The Golden Calf Reveals the Goal of the Exodus

golden calf

While the Passover and the Red Sea crossing are the main events of Exodus, the goal of the exodus is even more profound. The tabernacle shows us that God’s goal in the exodus to dwell with his people.

This week I have more evidence.

Not the First Sin

The golden calf incident is found in Exodus 32. But this was not the first Israelite sin Moses recorded.

  • Before crossing the Red Sea, God’s people questioned his faithfulness (Ex 14:10–14). The Egyptians were closing in, and the Israelites were afraid. They thought death was near and wished Moses hadn’t bothered with their plight at all. Moses told the people not to fear, to stand firm, and to wait for the Lord to fight for them.
  • Shortly after Moses’s song of praise, the people complained about a lack of drinkable water (Ex 15:22–24). Moses cried to God, and the Lord provided a log to throw into the water which turned the water sweet.
  • The Israelites grumbled with hunger (Ex 16:1–8). They wished to die as slaves in Egypt with full bellies than as free men in the desert without food. In response, God provided quail and manna.
  • After explicit instructions regarding the collection of the manna, some went out to gather on the seventh day (Ex 16:27–30). The Lord emphasized the purpose of the Sabbath (v.29), but, instead of punishing the law breakers, he provided rest for the people (v.30).
  • The people complained again about lacking water (Ex 17:1–7). Moses knew the people were testing the Lord. He feared they would stone him, and he cried out to God. The Lord provided water for the people from the rock.

God’s Response to Sin

Taking all of these accounts of sin together, we don’t see any strong response from God. Both Moses and God call out sin when it happens, but there are no deaths, sicknesses, or visible consequences from these sins.

The golden calf is a different matter. In reaction to this sin (Ex 32:1–6), God planned to wipe out the people and start over with Moses (Ex 32:7–10). Moses broke the tablets of the law (Ex 32:19), destroyed the idol and made the people consume it (Ex 32:20), and commanded the Levites to kill about a thousand of the Israelites (Ex 32:28). God also sent a plague on the people (Ex 32:35) and planned not to go with them into the promised land (Ex 33:3).

This sin deserves and receives a swift and stiff response from God. How does this tell us about God’s purpose in the exodus?

Other Accounts

The narrative in Exodus 32 is not the only biblical commentary on the golden calf.

  • Psalm 106:19–23 — The psalmist writes that the people exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox. They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things, wondrous works, and awesome deeds for them.
  • Nehemiah 9:16–22 — The people committed “great blasphemies” by looking to a golden calf as God. Nehemiah emphasizes God’s mercy in staying with the people, providing them with the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night (his presence!).
  • Deuteronomy 9:6–21 — We are reminded that the mountain was burning with fire (v.15) and we are told that God was ready to destroy Aaron for his role in the incident. Moses had to plead with God specifically for Aaron’s life (v.20).

As God was instructing Moses how to build the tabernacle, the place where God would dwell with his people, at that very same time the people abandoned Moses and forgot about God. They attributed the saving work of YHWH to a metal cow.

God reacted so fiercely to this sin because his people were acting like they didn’t know him at all. The golden calf—this is who brought you out of the land of Egypt? This is who brought the plagues on Pharoah? Who made a dry path through the Red Sea? Who closed up the waters and drowned the pursuing enemies? Who provided victory over the Amalekites? Who provided quail and manna? Who provided water from the rock? Who thundered from the mountain and caused it to smoke?

God’s reaction was proportional. He brought them out of Egypt so that he might dwell with them. They rejected him—forgetting him and trading in his glory. So God was prepared to reject them too.

Application

God’s people deserved his wrath. They forgot him, and he could have forgotten them. But that’s not how YHWH works.

As a result of Moses’s intercession, God stayed his hand. He didn’t start over with Moses. He didn’t turn his back.

On this side of the cross, we understand God’s faithfulness and presence more deeply. Because God poured out wrath on Jesus, we are spared. Because Jesus was forsaken by all—even his Father—we are not abandoned. For the children of God, this promise is sure: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb 13:5).

The implications are profound. God goes with us—he remains with us—even when we sin. A morning of sin does not mean an afternoon without God. He loves, he persists, he remains faithful despite our unfaithfulness.

We all need this truth, especially when facing persistent sins. So, Christian, digest this good news. And encourage a brother or sister in Christ with the reminder of God’s faithful presence. It is not some happy side effect of his saving love; his abiding presence is the very goal of his salvation.


Photo Credit: Gary Stevens (2008), Creative Commons

 

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The Tabernacle Reveals the Goal of the Exodus

sea

What’s the main point of Exodus?

Before we dive in, consider this outline. It’s taken from this commentary by Peter Enns.

