possible route. The Luke 13 passage is instructive because it deals with both human culpability and natural disaster. In the first Pilate might have been blamed, in the second an earth tremor, but in both cases the Lord refuses to connect the disaster event with individual or group sin. This is important when we consider the 1986 Chernobyl Meltdown, the 2004 Tsunami or the 9/11 WTC implications. I will ask and answer my own question… “Do you suppose that the residents of Belorus and Ukraine, the Indian ocean seacoasts or the Haiti… were sinners above all… that they suffered such things?” “No, I don’t”. This may surprise and unsettle some of my friends but I am sure that these words in Luke are to prevent us making such connections. It is impossible to deduce cause from effect just by joining up the dots.

Such a deduction would need revelation as well as information. Some will claim such revelation and quickly defend their opinions, but I have no such revelation and in the absence of plain New Testament teaching cannot submit to these conclusions.

There is another classic portion of scripture where dangerous questions are asked. This time the one asking is Asaph, one of David’s chief musicians. His question is to be found in Psalm 73. He is in the middle of the same theological dilemma, and starts again by declaring God to be good, but his own thinking has him on the slide. He has watched the wicked and they are ‘getting away with it’; in fact, they are thriving. He wonders whether his own clean walk has just been a waste of time, a sheer vanity. He hasn’t spoken these things publicly for fear of causing others to stusmble, but as he meditates his thinking becomes ‘too painful for me’. There is a limit to our comprehension of suffering. One of the most wicked men of the last century, Joseph Stalin, once remarked ‘One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic’. There is a truth in this cynical comment. We do not usually mourn more over 18 buried under Siloam’s tower than we would over 17 unless the extra one is our own child. Perhaps this is part of God’s goodness to us that we cannot perceive what ‘50000 victims of a Tsunami’ really means. We are more likely to shed our tears over the thought of a single person weeping for his son, than of 50000 faces we never saw, being swept away. It is not until Asaph entered the place of God’s presence that the slide stopped; we shall find the same.

This is where the greater revelation of the New Testament makes its special contribution. God is not afar off, checking the latest statistics. Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? (Luk 12:6 KJV) If you check the ‘going rate’ with Matthew’s gospel you will know that the price was 2 sparrows for a farthing, but the sellers would sometimes have a special offer of five sparrows for 2 farthings. They had ‘thrown in’ in the fifth sparrow without cost. Even this ‘sparrow without a price’, added almost as an afterthought or bonus, was not forgotten before God. Matthew touches the same truth but his phrase almost sounds unfinished, Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. (Mat 10:29 KJV), and different translators have added words to make up the sense, without your Father’s consent, without your Father’s will, I prefer to leave it as it is; ‘without your Father’. He was not far off checking statistics; He was there, when the sparrow fell. God’s capacity for sorrow is infinite.

In each one of those private tragedies which make up the 100,000 He was there too. He felt each pain and panic. He feels now the wounds of each bereaved loved one. He feels the pain of the coming years. I recall an old lady who used to be part of our church. I knew her in the 1980s. On her mantel piece in her home she had a faded photograph of her younger brother in army uniform. On his birthday, each year, she would weep. “He died”, she would say, “on his 19th birthday, at the Somme”. Over 60 years and the wounds were not healed. God’s wounds have not healed either. The pain that this world has caused and does cause Him is beyond thought or calculation. God’s capacity for sorrow is infinite.

How can God allow all this pain? I don’t know but I know He shares it and ‘feels’ it far more than we ever could. To the sure knowledge of His absolute righteousness, I am able to add the revelation that God is Love. This love with which God still loves His world through all its sorrows was demonstrated once in its fullness; But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8 NASB) and that anchor holds all my other thoughts secure. There is a pattern, I am sure, that is beyond all human knowing and a day may come when we will see more than just ‘the edges of His ways’, but in the meantime through tears and pain His people must lift their hearts as did Jeremiah all those years ago.

My soul has been rejected from peace; I have forgotten happiness. So I say, My strength has perished, And so has my hope from the LORD. Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers And is bowed down within me.
This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. The LORD is my portion, says my soul, Therefore I have hope in Him.
(Lam 3:17-24 NASB)

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

a fearless future

Over 30 years ago as I stood in the beautiful sweep of Izmir’s harbour I looked upwards to the hill behind the city. It Bible times the city was known as Smyrna and the hill was known as “The Crown of Smyrna” because of the way that buildings ‘crowned’ the hill’s summit. It inevitably brought to mind the promise of Jesus to the congregation in Smyrna that the overcomers would receive 'the crown of life’; Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. Rev 2:10.

