Bible

Bible Studies For Life

Florida Baptist Convention, BCF, Richard Elligson

Richard Elligson

Richard Elligson is associate professor of missions and chair of the theology division at The Baptist College of Florida.  Archives

Session 6

November 17, 2019

GOD’S WILL AND THE GLORY OF GOD

John 11:1-4, 38-45

On the rare occasions that we visit New York City, we try to see a Broadway play. As much as I get absorbed in the music and the drama going on onstage, I can’t help but wonder what must go on behind the stage to make a show like Phantom of the Opera come to life. There must be a lot going on that we never see! And so it is with our lives here on earth. So much of our attention is focused on the stage of the physical here-and-now, that we often forget what’s going on behind the scenes, where God is at work.

In this week’s text, we return to the city of Bethany and the familiar story of the raising of Lazarus. The drama unfolds in three scenes.

The reason (vv. 1-4). Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (v. 4). It’s often difficult for us to reconcile things like sickness with God’s glory. It seems rather unfair that one should suffer so that God might be magnified, but that conclusion is hard to escape. Like the man born blind “so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1-6), Lazarus’ sickness and subsequent death were used by God to display something much greater than what his sisters had in mind when they sent for the Lord (v. 3). The venerable commentator Matthew Henry said it well: “Let this reconcile us to the darkest dealings of Providence, that they are all for the glory of God: sickness, loss, disappointment, are so; and if God be glorified, we ought to be satisfied.” But I imagine that Mary and Martha were hardly satisfied when this illness that would “not end in death” (v. 4) most certainly did!

The raising (vv. 38-44). Much happens in the intervening verses. The discussion with His disciples (vv. 7-16) reinforced Jesus’ explanation that God was at work behind the scenes. In verse 11 He announced, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I’m on My way to wake him up.” Then in verses 14 and 15, Jesus told them bluntly, “Lazarus has died,” and added, “I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe.” By the time Jesus reached the house, He had bolstered the faith of Martha, by telling that her brother would rise again (v. 23), and He reassured Mary as well, by telling her “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live.  Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (vv. 25-26). Thus, by the time Jesus stood outside the tomb, all of the background was in place: the disciples had been briefed and Martha and Mary had been prepared. The crowd was gathered for the final act. Again, Jesus reiterated that in the midst of all the suffering and sorrow, God would be glorified. And Jesus’ prayer removed any possible doubt: “Father, I thank You that You heard Me. I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so they may believe You sent Me” (v. 42).

The result (v. 45).  The miracle itself accomplished at least three great objectives. First, as in most miracles of the Bible, the individual involved was blessed. In this case, Lazarus was raised to life. Imagine the flood of emotions he must have felt—confusion, amazement, joy, exuberance, and praise—as those grave clothes were peeled away, and the darkness of the grave gave way to light! Second, those closest to Jesus, His disciples and Mary and Martha, had their initial faith strengthened, as they witnessed the “resurrection and the life” display Himself in bold reality. Third, the miracle proved once again that God is involved the background, advancing His plan, bringing Himself the glory, even in the midst of our suffering.

Special Focus Session

November 24, 2019

LIVING IN GRATITUDE

1 Thessalonians 5:12-22

In a recent chapel message at the Baptist College of Florida, professor Mark Rathel said that we have it all wrong. “We spend nearly every day of the year whining and complaining, and just one day being all thankful,” he mused. “It ought to be the other way around; we should set aside just one day for complaining and let every other day be filled with thanksgiving.” Indeed, in Paul’s view, not even one day should be spent in the mulligrubs! Rather, every day should be filled with joy and thanksgiving.

As we look toward the Thanksgiving holiday, let’s be reminded of three ways to maintain an attitude of gratitude.

