Friday, February 12, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - February 12 - One Greater Than the Temple

The tabernacle (and later the temple) was a display of God's mercy, of His desire to condescend to man so that humanity could have a relationship with Him. It was there that Israel could come to offer sacrifices for their sins, and where the people could assemble to worship the Lord. It was the center of Israelite life.

And yet as you read the account of the blueprint for the tabernacle and its related furnishings and attendants, it is not the most welcoming of pictures. Yes, the Israelites could come and worship, but they came to a structure enveloped in a complex series of tents, curtains, and screens. Only one tribe could actually enter the tabernacle proper, and only one man could go into its deepest recess (once a year). Again, this was a wonderful gift from God to the people, and I don't mean to minimize it by pointing out these features. Nevertheless, it was a strictly regulated and highly restrictive place of worship.

The ultimate condescension of God to man took place in the incarnation, described by Paul in today's New Testament reading:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8).
Notice how Paul uses the word "form" to describe Jesus:
-He was in the form of God
-He took the form of a servant
-He was found in human form

Jesus was God; Jesus was a servant; Jesus was human. And unlike the tabernacle, which had strictly limited access, Jesus could be touched by anyone. Lepers, sinners, demoniacs, executioners. But He could not be defiled like the tabernacle could. When lepers touched Him they were cleansed; when sinners touched Him they were forgiven; when demoniacs touched Him they were delivered; when executioners touched Him He died - then rose from the dead.

"I tell you, something greater than the temple is here" (Matthew 12:6).

Daily Bible Reading - February 11 - Cubits and Fillets

We have come to a section of the Old Testament that is probably the equivalent of the "Bermuda Triangle" of daily Bible readers - the details for the construction of the tabernacle! One helpful strategy in reading this section of Exodus is to keep the big picture of the book in mind. Just as you need to see the forest as well as the trees, you also need to see the tabernacle in the context of Exodus as well as the cubits and fillets!

Actually, we have two accounts of the construction of the tabernacle. The first account is the blueprint of the tabernacle (Ex. 25-31), which was apparently modeled for Moses by a vision as well as the verbal instructions (see 25:9, 40). The second account, which is essentially a verbatim duplicate of the first, recounts the actual construction (Ex. 35-40).

There are a couple of "big picture" concepts to keep in mind. First, try to spot similarities between the account of creation in Genesis 1-2 with the account of the construction of the tabernacle. One obvious similarity is that the instructions regarding the blueprint conclude with a reiteration of the Sabbath command (Ex. 31:12-17), just as the week of creation concluded with a reference to God's Sabbath (Gen. 2:1-3). Second, notice that wedged in between the blueprint for the tabernacle and the construction of the tabernacle is the horrible episode of idolatry at Mount Sinai (Ex. 32-34). Perhaps one reason God chose to reveal the language of the tabernacle's construction in language that duplicated the instructions is to highlight Israel's obedience to His law, down to the letter. They had learned their lesson in the aftermath of the golden calf incident.

When we get to Exodus 35-40 I will say more about the design of the tabernacle. In the meantime, imagine what it must have been like for Moses to see heavenly models of the tabernacle and its furniture! And even more awesome - imagine what it will be like to dwell forever as God makes His tabernacle among us (Rev. 21:3)!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - February 10 - The Blood of the Covenant

When I decided to attend Florida College, several people advised me to take Phil Roberts for my first year Bible classes. That was some of the best advice I have ever received. Phil was an exceptional teacher, and his classes profoundly shaped my view of the Bible. Almost everything I teach is in someway indebted to him, and one of my great joys has been to preach where his parents worship and give back to them a fraction of what he gave to me.

Phil developed a list of "Five Key Passages of the Old Testament" -
-Genesis 3 - Sin enters the world - results in the curse
-Genesis 12 - The promise to Abraham - results in a blessing
-Exodus 24 - The covenant with Israel - Israel becomes a nation
-2 Samuel 7 - The promise to David - Israel becomes a kingdom
-Jeremiah 31 - The promise of the new covenant - forgiveness for the people

Today's reading contained the third of these passages, Exodus 24, and frankly, the one I was most liable to forget when I was a student. But Exodus 24 is crucially important. It is the day that Israel accepted God's gracious proposal to become His covenant people. In fact, it is not a stretch at all to compare the events of Exodus to a wedding. Exodus 19 was the proposal, Exodus 20-23 listed the vows, and Exodus 24 was the actual wedding ceremony, when Israel said, "I do."

The ceremony in Exodus 24 involved a blood sacrifice, with half the blood sprinkled on the altar, and half on the people, solemnizing the commitment of both parties (God and Israel) to the covenant. This was followed by a meal, as Moses and the leaders ate before the Lord (v. 11).

