God Will Provide

Then the Lord spoke to Aaron, “Behold, I have given you charge of the contributions made to me, all the consecrated things of the people of Israel. I have given them to you as a portion and to your sons as a perpetual due. This shall be yours of the most holy things, reserved from the fire: every offering of theirs, every grain offering of theirs and every sin offering of theirs and every guilt offering of theirs, which they render to me, shall be most holy to you and to your sons. 10 In a most holy place shall you eat it. Every male may eat it; it is holy to you. 11 This also is yours: the contribution of their gift, all the wave offerings of the people of Israel. I have given them to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. Everyone who is clean in your house may eat it. 12 All the best of the oil and all the best of the wine and of the grain, the firstfruits of what they give to the Lord, I give to you. 13 The first ripe fruits of all that is in their land, which they bring to the Lord, shall be yours. Everyone who is clean in your house may eat it. 14 Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours. 15 Everything that opens the womb of all flesh, whether man or beast, which they offer to the Lord, shall be yours. Nevertheless, the firstborn of man you shall redeem, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem. 16 And their redemption price (at a month old you shall redeem them) you shall fix at five shekels in silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs. 17 But the firstborn of a cow, or the firstborn of a sheep, or the firstborn of a goat, you shall not redeem; they are holy. You shall sprinkle their blood on the altar and shall burn their fat as a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 18 But their flesh shall be yours, as the breast that is waved and as the right thigh are yours. 19 All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the Lord I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. It is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord for you and for your offspring with you.”  Numbers 18:8-19 ESV

After having dealt decisively with the rebellious leaders of Israel, God reiterates the priestly duties of Aaron and his sons. Despite the demands of Korah and his dissatisfied co-conspirators, God had not budged one inch. He had not compromised His sovereign will that the priesthood belonged to Aaron and his offspring. And this chapter opened with God reiterating His instructions to Aaron.

Then the Lord said to Aaron: “You, your sons, and your relatives from the tribe of Levi will be held responsible for any offenses related to the sanctuary. But you and your sons alone will be held responsible for violations connected with the priesthood. – Numbers 18:1 NLT

With the privilege of service in God’s house came the burden of responsibility. God was going to hold Aaron and his sons accountable for any sins the people might commit in conjunction with the tabernacle or the sacrificial system. Maintaining the holiness of the tabernacle and every object it contained was up to these men. And they were required to follow God’s strict and stringent rules concerning their own moral purity in order to act as His servants and the peoples’ mediators.

God wanted Aaron to consider the priesthood as a gift that should be carefully maintained and painstakingly protected. Purity was essential. And adherence to God’s commands concerning the tabernacle were to be non-negotiable.

“I am giving you the priesthood as your special privilege of service.” – Numbers 18:7 NLT

And this incredible gift would come with unparalleled blessings. The amazing thing about serving God is how He graciously blesses His servants. Aaron and his sons would enjoy the fruit of their labors in the form of a “portion of all the most holy offerings—including the grain offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings” (Numbers 18:9 NLT). All their dietary needs would be met as they feasted on the gifts given by the people as sacrifices to God.

As part of the requirements for offerings and sacrifices, the people could only bring the best of the best. They had to bring the first-fruits – “the best of the olive oil, new wine, and grain” (Numbers 18:12 NLT). No damaged goods or expired fruit allowed.

“All the sacred offerings and special offerings presented to me when the Israelites lift them up before the altar also belong to you. I have given them to you and to your sons and daughters as your permanent share. Any member of your family who is ceremonially clean may eat of these offerings. – Numbers 18:11 NLT

Any gifts given by the people to God would automatically become the property of the priests. Once an offering was made and accepted, a portion of the sacrifice would be reserved for the priests. This included the meal, sin, and trespass offerings. In this way, the priests and their families would always have plenty of food to eat. As part of God’s plan, the Levites would own no property within the land of Canaan. As a result, they could grow no crops of their own or raise flocks and herds from which they could expect to receive milk and meat to eat or skin and fleece with which to clothe themselves. They were completely dependent upon the gracious provision of God. He would willingly share a portion of the gifts given to Him by the people.

“All the first crops of their land that the people present to the Lord belong to you. Any member of your family who is ceremonially clean may eat this food.” – Numbers 18:13 NLT

They would enjoy luxury of good food thanks to the goodness of their generous God. And God reminded Aaron of the significance of this arrangement.

“Everything in Israel that is specially set apart for the Lord also belongs to you.” – Numbers 18:14 NLT

God even made provision for the dedication of the firstborn, both human and animal. Technically, every firstborn male child belonged to God. And when that child’s parents dedicated him to God, they could offer a special redemption price to buy his freedom.

“When the firstborn of all living things were offered to God, they became, in part, the property of the priests, God’s representatives. When people or animals were redeemed, the priests received the payment (the redemption price). When a firstborn animal was sacrificed, the priest received a portion. The contributions from all these offerings helped compensate the priests for not being allowed to own land (15-20).” –  Bridgeway Bible Commentary

That redemption price became yet another means by which God provided for the priests of Israel. He would have a multitude of ways in which He could meet their needs. But there were certain animals that were off-limits and intended for God’s use only. They could not be redeemed or paid for.

“However, you may not redeem the firstborn of cattle, sheep, or goats. They are holy and have been set apart for the Lord. Sprinkle their blood on the altar, and burn their fat as a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord. – Numbers 18:17 NLT

But God still allowed His priests to enjoy a portion of the meat from these sacrificial animals.

