Blots and Blemishes.

10 Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, 11 whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. 12 But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, 13 suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. 14 They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! 15 Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, 16 but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness. 2 Peter 2:10b-16 ESV

So, what is it that these false teachers are guilty of? What is their primary crime? For Peter, it was not one particular thing that indicted these individuals. It was a plethora of actions and attitudes that condemned them and set them up for the judgment of God. First of all, Peter describes them as “bold and willful”. They are daringly presumptuous, saying and doing things that are unheard of. They are arrogantly self-willed, doing what they do in order to please themselves, and not God. These individuals have no regard for the will of God, but do what will best benefit themselves. And they show no fear or apprehension when it comes to speaking disrespectfully of those things closely associated with God. The word Peter uses is doxa, and it can refer to that which belongs to God, such as His majesty or glory. These people have no reservations whatsoever, speaking words of dishonor and disrespect about those things that God considers holy and righteous. The vast majority of places this word is used in the New Testament, it is used to refer to the glory associated with God. While it can mean “angels”, it seems unlikely that this is what Peter is talking about. In fact, when referring to angels in these verses, he uses the Greek word, aggelos. While it is possible that these false teachers were denying the existence of angels, it seems much more likely that Peter is accusing these men of diminishing the glory of God by treating with disdain those truths associated with God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Peter accuses them of “blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant” (2 Peter 2:12 ESV). And yet, angels, who are much more powerful and majestic than these false teachers, do not dare to come before God and say a negative word against those whom God has created. They show restraint and do not dare step into God’s presence and utter disparaging words against these men – in spite of the fact that they are “ like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed” (2 Peter 2:12 ESV).

And it is not as if these people are guiltless and undeserving of judgment. Peter pulls no punches in describing their true nature.

13 Their destruction is their reward for the harm they have done. They love to indulge in evil pleasures in broad daylight. They are a disgrace and a stain among you. They delight in deception even as they eat with you in your fellowship meals. 14 They commit adultery with their eyes, and their desire for sin is never satisfied. – 2 Peter 2:13-14 NLT

They have done damage to the body of Christ and deserve the just judgment of God. Their very presence in the body of Christ has left an indelible mark. Peter describes them as spilos and mōmos, two Greek words that convey the stain and blemish they have caused to God’s reputation by sullying the holiness of His people. The Message paraphrases verses 13-14 as follows:

They’re so despicable and addicted to pleasure that they indulge in wild parties, carousing in broad daylight. They’re obsessed with adultery, compulsive in sin, seducing every vulnerable soul they come upon. Their specialty is greed, and they’re experts at it. Dead souls!

Not exactly a flattering description. And Peter is far from done. He compares them to an Old Testament character named Balaam. His story is covered in the book of Numbers. He was a pagan prophet and, therefore, a false prophet, who, Balak, king of Moab hired to curse the people of Israel. God, speaking to and through this false prophet, forbade him from issuing a curse against the people of God. And God did this on three separate occasions. But King Balak kept asking Balaam to curse the people and he had to keep turning the king down. But we learn from the New Testament writers, that Balaam tried to circumvent God’s express command not to curse Israel by giving Balak some helpful advice. He evidently told the king that if he could get the people of Israel to intermarry with the Moabites, they would end up worshiping the Moabite gods and practicing the ritual immorality associated with those gods. And it worked. Jesus, speaking to the apostle John on the island of Patmos, spoke of Balaam’s sin, using him as a representation of the sin of the church in Pergamum.

But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. – Revelation 2:14 ESV

Balaam, like the false teachers in Peter’s day, knew that the people of God were susceptible to committing iniquity in the form of immoral behavior. If he could get them to break God’s law by worshiping false gods and committing immoral acts, they would prove to be a weaker enemy. They would lose the blessing of God. And that is exactly what the false teachers were doing that Peter is attempting to expose. They were tempting the people of God to sin against God. It had worked for Balaam, so why wouldn’t it work for them? This strategy is not new. It has been around along as Satan himself. And he is still implementing this tactic in an attempt to disqualify and defeat the people of God. The book of Numbers tells us that Balaam’s advice to Balak proved successful.

1 While the Israelites were camped at Acacia Grove, some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people. – Numbers 25:1-3 NLT

Balaam didn’t have to curse Israel. In essence, they cursed themselves by giving in to the temptations of the Moabite women. It started out with false worship and ended with immoral behavior. And it resulted in God’s judgment against them.

God had made it perfectly clear to Balaam that he was not to do what Balak had requested. He was not to curse the people of God.

“You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” – Numbers 22:12 ESV

And Balaam listened to God. He informed Balak’s emissaries that he was not going to be able to return with them to Moab. He even turned down their very tempting offer of treasure. So, Balak sent even more emissaries, hoping to sweeten the pot and put even more pressure on Balaam. And this time, God gave him permission to go. But something interesting happened.

20 And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.” 21 So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. – Numbers 22:20-21 ESV

Yet, the text tells us that God became angry with Balaam.

But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as his adversary. – Numbers 22:22 ESV

God knew Balaam’s heart. He knew full well that Balaam was going to because he planned to aid Balak and get the treasure he had offered. So God positioned an armed angel in the path. And while Balaam failed to see the angel, the donkey did not. And it drew back in fear, refusing to move forward. So, Balaam beat and cursed the donkey, attempting to make it proceed. But the donkey stubbornly refused. So, Balaam intensified his attack on the donkey, until something remarkable happened. The donkey spoke.

“Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” – Numbers 22:30 ESV

Then, miraculously, Balaam’s eyes were opened and he was able to see the angel standing in front of him and he became deathly afraid.

32 And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. 33 The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.” – Numbers 22:32-33 ESV

Balaam is convicted of his sin and confesses it to the angel, offering to return home instead of proceeding to Moab. The angel gives him permission to continue his journey, but reiterates that Balaam is only to say what God tells him to say. And yet, we know that somewhere along the way, Balaam disobeyed God and gave Balak advice that led to the men of Israel having sexual relationships with the women of Moab.

Peter compares the false teachers of his day with Balaam. They are liars. They are in it for themselves. They have no real concern for the people of God and no fear of disobeying the will of God. Balaam sought treasure. So did they. And while Balaam appeared to be doing the right thing, in his heart he was planning to do the wrong thing. So were the false teachers. And while Balaam got rebuked by a speechless donkey, the false teachers were being rebuked by an apostle of God – Peter. When all is said and done, the real sin of these people was that “They lure unstable people into sin, and they are well trained in greed” (2 Peter 2:14 NLT). They preyed on the spiritually weak and morally vulnerable. And they did it all for personal gain. And they were leaving the body of Christ stained and soiled by their efforts.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

2 Peter 1:16-21 ESV

The God-less Life.

Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season, I saw your fathers. But they came to Baal-peor and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved. Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird—no birth, no pregnancy, no conception! Even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till none is left. Woe to them when I depart from them! Ephraim, as I have seen, was like a young palm planted in a meadow; but Ephraim must lead his children out to slaughter. Give them, O Lordwhat will you give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.

Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no more; all their princes are rebels.

Ephraim is stricken; their root is dried up; they shall bear no fruit. Even though they give birth, I will put their beloved children to death. My God will reject them because they have not listened to him; they shall be wanderers among the nations. – Hosea 9:10-17 ESV

To fully understand the nature of these verses, we have to take a look at what happened at Baal-peor. God is looking back at the history of Israel, long before the split of the kingdom, and condemning them for their long track record of unfaithfulness. Even while still wandering in the wilderness, the people of Israel repeatedly proved themselves incapable of remaining faithful to God, worshiping the gods of the pagan nations instead. Moses recorded what happened at Baal-peor.

While the Israelites were camped at Acacia Grove, some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people.

The Lord issued the following command to Moses: “Seize all the ringleaders and execute them before the Lord in broad daylight, so his fierce anger will turn away from the people of Israel.”

So Moses ordered Israel’s judges, “Each of you must put to death the men under your authority who have joined in worshiping Baal of Peor.” – Numbers 25:1-5 NLT

It was at Baal-peor that they “consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved” (Hosea 9:10 ESV). There had been a time when God saw Israel as delightful as grapes in the wilderness or the first figs of the season. They were His chosen. He had set them apart as His own. But they proved to be unfaithful and disobedient. They did not fully appreciate all that He had done for them. And they repeatedly and willfully gave their hearts, resources, trust and attention to false gods.

As a result, God determined to bring upon them all the curses He had promised. Their days of fruitfulness were over. He was going to remove His hand of blessing and they would discover what life without Him was really like. They would also learn just how impotent and useless their false gods really were. While the people of Israel had been able to procreate and proliferate easily, those days were over. Conceiving children was going to become increasingly difficult and for those who were able to bear children, they would find that the infant mortality rate was radically increased. While we may find this news harsh and difficult to understand, we must realize that God was simply fulfilling what He had promised. He was removing His hand of blessing. They had chosen to live their lives without Him and now they were going to discover exactly what life without God was like.

Too often, we fail to realize just how vital a role God plays in our lives. We don’t recognize His hand of mercy on our lives. We don’t appreciate the grace He shows us each and every day. And like the people of Israel, we begin to take Him for granted. We forget Him. Rather than worship Him as indispensable to our lives, we give our time, resources, attention and faith to other things. We end up worshiping our own brand of false gods. And then God allows us to discover the ramifications of placing our trust in anything or anyone other than Him. If we want to place our trust in money and materialism, God will allow us to find out just how unreliable they can be as gods. If we think that our own intellect and talents can make a better gods, we will soon discover just how powerless and impotent they are. When God removes His hand of blessing, we are left defenseless, powerless and hopeless.

God warned the people of Israel, “It will be a terrible day when I turn away and leave you alone” (Hosea 9:12 NLT). And Hosea paints a vivid and disturbing picture of the fate of Israel when God chooses to abandon them to their own desires: “My God will reject the people of Israel because they will not listen or obey. They will be wanderers, homeless among the nations” (Hosea 9:17 NLT). God will simply give the people of Israel what they seem to want more than anything: independence from Him. But they will find out just how dangerous that desire can be. The only thing that set Israel apart from all the other nations was the presence of God in their lives. If He removed Himself and His hand of blessing, they would become just like all the other nations of the earth. It is God and His undeserved grace and mercy that sets us apart. Without Him, we are nothing. We don’t deserve His blessings. He is not obligated to provide for us, as if He somehow owes us for all that we have done for Him. His goodness is undeserved. His grace is unmerited. And our gratefulness and faithfulness should be unprecedented. And yet, like Israel, we can find it so easy to believe that we can somehow survive and even thrive without God’s help. We believe we can make it through this life without His input and apart from His strength. Our stubborn self-sufficiency and prideful desire to run our own lives can cause us to reject His will and attempt to live according to our own. And sometimes God allows us to have exactly what we want. But what a painful lesson it is to learn that life without Him is never what we think it will be. The God-less life is ultimately a joyless life. The man who removes God from the center of his life will discover he has no life at all.

Numbers 35-36, John 9

City of Refuge.

Numbers 35-36, John 9

“You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the Lord dwell in the midst of the people of Israel.” – Numbers 35:34 ESV

God dwelt among His people, and His very presence demanded that they live set-apart lives. His holiness and righteousness required that they live differently and distinctively, abiding by a stringent set of rules and regulations that governed their behavior and interactions with one another. And yet God knew their weaknesses and fully understood their incapacity to live up to His exacting standards. The entire sacrificial system was designed to deal with their ongoing struggle with sin. He even provided them with six cities of refuge, Levitical cities where someone guilty of unpremeditated murder could run for protection. There was no police force in those days, and it was the responsibility of the next of kin of anyone who had been murdered to bring about justice by executing the one guilty of murder. But God’s holiness required that only those who were guilty of premeditated murder could be executed. To unjustly execute the innocent would have been as evil in God’s sight as to excuse the guilty. So He provided those who had committed murder accidently or impulsively a means of finding justice. They could run to one of the cities of refuge and receive a fair and unbiased trial. If they were deemed innocent of having committed premeditated murder, they could live in the city of refuge and enjoy permanent protection from the “blood avenger.” They were still guilty of murder, but their lives were spared. The city of refuge became their prison until the day that the high priest died. Then his death would serve as an atonement for their sin, providing them with release from their guilt and the right to live among their kinsmen again – innocent and free.

The ongoing presence of God was constantly in jeopardy due to the sinfulness of men. Yet He provided them with countless means by which they could receive restoration and assure His continued existence among them. It was God who set them apart. Without them, they would have been nothing. His presence provided them their distinctiveness. And it was their sin that threatened their uniqueness as His chosen people.

What does this passage reveal about God?

From the day that Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, God has been actively and aggressively seeking to restore order to the chaos created by their actions. Their sin brought disorder, disobedience and, ultimately, death into the world. It wasn’t long after Eve listened to the lies of the enemy and convinced her husband to join her in rejecting God’s word, that murder showed up on the scene. One of Eve’s own sons would kill his brother. Death entered the scene. And disease would not be far behind it. Their bodies would undergo the inevitable effects of aging. Sin would increase. Rebellion against God would run rampant. And yet God continued to reach out to mankind, offering a form of refuge from the consequences of sin. In a real sense, God’s choosing of Abraham made he and his descendants a “city of refuge” for mankind. The people of Israel would become a single source for God’s abiding presence and divine protection from the guilt and condemnation of sin. It was among the children of God that men could find access to God. It was through the law of God that men could learn of the divine requirements and expectations of a holy God. It was through the sacrificial system instituted by God that men could find atonement for their sins and freedom from the penalty of death they so justly deserved. God had provided a city of refuge among the sons of men. And eventually, God would send His own Son as the ultimate and final means of refuge and escape from sin’s destructive power and God’s righteous judgment.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The Scriptures make it painfully clear that all men are guilty of sin. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV). “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?” (Proverbs 20:9 ESV). “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT). The law of God was given to show men their sin. Like a speed limit sign on the side of the freeway, the law was a constant reminder of man’s proclivity toward disobedience and rebellion. Our guilt is unquestionable and undeniable. Every individual who has ever lived has stood condemned before a holy and righteous God due to the sinful nature passed down to them from Adam and Eve, which has been evidenced by their own sinful behavior. We are all guilty. We all stand condemned. And the very presence of disease and death in our world is an outward reminder of the reality of sin’s devastating consequences.