There are some mind-stretching concepts here. This congregation was about to undergo the devil’s wrath against the people of God. God could have stopped it easily but he had chosen not to. Why? Any answer would be just human speculation. Their imprisonment, although the consequence of the devil’s activity, had a divine purpose; in order `(Greek hina) that you may be tested. Trials are an inevitable part of Christian experience; they ‘go with the territory’. As Peter tells us it is not ‘strange’ or ‘foreign’...Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 1Pet 4:12. My old Bible college principal used to say that ‘Satan was God’s chief inspector of boilers’! God is confident in his workmanship in the lives of his saints and is not afraid that they will fail the testings.

The sufferings of the congregation in Smyrna were not a mere possibility; they were scheduled. These are things that they are ‘about to suffer’ are definitely on the way, but their duration is fixed from before their beginning. You will have tribulation for 10 days. There is a snippet of a hymn on the edges of my mind but I can’t recall it all. It contains the lines ‘if God hath set their number ten, you ne’er shall have eleven’. This is the promise for all the saints. It will not go on for ever... a lifetime at most. ;-) No trial permitted by God is open ended but carefully circumscribed, thus far and no further. It is said of one the riders in the book of Revelation that ‘power was given unto him to make war with the saints...’ Rev 13:7 ‘it was given unto him’ , he did not usurp it and beyond his limits he cannot go.

There is a similar promise which is much better known generally to the saints. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1Cor 13:10 This is the ESV version. The assurance that there is a fixed ‘exit’ from this temptation is the hope that enables the saint to ‘endure’ under the weight of it. That sure ‘exit’ strengthens us as we ‘endure it’.

Perhaps the most amazing part of our original verse is the command ‘not to fear any of those things which you are about to suffer’. They are coming but you are not to fear them. You are not to fear ‘any of those things’; we are not allowed a single exception. The saints’ trials will result in crowns to cast at his feet for those who obeyed him and refused to fear the future. And why should we not 'fear the future'? Simply because of the central theme of the book of the Revelation... God is still on the throne.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

the reactions of the saints

Just a simple personal testimony today.

Reactions are interesting things. I suppose they are the product of character and experience. They say that a child is born only with the fear and consequently the appropriate actions for loud noises and falling. A memory comes to mind. When one of our babies was just a few days old and sleeping in her cot we were visited by a local doctor. While he was attending our dog began to bark. I ‘shushed’ her and said ‘you will wake the baby’. But the baby didn’t wake. I asked the doctor why. His answer was that she had ‘grown up with it’, meaning that her months in the womb had accustomed her to the barking of a dog. No doubt other noises would have woken her.

I have had some interesting reactions myself in the last couple of weeks. I have been diagnosed with fairly serious health issues. So what is the ‘reaction’ to such news? Well, a degree of shock certainly but also an instinctive rising of the heart God-wards and an instinctive reaching out to the saints. Some others might instinctively reach out to other means of support, a medical textbook... or a bottle. At such times you long for safety and instinctively the saint knows that he will find it among the saints. This is not the first time I have been the happy recipient of generous love and the assurance of prayer; it is impossible to measure how precious it is. Paul once commented on his trial of imprisonment with the comment; For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, Phil 1:19 NKJV It is really quite a remarkable comment. We might have thought that the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ would be all that anyone could possibly need but Paul makes a couplet of it, ‘through your prayer AND the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ’. He knew he needed the prayers of the saints. We all do, and yet so often we give the impression of such self-sufficiency that we isolate ourselves from the supply that the saints are to provide.

One of the signs of regeneration is a genuine change in our reactions. Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. 1 Pet 2:24–25 NKJV Did you notice the tense there? ‘you were like sheep going astray’? Literally, ‘you used to be like sheep going astray’. That was the old unregenerate instinct and reaction, ‘prone to wander’. But regeneration effects a radical change in nature and with a new nature come new reactions. The instinct now, even if we should sin, is not to break lose but to huddle closer to a Shepherd who bore our sins in his own body on the tree. Trials which encourage such reactions are truly blessings in disguise.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

6. Happy Anniversary?

We have just celebrated our 45th Wedding Anniversary and we sat and talked about how well we could (or couldn't!) remember the details of the actual wedding day. God never forgot any of the details of the great day of the Sinai covenant. He constantly reminded Israel of it when in their spiritual promiscuity they turned to idols. But he remembered it with remarkable affection too.

The Ezekiel 16 chapter is addressed to 'Jerusalem' but is really intended for the whole nation. Jeremiah writing a little earlier does the same thing in a passage which is as moving, in its way, as that of Ezekiel.