Honor for the leaders (vv. 12-13). Back in 1994, Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family began publicly promoting October as Pastor Appreciation Month, a time of year for congregations to demonstrate outwardly and intentionally their appreciation for their pastors and staff. While Dr. Dobson may have put it on the calendar, the apostle Paul advocated in his day special honor and recognition for those who lead well local bodies of believers (see 1 Tim. 5:17). As a pastor, I am always humbled by my church’s outpouring of love and affection, regardless of the time of year. The word “recognize” (v. 12) means to highly value; to esteem. Here, three reasons are mentioned to honor church leaders. First, they “labor among you.” Pastoring churches is a joy…but it is also work! Few jobs require the kind of talent, commitment, and compassion demonstrated by worthy pastors. Second, they “lead you in the Lord.” Church attendance is required by God, but voluntary by nature. Good pastors are able to lead their people without manipulation or coercion by careful instruction in the things of God. Third, they “admonish you.” The word means more than instruct. It implies counsel toward good, and warning against danger. These workers among the church are to be honored and loved for their part in ministry. Interestingly, Paul adds the quip to “Be at peace among yourselves” (v. 13). Take it from Paul (and from your pastor): the work of shepherding is so much easier when the sheep are at peace among themselves!

This Thanksgiving, express your gratitude to God (and to your pastor) for the good work of ministry going on in your church.

Encouragement for the weaker (vv. 14-15). While some commentators want this passage to address the elders themselves, there is no indication of that from the text. The encouragement is for all members of the body to minister to one another. The general theme is protecting and strengthening the weaker members. The “irresponsible” (v. 14) is better translated unruly, or disorderly. In the military, it refers to those who fall out of line. They should be warned to straighten up! The discouraged and weak are to be encouraged and strengthened; and all is to be accomplished with patience.Personal discipline is highlighted in verse 15 in terms of reacting to attack, but corporate discipline is maintained by members continually looking out for the good of everyone.

This Thanksgiving, express your gratitude for the entire body of believers in your church; the contribution each makes, and the contribution you personally make for the good of the body.

Gratitude in everything (vv. 16-22). The rapid-fire list of “do’s” and “don’ts” completing this letter makes me wonder if Paul was in a hurry to finish it up and get it in the mail! But the statements form a bullet-point summary of both the chapter and the letter as a whole. The first three are positive and active reactions to the instructions he has presented. The final four are generally things to avoid. Sandwiched in the middle is the central truth: “Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

This Thanksgiving, express your gratitude for all that God sends your way; both those things that help you as well as those things that challenge you… “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Session 1

December 1, 2019

DO WE NEED TO DEFEND OUR FAITH?

Jude 1-4, 20-25

So where is the balance between the biblical principles of “turning the other cheek” (Matt. 5:39) and “always being ready to give a defense” (1 Pet. 3:15) when it comes to our faith? Standing up for the faith is nothing new. Through the years, the Christian church has been maligned, ridiculed, ignored, attacked, accused, accosted and belittled. And yet we have thrived.  Through the centuries, before kings and magistrates, followers of Christ have taken a stand to defend not only themselves, but their Lord, His word, and His church. One great example of that is Paul’s defense before king Agrippa in Acts 26. Another is found in our lesson this week.

The attacks we face (vv. 1-4). Jude is considered by most to be the brother of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 13:55). He introduces himself with three descriptions: Jude; a servant of Christ; and the brother of James. His letter is addressed to the local body, also described three ways: those who are called (by the Holy Spirit), loved (by God the Father), and secured (by Jesus Christ, the Son) (v. 1). His opening statement is noteworthy. The common salvation (KJV) is the salvation shared by all. In other words, Jude fully intended to write another gospel account! But God led him in another direction. Rather than a fifth gospel, Jude found it necessary (v. 3) to send a letter warning the church of attack from those who would destroy it and encouraging the church to earnestly contend (“boldly defend;” “be willing to fight on behalf of”) the faith. While the central issue addressed is doctrinal heresy promoted by false teachers, the idea of the faith is broader, referring to what we have been taught, what we believe, and what we hold dear. The attackers Jude warns against are harshly characterized in verse 4: they have quietly and stealthily crept into the church; they are ungodly; they have perverted the concept of God’s grace for their own gain; and they have denied the deity and lordship of Christ. Obviously, these kinds of attacks are ongoing today, by those who would malign the veracity of God’s Word and deny the deity of God’s Son.

The activities we need (vv. 20-23). In the intervening verses, Jude criticized and condemned the apostates who infiltrated the church and sought to destroy the faith. In verses 20-23, he gives guidelines for the believer’s response to the dangers of false teachers who would mislead us and skeptics who would attack us. Nine specific actions are in order:

20 But you, dear friends, as you (1) build yourselves up in your most holy faith and (2) pray in the Holy Spirit21 (3) keep yourselves in the love of God, (4) expecting the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life. 22 (5) Have mercy on those who doubt23 (6) save others by snatching them from the fire; (7) have mercy on others but with fear, (8) hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.