In the gospels we read of Jesus’ constant encounters with those who suffered from diseases and disorders of all kinds. In John 9, He meets a man who had been blind since birth. This man lived in a constant state of darkness. The disciples, like most of their fellow Jews, believed that this man’s malady was due to either his own sin or the sins of his parents. They were partially right. His blindness was a result of sin entering the world and bringing with it disease and physical disorders. Like so many others, this man was suffering from the lingering effects of sin on God’s creation. Jesus cleared up the confusion by declaring, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3 ESV). Jesus would prove to be a city of refuge for this man, providing him with a way of escape from the devastating consequences of sin’s presence in our world. This man lived in darkness, but Jesus declared, “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5 ESV). Jesus restored his sight. He freed him from darkness. He opened his eyes so that he might physically see, but even more so, that he might spiritually see. Jesus asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (John 9:35 ESV) and the man responded, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” (John 9:36 ESV). Jesus answered, “You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you” (John 9:37 ESV). And the man believed.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

At this point in the story, Jesus made an interesting comment. “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see many become blind” (John 9:39 ESV). This man had been given the ability by God to see the Son of God. He had been provided with the capacity to physically see so that he might spiritually see. And as a result, he found refuge from his guilt in the Savior. But there would be those who remained blind and ignorant of God’s gift of salvation and healing through His Son. It is probably safe to assume that not everyone who was guilty of murder took advantage of the cities of refuge. They may have taken their chances on their own, assuming they could escape judgment and avoid the wrath of the blood avenger. But it was those who fled to the cities of refuge who found safety and protection. Not everyone who saw Jesus believed in Him. He makes it clear that there were those who remained blind and spiritually sightless, incapable of seeing that He was their only means of escape and their only source of refuge from the devastating consequences of sin. It is to Jesus that I must turn as my city of refuge in this sin-soaked, death-marked world. He alone can provide me with protection from sin’s condemnation and provide me with an assurance of God’s acceptance of my life and His ongoing presence in my life. He is my refuge.

Father, You have provided me with a refuge from the devastating consequences of sin in the world and in my life. You opened my eyes that I might see Your Son as my Savior. You gave me sight. You provided me with a place to run and find protection, forgiveness and, ultimately, atonement for my sins. Thank You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Numbers 33-34, John 8

Our Ultimate Inheritance.

Numbers 33-34, John 8

So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going you cannot come.” – John 8:21 ESV

The Israelites had traveled a long and winding road to get to the land of promise. Chapter 33 of Numbers recounts the circuitous route they took to arrive at the border of the land of Canaan. They had covered a lot of miles and committed their fair share of sins. An entire generation of them had died in the wilderness due to their disobedience and refusal to enter the land the first time they had had the opportunity. And more than 40 years later, as they stood once again on the border looking into the land promised to them by God, He had to remind them, “When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places” (Numbers 33:51-52 ESV). And He had to warn them, “But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell. And I will do to you as I thought to do to them” (Numbers 33:55-56 ESV). The land before them was to be their inheritance. It had been promised to them by God Himself. But without even reading any further, it would be easy to assume that these people were going to have a difficult time keeping God’s commands regarding the land. They had a track record of disobedience and a knack for doing things their own way, rather than God’s. They would eventually make it into the land, but things would not go well for them.

What does this passage reveal about God?

There is a real sense in which all of God’s interactions with the people of Israel were a glimpse into the future. They were a foreshadowing of something yet to come. In a way, the events of the Old Testament were a temporary or partial outpouring of God’s more complete plan to come. God’s promises to them were real. His love for them was complete. But His plan was far more reaching than just their initial entrance into the land. God’s call of Abraham extends far into the future, all the way to the coming of Christ and even into the distant future where He will return and establish His Kingdom on earth. As we are all prone to do, the Israelites focused on the hear and now. They were short-sighted, suffering from limited vision and looking only for the more immediate benefits of their relationship with God. Even by the time Jesus appeared on the scene, the Jews were still looking for a Messiah who would provide them with immediate relief from their subjugation to Rome. They wanted a king who would rule and reign like David of old. They were looking for a political Messiah, not a spiritual one. Even Jesus’ disciples kept wondering when He was going to set up His earthly kingdom. They even argued about which one of them was going to get the privilege of ruling by His side. But God’s plan was far greater than a short-term, earthly reign of yet another human king.

Jesus told the Jews of His day, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come” (John 8:21 ESV). His words confused them. They assumed He was threatening to commit suicide. But Jesus clarified His statement by saying, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:23-24 ESV). At that point, Jesus establishes the primary difference between the people of Israel and Himself. While He stood before them as a man, He was not one of them. He was “from above.” Jesus was “not of this world.” He was God. His Kingdom was not of this world. Later on in the book of John, we will read these words spoken from the lips of Jesus: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

But the Jews couldn’t see beyond the reality of their present circumstances. There vision was myopic and limited. They were not looking for a future, yet unseen Kingdom, they were wanting an immediate kingdom that was of this earth and ruled by an earthly, human king. They had turned the grand plan of God into a petty, me-centered, now-focused, short-sighted plan that focused solely on their own selfish desires. They had long lost sight of the reality that God’s plan had always been far more encompassing than their own selfish desires. He had allowed an entire generation of their ancestors die in the wilderness and lose out on the blessings of the Promised Land because of their unbelief. He had refused to allow Moses or Aaron to enter into the Promised Land because of their failure to treat Him as holy. The Jews of Jesus’ day claimed that God was their Father, but Jesus said, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me” (John 8:42 ESV). They couldn’t recognize Jesus for who He was because He didn’t fit their expectations. He was a spiritual Savior and they were looking for a political one.

