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Summary

This episode is also available as a blog post: https://jlthomson.wordpress.com/2021/06/14/honey-i-will-always-love-you-yadda-yadda-boom-boom/

Transcription

Before I begin this week’s post, I want to express my gratitude for the men and women who have willingly given their lives in service to the United States. My concern with the future of this country and my place as a Christian within it have nothing whatsoever to do with the high regard in which I hold these soldiers. I honor them.

In the movie Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddle spoke at a church in Paris on the Sunday he was scheduled to run the one hundred meters in the Paris Olympics. He had declined to run because he thought he would be dishonoring and disobeying God. (He later won the 400 meters, which was not his strong race, set a world record, and won the gold.) He taught out of Isaiah 40 that Sunday. Here is one of the verses Eric read: “All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness” (Isaiah 40:17). 1 He addressed this passage because the British leaders of the Olympic team declined to be an advocate for him and ask the French to change the time of the race. They didn’t want to go “hat in hand to the Frogs.” Eric’s point was that, although his own country declined to help him because of their national pride, his country, along with all others, was meaningless.

This is the question that rang through my head this week: What does it mean to be less than nothing? Nothing is the absence of anything. But less than nothing? What does that mean?

We will be helped in our understanding by considering how the Lord God Almighty wants us to view Him in comparison to nations. In the verses that follow the one Eric quoted, the Lord informs us of His greatness in comparison to earthly rulers:

“Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness” (Isaiah 40:21–23).

Unlike the nations we create and their rulers, The Lord is not less than nothing and empty. He created all things that exist.

Less than nothing and emptiness can’t seem to manage that.   

To millions of Americans, including Christians, the thriving and survival of the United States and the freedoms it provides is the optimum goal. It is the reason for our security and safety. It is the reason for our prosperity. It is the reason for our happiness.

It is true that the Lord, according to His will, sustained and exalted this nation. However, God did not create the United States. Men did. Therefore, it should not be the highest hope of the American people. Jesus alone, our Creator and Savior, is our supreme hope and security.

The Bible says that United States is less than nothing. Its rulers are emptiness.

Of no consequence whatsoever.

If this biblical truth explodes our American belief that this country is the best in all the world and should survive and thrive no matter the cost, that notion should be exploded. We must be careful that we don’t make America an idol. We love God, and we love our country, but we can’t serve two masters. We have tried to walk the tightrope between the two. Our ability to continue that balancing act may be ending. The time may be near when we will have to choose between loving one and hating the other.

However, regardless of what our earthly future holds, our loving Creator will provide for us an eternal dwelling place. Like Abraham, we look “forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). Like all the saints who have gone before, we “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16a).

There is no “less than nothing” here at all. No, it is a country that will exist eternally in righteousness and peace. We will not have an “empty” leader. We have a gracious King who will reign forever and ever.

That’s the better country I desire.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

           

Our hometown basketball team is having an historic season. They are undefeated. I don’t know how they will do in the NCAA tournament, but it has been fun to be free of white-knuckle games this season.

This thought occurred to me after I watched them win their last regular season game: What would it be like to be a fan of a team that you were confident would win their games all the time, every time? Following, was this: Not only am I a fan of such a team, I am on such a team. The truth is, as hard as it may be to believe, my team has already won all the games, even before they were ever played.

I—we—cannot lose. I will never be on a losing team throughout eternity. A winner of every game for a trillion years.

Talk about a winning season.

Unlike a basketball team, however, I did not contribute anything at all to my team’s victories. It didn’t matter if my shots clanked off the rim, I threw errant passes or double-dribbled, or traveled when I got the ball. We would always win.

This team’s championship game was actually the very first game the team played. Strangely, that game was won when everyone, including the team members, was certain it had been lost. Stranger still is that only one player participated in the final moments of that game and scored all the points, all by Himself.

Still more incredulous is how He won. He won by losing. He lost in the worst way it is possible for a person to lose: He died on the court and was carried out.