  1. Departure from Egypt (chs 1–15)
    1. Prelude (chs 1–6)
    2. Plagues (chs 7–12)
    3. Departure (chs 13–15)
  2. Mt. Sinai: Law (chs 16–24)
    1. Journey to Sinai (chs 16–18)
    2. Ten Commandments (chs 19–20)
    3. The Book of the Covenant (chs 21–24)
  3. Mt. Sinai: Tabernacle (chs 25–40)
    1. Instructions for the Tabernacle (chs 25–31)
    2. Rebellion and Forgiveness (chs 32–34)
    3. Building the Tabernacle (chs 35–40)

The Reason for God’s Deliverance

We need to make one distinction before discussing the main point of this book. The Passover and the Red Sea deliverance were the central events of the book. Many passages in the Bible reference these episodes.

But why did God deliver his people?

Part of the answer is that God is compassionate! God saw his people suffering, heard their cry, and saved them with his strong arm (Ex 2:23–25; Ex 6:6). But God himself gives another reason.

God delivered his people because he wanted to be with them. Let’s take a look at the evidence.

  • God tells the Israelites, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” (Ex 6:7). The larger context (Ex 6:1–7) connects God’s saving work in Egypt to his covenant with Abraham. The exodus is a result of God’s covenant love for his people.
  • When Moses sings after coming through the Red Sea, he praises God for guiding the people “by your strength to your holy abode” (Ex 15:13). He also says God will “bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established” (Ex 15:17). Moses knows God has a dwelling with Israel in mind.
  • From Mount Sinai, God tells the people: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:4–6). God didn’t just bring the people out of Egypt, he brought them to himself to be his treasured possession out of all the earth.
  • Finally, consider the tabernacle. When God first gives Moses instructions about taking contributions for and building the tabernacle, he states the purpose of this massive undertaking: “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst” (Ex 25:8). At great expense of materials, labor, and time, God wants a place where he can dwell with his people.

Here’s my attempt at the main point of Exodus: God delivered his people, at great cost, that he might dwell with them.

Here’s another way to say this: the tabernacle shows us the goal of God’s saving work. This explains why so much of the book of Exodus (16 chapters!) is about the tabernacle. While the destination is the promised land, the goal is fellowship with God.

So Much Repetition

Before studying Exodus over the past year with my church, I hadn’t realized how central the tabernacle is to the book. Think about it—all the way back at the burning bush (Ex 3:21–22), God promised that the Egyptians would give their gold to Israel. And this same gold was used to build the tabernacle!

It’s significant enough to notice that, from the outline above, more chapters in Exodus are devoted to the tabernacle than anything else. But the repetition involved trumpets this emphasis through a megaphone.

The instructions for the tabernacle given in chapters 25–31 are repeated almost verbatim in chapters 35–40. A side-by-side comparison reveals very few differences. It would have been so easy for Moses to write, “And the people built the tabernacle according to all of the instructions that the Lord commanded.” Why do we have so much repetition?

Moses wanted to emphasize the people’s obedience. Especially in light of the golden calf incident (more on that next week), it was important to say that the Israelites made the tabernacle exactly the way God commanded it, in every last detail.

But, as happens so frequently in the Bible, this repetition points to importance. Moses is taking us through all the embroidery and curtains and utensils and furniture again so we’ll see just how important the tabernacle is. This is the place where God will dwell! Even before the people have a place of their own, they have a God of their own who loves them and will be with them.

God’s Everlasting Presence

Perhaps the implications for us are easy to see. If God delivered his people, at great cost, that he might dwell with them in the exodus, how much more has he done this for us!

The cost of our redemption was the life and agony of the very Son of God, Jesus. Our destination is heaven—the new heavens and the new earth where we will dwell with God (Rev 21:3) forever. The goal of our redemption is restored fellowship with God. Christ died “that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18).

But this fellowship with God begins at regeneration, not glorification! We enjoy God’s presence right now, as God the Holy Spirit dwells with us. If your mind reels at the thought of so great a truth, join the club. It’s staggering.


Disclosure: the link to Amazon.com in this blog post is an affiliate link, meaning that I get a small percentage of any purchase you make on Amazon if you make that purchase after clicking through this link.

Photo Credit: Tim Marshall (2017), public domain

The Glory of Repetitive Tasks

laundry

“Do you think we’ll wash dishes in heaven?”

My feet ached from standing, and I winced as I dipped my already-dry hands into the dishwater. The plastic containers had gathered by the sink, and as I worked my way through the pile, I looked for hope as I asked my wife this question.

“Probably, but I don’t think we’ll mind it,” she said.

Accurate, gentle, and with just a hint of rebuke. You can tell I married up, as they say.

