Deliverance for the Future

 

  • Introduction

Let’s start with our key scripture for today, Exodus 12:13 –

The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

In today’s scripture, the Lord will do something so miraculous, so memorable, that the people of Israel could not help but pass it along to their children and their children’s children.  God did something so amazing we remember it today.

In many ways, our memories define us.  I crunched some numbers – that’s what I do, I’m an engineer – and I discovered it’s my birthday today.  I am exactly 21,275 days old today.  Thank you, thank you.  If you forgot to being me a present, you can leave cash in the offering plate over there at the end of class.

But how many days do I remember?  I’ve had so many good, blessed days, but they all blur together.  But momentous changes in my life, those I remember.  First day at my first engineering job in 1982.  Getting on my knee to ask my wife to marry me.  The day I asked for a divorce and confessed to God that I was a failure without Him.  Giving my life to Christ in Singapore in 1998.  Getting on me knee to ask my wife to forgive and to re-marry me.

Memories.  Light the corners of my mind.  Misty watercolor memories of the way we were.  Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind.  Smiles we gave to one another for the way we were.

Stop it.  Now I’m going to have that stuck in my head.

Now in Exodus 12, the Israelites are preparing for a life-changing day, a generation-changing day.  There would be simultaneous rejoicing and devastation, feasting and mourning, joy and sorrow, and forgiveness and judgment.

Israel needed divine intervention to free them from the trap of slavery that they could not free themselves from.  Have you ever found yourself trapped by something?  A struggle that you cannot free yourself from?  I remember Baby Jessica in October 1987, trapped 22’ underground in that abandoned water well in Midland, Texas.  The nation was glued to their televisions for three days as rescue workers and mining experts worked to save her.  I remember more recently in June 2018 those boys in Thailand trapped in a cave for 18 days when the monsoon rains came and flooded the entrance.  These are physical traps, but traps can be emotional, they can be financial, they can be spiritual.

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So, with so many traps keeping us in bondage, it’s no wonder we need deliverance just like the Israelites.  But God delivers us from life’s traps.  It’s a theme repeated throughout history, God delivers His people, and He still delivers you and me.  And 3500 years ago, the Israelites were trapped, in slavery, unable to free themselves from their bondage, and in need of a savior.

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God has been delivering to the Egyptians one plague after another.  The word “plague” comes from a Latin word that meant to strike, to give a mighty blow or a wound.  The blows were mighty indeed – so far there had been 9 plagues the Lord sent against Pharaoh to free His people, and each time Pharaoh promised to free the Israelites but then hardened his heart.  Those plagues were frogs, gnats, darkness, um, halitosis, I think.  Really bad movies. I forget the whole list.  Actually, there was a purpose for each plague, each plague sending a message to the Egyptians that Jehovah God was more powerful than every god the Egyptians had.

In our Scripture today, we arrive at the life-changing day: the Passover.  Passover was the day that the Israelites were freed from bondage to the Egyptians.  It would serve as an Independence Day for the Israelites, changing the course of their history.  In fact, this day was so monumental that God ordered that the Passover would start their calendar year.  It was symbolic of the fresh start and fresh life that God was granting to the people of Israel (Exodus 12:1-2).

The Passover was the last of the Ten Plagues that God sent to the Egyptians. The purpose of the plagues was to display God’s authority.  The tenth plague was by far the deadliest and most devastating. God would sweep over the land of Egypt, visiting every home and taking the life of every firstborn male—unless the house was covered by the blood of an innocent lamb.

Now, God sends the 10th and final plague.  Let’s see how He prepares His people.

  • Exodus 12:1-5, New Beginning

Exodus 12:1-5 –

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.  Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household.  If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat.  The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats.”

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God is creating a new beginning for His people to commemorate His deliverance.  This new beginning is the first month of the first year of a brand new calendar.  To remember this occasion, the head of each household will select a year-old, unblemished and perfect lamb to sacrifice on the tenth day of the month and slaughter it on the fourteenth day. The purpose of the lamb was to serve as a substitute. Instead of their first-born son passing away, the lamb would die in his place.

This was not the first time a lamb was sacrificed as a substitute for God’s people.  In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were literally covered by the sacrifice of an animal. It stood in their place and covered their nakedness. And on Mount Moriah, God provided a lamb as a substitute just as Abraham was about to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice.

However, God made it clear that not just any male lamb would do. He provided specific qualifications for this substitute: the lamb was to be one year old.  It was to be free from blemish or defect. These details are important.  The age of the lamb mattered because, at one year, a lamb is at the peak of its life in strength and energy.  And the perfection of the lamb mattered because it was a representation of the quality of its life.  We will see later in Deuteronomy 17:1 that a blemished animal was an abomination to God. In order to offer a perfect substitute, the Israelites were expected to find a perfect sacrifice.

Impending judgment hung over the head of all those residing in Egypt that evening. Death was on the doorstep of every house in Egypt. As the sun rolled beneath the horizon, all were in danger.  But God had provided His people a way to spare themselves and their households from the fate that all deserved. The Israelites had the opportunity to take God at His word and exercise their faith in Him.  They could find a substitute that would stand in the impending death in place of their firstborn sons.  Behind the cover of a young, perfect lamb, they would be shielded from the wrath of God and instead receive the mercy of God.

