Multiply: The Kingdom of God

pablo (1)Ever have a week were nothing seems right and you just want to run away? Yeah… Anyway, thank you so much for joining me again this week.  We only have two sessions left before we are “done” with the Old Testament and we move on to the New Testament (and yet, we are never really “done” studying any part of the Bible, it just seeps into our souls and speaks to us on so many levels that it seems to grow as we grow as a true living word, we are ever learning).  This week we get to talk about God as King. We’re in Part IV: Understanding the Old Testament: Session 8: The Kingdom of God. As always, read the study along with me on the site or in your own copy of the book: Multiply.

Amazingly, through much struggle with nature and God, the Israelites make it to their Promised Land.  After all they have been through, you would think (and hope) that they would have all their problems worked out and they would be living life in tune with God and enjoying His presence, living in peace and contentment always.  Unfortunately, just after Joshua conquers the land for them and he dies, we move into the period of the Judges when life is everything but hunky-dory and “everyone did what was right in their own eyes”(Judges 17:6, Judges 21:25).  Judges says that the reason for this turmoil is because there was no king, we will see that this is true, but not in the sense that you might first think.  Eventually, during the guidance of the last judge, Samuel, Israel becomes a monarchy.  To fully understand what is going on here, however, we have to go back to the beginning once more.

The King of Creation

Maybe you never really thought about it, but Genesis 1 & 2 actually introduce us to a King, the King of creation.  He is so powerful that all He has to do is speak and His realm comes into existence.  He rules all and teaches all how it should act in His realm.  Like a beautiful symphony, each is given a part and all function in harmony in this glorious picture of what it actually means to joyfully live in the perfect kingdom of God.

And of course, humans bulk at authority, they want to rule their own worlds.  This was not God’s plan, He created us to rule creation, but under His authority.  All authority comes from and is established by God.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’

     So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth’.” (Gen. 1:26-28 ESV).

We were created to mediate God’s gracious rule to every part of His creation. Humanity was made to function under God’s kingship” (225).  

Adam and Eve, with their “simple” act of disobedience, rejected God’s rule, His perfect reign.  Because of this rejection of God’s reign, Satan, not God, is referred as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31).  The truth of the matter is, we were created to serve.  If we aren’t serving God and sharing in the rule that He gave to us, then we are serving Satan, and he never shares…  Ever since this event, human beings have been struggling with accepting God’s reign.

Discussion Question #1: Take a minute to think about what you learned about God by reading Genesis 1 and 2. How is God’s kingship established and displayed in the creation account?

The True King of Israel

In Exodus, we see that God, once again, must prove His kingship over His creation. With each plague, God demonstrates His rule over every part of His domain. Even though the Egyptians worshiped Pharaoh as deity, the domain he ruled didn’t belong to Pharaoh. In reality, he could claim no power over it. Only God has that power.  Only God was the true King of the earth.

When God defined His covenant with Israel on Sinai, He was once again setting down how His kingdom was supposed to be run (a lot like, but quite a bit more complicated than “be fruitful, multiply, and subdue the earth”).  God was King and Israel was His kingdom (226).  Unfortunately, Israel constantly and consistently moved further and further from God’s rule.  It was clear something needed to be done. Remember Judges? Everyone did what was right in there own eyes, Israel needed a king.  Even Israel realized they needed a king. The problem was that they already had a king, and they were rejecting Him.

Israel Takes a King

“At first glance, it might seem like a good idea for Israel to be ruled by a human king. The period of the Judges was chaotic, so it would make sense to establish a clear ruler who would lead and govern the people…Wouldn’t they be better off with a human king?” (227) Reasoning along these lines, Israel asks God for a king.

Discussion Question #2: Read 1 Samuel 8. What does this passage tell us about the significance of Israel’s choosing to be ruled by a human king?

You might see the problem right away, Israel wanted to be like all the other nations around them.  Isn’t that why God called them out, so they wouldn’t be like everyone else, to be “set apart”?  Of course, God warned them that this was not a step that He approved of, but they did not realize the danger in what they were asking.  Like parents when we often let our children make unwise decisions so that they can learn from their mistakes, God let’s Israel have their way.  “Israel’s history continually teaches us that if it weren’t for God’s plan and His persistent grace, all hope would have been lost long ago“(228).