But He won, nonetheless.

“For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Romans 14:9).1

Jesus died and lived again to be Lord over everybody, whether they were alive or dead.

Now, I guess you could say the game was fixed because prophets from centuries before proclaimed the victory. The outcome was known before the game was played. Seven hundred years or so before Jesus, Isaiah wrote, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

Yep. I like this losing, winner God.

The other players? They win, too, in the same way—by losing.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24–25).

The world doesn’t work this way. It doesn’t think this way. No, it’s “You only have one life to live, so live it to the fullest.” That’s why it took someone from off this world to do this. This is what Jesus said about Himself: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38).

He ain’t from this neck of the woods, as they say.

So, Jesus won it all. By dying. By suffering the wounding, the bruising, the punishment you deserve for your sins. He rose, after being dead.

And you will rise after being dead. That’s all been won, taken care of. If you believe what has been presented here, that is. If you don’t, you may win a lot of stuff here on earth, stuff that will some day inevitably end up in a junk pile. With Jesus, in Him, you win stuff that is in heaven that will never end up in a junk pile.

The prophet Daniel heard these words when he had a vision of the last days:

“And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him” (Daniel 7:27).

The dominion and the greatness of His kingdom shall be given to Christians. Better than an undefeated basketball team’s trophy gathering dust on a shelf, isn’t it? That trophy will mean very little in only seventy-five years. People will look at it and think, “Hmm. Great team.” And that will be it. But in heaven, it will mean nothing—even if the team had an undefeated season. The rewards for the losing players—who actually won—will not perish and will not fade.

We’re talking about a kingdom here.

We’re talking eternity here.  

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

Sidney Powell claims she has obtained extraordinary evidence about election fraud that will rock the people of the United States. She will “release the Kraken,” she said, and “Expose every one of them.” She maintained that, upon seeing that evidence, she would have been criminally negligent not to bring it forth. Attorney Lin Wood has verified what Ms. Powell has said. They are either lying, misled, misinformed, or telling the truth.

The citizens of the United States, one would surely think, want to know with certainty who won this election. They want to know—or should—the truth of whether the election system in this country is corrupt or not, and if the votes were counted fairly. If we cannot trust that our elections are free from corruption, we are sailing into dangerous, tumultuous waters. Secure elections are the foundation of what we are as a democratic republic.

It may be that our country and government are under attack from within and, perhaps, from without. In that, we are not unique in the history of the world. What happens when one’s country is in danger of attack? When such assaults occur, we hope that our national defenses will be able to defeat the enemy. We desire safety. Peace. Stability.  How should we respond to insure that?

We get many accounts in the Old Testament of how God’s people responded when they were under threat of war. It makes sense to us, for example, that Israel would rally behind David when he was attacking the Philistines, who were a constant menace. But they, like us, would have had to walk a tightrope between trusting in their leader and the Lord. God made it clear in the Old Testament whom they should trust in such threatening situations. “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (Psalm 146:3).1 Let’s be honest and admit that it would be a challenge not to put our trust in a leader when there is a massive army marching toward our city. “President! Send the army and defend us!”

Let’s look at Joshua and the people of Israel entering the Land of Promise. It was enemy territory. Jericho with its enormous walls loomed ahead. Israel did not know if or when they would be attacked. One day when he was out and about, Joshua encountered an individual with a sword in his hand. Joshua asked a logical question. “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” (Joshua 5:13b). Joshua was probably thinking, “This fellow looks like he’s ready to fight. Should I draw my sword, too?” Joshua expected a binary answer from this warrior. After all, when you are in danger of attack, one must know if the one before you is for you or against you.

The man said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come” (Joshua 5:14a).

Interesting answer, is it not? The man rejected Joshua’s premise outright. “Are you on our side or on the side our enemy?”

“No.”