Just like you and me today.  When we are behind the cover of the lamb, we are shielded from the wrath of God and instead receive mercy.  How did Jesus meet this criteria?  I’m glad you asked.  1 Peter 1:18-19 says –

knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.

And John the Baptist proclaimed in John 1:29b the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with these words –

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

Let’s not overlook the significance of the blood covering.  Leviticus 17:11 says,

“For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” 

Blood is life.  I don’t think it’s any coincidence that our advanced society still requires blood donations and haven’t developed artificial blood.  They’ve developed some stuff that can help refill the circulatory system in case of blood loss, but they haven’t developed red blood cells to carry oxygen, white blood cells for fighting diseases, plasma with proteins, platelets to stop blood loss, and so on.  Blood is life.

And 1 John 1 :7 says,

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” 

Slide12.JPGIt is the blood of Jesus that saves us and gives us eternal life.  For the Israelites, it was only the covering of blood over the door that would save them and deliver them from their bondage.  For us, it is only the covering of the blood of Jesus that saves us from our sins and delivers us from our eternal punishment.

The sacrifice of the innocent to pay for the sins of the guilty.  The lamb was innocent of any wrongdoing.  Just as Jesus was innocent of any wrongdoing.  It is we who do wrong.  Romans 3:23 says that all of us, you and me, have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  And Romans 6:23 says that the punishment for our sins is death, but God’s gift to us is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  This concept of atonement begins here in Exodus 12, continues through Isaiah 53:5 that says that our redeemer was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  And all the way through the New Testament, 1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness, by his wounds we have been healed.”

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Any other method of trying to provide for our own deliverance will fail.  We do not have the ability to save ourselves any more than the Israelites could save themselves from Pharaoh.  If we try, we will find we are sinners and must pay for our sins with eternal death.  Jesus, the son of God, paid that price on our behalf that we may live in Him.

And when we accept this sacrifice, we become new creations.  God delivers us from our eternal punishment, and we become adopted children of God.  2 Corinthians 5:17 –

” Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

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God delivers us.

  • Exodus 12:6-11, Urgent Attitude

Once we have accepted Jesus, our lives take on a certain urgency.  Exodus 12:6-11 –

Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight.  Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs.  That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast.  Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire—head, legs and inner parts.  Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it.  This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand.  Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover.

Like the instructions regarding the sacrificial animal and its blood, God gave the Israelites detailed instructions about the meal that would follow the Passover.  They were to eat unleavened bread.  This bread did not contain yeast, and they were not permitted time for the bread to rise. God wanted them to eat the meal with a belt on their waists and shoes on their feet so that they could leave in a hurry. It was a reminder to the people of Israel that they were to be ready to follow God. They could be called to make their exodus out of Egypt at any moment.

The symbolism of the yeast was also symbolic of what the people were to leave behind, to leave out of their lives.  To the Israelites, it represented the old traps of life, the bondage to Egypt.  To us, it represent sin.  God tells His people to make bread without yeast, unleavened bread, and later in Exodus 12:19 God says that whoever eats anything with yeast in it during this Passover will be cut off from Israel.  These are not baking instructions.  Jesus says in Matthew 16:11-12,

“How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread?  But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 

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And 1 Corinthians 5:6-8,

“Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?  Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” 

So it’s definitely not a baking recipe, it’s a warning that a little sin will spread throughout the whole body.  We cannot underestimate the significance of sin in our lives and how offensive sin is to a most Holy God.  The smallest amount of sin in our lives will cause us to fry in the presence of Jehovah unless we are covered by the sacrificial, Passover blood.

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This dinner was true farm-to-table.  The Israelites roasted their lamb, made fresh bread, and accompanied the meal with bitter herbs that were also symbolic.  The bitter herbs were a reminder to them of their bitter enslavement in Egypt.  The herbs were also symbolic of the bitterness of sin.   In The Doctrine of Repentance, Puritan pastor and theologian Thomas Watson, said, “Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.”

This highly symbolic Passover meal would endure for generations. Every year, when the Israelites would eat this meal, the smells and tastes would bring them back to the night that changed the history of their nation. They would recall the sacrificial lamb. They would be reminded of the bitterness of sin and slavery. They would remember the attitude of hastiness that they were to show when God called them. Ultimately, the Passover Meal would serve as a reminder of the deliverance they could experience.  It prompted them to maintain an attitude of sacrifice, a readiness to obey God, and a regard for sin as bitter.

And 1500 years later, Jesus added an extra layer of symbolism during the last Passover meal.  Jesus and His disciples gathered in the upper room, and they shared the Passover meal the night before His death.  They ate the lamb, and they ate unleavened bread.  They ate the bitter herbs. It was on that night and at that dinner that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper.

