Category: Exodus (Page 2 of 6)

Presence

Tabernacle

“I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” ~Genesis 17:7

We’re going to be together. We’re going to live together, just like in the garden in the very beginning. God says we’re going to occupy the same places together just like in Act One. The covenant is about God being visibly, physically present with his people.

When he delivers them from Egypt, God leads them from a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Scripture tells us neither pillar “left its place in front of the people.”

And then God brings his people to a mountain in the middle of the desert and he tells them the details of the covenant. God is right there, physically and visibly on the mountain. There’s smoke and fire, thunder and lightning. The people are trembling with fear.

“They offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the LORD. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, ‘We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.’

Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.’

Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.” ~Exodus 24:5-11

God uses the blood of the covenant, the blood of the sacrifice, to cleanse his people so they can sit down together and share a meal. They saw God and they ate and drank. The blood made them righteous. Because of the blood, God considered them holy, so they could be right there in his face-to-face presence. Eating together! With God! It’s remarkable! But that kind of proximity, that kind of physical relationship and presence, is what God and the humans had in the garden in Act One. And that’s what God is working to restore with his covenant.

God longs to physically live with his people. So, next, he tells them to build him a tent.

“Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. They will know that I am the LORD their God who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them.” ~Exodus 29:45-46

“I will put my dwelling place among you… I will walk among you and be your God and you will be my people.” ~Leviticus 26:11-12

This is the promise, this is the language through the rest of the Old Testament. I will live with you; you will be my people and I will be your God. At the tabernacle. At the temple. Five times in Ezekiel. Five times in Jeremiah. Three times in Zechariah. God gives us his covenant so we can live together with him in his presence.

Peace,

Allan

Revelation

EscapeValerie bought her first car yesterday: a 2008 Ford Escape with just 46,000 miles and one previous owner. Leather seats. Moon roof. Power everything. And clean. A far cry from the ’74 Monte Carlo I bought with roofing money when I was sixteen. This is a pretty sweet ride. Her mom and I matched the money she had saved and now Val’s cruising around campus and Canyon in her own set of wheels. Her “whip,” she calls it. I have no idea what that means.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

GloryGod gives us his covenant and he works through his covenant to reveal himself. He tells us who he is, he shows the world who he is, by his covenant actions with his people. In Exodus 34, God does not destroy his people after the golden calf incident, although he wants to. Moses talks him out of it. Instead, God reveals his glory to Moses. He tells Moses his full name, he discloses to his people exactly who he is:

“The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin.” ~Exodus 34:6-7

It’s such an important revelation of God that it’s quoted nine times in the Old Testament. This is who God is. These are his eternal characteristics, his eternal nature. And you find these character traits on display as God keeps his covenant Word to his people. It’s a very helpful exercise in reading and interpreting the Bible, I think, to look for these characteristics in every passage. Is revealing his compassion here? Is God demonstrating his patience here? Is this where God shows me that he’s forgiving? It’s important to God that we know him; we should look for it in his Scriptures.

There’s a well known Assyrian prayer that’s titled “A Prayer to Every God.” And in this pagan prayer, the worshiper is trying to appease a god from his anger over some offense the worshiper has committed. There are only two problems: One, he doesn’t know which god is angry and, two, he doesn’t know what he did wrong. So he makes a bunch of confessions to sins he doesn’t know if he’s committed or not. And each confession is addressed to “the god I do know or the god I do not know.” Maybe he’s eaten a forbidden fruit he knows nothing about. Maybe he accidentally wandered into a sacred space nobody told him about. The prayer is so frustrating and hopeless. You can hear the desperation at the end:

“Although I am constantly looking for help, no one takes me by the hand;
when I weep, they do not come to my side.
I utter laments, but no one hears me;
I am troubled; I am overwhelmed; I cannot see…
Man is dumb; he knows nothing;
mankind, everyone that exists — what does he know?
Whether he is committing sin or doing good, he does not ever know.”

This is how we would be without revelation. That’s why the covenant is so important, that’s why God’s law was such a treasure to Israel: because God had spoken to them. In an act of divine grace, God communicates to his people what pleases him and what angers him. We don’t have to guess.