It begins Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem... Jer 2:2 but what follows makes it very clear that God is thinking of the whole nation and its beginnings. Ezekiel speaks of the beginnings from the perspective of the utter unworthiness of the nation but Jeremiah had taken a different perspective. He gives us an amazing glimpse into the heart of God; "Go and cry in the hearing of Jerusalem, saying, 'Thus says the LORD: "I remember you, The kindness of your youth, The love of your betrothal, When you went after Me in the wilderness, In a land not sown. Jer 2:2. This is really an extraordinary memory of the Sinai event. That word 'kindness' is really covenant love or 'loyal love'. We are used to hearing about God's 'loyal covenant love' but in this instance God is remembering that of Israel!

How well do you remember this story? Do you remember any expression of Israel's loyal love? He describes the event: "I remember you, The kindness of your youth, The love of your betrothal, When you went after Me in the wilderness, In a land not sown. Israel [was] holiness to the LORD, The firstfruits of His increase..." Jer 2:2-3. God is remembering Israel's faithfulness to him as it was expressed at the beginning. We are usually mindful of Israel's abject failure but God remembered a time when they responded in a remarkable way to his mercy.

During the very covenant ceremony Israel was unfaithful to her bridegroom and God was ready to wipe them out and start all again with just Moses. Moses pleaded for them and God condescended to continue with them. Ex 32:33 For the next year they remained at the foot of Sinai until they had completed all that was required for their priestly role, especially God's own mobile temple that we know as the Tabernacle. During this time the people of Israel 'only had eyes for one'. They brought their daily gifts with such abandonment that Moses had to make the most remarkable financial appeal in history... he pleaded with them to STOP giving. Exodus 36:5-7.

God remembered these days when Israel was 'holiness to the Lord'; entirely separated to her bridegroom'. And this was no 'cupboard love' in which the people loved God for what they could get out of him. This was a time when they '...went after Me in the wilderness, In a land not sown. Jer 2:2. That's the kind of bride/church that God has always had in mind. There is an echo of this in Christ's word to the church in Ephesus in the Revelation. Of all the various conditions found in the churches of the Revelation only Ephesus is threatened with extinction, and with this solemn comment; Nevertheless I have [this] against you, that you have left your first love. Rev 2:4. God never forgets first love and He will never be satisfied with anything less.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

an excursus: the wonder of acceptance

The passage I quoted yesterday from Ezekiel is a very moving one. It describes 'Jerusalem' as a foundling, the unwanted child that is discarded and left to die. 'Jerusalem' here is both the city and a means of speaking of the nation in the way that we might say 'relations between Washington and London have become strained'. In such a statement we are really regarding the 'capital' city as representing the whole nation.

The point is this child had nothing 'going for it', nothing to attract anyone to it, no virtue, no merit. This is always the basis of God's dealing with men and women. He does not 'chose' us on the basis of any merit or virtue, there is none. As we come to him by faith in Christ he declares us 'right with him' or as the theologians call it 'justifies us by faith'. 'God, him say me OK' is the Pigeon English explanation for such a wonder. God takes us as he finds us and any attempt as self-improvement only delays the process.

This is the truth of Ezekiel's foundling. This was how God found his people and he did not demand their improvement before he took them as his people. He did insist on their choice to commit themselves to his plans for their life. He did insist that when they had become his people the pattern of their lives would change, but change was not a condition of their acceptance.

Among those who love the truth of holiness there is a perpetual danger, the danger of preaching justification by sanctification. By that I mean the temptation to believe that although we come to God on the basis of sheer unmerited grace our continued acceptance is on the basis of our good behaviour. As Paul might have put it, having been accepted by grace are you now made perfect by your own achievements?

Let's return to Ezekiel's world. This is what God found; As for your nativity, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you; you were not rubbed with salt nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. None eye pitied thee, to do any of these unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou wast cast out in the open field, to the lothing of thy person, in the day that thou wast born. And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee [when thou wast] in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee [when thou wast] in thy blood, Live. Ezek 16:16:4-6

This is how God 'felt'. "When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine," says the Lord GOD. Ezek 16:8.

and this is what God did first... "When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine," says the Lord GOD. Ezek 16:8.

and this is what he did second... "Then I washed you in water; yes, I thoroughly washed off your blood, and I anointed you with oil. Ezek 16:9

Did you notice that he loved and embraced this human piece of flotsam and swore an oath and entered into a covenant BEFORE he cleansed it? Be sure to understand the order here; first justification, second sanctification.