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He took the unleavened bread, and He broke the bread as a symbol of His body that was going to be broken on the cross.  He took a cup of wine, and He explained to His friends that His blood was going to be poured out for the forgiveness of sins.  And then, with haste, Jesus got up from the table because God was calling Him to be obedient, even unto death.  He was going to become our Passover Lamb, and He would taste the bitterness of sin for all sinners.

The Passover is rich with symbols, from the lamb to the blood to the meal that followed.  Each element was carefully designated by God to represent a large truth.  But God had an even bigger plan in mind than freedom from the Egyptians when He provided instructions to the Israelites.  The Passover serves as a signpost that points toward something even greater for God’s people.

  • Exodus 12:12-13, Divine Mercy

If God’s people did as they were instructed and made their sacrifice in haste, the they were saved from the wrath of God.  Verse 12-13 –

“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn — both men and animals — and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt.  I am the LORD.  The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.”

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And so begins the 10th plague, the death of every firstborn.  Who was judged this night?  Egyptians were pantheists, believing that everything in the world was part of a god or goddess.  And they were polytheists, worshiping many gods that were all around them.  Each god or goddess was involved in a different part of their lives.

God is very deliberate in His wrath, demonstrating his power over all of nature.  God says, “I am the Lord.”  He stands apart, holy.  All other gods are demons.  Each of the first 9 plagues demonstrated God’s sovereignty over a popular Egyptian god to demonstrate that He alone is God.  And now the 10th plague over all male firstborns including animals demonstrate that no one is god but God alone.

Death is a powerful and painful lesson.  It gets our attention like nothing else in this world.  And it’s unavoidable.  It is God’s final recourse in showing His power to liberate His people and God’s supremacy over Pharaoh’s little gods.  When Pharaoh refused, thousands perished.  When Israel believed, thousands lived.  And today, every person’s fate hinges on either believing or not believing the one true and living God in heaven.    And God used the ultimate death, His son Jesus, to save us.

Who needed mercy that night?  Everyone did.  Who received mercy that night?  Only those covered by the blood were granted divine mercy.

Romans 2:5 is addressed to those who have not accepted the blood covering of Jesus.

“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” 

Still today, everyone needs mercy.  But only those who accept that Jesus Christ is Lord and is true messiah receive it.  This is God’s plan to the end of time; in Revelation 7:9, there is a great multitude that no one could count from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.  In Revelation 7:14, we are told who these people are and the distinguishing mark of the believer.

“These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

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God has had a plan from the beginning to deliver us from our sins that deserve His wrath.   His judgment is perfect; that’s why we should fear Him.  But His mercy is perfect; that’s why we should love Him.  He first loved us and provided a way to deliver us from our sins that trap us in bondage.  We are free in Christ.

  • Exodus 12:14, Precious Memory

These lessons must be continually learned from one generation to the next.  Anything not carefully remembered is easily forgotten, so we must carefully prepare our lives and celebrations in a way that the next generation will also come to know the saving blood of Jesus.  Exodus 12:14 –

This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD – a lasting ordinance.

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The Passover saved the Israelites who heeded God’s instructions. It was a “mighty blow,” the tenth and final plague that delivered them from the grip of Pharaoh.  As God’s judgment swept across the land, killing the firstborn sons of the Egyptians, the Israelites were safely covered from God’s wrath by the blood of a perfect sacrifice.  The next morning, the Egyptians wailed in distress while the Israelites tasted God’s freedom and goodness.  God had displayed His authority, identified His people, and upheld them among their oppressors.

Passover serves to remind us today of the ultimate deliverance that God has in mind for all of His people. In 1st Corinthians, the Apostle Paul tells us that the Passover in Exodus is a shadow of what was to come.  And, that what was demonstrated on the cross was the substance.  1 Corinthians 5:7b,

For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.

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Jesus was in the prime of His life when He was sacrificed. He was a full-grown and vibrant man who was unblemished in that He never sinned and had no fault.  Every element of the Passover pointed to the Gospel, including God’s instruction to paint the blood of the lamb across doorposts. God would later instruct His people to identify themselves and exercise their faith by painting Jesus’ blood across their hearts.

In Messiah in the Passover, Dr. Rich Freeman describes the Passover as a signpost:

“Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the fulfillment of Passover. Like the first Passover lambs sacrificed to redeem Israel from slavery in Egypt, Jesus’ death on the cross redeems us from slavery to sin … And just as the first Passover was very personal and the Israelites personally applied the blood of the lambs to the doors of their houses, we too, by faith, need to personally apply the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, to the doors of our hearts.”

The past picture of the Passover points to the future plan of God in Jesus Christ.

  • Conclusion

Although the Passover occurred thousands of years ago, Passover still points to our ultimate deliverance through Jesus Christ.  In Exodus, the Passover lamb saved the Israelites, an event that led them on their journey to the Promised Land. Today, Jesus saves us and leads us toward the promised land of Heaven.

Are you trapped?  There is deliverance in Christ Jesus.  Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Passover Lamb whose blood was poured out on the cross for us. We can trust in Jesus as the perfect, unblemished Lamb of God that stands in our place.

