Showdown on Carmel (Part Three)

1 Kings 18:25-40

At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be knowntoday that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again” (1 Kings 18:36-37 NIV).

Next we read Elijah’s prayer for fire from heaven. Too often we assume that prayer for “big things” must be spectacular. And we suppose that if we can add a lot of religious or spiritual stuff to our prayer, we have a better chance of getting what we want from God. Any pastor can tell you that people come to him asking for him to prayer, because they presume that the prayers of a “holy man” are more powerful than those of average Christians. Elijah’s short prayer ought to end those wrong ideas. We should also learn that superstition overflows with ceremonies; faith uses the means of prayer.

First, think about the way Elijah addressed God. He spoke to God as the covenant Lord of his people, Israel.  He was saying, “Lord, you are faithful to your covenant. Remind these people of your faithfulness.” We are able to plead a better and eternal covenant in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:20). He prayed plainly, directly and reverently, yet with emotion. There is nothing wrong with emotion, provided it is in response to the truth. The elder, To the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth—and not I only, but also all who know the truth—because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever… (2 John 1:1-2 NIV). It was only a short prayer, especially as compared to the prayers of Baal’s prophets. Their ritual was six hours long; Elijah’s prayer was less than a minute. The length of a prayer is unimportant, provided that its duration is not done to be seen of people. God is most concerned about the content, your attitude, and your faith. The length of a prayer is a secondary matter.

Second, listen to his requests. Elijah asked for the glory of God, that the Lord would clearly demonstrate that he is God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6 NIV, my emphasis). He prayed for the vindication of the word. He wanted the Lord to testify that Elijah was his prophet and that his actions were in conformity with God’s word to him. This was not self-centered, but a matter of the truth of God’s word. He asked for a work of grace. He cared about his people. He longed that the Lord would turn the hearts of the people back to God. Conversion (repentance and faith) begins with God’s supernatural act of the new birth from above. This was a God-centered prayer. This is the crucial concept. Are we seeking first the honor of God? Our foremost concern should not be for the prosperity of our church or our lives, but for the honor of the Lord (John 8:50; 12:28; 14:13;15:8; 17:4).

Third, we see God’s answer (18:38-40). The fire had a supernatural character. An ordinary fire simply doesn’t produce such an effect. I had many fires in my fireplace, and the bricks easily outlasted every fire! It was also a controlled fire, because it did not harm any of the people, even Ahab and his pagan prophets.

The people outwardly acknowledged the supremacy of the living God. The indisputable happening constrained the people to worship the Lord. How many of them were truly converted is not stated in this passage. An outward confession is no proof of grace; they could have just been overwhelmed by what occurred (cf. Mark 5:16-17; John 6). A miracle alone cannot change a heart. Ahab saw the fire fall, yet he did not repent. Consider the unbelief at the raising of Lazarus (John 11:47-48). We need to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, who alone produces regenerate hearts, instead of praying for  miracles or judgments.

The end was the execution of the false prophets. Elijah had a firm Biblical warrant for this action (Deuteronomy 13). The law or old covenant was a ministry of death (2 Corinthians 3).

What are some lessons we should learn?

  • Let every Christian be encouraged to put their trust in God and to go forth in his strength to live for him in this ungodly age.
  • Let us not underestimate the power of faith in the Sovereign Lord. Nothing is too hard for him! Therefore, we ought to believe and pray.
  • Let everyone fear the living God who has such power. Hear the words of Jesus. I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him (Luke 12:4-5 NIV).
  • Let everyone find acceptance with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon (Isaiah 55:6-7 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

Showdown on Carmel (Part Two)

1 Kings 18:25-40

Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down. Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,” and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord (1 Kings 18:30-32a ESV).

Elijah led the return to the worship of the true and living God. This was a much bigger and better goal than simply proving that he was the Lord’s prophet. It is too easy for humans to have desires for personal vindication. At this moment, he was spiritually on course. Elijah was motivated by the desire to see God exalted.