The “But you” indicates that believers are to be quite different in our interactions with the skeptics then they are with us. Our response, in every case, is one of compassion and mercy, seasoned with prayer, and directed toward the salvation of souls. And all of that is predicated on strengthening our own faith (v. 20).

The assurance we have (vv. 24-25). So what assurances do we have that we really can take a stand for our faith in the face of attack? Jude mentions two. First, the believer can be assured that our rock-solid faith is built upon the Rock that is Christ (see Matt. 7:24-27). He will secure us and protect us from stumbling (v. 24). Second, he assures us that Christ Himself will make us to stand in the presence of His glory. Knowing we will stand blameless and with joy in His presence there, assures us that we can stand against anything the skeptics might throw at us while here.

Session 2

December 8, 2019

IS THERE A GOD?

Psalm 19:1-6; 111:7-10

I have often said that atheists are actually liars. There is a God…and He has given abundant evidence that He exists. Even atheists understand this. As Adrian Rogers used to say, the so-called atheist can’t find God for the same reason a thief can’t find a cop! Because to acknowledge God means one must then be accountable to Him. Nevertheless, believers need to be willing (and able) to point both skeptics as well as seekers to God.

God’s general revelation (Ps. 19:1-6). The term general revelation refers to the revelation of God that is available to every person…and always has been. The biggest, most dramatic example of general revelation is creation itself. The apostle Paul makes it clear:

“What can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made” (Rom. 1:19-20).

In other words, God has shown the whole world not only who He is, but what kind of God He is, by the very act of creation and the providential care that keeps it alive. Because God has so powerfully revealed Himself to every human being, no one can say there is no God! As a result, no one has an excuse to ignore Him (Rom. 1:20).

But long before Paul wrote Romans, David the shepherd stood out in the fields, gazed up at the night sky, and moved by the Holy Spirit, penned Psalm 19. Three characteristics of the stars are highlighted. First, there is their creation. The heavenly bodies are the “work of His hands” (v. 1). Second, is their continuation. Day after day, night after night, they carve their paths through the sky without wavering (v. 2). Third, is their communication. Without uttering a word, the fact that they exist, travel their orbits, and shine their light all display the same message to all people throughout the earth: the God who created them and sustains them is a glorious God! (vv. 1, 4). Verses 4b through 6 then reference the sun. Interestingly, the psalmist likens the sun to a person; a guest, a groom. In the New Testament, Jesus is the light of the world. In the Old, He is the Sun of Righteousness (see Mal. 4:2). The sun is bursting in brilliance like a groom bursting through the door for his bride. The sun rises with great confidence and unfailingly carves its course through the sky like a strong athlete circling the track (v. 5). In Malachi 4, the sun brings healing. Here, it provides heat. All are touched by it; all are enriched by it; all are exposed by it (v. 6).

God’s special revelation (Ps. 111:7-10). Whereas general revelation directs people to acknowledge God, only special revelation directs people to accept Him as Lord. Specifically, special revelation refers to the word of God; the written word (the Bible), and the manifest Word (the person of Christ), both of which are needed for salvation. Paul reminded us in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” It’s important to remember that while general revelation is enough to condemn, only special revelation is enough to save. Back in Ps. 19: 1, the heavenly bodies were called the “work of His hands.” Here in Psalm 111, truth and justice are added to the list (v. 7). Just as God created the physical elements of life, so He created the moral and spiritual elements as well. These are revealed to us through God’s word. His instructions are called trustworthy (v. 7), eternal (v. 8), and truthful and morally upright (v. 8). His word describes redemption (v. 9), explains His eternal promise (v. 9), and inspires His followers to praise Him (v. 9). Does God exist? Certainly! General revelation proves it. Special revelation proves it. And the wise man both acknowledges Him and submits to Him (v. 10).