We are invited by God to escape judgment and find mercy through the blood of Jesus.  It is His desire that we flee the bitter bonds of sin.  We can experience deliverance from our past – and deliverance from all of the things that will ensnare us in the future – through the Lamb.

When we apply the blood of Jesus to our lives, we escape God’s judgment.  God will “pass over” us, and we will be spared eternal death.  Instead of receiving what we deserve, we will be given the gift of eternal life.  One day, we will arrive in Heaven, the land flowing with milk and honey, and all of God’s people will sing, “Worthy is the Lamb!” (Revelation 5:12).

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To God be the glory.

The Timid Warrior

             I.      Introduction

Let’s open our bibles to the book of Gideon.  Or if you don’t have a book of Gideon, let’s open our Gideon bibles.

We’re going to look today at a warrior named Gideon in the book of Judges chapter 6, so let’s turn there.  Your bible should have a book of Judges.  It’s just after the book of jury selection.

The year is probably between 1045 and 1000 BC, and the book of Judges does not name the author, though the prophet Samuel is the likely author.  The book begins with the Israelites defeating the Canaanites and ends with the Israelites defeating the Philistines and the death of Samson.  We can summarize the entire book of Judges with these three verses,

Judges 2:16-17,

Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.  Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly turned from the ways of their ancestors, who had been obedient to the Lord’s commands.

Judges 10:15,

But the Israelites said to the Lord, “We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.”

And Judges 21:25,

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

The Lord has never failed to rescue His people when the repent of their ways, but Israel has fallen into a destructive pattern.  Obedience led to disobedience.  Disobedience led to destruction.  Destruction led to repentance.  Repentance led to rescue.  Rescue led to obedience. slide4

But enough about Israel.  Let’s talk about us.  Well, actually, maybe I already am talking about us.  We want to be good Christians, but when the Lord cares for us, it’s easy to get complacent and take the Lord’s blessings for granted.  We fool ourselves into thinking that a little misbehaving is ok, but then our misbehaving leads to trouble that we get ourselves into.  Then we cry out to the Lord, please save me, I’m in trouble.  And this time I’ll promise I’ll be good.

          II.      Gideon’s Condition

There’s got to be a better way than falling in the steps of the Israelites.  We’re going to focus on Gideon in Judges chapter 6, and this is what the land of Israel was like in those days, Judges 6:1-6,

The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites.  Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds.  Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country.  They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys.  They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it.  Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.

The Midianites had oppressed the Israelites, and that doesn’t really describe how bad things are.  The people of Israel were vastly outnumbered, forced to live in caves, and anytime the enemy showed up, the enemy killed the Israelite’s sheep and cattle and donkeys.

When it appeared that life in Israel was completely hopeless, then Israel turned to the Lord.  Not as their first response, but only after they had tried everything else and lost.  Not that we would ever do such a thing, take things into our own hands until we’ve made a complete and utter mess of things, and then finally turn to the Lord and say, “Lord, where are you?”  No, of course we would never do that.

When we are discouraged or in pain, of course we cry out to the Lord for help.  And God in His great mercy and love for us often helps us, but we have to acknowledge that sometimes we create the problem ourselves, and the solution begins with obedience, finding the path the Lord has set before us and walking that path.  God does not appear like a magic genie and pluck us out of our difficulties; our spiritual growth and discipline comes first and then the relief comes later.

And it’s not enough for Israel to be sad and upset with their condition.  But if the only thing Israel is sorry for is that they are living in caves, then they do not yet understand what the problem is.  If we spend all our money on clothing or boats or travel or eating out and the credit card collectors begin harassing us, can we go to God and ask for financial blessings to rescue us?  Are we sorry we are broke, or are we sorry we were not good stewards of God’s blessings?

2 Corinthians 7:10 puts it this way,

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

God’s response to Israel was to send a prophet and clarify to Israel what the problem was, Judges 6:7-10,

When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land.  I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.”

God has rescued them before and will rescue them again, but God again asks Israel to repent of their ungodly ways.

       III.      Gideon’s Complaint

So the Lord sent a message to Gideon who was hiding in a basement somewhere so the Midianites couldn’t find him.  Verse 11-12,

The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.  When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

Usually wheat or corn is threshed on a threshing floor to remove the husks and straw, a flat surface is best.  Slide9.JPGBut Gideon was hiding from the Midianites in a winepress, a hole or a pit.Slide10.JPG  So when the angel of the Lord calls Gideon “mighty warrior,” Gideon probably looked around to see who the angel was talking to.  And it didn’t take very long to look around, because, well, Gideon is in a hole in the ground.

Gideon’s response to the Angel of the Lord is to complain, Judges 6:13,

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

So we know the answer to Gideon’s question – Israel is in this mess because they turned their backs on the Lord and worshipped false idols and other gods.  Gideon though is questioning the Lord – if the Lord is really with us, why do all these bad things keep happening?  Seriously, Lord, I’m in a hole in the ground trying to thresh wheat, so where are you?