Today, we look back at some of the Old Testament laws and we criticize the strictness and we question the seeming arbitrariness of some of it. But you don’t get that reaction from the Hebrews themselves. They seemed rather relieved that their God had agreed to define a relationship with them.

The covenant is about revelation.

When God’s planning and raining down the ten plagues on Egypt, he states over and over again it’s so “you will know that I am the Lord” and so “all of Egypt will know that I am the Lord.” When the Israelites were getting close to Jericho, Rahab told the two spies they were all afraid because they had heard about what God did to Egypt. She claimed their hearts had all melted at the news “for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” When the Israelites cross the Jordan River, the people are told that God divided the waters “so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God.”

When you have a covenant with God, you no longer have a remote, unapproachable God. You have a God you can know. A God you can count on. It’s important to God that we know who he is. And he reveals himself in clear terms though his covenant actions in Act Three.

Peace,

Allan

Sabbath Rest

“Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest, you must rest.” ~Exodus 34:21

SabbathRest

Rest. Relax. Be still. Slow down. Impossible? Yeah, almost. In the middle of a busy summer in the middle of a hectic life in the middle of a rushing world, the idea of a night off is almost unthinkable. We say it would be nice, but we rarely take the time to do it. There’s just too much going on. Always.

An important part of following Jesus is paying attention to your inner life. Quiet time with God, just being still and basking in his holy presence — when do you do that? Sitting down at the same table with your whole family for a relaxed meal with nowhere to go and nothing else to do — when was the last time that happened? A long conversation with a close friend? Reading through an entire Gospel in one sitting? Just you and your spouse in the car at Sonic for half-price shakes, no kids, no iPhones, talking about your future? Praying with someone you love for what you both really need, not just what you want? An art project with the grandkids? When will you do these things?

During our “In the Zone” Wednesday nights this summer, we’re focusing on the four areas where we believe God’s Spirit does his best transforming work. And tonight we zero in on the “Inner Life” and practice Sabbath rest. There won’t be any meal or any programs at our church building tonight. We’re setting aside everything — our gatherings, our goals, our activities — and asking our people to please use the time to reconnect with our God and with someone they love.

Don’t use the time to get caught up on work. Don’t kick your feet up and watch more TV. Don’t clean the house or your email inbox. Do something you hardly ever do that will connect you more closely to our Lord and to his people.

Peace,

Allan

Around the Table: Part 6

“This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many.” ~Mark 14:24

There was a definite Passover context in the city, in the room, and around the table when Jesus celebrated the feast with his disciples on the night he was betrayed. Jesus and his closest followers had gathered to remember God’s great acts of redemption, specifically the deliverance of his people from bondage in Egypt. They gathered to sing the Psalms of divine rescue that recount those mighty deeds. They gathered to celebrate that past with great joy and to eagerly anticipate a future fulfillment when all of God’s people would be brought together around the banquet table in the Promised Land.

But Jesus takes this centuries-old covenant meal and gives it new meaning.

First, he ties it to the original covenant meal as recorded in Exodus 24 by quoting Moses. As Moses cleanses the people with the sprinkled blood, he says, “This is the blood of the covenant.” As Jesus shares this Passover meal with his disciples, he quotes Moses, but adds an all-important word to the well-rehearsed line, “This is my blood of the covenant.” Instead of the blood of the lamb(s) removing the sins of the people, the blood of Jesus, the perfect Lamb, will now be poured out for the forgiveness of all sin for all time. Jesus redefines the ultimate meaning of the meal. He is the sacrifice, he is the One being given as atonement for the sins of God’s people. Same covenant; different terms.