The man’s explanation: “I am commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” In other words, “I am here, ready to fight, and I will. I command Yahweh’s army.” However, this heavenly warrior’s words imply this: “I will bring victory to glorify God and accomplish His purpose.”

Immediately, Joshua hit the dirt. He knew He was in the presence of God. But Joshua, the leader of Israel’s army, wanted to know what he should do next. The answer: “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy” (Joshua 5:15).

That, apparently, was Jesus’ number one priority for this leader of Israel. God is holy. God is sovereign.

Joshua, you are not.

What lesson shall we take from this?

It is not wrong to hope that one’s government will defeat its enemies, whether foreign or domestic. But there is a tension between putting one’s trust in officials—in our case, attorneys and judges—and in our Savior and King. Everyone wants fair and trustworthy elections. No one wants our system of voting to be corrupted by an evil adversary attacking us. Whose side is God on in all of this?

No.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.  

Gif courtesy Bing images.

If I were to write that this election and pandemic season has not affected me, I would be lying. But it is also true that I have been distressed for years by the decline of a country that, while struggling to improve, has been a blessing to the world. We Americans were given the best opportunity in history to create a nation that would continue to bless us and the world, but we are failing—and falling. When I factor in the reality of the ongoing persistence of God’s sovereign will, I realize that someday this nation will come to nothing as all nations will.

There is nothing you or I can do about the determination of that will. Prophecy must and shall be fulfilled. The best we Christians can do is to pray for this country, be a light that glorifies Jesus, and testify of His great love and sacrifice, hoping the Lord will, in His kindness, grant us repentance, save, and redeem us. Perhaps by doing so we will be able to delay the awful things that must transpire before the great and terrible Day of the Lord.

Is this selfish? I don’t know. Probably. However, I also dread the fate of so many of my countrymen, so I pray earnestly for mercy.

In the meantime, I must be a voice for peace. Oh, yes, a voice for peace among individuals, but a voice for peace found in God alone. I can only do that by living in Him as best as I can. David wrote that he only wanted one thing and one thing only:

“One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).1

Why would he seek after this alone?

Because he was so often found himself in trouble from many different sources, as he wrote in the very next verse:

“For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock” (Psalm 27:5).

This is my—and if you are a Christian, your—only place of peace, rescue, and security. It is not in our strength. It is not in our political system. It is not in our nation.

It is in the Lord God Almighty alone.

When we think about this, it makes perfect sense. Who or what else could offer and provide such massive protection? When I write “massive,” I mean that He possesses a power that to us is inconceivable, an immense power that makes the military and industrial powers of the earth less than nothing, which is precisely what Isaiah wrote of Him:

“All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness” (Isaiah 40:17).

We must remember and believe this about our Savior and Creator:

“They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14).

Jesus is the Lamb and the King, an interesting mix of attributes. He was the sacrifice offered to wash us of the sins that makes us repulsive in the presence of God, but He is also ruler over—everything.

Join with me in endeavoring to seek Him because He will hide us in the day of trouble, as David wrote.

Father please give us the will to seek You and to abide in You, by Your grace.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy of Bing images.

I arrived late at the bi-weekly meeting of the Old Boys, Christian men who have known each other since the early 1970’s. As I sat down at the table, we talked a bit about my entrance, but they soon returned to the topic they were discussing before I came. It was something called the Soul-Winning Plan. It was—or is—a script that the one ministering memorized along with four different verses from the Bible. The one they were ready to discuss was Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”1 The man sharing it is a retired architect who made his living doing architectural renderings. He is a gifted artist. As he looked across the table at his already-a-Christian friend, he spoke those words while engaging him with his eyes. I was sitting next to that friend, so I couldn’t see if he had any reaction, but unexpectedly, I experienced a reaction myself. More on that in a minute.