Monday, 4 January 2010

5. you are invited to a wedding

It is almost lost in the fullness of the details of the Sinai event, but God has taken care to ensure we understand what is happening at this point in the history of 'the church of Israel'. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Ex 19:17. What an amazing scene.

Now that they are no longer the 'servants of another' God brings them to a secret trysting place in the desert of Sinai. This event created 'the church of Israel' and it takes the form of a solemn contract. Speaking of these events some centuries later Ezekiel described it in daring language; ... I swore to you, and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord GOD, and you became mine. Ezek 16:8. It is important to notice that God records a change in his relationship with the nation of Israel from this time; and you became mine. Were they not 'his' before this event? Yes, but not in the unique relationship of a marriage covenant.

This distinction is recorded in the opening stages of the making of the Sinai covenant. So far as I know God had made no promise to enter into such a relationship with them while they were slaves in Egypt but now, set free, they were 'eligible' and God begins his courtship; Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. Ex 19:5 The whole earth is 'his', all the nations are 'his', the whole creation is 'his' but the nation of Israel were going to become 'his' in a unique and exclusive way.

Although this covenant it initiated by a sovereign God of overwhelming power the covenant is not imposed upon Israel, it is submitted to them for their full hearted consent. It is only 'if' they 'obey his voice and keep his covenant' that Jehovah will take them as his bride.

If we read the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament we will see a pattern emerging here, the church is also a bride. The 'church of Israel' was also the 'bride of Jehovah'. The 'church of Jesus Christ' is also the 'bride of Christ'. Now that we have established that link let's ask the question again; 'what is a church?' It is a bride. What is the purpose of a bride? Procreation? Faithful witness? The effectual change of a society? A bride might fulfil all these tasks but none of them does justice to the question "what is the purpose of a bride"? and although a church may excel in all these areas these are not the purpose of its existence. To discover its purpose we shall need to see God's view of it when it fails in its purpose.

Friday, 1 January 2010

4. that they may serve me.

The danger is that we think we know the Exodus story so well that we have stopped thinking about it. When Moses was arrested by the burning bush it led to a long conversation in which God expounded Moses' mission. Just what was the purpose of Moses' mission? The usual answer is something along the lines of 'he brought them out that he might bring them in'.Deut 6:23 but that is not the whole story. God's intention all along was to make them his own people. As part of that purpose he would 'bring them out' and as part of that purpose he would 'bring them in' but the purpose was to make them his own covenant community; the church of Jehovah - the 'qahal of Jehovah' Deut 23:1–3, 8; Judg 20:2; 21:5; 1 Chr 28:8

This theme comes through strongly in Exodus. Here is a KJV quotation from Moses' initial encounter with God at the bush; And he said, Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain. Ex 3:12 KJV. I have opted for the KJV to illustrate a point obscured in all modern translations and to show it more clearly I have put the personal pronouns into bold font. Did you notice the switch from the singular to the plural? 'Thee' and 'thou' are singular and refer to Moses alone. 'Ye' on the other hand is plural and refers to Moses and the whole people of Israel. Moses was commissioned and promised that his mission would result in the whole nation being gathered to 'serve' God at Sinai. To get the sense in the NKJV we would have to put the word 'all' in between the words 'you' and 'shall' in the last sentence.

The theme continues in Moses appointments with Pharaoh; 'And the LORD spoke to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Let My people go, that they may serve Me.' Ex 8:1. They were to be set free from Pharaoh's service to be engaged in the service of God. The message to Pharaoh is given in two slightly different forms; 'that they may serve me' Ex 8:1 and 'that they may hold a feast unto me'. Ex 5:1. This is not Moses telling a half-truth but simply an expansion of the full message. They would 'serve' God by 'holding a feast' for God.

So what is the purpose of the covenant community, the 'church of Israel'? It was to wait on God as his servants at a feast. Their prime task was not evangelism or even witness but simply to be a people available for God. Their deliverance from bondage and the inheritance of their own land were necessary as 'no man can serve two masters', (Matt 6:24) but God's intention was to have a people were separated from all other peoples so that they could be God's people... without distraction. Exodus 19:5-6.

The name under which this covenant was to be undertaken was that of Jehovah. Ex 6:3; that would be the 'signature' on the covenant document. In Exodus chapter 6 there is a 'mission statement' of God's intentions and at the heart of it lie the words..."I will take you as My people, and I will be your God... Ex 6:7.
The underlying purpose of Exodus was not Israel-centred it was God-centred. Yes, Israel would get their freedom and a promised land, but God would get a covenant community who would be available to him as his servants. What we have been calling the 'church of Israel' was in fact the 'church of God'.