The meat of these animals will be yours, just like the breast and right thigh that are presented by lifting them up as a special offering before the altar. Yes, I am giving you all these holy offerings that the people of Israel bring to the Lord. They are for you and your sons and daughters, to be eaten as your permanent share.” – Numbers 18:18-19 NLT

God refers to this arrangement as a covenant of salt. This helps to convey its longevity and perseverance. Salt was a preservative used to prolong the viability of meats. And by declaring His arrangement with the priest in these terms, God was declaring His intentions to meet their needs for generations to come. He was faithful and could be relied upon to feed and care for His priests. They had nothing to worry about.

“It is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord for you and for your offspring with you.” – Numbers 18:19 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

God Will Be Faithful

1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land you are to inhabit, which I am giving you, and you offer to the Lord from the herd or from the flock a food offering or a burnt offering or a sacrifice, to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering or at your appointed feasts, to make a pleasing aroma to the Lord, then he who brings his offering shall offer to the Lord a grain offering of a tenth of an ephah of fine flour, mixed with a quarter of a hin of oil; and you shall offer with the burnt offering, or for the sacrifice, a quarter of a hin of wine for the drink offering for each lamb. Or for a ram, you shall offer for a grain offering two tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with a third of a hin of oil. And for the drink offering you shall offer a third of a hin of wine, a pleasing aroma to the Lord. And when you offer a bull as a burnt offering or sacrifice, to fulfill a vow or for peace offerings to the Lord, then one shall offer with the bull a grain offering of three tenths of an ephah of fine flour, mixed with half a hin of oil. 10 And you shall offer for the drink offering half a hin of wine, as a food offering, a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

11 “Thus it shall be done for each bull or ram, or for each lamb or young goat. 12 As many as you offer, so shall you do with each one, as many as there are. 13 Every native Israelite shall do these things in this way, in offering a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 14 And if a stranger is sojourning with you, or anyone is living permanently among you, and he wishes to offer a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord, he shall do as you do. 15 For the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you, a statute forever throughout your generations. You and the sojourner shall be alike before the Lord. 16 One law and one rule shall be for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you.”

17 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 18 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land to which I bring you 19 and when you eat of the bread of the land, you shall present a contribution to the Lord. 20 Of the first of your dough you shall present a loaf as a contribution; like a contribution from the threshing floor, so shall you present it. 21 Some of the first of your dough you shall give to the Lord as a contribution throughout your generations. Numbers 15:1-21 ESV

Even though God had condemned an entire generation of Israelites to wander in the wilderness for 40 years as punishment for their rebellion, He would not abandon them. The Lord would continue to guide them, provide for and protect them, and even give them further instructions regarding their eventual occupation of the land of Canaan. While that generation would never experience the joy of crossing over the Jordan and experiencing God’s rest, their children would. And God used the four-decade-long detour through the wilderness as a training opportunity for the next generation of Israelites, providing them with detailed instructions for their eventual entrance into the land of promise.

Though the adult population had allowed the fear-laden advice of the ten spies to deter them from keeping God’s command to enter and conquer the land of Canaan, God refused to renege on His promise. He remained committed to the covenant He had made with Abraham and assured Moses that the offspring of the rebellious generation would inherit the land.

God had made it perfectly clear that the adults in the room had blown their chance.

“…not one of these people will ever enter that land. They have all seen my glorious presence and the miraculous signs I performed both in Egypt and in the wilderness, but again and again they have tested me by refusing to listen to my voice. They will never even see the land I swore to give their ancestors. None of those who have treated me with contempt will ever see it.” – Numbers 14:22-23 NLT

Yet, despite their blatant display of disobedience, He would not hold the children responsible for the sins of their parents. During the 40-year delay, things would continue just as they had since the Israelites departed Egypt. The tabernacle would remain in the center of the camp with the Shekinah glory of God located above the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies. The sacrificial system would continue just as God had prescribed it on Mount Sinai. Sacrifices would be offered and sins atoned for. Life would go on as it had before. And each year, children would be born into the Israelite community and members of the older generation would die off. There would be a slow but steady changing of the guard as the infants grew into adolescents who eventually became adults.

And God provided Moses with the assurance that a new group of Israelites would eventually enter the land.

“Give the following instructions to the people of Israel.

“When you finally settle in the land I am giving you, you will offer special gifts as a pleasing aroma to the Lord. – Numbers 15:2-3 NLT

The faces and names of the people would change, but the covenant would be fulfilled. And this message from God must have been a painful reminder to the older generation that their disobedience had been costly. They would never have the joy of crossing the Jordan River into the land of promise with their children and grandchildren. Their lives would end in death in the wilderness. They were close but yet so far. Canaan was within reach but completely off limits because of their refusal to obey God.

This chapter contains additional instructions regarding the sacrificial system and it focuses on the changes God would require once they entered the new land. It is interesting to note that this addendum includes additional sacrifices involving grain, oil, and wine. When the people arrive in the land, they will be required to supplement their meat offerings with “a grain offering of two quarts of choice flour mixed with one quart of olive oil” (Numbers 15:4 NLT). And for each lamb offered, they would add “one quart of wine as a liquid offering” (Numbers 15:5 NLT).

This appears to be a reference to the fruitfulness of the land of Canaan. When the spies had returned from their expedition within the borders of Canaan, they reported that it was “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27 NLT). It was rich and bountiful. In fact, they had brought back “a single cluster of grapes so large that it took two of them to carry it on a pole between them! They also brought back samples of the pomegranates and figs” (Numbers 13:23 NLT).

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses describes just how bountiful the land of promise will be.