Explore The Bible

Sherard Burns, Florida Baptist Witness, Explore the Bible

Sherard Burns

Sherard Burns is the senior pastor of Renewing Life Church in Miami, FL. Archives

November 24, 2019

GOD LEADS  

Numbers 9:15-23

INTRODUCTION
From the wilderness to the Promised land. What a journey, filled with all kinds of twists, turns, deaths and demonstrations of His divine glory. We know that the children of God were wandering in the wilderness as a result of their own sin. But how would they get to Canaan having been so disobedient? Would it come through a mustered up, strapping up their boots type of obedience? The answers are within the activity of God among His people. The essence of this portion of the book of Numbers is to show that the Lord Himself will lead them and get them to Canaan in His own time and in His own way. He will lead them and, in the difficult days as well as the beautiful ones, they (and we) must simply trust that He is good and gracious and powerful enough to fight our battles to get us home. Let us follow His lead at all times by focusing on the realities below.

THE PRESENCE (Number 9:15-16)
The presence of God was everything for the people of God. It was more than a mere experience or sentimentality. It was His very presence abiding, in power, protection and guidance over His people in their journey. The presence of God was promised to Abraham in Genesis 15 as the certainty of God’s promise that He would fulfill His word regarding the promised seed in the person we would come to know as Isaac (Genesis 12). In a mysterious yet powerful ceremony where God passed between the pieces He was, in this act, confirming to Abraham He and He alone would bring about the promise inspte of Abraham’s doubts. The visible expression of this assurance was the smoking fire and flaming torch (Genesis 15:17) which would later, in this text in Numbers, come to symbolize His presence with His people. This fire would come over the tent of meeting which and transform ordinary materials into the very Holy Sanctuary of God. The main point is this: God is with His people, moving and advancing them towards His chosen and purposeful ends. They can be certain that they will get to the promised land because His presence is the assurance that He is with them and will bring it about. Today, as Christians, the presence of God is something of an extraordinary reality. His presence does not merely abide with us, but by way of the Holy Spirit, His presence is within us. As J.D. Greer has stated, Jesus inside of us is better than Jesus beside us! We can have assurance of glory, not by looking to ourselves, but by trusting His powerful presence within us, sanctifying and preparing us for that very day!

THE PRACTICE (Number 9:17-22)
Being in relationship with the sovereign Lord is a wonderful reality, yet it is also taxing when one thinks about what it means to be obedient to Him.  It is often nerve wrecking to follow the Lord because we are always certainly uncertainthat we should do such a thing and not do such a thing.  We often times feel like moving for Him is the right thing and, at the same time we ponder whether being still is best. As the leader guide states, “Neither doing something nor waiting is always the right response” (page 16).  Confusing? Yep! But here is the point: following the Lord means following His leadership and leadings, trusting singularly and exclusively His timing and provisions. The people of God did not move until He moved or the cloud lifted. If the Lord’s presence abided over the tent, they stayed put. The life that the Lord was calling them to was one of sensitivity to His presence and obedience to His command.  Whatever they felt was right to do did not dictate what they did. They only did what God did and moved when the Lord moved. That was the way in which they practiced of righteousness and holiness. So too, today, is that the way the people of God should move. But we often exhibit the combination of anxiousness and impatience as well as hesitance and reluctance. How shall we then move? When the Lord prompts us to move! They had the physical presence to guide them but we now have the presence of God within us. We will only know to move or to stay when we are saturated with the Word and filled with the Spirit of wisdom, walking as His temples in holiness (1 Corinthians 6:19).  For “no one knows the mind of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11).

THE PRINCIPLE (Number 9:23)
In a short, concise statement, the principle is this: Only God is in charge! Sounds simple and yet we often are pressed to press the limits of our thinking, rationale and position. The reason this principle is of great importance is due to the implication of what takes place when we live contrary to it. When the people of God take control where we have no right, authority or business, it is always prompted by idolatry and ends in even greater idolatry!  The golden calf incident in Exodus 32 is an illustration of what happens when we forget the principle God is in charge. Believing they knew how best to handle the absence of Moses – thus the absence of God – the people decided to play religious and bring about spirituality where there seemed to be none. They knew better than God it seems. The result was the impending wrath of God, abated only by one who had not forgotten that the Lord was in charge. Thus, how we live, worship, gather as a people, treat others, handle our finances, spend our time, etc., are all situations in which we are prone to act as if we are in charge. But since God is in charge what we do with our lives and everything else is always to be dictated on the basis on honoring Him with it and seeking His pleasure in all that we do. The people did not move if God did not lead them to move. May the sovereign Lord continue to help us, His Bride, to remember we are under theocratic rule: The Lord is in charge!