Elijah prepared the means of worship. We need to remember the time in which Elijah lived. It was the time of the law or old covenant. Israel was the people of God, if they obeyed the Lord (Exodus 19:1-6; etc.) Worship and fellowship with the Almighty, Holy God was only possible through the offering of an animal sacrifice presented in the proper way. As God’s prophet (cf. similar acts by Samuel), Elijah could do this on special occasions, though only the priests could minister at the altar in Jerusalem. The Lord graciously called his people back into covenant fellowship with the enemies of God and his people watching. Churches do not hesitate to have new covenant practices (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) on display before unbelievers. In fact, such times have often been the occasion for unbelievers to turn to the Lord Jesus and be saved.

Elijah did everything very openly so that no one could accuse him of trickery. He called the people near. Truth does not fear investigation. He thoroughly doused the altar, wood and sacrifice with water. (Certainly, the people would have come with much water to drink.) It seems like Elijah was trying to make it “harder” for the Lord. There was no possibility of a spark on that altar.

He acted to show the people that the Lord was still their God (18:30-31). It was kind of a covenant renewal service. Remember what Moses did when the law covenant was given. And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early the next morning and set up an altar and twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel at the base of the mountain (Exodus 24:4 CSB). The people had broken the covenant by following other gods, but God is rich in mercy. He welcomes back those who return to him in faith. Elijah proclaimed by this action that there was hope for the people. They still could rightly be called Israel. God had named the people, and so they could rebuild an altar in his name. Worship could be restored.

Too often when we read the Scriptures, we can skip over what is important. We need to slow down, reread, and think. Notice how the writer described Israel: to whom the word of the Lord came. Having the word of the living God was preeminent among Israel’s privileges. What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God (Romans 3:1-2 NIV). In the Holy Writings given to the Jews, we have the words of the God who speaks! A core problem of Israel in Elijah’s time was their failure to hear and to obey God’s word. For three years there had been no rain, in fulfillment of a covenant threat (Deuteronomy 28:22-24). But the writer reminds us that God’s people have his word and can and ought to return to the Lord.

What of us? Do we value God’s word? Do we read it daily? To we by faith listen to its message? May God give us grace to treasure God’s word in our hearts!

Grace and peace, David

Psalm 63 (Part Eleven)

Those who want to kill me will be destroyed; they will go down to the depths of the earth. They will be given over to the sword and become food for jackals. But the king will rejoice in God; all who swear by God will glory in him, while the mouths of liars will be silenced (63:9-11 NIV).

Though in soul-refreshing, heart-encouraging experience of personal fellowship with the living God, David in fact was still in a dry and weary land (63:1 NIV). This is life in this fallen world. Our God has plans he acts toward, and they involve keeping and sustaining his dearly loved people in unpleasant situations. Yet David confidently expected God to act in his dangerous state. On the run from his enemies, he did not abandon his hope. Since he is able to draw near to God, he is confident. This is the benefit of knowing God according to his revelation of himself in the Scriptures. Outward circumstances may not improve, they may even get worse. But believers in God are certain of the ultimate triumph of God, his truth, and that they will share in that victory.

On the one hand, David was certain of the defeat of his enemies. If this refers to the revolt of Absalom, his enemies had a decided military superiority. The plot had been well-laid. David and his men had been taken by surprise. But Absalom’s advantage would disappear, and David’s enemies would be defeated. Observe that David envisioned a battle: given over to the sword. He did not expect to escape without a fight. Confidence in God should never promote a lazy, careless attitude. God’s sovereignty does not eliminate human responsibility. Jackals “are the final scavengers, consuming the remains of the kill rejected by larger beasts. The wicked are, in other words, the very leavings of mankind” (Kidner). No one cares about their graves.

Notice the justice of God. David’s enemies plotted to throw off their lawful king, the one anointed by God as their leader. So then, God threw them aside for everlasting contempt. Unlike Absalom and his fellow rebels, many evil people escape justice in this world. But they cannot escape the final Judgment Day. God chose to make David’s enemies an example of what will surely happen to his enemies.

On the other hand, David was confident of his victory and of all who know the Lord. He looked forward to being able to rejoice in God, along with all those who were faithful to the Lord. Notice that David called himself the king. While this provides us information about the time of this psalm, it does more than that. David expected victory because he knew that God is always faithful to his covenant promises. God had said that he would build a house for David (2 Samuel 7:1-17; 1 Chronicles 17:1-15; cf. Psalm 89:1-2; Isaiah 55:3-4). Much in God’s plan depended on David’s safety, so David could be confident.