Secondly, he tells the disciples to “do this in remembrance of me (Luke 22:19).” Do what? Why, eat this meal, of course. The word “this” should not be understood as exclusively referring to the bread and/or the cup. Those are only two elements of what we know was always a full-blown, full-course celebratory meal. When the children are instructed in Exodus 12 and 13 to ask about the Passover feast — “What does this mean?” — the answer is a liturgical way to tell the story, to pass the faith on to the next generation: “I do this because of what the Lord did for me.” If Jesus and his apostles are good Jews — and they were — and if they were following the prescribed liturgy — and we have no reason to doubt otherwise — Jesus would be explaining the significance of the whole meal, the whole setting, all the elements from the bread to the vegetables to the lamb and the wine and dessert. And all the songs and prayers that went with it. Jesus was telling his disciples and us to eat the meal — the whole meal — in memory of him. At Passover, we remembered God’s redemption work in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and his faithfulness through the wilderness to the Promised Land. At this new covenant meal, we remember now the Gospel events regarding our Savior: his birth, life, teachings, healings, death, and resurrection.

Third, Jesus institutes the new way of understanding religious meals by pointing forward to the ultimate fulfillment around the wedding feast in heaven. The original instructions in Exodus 12 regarding the Passover include the command to observe the feast “when you enter the new land.” Built into the meal is an anticipation that this isn’t going to be the last time we do this. There will come a time when we do this in much better circumstances. Same with our communion meals today. Jesus, on that last night, apparently went out of his way to let his disciples know he would celebrate this meal with them again at the coming of the Kingdom of God. Next thing you know, there they are on Resurrection evening, eating and drinking with their Lord. And, there they are in Acts, eating and drinking together, by the power of the Spirit, with the risen Savior. While sharing the meal today, we understand this isn’t going to be the last time. In fact, we eagerly anticipate eating the supper with Jesus in the new heavens and the new earth with all the saints of all time.

So, there is certainly a past, present, and future element present every time we eat and drink together in remembrance of Jesus. We remember the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. We rejoice in the forgiveness and reconciliation achieved for us at the cross. We renew our end of the covenant, pledging anew our loyalty to Christ. We experience his presence at the table where he acts as host and servant. We celebrate the fellowship we enjoy with our Lord and with one another. And we look forward to that great eternal wedding feast on that one glorious day.

Same covenant. The promises of God didn’t change. He didn’t alter at all what he always promised us from the very beginning. The terms of the deal are what changed. Jesus is the difference. He has fulfilled all righteousness for us. And we celebrate with great joy every time we eat and drink with one another in his holy name.

Peace,

Allan

Around the Table: Part 5

“Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.'” ~Exodus 12:24-27

The final dinner Jesus shared with his disciples on the night of his betrayal was a Passover meal. The synoptic gospels all make the explicit claim that this was the Passover. Jesus made preparations and gathered his disciples to “eat the Passover.” Since this last supper has become for the majority of Christians the be-all, end-all paradigm for our own beliefs and practices regarding the Lord’s Supper (for right or wrong), it makes sense to study carefully the Passover context of that last night. I’ve had church leaders on more than one occasion point to the gospel accounts of this last meal to justify their order that we not sing any songs during the Lord’s Supper. After all, the logic goes, the Bible says they sang a song after the meal, not during. Of course, if we’re to follow that logic to its conclusion, we’d be sharing the Lord’s Supper only on Thursdays. Upstairs.

So, yes, let’s look at the Passover context of what was happening around the table on that last night.

As we’ve already noticed in this series, the Jewish Passover meal — all covenant and/or community and/or sacrificial meals for that matter — is a communal celebratory event. As an expression of salvation, it was yet another community meal celebrated following a sacrifice. The Passover, in particular, was a joyous celebration of God’s deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt.

“Celebrate it as a festival to the Lord — a lasting ordinance!” ~Exodus 12:14

“Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.” ~Exodus 12:17

“I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples.” ~ Matthew 26:18

The Passover Supper also was a remembrance of that deliverance. By remembrance, we don’t mean a merely intellectual act or emotional recollection. This is a faithful action, a rehearsal, a participation in that deliverance. The Passover liturgies from the Hebrew Scriptures and the Jewish writings from the first century all contain actions and language that help the people around the table to identify with the historic salvation event as if they were present in Egypt and at the Red Sea.