They had lost sight of God’s plan. In fact, Jesus even accused them of being children of Satan, not God. “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is not truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me” (John 8:44-45 ESV). They had learned to listen to the lies of the enemy. And one of His greatest lies is to get us to believe that God’s plan is all about us. He wants us to believe that we are the stars of the show and that God exists for our glory, instead of the other way around.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Seeing God’s greater plan is difficult when we are constantly surrounded by the more immediate concerns of this temporal world. it is so easy to make it all about the here-and-now. When the Israelites were standing on the edge of the Promise Land, God told them there were going to have to remove all the nations that lived in the land. There was a long-term strategy to God’s command. He was looking at the long-term health of the nation of Israel. But they would suffer from short-sighted convenience and compromise. They would refuse to do things God’s way, and they would suffer the inevitable consequences. But I can do the same thing. By focusing on short-term benefits, I can lose sight of God’s future-based promise. God’s plan for the Israelites wasn’t limited to getting them into the land. He wanted to make of them a great nation. But He also wanted to bring about a future descendant of King David who would rule and reign for eternity. God’s plan for the Israelites went well beyond just the literal descendants of Abraham. He was going to bless ALL the nations of the earth through Abraham through a descendant of Abraham – Jesus Christ. I have to keep a future focus as I live in this present age. This is not all there is. God’s plan does not culminate with or revolve around ME! There is more yet to come. God has more yet to accomplish. Jesus has work yet to complete. Jesus promised all those who would believe in Him eternal life. He said, “if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (John 8:51 ESV). That is a future promise. I must focus on that. The apostle Paul put it this way: “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:14 NLT). I have not yet arrived. God is not yet done. Jesus is not yet finished. My full inheritance has not yet been realized. But I eagerly await God’s future fulfillment of His faithful plan.

Father, give me a future focus. Help me to keep my eyes on the prize. Don’t let me make it all about me. Your plan is far greater than my own selfish desires and petty dreams. What You have planned for mankind is far greater than anything I could ever dream up. Help me to patiently and eagerly wait for the fulfillment of Your plan, instead of concocting my own. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Numbers 31-32, John 7

Get the Facts First.

Numbers 31-32, John 7

Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. – John 7:24 ESV

I like the way The New Living Translation treats the verse above. “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” When we read the Old Testament, we sometimes struggle with understanding why God did things the way He did. There are those who see the God of the Old Testament as a completely different God than that as revealed in the New Testament. They struggle with the images of wrath and judgment, apparent legalism and harsh demands. But I would encourage us to listen to the words of Jesus: “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” What is it that God is revealing to us through stories like that found in Numbers 31? Why would God command the complete annihilation of a group of people; including every man, woman and child? If we’re not careful, we could be quick to judge God and reach a false conclusion regarding His character and conduct. If it is true that God is holy, just and righteous, then all that He does is holy, just and righteous. Unlike the man-made gods of the Greeks, He is not capricious or prone to evil. He does not play tricks on people. He does not lie or deceive. There is a perfectly good reason for all that God does and all that He commands. But we must look beneath the surface. We must dig deeper to understand the nature of God and the purposes behind His ways.

What does this passage reveal about God?

If you recall, the Midianites were guilty of trying to bring a curse upon the people of God. They had hired Balaam, a prominent seer, to pronounce a curse on Israel. But God had thwarted their plans, using this pagan diviner to utter blessings on the people of Israel, rather than curses. But in order to earn his proposed payment, Balaam suggested to the Midianites that they use a different tactic to defeat the Israelites. He recommended that the Midianites use their women to secude the men of Israel into sexual sin and, ultimately, spiritual adultery. “While the Israelites were camped at Acacia Grove,some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people” (Numbers 25:1-4 NLT). But wait. These verses speak of Moabites, not Midianites. So why was God commanding Israel to destroy the Midianites? During this time there was a great deal of interaction between the various tribes and people groups living in the land of Canaan. They not only warred with one another, but they took each others women and shared one another’s gods. The god, Baal, that the Israelites ended up worshiping was actually the primary god of the Canaanites. But the Midianites and Moabites worshiped this god as well. Each of these nations was guilty of unfaithfulness to their own gods. They were superstitious and quick to take on any and all gods, should they prove beneficial. The Midianites and Moabites were both guilty of seducing the Israelites and tempting them to violate their commitment to remain faithful to Yahweh alone. So God commanded their destruction.

On the surface, this story appears to paint God as a vengeful, angry, bloodthirsty deity. But God knows the heart of man. He fully understands that His people, the Israelites, whom He has called to live holy, set apart lives, will quickly succumb to the influences of these various nations unless something drastic is done. Coexistence was not an option. Compromise would be deadly. Not only had close contact with these people led to sexual sin, it had resulted in spiritual adultery; causing the people of Israel to break the very first commandment. They were to have no other gods before them. They were to worship God alone. So God required that they remove the source of temptation. Yes, it was harsh. It required the death of every man, woman and male child. But we must look beneath the surface. We must understand the heart of God if we are going to judge the actions of God. We must learn to trust the ways of God based on what we know of the will of God.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Even in Jesus’ day, there were those who could not see what God was doing. There was much debate regarding who Jesus was. John tells us that not even Jesus’ brothers believed in Him. The Jewish religious leaders were out to kill Him. Some viewed Him as a good man. Others were amazed at His ability to teach. There were those who were blown away by His miracles and questioning whether or not these signs were proof that He was the Messiah. For over three years Jesus had walked among them, performing amazing miracles and teaching new truths. He had healed the sick, opened the eyes of the blind, and even restored life to the dead. He had openly claimed to be the Son of God. He had talked of His Father’s Kingdom. And yet the people misjudged Him. They looked on the surface and saw an ordinary man who came from the nondescript region of Galilee. They didn’t know that He had actually been born in Bethlehem and that He was a direct descendant of King David himself. They viewed Him as an uneducated carpenter with nothing in the way of credentials to justify His role as a teacher or leader. They were quick to judge. But they didn’t know all the facts. They didn’t understand the will of God.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Ignorance of God’s will always leads to misunderstanding of God’s ways. Because we don’t really know Him and don’t understand His character, we are quick to judge His conduct. We love to hear about His grace and mercy, but we are turned off by talk of His wrath and judgment. But we fail to understand that God’s wrath and judgment are always directed toward sin. Because of His holiness, He cannot tolerate sin. He must deal with it. He must punish it. His righteousness demands it. The people of Jesus’ day loved that He could heal. They were attracted to His miracles, especially the ones that provided them with free food, like the feeding of the 5,000. The religious leaders couldn’t understand why He chose to heal on the Sabbath. They saw Him as a lawbreaker and heretic. But Jesus challenged them, “If on the Sabbath a man received circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well?” (John 7:23 ESV). They didn’t get it. They were judging on the surface. And I can be guilty of the same thing. There are times in my life that I don’t understand what God is doing. I may even find myself getting angry at what I feel is the injustice of God. But I must be careful in my judgment of God. The prophet Isaiah gives us a powerful warning: “What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’” (Isaiah 45:9 NLT). I will not always understand the ways of God. But I must always trust the will of God. If I can’t, then I am assuming my God is untrustworthy. I am calling into question His integrity and doubting His divine sovereignty. God Himself reminds us, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts, and my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT). I may not always understand the ways of God, but I can always trust the will of God. He knows what He is doing. He plan is perfect.

Father, I want to learn to trust You more and more with my life and to see what is going on in the world through the lens of Your faithfulness and sovereign control. You know what You are doing. I may not always understand it, but I have no right to question it. You are the potter, and I am the clay. Forgive me for my arrogance. Forgive me for my pride. Help me to see life through Your eyes and not my own. My perspective is limited. My viewpoint is too often flawed my by shortsighted vision. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Numbers 29-30, John 6

The Bread of Life.