We should also claim God’s covenant promises (Hebrews 8:8-13). Events might look bleak; any outward confidences might disappear, but God’s promises cannot fail!

Grace and peace, David

Zechariah’s Prophecy

Luke 1:67-80

Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied (Luke 1:67 CSB).

God has given his word to people like us in an understandable form. The Spirit of the Lord guided the biblical writers to express God’s message, not as random sound bites, but through word structures that make it easier for us to comprehend and to recall. For example, the Spirit tells stories, uses songs, and develops themes in “teaching patterns”. In this “prophetic song” of Zechariah, the Spirit led him to speak through a pattern: A-B-C-D-E-F-E-D-C-B-A. Let’s look at this together.

The bookends of this pattern are the A sections (1:68a; 1:80). The pattern in this case is completed by Luke’s comment. Zechariah praised the God of Israel in his prophecy for what the Lord was doing to accomplish his plan for his people. Luke completes the thought by stating that John, the son of Zechariah, came to Israel. God cared for his people by sending the forerunner of the Messiah to them. He prepared the people to meet their Lord. This was an act of God’s mercy.

Next inside the bookend pairs as the B sections (1:68b; 1:78-79). They talk about two visits of God to his people. Zechariah saw the first as a done deal, although its accomplishment would take thirty plus years. The day of redemption had arrived; God had come to set his people free. There would be a new and better exodus (cf. Luke 9:31 – the word translated departure by NIV, ESV, and CSB is exodus in Greek) through Jesus the Messiah. Zechariah also saw another visit, which would bring light to the people (Matthew 4:14-17; Ephesians 4:13-14; 1 Peter 2:9).

Moving further inside are the C sections (1:69; 1:77). They announce the great news of salvation! First, Zechariah thinks of the son who would soon be born to Elizabeth’s relative, Mary. The Seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15) would come through the line of David, since Mary was descended from David. John would talk about salvation, not through an earthly monarch, but through the forgiveness of sins (1:77; cf. John 1:29).

Next, we find the D sections (1:70; 1:76). They are linked together by the idea of prophets. God gave his word to Israel through his holy prophets hundreds of years before Zechariah lived. But now, John would be the prophet foretold by Isaiah to prepare the way for the Lord (Isaiah 40:3-5).

Moving closer to the core are the E sections (1:71; 1:74). In both, Zechariah praises God for the rescue that God will give his people from their enemies. Since the earliest days, humanity has been divided into two groups: the righteous and the unrighteous. Cain’s murder of Abel was the first act to make this division clear. Zechariah sees an end to the hatred, so that the godly might serve God without fear in his presence.

Finally, we come to the core, the F section (1:72-73). Why was God doing all this? It was because of his holy covenant. God had made a promise to Abraham and his seed, and he confirmed his promise with an oath (Hebrews 6:13-20). As God mercifully remembered his people at the time of the first exodus (Exodus 2:23-25; 3:7, 9, 16), so in Zechariah’s time, he remembered his sworn oath, and he sent his son to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

Luke will pick up the idea of a covenant again (Luke 22:20). The next time we read of a covenant, it will be about a new covenant, as the Seed of the woman and of Abraham points to his final sacrifice for the people of God. This new covenant guarantees the writing of God’s laws on our hearts, union with God as his people, the certain knowledge of God, and the full forgiveness of the sins of his people by God (Hebrews 8:10-12). In Christ, we have all these spiritual blessings. God indeed is merciful to us!

Grace and peace, David

The Song of Mary

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Luke 1:46-56

God speaks; we listen and respond. But how do we listen and respond? Mary heard God’s message through the angel Gabriel and received affirmation of its truthfulness through her relative Elizabeth. Our text is her considered response to both. As is often noted, Mary’s words can be compared to those of Hannah, which she spoke about her son Samuel when she presented him for the Lord’s service (1 Samuel 2:1-10). Perhaps another time, we might compare the two. What we want to see is that Mary had thought about God’s word and through her words worshiped the Lord. This is a model for us: listen to the word of the Lord and then worship appropriately. How did Mary worship?