God’s Covenant with King David

I am constantly amazed that, in spite of all of humanity’s efforts to wreak God’s plans, He continues to work towards our redemption.  Talk about immeasurable patience and love!  Israel’s first king, Saul, was eventually rejected by God because he had his own interests at heart instead of God’s.  Next, David was anointed, making him the “Lord’s anointed” (a concept that will become, like many Old Testament things, more clear with Jesus).  There was quite a bit of time between David’s anointing and him actually being established as king of Israel, but eventually he was able to set the ideal of what a human king ruling for God should look like.  David was far from perfect (as we all are), but God described him as a “man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14)

Once peace is established and David has a chance to sit back and look at all the blessings God has lavished on him, he decides that God deserves a permanent dwelling place among His people, the temple.  God actually denies David his request (but promises that one of his offspring would be allowed to fulfill it), but He affirms David and makes a covenant with David.  Listen for the echoes from the covenants made with Abraham and Moses.

Discussion Question #3: Read 2 Samuel 7. What promises did God make to David in this passage?

Did you notice the parallels?  God had promised to make Abraham’s name great, to give him and his descendants land, and to make Abraham into a nation that would be established forever.  Now look at the covenant with David.  God promised to make David’s name great, to give Israel the land they were established in, and to keep David’s line on the throne forever.

The Coming King

Ultimately, as good as he was, David failed at being a perfect king.  Israel needed a truly perfect Ruler.  Since David’s reign, prophets were sent to Israel with promises of a new king coming from the line of David who would restore the kingdom of Israel.  Jeremiah speaks of a “branch” from the line of David who will “reign as king and deal wisely” (Jeremiah 23:5-6) and Isaiah describes the King as “a shoot from the stump of Jesse” (David’s father) (Isaiah 11).  Ezekiel 34:23-24 speaks of a perfect shepherd who will lead God’s people.  Amos 9:11-12 promises the rebuilding of the fallen house of David and Hosea 3:5 sees Israel once again being God’s people under the reign of “David their king”.

“God’s future for Israel was very much tied to the concept of Israel as a kingdom under the reign of the Lord’s Anointed, who would mediate God’s sovereign rule. Notice the imagery God used as He spoke about the future of His people in Ezekiel 37: (231)”

“‘My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore.  My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.'” (Ezekiel 37:24-28 ESV)

Discussion Question #4: Spend some time thinking about these promises of a coming King (consider looking up the passages mentioned in the last two paragraphs). How does the concept of a King arising from the line of David set the stage for Jesus’s arrival in the New Testament?

Searching for the Kingdom of God

Israel had quite a few crummy kings.  Eventually, Israel had failed so completely at following God that He allowed them to be taken into exile (we’ll talk more about this in the next session).  Israel lost their kingdom and almost lost themselves as a nation.  They knew that they needed to regain their kingdom.  But it wasn’t until the birth of Christ that this would come about.

In the last bit of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament we see that God’s kingdom has not been established again.  Jesus comes preaching that the “time is fulfilled, kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mark 1:14-15).  This is an exciting prospect for Israel.  God’s kingdom is finally being established once again and Jesus, the “Son of David”, is here to rule as it’s eternal King, God’s anointed.

Discussion Question #5: Read Jesus’s birth announcement in Luke 1:26–33. How does the language used here help us see Jesus in light of the Old Testament kingdom?

Discussion Question #6: Why is it important for us to see Jesus as the culmination of the kingly line of David?

We are almost to the New Testament, but hasn’t it been a great trip through the Old Testament? The Old Testament is so helpful in allowing us to understand all that is going on in the New Testament.  The New Testament is all about Jesus Christ.  Contrary to popular belief, “Christ” is not a last name. It’s actually a title.  It means “Messiah” or “Anointed One”.  Jesus is the anointed King of Israel, the Chosen One of God.

Discussion Question #7: How should the kingship of God and of His Anointed affect the way we view our relationship to God and His Son?