After our conversation drifted away from evangelism, I told the architect that he was particularly good at sharing the gospel. I said he was sincere when he shared God’s truth, and it was striking. Later in the week, however, I realized that what I experienced in his recitation of Romans 6:23 was less about my friend’s sincerity and more about the Holy Spirit confirming the truth of God’s words. I realized I hadn’t thought much about it deeply at all because, as strange as it seems, I knew it so well. I, too, had memorized the Soul-Winning Plan back in the day. So, I focused in on the meaning of those beautiful words.

The Greek word for “wages” that Paul used is opsṓnion, which is defined as “a figurative extension of meaning of ὀψώνιονa ‘a soldier’s wages, the end result from some activity, viewed as something which one receives in return—‘wages, result.’”2 Why Paul used a military word here I don’t know, but one thing is certain: when we sin, there is a result; that sinful activity earns us something, as surely as a soldier gets wages for performing his duty. The result of that “work” is death. This is just the truth—real-life, spiritual reality. There is no side-stepping it, trying to get around it by denial or clever reasoning. This is truth for both Christians and non-Christians alike. Every time one sins, death ensues in some fashion. The more one sins, the more death occurs. For Christians, there is a remedy. We repent and ask forgiveness. If we don’t, death will continue to creep in. That’s just the way it is. For unbelievers, the death continues to work its will. Life does not become better. It becomes worse and worse over time. A sinful life can never flourish.

However, following this terrible, soul-jarring truth is a beautiful, comforting one:

The free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus.

A free gift. Eternal life. Even our earth-bound parents didn’t give us gifts because we had earned them. That is not a gift, it’s a wage. No, we can’t do anything at all that will impress God enough to give us the kind of lives which are the polar opposite of dark death.

This amazing gift is free.

Let’s pause for a moment.

It is impossible to imagine that I suppose, but let’s try, regardless. You are opening a gift someone has given you, and after you’ve torn off the paper and opened the box, you find eternal life inside, beautiful, freeing, and joyous; life in a kingdom without end with a King who will love and provide for you forever. Would you throw that gift across the room like a child who didn’t get what she wanted for her birthday?

Believe it.

Believe Him.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

2Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 781). New York: United Bible Societies.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

Before Laurie and I traveled to Bangladesh in late October and early November of 2019, I made preparations to speak to a group of pastors in that Muslim nation. We have no experience in Bangladesh whatsoever, but, thankfully, we have the Word of God, which transcends culture. My heart was to teach these men lessons in Scripture, encourage them to study their Bibles diligently, and preach the Scripture in context. So, every time I got up to speak to these men, I held up my Bible and said, “I love this book!”

I am truly gratified that the Lord has brought me to a place where I can teach God’s words while hopefully reducing as much Western influence as possible. How that truth is lived out within cultures will vary, but Christians, prayerfully before the Lord, must work out with Him how to do that and still remain obedient to His Word.

God’s truth is true for all cultures, objective truth for all people. There is no other truth by which we find what is required to know our Creator and Savior and walk in His ways. There is no other truth that brings us life, abundant life here and life eternally. In fact, He is the truth. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6a).1

The Bible tells us that the Father will make Christians His sons and daughters. There is no way or method that this can be accomplished. Think about it. The Creator of all things, the One who created all mass, energy, time, and gravity in less than a second—you will be His son or daughter if you are a Christian. This God, whose power is inconceivable to us, loves you. He is merciful. He is humble and low in heart. In fact, He, as the Son, lowered Himself and came to Earth to sacrifice Himself for you. If you are a Christian, He has given you a new heart. He has created a new person, indwelled by His Spirit. The Lord God Almighty has clothed you in His own righteousness. You are a saint, a holy one.

You will live forever.

You will not go to hell.

All of this—freely given.

Recently, Laurie read to me that preface to a New Testament distributed by the Gideons.

“The Bible contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you.

It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s charter. Here paradise is restored, Heaven opened, and the gates of hell disclosed.

Christ is the grand subject, our good the design, and the glory of God its end.

It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, and a river of pleasure. It is given you in life, will be opened at judgment, and be remembered forever. It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the greatest labor, and will condemn all who trifle with its sacred contents.”2

Amen. Thank You for Your Word. Be glorified, Lord God.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

2The Gideon Bible, The Gideons International, Nashville, TN

Gif courtesy Bing images.

merry-christmas-gif-3

To all of my friends, both here in the United States and all over the world:

May you have a happy celebration of our Creator God coming to earth in the body of a baby.

This baby, this Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, grew to be a man and humbled and emptied Himself.

He offered Himself in sacrifice so we could become forgiven, holy sons of our Father and servants of the Lord Almighty, the sovereign God of the universe.

Because of Jesus, we will never die but live eternally in the Lord’s heavenly kingdom.

May the whole earth be filled with His glory.

Best to you, and may the Lord bless you and your families, from Laurie and me to you!

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I grew up with Pentecostals. I value highly my upbringing there. I would encourage non-Pentecostals to tread lightly in their criticisms and be certain they are biblical. Many of these brothers and sisters have had supernatural experiences that cannot be denied. Are you going to be the one who maintains they were false? Be careful. You may number yourselves with those who went after Isaiah, Jeremiah, and other prophets who had dynamic spiritual experiences. Let’s not forget Paul, Peter, Stephen, and Phillip. I myself cannot deny having experienced supernatural, biblically true gifts and experiences throughout my Christian life. They were and are real; I am thankful to the Lord for them. Nevertheless, I understand a lot of wackiness has gone on since the renewal of the early 20th Century, and a lot of wackiness persists. Pentecostals are the wild riders of the Christian world. They need to exercise care in what they accept as biblical manifestations of the Spirit.

In addition, Charismatics and Pentecostals should stop playing loosey-goosey with the truths of Scripture. It undermines their credibility and does not give glory to God, who is the Truth. I want to discuss one of the errors many of my brothers and sisters believe. It boils down to one truth written by Isaiah in the well-known, Messianic fifty-third chapter. This is the portion in view:

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4–5).1

The funny business with this beautiful passage about Jesus the Messiah originates from the King James Version of the Bible, in which the word “wounds” was translated “stripes.” A well-known song from the days of the Charismatic renewal used the words “wounds,” as well. It became embedded in our minds. Word of faith folks did and still do “claim” this half-verse when they seek healing for themselves or others. It became a traditional belief, and traditional beliefs are hard to shake. But be shaken they must, when held in the light of biblical truth.

The Enhanced Strong’s Enhanced Lexicon offers this concerning the word “stripes” or “wounds”: “Seven occurrences; AV translates as “stripe” three times, “hurt” once, “wounds” once, “blueness” once, and “bruise” once. 1 bruise, stripe, wound, blow.” 2 So, why do modern translators change the translation of the word from “stripes” to “wounds”? The answer can be found in this critical and necessary truth about biblical interpretation: The Bible interprets itself. In other words, if you want to know more about a certain truth, you look in other places in Scripture that will enlighten it to you. That is not always possible, but it works more often than not, especially for essential truths. Thus, we look for other passages where the quote, “By His stripes (or wounds) we are healed.” This is an easy one. It appears only one time in the New Testament, in the second chapter of First Peter. Let’s look at the passage in which it occurs a few verses at a time. We’ll start with verses 20b–23.

“But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”

What is the topic thus far? Suffering and enduring for doing good, as Jesus did, without committing sin by reviling “in return” or threatening.

Now to the first part of verse 24: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.”

The topic remains the same, but it has been enlarged. The good that Jesus suffered for was bearing our sins in His body on the tree, so we “might die to sin and live to righteousness.”

Then comes the statement under question, in the second part of verse 24–25: “By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

The topic remains the same. Jesus has suffered for our salvation. He has borne our sins in His body that we might live to righteousness. We have been “healed” because or “for”—important word here—we were “straying like sheep” but have returned to Jesus, our Shepherd.