She exalted the Lord from her inner person (1:46-47). Her focus was on God. Though her heart was filled and thrilled with many wonderful thoughts, she sought to lift up her Lord first of all. Her words were the overflow of a heart (Matthew 12:34) devoted to the Lord. She took pleasure in glorifying God. She was glad in her Savior or Rescuer, as she saw God’s purpose of the salvation of her and her people begin to happen. Mary rejoiced!

She spoke about the reasons for her joy (1:48-49). She traced both back to God. The first is that God cared about her. Recognizing that God cares about us (1 Peter 5:7) is part of our ongoing personal relationship with God. God, who is high and exalted, truly cares for the lowly. He stoops to lift us up to the enjoyment of his glory. The second is that the Lord God acted in her life. He said not merely words of care, but he acted because he cared. By making Mary the mother of the Anointed One, the Mighty One did something far beyond her ability. A virgin could never conceive a child on her own. This led Mary to declare the special greatness of who and what God is: His name is holy, set apart above all others.

The mention of God’s acts for her caused Mary to praise God for his goodness to all his people (1:50-55). A torrent of observations of God’s might acts rushed forth from her soul:

  • God is merciful to those who fear or reverence him (1:50). This is the usual way of God through all generations of mankind. In her own family line, God was merciful to women like Sarah, Tamar, Naomi, Ruth, and Bathsheba, to mention only a few. A thousand years after David, Mary personally knew God’s mercy to her.
  • God acts by his mighty power (1:51). She knew that the Lord’s arm was never shortened (Isaiah 59:1). The Sovereign Lord is able to help his people; he is also able to scatter those who in their pride oppose him and his people.
  • The Lord reverses human expectations (1:52-53). Rulers are taken down, the humble are raised. Those poor and hungry eat and are filled, while those rich in this world starve. Power and wealth are supposed to solve everything on earth, but Mary sees the superiority of the Lord over earthly delusions. Consider how many powerful men have fallen in the last two months of this year.
  • The Lord is faithful to his covenant people. (1:54-55). Mary’s faith is strong. As she feels new life inside her, she is confident that the Lord who was sending his Son through her would fulfill the plans of God through him. The Seed of Abraham would come to fruition, and he would accomplish God’s covenant promises.

Do we think and meditate on God’s word when we hear it? As we do, our hearts ought to worship, because we also are the recipients of God’s covenant promises in Christ, and in him, they are always “Yes”. We ought to say a strong “Amen” in response (2 Corinthians 1:20). Can anyone reading say “Amen”?

Grace and peace, David

God and His People (Part One)

Psalm 30:1-3

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit (ESV).

What should we think of the relationship between God and his people? Do you experience God interacting with you? Do you think that God gets involved in your life? Do you get involved with God? How does this happen? The exact occasion of this psalm cannot be determined. Even the heading of the psalm can be read in various ways (compare the NIV footnote). But this psalm does show the interaction between God and his people during his people’s difficulties. This psalm discloses the boldness of a saint (that is, a true believer) before his covenant God. We should learn how God’s children should approach him during troubles with the pure confidence that agrees with the saint’s position by grace before the Lord.

Consider the desire of a rescued person. I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up (30:1). The person whom God has delivered from difficulties desires to make known the truth that God is great and glorious. This desire is the response of gratitude. For example, a student who has been helped by a teacher will defend that teacher though other students despise him or her, if there is gratitude in that student’s heart.

This desire is evangelistic in spirit. The rescued person wants others to praise the God who saves (30:4). When people have been helped by someone (like a doctor) or by something (like medicine), they do tell others. The deeper the sense of help, the more fervent desire to tell others. The woman at the well went back into the city to tell everyone she met that she had found the Messiah (John 4). Here is the church’s purpose of evangelism. How are we doing in fulfilling this purpose?

This desire is determined in this course of action (cf. 30:12b). David has one goal—to always praise the Lord (cf. Psalm 27:4-6). We live during a time of distraction rather than focused action. People see too many things to do, and so they endlessly flit from one thing to another. But a sense of what is truly worthy of our lives leads us to life goals, like we see in this verse.