“The LORD your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant.” – Deuteronomy 6:10-11 NLT

For people who were living in the wilderness, surviving off of manna and quail, this description must have been highly attractive. The prospect of enjoying the comforts of a real house over the cramped confines of a tent would have been difficult to imagine. Ever since leaving Egypt, they had eaten no fruit, raised no crops, baked no bread, or enjoyed any of the comforts of “home.” They were nomads wandering through a godforsaken wilderness.

But God assured them that upon entering the land of promise, all that would change. They would have plenty of grain, oil, and wine. So much so, that these bountiful resources would become a part of the sacrificial system. According to the book of Exodus, the Israelites had left Egypt with “great flocks and herds of livestock” (Exodus 12:38 NLT). So, animal sacrifices had always been plentiful, even in the wilderness. But they had no access to grain, oil, and wine. The only bread they had to eat was in the form of the manna which God miraculously provided. Since there were few olive trees or vineyards in the wilderness, oil and wine were in short supply. But things would be different in Canaan.

This entire passage is meant to emphasize God’s faithfulness and to assure the Israelites of His unfailing commitment to providing for all their needs. And their response to His faithfulness was to be one of gratitude, expressed through the offering of meat, grain, oil, and wine. These gifts were intended to honor God for His goodness and grace – “a pleasing aroma to the Lord” (Numbers 15:3) for all that He had done.

It’s important to remember that these instructions were given long before the people entered the land and long before they had access to the oil, grain, and wine. But God was assuring them that the day would come when the bounty of the land would become readily available. In fact, He was guaranteeing its availability.

“When you arrive in the land where I am taking you, and you eat the crops that grow there, you must set some aside as a sacred offering to the Lord. Present a cake from the first of the flour you grind, and set it aside as a sacred offering, as you do with the first grain from the threshing floor. Throughout the generations to come, you are to present a sacred offering to the Lord each year from the first of your ground flour.” – Numbers 15:18-21 NLT

To the rebellious generation who had decided that the conquest of Canaan was impossible, this word from God must have been difficult to hear. They must have been filled with regret when they considered all that they had sacrificed when they made their fateful decision to disobey God. Not only would they fail to enter the land, but they would never enjoy its fruit or experience the joy of standing alongside their children and grandchildren as they offered God gifts of gratitude for its bounty.

But God underscores His own faithfulness when He states that these offerings will take place “throughout the generations to come” (Numbers 15:21 NLT). The next generation will conquer and occupy the land. The land will provide for all their needs. And the people will be expected to offer up their thanks to God for His goodness and graciousness – for generations to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

 

The Oil of Gladness

1 Now the wife of one of the sons of the prophets cried to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the Lord, but the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.” And Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?” And she said, “Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.” Then he said, “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few. Then go in and shut the door behind yourself and your sons and pour into all these vessels. And when one is full, set it aside.” So she went from him and shut the door behind herself and her sons. And as she poured they brought the vessels to her. When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not another.” Then the oil stopped flowing. She came and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on the rest.” 2 Kings 4:1-7 ESV

The author has made the corporate nature of Israel’s sin abundantly clear. While he has focused most of his attention on the men who ruled over the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel, he has also exposed the pervasive nature of the unfaithfulness and apostasy that had infected the entire nation. As the kings of Israel continued to stubbornly pursue and promote the worship of false gods, the people followed their example. Yet, despite the ubiquitous presence of idolatry, there was a remnant of those who chose to remain faithful to Yahweh. These faithful few found themselves constantly tempted to compromise their convictions and cave into the pressure to conform. And on those occasions when God was forced to pour out His divine judgment upon the nation, these same individuals suffered alongside their rebellious neighbors.

Yet the author provides an occasional glimpse into the lives of these spiritual holdouts, and when he does, they shine like stars in the darkness of Israel’s apostasy and rebellion. These somewhat rare sightings of the faithful few also provide a powerful reminder of God’s mercy and love. He knows His flock and is well aware of those who still worship Him as God. Not only that, He is fully cognizant of their circumstances and always ready to care for them in their time of need.

Chapter four opens up with one such story, and it follows close on the heels of the account of Israel’s miraculous victory over the Moabites. God had graciously rescued the forces of Jehoram and Jehoshaphat after they had run out of water in the wilderness of Edom. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had intervened on their behalf, refreshing them with water and then rewarding them with a decisive, yet undeserved, victory over the Moabites.

The prophet Elisha had played a crucial role in this memorable affair, delivering the good news of God’s rescue from pending death and His victory over the enemies of Israel. And when the prophet returned home, he found himself facing yet another crisis, one that was much smaller in scale but just as serious in nature. He was approached by the wife of a fellow prophet. Her husband had recently died, leaving her and her two young boys with no source of income. The creditors were already knocking at the door, demanding payment of her husband’s debts. If she failed to settle her accounts in full, her boys would become indentured servants, paying off the debt through years of forced labor.

This was a common practice in those days, even among the Israelites. Those who were unable to pay off their debts could become servants to their creditor, working off their indebtedness through labor. But God had provided regulations concerning these transactions.