“Celebrate the Passover of the Lord your God because in the month of Abib he brought you out of Egypt.” ~Deuteronomy 16:1

“…so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt.” ~Deuteronomy 16:3

“…because you left Egypt in haste.” ~Deuteronomy 16:3

“We cried out to the Lord… the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” ~ Deuteronomy 26:7-8

“Each should celebrate as one who has gone out of Egypt.” ~ Mishna

We also know that as Jesus and his disciples gathered on that last night, their supper together was marked by great joy, praise, and thanksgiving. This was not a dirge or a funeral meal; expressions of joy at this supper were the command of God.

“…with great rejoicing… singing… praise.” ~ 2 Chronicles 30:21-27

“…celebrated with joy… Lord had filled them with joy.” ~ Ezra 6:22

“…your times of rejoicing, your appointed feasts.” ~ Numbers 10:10

The Passover was also established as an anticipation event. Children of God ate the meal together looking forward to that day when they would be eating it in a much better place, in wonderfully better circumstances. They eat and drink with an eye to the future, focused on an upcoming meal that will surpass the one they share today.

“When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony.” ~ Exodus 12:25

If we’re really out to imitate every detail of that Last Supper at our communion times together on Sunday mornings — again, for right or wrong — then why don’t we? As good law-keeping Jews, Jesus and his disciples would have been in a festive spirit that night and engaged all the elements of the evening with great joy. The meal was marked by group identity and interaction. It was a present participation in the past events of God’s salvation. They were singing the psalms, specifically Psalms 113-118, before, during, and after the supper.

I would recommend singing songs of salvation, songs of praise for God’s mighty acts, before, during, and after our communion meals together. I would suggest swapping salvation stories around the table. I once was ______, but now I’m ________. Ask each other the questions: from what have we been delivered? From what to what have we passed? Who took our place that day? Do it together in the aisles or along the walls in your worship center. Huddle up around your pews. Allow the children to ask the questions: Why do we do this? And then share the story: because the Lord our God delivered us by the Passover Lamb. And then hug each other and sing another song.