December 8, 2019

GOD JUDGES

Numbers 14:5-19

INTRODUCTION
The temptation not to trust the Lord is real. At every point there are obstacles that seek to undue and undermine our resolve that the Lord is of infinite value and is to be our greatest delight. What the Lord calls us to and the promises He gives to us will always be tested. Sometimes the testing comes from within (our passions); at others times, as is the case in our text today, they will come by discouragement of what (or who) gets in the way. Whatever the case may be, we are to live in the reality of the judgment of God on sinful living.  Christ indeed has come to take the sting of our sin and death but we must never eliminate the judgment that comes upon all whose lives are lived, continuously, outside of allegiance to the Lord.

A CHALLENGED ISSUED (Numbers 14:5-9)
We must meet fear and rebellion with a decisive word about the Lord’s gracious provision for obedience as well as His dreaded wrath towards disobedience. But this must be done in a spirit of brokenness and humbled gravity or sin’s weight. Moses and Aaron “fell down in front of the whole assembly of the Israelite community” (Numbers 14:5). This was a posture of awe, not awe of God Himself (though this is implied) but shock regarding the blasphemy of this redeemed people to their Lord. In a similar sign of deep distress and agony, Joshua and Caleb “tear their clothes” (Numbers 14:6). Though these actions were postures of humility they were not afraid. They challenged them to see beyond the physical. The land, despite the enemies we see, “is an extremely good land” (Numbers 14:7). What the Lord has for His people is rarely given without contention and tests. Such obstacles are not to be seen as reasons to fear (Numbers 14:9), but as a call to trust Him in spite of what we see. It is rebellion to act on what we see more than on the Lord whose promises are yes and amen (Numbers 14:8) and whose protection is certain (Numbers 14:9). The enemy’s entire enterprise began by changing how Adam and Eve saw the tree. When we see God above and before everything, fear will give way to faith.

ACCOUNTABILITY (Numbers 14:10-12)
What is compelling about these verses is that the Lord’s words add a second the direction of punishment to that given by Joshua and Caleb. While Joshua and Caleb threaten to stone the rebellious faction, the text tells us “that the glory of the Lord appeared to all the Israelites at the tent of meeting” (Numbers 14:10). Several things are important implications here. First, the glory of the Lord appears because all rebellion is against the glory of the Lord. All sin does this.  Second, in light of the first point, the glory of the Lord appeared to all of the people.  This is, as I see it, a teaching moment for all the people. Yes, the faction will be held accountable, but so too will all who do not obey. We must be careful in holding people accountable while, at the same time, living unaccountable to the Lord. Here is the point of these verses: while men must hold one another accountable, all must live under the gaze and watchful eyes of the Lord.  It is His judgment and the potential of death (spiritual exclusion) from the life of the Lord that must be ever before us. God asks Moses “How long will this people despise me …. How long will they not trust me? (Numbers 14:11). Surely the Lord knows the answer to these questions and is not seeking information from Moses. Instead, He is challenging Moses to call the people to repent in light of the coming accountability (judgment) of God upon those who rebel.

GRACE SOUGHT (Numbers 14:13-19)
What is remarkable about these words of Moses is their God-ward and glory saturated bent. God has just told Moses that He would kill the rebellious people and then start again with Moses at the helm. Moses’ thoughts were never on personal fame, but the Lord’s fame (Numbers 14:15-16). It is true that he is pleading for grace in these verses but the way he does is very instructive to us. He appeals for grace on the basis of God’s reputation among the nations. God has pronounced a coming judgment on the rebellious people and, like Exodus 32, Moses intercedes for grace. Moses, however, did not seek grace because the people were worthy of it or because they really should have it. Instead, Moses says, in effect, “Lord, if you killed this people what will this say about you to the nations? Grace was sought for the glory of God’s name, not for the averting of judgment or the alleviation of some burden. Moses was most concerned about God and, because of this, the people reap the blessing of God’s grace and pardon. In this way, Moses is a type of Christ. Christ was not, on this earth, concerned with His own glory but the glory of the Father living perfectly so that the nations would bow before God the Father. When we find others in sin and desire for the grace of the Lord to lavish their souls, may we have a heart and passion like Moses whose chief concern was the glory of the Lord in our experience of it.