“If you buy a Hebrew slave, he may serve for no more than six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom. If he was single when he became your slave, he shall leave single. But if he was married before he became a slave, then his wife must be freed with him. – Exodus 21:2-3 NLT

“If one of your fellow Israelites falls into poverty and is forced to sell himself to you, do not treat him as a slave. Treat him instead as a hired worker or as a temporary resident who lives with you, and he will serve you only until the Year of Jubilee. At that time he and his children will no longer be obligated to you, and they will return to their clans and go back to the land originally allotted to their ancestors. The people of Israel are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt, so they must never be sold as slaves. Show your fear of God by not treating them harshly. – Leviticus 25:39-43 NLT

This widow found herself in a difficult situation, facing the potential loss of her two young sons, so she appealed to Elisha. We are given no insight into what she was expecting the prophet to do for her. Was she hoping he would intercede with her creditors and beg them for mercy? Did she think the prophet would pay off her debt? Even Elisha questioned her expectations.

“What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?” – 2 Kings 4:2 ESV

To the widow, this question must have sounded like a request for payment. She heard the prophet asking what she had to offer in return for his help, so she sadly reported, “Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil” (2 Kings 4:2 ESV). Her circumstances were dire. She had nothing to offer the prophet and no way of paying off her debt. From her perspective, everything was hopeless and her prospects for deliverance were bleak. Even if her sons became indentured servants, it would be years before their labor would pay off the debt and, in the meantime, she would be left alone and with no means of financial support. It couldn’t get any worse.

But Elisha saw things from a different perspective. He had just witnessed His God bring water to a desert and rescue the army of an apostate, unbelieving king. And he fully trusted that God could and would rescue this helpless widow in her time of need. So, Elisha instructed her to gather as many jars, containers, pots, and pans as she could find. She was even to borrow them from her neighbors. He wanted her to be aggressive in her efforts, instructing her to find “not too few” of these empty vessels. When she was done, she and her boys were to close the door to their house and then begin the process of pouring the oil from the jar into the various jugs and jars they had gathered.

So she did as she was told. Her sons kept bringing jars to her, and she filled one after another. Soon every container was full to the brim! – 2 Kings 4:5-6 NLT

At no point did the widow question Elisha’s instructions. Despite how strange his orders may have seemed, she and her boys faithfully did as they had been told. And a miracle took place – right before their eyes. The oil in the jar somehow replenished itself and did not run out until the last jar had been filled. Imagine the excitement of those young boys as they brought jar after jar to their mother and watched as she carefully filled them with the seemingly never-ending supply of oil. Soon, their entire house was filled with jars brimming with oil. And when the supply of jars finally ran out, so did the oil. But not before God had miraculously filled every last vessel.

When the woman informed Elisha what had happened, he showed no sign of surprise, but simply told her to take the oil and sell it. She was to use the proceeds to settle her debt. But God didn’t just bring her indebtedness to zero. He gave her a surplus. Once the oil had been sold, she and her sons would have more than enough money to take care of their needs for a long time to come.

This unnamed woman represents the remnant of the faithful who lived all throughout the nation of Israel at that time. In the midst of all the apostasy and unfaithfulness, there were those who longed to have their needs met by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They had refused to bow the knee to Baal and Asherah. They had resisted the temptation to compromise their convictions. In her time of need, this woman did not call on the false gods of Israel. She sought out the prophet of Yahweh, and she asked for his help. She had no idea what to expect, but she knew that her only hope of rescue would be found by throwing herself at the mercy of the one true God. And He delivered. While Israel had proved to be unfaithful to God, He continued to exhibit His covenant faithfulness to them – in big and small ways. And this story provides a glimpse into the merciful nature of God and His care and concern for those who are “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40).

“For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed. He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. – Deuteronomy 10:17-18 NLT

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Word of the Lord

1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” And the word of the Lord came to him: “Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” So he went and did according to the word of the Lord. He went and lived by the brook Cherith that is east of the Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. And after a while the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” 11 And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12 And she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” 13 And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. 14 For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” 15 And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. 16 The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah. 1 Kings 17:1-16 ESV

Almost as if out of nowhere, a new character appears on the scene. His sudden and unexpected arrival seems intended to accentuate the divine nature of his mission. We’re given no background story and little in the way of biographical information, other than his name and the identity of his hometown.

His introduction into the narrative is timed to coincide with the rise to power of King Ahab and his Sidonian queen, Jezebel. With this new power couple ruling over the northern kingdom of Israel, the spiritual state of the ten northern tribes has reached an all-time low. The author ended chapter 16 with an unflattering description of their influence over the nation.

…he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him. He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. And Ahab made an Asherah. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him. – 1 Kings 16:31-33 ESV

To say that Ahab had managed to anger God more than any of his predecessors is saying a lot. He was following in the footsteps of some world-class. all-star-quality apostates. But when it came to wickedness and unfaithfulness, Ahab set the new gold standard. He became the proverbial poster boy for all that is wicked and ungodly, while his wife managed to earn herself a permanent spot in the hall of infamy.

In the middle of their sin-fueled and self-absorbed reign, God decides to deliver a message to them, utilizing an obscure and unknown man named Elijah. This will not be the first time God has sent a prophet to deliver a message to a wayward and rebellious king. When Jeroboam had made the fateful decision to replace Yahweh with his own false gods, an unnamed prophet had appeared on the scene with a dire message for the king, and he demonstrated God’s anger by destroying one of the altars Jeroboam had dedicated to his false god. Later on, Jeroboam sent his wife to consult with another prophet of God, in hopes of getting a prognosis regarding his young son’s illness. But what he got was bad news. He was told that his son would die and that every one of his male heirs would die before they could inherit the throne. In other words, any hopes of establishing a dynasty would be destroyed.

As the seventh king to reign over the northern kingdom of Israel, Ahab would not be the first to receive a message from God. But, in his case, the prophet would play a more pronounced and prolonged role in his life. The sins of Ahab and his wife were so egregious that God made his prophet a permanent fixture in their kingdom.