The person whom God has delivered rejoices in exalting his Lord (cf. 30:11). David is careful to point out that God’s deliverance ended in joy for him. It is like David is saying, “Yes, my God did correct me during this time of my life, but he meant it for my good (cf. Gen 50:20; Rm 8:28). For this reason, the product was his joy in God. When we travel through a “long dark tunnel” of our life’s journey, we can lose sight of this much too easily. Then we must believe that God will work for our ultimate joy. Someone might ask, “How can I do this?” You need to think and meditate on God’s holy character and then rest on him. There is no substitute for humble faith in the Holy God.

David was stirred deeply in the inner person of the heart. Notice his repeated “O Lord” throughout this psalm. True spiritual experience of the Lord and his grace overflows into an intense verbal expression like “O”. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation (Romans 5:11 ESV). Let us draw near to the Lord our God. In him we find restoration and refreshment for our souls.

Grace and peace, David

An Important Personal Event (Part Two)

Genesis 48:1-7

In our last article, we saw that Joseph had taken his two sons to visit his dying father, Jacob. Everyone needs to honor the older members of their family, even when the visits might prove to be difficult. In our text, the visit became a little testy, because Joseph did not perceive what his father was doing. But Jacob was privy to God’s plan for Israel’s future. God told Jacob to do something that would affect the course of the tribes hundreds of years later. Jacob’s action is an example of God’s sovereign choice, an instance of gracious action (48:3-7).

Jacob recounted God’s goodness to him. He gave an account of God’s historical appearance to him. In a day without the written word, this would be very important to the next generation (cf. 35:9-13). We ought to give thanks for our Bibles, through which we have eyewitness accounts to the story of God’s glory. We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19 NIV).

Jacob also reminded them of God’s covenant blessing and promise. This was Jacob’s greatest treasure, and he shared it with his dear grandchildren. Those saved by grace should always speak highly of God’s grace. “In all our prayers, both for ourselves and for our children, we ought to have a particular eye to, and remembrance of, God’s promises to us” (Henry, Commentary). Let there be no doubt, Jacob was a man of faith (Hebrews 11:21). If Ephraim and Manasseh were worldly-minded, what would they have seen? Only a dying old man, who had been living off their father’s generosity for seventeen years. What could such a man give to them? To the spiritually-minded, however, the sight is vastly different. One of God’s chosen people, an heir of God, was speaking with them. Faith sees what human wisdom cannot.

Jacob received his grandsons as his own children. Though born in Egypt and not his own, Jacob called them his own sons. This is a picture of our adoption as sons (Galatians 4:3-5). Jacob pointed the two young men to the place where blessing truly is to be found. It was better for them to embrace God’s people in their affliction than Egypt in its wealth. This is a lesson rarely learned in our day (1 Timothy 6:9-10; Hebrews 11:26).

In this way, Joseph came to receive the birthright, for he received a double blessing (cf. 1 Chronicles 5:1-2).

Jacob added a wise proviso in the event Joseph had other sons. Wisdom on the part of parents can prevent much grief in a family after their departure. What struggles, by those who call themselves Christians, have been carried out for a small earthly inheritance!

Jacob spoke of his long-departed wife, Rachel. It was very natural that Jacob would think of her that he deeply loved such a time. Ephraim and Manasseh were her grandchildren, too! “Strong affections in the enjoyment cause long afflictions in the loss” (Henry). In the end Rachel was vindicated, for she was the wife Jacob chose, and though barren for a while, her firstborn received the pre-eminence. In summary, this section shows a man of faith with his eye on the promised land to the end. We will do well to imitate his faith (Hebrews 11:13-16). Let us keep Christ and our eternal inheritance fully and firmly in view.

Grace and peace, David

Nearness

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Ephesians 2:13

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (ESV)

When the Lord saves us, we experience many spiritual changes. Some are objective and concern our position and are not felt. Others are subjective, and we and others can discern changes in our attitudes, words, and actions. However, the changes in our spiritual position ought to affect our spiritual condition. For example, you may have heard some teacher say, “Be what you are in Christ.”