But you know, it’s ok to bring our complaints to the Lord.  If we are in prayer with the Lord, we should be as honest with the Lord as we possibly can.  We do not need to feel we have to pray a certain way or pray only how we think the Lord wants us to pray.  We don’t need to be phony and pray the way we think Christians should pray.  Scripture is consistent that the Lord wants us to approach Him in pray with honesty, open our hearts completely, even if it is a complaint.

Remember David, a man after God’s own heart?  Here is his Psalm 10,

Why, Lord, do you stand far off?

Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Be honest with the Lord.  If you have a complaint, bring it to the Lord.  Question the Lord and see if He will answer.  That’s what Job did – Job lost his health and his family and his friends and his livestock.  It must have been a mystery to him since he was a righteous man, and he took his complaint to God.  Job told God he wished he had never been born, that he has no peace and no rest and he has unending troubles.  And the Lord answered Job.

God has rescued them before and will rescue them again, but God again asks Israel to repent of their ungodly ways.

          IV.      Gideon’s Reluctance

In answer to Gideon, the Lord didn’t bother to recap Israel History 101.  The Lord tells Gideon in verse 14,

The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

If we have a single scripture to remember today, it’s this verse from Judges 6:14, “Go in the strength you have.”  Gideon was a timid man, hiding in that hole in the ground so his enemies wouldn’t find him, and the angel of the Lord called him, “mighty warrior.”  Gideon’s response shows that Gideon didn’t feel he was the right man for this job.  Verse 15,

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

Gideon feels inadequate because he is the runt of the litter.  Gideon’s error is that Gideon seems to think he has something to do with the Lord’s victory.  The Lord doesn’t need our help, but He desires our heart, our willingness, our obedience.  God wants us to step out on His behalf, to be His ambassador, but the victory is the Lord’s, not ours.  The Lord’s response in verse 16,

The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”

God calls us to lead a godly life of repentance, obedience, love and joy and peace and sometimes it seems like it’s just too hard to do everything we are supposed to do.  It’s just too much.  It’s too stressful, I can’t be sure I’m doing it right, I don’t see it working, we find a myriad of excuses.  Gideon’s excuse is that he was too little.   He’s little enough to hide in a hole.  He’s the runt of the litter.  He’s the smallest of the small.  Other people are better suited.

But that completely misses the point of what God is asking of us.  He’s not asking us to be victorious, he’s asking us to be obedient and then God will be victorious.  Go in the strength you have.

Remember when God asked Moses to lead His people out of Egypt?  In Exodus 3, God appears to Moses as a burning bush and says to Moses, “Go, I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”  Moses’ first response is, “Who am I to do these things you ask?”  And God says, “Just go.”  And Moses says, “What if they don’t listen to me?”  And God says, “Just go.”  And then in Exodus 4:10-13,

Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”

The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

One thing I know about each and every believer: God has a plan for each one of us, a plan to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us hope and a future.  And I cannot fulfill the plan God has for you, and you cannot fulfill the plan God has for me.  The plan God has for you can only be fulfilled by the one person God created to fulfill that plan.  Moses finally recognized that God had a plan for him and became obedient.  When Moses finally appeared to Pharaoh and began to lead the Lord’s people out of Egypt, there was quite a few obstacles, including that inconvenient Red Sea obstacle.  But when it came time to overcome that obstacle, who parted the waters?  Was it Moses?  Or was it God?

When Peter walked on water, was He enabled by Jesus, or did he walk on water on his own power?

God doesn’t ask us to be victorious, He doesn’t ask us to move mountains, He doesn’t ask us to perform miracles.  He just asks us to be obedient.  Use the mouth the Lord gave you to speak and do not be concerned whether you speak well.  Use what the good Lord gave you, and that’s more than enough.  The Lord has already equipped you for the work He has given you.  It’s not about us, it’s about the Lord, and the victory is already His.

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In the next chapter of Judges, Gideon finds out he is massively outnumbered before the battle with the Midianites.  Gideon has 32,000 men, the Midianites have 135,000 men.  The Midianites outnumbered him four to one.  And the Lord says to Gideon, “You have too many men,” and Gideon’s army was reduced to only 10,000, or 13:1.  And the Lord says, “You still have too many men.”  And Gideon’s army was reduced to 300 men.  He’s now outnumbered 450 to 1.

Why does God drastically reduce the size of Gideon’s army?   If Gideon is outnumbered 4:1 or even 13:1, Israel might boast of their victory.  But when they are outnumbered 450:1… Israel would not boast.   It is apparent that with such overwhelming odds there was no way Israel could win.  The victory belonged to the Lord.  It could only have been victorious because of the Lord.

That’s why it doesn’t matter what you think about your abilities.  If you speak well, or you’re unable to speak.  If you can lift 1000 pounds or 10 pounds.  God created you for the task He gave you and you are already perfectly equipped to fulfil that task.  Just be obedient to the call you hear.