Discussion Question #8: Spend some time in prayer. Pray that God would help you to lovingly submit to His rule as the King of creation. Pray that God’s reign over this world would be established and that this rebellious world would see Jesus as the true King.

This has been an awesome journey so far.  I’m really enjoying weaving all the parts of God’s story together, Old Testament and New Testament as one beautiful testimony of love.  I hope you will continue to join me in the remainder of our study. We are more than 2/3 of the way done.

 I thought this song was relevant to today’s study, hope you enjoy. 🙂 Have a blessed week!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suQB-3skeZg

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Multiply: God’s Presence on Earth

pablo

So, a couple days “late” again this week, but no worries, we press on.  This week we are in Part IV: Session 7: God’s Presence on Earth. As always, follow along in the study here: Multiply.

One of the things we lost at the beginning at the fall was the full presence of God on earth.  This was a devastating loss.  Can you imagine anything worse than being separated from God?  Thankfully, God, Himself, wanted to restore His presence here on earth.  The covenants He made with His people showed that He wanted to be present.  The laws He made showed His people how to behave in His presence. The sacrifices He established allowed His people to remove the sin that separated His people from His presence.  In order to reestablish His presence with the Israelites, God introduced the tabernacle, basically a tent, in which God’s presence would “dwell” on earth.  To fully understand what this meant, let’s take another look at the beginning.

God’s Presence in the Garden

As God designed it, humanity was meant to live constantly in the presence of God.  There was no sin to separate Man from God.  Everyone lived in peace and there was no need for death or sacrifice.  Adam and Eve enjoyed full communion with their Creator.

And then, they rebelled.  Because of this they separated themselves emotionally by sinning and hiding, then God furthered the gap by throwing them out of the garden.  Ever since, there has been a constant struggle to restore God’s presence to humanity.

Discussion Question #1: Why is the presence of God so important for humanity?

The Tabernacle

Since the Fall, even though God’s presence is literally everywhere, actual one on one encounters with God are few and far between in the Old Testament.  The tabernacle was important in the fact that it was a solution to what was broken in the garden.  God’s full presence was still not able to be on earth, but at least He could dwell with His people again in a sense.

Last week, we discussed the sacrificial system set up by God.  The sacrifices that were to take place were to take place at the tabernacle.  In the center of the tabernacle in the “Most Holy” place, sat a box, the ark of the covenant.  On top of this ark were two golden cherubim who faced a “mercy seat”, it was on top this seat that the presence of God rested.  The establishment of this “tent” was very important, “the stunning truth was that God once again blessed His people with the greatest gift He could give: Himself“(213).

Discussion Question #2: Read Exodus 25:8–9 and 17–22. What is so significant about the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant?

God’s Blessing without God’s Presence

Just after God had promised the gift of His presence, Israel almost lost that gift.  Moses was just coming down from the mountain (Can you imagine the elation of being in God’s presence for 40 days, just you and God?), the stone tablets of the law still fresh in his hands, and the sight that met his eyes was shocking.  Here were the Israelites worshipping a golden calf of their own making.

God’s response to Israel was a two-fold blow.  First, many men died that day as a direct result of their blatant sin.  Second, even though God promised again that Israel would receive the land He was leading them to, He told them that He would not go with them.  He would send an angel to lead them instead (Exodus 33).

After God had just outlined highly-detailed instructions for the tabernacle that would allow Him to dwell within the presence of His people, now He has said that He will not dwell with them.  There is an interesting concept He.  God is still promising to bless them, but He will not be dwelling with them.  If you think about it, it seems like an easier deal.  Keep on sinning and just accept God’s blessing and go on their way.  Isn’t that what many people want today?  To have all the blessings of God without any of the effort involved in maintaining a relationship?

Discussion Question #3: Read Exodus 33:1–6. What makes this such a devastating pronouncement for the Israelites?

Discussion Question #4: Consider God’s presence in your own life. How would you respond to the prospect of God’s blessing apart from God’s presence? Forget about how you “ought” to answer this, try to answer honestly.

Moses’s response to God points out what is really at stake here.

“Then he said to Him, ‘If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here.  For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?'” (Ex. 33:15-16 NASB).