Numbers 29-30, John 6

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” – John 6:35 ESV

Beginning in Numbers 28 and continuing through chapter 29, we are given a synopsis of the various public sacrifices that the people of Israel were required to make. There was a daily sacrifice of two lambs, as well as a sacrifice of two additional lambs each Sabbath day. One the first day of each month they were to sacrifice two bulls, one ram, seven lambs and one goat. Then, during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a seven-day long festival, they were to sacrifice two bulls, one ram, seven lambs and one goat each day. During Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, they were to offer the same number of sacrifices. On the first day of the seventh month, they were to offer one bull, one ram, seven lambs and one goat. On the Day of Atonement, they were to offer the same thing. Then during the Feast of Booths, for eight straight days they were to offer their largest number of sacrifices:

Day 1– 13 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat
Day 2 – 12 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat
Day 3 – 11 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat
Day 4 – 10 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat
Day 5 – 9 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat
Day 6 – 8 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat
Day 7 – 7 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat
Day 8 – 1 bull, 1 ram, 7 lambs, 1 goat

And each and everyone of the sacrifices were to make “to the Lord.” They were to be a pleasing aroma to the Lord. They were to be offered to God as an atonement for their sins and in order to maintain a right relationship with Him in the days to come. There were many sacrifices because the sins of the people were many. There was never an end to the need for the making of sacrifices and the atoning for sins. It was to be a perpetual requirement on the people. UNTIL God instituted a better plan. There was a day coming when God would send His Son as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He would provide a permanent solution to man’s sin problem.

What does this passage reveal about God?

In John 6, we read the words of Jesus stating, “It was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:32-33 ESV). It is interesting to note that in the sacrificial system established by God for the people of Israel under the leadership of Moses, the sacrificial animals had to be provided by the people. They had to provide unblemished animals and offer them to God on their own behalf. But in the scenario that Jesus paints, He describes Himself as a sacrifice given by God for the people. Jesus uses some very strange language that confused His disciples. He spoke of Himself as the bread of life and said, “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:50-51 ESV).

The language Jesus used was shocking to His hearers. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:52 ESV). And rather than clarify His message, Jesus responds with more of the same: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:53-54 ESV). Of course, Jesus was not speaking of the literal consumption of His flesh and blood. He was referring to trust and belief in the coming sacrifice of His life on the cross for the sins of mankind. Just as we take in food, trusting that it will sustain us and supply us with life, so Jesus says that men will be required to “take in” His death on the cross, believing that it alone can provide them with forgiveness of their sins and eternal life. But it is interesting that this particular sacrifice was provided by God for us. God was going to do what only He could do. In the book of Hebrews we read, “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 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

Until God sent His Son as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind, the people of God were caught in a cycle of sin and sacrifice, sin and sacrifice. Their best efforts at remaining in a right relationship with God were temporary and incomplete. They had to bring their best animals and sacrifice them to God in order to stay off their own execution for their sins. But in the New Testament we read of God sacrificing His best in order to atone for the sins of mankind. Paul tells us, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). God provided the singular and all-sufficient sacrifice of His Son – for us. In essence, the sacrifice of Jesus should be a “pleasing aroma” to us. This sacrifice was made for our benefit and for our consumption. And not only do we receive forgiveness from sin, we gain life – eternal life! Jesus told His listeners, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40 ESV). Jesus was offering a permanent solution to the problem of sin, through His shed blood and crucified body. And yet, the people of His day were more concerned with literal bread and their own sad, temporary lives. They had come to Jesus seeking more food because He had miraculously fed them the evening before. He had filled their stomachs with bread and fish, and they craved more. When Jesus spoke of bread from heaven that gives life to the world, they responded, “Sire, give us this bread always” (John 6:34 ESV). But they wanted real bread, not the metaphorical or spiritual kind. They were stuck on a temporal, earthly plane, and failed to see that God was providing for them an offering that would do for them what they could never do for themselves.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

It amazes me to think that God made a sacrifice on my behalf. He sent His Son to die for me. In the Old Testament sacrificial system, the people had to provide their own sacrifice, and it could only forestall or delay the inevitable reality of death. It could prolong life on this planet, but not provide life in eternity. Their sacrifices were temporal and eventually, ineffective at sustaining life. But God’s offering of His Son’s body and blood provides life eternal. Jesus said, “Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (John 6:58 ESV). All I have to do is receive God’s offering and believe that it is sufficient to pay for my sins and provide life more abundantly, both now and for eternity. Just as I eat bread and rely on it to sustain me, I must consume the sacrifice of God’s Son and allow Him to provide me with life everlasting. God has made a sacrifice on my behalf. He has sent His Son to die in my place. No more lambs, goats, bulls or rams. Jesus offered Himself to God as a pleasing aroma, an acceptable sacrifice. And God offered His Son for me as a permanent solution to my ongoing sin problem. I live because He died. The sacrifice of Jesus by God was done for me, but not because of me. I didn’t deserve it. I had not earned that kind of gift. It was while I was in the depth of my own sin and hopelessness that God sent His Son as an offering on my behalf. The Son of God became the Bread of Life so that I might have eternal life. “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10 ESV).

Father, thank You for the gift of Your Son. Thank You for the offering of the Bread of Life so that I might have eternal life. You gave what was of most value to You in order that I might be restored to a right relationship with You. May I never take Your offering for granted. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

 

Numbers 27-28, John 5

A Shepherd For The Sheep.

Numbers 27-28, John 5

Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd. – Numbers 27:16-17 ESV

I always find it fascinating how many times God chooses to use the metaphor of sheep when referring to His people. While that idea may conjure up an idyllic image of lush pastures filled with fluffy white sheep peacefully eating their fill of green grass, the real message behind the metaphor seems a bit less flattering. Sheep are not the brightest of animals. In fact, they are quite dumb, requiring someone to lead them and protect them. Sheep are herd animals with no built-in protection mechanism, other than flight. They are driven by their appetites. There are stories about flocks of sheep so intent on grazing that they literally walked off the side of a cliff one by one, so focused on feeding that they were oblivious to the danger. Sheep are easily led astray. Sheep are easy prey to predators. They spook easily and are prone to both disease and injury. And even a cursory reading of the Scriptures will reveal that so many of the characteristics of sheep really do apply to the people of God, including those in Moses’ day all the way to the Christians living during the days of Paul’s ministry. When Moses was informed by God that he would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land because of his actions at Meribah, he asked God to appoint a successor. “Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd” (Numbers 27:16-17 ESV). HIs concern was that the people not be “as sheep that have no shepherd.” Moses knew from personal experience that the people of Israel would be helpless and hopeless without someone to lead them. They had proven themselves to be driven by their passions, prone to wander, easily spooked, and susceptible to a herd mentality. They needed a strong leader who could help guide them and, when necessary, discipline them.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God’s people have always needed strong leadership, and all along the way, God had provided men like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, David, Samuel, and Paul. Left to our own devices, and without strong godly leadership, we are always prone to trouble. Even Jesus saw the plight of the people of God in His day. “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:35-36 ESV). God’s people, His sheep, were in a sorry state. They were shepherdless and helpless. They needed someone to lead them. They needed a shepherd. And while they had no shortage of religious leaders, Jesus saw them as harassed and helpless. The Pharisees, priests, Scribes, and other so-called leaders of Jesus’ day were guilty of the same sin as the “shepherds” in Ezekiel’s day. Read what God had to say about those who were responsible for the care and leadership of the people of God during the prophetic ministry of Ezekiel. “The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them” (Ezekiel 34:4-6 ESV).