Elijah’s very first encounter with the king and queen was far from favorable. He stood before this powerful couple and boldly proclaimed, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word” (1 Kings 17:1 ESV). That took guts and a fair amount of faith. He was claiming to have the God-given authority to withhold rain from the kingdom of Israel. Any way you look at it, this had to come across as a less-than-veiled threat to Ahab and Jezebel. But before they had time to cut this arrogant upstart down to size, God gave him instructions to get out of town.

“Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. – 1 Kings 17:3 ES

Elijah had done his job, but now it was time for God to prepare him for the next phase of his assignment. Before sending his prophet back into the mouth of the lion’s den, God planned to equip him for what was to come. He was determined to make Elijah a faithful and obedient messenger, strong enough to handle all the vitriol and violence that was about to come his way. Standing up to Ahab and Jezebel was not going to be easy, so God graciously eased Elijah into his new role with a hands-on experience that would teach him to trust and obey.

While in God’s preparatory school for prophets, Elijah was miraculously fed and cared for. He received a twice-daily ration of bread and meat, delivered to his cave by ravens. And outside the cave was a ready source of clean, pure water. But in time, “the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land” (1 Kings 17:7 ESV). In other words, Elijah’s prediction of drought had come true and he was suffering just like everyone else. And without rain, that meant there was no more bread or meat for the ravens to deliver. Elijah’s little oasis in the wilderness had become a death trap. So, God gave him new instructions.

“Go and live in the village of Zarephath, near the city of Sidon. I have instructed a widow there to feed you.” – 1 Kings 17:8 NLT

This would have been a long and arduous journey under normal conditions, but the presence of drought made it even more so. Interestingly, God sent Elijah to a city in the region of Sidon, the very kingdom over which Jezebel’s father was king. Elijah was being sent to the very place Ahab had acquired a queen and her false god, Baal. Zarephath lay in between Tyre and Sidon, two of the most prominent Phoenician cities. But as the story makes clear, the drought had made its way all the way to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

God had provided Elijah with few details regarding what to do when he arrived in Zarephath. The prophet had no food and had received no word from God regarding when and how it would come – if it did at all. So, when Elijah encounters a widow gathering sticks, he decides to throw himself on her mercy. He asks for a drink of water and a morsel of bread. But then he finds out that this woman’s state was worse than his own.

“I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.” – 1 Kings 17:12 NLT

The drought had left this woman with no food with which to feed herself or her young son. The drought had taken its toll. And it shouldn’t be overlooked that Baal, the god of the Phonecians, was considered a fertility god. He was the provider of bountiful blessings, whether in the form of crops or children. And yet, this woman was living in a drought and watching her young son starve to death. There was nothing bountiful taking place in Zarephath. Baal was nowhere to be found.

Then, God gave Elijah a message to deliver to the woman.

“Don’t be afraid! Go ahead and do just what you’ve said, but make a little bread for me first. Then use what’s left to prepare a meal for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!” – 1 Kings 17:13-14 NLT

While the god of the Phoenicians had failed to provide, the God of Israel would meet her needs and preserve the lives of both her and her son. Even in a time of drought, God would miraculously provide flour and oil in abundance – until He decided to open up the skies and end the drought.

And the woman faithfully obeyed the word of the prophet and There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah” (1 Kings 17:16 NLT). God graciously provided for this Sidonian widow and her son, and He continued to meet the needs of His prophet. But more than anything, God was teaching Elijah that He could be trusted. He was greater than the god of the Phoenicians. He was more powerful than the god of Ahab and Jezebel. The brook may have dried up, but the resources of God remained unending and plentiful. The ravens may have stopped showing up, but the miracle-working power of God remained undiminished. There was no circumstance too great for God.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Anointed and Appointed to Die

1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus. John 12:1-11 ESV

The public ministry of Jesus has come to a spectacular close, culminating with the raising of Lazarus from the dead. And while John indicates that many who witnessed this miracle ended up believing in Jesus, their conversions only intensified the hatred of the Sanhedrin for Jesus. These men had threatened any who expressed belief in Jesus as the Messiah (John 9:22) with ex-communication from the synagogue and yet, Jesus’ popularity continued to spread.

Jesus would perform no more miracles or deliver any more messages. His focus had shifted from demonstrating His divine power and authority to accomplishing His God-given mission. John reveals that it is only six days until the Passover celebration begins and Jesus, knowing that the day of His sacrificial death is drawing closer, has the end in mind. Luke records that as “the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51 ESV). Jesus was resolute and determined to carry out the will of His Heavenly Father. Nothing would distract or deter Him. And everything that John records in his gospel from this point forward is intended to prepare his readers for the final phase of Jesus’ life: His death, burial, and resurrection.

Just days before His own death, Jesus returned to the scene of His greatest miracle: the town of Bethany where He had restored Lazarus to life. This was a risky move on Jesus’ part because “the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him” (John 11:57 ESV). But Jesus was walking in perfect obedience to His Father’s will and there was nothing the Sanhedrin could do to prevent God’s redemptive plan from unfolding just as He had sovereignly ordained it.

According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus was invited as the guest of honor at dinner hosted by a man named, Simon, whom John describes as a leper. The New Living Translation describes Simon as “a man who had previously had leprosy” because it would have been unlikely that any guests would have shown up to a party in his home if his disease was still active. He would have been considered ceremonially unclean and unapproachable. We know nothing about this man, but it seems likely that Jesus must have healed from his leprosy and the party was his way of expressing his gratitude.

