Sunday, December 1, 2013

Moses: The incomplete deliverer

He was breathing rather heavily by the time he reached the summit, but not as heavily as he had expected. "Not bad for an old man," he thought to himself.

He stood for a moment to take in the view. Off to the west he could see the Jordan river, the natural border to the land of promise. It was a land that he had heard of, dreamed of, and worked toward for so many years. But it was a land he would never enter himself. He would not have the joy of leading his people into their long-awaited inheritance. That task would fall to his successor.

His eye sight was still excellent, but in these his final moments he wished he could see the land more clearly. And then he felt he was... flying? He wasn't sure. But the distant land seemed to be speeding toward him.

He flew north over Gilead, and then zoomed along the banks of the Jordan. He saw the northern sea and its forests, then he began to move south. He passed over the hill country and into the mountains. Soon the western sea was hurtling toward him. He traveled further south to the Negev, the spot where the spies had entered Canaan almost 40 years earlier. It took him a moment to recognize, for he had never seen it from this perspective. Finally he felt himself returning to his body, past the city of Jericho and then... back. On Mount Nebo.

He was breathing more rapidly now. But not from exertion. It was incredible. What a beautiful land! He had heard the reports of the spies but... What a blessing awaited his people!

Then the Lord spoke to him for what Moses knew would be the final time of his earthly life. "This is the land I promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I promised to give it their descendants. And I shall. I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over."

There is no one afforded more respect among the Jewish people that Moses. And rightfully so. Moses was the prophet of God, the law giver, the deliverer of the people.

But while he was able to deliver them out of the land of oppression, Moses never succeeded in delivering those people into the land of promise. Moses, despite his many great abilities, was human. He was disobedient. And his disobedience kept him from finishing the work that God had entrusted to him. His deliverance was incomplete.

Jesus too has provided deliverance from bondage and oppression. His salvation, however, is complete. The author of Hebrews refers to him as the author and finisher of our faith. The former term refers to a leader or a pioneer who provides an example, while the latter refers to one who fulfills or completes. Paul uses similar language when writing to the church in Philippi: "He who began a good work in you will complete it."

Jesus has already entered the blessing into which He will lead his people. The deliverance that Jesus Christ provides is full. It is complete. It is finished.

(Deuteronomy 34:1-8)

Monday, July 1, 2013

Aaron: The name bearer

By unspoken agreement, they had saved these two particular stones to the end. Bezalel looked down at the turquoise before him and began the task of engraving his name. He completed a letter and paused to look over at Oholiab, who was fully absorbed in his work. Bezalel's eyes caught a flash of blue when Oholiab re-positioned the stone. Back to my work, he thought, and returned to his own stone and his own name.

It was not, of course, his name. No more that it was his stone. The name he was engraving was the name of his tribe: Judah. The stone would be placed in the second row of the breastplate they were creating for the Aaron the high priest. The stone for Dan —the sapphire Oholiab was completing— would be its neighbour.

It struck Bezalel as appropriate that their two tribes should be forever set beside one another on the high priestly garments considering how much time they had spent together. Moses had told them that the Lord himself had chosen them to oversee the craftsmen charged with creating the tent of meeting, its furnishings, and all the sacred garments the priests would wear. After so many weeks of construction and administration that work would soon be completed. And then most of it they would never see again...

Perhaps that was why they had saved their tribe-stones for themselves. Once everything was prepared, it would be Aaron's responsibility go directly into the presence of God. He and Oholiab could never dare do the same; they were not Levites and they were not the high priest. But when Aaron did so, it would be like they were entering with him. He would bear their names on his shoulders and carry them over his heart. And there he would offer sacrifices to God for the people. And for them.

The high priest's garments included, on his shoulders, two onyx stones upon which were engraved the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. On his breastplate were twelve stones. Each bore the name of one of the tribes. Exodus tells us that whenever Aaron entered the Holy Place he was to bear those names as a memorial. They were to be a reminder of the people he represented collectively and of the people he was to care for individually.

We see these two roles outlined at the start of Hebrews 5. The high priest is represent the people to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices on their behalf. He is also to deal gently with those who are ignorant and going astray. The shoulders and the heart. The collective and the individual.

Jesus is also a name bearer. He is our representative to God. He has offered himself as a sacrifice on our behalf. Yet he also deals gently with each of us in our unique blends of ignorance and wandering. He is our high priest. And he is my high priest.

(Exodus 28, 39; Hebrew 5:1-5)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The scarlet cord: The hope of salvation

She secured one end of the rope and then, as silently as possible, lowered the other out her window. She turned to the fugitives and whispered: "Go! Hide in the mountains for three days until the search parties have returned. Then you may return to your people." The two Israelite spies double checked the rope and prepared to lower themselves over the wall. They remembered the oaths that they had given Rahab up on her rooftop in exchange for their safety.

One saw a scarlet cord lying on the table and smiled. It is fitting, he thought, with Passover so near. He grabbed the cord and placed it in her hand. Whispering, he explained: "When we come into the land, place this scarlet cord in this window. Bring your father and mother and all your family here. No one will lay a hand on anyone in this house."

"So be it," she replied as he hoisted himself out the window. She soon felt the tug that indicated both men had made it safely to the ground.

As she pulled the rope back in through the window, she peered intently into the darkness below. She could barely make out their silhouettes as they crept away from the base of the city walls, but they seemed to heed her advice. They were heading toward the mountains and away from the Jordan.