Ephesians 2:8-10 puts it like this to the body of Christ.  You do not save yourselves, there is nothing you can add to or take away from your salvation, it is a gift and all of the glory belongs to the Lord.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

             V.      Conclusion

I’ve got a snippet of a video that sort of illustrates this point, and I hope you’ll bear with me.  It’s not exactly the best illustration of today’s lesson, but I baked my brain in the sun this week and I was a little incoherent.  But I went with the strength I had and the victory belongs to the Lord. Here’s the setup:

When Barney sings under his own power, the result is, shall we say, acoustically challenged. Andy comes up with a plan but it requires Barney getting out of the way:

So the day of the performance arrives, and here’s the result:

God wants us to open our mouths, then get out of the way and let Him sing through us.

Judges 6:14 –

Go in the strength you have.

And the victory belongs to the Lord.

To God be the glory. Amen.

Ark of the Covenant

I.      Introduction

Our lesson today studies the Ark of the Covenant, so I would like to back up a long, long way in scripture.  I’m never sure how far I should go back to provide the right historical context, and it seems like every time I study this I want to go all the way back to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning.”  But I suppose I don’t have to rewind that far back every time.  So where do I start in a study of the Ark of the Covenant?

Click here: Raider of the Lost Ark

II.      History of the Ark

Ok, so let’s turn to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning…” I’m just kidding.  We’ll start the famous crossing of the Red Sea, after Moses has led the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt, and heads for Mt. Sinai.  Three months after crossing the sea, the people of Israel are camped at the bottom of Mt, Sanai, and Moses goes up into the mountains where God etches the Ten Commandments on stone tablets for Moses to bring to the Israel people.

Exodus 24 says that God Himself engraved the stone tablets with His own finger, verse 12,

The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.”

The Lord God promises to dwell among the people, and the Ten Commandments are to be stored in the Ark.

So make yourself an Ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out.  This is how you are to build it: The Ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.  Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around.  Put a door in the side of the Ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.

Sorry, that’s the wrong Ark.  That was Noah’s Ark in Genesis 6, let me try again from Exodus 25, where we first read about the Ark, and God’s precise description of it to Moses:

“Have them make an Ark of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.  Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold molding around it.  Cast four gold rings for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other.  Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold.  Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the Ark to carry it.  The poles are to remain in the rings of this Ark; they are not to be removed.  Then put in the Ark the tablets of the covenant law, which I will give you.

“Make an atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide.  And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover.  Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends.  The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover.  Place the cover on top of the Ark and put in the Ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you.  There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the Ark of the Covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.

Here is what it looks like:

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Click here: Raider of the Lost Ark

Actually, this is a pretty good representation of the Ark of the Covenant, and many parts of this movie got it right.  Let’s take a look –

Some were exaggerations, like Brody saying it “leveled mountains.”  That’s probably a reference to Joshua at the Battle of Jericho.  Blowing horns and carrying the Ark, the Israelites circled the city, and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.  And remember the scene where Indiana tells Miriam, “Don’t Look!”?  The Ark was considered holy and dangerous, and only those specified by the Lord could touch it or look in it, and then only after they had been purified.  Coming into direct contact with the holiness of God was instant death.  In Leviticus 10, Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aaron, brought a foreign flame to offer a sacrifice in the Tabernacle, they were devoured by flames from the Lord.  In 2 Samuel 6 while moving the Ark, the oxen stumbled.  A Levite named Uzzah steadied the Ark, and Uzzah was struck dead instantly.

The Ten Commandments were placed inside and sealed with the cover.  The Ark was then placed inside the Holy of Holies inside the tabernacle and later the Temple of Jerusalem, and when the Levitical priest made his annual sacrifice for the people of Israel, he shed the blood of an innocent, unblemished lamb and sprinkled it on the top of the Ark, which call the Mercy Seat.  The shekinah of God rested on this holy seat.  This was the most important piece of furniture in the Tabernacle.  It is where God sat when He dwelled among His people.

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The location of the Ark today is unknown.  Centuries later, when the Babylonians sacked Israel, led by Nebuchadnezzar, they hauled off a great deal of religious artifacts from the Temple and made detailed lists of what was taken, but the Ark was not listed among them items.  One of the final kings, Josiah, may have buried it beneath the temple mount, beneath the Holy of Holies, and sealed it in stone.  One Jewish archaeologist, Leen Ritmeyer, has identified a section of bedrock below the Temple Mount cut out in the dimensions of the Ark.  It is unlikely any excavation will ever be allowed by either Muslims or Israelis.

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III.      The Ark is Taken

So it is within this history that we examine a time where the Israelites, in battle with the Philistines, gain a new understanding of the power and holiness of God.  Approximately 300 years after the battle of Jericho, in 1 Samuel 4, the Israelites went to battle against the Philistines.  The Philistines are mentioned as far back as the days of Abraham in Genesis 21, and they’re mentioned in the books of Samuel over 150 times.  These were originally a seafaring people from the Aegen Sea who sought to control the land we know as Palestine.  The word Palestine is derived from Philistine, and this conflict over territory continues to this day.

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Scripture says that at this battle, 4000 Israeli soldiers were killed.

The Israelis must have been perplexed.  Wasn’t this land given to them by the Lord?  Then why were the idol-worshipping Philistines defeating them?  When the remaining Israeli soldiers returned to camp, the Israeli elders conclude that the reason Israel lost is because they didn’t carry the Ark of the Covenant into battle like they did at Jericho.  If the elders had read their scripture, though, they would have read in Deuteronomy 28:25 and Leviticus 26:39 that their defeat was not caused by the Ark, or the lack of the Ark, but by their disobedience to the Lord.

So instead of searching their hearts and confessing their sins first, they decided to imitate Moses and Joshua and take the Ark into battle before them.  Rather than seek the will of the Lord, the people of Israel attempted to use the Lord to fight their battle.  In 1 Samuel 4 the people of Israel brought the Ark out of the Tabernacle and let out a mighty roar, so loud the ground shook.  The Philistines were afraid, look at verses 6-8 –

Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, “What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?”

When they learned that the Ark of the Lord had come into the camp, the Philistines were afraid. “A god has come into the camp,” they said. “Oh no! Nothing like this has happened before.  We’re doomed! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness.

The battle began, but the battle did not end as expected.  The Israelites were slaughtered, this time 30,000 Israeli soldiers died, and the Ark of God was captured by the Philistines.  Israel was crushed, and the Philistines rejoiced.  The spiritual leader of Israel, Eli, mentor of Samuel, was so distraught by the capture of the Ark that he falls out of his chair and breaks his neck and dies.

These are dark times indeed for Israel.  It appears to the Israelites that God has been taken hostage by the Philistines.  They’ve lost their battle, their soldiers, their land, their spiritual leader, and worst of all, they’ve lost the Ark of the Covenant.  But we will see in today’s lesson that there is far more at play here.  God is not an idol.  God does not need for men to carry Him about.  God is the One who carries Israel.  They have forgotten who their God is.  In fact, the terms of their covenant with God was that God would sit on the mercy seat when the people were obedient and submitted to God’s will.

The Philistines took the captured Ark with them to Ashdod, one of 5 major cities the Philistines controlled.  In Ashdod, the Philistines worshipped their god Dagon, and they take the captured Ark of the Covenant and lay it prostrate into Dagon’s temple in a position of submission.  Rejoicing, no doubt that the God of Israel has been captured and forced to bow before Dagon.  But the next morning, they were astonished to see the roles reversed.

1 Samuel 5:1-3,

After the Philistines had captured the Ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod.  Then they carried the Ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon.  When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the Ark of the Lord! They took Dagon and put him back in his place.

They put their god Dagon back in his place.  Dagon is an idol that does have to be carried by man.  The next morning is even worse – not only is Dagon back on the floor in submission, but his hands and head had been broken off, with only the body remaining.

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Is Dagon in the hands of an angry God?  Dagon is prostrated before the Ark of God, but Ark of the Covenant is not a god.  It is not an idol like Dagon.  The Ark is a symbol of God’s presence among His people.  It has great symbolic value, but it is not an idol.  Dagan, the man-made God, has to be picked up, glued back together, sent to the shop for repairs.

Verse 6 says the Lord’s hand was heavy against the Philistines and brought affliction and tumors.  The people of Ashdod want nothing more to do with this captured Ark, so they send it to the next Philistine city, Gath.  In Gath, immediately the same tumors and afflictions affected all the people.  So the people of Gath decide to send it to a 3rd Philistine city, Ekron.  And the people of Ekron see the Ark arriving and they cry out, “They brought the God of Israel to kill us!  Send it away!”

I find it incredible how the Philistines don’t get it.  Earlier before battle, they heard the Israeli roar so loud the earth shook, and the Philistines were afraid of the God who brought the plagues upon Egypt.  Now, their idol God Dagon is hacked to pieces and lies prostrate before the Ark.  And the Philistines are dying of some sort of plague with tumors as long as they keep the Ark.  Their man-made god is powerless against the Almighty, but they still choose to worship their idol.

Send it back.  Send it back, they say.  With the presence of the one true living God in their midst, they want to send it away.  It is too hot to handle.  Send it away.

IV.      The Ark is Returned

For seven months, the Philistines hold on to the Ark and are plagued with tumors.  They know they have to get rid of it.  At first, it was a political problem as they passed it from one city to another, but now it’s a religious problem.  The want to return the Ark to Israel, but they don’t want offend Israel’s angry God.

1 Samuel 6:1-3,

When the Ark of the Lord had been in Philistine territory seven months, the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the Ark of the Lord? Tell us how we should send it back to its place.”

They answered, “If you return the Ark of the god of Israel, do not send it back to him without a gift; by all means send a guilt offering to him. Then you will be healed, and you will know why his hand has not been lifted from you.”

The Philistine priests come up with a guilt offering, a really weird one.  They make five gold tumors.  Yes, tumors, modeled after the tumors that afflicted their bodies.  They make 5 gold tumors, and also make 5 gold rats for carrying this plague.  Look how well the Philistine priests understand the Jehovah God in verse 4-6 –

The Philistines asked, “What guilt offering should we send to him?”