Among the guests are Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. By this time, Lazarus had become somewhat of a celebrity. The news of his death-to-life transformation had spread rapidly and it likely that his home and former grave had become local tourist attractions. No doubt, some enterprising entrepreneur had begun giving tours of the very spot where Lazarus had walked out of the tomb – alive.

It is no coincidence that Lazarus, the man who was formerly dead but was now alive, was reclining at the same table with Jesus, the man who was alive but would soon be dead. The very one who had restored Lazarus to life was preparing to experience death so that others might live.

The entire tone of this party, hosted by Simon as an expression of gratitude to Jesus and intended as a time of celebration, was about to change. As Jesus and the other guests reclined at Simon’s table, Mary, one of the sisters of Lazarus, took the opportunity to express her sincere gratitude to Jesus for what He had done for her brother. In a premeditated display of humble and costly devotion to Jesus, Mary “took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair” (John 12:3 ESV).

John, having been an eyewitness to this event, recalls how the smell of the nard immediately permeated the room. As soon as Mary opened the jar containing the aromatic oil and began pouring it on Jesus’ head and feet, everyone’s attention was riveted on this unexpected and somewhat unorthodox scene. And when Mary began to dry Jesus’ feet with her own hair, everyone in the room would have been shocked and filled with indignation. In fact, in his gospel account, Matthew records that even Jesus’ disciples were surprised by Mary’s actions.

when the disciples saw it, they were indignant. – Matthew 26:8 ESV

Matthew even indicates that the disciples were appalled by what they considered to be Mary’s overly extravagant and wasteful use expensive perfume to anoint Jesus.

“Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” – Matthew 26:8-9 ESV

But John reveals the true source of this seemingly frugal-minded outburst from the disciples. It had been Judas who expressed righteous indignation at Mary’s wastefulness.

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” – John 12:4-5 ESV

And with this insight, John sets the stage for what is to come. Judas is going to play a major role in the unfolding drama surrounding Jesus’ last days on this earth. And his comments provide a stark contrast to the selfless, humble, and sacrificial actions of Mary. Judas had no real love for Jesus. He had entered into his relationship with Jesus solely for what he could get out of it. It was not that Judas was totally unbelieving. He likely considered Jesus to be the Messiah, but his expectations were selfish in nature. Judas probably harbored strong hopes that Jesus would prove to be the next King of Israel and, as one of His disciples, he would stand to benefit. Judas was an opportunist. And, as John makes clear, Judas had taken advantage of his role as treasurer to line his own pockets.

…he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. – John 12:6 ESV

Judas had no sense of what was really going on. All he saw was a missed opportunity to make a profit without any cost to himself. But Mary had sacrificed greatly, having spent what was the equivalent of an entire year’s wages to purchase the nard that she poured on the head and feet of Jesus. But to her, it had all been worth it. What price could she put on the life of her brother? He had been dead but was now alive. She had lost him but, thanks to Jesus, had received him back.

And Jesus reveals that there was more to Mary’s actions than even she was able to grasp. Her anointing had a far greater significance than she had originally intended. Matthew provides us with Jesus’ response to His indignant and ignorant disciples.

“Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.” – Matthew 26:10-12 ESV

Unbeknownst to Mary, she had actually prepared the body of Jesus for His coming burial. And Jesus warns the disciples to allow her to keep whatever nard remained so that she might keep it for the day of HIs death. But all of this escaped their understanding. He was headed to Jerusalem in order to sacrifice His life on their behalf, but they had been overwhelmed by the smell of perfume and the apparent waste of resources. Little did they know that their Master was about to pour out His life for them. In just a matter of days, His costly blood would pour from the wounds on His back, brow, hands, feet, and sides. Later on, in the upper room, Jesus would use a cup of wine as a symbol, stating “my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you” (Luke 22:20 NLT).

Jesus was headed to the cross. But the disciples’ minds were elsewhere. And years later, as John penned the words of his gospel, he must have wondered how they could have been so blind. It all made sense this side of the crucifixion, but at the time, they had been oblivious to all the signs that pointed to His coming death.

And John brings the sobering reality of the circumstances back into focus as he reveals the crowds gathering outside Simon’s home, anxious for a glimpse of Jesus and Lazarus. And these crowds will play a vital role in all that happens in the days ahead. But there is another group of individuals who will play an even more significant and sinister part in Jesus’ last days: The religious leaders of Israel. When they discover that Lazarus’ so-called resurrection has made him a virtual calling card for Jesus, they decide to put him to death as well. While Caiaphas had originally said that “it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish” (John 11:50 ESV), he was now willing to up the ante. If Jesus and Lazarus had to die to save the nation of Israel, so be it.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Gratitude At Great Cost

When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” – Matthew 26:1-13 ESV

Jesus_Anointed_by_Mary_Magdalene.jpgJesus ended His discussion regarding the Kingdom of Heaven with a jarring reminder to His disciples of His upcoming crucifixion. Not only was the inauguration of His Kingdom going to be delayed, but He was also going to die. And while Jesus had made it clear that the coming of His Kingdom would not happen for some time, His death would take place in just a matter of days.

What a rude wakeup call for the disciples. And what an unpleasant reminder that things were not as they had hoped or supposed. Their king had come, but not as they had expected. His Kingdom was not of this earth. And, as they would soon discover, the crown He was destined to wear would be made of thorns, not gold. He would hang on a cross, not sit on a throne. And yet, it was all part of God’s sovereign plan.