Moses knew that there was no hope for Israel if God, Himself, did not go with them.  How could they be the “people of God” with no God?

Discussion Question #5: Read Exodus 33:7–23. What stands out to you about Moses’s response?

Discussion Question #6: As you think of the experiences Moses and Israel had with God, how might it affect the way you interact with God?

The Temple

God was swayed and did go with His people, they carried the tabernacle from place to place and God dwelt among them.  After Israel occupied the land promised to them, eventually, David became king.  David decided that he wanted to build a permanent house for God.  God allowed the idea, but since David was a man of war, God would not allow him to be the one the build it.  Therefore, David’s son, Solomon was chosen to actually build the temple.  Just as with the tabernacle, God’s presence would fill the temple, however, the temple was permanent, so the dwelling place of God’s presence was also permanent.  God was reestablishing His reign on earth.

Discussion Question #7: Read 1 Kings 8:1–13 and 27–30. What does this passage reveal about God’s glory and the significance of God’s dwelling among His people?

An Important Warning

“As soon as God’s glory descended and filled the temple, God warned Solomon that His presence would dwell among them only as long as they remained faithful to His covenant and obeyed His Law. In other words, God was dwelling in the midst of His people, but only as long as their lives acknowledged His presence. As soon as they began to take God and His presence for granted, as soon as they turned their backs on God and His commands, then He would leave them to their sin. Instead of the blessing that comes with God’s presence, Israel would experience the judgment that comes with rejecting God” (219).

Discussion Question #8: Read 1 Kings 9:1–9. What does God’s warning to Solomon teach us about what it means for God’s presence to dwell in the midst of His people?

Unfortunately, God’s warning becomes reality and in the book of Ezekiel, God’s people are in exile as punishment for rejecting God.  They are in exile from their home and from God’s presence.  Because of this, the tabernacle and the temple could not be a permanent solution to restoring God’s presence, but God had another plan from the beginning…

God Became Flesh

Once again, Jesus solves the problems raised by the events in the Old Testament“(220).  The book of John introduces the Word (Jesus) as God and then he makes this profound statement: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 NASB).  God’s presence on earth once again!

The world for “dwelt” actually mean “tabernacled” or “set up tent”.  Jesus was the living representation of the tabernacle.  Jesus gives us the ultimate example of what it means to dwell in the presence of God and allow Him to dwell in us.  As long as we are joined to Jesus, we can never lose the presence of God again.

In fact, Paul said that we are “a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19). He said that we are joined together as the church and we grow “into a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:21). In Jesus we are “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (v. 22)“(221).  Through the Holy Spirit, sent by God, God’s presence actually rests in us.  No longer in a tent, no longer in a building, but firmly and eternally in our hearts.  Let that soak in a bit.  It’s truly an amazing (and sometimes terrifying) gift!  God, the Creator of the Universe, dwells in us.  Astounding…

Discussion Question #9: How does what you have studied thus far help you understand the significance of God becoming man in Jesus and of the church being identified as a dwelling place for God?

God’s Presence Will Fill the Earth

Revelation paints a picture of God’s presence filling the whole earth (Rev. 21-22).  Through the Holy Spirit, God currently dwells within His church. But when Jesus returns, the whole world will be filled with God’s presence.  Once again humanity will be able to enjoy what Adam and Eve enjoyed in the garden.

Discussion Question #10: Spend some time in prayer. Ask God to help you understand the significance of His presence on earth, and to help you live together with the other Christians in your life in a way that reflects His presence and glory in your midst.

Thank you, once again, for joining me this week.  I hope that you have been encouraged today and will continue to seek God in all that you do.  God bless!

Traveling Faith

pablo (1)

For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and in Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything“(1 Thessalonians 1:8 ESV).

It seems that everyone had heard of the Thessalonians.  It wasn’t because of any earthly deeds.  They didn’t build amazing structures.  They didn’t have a mighty army.  They were “simply” proclaiming the word of God to anyone who would listen and speaking louder than words was their faith.  Their faith was so strong and so obvious that news of it spread about the whole region.  Everyone was speaking about the faith of the Thessalonians and consequently about the God they believed in.

Nothing speaks louder about God than our faith (or lack thereof).  If we do not believe in our message and the One who sends us, our words are meaningless.  How wonderful would it be if we, like the Thessalonians, had such wondrous faith that news of our faith spread like wildfire among the nations, carrying right along with it word of God? How many people could we encourage? How many people would turn to God? Oh, how would God’s kingdom grow!

Father, please give me a faith so strong that Your glory shines forth like a beacon so that all who see it will know that You are Lord and no one saves like You.

To the End of the Age

pablo (1)

Those last few weeks Jesus was on the earth must have felt like a whirlwind to His disciples, a wild rollercoaster of emotions and events.  They believed that they had lost their savior to death on a cross. Then, to their amazement and joy, He came back, everything was going to be alright again, and suddenly, He was leaving again.  How could He do that when it was obvious that they so desperately needed Him?  What could He say to help ease this tumultuous time for them?  And then He says, “I am with you always”.  What an amazing and comforting promise!  A promise only God could make for only God could be in all places in all times.  And that was all that was needed.  What else could matter, for “I can do all things through Him” (Phil. 4:13)?

We’ve all felt lost and alone as the apostles must have felt.  Sometimes it may feel like God has abandoned us, left us alone to deal with our own struggles.  Sometimes it feels unfair, like all the mess we are in is His fault.  He wanted us to follow Him and now, somehow, we’re lost, struggling to find the purpose we once had.  How can He leave us now?  And yet, just as the apostles drew comfort from an eternal source, a well-spring that never dries up, that same source is where we draw comfort from today, that ever-bubbling fountain is our’s.  Christ is always with us.  He is faithful and He is true.  He will fulfill His promises.  He will not abandon us to labor alone in the work He has called us to. And He will be with us, even to the end of the age.

Multiply: Sacrifice and Atonement

pablo (1)

Welcome back!  It’s been a couple of weeks this time, I’ve been traveling and such.  It’s nice to have a break in routine, but it’s also good to have a routine to get back to.  Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there! Hope you are enjoying your day.  We’re picking up our study in Part IV: Session 6: Sacrifice and Atonement.  Come follow along: Multiply!

Last time we talked about the amazing prospect of God establishing a relationship with a people, the Israelites.  We will find, however, that there are problems with this relationship. Not from God’s end, but from the human end.  How can a perfect God maintain a relationship with an imperfect people? If God is going to join Himself to sinful Man, there must be something done about the sin aspect of our lives.  “God’s solution to the problem of sin is sacrifice” (199).

Most Christians today understand that when Jesus died on the cross, He was a sacrifice that paid for our sins and allowed us to have a relationship with God, but not all of us understand that Jesus fulfills a bigger story of sin and sacrifice that fills the Old Testament.  Like much of the New Testament, it is only fully understood by studying the Old Testament.  That is why we have it, not so we can bind ourselves once again to law, but so we can have a full understanding of our current covenant and relationship with God.  It is only through study of the Old Testament that we can fully appreciate the new covenant.

Discussion Question #1: Explain what you already know about the Old Testament sacrifices. Have you ever thought of Jesus’s sacrifice in light of the Old Testament sacrificial system? How so?

Sacrifice in the Unfolding Old Testament Story

You will find sacrifice throughout the Old Testament.  Think back to Adam and Eve.  When they sinned and discovered their nakedness, an animal had to die in order make clothing to cover their shame.  As soon as sin became a problem, God had to come up with a way to deal with it.

We don’t learn much about the specifics of sacrifice until we get to Leviticus, but the Old Testament has several examples of sacrifice before then.  Directly after the Fall, it was a sacrifice (and acceptance thereof) that caused Cain to kill his brother Abel.  In Genesis 22, it was also a sacrifice that was used to test the faith of Abraham when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son.  Can you imagine Abraham’s dilemma?  God had promised to make Abraham into a great nation and here He was asking Abraham to kill his only son.  Abraham must have felt tempted to try to “help” God fulfill this promise by keeping Isaac and not obeying what God asked.  However, Abraham believed that God would fulfill His promise even if He had to bring Isaac back from the dead (Heb. 11:19).  Just as Abraham raised the dagger, God stopped him and provided a sacrifice in place of Isaac, a ram caught in a thicket.

This story can tell us a lot about the nature of sacrifice.  First of all, it shows us that God could at one point accept a human life as a sacrifice for sin (though He never allowed this until Jesus).  And second, it shows us that God could accept a substitute sacrifice–in this case, a ram for Isaac.  When we get to the New Testament, we get to see this sacrifice and substitution that is exampled here become much more real and personal to us all.

Discussion Question #2: Why was sacrifice an important theme in the Old Testament?

Sacrifice in the Law of Moses

When God gave Moses the Law, He made animal sacrifices, which were already a practice, into an integral part of life for Israel.  The Law told them when to sacrifice, what to sacrifice and how to do it.  There were specific sacrifices for specifics circumstances, but the goal of all sacrifice was to restore a relationship with God, to show Him gratitude and to atone for sin.

Let’s look at the word atonement. “An easy way to remember the meaning of atonement is to break it down like this: at-one-ment. Essentially, atonement is all about reconciling, making amends for what has gone wrong, and reestablishing peace where there was conflict” (203).  Sacrifices were are way to show sorrow and repentance of sin and to help restore a broken relationship.

As Christians, it is important for us to understand sacrifice and atonement.  Some of us try to put all our hopes into good works to make up for our wrong doings.  Just like the Israelites, “we must learn to put all of our hope in a sacrifice” (203).

Discussion Question #3: Summarize the role that sacrifices played in the way Israel related to their God.

A Graphic Reminder of Sin

Blood was an important part of sacrifice.  Each time an animal was sacrificed the blood would flow and would be splattered on the altar (and sometimes on the people!).  You couldn’t make a sacrifice without seeing blood.  This was a very visible example of the seriousness of sin, a reminder of what God requires for sin and you would be grateful that something else died in your place.

Discussion Question #4: How should the Old Testament sacrificial system put our sin into the proper perspective?

The Day of Atonement

While the sacrificial system in general took care of maintaining the relationship between God and Man, there was one event described in Leviticus that really gets to the heart of the issue: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (which Jews still celebrate today). This yearly event would allow the nation of Israel to atone for their sins and allow God to live among them.

Discussion Question #5: Read Leviticus 16. What stands out to you from reading this description of the Day of Atonement?

This event was an important one and God gives detailed instruction on how the celebration (we aren’t the only ones to celebrate freedom from sin) was to take place.  See if you can spot any parallels to our own atonement for sin.  There were set aside 3 animals for the event: a bull and two goats.  First, the bull was sacrificed to make atonement for the high priest, if he were not cleansed of his sins first, he could not offer sacrifice for the people of Israel (just as our High Priest, Jesus, had to be free from sin to offer Himself as a sacrifice for us).  Once this was done, the priest would take the first goat and sacrifice it in the presence of the people for the people and it’s blood was smeared over the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant (in which resided the written Law of God).  Instead of looking down and seeing the Law that condemned His people, God looked down and saw the blood of atonement, the animal died in place of the whole of God’s people (when God looks at our hearts, God sees the blood of Christ, who died in place of all of us).

The second goat would then be brought before the assembly and the priest would place his hands on the goats head symbolically transferring all the sins of the people to the goat.  The goat was then sent out into the wilderness.  All the sin of the people, along with the guilt and condemnation, was being removed from the people and sent far from them (“As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us“[Psalm 103:12]).  

Unfortunately, this cleansing was only temporary, the ceremony had to be repeated again and again every year because Israel would not stop sinning.  “Sin is not an external problem; it runs through the core of each of us and continually manifests itself in a variety of ways. Dealing with sin was therefore an important and familiar part of the everyday lives of the Israelites” (207).

Discussion Question #6: What does the Day of Atonement teach us about the nature of sin and the reality of forgiveness?

The Problem with Animal Sacrifices

The limitations of animal sacrifices are apparent.  First, there was the constant need to repeat the sacrifices.  Second, the Israelites stop caring about the importance of repentance and atonement and the sacrifices become only ritual.  God has always only cared about our hearts.  It isn’t about rules and regulations, it’s about our heart devotion.  “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6 ESV).  Eventually, God gets tired of animal sacrifices because Israel’s heart was not in them: “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand” (Mal. 1:10 ESV).  God is offended by half-hearted worship.  “Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it” (Mal. 2:3 ESV).  Wow, that’s a pretty vivid image of the importance God places on our devotion.  He takes His worship and sacrifice very seriously, so should we.

Discussion Question #7: How should God’s emphasis on the heart of the worshipper affect the way we approach God in our worship and in our everyday lives?

The Ultimate Sacrifice

The sacrificial system of the Old Testament ultimately finds its fulfillment in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  In Him was found the “full significance of the sacrificial system”(209).  We’re going to read Hebrews 9:11-10:25.  Study this passage carefully.  Think about all that we discussed today in light of this passage.

Discussion Question #8: Read Hebrews 9:11–10:25. In light of what you’ve studied about the Old Testament sacrificial system and what you read in Hebrews, how does the Old Testament system of sacrifice and atonement help us to better understand the significance of Jesus’s death?

Discussion Question #9: Spend some time in prayer. Ask God to affect your heart with the significance of the sacrifice that Jesus offered on your behalf. Ask God to break your heart over the sin in your life. Ask Him to give you the strength and motivation to identify and uproot that sin. Pray that your life would be the “living sacrifice” that Paul described in Romans 12:1. And most of all, thank God for sacrificing Jesus as a substitute for you.

That’s it for this week.  I love studying the Old Testament and finding parallels in our beloved New Testament covenant.  I hope you learned something today and that you will allow God to help you apply it this week.  God bless!

The Flesh is Weak

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“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.  The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41 ESV)

The scene in the garden at Gethsemane is such a powerful one and so much can be learned from studying this single snapshot of Jesus’s life.  As Jesus prayed in the garden just before His arrest, He asked Peter, James, and John to stay up with Him for support, but each time He returned to them, He found them sleeping (Luke 22:45 tells us that they were exhausted by grief, ever been there?).  As you can imagine, He was disappointed.  When He returns to them, Jesus tells them to pray so that they do not fall into temptation.  At first glance, it seems like He is telling them to pray so that they do not fall into the temptation to sleep.  However, I think He meant something more important.  I believe He meant the temptation that would soon be coming to them all to deny Christ and fall away.  The apostles may have “abandoned” Him in the garden by sleeping, but an event is coming up which will cause them all to be tempted to abandon Christ completely.  Jesus knew they would not be able to endure the coming trials by anything but prayer.  (Incidentally, it seems that Christ was praying the same thing He asked His disciples to pray: that He would have the strength to endure the trials coming up for Him and would not fall into the temptation to turn away from the will of His Father.  It can be comforting to know that Christ struggled with the same temptations we do, and strengthening to see His example of enduring faith.)

How many times do we all have good intentions, but end up not following through because we try to rely on our own fleshly strength instead of the strength God supplies through prayer and faith?  Jesus says that even though our spirit may be strong and willing, we may still fall to temptation by our weak flesh if we do not pray for God’s intervention.  This instance in the garden can help us see how important prayer is in any of our spiritual endeavors.  No matter how strong we believe ourselves to be, we cannot succeed without God.

No Escape…

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Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence? (Psalm 106:7 ESV)

The Psalmist speaks about God’s three “O’s”: His omniscience, His omnipotence, and His omnipresence.  God knows what we do, what we think, what we say.  There is no place we can go to escape His presence.  He is everywhere in all time.  God created all we know.  Only He can truly rescue us from our troubles, even when that trouble is ourselves.

When we do wrong, knowing that God is everywhere, knows everything and is all-powerful can be terrifying.  We want to hide from His awful justice, but there is no place to hide and no way to escape.  However, when we need God (and when do we need Him more than when we make mistakes?) there is nothing more comforting to know that God already knows our troubles and that He has the power to make everything right.  Can you imagine a more powerful ally?

What’s amazing is that even though God is a just God, He has provided a way for love to triumph even over justice.  When Christ died on the cross, He satisfied the justice of God so that the love of God could reign.  Praise God!