December 15, 2019

GOD REQUIRES

Numbers 20:1-13

INTRODUCTION
When people look at you what do they see? Perhaps a better question is “Who do they see?” Do they see you or do they see the Lord in and through you? This may appear to be a minor question but the truth is that, in the text we are treating, it mattered immensely. Though we are in Christ we should always be mindful that the Lord is calling us to be imitators of Him in all situations and circumstances. The fruitfulness of our witness and life depend on our continual obedience.

THE TIMING (Numbers 20:1-5)
Leaderships is difficult for many reasons.  Less considered is the fact that leaders often shoulder problem and difficulties either unseen or not clearly understood by those they lead. As a result they are often left to shoulder things alone. This was Moses’ experience in this text. He had lost his sister just a short time earlier and in the middle of this season of grief the people gathered and piled grief upon grief. They know he has lost his sister but, in truth, they do not care at this moment and it does not matter if Moses is ready, willing to deal with their anger and accusations. They gave it to him anyway!  The problems were stark, to be sure, but their faith in God was wavering and, as such, their confidence in Moses was as well. The problem? “There was no water…” (Number 20:2). In spite of Moses being a mere human being who, like them, was serving the Lord, the absence of water was…you guessed it -  his fault(Number 20:4-5). Moses had lost his sister and was grieving. Now the people are telling him he is a failure of a leader. Bad timing? Yes! But in leadership, God requires us to lead the most difficult of people in the most difficult of times even when the idea of leading is far from our hearts.

THE DIRECTIONS (Numbers 20:6-8)
Leaders must be humble.  They must be able to lead the unruly at times and, in the face of being “beaten up” they must express nothing less than servant leadership. Moses is hurting from the loss of his sister. The people are murmuring and blaming him for their current predicament. Most leaders would explode, go on vacation, self-justify or even quit. Moses not only did neither of these but he and Aaron did something extraordinary: they fell on their faces “face down before God” (Number 20:6). And when they fell down the glory came down (Number 20:6)! Before God will speak His word to Moses He gave Moses His presence. What an incredible truth: God sees the tired and worn saint and will strengthen them with His presence when they humble themselves before Him. God now directs Moses in how he is to handle the situation: “speak to the rock (Number 20:7). What should be noted is that Moses’ current challenge – the murmuring of the people over his leadership – is actually the ingredient in which God will display His wonder and works for this rebellious lot! In essence leaders must be encouraged in knowing that the darkest, weakest and loneliest moments are often gifts from the Lord in which he demonstrates His power and glory through us. If we speak to the rock! (Numbers 20:8). 

THE FRUSTRATIONS (Numbers 20:9-11)
Sober-mindedness is key for leadership. However, Moses did not succeed in this at this moment. Clearly agitated by the murmuring of the people and their accusations against him Moses gets angry and chastises: “Listen, you rebels”(Number 20:10)! They accused Moses and attacked his character and now, he is accusing them and attacking their character! In responding this way he lost the Lord’s place in the process saying, “Must we bring water out of this rock for you” (Number 20:10). Not only is he seeing himself and Aaron as the providers of the water, but the staff, a visible representation of God’s work through him, he uses to beat the rock (Number 20:11). He is now doing things his own way! God said “speak to the rock” (Number 20:7) but Moses seems to know better than the Lord and strikes the rock. Leadership is difficult because leadership always demands self-leadership first. If we lose this capacity to remain calm and sober minded at all times we too, perhaps more quickly than Moses and for minor reasons, will nose-dive into emotionalism. The only recourse to such departures is to lead people to God’s place, in His way and exclusively for His glory. When we don’t, the alternative just might lead to disaster.

THE FALL-OUT
Leading God’s people means leading like God. Robert Murray McCheyne is famed for having stated “My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.” Leaders need to be holy to model the Lord before His people and if they are to see great success for the Lord. The Lord told Moses “you will not bring this assembly into the land I have given them” (Number 20:12). This was not because of what the people had said or done to him, but what he did not do before the people: “demonstrate my holiness in the sight of the Israelites…” (Number 20:12). It does not matter what happens to us at the hands or lips of others, God will hold us accountable for how we respond to such accusations and treatment. If we fail to demonstrate His holiness we will forfeit a fruitfulness that only holiness births. What a shame to lead people to a place we are barred from entering (Matthew 7:22; 1 Corinthians 9:27).

December 22, 2019

GOD SAVES

MATTHEW 1:18-25; NUMBERS 21:6-9

INTRODUCTION
In Numbers, we have been considering the grumbling and the rebellion of God’s people as well as the Lord’s new morning mercies towards them for His own sake. In this season of Christmas, we must give pause to remind ourselves and others that into the rebellion of humanity God sent Christ who, alone, is the hope of the world that still maligns Him.  Yet, the One they bruised and reject is the only One to whom they can look for spiritual peace, freedom and joy. May we never give away this truth or allow others to contaminate it. Let our continual refrain be simply this: Look to Christ and be saved.

THE SAVIOR (Matthew 1:18-23)
One of the most striking realities within this passage is the meaning of the name Immanuel (Matthew 1:23). Its meaning gives illuminating significance not only to the context of the passage but also to the redemptive purpose of the Savior. Much of what surrounds Christmas is not joy, at least within the text. What is highlighted is a perceived darkness into which the Savior shines as light.  Baby boys are being slaughtered because of the birth of Jesus which means families are experiencing pain – not joy – because of Christ’s birth.  Mary, a young girl, is not only pregnant – a stain on her family – but her pregnancy, she claims is from God Himself (Matthew 1:18)!  Consider how insane this made her look to family and others. No joy here, only isolation. Yet, into this piercing darkness and pain Immanuel is the center of it all: God with us (Matthew 1:23). The phrase, God with us is translated in many places as “God will fight for us” since this is what God being among His people meant – spiritually speaking. Into darkness and pain the One who caused it is also the One who counters both and would, in His resurrection, abolishes them. This is what it means for Christ to be born: God has, does and will fight for us. In contemplating the birth of Christ during this Christmas season, let us be filled with the wonder and glory that conquered the pain and darkness of sin (Matthew 1:23).

THE ARRIVAL (Matthew 1:24-25)
We have considered Mary’s reputation above and now we must give thought to the reputation of Joseph. Mary tells her soon to be husband that she is pregnant by God. Far from what others must have thought we can only imagine what Joseph also felt! We get a glimpse into his emotions being told that he decided to divorce Mary secretly instead of enduring the shame and ridicule (Matthew 1:19). However, he is told in a dream, being addressed by an angel as son of David, not to do so but to stay (Matthew 1:19). That which has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20). Joseph is reminded by this designation – son of David - of the long waited and expected king that would come through the Davidic line. Now he, in amazing fashion, is being selected to participate in God’s purposes of redemption. What is more, Joseph, after marrying Mary, remained celibate for the duration of her pregnancy so as to not disrupt the processes of the Lord (Matthew 1:25). In other words, Joseph got out of the way so that Christ could be, without dispute, the Son of God and the Way to the Father. This Christmas let the remembrance of His arrival move you to get out of the way that He might shine without doubt through you loyalty and obedience 

THE REQUIREMENT (Numbers 21:6-9)
The glory of the Lord demands that any act or thought that opposes Him be punished.  The people had sinned but this time they blamed, not Moses, but God Himself! The Edomites had refused them passage through Edom and, as a result, their journey was much longer than anticipated. When things we do for the Lord don’t go well men tend to blame God for their frustrations and this is exactly what the Israelites did (Numbers 21:4-5). In times past the Lord would give warning of His potential judgment but this time His exaction is swift. He sent poisonous snakes that “bit them so that many Israelites died” (Numbers 21:6). As a result the people are suffering and the wonder of it all is that it is coming from the hand of the Lord Himself. Therefore, they are without recourse and, certainly without anyone to blame but themselves. The Lord does this not only to avenge His glory but to open the hearts of the people to cry out in repentance and mercy and this they did with fervor and expectancy (Numbers 21:7). They demonstrated not only their repentance but His Lordship. Moses, then, interceded and the Lord commanded him to “Make a snake image and mount it on a pole. Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake he recovered” (Numbers 21:9). God, who bruised them, provided a means of healing for them. John takes up this story in john 3:14-16 to highlight the redemptive truth that Christ, born of the virgin Mary, when looked to by faith, will heal the disease from the bite of sin.

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