Water from the Rock – Exodus 17:1-7

The Lord is guiding Israel forward moving them ever closer to Mt Sinai. It’s been two months since they miraculously left Egypt, having been tested in the wilderness first at Marah with the bitter waters, and second, with their desire for food and the Lord’s provision of manna. Israel failed both tests, and in chapter 17 they will be tested a third time. Of course these were not tests for which God did not know the outcome, for He knows all (Ps 139:1-3), but they were tests for Israel to see whether they would trust the Lord’s promise and provision. But again they failed. Without any water whatsoever, Israel failed this time, not only by grumbling as they had before, but this time with quarrelling. As we see, Moses feared, “they are almost ready to stone me.” (v. 4); and “they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (v. 7)

The Lord answers His peoples’ complaints; just as He had in the two prior scenes, again the Lord is longsuffering towards Israel, and He graciously provides for His people. He tells Moses, “Go on before the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel. Also take in your hand your staff with which you struck the river, and go.  Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” (v. 5-6). The same staff that struck the Nile and brought death to the waters in the first plague in Egypt, would now bring forth fresh waters from a rock! The Lord called Moses forward to go before the people and strike the rock. He also told Moses He would stand before him; God’s presence is with them. Once again in our text we see that the Lord provides for His people; and by the same mighty hand that brought them out of Egypt, He will bring His people into the Promised Land to which Israel is moving ever closer.

From these three tests in the wilderness we learn that we, like Israel, are a sinful people. Like them, we need to trust in the Lord and in His ways. Like Israel, God does not always bring us directly to the place of promise. But, He does promise to bring us to our ultimate destination in His time. For all the promises of God in Him are yes and in Him Amen, to the glory of God. How gracious and precious is the Lord!

 

MI 3: Crosses and Crowns – Matthew 10:34-11:1

In Matthew chapter 10, the apostle compiles and summarizes Jesus’ teaching from various discourses on missions. After initially outlining the source, staff and specifics of the mission of the twelve apostles, Matthew goes on to outline the peculiar dangers that they, and subsequent generations of disciples, would suffer as a result of preaching Christ (what we call evangelism). The church is sent by Christ into a hostile world as vulnerable sheep among wolves, where we carry on our mission of evangelism in the midst of hatred, confrontation, mockery and persecution. Jesus explains that the source of persecution is found in the world’s hatred of Him first. “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (10:25). There is a link between the manner in which Jesus is treated and the treatment of His church. In the final section of the chapter (10:40-42), once again Jesus teaches of the tie between the treatment of Himself and that of His followers, only now stated positively: “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” (Mt 10:40)

The chapter concludes with a declaration of the rewards that would be distributed to those involved in various capacities in the mission. Just as the entire discourse moves from the twelve apostles to all believers at large, so does its conclusion. Jesus moves from describing the rewards for “prophets,” to “righteous persons,” to the “little ones” (10:41-42). It is not His  intention to present these three groups as mutually exclusive classes, but rather to show that all kinds of people are necessary and vital in support of the mission. Those who actually go and preach the Gospel, those who pray for those who go, and even those who support the mission in the smallest of ways (whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water) are all going to be appropriately rewarded.

While not mentioned in Mathew, Luke 9:10 and Mark 6:30 speak of the return of the twelve apostles to tell Jesus all that they had done in their mission. Unquestionably one of the rewards we have in this life, is to hear the testimonies of how other disciples came to follow Christ through the witness of His people. Next Sunday, in addition to addressing the text in Matthew 10, we will rejoice together as we hear the testimonies of our brothers and sisters, particularly how God used them to share the good news with others. It will be an opportunity for us to rejoice in the various roles that we have together in our common mission.

Do Not Love the World – 1 John 2:15-17

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15 ESV)

Christians enjoy a unique status in this life. On one hand they “have passed from death to life” (John 5:24) and are already “seated in heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6), belonging to a kingdom “not of this world” (John 18:36); on the other hand, believers are sent “into all the world” (Matthew 28:18) and still deal with the reality of “this present time” (Romans 8:18). Someone has suggested that Christians are “people of the future living in the present.” While our true home is in heaven with Christ, our present time holds us in the tension between the already and the not yet.

Throughout his epistle, John exhorts his readers about the importance of love. As we’ve seen, God is love and love comes from God (1 John 4:8). The one who does not love does not know God. Clearly, love is a priority and the first evidence of one’s salvation. In our text, 1 John 2:15-17, however, John says “do not love.” What are Christians not to love? The world.