Peace,

Allan

Around the Table: Part 2

We’re seeing right now with the Rangers the exact same thing we saw at this point last season. They’ve smashed into the wall. They can’t hit, they can’t field, they can’t pitch. They’re flat. They’re done. And Oakland’s on a tear. The same thing happened last year at this exact same time. And we’re running out of options for turning things around. You can’t hold a players-only meeting every week. You can only call a special team meeting with the manager a couple of times a year. Now what? I wore my 1996 AL West Championship T-shirt to bed last night, trying to channel some of that magic from the first ever playoff year for the Rangers. We could use some of that Johnny Oates mojo, some of that Pudge Rodriguez intensity, some of that Will Clark leadership. We need something. This is the do-or-die weekend for Texas. If they don’t take at least two out of three from the A’s, beginning tomorrow, we’ll play Taps for the team here on Monday. Yuk.

~~~~~~~~~~

“They ate and drank with great joy in the presence of the Lord.” ~1 Chronicles 29:22

If put on the spot, most of us would not be able to quote anything out of Leviticus. Most of us have never participated in or even seen an animal sacrifice. And a decreasingly fewer number of us have ever slaughtered an animal to eat. Anything having to do with the sacrifices prescribed by God and practiced by his people in the Hebrew Scriptures is mostly ignored by us. That was Old Testament, we like to say. That was the Law of Moses. Those are complicated rules and regulations, outdated and ineffective means of obtaining forgiveness from which New Testament Christians have been freed. We don’t know much about these sacrifices because we don’t study them. Those sacrifices are not important for us today. They’re certainly not binding.

Not so fast.

When Paul is writing to the Corinthians about what is actually happening around the Lord’s Supper, he asks them to first understand what’s happening at the Israelites’ sacrifices.

Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar?” ~1 Corinthians 10:18

Eat the sacrifices??? Most Christians today don’t realize that God’s people always ate the sacrifices. They made a community meal out of the meat. And Paul says this is significant for understanding the function of the Lord’s Supper. Paul doesn’t just talk about the Passover sacrifice and meal as informative, he mentions the entire sacrificial system. Paul reflects on the meaning of eating the sacrifice to help Christians better comprehend what’s happening at Christ’s table.

The fellowship offering was ordered to go alongside all sin offerings and burnt offerings. You can’t find a place in Scripture where God’s people didn’t offer the fellowship sacrifice in the course of observing the others. The word translated “fellowship,” or “peace” in some English versions, is actually shelem, from the shalom root that means “peace.” Shalom means peace, while shelem communicates a relationship of peace, a communion or fellowship between two parties. And fellowship sacrifices were always eaten together by the people.

You find God’s people offering fellowship sacrifices at the ratification of the Mosaic covenant, at the inauguration of the priesthood, and as a part of every major festival, including Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. Fellowship offerings and meals were required at the end of a Nazarite vow. Fellowship offerings were the climactic moments at the inaugurations of Israel’s kings, at covenant renewal ceremonies at Shechem and Jerusalem, at the dedication of the temple, and as part of the regular corporate worship of God. You have to read most of Leviticus and Deuteronomy to get it, but sacrifice and fellowship and communion meals were a normal part of life with God and with one another in this community of faith.

The way it worked was that the fat of the animals was left on the fire to burn, while the people ate the meat together as a community. It happened at the same time. God was consuming the fat on the fire, the people were consuming the meat on their plates. God and his people were sharing a meal together, eating at the same time, around the same table. Fellowship, shelem, with God and with one another. These fellowship meals always followed the sacrifice. And they were consistently characterized by two things: the presence of God and great joy.

Exodus 18:12 – Moses, Jethro, and Aaron eat the sacrifice “in the presence of God” to celebrate their salvation from Egypt.

Exodus 24:8-11 – “they saw God, and they ate and drank.”

Deuteronomy 12:4-7 – “Eat and rejoice in the presence of the Lord your God.”

Deuteronomy 12:17-18 – “Eat them before the presence of the Lord… rejoice before the Lord.”

Deuteronomy 14:23 – eat the grain and livestock offerings “in the presence of the Lord.”

Deuteronomy 14:26 – “Eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice.”

Deuteronomy 15:20 – regarding the first born animals of the flocks: “eat them in the presence of the Lord.”

1 Chronicles 29:21-22 – the people ate and drank with great joy in the presence of the Lord

Deuteronomy 27:7 – at the covenant renewal in Shechem; the people ate the fellowship offerings “rejoicing in the presence of the Lord.”

2 Chronicles 7:10 – at the building of the temple; people eating the fellowship offerings were “joyful and glad in heart.”

Ezra 6:13-22 – at the re-building of the temple; the people “celebrated with joy” because the Lord had “filled them with joy.”

Nehemiah 8:1-18 – at the re-building of the city walls; “do not mourn or weep… enjoy choice food and sweet drinks… the joy of the Lord… celebrate with great joy.”

Numbers 10:10 – “at your times of rejoicing, your appointed feasts.”

I could fill up your screen with many more references. The point is that the covenant meals were always, without exception, eaten by and with the entire community, always in the presence of God, and always with great joy. The fellowship meal is a joy-filled celebration of the righteous relationship — the peace, the communion — with God that resulted from the sacrifice at the altar. You can’t find a community meal anywhere in the Old Testament in which joy was not the mood and celebration not the command. In fact, in the one place in which Israel was weeping during the meal, God rebuked them and corrected them, commanding them to “celebrate with great joy.”

Fellowship meals in the Old Testament were never intended to be moments of solemn silence or private introspection. Communion meals were not in any way individualistic. They were interactive, participatory meals in which the entire community actively engaged with one another and with God. The meals were joyful and grateful celebrations of the blessings of God. This is the understanding and the practice of Jesus himself, his disciples, and all the New Testament writers. Not just them, but their grandfathers and great-great-great-great grandfathers before them.

Paul says if you understand this, you can better understand the Lord’s Supper. As an expression of peace and communion between God and his people. As a communal act shared among the people of God. As a salvation celebration characterized by great joy and thanksgiving. Do our Lord’s Supper practices and experiences today reflect this understanding?

Someone in our class last night asked, “Why don’t we do the Lord’s Supper this way? Why do we look at the floor and get so quiet during the Lord’s Supper?”

Good question.

Shalom,

Allan

« Older posts Newer posts »