Do you see an inkling of anything concerning the healing of our bodies here? No. The topic is the good thing Jesus did by suffering and dying for us and returning us to Him. Peter was not only quoting a truth from of Isaiah 53:5 but possibly thinking of Isaiah 6:10, where being healed also refers to salvation:

“Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

Now, does this mean that healing is not available today? Absolutely not. However, it does mean that Pentecostals and Charismatics, if they want to maintain their integrity before the Lord and His Church, must be honest and deal with the truths of revealed Scripture. Jesus heals. However, we should not and cannot use Isaiah 53:5 to proclaim it. It will never benefit believers to proclaim a truth without adequate proof. It only puts our integrity and knowledge of Scripture into question.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

2Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

 

 

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In this post, I’d like us to look at a beautiful story about the Israelites in the wilderness that we find in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Numbers. Because God’s people had not believed the good report delivered by two of the spies—Joshua and Caleb, who had scouted out the Promised Land—they were sentenced to forty years of wandering. Only those who were twenty years and younger would live to inherit the land the Lord had promised. After this sad consequence, some of their disgruntled number revolted against Moses, whom the Lord then swiftly dispatched, sending them directly to their death without passing go. After this strong judgment—it’s hard to believe, “But on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, ‘You have killed the people of the LORD’” (Numbers 16:41).1 Perhaps the Lord will give us insight someday into why the people of Israel, having just seen the earth open up and swallow people would, first, dare to challenge Moses about this judgment, or, second, somehow think that Moses and Aaron caused it. It is difficult to understand their behavior.

Nevertheless, the Lord responded to this rebellion by sending a plague in which 14,700 people died. Moses and Aaron interceded, and the Lord relented. Perhaps by now you’re asking, “Jim, I thought you said that this was a beautiful story.” Well, here it is.

“The Lord told the people The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them staffs, one for each fathers’ house, from all their chiefs according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. Write each man’s name on his staff, and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each fathers’ house. Then you shall deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you” (Numbers 17:1–5).

Then, “On the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds” (Numbers 17:8).

That’s the beautiful part. Beautiful because the Lord God Almighty brought a dead stick to life and sprout with delightful buds, blossoms, and ripe almonds. I love this. Let’s think about this for a moment. Why buds, blossoms, and ripe almonds? Was it because images of the almond tree decorated the tabernacle? I think it is more than this. This is not a representation of power, as we understand power. If this had happened in a superhero movie, the staff would have been glowing and humming and perhaps killed those who were unprepared to pick it up. Or perhaps the staff would have gotten bigger and heavier. No, the Lord God demonstrated His choice of priest with life, beauty, and fruitfulness.

He just doesn’t think the way we do.

This account is a foreshadowing of what happened to our great high Priest, Jesus. When the tomb had been opened, like the tent containing the twelves staffs, He was found alive, overflowing with flourishing fruit, ripe and ready to nourish the ones He loved.

It is also a foreshadowing of what our great high Priest does when He brings us from death to life.

Recently, I heard a well-known biblical scholar refute the metaphor that a person who is not a Christian is like someone drowning at sea, clawing at the waves, shouting out for rescue. No, he said, that’s not what it is like at all. Being saved, becoming a Christian, becoming a follower of Jesus Christ is like someone dead at the bottom of sea with a few chomps taken out of him by the sharks. That’s our condition when our Jesus brings thriving life from lifelessness.

Fruit production is how we know the Lord is at work or not in those formerly dead “sticks.”

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15–20).

The men in the account from Numbers were shown to be dead pieces of wood. There is only one Priest who brings life, and the rest of those men did not have the goods. All the rest were false priests. We knew them by their fruit; rather their lack of it.

Christians must be careful. It is dangerous to measure life and fruitfulness as the world perceives it, and not by the Lord’s measure. We must not be deceived by false prophets, dead “sticks” without the loveliness of the life and fruit of the one, true Priest.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

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