And so was the plotting and planning of the religious leaders. Their role in the entire affair was not in opposition to God’s will, but an essential part of it. They were nothing more than instruments in His hands, unknowingly accomplishing His will even through their disobedience and rejection of His Son. What they did, they did in secret. They plotted behind the scenes. They hid their intentions from the people, because of Jesus’ popularity. But God was fully aware of their every move. And He was in total control of the entire timeline of events. From the clandestine collusion of the religious leaders to the self-serving plans of Judas to betray Jesus, nothing escaped God’s divine attention or threatened the outcome of His redemptive plan.

And this includes the anointing of Jesus by Mary. This has always been a fascinating story to me. It is full of interesting twists and turns and raises more than just a few questions. One of the most intriguing things about this passage is a statement made by Jesus. It is one that I overlooked for years.

After having been anointed by Mary and hearing the protests of Judas about the wastefulness of this action, Jesus responded by saying, “I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed” (Mark 14:9 NLT).

I can’t help but read that statement and ask, “Was He right?” Have the actions of this woman been remembered and discussed wherever the Good News has been preached? There is no doubt that this passage and the events contained in it have been preached, but have Mary’s deeds been discussed throughout the world? I am not saying that Jesus was wrong, but I am suggesting that we may be missing the significance of the moment as Jesus saw it.

His statement suggests that the actions of Mary were not to be overlooked or misunderstood. The disciples, especially Judas, saw what she did as wasteful and unnecessary. It seemed extravagant and a tad over-zealous on Mary’s part. But Jesus said that what she did should be remembered and discussed among all believers everywhere and for all time. But why?

I think there are several things going on here. First of all, it is just days before Jesus’ trials, crucifixion, and death. He had told His disciples what was going to happen in Jerusalem, but they had refused to believe it. Jesus had His attention focused on the task at hand – His sacrificial death for the sins of all mankind. The disciples were focused on something altogether different: Jesus becoming the King of Israel. They were still anticipating that He was going to establish His earthly Kingdom, where they would rule and reign at His side. They had no room in their plans for a suffering Savior or a martyred Messiah.

Yet, Jesus was fully aware of all that was about to happen to Him. He knew about Judas’ plans to betray Him. He was painfully aware that Peter was going to deny Him. He knew that every one of the disciples would eventually desert Him. So, when He walked into the home of Simon the leper in order to attend a special dinner held in His honor, His mind was on the events that faced Him in the days ahead.

But this dinner was meant to be a celebration. Simon, the host of the event, had been healed by Jesus from leprosy. In attendance was Lazarus, who Jesus had miraculously raised from the dead just days earlier. Along with him were his sisters, Mary and Martha. This was a joyous occasion, and all in attendance were celebrating the life, health, and wholeness of these two men: Simon and Lazarus. And Jesus was the center of attention because He had made it all possible.

It was a feast, complete with fine food and good wine. And then, in the middle of it all, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, stood up and took a bottle of costly perfume and poured it on Jesus’ head and feet. This would have been a stop-down moment. The smell would have been overwhelming, as the pungent aroma of nard filled the room. All eyes would have been riveted on Mary as she knelt at Jesus’ feet, weeping and wiping up the excess perfume with her own hair. Jaws would have dropped. Whispers would have been passed back and forth. Mark tells us that some at the table were indignant at what they saw. Judas, the acting treasurer for the disciples, spoke up and commented on the wastefulness of it all. “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor” (John 12:5 NLT).

But what was Mary’s motivation? Jesus seemed to indicate that Mary knew what she was doing. He said, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial” (John 12:7 NLT).

But I don’t think that was Mary’s intent. I don’t believe she anointed Jesus, aware that He was going to be dead in just a few days. Her action was purely out of gratitude for what He had done for her brother. He had raised Lazarus from the dead, and she was overwhelmed with appreciation. So, she took the best that she had and gave it to the Lord. She blessed Him for having been a blessing to her. Unknowingly, she was anointing Jesus for burial – while He was still alive.

The fragrance of that perfume would have been with Jesus even as He hung on the cross. The oil from the essence of nard would have mixed with His blood as He was scourged by the Roman guards. It would have mingled with His sweat as He hung on the cross, enduring the physical pain and the verbal abuse of the religious leaders. And as Jesus breathed His last breath, the smell of that perfume would have filled His nostrils.

This selfless, sacrificial gift would last much longer than the meal or the accolades of the guests. Even the shouts of “Hosanna” that had accompanied Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem that previous Sunday would die away and change into screams of “Crucify Him!”

The people at that dinner were there because they had seen or heard about Jesus’ miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead. Jesus was a celebrity. He was a rock star. But none of them went out of their way to sacrificially thank Him for all that He had done. Except for one individual. Mary took the time and sacrificed her resources, to express gratitude to Jesus for His ministry in her life. And her thankful actions were seen by Jesus as a preparation for His coming death.

Jesus was on His way to die – on their behalf. The disciples were busy planning for the Kingdom, even debating who would have the highest positions in Jesus’ new administration. The people were thinking that things were looking up. The Messiah had arrived and, once He claimed His rightful throne, He was going to get rid of the Romans once and for all. But Mary could think of doing nothing else but expressing thanks for what Jesus had already done in her life. She showed Him her gratitude.

Jesus made a point of saying that what Mary had done for Him would be remembered and discussed among believers everywhere and for all time. Why? Because she alone expressed the proper response to Him. She was not asking for more. She was not demanding that He set up His Kingdom. She was not wanting Him to perform more miracles or prove Himself in any other way. He had already done more than enough for Mary and she showed Him just how grateful she was. And in doing so, she helped prepare His living body for His coming death. Her action of gratitude would have more impact than even she intended. She did what she could. She gave what she had. She showed how she felt. And she should be remembered and serve as a model for us all.