They replied, “Five gold tumors and five gold rats, according to the number of the Philistine rulers, because the same plague has struck both you and your rulers.  Make models of the tumors and of the rats that are destroying the country, and give glory to Israel’s god. Perhaps he will lift his hand from you and your gods and your land.  Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When Israel’s god dealt harshly with them, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way?

Again, it’s interesting that they know the power of God but they refuse to worship Him.  Instead, they continue to worship their idol Dagan who, as I understand it, doesn’t have any hands anymore.  Or a head.

They Philistine priests devise a plan in verse 7 to see if the Ark is really the source of their problems, and if the Lord will be appeased if the Ark is returned.

“Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up.  Take the Ark of the Lord and put it on the cart, and in a chest beside it put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Send it on its way, but keep watching it.  If it goes up to its own territory, toward Beth Shemesh, then the Lord has brought this great disaster on us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us but that it happened to us by chance.”

So they take 2 cows that have never been yoked, pen up their calves, and load the Ark on the cart.  Their thinking is that the natural inclination of the cows is to return to their young, but if the Lord is in control, He will guide the calves back to the Israelites.

Which is exactly what happened; the cows didn’t even look to the right or the left.  The Philistines followed the cows and the Ark to the end of the town of Beth Shemesh where the Israelites were harvesting their wheat.

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A big cry of joy from the Israelites when they see the Ark being returned on the cart of two cows.  So excited they were, they took the Ark down, chopped up the cart for firewood, and sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering.  The Israelites of Beth Shemesh lined up to look inside the Ark – some manuscripts say 70, others say 50,070.   Was the Lord pleased?  God responded by striking the Israelites dead.

The Israelites were ecstatic to have the Ark returned; now they are shocked that the Lord God would strike down so many worshipping Israelites.  The Israelites cry out, “Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this Holy God?”

Israel, in its exuberance, did not follow the law, and the punishment is death.  The book of Numbers, chapter 4, specifically says that those that look inside at the holy things inside the arc will die.  And the burnt offering of cows?  Leviticus 1:10 says that all burnt offerings shall be male.  In their exuberance, the Israelites disobeyed and were killed.

  V.      Conclusion

So what can we learn from today’s lesson?  We begin with Israel’s first battle with the Philistines, which Israel loses 4000 men and is defeated.  The priests of Israel are Eli’s sons at this time are corrupt and practicing evil.  1 Samuel 2:17 says the sin of the young priests was very great in the Lord’s sight.  And the Israelites decide to take their lucky rabbit’s foot, the Ark, into battle, for the Lord is undefeated.  Instead, their defeat is far, far greater, and 30,000 die and the Ark is taken.

When the Ark is returned, the Israelites celebrate the return of their lucky rabbit’s foot.  They celebrate the return but disobey the Lord’s instructions, and even more Israelites die.

As for the Philistines, they know about the power of the Lord and the plagues against Egypt.  After capturing it, they too mistake the Ark for the Lord God of Israel.  They try to place the Ark in a position of submission to another pagan idol god, not understanding that it’s not the Ark that has the power, but the Lord God Himself.

Before coming to Christ, at some point in our lives, we are like the Philistines.  We see the power of God all around us, we understand He is in control.  But we hold on to our pride, our lives of greed and gluttony, because seeing the power of God is not the same as following and trusting the power of God.  We think God, like the Ark, is too hot to handle, and we just want to move the Ark along to the next person or town.  We want to keep worshipping at the feet of the world, our reality tv, our social media, our idol god Dagon.  It’s comfortable, and our idol expects nothing from us except to occasionally glue him back together when he breaks.

In Mark chapter 5 we see the response of people who are uncomfortable with the power of God in their midst.  Jesus arrives by boat in Garasenes and a deranged man comes running out of the tombs at him.  The deranged man had been terrifying the local town, and chains and irons couldn’t hold him.  Jesus commands the demons to leave the man and go into a herd of pigs, and the man is able to sit there in his right mind and have a conversation with Jesus.  How do the people who witness this react?  They ask Jesus to leave.  The power of God is just too great to have in their midst.  They’d rather live among the demons.

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But sometime during our walk in the spirit, we become more like the Israelites.  But maybe we don’t fully understand what living by faith is all about.  We believe that we just have to give up smoking and drinking and start going to church more often, and our lives will be blessed.  We hold up our church attendance like the Ark in front of us and go into battle, like somehow our church attendance is a lucky rabbits foot.

Our God is not a god to be carried in front of us to win our earthly battles.  God is not a lucky rabbit’s foot.  If we expect nothing will ever go wrong when we hold out our crosses or rosaries or holy water in front of us, then we do not understand the battle or what God is doing with us.  God is less concerned about the challenge than He is with our response to that challenge.  Our battle has already been won for us by our Savior, Jesus Christ.

God doesn’t live in an Ark to be used for our personal gain.  God lives inside of us so that we may be used by Him.  We are the Ark of the New Covenant.  On our own, we have no power, but with the power of the Holy Spirit living inside us, the faith of a mustard seed will crumble mountains.

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To God be the glory.