God was not happy. His sheep were being neglected and even abused. He expected those men who had been given the responsibility of leading His people to take their role seriously and to lead according to His terms, not their own. God cared for His sheep and He expected those whom He had appointed as shepherds to act as His undershepherds, providing the same level of care and concern as He would.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Just as sheep are prone to wander, shepherds are prone to walk away from their God-given responsibilities. It is so easy for a shepherd of God’s people to allow selfishness and self-centeredness to distract him from what God has called him to do. Far too often, the leaders appointed by God to shepherd His flock, ended up abusing their roles and neglecting those under their care. God puts a high value on good shepherding. It was written of David, “He chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds;from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance.With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand” (Psalm 78:70-72 ESV). David was the kind of shepherd God was looking for. He had a heart like God’s. He cared for God’s people with the same passion that God had. He was far from perfect, but he was “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14 ESV). When it came to the people under his care, he was ready to do the will of Go. He understood that God’s people needed to follow God’s will regarding their lives. They needed strong direction and steady leadership. Without it, they would find themselves in trouble. And in time, after the death of David and the demise of the kingdom of his son, Solomon, the people would suffer under a long line of insufferably poor shepherds. So that by the time Jesus showed up on the scene, He would encounter a people who were shepherdless, helpless and hopeless. Even Peter would say of those who had come to Christ in his day, “Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25 ESV). Ultimately, God was going to have to send His Son, as the one true Shepherd, to rescue His sheep. Jesus said of Himself, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:11, 14 ESV). Mankind has always been in need of a shepherd and God eventually sent the only one who could rescue them. Isaiah reminds us, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Jesus was the true Shepherd, the Good Shepherd, who laid down His own life for the sake of His sheep. He sacrificed Himself so that His sheep might be safe and sound. There was a selflessness and humility about Jesus that should be reflected in my own life. His life is the ultimate model of what it means to be a shepherd. Paul tells us, “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8 NLT). Humility. Sacrifice. Submission. Obedience. Those are the characteristics of a shepherd of God. May I learn to shepherd as He did. May I be willing to lead by following His example.

Father, make a shepherd like Your Son. Give me the heart of David and the passion to feed and care for Your sheep, even if it requires the ultimate sacrifice of my life. Don’t let me become selfish and driven by my own desires. Constantly remind me that I am Your shepherd and have been given the responsibility of caring for Your sheep. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Numbers 25-26, John 4

Truly Spiritual Worship.

Numbers 25-26, John 4

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. – John 4:23 ESV

What does it mean to worship God? In our day and age, worship has become synonymous with an event held on Sunday morning or evening that involves a mixture of music and message. In essence, we have made worship a noun, rather than a verb. In fact, often speak of having been to “worship.” But what did God consider true worship to be? Was it the keeping of a set of rituals or rules? Was is what took place in the Tabernacle when the priests offered the sacrifices on behalf of the people? It is interesting that God referred to their attempts at worship in some fairly less-than-flattering terms:  “…this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13 ESV). Worship had become an event or an occasion, rather than an expression of the heart.

In the story of Phinehas, revealed in Numbers 25, we once again discover the people of God disobeying the expressed will and commandments of God. It presents the nature of the problem in fairly graphic terms: “The people began to whore with the daughters of Moab” (Numbers 25:1 ESV). Against God’s expressed command to separate themselves from the nations living in the land, the people of Israel began to interact with their neighbors in a very intimate and immoral way. After having wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, they found themselves, yet again, standing on the border of the Promised Land – waiting to enter in and take possession. And yet, they also found themselves succumbing to the temptations of their enemies. The Moabites, who had attempted to defeat Israel by hiring a seer to curse them, decided to try another plan of attack. If they couldn’t curse them, they would join them. They found the Israelites exceptionally vulnerable in the sexual and spiritual integrity areas. Not only did the Israelite men willingly have sexual relationships with the Moabite women, “the people ate and bowed down to their gods” (Numbers 25:2 ESV).

Rather than worship God alone, they began to worship the false god of the Moabites. “So Israel yoked himeslf to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel” (Numbers 25:3 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

God wanted more than lip-service. He desired their heart-felt worship of Him alone. He demanded it. Over in the gospel of John, we read of Jesus‘ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. This woman was a social outcast because of her immoral lifestyle. But she was also a spiritual outcast from the nation of Israel, because she was a Samaritan. The Jews considered these people to be racial half-breeds and religious compromisers. When the northern kingdom of Israel was defeated by the Assyrians and deported, a small remnant of people were left in the land. These people ended up intermarrying with the nations around them. When the Jews were restored to the land years later, they refused to have anything to do with these people, viewing them as religious heretics and virtually sub-human. And yet they worshiped Yahweh just as the Jews did, but from a rival temple on Mt. Gerizim. So when Jesus and the Samaritan woman find themselves engaged in their rather awkward and unusual conversation, it naturally turned to the topic of worship. For her, the only difference between herself and Jesus was their place of worship. For her, like many today, worship was an event that took place at a specific location. But Jesus quickly clarified that “the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24 ESV). As far as Jesus was concerned, neither the Jews or the Samaritans were worshiping God correctly. He was looking for “truly spiritual” worship. God wants to be worshiped from the heart. It is not an event, but an attitude that flows from within the spirit of the individual. Jesus was letting her know that the time was coming when the true worship of God would be motivated and empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Through Jesus’ death on the cross, men and women would have a new capacity to worship God truly and truthfully, because of the transformative presence of the Spirit of God. Jesus’ discussion with her regarding living water was a reference to the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual who would place their faith in Jesus as their Savior and Lord. “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14 ESV). God would provide man with the ability to worship Him in spirit and truth, internally and with integrity. But it would also manifest itself externally.

What does this passage reveal about man?

In the story of Phinehas we a picture of the people of God living in relationship with God falsely and unfaithfully. They were giving their time and attention to false gods. They were disobeying the revealed will of God. And God dealt with them harshly for their sin against Him. He commanded that every man who had “yoked” himself to the false god, Baal, should be killed. And in the midst of all this, one of the men of Israel had the audacity to parade his Midianite mistress in full view of God and the entire nation of Israel. No remorse. No repentance. No fear. All while the people of God were weeping in the entrance of the Tabernacle. So Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron the high priest, “rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly” (Numbers 25:7-8 ESV). He saw what was going on and he dealt with it. As a result, God’s plague against the people was stopped. And God clarified exactly why Phinehas’ actions brought an end to God’s judgment on the people. “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy” (Numbers 25:11-12 ESV). God literally says, “Phinehas was zealous with my zeal.” The word “zeal” means a passionate intensity to protect or preserve divine or social institutions. This man cared about the things of God. He cared for the reputation of God. He desired to protect the honor of God. He wanted to preserve the spiritual integrity of the people of God. And God says that his actions “made atonement for the people of Israel.” By sacrificing the lives of the guilty couple, he satisfied God’s righteous judgment. Their sin was punished by death, and God was free to end the plague and pardon the people. In a real sense, Phinehas worshiped God that day. He worshiped Him in spirit and truth. His inner zeal for God’s holiness showed up in a determination to follow the will of God faithfully and truly.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

There is a zeal required of all of us who claim to be followers of Christ and children of God. Our worship of God is to show up in spiritual, yet practical ways. The zeal of Phinehas for the things of God caused him to step out and risk all for God. He dealt with sin in a drastic manner, because he saw sin as a slight to God’s character and a blight on the honor of God’s people. It’s interesting that when the disciples returned and found Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman, they were shocked. They wanted to know why Jesus, a good Jew, would be talking to a woman, and a Samaritan at that. Then they changed the subject and asked if Jesus had eaten yet. His response threw them for a loop. “I have food to eat that you do not know about” (John 4:32 ESV). Then because they were confused by this statement, He clarified His words by saying, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34 ESV). Ultimately, the worship of God comprises obedience to God. Jesus found nourishment and refreshment simply doing what God had called Him to do. His obedience brought glory to His Father and sustenance to His own soul. Jesus’ entire life was characterized by His worship of God, and not just when He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath or to the Temple to sacrifice. His life was a living sacrifice to God. Paul encourages us to live with the same attitude. “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him” (Romans 12:1 NLT). Whole-hearted, Spirit-led obedience to the will of the Father. That is the kind of worship God desires from each of us.

Father, help me to learn how to truly worship you. Don’t let me get satisfied with simply going through the motions, or offering you some kind of lip service. I want my worship of You to be continual and from the heart, not just the head. May I learn to be zealous for Your zeal like Phinehas. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Numbers 34-35, John 3

The Blessing of Israel.

Numbers 23-24, John 3

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. – John 3:17 ESV

Balaam, a pagan seer or diviner, had been hired by Balak to curse Israel. He had been offered riches and honor in exchange for his services. But no matter how much Balaam might have wanted to earn his wages, God would not allow him to bring a curse on Israel. On three different occasions, Balaam and Balak built altars and offered sacrifices in order to ascertain God’s will regarding Israel’s future. But each time God reconfirmed His commitment to and covenant with Israel. The amazing thing is that, in spite of Israel’s track record of complaining, stubbornness, faithlessness and even rebellion, God remained faithful to them. God would not allow Balaam to curse them. But why? Because God had greater plans for Israel than simply the possession of the land. God’s divine strategy went well beyond the conquering of the land of Canaan and the establishment of a kingdom ruled by earthly kings. Three different times and much to the chagrin of Balak, Balaam pronounces blessings on Israel. And each time he opens his mouth, Balaam is given a word from God that reconfirms the original promise He made to Abraham concerning a land, a seed and a blessing. “Who can count the dust of Jacob or number the fourth part of Israel?” (Numbers 23:10 ESV). God had promised to make Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the sands on the shore or the stars in the heavens, and He had brought it about. Balaam predicts that Israel will be successful in battle, “As a lioness it rises up and as a lion it lifts itself; it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey and drunk the blood of the slain” (Numbers 23:24 ESV). God was going to give them victory over their enemies and reward them with the land He had promised them. Finally, Balaam warned Balak that to attempt to curse Israel was not a wise thing to do. “Blessed are those who bless you [Israel], and cursed are those who curse you” (Numbers 23:9 ESV). God had promised to bless the nations through Israel. God had set them apart for that purpose. No one was going to be able to stand against them. God had a purpose for them that could not be stopped by man.

What does this passage reveal about God?

There is something going on behind the scenes in the story of the people of Israel. We tend to read the Old Testament as ancient history, and attempt to find life lessons we can apply from these sometimes confusing accounts of God’s interactions with the Israelites. But while the stories of the Exodus, the giving of the Law, the conquering of the land, and the rise of the kingdom of Israel can make fascinating reading, there is far more to the story than we sometimes understand. Balak’s attempt to curse Israel was ill-fated from the beginning, because God was with them. Even Balaam saw the futility in what Balak was trying to do. “How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?” (Numbers 23:8 ESV). As long as God had a plan and a purpose for the people of Israel, no one would be able to curse them or eliminate them. Many have tried over the centuries. And while Israel has suffered greatly at the hands of her enemies, God has continued to keep His hand on them. Because God is not done with them yet. Even after Israel conquered the land of Canaan and began to grow, their own sinfulness and rebellion would eventually cause God to punish them by allowing them to be defeated and deported into exile in a foreign land. But God would remain faithful. He would eventually return them to the land. He would restore them to favor and reconfirm His covenant with them. In time, Jerusalem, the city of God, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians, would be rebuilt and reoccupied by the people of God. The Temple of God would be reconstructed and the sacrificial system reinstituted. And then would come the birth of Jesus, a descendant of David and the Messiah of Israel. Even Balaam unknowingly spoke of His coming. “I see him, but not now; I behold him but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17 ESV). God’s purpose for the people of Israel was ultimately to provide a Savior from among them. God was preserving Israel because He had a plan to provide salvation for the world through Israel. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). From the moment He called Abram out of Ur, God had a long-term strategy to accomplish His divine will concerning all of mankind. He chose to do it through a particular man, using rather peculiar methods, and in a highly persistent manner.

What does this passage reveal about man?

All throughout the Old and New Testaments, we see individuals who are constantly attempting to thwart God’s plan. Balak would fail in his bid to curse Israel. The Pharisees would fail in their attempts to trick Jesus. Yes, they would eventually succeed in having Him crucified, but what they didn’t know was that His death was always part of the plan. They were simply pawns in God’s divine strategy to bring salvation to mankind. Most men are blind to what God is doing. Even Balaam had to have his eyes opened by God. He made this point clear in several of his prophetic oracles. “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down with his eyes covered” (Numbers 24:3-4 ESV). God gave Balaam the capacity to see His divine will. He was able to recognize that the people of Israel were not just some rag-tag group of nomadic desert dwellers. They were God’s instrument destined to accomplish God’s will. But even today, so many fail to see what God is doing. They fail to recognize that Jesus was God’s chosen instrument to accomplish His divine will regarding the salvation of man. John tells us, “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:19-21 ESV). Jesus came into the world to provide salvation for the world, but He was rejected by most – even His own people. The people loved the darkness rather than the light. They preferred the ways of this world over the will of God. And as long as we remain blind to God’s greater plan, we will tend to view this world from a limited perspective, believing that the real point of life is all wrapped up in the hear and now.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

There is always a temptation to live with my eyes focused on the temporal rather than the eternal. I can get so wrapped up in this life, that I can lose sight of the fact that Jesus came to provide me with eternal life. As the old hymn so clearly states, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin‘ through.” As I study and read the Scriptures, I must constantly remind myself that God has a greater purpose in mind. He blessed Israel because He wanted to be a blessing through Israel. And God is not done with Israel. He has more that He is going to accomplish through the people of Israel before all is said and done. Because He has a bigger plan and a higher purpose than any of us will ever fully realize – until He is done. Then we will know. Then we will see clearly. It will all make sense to us. But in the meantime, we must constantly remind ourselves that God’s plan is bigger than we realize. We must focus on the bigger picture, not just the little chapter in the story we call our life. God’s plan included Israel, but it was about far more than just Israel. God’s plan includes me, but it is about far more than just me. God is blessing me so that I might be a blessing to others. God has saved me so that I might spread the news of His gift of salvation to others. I am a part of God’s grand plan of redemption for mankind. May I never forget that He is the center of the story, not me.

Father, never let me forget that Your plan is greater and grander than I could ever imagine. Keep my eyes focused on the bigger picture of Your redemptive plan for mankind. When Israel made it all about them, they lost focus. They became arrogant and self-centered, and mistakenly viewed You as existing for their glory, rather than the other way around. Don’t let me make that same mistake. Your plan is bigger than me. Your story includes me, but is not all about me. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Numbers 21-22, John 2

Spiritual Blindness.

Numbers 21-22, John 2

Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him. But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew human nature. No one needed to tell him what mankind is really like. – John 2:23-25 NLT

The people of Israel suffered from spiritual blindness. They had the physical capacity for sight, but far too often they were plagued by an inability to see what God was doing. It was this spiritual blindness that caused them to repeatedly complain about their situation and question God’s will for their lives. Even after all God had done for them, they continued to reveal their inability to see and appreciate His divine plan for them. In Numbers 21, this spiritual blindness would result in God’s discipline in the form of poisonous serpents. The antidote was for Moses to make a bronze serpent and place it on a pole in the midst of the camp. When an Israelite was bitten, they would have to look on the bronze serpent to receive back his life. Jesus would refer to this real-life occasion as a foreshadowing of His own death on the cross. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15 ESV). There was more involved than simply seeing. Salvation required believing. Even in Moses’ day, the people who looked on the bronze serpent had to believe that doing so would bring life instead of death. Those who refused to see and believe would experience death.

In the story of Balaam found in Numbers 22, we have another example of spiritual blindness. Balaam was a pagan seer or diviner who had been hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to bring a curse on the people of Israel. God spoke to Balaam and ordered him NOT to go with the king’s emissaries and NOT to curse Israel. Initially Balaan obeyed. But when Balak’s representatives showed back up offering great wealth in return for his services, God gave Balaam the freedom to make his own choice. Driven by greed and hoping to figure out a way to eventually curse Israel and cash in, Balaam chose to go with the officials from Balak. He was spiritually blind and chose wrong. The seer was unable to see God’s will and, as a result, God was angry. On his way to meet Balak, Balaam is visited by an angel of the Lord. And interestingly enough, the text tells us three different times that “the donkey saw the angel of the Lord” (Numbers 22:23 ESV). But Balaam was blind to this divine encounter. This famous diviner couldn’t see that God was about to take his life for his disobedience. And it wasn’t until God opened his eyes that Balaam truly saw the danger of his circumstances.

What does this passage reveal about God?

As we have seen time and time again through the story of God’s interactions with the people of Israel, He was always in control of each and every circumstance. In this case, God knew the plans of Balak and He knew the heart of Balaam. God was in complete control of the events surrounding this story. While Balaam was blind to the will of God, God knew exactly what was going on within the heart of this greedy pagan diviner. Just as God spoke through a donkey, God would speak through this flawed man.

We see in the stories recorded by John in his gospel that spiritual blindness was still a problem in Jesus’ day. Yes, people could see all that Jesus was able to do. They were amazed that He could turn ordinary water into extraordinary wine, but they were blind to the spiritual significance of these events. John tells us that these signs manifested His glory. They revealed His divine nature and gave proof of His having been sent by God. And the disciples believed in Him. They saw what He was able to do, and they believed in Him. But what was it they believed? At this point they were spiritually blind to the real nature of His divine calling. They believed in His power, but they did not yet understand that His real mission was to involve His own death for their sins.

What does this passage reveal about man?

After Jesus’ miracle of turning the water into wine and His cleansing of the Temple, John records that “many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing” (John 2:23 ESV). They believed, but theirs was not a saving faith. They believed that Jesus was a special individual with special powers. He was able to do things that they had never seen done before. They were attracted to His ability to perform miracles. But interestingly enough, John goes on to say, “But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew human nature. No one needed to tell him what mankind is really like” (John 2:24-25 NLT). John uses a play on words in the Greek. The people “trusted” Jesus, but He didn’t “trust” them. He knew their hearts. He knew that their belief was spurious. Like Balaam, they were blind to the reality of what God was doing. Balaam appeared to be doing the will of God, but his heart was evil, his intentions were impure. Jesus knew the people who “believed in his name” were simply attracted to the sensational nature of His miracles and signs. Such is the case with so many today. They see Jesus as a miracle worker. They view Him as some kind of life coach who can them enjoy everything from improved health to a better marriage. But they fail to see that Jesus came to give them eternal life, not just a slightly better version of the life they had been living. He came to free them from sin and restore them to a right relationship with God. He came to die so that they might be made holy in God’s eyes. But many remain blind to that reality. Like Balaam, they remain unable to see what God is doing around them and what He intends to do within them. As Jesus would say of His own disciples, they have eyes, but do not see, and ears, but do not hear.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Spiritual blindness requires divine healing, just as physical blindness did in Jesus’ day. I need the Spirit of God to open my eyes so that I can see what God is doing in and around me. I need Him to remove the scales from my eyes so that I can fully comprehend His divine will. Otherwise I will tend to see what I want to see. Or I will view life as through a foggy lens that prevents me from seeing accurately and truly. Even though he was a seer, Balaam could not see what God was doing, until God opened his eyes. Even as a child of God, I cannot see God’s divine will unless He opens my eyes. But when I see, I must also believe. I must believe that God is in control. I must believe that God is faithful and worthy of my trust. I must believe that God has my best interest at heart – all the time – regardless of how things may appear. I must believe that what God says, He will do. What He promises, He will fulfill. What He begins, He finishes.

Father, open my eyes so that I can see what it is that You are doing in this world. Don’t let me view life and my circumstances from my limited perspective. Don’t allow me to walk around in spiritual blindness, seeing only what I want to see, but missing out on Your will for my life. I want to see and believe. I want to develop a divine perspective that allows me to view the world and all that is taking place from Your point of view, not mine. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org