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.

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

Sanctified by the Spirit

1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you. – 1 Peter 1:1-2 ESV

11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:11 ESV

The believer’s sanctification might be called a family affair, involving each member of the Trinity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. First, it is God the Father who decreed from eternity past to set apart a people for Himself.

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. – Ephesians 1:4-5 NLT

God did not have to extend the gift of holiness to anyone. Yet He did. Because He is omniscient and operates outside the bounds of time and space, God knew in advance that mankind was going to sin. And from the very beginning He had a plan in place to provide a means of restoring holiness to those who had inherited the sin and condemnation brought upon them by Adam’s transgression.

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 NLT

But Jesus had a solution in place before the first sin was committed. He had already planned to send His Son into the world as the sacrifice for the sins of mankind. And Jesus, in taking on human flesh and living in perfect obedience to God’s law and in total submission to God’s will, gave His life as an atonement for the sins of man. In doing so, He satisfied the just demands of God and provided His righteousness for those who had no righteousness of their own.

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. – Romans 3:21-24 NLT

I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. – Philippians 3:9 NLT

It was God who set us apart for a life of holiness. It was His Son who gave His life so that we might have the righteousness necessary to enter into God’s presence. But it is the Spirit of God who secures our sanctification. Without the Spirit’s indwelling presence, there is no sanctification. Paul put it rather bluntly when he wrote: “You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.)” (Romans 8:9 NLT).

In essence, there is a three-part strategy to our sanctification. In the Old Testament, a person or thing was set apart or sanctified for divine use. The people of Israel were consecrated by God as His chosen people. They were no better than anyone else. They had no inherent value that qualified them for their unique relationship with God. He sovereignly deemed them to be His own and set them apart for His use and glory. But what God sets apart for His use must be cleansed and purified before it can perform its divinely ordained responsibility. So, God provided a means by which the people of Israel could receive cleansing from their sins. He gave them the sacrificial system and commanded that they use it to purify themselves from the inevitable sins they would commit. Even the priests had to be cleansed from their impurities before they could serve as mediators for the people of God. And it’s interesting to note how much emphasis God put on the adornment of those things He set apart for His use. The decorations of the tabernacle and temple were rich and luxurient, reflecting the glory of God. The priestly garments were made of the finest fabric and adorned with priceless jewels, signifying the invaluable role these men were to play in leading the people of God in their worship of Him.

So, we see the biblical model of sanctification as including the setting apart, the cleansing, and the adorning of those things belonging to God. And the same is true in the sanctification of His saints. We have been set apart by God, cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ, and adorned with the Spirit of God. And it is the Spirit that makes it possible for us to produce the fruit of righteousness (Philippians 1:11) or, as Paul refers to it in Galatians, the fruit of the Spirit.

In a sense, when God places His Spirit within the life of the believer, He adorns them with the divine capacity to produce, for the first time in their lives, the fruit of righteousness. Before the Spirit’s arrival into the life of the believer, they were incapable of producing anything remotely righteous because, as Isaiah declared, all their “righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6 ESV). Their sanctification had been preordained by God and their justification or right standing before God had been made possible by the blood of Christ. But it was the regenerating work of the Spirit of God that provided the capacity to recognize and receive the free gift of salvation offered to us by God through Christ.

When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit  He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. – Titus 3:4-7 NLT

Jesus Himself said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:63 ESV). And He told the Pharisee, Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6 ESV).

And Paul reminded the believers living in Rome that they had received a new capacity to live righteous and godly lives because of the presence of the Spirit within them.

But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit. – Romans 7:6 NLT

As believers, we have been adorned by God with His Spirit. There is a picture of this adorning or anointing foreshadowed in the Old Testament when God prescribed for Moses the necessary steps in preparing the tabernacle and the priests for His service. He commanded Moses:

“Like a skilled incense maker, blend these ingredients to make a holy anointing oil. Use this sacred oil to anoint the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, the table and all its utensils, the lampstand and all its accessories, the incense altar, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the washbasin with its stand. Consecrate them to make them absolutely holy. After this, whatever touches them will also become holy.

“Anoint Aaron and his sons also, consecrating them to serve me as priests. And say to the people of Israel, ‘This holy anointing oil is reserved for me from generation to generation. It must never be used to anoint anyone else, and you must never make any blend like it for yourselves. It is holy, and you must treat it as holy. Anyone who makes a blend like it or anoints someone other than a priest will be cut off from the community.’” – Exodus 30:25-33 NLT

The anointing oil, which was considered holy by God, having been set apart for a specific use, was poured on the various elements found in the temple. It was also poured over the heads of Aaron and his fellow priests. And in one of his psalms, David describes this anointing oil as being “poured over Aaron’s head” and being of such quantity that it “ran down his beard and onto the border of his robe” (Psalm 133:2 NLT). Aaron was absolutely saturated by the oil, as it touched every part of his person and covered him with its aromatic fragrance. Aaron’s anointing was visible and undeniable. And so is ours.

The presence of God’s Spirit within us sanctifies us and sets us apart as His own. But His presence is noticeable and transformative. Because of the Spirit’s presence within us, our lives are able to display the fruit of righteousness through us. And Paul reminds us that “Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God” (2 Corinthians 2:15 NLT). But our Spirit-adorned lives impact others as well. Paul goes on to say, “To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume” (2 Corinthians 2:16 NLT). All because of the sanctifying presence of the Spirit of God.

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.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson