The Difference Jesus Makes


Moses010When God chose Abraham, He entered into a unilateral agreement, promising to give him land, make him a father of nations, and yes, the father of His chosen people.

Later this agreement expanded into a conditional one–if Israel did certain things, then God would bless them and make them fruitful, but if Israel did the opposite, then God would bring their actions down on their heads.

In part the conditional agreement was based on Israel keeping the Ten Commandments and participating in the sacrificial system God launched when Moses finally led the people across the Red Sea, ready to be on their way to the land God had promised.

After escaping a confrontation with the Egyptians and surviving the crises of no water and not any food, Israel spend at least a year on hold, waiting as Moses received instructions from God and then as they carried them out. Through Moses, God transmitted the plans for a worship center and laws about their relationship with Him, with each other, with their stuff.

Over and over in all those laws, His call for them was to be holy because He is holy. But the problem was, they weren’t. He knew it and they knew it. When Moses was getting ready to meet with God to receive His instructions, the people were warned not to come near the mountain where God’s presence would be. The place was cordoned off, but God had Moses retrace his steps and warn the people again that if they tried to break through and come up to God, they would die.

Yes, die.

Later, God spoke to the people, and He so terrified them, that they begged Moses to act as their intermediary from then on rather than dealing directly with God.

I have to admit, I find all this stunning. I understand how great God is, how awesome His power, how far above any human He is in might and majesty. I even understand Peter’s command for believers who call God, Father, to “conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth” (1 Peter 1:17b).

But understanding all this is purely head knowledge.

I know God to be a just Judge who will one day separate those who follow Him from those who reject Him and will mete out appropriate rewards for both. But my experience with Him is far removed from these things I know.

I shake my head and think, how can I be relating to God as one of the living stones who is being “built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices” when the people of Israel couldn’t even stand in His presence?

They wanted God to go with them, but in order for that to happen they had to abide by that elaborate system of sacrifices and purification. In contrast, I offer no sacrifices, undergo no purification rites, and have the Holy Spirit of God make His dwelling in me. Not with me. In me.

I know Him as a child knows her father, as a sheep knows its shepherd, as a friend knows his best friend. How can this be???

It’s Christ.

He makes all the difference. God is still awesome in power, but I never have to fear that He will turn His vengeance on me because He turned it on Christ. I never have to fear God’s just judgment for my failures to obey Him because He already judged Jesus.

As a result, I can enjoy God’s presence–not as one trembling on the outside of a boundary line staring up at the top of a mountain in the hope of catching a glimpse of His glory. Rather, I have the Holy Spirit with me, guiding me in all truth, comforting me in sorrow and grief, producing His fruit when I feel inadequate and fruitless.

It’s such a dramatic difference, I can hardly comprehend what life must have been like for those who lived without the Holy Spirit in their lives day after day. Even during those times when I quench the Spirit or grieve Him, it’s not the same as not having Him in my life. It’s more like a fight with someone I love who I know I still love and who will still love me. It’s ugly and painful and sometimes costly, but it’s not permanent and it’s never complete separation.

What a difference Jesus makes!

This post originally appeared here in September, 2013.

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Published in: on September 26, 2017 at 6:02 pm  Comments (1)  
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God Speaks


wonderful-words-of-life-119318-mOften when I read the Bible, I wonder what it must have been like to hear God speak. Genesis records God’s presence in the garden of Eden and His conversations with Adam and Eve. But He also talked with Cain before and after he killed his brother.

Throughout Biblical history, God spoke. He gave Noah the command to build the ark and the specific plans he was to follow. God directed Abraham to leave his home, to go where He told him to go, even to sacrifice his son. God spoke with Moses, first from the burning bush, but then on a somewhat regular basis.

He spoke with Joshua too, and with various judges—most notably Deborah, Gideon, and Samuel. I think the first instance when God spoke with the young Samuel is most informative. When God called the lad in the middle of the night, he mistakenly thought he was hearing the high priest summon him. In other words, God’s voice was very much like he was used to hearing, not in some echoing, thunderous tones.

Of course God also spoke directly to the prophets such as Elijah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel. Did they hear an audible voice as Samuel had? No way we can know, but hear Him, they did.

Jesus heard the Father in an audible voice when He was baptized, and Paul heard Jesus on the road to Damascus.

God didn’t limit His communication to verbal exchanges, however. On the way out of Egypt, for example, He guided the people of Israel by sight—by His visible presence. He also gave objects of communication, which we don’t really understand—the ephod, which the High Priest was to wear (though later passages of Scripture mention multiple ephods), with the Urim and Thummim. Various people in Scripture used these objects to divine God’s will—should they go up for battle or not, that sort of thing.

He used another object to serve as proof to Israel that He’d chosen Aaron and his descendants to be priests before Him—Aaron’s rod which budded when those from the other tribes did not. And of course He gave His written word when He inscribed on stone the Ten Commandments.

It is this most permanent form of communication—and relatively brief and to the point—that gives us the clearest picture of humankind’s response to God. The first things He told the people were to worship Him only and to do so without making an image of Him.

While Moses met with Him to receive the stone tablets, Aaron was busy making an image he intimated was Yahweh: “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt” (Ex. 32:4b).

And various times throughout their history, Israel put away their foreign gods, which obviously meant that prior to the putting away, there had been a putting out and on display, or a worship of these gods. Some were carry-overs from Egypt, others were the gods of the peoples whose land God gave them.

I’m guessing that none of those other gods ever spoke to them. Well, that’s not entirely right: false prophets did arise and very well may have proclaimed things they attributed to their false gods.

In addition, God had set up a clear and precise system of worship which apparently the people pretty much ignored. For example, He said there was to be one altar where the sacrifices would be made—the one in the place of worship, which initially was the tabernacle. Behind that altar was the screened off area where the ark was to be kept. The High Priest alone could go into that area, and then, only once a year.

The people clearly understood these instructions because when the tribes with land on the other side of the Jordan departed for their new home, they were worried that years later they’d be barred from coming to worship God, so they built a replica alter—their way of saying, we’ve seen this altar, it’s part of our history, we belong to the worship of Yahweh too.

However, the rest of the tribes were so upset at the idea that they had built an altar, when God said they were only to make sacrifices on the one altar, that they were ready to go to war against them.

Flash forward some five hundred years, and there were altars and ephods and priests and high places of worship all over the place. The ark had been paraded from place to place as a talisman to bring victory in battle, until it was eventually captured by the enemy.

What happened to the clear instructions God had written down, to the house and system of worship Moses had constructed from the pattern God had shown him?

Ultimately the people decided they wanted to go their own way.

Which brings me back to the point—humankind’s response to God’s clear communication has been, from the day Eve tasted the prohibited fruit, to go our own way: Yes, God, we understand we’re to worship only you, but we want to worship the gods we used to worship in Egypt, when we enjoyed leeks and onions and garlic and all the other tasty foods.

Not much has changed. Some people today flat out go their own way, denying not only Jesus who God sent, but God Himself. Others believe what God has said—Jesus is His Son, sent to save sinners—and they embrace Him . . . along with the gods from the world they left behind. Others of us bend His word or ignore the parts we don’t like as surely as the people of Israel did when they were building altars on the nearest high place.

It doesn’t seem to get through to us: God means what He says. He’s not like sinful man who may say something we don’t mean. His word is sure, tried, eternal, authoritative, inerrant. It can be trusted.

May we learn to trust it more each day.

Published in: on October 8, 2014 at 7:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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