This passage also serves as the backdrop for Jesus' explanation of His own death.
And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matt. 26:27-28).
Jesus' death on the cross provided the blood that seals our covenant relationship with Him. And every week we eat a "covenant meal" in the Lord's Supper, looking forward to the great and final meal, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - February 9 - A Kingdom of Priests

Today's OT reading contains the covenant offer of God to Israel - become My people, and I will be your God (Exodus 19). This is a crucially important chapter, along with the chapters that spell out that covenant (Ex. 20-23), and the chapter that describes the acceptance of the covenant (Ex. 24).

As a part of His proposal to the people, God says, "You shall be to me a kingdom of priests" (Ex. 19:6). For years I understood this to mean, "I will make you a kingdom, and in that kingdom there will be people who are priests." But that is really not the best way to understand this language. The idea is that Israel, as a nation, will be a priestly kingdom.

The role of a priest is to stand between the people and God, to make offerings to bring man and God together. To say that Israel as a nation would be a kingdom of priests means that Israel as a nation would help bring the nations to God. This what God had already promised Abraham - that through his family all families of the earth would be blessed. Sadly, Israel more often than not failed to be holy to the Lord, much less to help other peoples become holy.

The NT uses this same language to describe God's people of the new covenant. "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). We must avoid the failures of Israel and be a holy people that faithful proclaims the excellencies of God to the world.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sermon: Open-Hearted Preaching (Paul and Preaching in Second Corinthians)

Introduction: Paul opened his heart wide (6:11) to the Corinthians in the second epistle, sharing his personal motives for preaching, and contrasting them with the motives of his opponents. Here are some key contrasts:

1) Preach the word vs peddle the word.
The hallmark of Paul's ministry was sincerity and simplicity (1:12).
Paul's opponents were marked by duplicity and ulterior motives, especially in "peddling the word", preaching for money (2:17; 4:2).
Paul even refused to take support from the Corinthians to highlight how different his ministry was from his opponents (11:7-13).
We must be care not to preach for money, to alter the message so we can keep a job.

2) Commended by God vs commended by men.
Paul's opponents sought commended by people, even if it meant commending each other! (10:12).
Paul's letter of commendation was the Corinthians themselves (3:1).
Paul was motivated by God, not by recognition from people (5:9-14a; 10:18).
His goal was for his actions to speak for themselves (6:4-10).
We must guard against flattery and celebrity and remember it is the Lord we want to please, not people.

3) Skilled in substance vs skilled in style.
Paul's opponents ridiculed his lack of style, accusing him of writing great letters but being a whimp in person (10:10).
Perhaps Paul was a victim of his own merciful actions in not punishing the rebellious during the second, "painful" visit.
But Paul's skill was in substance, the knowledge of the word (11:5-6).
It is crucial for preachers (and those who listen) to focus on substance rather than style.

4) "Weakness Trip" vs "Power Trip"
Paul's opponents were on a power trip, driven by their desire to dominate others (11:19-21).
Paul boasted in his weakness, because that highlighted the role of God in his ministry (11:30; 12:10; 12:13-16; 13:8-9).
And in this sense Paul modeled himself after Christ, who was crucified in weakness (13:4).
Preachers must make it clear that their service is by the power of God, not their own ability.

Daily Bible Reading - February 8 - Everyone Has Part

I love Exodus 18 for the simple reason that it clearly shows that Moses was just a man, that he had his limits. Moses had been serving as the judge for all sorts of civil matters among the Israelites, along with being their spiritual leader and military commander. This created long days for Moses as he sat alone to judge the people from morning til evening, a pace which his father-in-law recognized would undoubtedly wear him out (v. 18). The previous chapter of Exodus recorded another example of Moses' limits - the need for Aaron and Hur to hold his arm during the battle with Amalek. Just as Moses needed help then, he needed help with judging the people, and upon Jethro's advice, a system of judges was set up to deal with minor issues among the Israelites (18:21-27). Later, in Numbers 11:16-17, a similar arrangement was instituted to help with administrative matters.

It is very easy to become overextended, particularly if you are talented in many areas. Moses was gifted by God to be a great leader, but he was on the path to burn-out doing everything by himself. Sometimes it takes another perspective from a trusted person like Jethro to realize this is the case. Fortunately, Moses was mature enough to recognize the wisdom of delegating some his duties, and Israel was blessed as a result (for a New Testament episode that is very similar, consider the story of the service to the widows in Acts 6).

The human body functions best when every part does its part, rather than one part of the body doing all the work. That is Paul's classic illustration of the church in today's NT reading, Ephesians 4.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Eph. 4:11-16)
"When each part is working properly" the body grows. This requires two things relative to the story of Moses in Ex. 18: every part must know its limits lest it try to take on too much; and each part must know its purpose so that it performs its own responsibility.