She tied the scarlet cord to her window sill and hung the loose end so that it would be visible to those outside. Like a small trickle of blood high up on the wall. "So be it," she said aloud again before heading off to bed.

Rahab confessed to the two spies that the whole city of Jericho was terrified. True, the Israelites seemed trapped on the other side of the flooding Jordan. But the people of Jericho had heard of all the great works the Lord has accomplished for his people —the crossing of the Red Sea, the defeat of the Amorite kings— and they recognized that the swollen river and their impenetrable walls offered no defense against the God of heaven and earth.

Yet Rahab, after aiding and abetting the Israelite spies, secured from them a promise of protection. This deliverance took the form of a scarlet cord she was to hang in her window. The Hebrew word for cord in Joshua 2 (tiqvah) is most frequently translated elsewhere as hope or expectation. In a very real sense, that scarlet cord was Rahab's hope. It was all that separated her and her family from certain judgement. That cord would get her safely out of the city. It would allow her to live at peace among her former enemies.

In writing to Timothy, Paul describes the Lord Jesus Christ as our hope. It is His blood that protects us from judgement. It is His blood that offers salvation. Only His blood can gives us peace with God.

(Joshua 2:1-24; 1 Timothy 1:1)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Solomon: The king of exceeding wisdom

They had been speaking for hours. Sheba had wise men, of course, but she would have to refer to them simply as "advisers" or "counselors" from now on. They were undoubtedly men of experience, men of great insight, men with extensive knowledge of the natural world. Yet never before had she spoken with anyone of such profound wisdom.

She had begun with a few of her favorite philosophical questions, just to take a measure of the man. She quickly gave up trying to probe the limits of knowledge and moved on to matters of state and politics. Matters of importance. But as their conversation progressed, she found him drawing out the deeper questions which lay hidden in her heart. Some were questions that she had never even dared to voice aloud. Yet, again and again, he brought answers and insight and understanding.

He paused to take a long drink from his cup. She did the same and took the opportunity to once again take in the beauty of his banquet room. It was, like the rest of Solomon's palace, glorious in both design and decor. The luxury almost defied description. From the food and drink at his table, to the golden vessels in which they arrived, to the finery of the servant who carried them, it was all unbelievable. Which, she decided with a smile, was entirely fitting.

She put down her cup and turned back to the King. "The reports which reached my land of your great wisdom were true," she confessed. "Every word was true, but I would not believe them until I came and saw it with my own eyes. And now I can state that the reports were inadequate. Indeed, the half has not been told."

The Queen of Sheba traveled a great distance from her southern home to confirm firsthand the stories about Solomon. Her journey revealed that the reports of his wisdom and wealth were merely half-truths, but not in the way she may have first suspected. In Solomon, she found a king that exceeded his reputation. His wisdom exceeded that of anyone with whom she had ever spoken. His wealth and achievements exceeded those of anyone she had ever met. No doubt she stumbled for new superlatives to express the incredible person of the King of Israel.

The Lord Jesus used a single word to compare himself with Solomon: greater. He said that one day the Queen of the South would rise up and condemn that generation. She came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, but they had the privilege of listening to one whose wisdom exceeded that of the ancient king. While we have not witnessed his works firsthand, nor heard his words as they were spoken, we have the preserved testimony of Scripture on the person of the Saviour. The apostle John wrote that the world itself could not contain the books that would be needed to record all that Jesus did. If the ancient reports could not express even half of the greatness of Solomon, then what tiny fraction of Christ's greatness have we been told?

(1 Kings 10:1-13, Luke 11:29-32)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Passover lamb: The protecting blood

"Abba," a voice asked, "what are you doing?" He felt a tug at his clothes, and he turned to see his son.

"Well, I'm about to put this blood—", he held out the bowl he was holding, "—on the frame of the door with..." His son had picked up the hyssop and was absentmindedly removing its leaves. He snatched it from the boy and continued, "...with this! Tonight the Lord is going to send a destroyer through the land. But we'll be safe in our house once it's been covered in blood."

"Whose blood is it, Abba?"

"Do you remember that lamb that I picked out a few days ago? It is the lamb's blood!" He pointed over at the fire. "Tonight we will feast on the lamb and its blood will protect us!

The boy's gaze shifted back and forth between the roasting lamb and the bowl. Finally, he looked up at his father. Then he burst into tears. "But why?", he sobbed, "that was my favorite lamb! You said he was special!"

He knelt down and took his son's face in his hands. "Because, my son," he explained, "I want you to live!"

The Passover is the defining moment of Jewish history. It marks the beginning of the Jewish calendar and it now commemorate their deliverance from Egypt. The first time it was celebrated, however, it was in preparation for that deliverance. The final plague was about to come upon Egypt: every firstborn, both man and animal, was going to die. Only those protected by the blood of a Passover lamb would be safe. The Israelites had been promised that, when the Lord saw the blood, he would pass over a doorway and not allow the destroyer to enter that house. God himself would protect his people from death on the basis of the blood of a spotless lamb.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians that Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us. It was during Passover that Christ would institute a feast of his own, one that would commemorate a greater deliverance. But on that night it was first celebrated, it was eaten in preparation for that deliverance. Later that evening, Jesus would be taken into custody, beaten, mocked, and eventually crucified. His blood is our protection. In Romans 3:25 we read that, on the basis of Christ's blood, God has passed over our sins. God himself has saved us by the blood of a spotless lamb!

(Exodus 12; 1 Corinthians 5:7)