The supernatural love that we receive from God is to be first directed back toward him in a personal relationship; it then flows out to other believers who are our true brothers and sisters in Christ. That love, though, is not to be given to this word. This does not mean we are not to have godly compassion on the world as God does. If we keep in mind John’s definition of love (based on the love of Christ), then Christians are exhorted to not sacrifice their precious time on worldly things, namely, “the desires of the flesh, and the desires of the eyes, and pride in possessions” (1 John 2:16).

Many a sermon has used this text as a springboard against worldliness, and indeed it is a strong admonition against such. However, we must keep in mind that our terms must be defined by scripture, not cultural trends. What is considered “worldly” by one Christian may not be considered such by another. Our time in this text does not seek to provide a list of what behaviors are worldly. We will instead focus on the heart. A heart that is wrapped up in the things of this world cannot also be filled with the Father’s love. Rather than discuss choices in dress and music and entertainment we will be challenged to take inventory of our hearts and ask whether or not we truly love this world.

As Christians, we walk the line between heaven and earth. The things of this world will try to capitvate your heart. But remember, “the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:17)

MI 2: Trust during Trouble – Matthew 10:16-39

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Mt 10:16

Jesus’ teaching and miraculous works summarized in the first 9 chapters of Matthew’s Gospel point to a greater mission for God’s people. The mission which every Christian must accept, is to proclaim the good news that Jesus has come into the world to save us from the consequences and power of sin through His atoning death and triumphant resurrection. In chapter 10, Matthew seems to have systematically collected the teachings of Jesus related to mission. We have seen in the first 15 verses of chapter 10, the source, staff, and specifics of the first mission given to the twelve apostles of Jesus. Next week we will pick up with verses 16-39 which reveal the peculiar danger of the mission as it is carried out by the apostles and subsequent generations of the church in a hostile world.

Trouble is the habitat of Christian mission. It seems that Jesus purposefully sendsHis people into a hostile world as “sheep among wolves.” Rather than an unfortunate side-effect of our mission, it seems Jesus intends for His disciples to carry on His mission through suffering. The cross is not the exception, but is the rule of a disciple’s life; we will lose many battles in our effort to carry our our mission. Though we are sent out as vulnerable sheep, we are not “stupidly vulnerable;” we are also called to be “wise as a serpent,” even while being “innocent as doves.”Christian disciples are not fighters; hatred and retaliation are not options for us; we are not revolutionaries; we are likened to sheep and doves – the gentlest of animals. And we carry out our mission in the midst of arrests, beatings, confrontations, hatred, mockery, and persecution, even at the hands of those closest to us. These were the experiences of our Lord, and we cannot expect to be exempt from them ourselves. However …

Trust is the habit of Christian mission. As “sheep among wolves,” we have no hope, save One. On judgement day God will vindicate us and our message. We do not need to fear “those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” So go boldly on your mission, knowing that you have a Heavenly Father who cares and is sovereign over everything that happens to you on this impossible mission. In fact, He ordains even your trouble. So fear God, and do not fear anything or anyone else. Though He makes no promise that you will be delivered from trouble on earth, He promises something much greater – to be rescued from eternal death and judgment.

Three Tests in the Wilderness (Pt 2): Want of Food – Exodus 16:1-35

About a month after the Lord delivered the children of Israel from Egypt by His mighty hand, we left them at Elim (15:27) where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water. The Lord brought them there after they had grumbled against Him because of the bitter waters of Marah. However, their foretaste of the Promise Land at Elim would come to an end in chapter 16, as they enter the wilderness of Sin. It is here where the entire congregation of Israel grumbled against God again saying, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (16:3). In spite of their grumbling, in mercy the Lord replied to Moses, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God’ (16:12).

While the quail He sent would be temporary on this night and another to come, the bread would rain down for the next 40 years on every day, except on the Sabbaths. This “manna” was supernatural bread from heaven which God miraculously provided. It was unlike anything ever seen before or after. The Psalmist spoke of it as bread from heaven and of angels (Ps 78:24-25), and the apostle Paul called it spiritual food (1 Cor 10:3). The bread that God provided was sufficient as He gave them enough for each day with a double portion for the Sabbath. The bread was also sacred in the sense they were to keep some as a memorial of the Lord’s salvation and provision. Future generations would know what the Lord had done for Israel by this memorial! Lastly, the bread was sanctifying, as Deuteronomy 8:3 says, “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

These aspects of the manna point to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Bread of Life. Jesus who miraculously fed 5000 with bread, is Himself far more precious for men to feed upon than the manna they had continually in the wilderness. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35; 53-58).

Buried and Raised with Christ – Colossians 2:6-15

“. . . having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:12 ESV)

Next week, we have the solemn and exciting privilege of witnessing brethren from our church respond obediently to Christ’s command to be baptized. Our baptismal candidates will each share his or her personal testimony and then step into the baptistery to be immersed in water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Many of us know that baptism was given as a sign of a believer’s salvation as well as a testimony to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but do we truly recognize the depths of all that baptism teaches us about the believer, his Savior, and the relationship between the two?

While our major presentation of gospel truth will come from those being baptized on Sunday, we will spend some time together in the scriptures, focusing on Colossians 2:6-15. This passage bears out the significance of baptism in such a profound way. Too often, evangelical (particularly Baptist) baptism services spend so much time focusing on what baptism is not (i.e., not salvific as in baptismal regeneration, not so correlated to circumcision that it is administered to infants, etc) that we lose focus on what baptism is. Rather than considering this passage in a merely polemical way, we will highlight the glorious truths that a believer’s baptism conveys.

According to the passage, believers have “received Jesus the Lord” (v6) and are “rooted and built up in him”; they are “filled in him” (v10) and circumcised by “the circumcision of Christ” (v11); they are “buried with him in baptism” and “raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God” (v12); in Christ, believers were “made alive together with him” (v13); all of this was made possible because Christ canceled “the record of debt that stood against us. . .nailing it to the cross,” and in doing so, “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them in him.” (v14-15)

Baptism, spoken of in the middle of that glorious text, is a vivid picture of our union with Christ – not just our conversion, but the work God has accomplished in Christ before the foundation of the world and our solemn obligation to continue to “walk in him” and abound in thanksgiving,” (7). As the meaning of the word baptize signifies, in Christ we are “immersed” with all his saving benefits. This Sunday, let us not only celebrate the life-changing power of the gospel as demonstrated in the water baptisms of our brethren, let us also marvel at God’s work in our lives and renew our confidence in him.

Mission Impossible – Matthew 9:35-10:15

“The harvest is great, but the laborers are few …”

Jesus’ authoritative teaching (Matthew chapters 5-7) and demonstration of power (chapters 8 & 9) were not meant merely to astonish crowds (7:28-29, 10:33). But Jesus’ words and works pointed to a greater purpose – a mission. We often refer to this mission as “evangelism,” from the Greek euangelion meaning “good message.” Evangelism is the mission of the church. It is the proclamation of the good news that Jesus has come into the world to save us from our sins; that by trusting in His substitutionary death and conquering resurrection, we have forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God and eternal life. Over the next 3 sermons, we will consider chapter 10 of Matthew’s Gospel under the banner of “Mission Impossible.” First we will examine the incentives, staff and mission itself (9:34-10:15); then in part 2, the peculiar danger of the mission (10:16-39); and finally in part 3, the mission’s reward (10:40-42). In part 1 on Sunday, we will see how at the beginning of the mission, Jesus chose 12 men to herald the gospel message and gave them specific instructions as to how to carry out their impossible mission in the midst of a hostile world.

In the introductory paragraph (9:35-38) we learn of the source and incentive of the church’s missionary power: (1) the heart of Jesus and (2) prayer for workers. Motivated by compassion for a plentiful, but harassed and helpless harvest field of souls, Jesus calls us to pray for laborers and to labor ourselves in this mission. As Mr. Phelps in the old “Mission Impossible” TV series would begin each program by selecting a staff that was appropriate for the specific mission, in Matthew 10:1-4, Jesus goes beyond merely choosing, but He equips His mission team with power – twelve men who we call “apostles,” literally meaning “one sent forth.” After choosing the men, finally Jesus gives them specific instructions as to how the carry out the mission (10:5-15).

Through our ordination as “salt” and “light” in chapter 5, to the grand warning to those who reject our message (10:15), and on through the Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, we discover that we are on the most important mission in the world, doing the world’s most impactful work. Do not allow the impossibility of the mission keep you from deciding to accept it.