In the words before our text, Christ’s apostle described our hopeless situation before the Lord saved us. Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:11-12 ESV). We were separated from God, Christ, the covenants that established a relationship with God, and from the people of God.

The words “but now” signal a complete change in our situation. The separation and alienation came to an end by the blood of Christ. His life was poured out in a violent death as the sacrifice of the new covenant. It brought us near. What did it bring us near to? The sacrificial death of the Messiah brought us near to God, to Christ himself, to the covenants that establish an unending relationship with God, and to the people of God.

Usually, American Christians think of this verse in an individualistic way: “I myself know God through Christ and have a personal relationship with God, and I’m a member of the church.” It is certainly right to rejoice in one’s changed relationship with God and his people. But not to the exclusion of sharing in these blessings with other followers of Christ. What do I mean? Through many years of being a pastor, I have heard individual believers express their own desire to feel near to God. The question is, “How can I feel close to God?” And the answer is given by the ‘experts’ in individualistic ways, like “learn how to have a quiet time, to mediate, to journal” and so on. This type of approach is to ignore the very corporate nature of this passage. (Please read Ephesians 2:1-22 slowly. Can you see people from your small and big groups in it? Would you have thought that way if I had not suggested it?)

Instead, what happened is that the Lord Jesus brought us near by his shed blood. Yes, we are personally near to God, but the point in context is that we are near to God. This is a position that we share together. When we gather in our small and big groups, we ought to act according to the truth that we are near to God. Our Father is not far away.

Since this is true, we should communicate it in our meetings. I do not mean that we need to say it every time we meet, but it should be part of the ‘DNA’ of who we are. “We are the people who have been brought near by Christ’s blood. We are a gathering of the Father’s family, of followers of Jesus on a journey together.”

Nearness to the covenants of promise ought to form the basis of our covenanting together in the mission of Christ and the good news. We then accept each other as close to God. Too often this kind of acceptance is only allowed to those in the inner circles of leadership. Others are assumed to be farther away and are looked at that way. However, if we start with the correct idea that all Christ’s people are near to God, we will highly value the contributions of everyone. This produces a welcoming atmosphere in all our gatherings. We then never need to tell anyone, “Please make visitors feel welcome,” because visitors will automatically sense that God is near and his people welcome them.

Since we know that we are near to God, we will feel confident about drawing near to God in worship together. The truth of James 4:8a (Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you) will occur constantly. Then we will experience what Paul wrote to the Corinthians when new ones are among us when the word is proclaimed. They will worship God and declare that God is really among you (1 Corinthians 14:24b ESV).

I want this for all the gatherings of Christ’s people. May yours start to be what you are in Christ this weekend!

Grace and peace, David

Thoughts on Leviticus (Part Two)

img_3270Leviticus 9

And Moses said, “This is the thing that the Lord commanded you to do, that the glory of the Lord may appear to you” (Leviticus 9:6 ESV).

Leviticus presents the worship and way of life of God’s old covenant people. The time of the law or old covenant occupied a specific period in the history of redemption. It started at the giving of the law covenant at Sinai after the exodus from Egypt. It ended with the great events of the gospel: Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and pouring out of the Spirit on Pentecost. God’s people under the law were required to live under its rituals and regulations. We look at that time from the perspective of its fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah. Or, perhaps I should say, we ought to look at them that way. But do we know enough about that time to understand what God was doing during the working out of his plan in redemptive history?

Exodus tells the story of God setting his people free from slavery in Egypt, the formation of Israel as his covenant people, the giving of the law covenant, and the building of the tabernacle. It was at the tabernacle that the sacrifices listed in Leviticus 1-7 had to be offered. Leviticus 8 tells us about the consecration of Aaron and his sons to offer the sacrifices of the law. Here we see the binding together of the priesthood and the law as referred to in Hebrews 7:11-12.

This brings us to Leviticus 9. The significance of this chapter is overlooked, because we forget or fail to consider the larger story of God. When God gave the law, he caused his glory to shine (Exodus 19-24). After the people had sinned with the golden calf, Moses pleaded that he would let him see his glory (Exodus 33). When the tabernacle was set up, the Lord’s glory filled it (Exodus 40:34-38). In our text at the start of this article, Moses told Aaron and his sons that the Lord had promised an appearance of his glory to them. The living God had committed to make known his glory through their worship. People could know that the God of glory was with them. He was in a covenant relationship with them. The glorious God had accepted them as his people.