The Weight of Repetition

We all feel the weight of repetition. We need to wash our clothes, cook our food, cut the grass, and brush our teeth. We finish a job…and put it right at the top of our list again! (With feedings and changings, mothers of young children feel this weight acutely.)

Some repetition happens because of the curse, and some is made more difficult by the curse. But there’s no denying that our sin affects the way we respond to and carry out our duties.

If we chafe at repetition, think of the Levites and priests in the Old Testament. Think of the sacrifices they carried out on an annual, monthly, or daily basis. Some of these offerings were matters of bread and oil, but many more involved the blood, fat, skin, and organs of animals.

These sacrifices were messy, smelly, expensive, labor intensive, and numerous. I imagine that as soon as one sacrifice was complete, the Levites were anticipating the next. This cycle, needed only because of sin, spun round and round and round. How would it be resolved? Would it be resolved?

The End of Repetition

The sacrificial system pointed to a need for something permanent, one sacrifice to end the cycle. One decisive offering to bring about a cosmic change.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)

Through his Son, God accomplished what the law could not. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ was once-for-all. The author of Hebrews meditates on this glorious fact:

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:1–4)

The sacrifices would have ceased if the law could make God’s people perfect. Instead, the sacrifices reminded the people of sin.

But look at what Christ has accomplished:

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11–14)

Jesus is the only priest who could sit down, because his was the only sacrifice that needed no sequel. His offering perfected God’s people, who now are being sanctified.

Imagine an Old Testament Levite longing for a one-time sacrifice! Think of the relief, the lifted burden! As a comparison, suppose you had only one load of laundry to do, or that the next time mowing the grass would be your last. Imagine changing only one diaper!

The Repetition that Remains

While the sacrifice for sins is complete, Jesus’ work for us continues.

Instead of an ongoing offering for sin, Jesus intercedes (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25) and advocates (1 John 2:1) for us before his Father. This perpetual work of our High Priest is exactly what we need!

Because we are weak and needy, we need Jesus’ prayers. We don’t know how to pray as we should, so we need the Holy Spirit to intercede with “groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

Because we continue to sin, we need Jesus’ advocacy. He is our righteous defense attorney, pleading his blood as the reason for peace with the Father.

Repetition for God’s People

Our spiritual disciplines and good works are shaped by Jesus’ work. While the repetition in the Old Testament flowed toward Jesus’ sacrifice, our repetition flows from it.

We now have the joyful calling and freedom to worship weekly, celebrate communion, confess our sins, pray, hear and read God’s Word, and do good to our neighbors. These tasks are repeated because we are not yet home. We are frail and need strength; we are ignorant and need instruction; we are scared and need encouragement. We—and so many around us—need the Spirit to work within us.

See Glory in Repetition

God has created this world and written his Word so that much of what we see and experience remind us of eternal truths.

  • The rainbow is a sign of God’s promise to Noah.
  • Trumpets and clouds remind us of Jesus’ second coming.
  • A bird with a worm in its mouth points to God’s provision for his children.

Let’s see repetitive tasks in the same way.

  • When you cringe at the thought of another load of laundry, think of Christ’s singular work to wash you clean.
  • When it’s time to clean the gutters or shop for food yet again, remember his one-time, effectual sacrifice.
  • When you need to change the light bulb, re-paint the walls, or replace the tires, consider the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work of sanctification within you.

Let your thoughts bounce from your frustrations to these magnificent, eternal truths. Embrace the contrast between your ongoing work and the completed work of Jesus. Build your longing for heaven, where the curse will be no more and all repetition, even washing dishes, will be free from the stain of sin.

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.


Photo Credit: Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke (2013), public domain

Pray According to God’s Character

mountain

Prayer is often born of need. We hunger, we are lost, we are confused, and we cry out to God. He has the power and authority we lack.

As we grow in Christ, we get to know God better. And as we read the Bible, we see mature saints praying in mature ways.

Moses Pleads With God

As the nation of Israel was making and worshipping a golden calf, Moses was on Mount Sinai. God was furious, and he let Moses in on his thinking.

And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” (Exodus 32:9–10)

Israel’s idolatry was so offensive that God was ready to start over. Ponder that for a moment; it is staggering.

But Moses wasn’t ready for God to destroy his people. In Exodus 32:11–13 Moses pleads with God to relent. This is a powerful prayer, and it’s instructive to examine Moses’s logic.

As Moses prays, he draws on God’s words, actions, and revealed character. Moses knows God and speaks with him as a friend (Ex 33:11).

Petition 1

O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? (Exodus 32:11)

Moses reminds God he has rescued his people from Egypt. The key argument, however, is just beneath the surface. What’s the reason God has brought them out of Egypt? Yes, he saw their suffering and felt compassion—he wanted to deliver them from a bad situation. But there’s more.

God redeemed his people because he wanted to be with them! By his rescue God was taking Israel to be his people and pledging himself to be their God (Ex 6:7). Moses sang about God’s loving redemption bringing the people to his house (Ex 15:13,17). God himself said how he bore Israel “on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Ex 19:4). Most notably, we see God’s purpose for the tabernacle.

And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. (Exodus 25:8)

God can’t dwell with his people if he exterminates them.

Petition 2

Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. (Exodus 32:12)

Now Moses is concerned with God’s reputation. He doesn’t want the Egyptians to have any ammunition for accusing God of “evil intent.”

Don’t brush this aside, because God is quite concerned with his reputation! He wanted the exodus to confirm his identity (YHWH) to the Egyptians (Ex 7:5; 14:4). His actions will bring him glory and proclaim his name in all the earth (Ex 9:16). God is particularly concerned that Pharoah and his army recognize his glory (Ex 14:17–18).

For any lesser being, a devotion to one’s own glory would be idolatry. But for God, there is no one greater! To avoid idolatry, God must promote his own name above all others. Moses knows this, so he appeals to God’s holy desire to glorify himself. His glory is at stake if he kills the Israelites.

Petition 3

Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’ (Exodus 32:13)

Moses knows that God is a promise keeper. And Moses knows that this promise to the patriarchs must be fulfilled.

We’ve read this promise earlier in Exodus (Ex 2:24). Moses tells us that God “remembered his covenant” with the fathers, and this moved him to act when Israel cried out from their slavery.

God has also told Moses to remind Israel of this promise. Moses tells the people that God will take them out of Egypt to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex 6:8).

To Moses, the idea of God starting over is outlandish. Despite the horrific sin the people have committed, God has promised. And because God cannot break his promise, he must relent.

God Responds

And he does relent. We read this immediately after Moses’s prayer.

And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people. (Exodus 32:14)

Moses served as the mediator, crying out to God for mercy on his people. Moses appealed to God’s character and his promises, and God responded. What a loving God!

In Moses, we have both a picture of Jesus and a model for ourselves. God’s righteous wrath “burned hot” against Jesus instead of us. We should have been wiped out, but Jesus stepped in.

Jesus is still our mediator (Heb 7:25, Rom 8:34). Based on God’s character, his promises, and what Jesus has accomplished, Jesus prays for God’s ongoing favor toward his people.

We pray as well. As we pray for ourselves, our friends, our enemies, and those on the other side of the planet, Moses’s prayer provides instruction.

Let’s get to know God better through his word. Let’s rejoice in his purposes and his character. And let’s pray to him based on who we know him to be.


Photo Credit: Ron Manke (2015), public domain

Christian Discipleship for the Rest of Us

What’s the most important ingredient needed for Christian discipleship?

Is it discipline? Time? How about effort or accountability?

Nope. Try again.

Grace and More Grace

In his latest book, The Imperfect Disciple, Jared Wilson writes that what we need most is God’s grace. We need grace because discipleship isn’t a destination—it’s a messy, faltering process.

I want to, by God’s grace, give you the freedom to own up to your not having your act together. I wrote this book for all who are tired of being tired. I wrote this book for all who read the typical discipleship manuals and wonder who they could possibly be written for, the ones that make us feel overly burdened and overly tasked and, because of all that, overly shamed. (The Imperfect Disciple, p.230)

Wilson was frustrated by the shiny, ever-victorious way discipleship was portrayed, and wanted to write for those who only took discouragement from these descriptions.

I tend to think that a lot of the ways the evangelical church teaches discipleship seem designed for people who don’t appear to really need it. (The Imperfect Disciple, p.13)

You see, grace is for everyone. It’s certainly for those who don’t yet know Jesus, who need to run to him for forgiveness, love, and righteousness.

But grace is for Christians, too. Put more strongly, grace is not just available for believers, it’s essential. How could we begin following Jesus by grace and continue on without it?

Romans 7 and 8

One of the highlights of the book is Wilson’s chapter on Romans 7 and 8.

He writes about waking up every day in Romans 7. You might know the passage. Paul is in agony as he realizes the power of his indwelling sin. “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19) Those who follow Christ and know the standard of God’s word often find themselves in the same place.

Wilson reminds us that Romans doesn’t end with chapter 7! Chapter 8 is there to refresh and delight us when we get bogged down in sin.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1–2)

This is a helpful example of preaching the gospel to yourself. From the bog of Romans 7, reach for the life boat of Romans 8. Real, honest discipleship acknowledges this must be an ongoing pattern in your life.

This is how I like to think about discipleship, then—not just following Jesus, but refollowing Jesus every day. We go off track so easily. (The Imperfect Disciple, p.28)

Other Highlights

This is a valuable book, with several strong chapters. Let me highlight just a few.

In chapter 4, Wilson writes about Bible reading primarily as listening. He also describes this practice as feeling Scripture.

Chapter 6 is on the church. This is a very helpful note on the community of God’s people extending grace to one another. It also has a top-notch title: “The Revolution Will Not Be Instagrammed.”

I also loved chapter 8 on The Real You. Wilson reminded me of this beautiful, amazing truth: God loves the sinful me. Not just the me I aspire to, the real me.

But here’s the good news. That real you, the you inside that you hide, the you that you try to protect, the you that you hope nobody sees or knows—that’s the you that God loves. (The Imperfect Disciple, p.188)

It’s good news, isn’t it?!

Wilson writes as a fellow pilgrim in need of God’s grace. He knows what it’s like to fall down and be picked up—again and again. I recommend this book without any reservation. It’s terrific.

You don’t need a hyper-tanned guru, bouncing around on stage to get you fired up for Jesus. You need someone to remind you what following Jesus is really like. You don’t need the varnished, photoshopped version of discipleship that doesn’t work for anybody. You need grace.

And God gives you this grace in abundance.

Thanks to Baker Books for providing me with a review copy of this book.


Disclosure: the links to Amazon.com in this blog post are affiliate links, meaning that I get a small percentage of any purchase you make on Amazon if you make that purchase after clicking through this link.

The Gallery (Second Quarter, 2017)

art gallery

 

In an effort to slow down, think, and let the best of the internet sharpen and edify me, I’m starting an infrequent (but regular!) blog series. I’m calling it The Gallery because that’s the image that best fits my idea.

I’m trying to find a happy middle between a daily roundup and The Best of The Year. I want to call attention to some of the best articles, videos (not this time), and podcasts I’ve noticed that might still have relevance. For now, I’ve settled on posting this roundup once a quarter.

These are the best things I’ve run across over the last three months. They deserve multiple readings or listens. Their quality demands thoughtful consideration (or reconsideration).

This isn’t the best of the internet, because I have no desire to cast my net as wide as possible. This is the best of what I encountered, taking all my preferences and oddities into account. Enjoy.

Articles

  1. The Gift of Lack: Infertility, Miscarriage, Singleness, and the Long Wait, by Lore Ferguson Wilbert (personal blog — I enjoy Lore’s writing, even when I’m not the target audience. She writes here about longing and God’s work within that void we so long to be filled. “He’s doing something with this void. He’s showing himself to be better than a spouse, better than children, better than security, and better than what our culture perceives as normal. He is the gift within the gift of lack.”
  2. U2’s ‘The Joshua Tree’ Turns 30, by Mike Cosper (The Gospel Coalition) — A great piece here in which Mike provides context to one of U2’s best and most enduring albums.

Podcasts

  1. Pass the Mic (Reformed African American Network) — I linked to this podcast last time around, but I can’t help but repeat myself. Two top-notch episodes from this quarter: Racism and Christian Education, and The N-Word’s Radioactiveness.
  2. The Calling (Christianity Today) — I learned a lot from the episode with Barnabas Piper. Among other topics, Piper and host Richard Clark talked about divorce within the church, and I heard a perspective I hadn’t taken care to listen to before. Helpful.
  3. The Longform Podcast — This is an interview-style podcast which features writers, film makers, and other journalists. The episode with Brian Reed, host of the S-Town podcast, was fascinating.
  4. This American Life — It feels a bit cliche to mention this podcast, since it’s on every top podcast list ever. But that’s for a good reason: it’s great. Take a listen to the episode from May entitled Fermi’s Paradox. It’s ultimately about being alone—in the universe, in a marriage, and as a pre-teen girl. There is much for parents (and fathers specifically) to learn in Act 3 of this episode.

Album

  • Crooked (Propaganda) — Propaganda is a poet, spoken word artist, and rapper. He is incredibly skilled and he speaks prophetically to the church and culture of 2017. His latest album (Crooked) just dropped at the end of June, and I’m still absorbing it. It is wise, catchy, and uncomfortable (in a good way). You’ll need to listen multiple times. Propaganda is with a great ministry called Humble Beast, and they give their music away! So, follow this link, download, and listen away. (And then support Propaganda by buying the album!)

Photo Credit: Ryan McGuire (2014), public domain

15 Marks of a Disciple of Jesus

sheep1

Christianity is not a club.

Jesus does not want cheerleaders or groupies. Following Christ is not about T-shirts, slogans, or hashtags. Jesus calls us to be children of his Father. He calls us to be his disciples.

Because Jesus has a unique role in God’s plan of salvation, he is more than an example. The best mirror we find in the Gospel accounts is not Jesus but his disciples.

15 Marks of a Disciple of Jesus

Here are fifteen things we learn about being a disciple of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke.

  1. A disciple is called (Luke 5:1–11). Jesus didn’t need a recruiter. He called and his disciples “left everything and followed him.” Likewise, God calls us as disciples, not because we are worthy but because of his grace (2 Timothy 1:9).
  2. A disciple is taught (Luke 6:20–49). Jesus spent a lot of time teaching his disciples about reality. Who did the Messiah come for? Who is worthy of salvation? What is the kingdom of God? We are just as ignorant and resistant to the truth; we need instruction.
  3. A disciple is a follower (Luke 7:11). Inherent in the definition of a disciple is one who does not choose his own direction, causes, or values. Disciples follow Jesus.
  4. A disciple is aware of the kingdom of God (Luke 8:9–10). Jesus reveals truth to his disciples that is obscured to others. Because God’s kingdom is not worldly or political, we must be taught the values and requirements of the king.
  5. A disciple is a servant (Luke 9:14–17). Jesus’ disciples got their hands dirty, distributing multiplied food to the hungry people. Sometimes walking with Jesus means picking up bread crusts and fish bones.
  6. A disciple is sent to proclaim the kingdom of God (Luke 9:1–6; 10:1–12). Jesus sent out his twelve apostles and then seventy-two others as laborers in a plentiful harvest (Luke 10:2). As those sent with a message to proclaim, his disciples were in danger as lambs among wolves (Luke 10:3) because they were announcing a different king. The heavenly kingdom they announced valued peace (Luke 10:5) and healing (Luke 10:9), not riches and power. Challenging existing authority structures is often unpopular.
  7. A disciple confesses Jesus as Christ (Luke 9:18–20). Peter famously confessed Jesus as “the Christ of God.” This is the most important question we face as well: Who do you say Jesus is? We must answer this daily, reorienting our priorities, our passions, and our purpose around the Messiah.
  8. A disciple is a witness (Luke 10:23–24). The apostles walked with Jesus. Many longed to see what they saw. This is part of God’s “gracious will” (Luke 10:21). We also witness the love and power of Jesus through his Word and his work in the world. The arena is much bigger now, but his disciples still sit court-side.
  9. A disciple denies himself and takes up his cross (Luke 9:23–27). A disciple’s life was not glamorous or lucrative. It was full of hardship and danger. Make no mistake—if your highest values are comfort, peace, and safety, you will lose your life. But if you lose your life for Jesus’ sake, you will save it.
  10. A disciple is committed (Luke 9:57–62). Jesus teaches that following him is not easy; it requires everything. “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
  11. A disciple is a cross-bearer and a cost-counter (Luke 14:26–33). Following Jesus is serious and costly. It may cost family and friends; it may cost time and comfort; it may even cost your life. Jesus says, “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
  12. A disciple is rebuked by Jesus (Luke 18:15–17). When we submit to Jesus as Lord, we acknowledge his perfection, his wisdom, and his authority to correct us—and we need a lot of correction! The disciples were rebuked by Jesus, and if we do not know the same, we’re probably not encountering the Lord. This ongoing process happens as we read his Word and interact with his people. God’s rebuke is evidence of his love for his children.
  13. A disciple praises God (Luke 19:33–40). When disciples see Jesus clearly, the “King who comes in the name of the Lord,” they rejoice and praise the Father who sent his Son. Following Jesus is not primarily about doing, but about worshipping.
  14. A disciple spends time with his Master (Luke 22:11; 22:39; 22:45). In the hours before his arrest, Jesus yearned for time with his disciples. They ate with him, talked with him, and sang with him. As God changes our hearts and gives us new desires, chief among them will be love for him. We seek out and spend time with those we love.
  15. A disciple is redeemed, comforted, and dispatched to the world (Luke 24:36–53). Jesus seeks out his disciples after his resurrection though they were absent at his crucifixion and burial. He speaks peace and comfort to them. He died for their sins and rose from the grave so they also could have new life. As he sent his disciples into the world with the promise of the Spirit (v.49), so he also sends us.

Disciple, Will You Take Up Your Cross?

There is no place for pride among those who follow Jesus (Luke 22:24–27). We are called, taught, directed, equipped, and corrected by our Master. We cannot meet our greatest need—reconciliation with God—and we often bristle at this reality.

But Jesus is a loving Savior. When we confess our pride, he graciously restores us. Our sin-debt has already been paid, so he doesn’t hold it against us. He is also the Risen King, who replaces our pride with humility, through the work of His spirit within us.

Jesus continues to call us today. Will you take up your cross as a disciple and follow the One who was taken up on the cross for you?

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.


Photo Credit: Kathy Büscher (2013), public domain

The Sabbath Proclaims the Gospel

sheep

When most people think of Sabbath-keeping, their minds run to rules. They picture a list of activities to avoid.

This hardly does the Sabbath justice. The Sabbath was a key ingredient in God’s covenant, and keeping the Sabbath proclaimed wonderful news about God’s grace to his people.

The Sabbath as a Sign

God’s Sabbath command is rooted in creation and made plain on Mount Sinai, but the first extended discussion of the Sabbath is in Exodus 31.

After God gives his blueprints for the tabernacle, he tells Moses what to command Israel about the Sabbath (Ex 31:12–17). God doesn’t owe his people a reason for his laws, but that’s what we find here.

We learn that the Sabbath is a sign. Exodus 31 says the Sabbath is a sign in two ways, both of which are profound statements about the Lord.

First, the Sabbath points to God’s sanctifying work.

You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, `Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. (Ex. 31:13)

When the people keep the Sabbath, they are to remember God’s work to sanctify them. God alone is the one who sets apart, who makes holy, who calls the people his own.

The Sabbath also points to God’s work and rest during that first creation week.

It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed. (Ex. 31:17)

We’ve read before that God rested on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2) and this reasoning also appears in the ten commandments (Ex. 20:11). But here we are also told that God was refreshed.

In what way was God refreshed on the seventh day? Was he tired? Was he feeling spent and overworked?

Of course not. God’s refreshment came from completion. He finished his work, rested, and was refreshed. (See Gen. 2:2.) There’s a special refreshment that comes after completing a project.

The Sabbath is Holy

The discussion in Exodus 31 makes one thing clear: the Sabbath speaks about God. The command is deadly serious because it involves the way the people understand and remember what God has done.

In particular, Israel must keep the Sabbath because it is holy. They do not make it holy by their observance; rather, they observe because the day is holy. God has make the day holy.

The Sabbath is a sign pointing to God’s work, not what the people need to do. In the same way, the Lord’s Day points to the finished work of God.

From the cross Jesus announced that his work was finished (John 19:30). His body rested in the grave on the Sabbath but burst forth on Sunday morning. Jesus’s resurrection was a verification, a jubilant trumpet call announcing the finished work of God to set apart people for himself.

The Refreshment of the Lord’s Day

Without getting into the thornier issues of modern Sabbath observance, there are a few things we can say with confidence.

The Lord’s Day points to God. While the fourth commandment certainly has implications for our behavior, the ground of the command is God’s work. We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and his atoning work for us by worshipping on the first day of the week. This very act of corporate worship points to God’s sanctifying work—setting aside his people and making us holy.

The work is finished. We rest because God rested. The day is holy because God made it holy. We rejoice because of the resurrection.

The command is not a burden. The command was obeyed and fulfilled perfectly by Jesus. As God’s children, we now have power to obey from the Spirit. The command to observe the Sabbath is not a burden, it is for our refreshment.

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (Heb 4:9–10)


Photo Credit: 童 彤 (2017), public domain

King David and Intimacy with God

hands

Most Christians know that King David was a man after God’s heart (1 Sam 13:14). What did that look like?

Part of the answer lies in Psalm 139. David’s cry in last two verses is remarkable.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23–24)

This is a powerful, intimate prayer. Christians would do well to pray this way.

But there’s an approach to this prayer that’s all wrong. Too many treat this prayer as self-improvement, asking God for a home inspection so you can do the patching and remodeling.

As with everything in the Bible, we need to read and pray this prayer in context.

David Knows God

David knows God, and this is evident throughout Psalm 139. What David knows about God gives him comfort, strength, and zeal. Consider what David says about God.

God has already searched and known him (v.1). David is asking God in verse 23 to do something familiar.

God knows his actions, thoughts, and words (vv.2–4). God knows David’s thoughts and his words before they’re spoken. God’s knowledge is overwhelming (v.5).

God is everywhere (v.7). David cannot escape God’s Spirit or his presence. Day or night—the darkness makes no difference to God (vv.11–12). And God is not coolly studying David; he is leading and holding David with his hand (v.10). David enjoys God’s love in addition to his knowledge and presence.

God made him (vv.13–15). God knit and intricately wove David together inside his mother. Think of the detail and care in those words!

God knows all his days (v.16). Before David’s birth, God knew not just the number of his days but the days themselves.

God shares his thoughts with David (vv.17–18). David knows that God’s thoughts are numerous, and precious.

God provides his presence (v.18). After awaking from pondering God’s thoughts, David is cheered and comforted by God’s faithful, ongoing presence.

God can slay the wicked (vv.19–22). David appeals to God’s power, authority, and justice.

The Gospel in Psalm 139

The thought of God searching us can be terrifying. Maybe you imagine a blinding, prison-yard spotlight, sweeping across the grounds, leaving nothing hidden.

But, for God’s children, this isn’t the right image. David has already been searched and known by God. Because God is merciful, God’s hand on David is “wonderful” (v.6). If a sinner calls the hand of a holy God upon him wonderful, there’s only one explanation: this hand belongs to a father, not a jailer.

David knows the evil in his heart that rises against God.

For my iniquities have gone over my head;
like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me. (Psalm 38:4)

But, by faith, David also knows that his sin has been forgiven.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (Psalm 51:7)

Because David is God’s child, the searching of God is for the purpose of discipline and holiness, not judgment and punishment.

Let’s Pray

So, let’s pray Psalm 139:23–24. But let’s pray it in context.

We’re not praying for self-improvement. Christians have given up on the idea that we can improve ourselves.

We’re not praying for purity so we can get closer to God. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and by the gift of faith, God has already brought us near to him! No work or repentance of our own could accomplish any more.

Let’s pray this psalm because we are beloved children of God, and his faithful love compels us to repent of all that offends him. Let’s pray because we need the knowledge of God and the work of the Holy Spirit; our self-knowledge is inadequate and incomplete and so often inaccurate.

Let’s pray this psalm because we trust God not only to show us our sin, but to “lead [us] in the way everlasting.” God won’t simply point the way down the proper path, but he’ll take our hand and walk with us.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23–24)


Photo Credit: Kelly Sikkema (2016), public domain

Ordinary Ingredients of Christian Growth

Fad diets exist because healthy diets are boring. We don’t like to hear about vegetables and exercise; we’d rather lose ten pounds in a week by taking some radical step.

But fad diets don’t work. The most reliable path to a healthier body is the one doctors have been recommending for decades.

Ordinary Means

So it is with our spiritual lives. We think mountaintop experiences will provide the jolt we need to grow closer to God.

But the truth is both more mundane and more wonderful. We don’t need to climb the mountain; God has come down! By his Son and by his Spirit, he dwells with his people. As a consequence, God uses ordinary means to make us grow.

Four Ingredients

My recent Bible reading has shown me four ingredients of Christian growth. (This list isn’t comprehensive.)

The Word

God’s word gives us growth.

Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. (1 Peter 2:1–3, NASB)

We need the Bible like newborn babies need milk: desperately!! Surely you’ve seen a hungry baby. We should long for God’s word with the same urgency. Without the Bible, we simply won’t grow.

Community

God has created a healthy interdependence within the church.

  • God gave the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11–12). God gives people to equip the saints, and the purpose is the body’s growth.
  • The goal of this building up is “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” Paul wants us to aim for “mature manhood” and “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13). In the growth of the body, we will find maturity, fullness, and unity. Notice that Paul mentions “knowledge” specifically, so community is not just about emotional support. We are to help each other grow in understanding as well.
  • We are to grow past the adolescent stage, where we are “tossed to and fro by the waves.” Instead, “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph 4:14–15). Much has been written about the phrase speaking the truth in love, but in context it must involve steadying, correcting help that leads to growth. By definition, this cannot be done in isolation.
  • The “whole body” is “joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped.” Every single part of the body is necessary to join and hold it together, and “when each part is working properly,” the body grows and “builds itself up in love” (Eph 4:16). Every part of the body is necessary for the body’s growth, and no part grows without the body.

Repentance

Christians are not to walk as the Gentiles walk. Instead, they have been taught

to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22–24)

This is the process of repentance. Note the three distinct parts: put off, be renewed, put on. We identify and turn away from our sin, we remember our new God-given identity, and we adopt the godly behavior or thought that replaces sin. To help us, Paul lists five examples of this repentance in Eph 4:25–32.

Beholding the Lord

There is a glory present in the new covenant that was veiled in the old. The veil keeping people from God is removed for those who turn to Christ.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17–18)

As we behold the glory of the Lord, we are transformed from glory to glory. Though “beholding” sounds mysterious, it must include a few actions.

We cannot behold the Lord without delighting in the Bible, the unique place where we hear of Christ’s glorious work. We meditate on God’s glory—thinking about his character and work, thanking him for his love and grace, anticipating the excellencies of his presence. The word leads to our meditation which leads to prayer.

Powerful Means of Growth

It may not be flashy, but God faithfully causes growth from the most ordinary of means: regular Bible intake, membership in a local church, repentance of sin, and beholding the glory of the Lord in meditation and prayer.

God takes weak and ordinary people and uses them in extraordinary ways. He does the same with the ordinary ingredients of Christian growth. They may not be radical, but they are powerful.


Photo Credit: Rohit Tandon (2016), public domain