The end of the chapter records the historical event of this fulfilled promise. Aaron made the prescribed offerings, as the Lord had commanded (Leviticus 9:8-22). Read that passage like you were there watching. What would happen next? And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces (Leviticus 9:23-24). Some truths to think about:

  • Moses and Aaron went in the tabernacle after they had done what the Lord had commanded. The ministry of the priests had begun, and there was access to God.
  • When they came out of the tabernacle, they blessed the people. This was an event for the whole covenant community.
  • Next, the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. God kept his promise. Later through Isaiah, the Lord God made another promise of the appearance of his glory through his Son. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken (Isaiah 40:5).
  • God answered by fire from heaven. Later this would happen at the dedication of the temple (2 Chronicles 7:1) and when Elijah opposed the false prophets (1 Kings 18:38).
  • The response of the people was praise and worship

In the new covenant, we also experience the glory of God. On Pentecost, tongues of fire appeared to the church and rested on every member. The Spirit of God had been poured out on the people of God. Now, we are in Christ, our new covenant with God. We have surpassing glory (2 Corinthians 3:10) and the Spirit of glory and of God rests on us (1 Peter 4:14), the whole new covenant community. Do we respond with praise and worship?

Grace and peace, David

In the Days of Herod

img_4560Luke 1:5-10

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord (Luke 1:5-6 ESV).

Luke opened his account of Jesus, God’s Anointed One, and the good news with these words. They also begin his telling of the Christmas story, which is part of God’s great story. I do not think that most people consider this part of the Christmas story, but it provides the setting in which the story occurs. In fact, if we listen to and learn this part of the story, we gain important information to understand the whole story.

Consider the historical setting. In the days of Herod… He was a ruler noted for his cunning, cruelty, and constructions. He was called Herod the Great for the last of these, for he built many fine buildings, including the rebuilding of the Temple. He died in early 4 B.C., which means that Jesus was born sometime in 5 B.C. (Yes, the calendar is off by five years. People, not God, make calendars.) Jesus was born in the full light of human history. Luke tells us of two people, Zechariah and Elizabeth, who, although not in the line of the Messiah, had an important role in the early part of the story. Notice the details. Zechariah was in the eighth division of the priesthood that had been established by King David over a thousand years before that time. Zechariah and Elizabeth were godly people; they were fully committed followers of the Lord. However, there was an emptiness in their lives. Elizabeth was barren, and since they were advanced in years (probably their later forties), there was little human hope of having a child. One of life’s mysteries is the experience that many people who would love to have children have none, while others who do not seem to care for children easily have them. Both situations produce many tears. This is history in agony. People need a Savior for many reasons.

Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense (Luke 1:8-10 ESV).

The Christmas story is connected with the old covenant and its worship. Priests and the temple are found throughout Luke 1-2. Worship of God fills both chapters. It was the time of the law covenant that pointed to the coming Messiah in all its types and shadows (cf. Hebrews 10:1). The curtain started to fall on that era when Zechariah went into it to offer incense as prescribed by the law. However, on that day no one anticipated the supernatural event about to happen. Zechariah was merely one of a long and large company of priests that had offered incense over a course of nearly fifteen hundred years. A crowd of faithful people had gathered for the event. During a time of Gentile rule over God’s covenant people, they remembered the God who had called them to be his people and who had promised the Messiah, the one who would set them free. But on that day, no one expected God to speak. He had not spoken in four hundred years, but they still had gathered to pray to wait on the Lord. Faith.

Christmas is a season of waiting, not for parties, programs, and presents. It is the time to wait on the Lord in worship. Many waited for Messiah’s first coming; we wait for his second coming. They waited in the rituals and regulations of the first covenant; we wait and watch in the Holy Spirit in the second covenant. They gathered in worship; we should also gather together to worship in love, joy, and peace. The days of Herod are long past. We live in the last days. Does an attitude of hopeful worship fill our souls this Christmas season?

Grace and peace, David