The fourth book of the Bible is Numbers. And, as its title suggests the book contains a lot of numbers. Two censuses of Israel’s population are taken and then seemingly countless other lists of a variety of things are recorded. But, is that really what the book is about? Is the book of Numbers really a compilation of technical lists? No. The book is a continuation of Israel’s history as the book’s Hebrew title – “In the wilderness” – communicates. This artistic and pictorial phrase sums the entire setting of the book. The Israelites move from Sinai into the wilderness of the Paran, up to Kadesh, and then through to the plains of Moab. Through the story of this geographic wandering, Numbers narrates the transition from the old generation of Israelites that left Egypt in the Exodus and sinned in the wilderness to the new generation that stands on the brink of the Promised Land. It presents us with a vision of new beginnings and hope.
A Purposeful Story Full of Truths
To adequately understand this book, we must remember the context in which it was written. It was recorded as the Israelites camped in the plains of Moab preparing to enter the Promised Land after their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. The first generation of Israelites who had experienced firsthand the delivering power of God in the Exodus had died out as a result of their disobedience. The second generation of Israelites who had simply heard the stories God’s gracious deliverance were preparing to enter the Promised Land by the command of God with his promise of victory. Therefore, Numbers serves to call these second-generation Israelites to serve God as his holy arm in the conquest of the Promised Land and to avoid the failures of the previous generation by remaining faithful to God directives.
This story, then, reveals three main truths from which this second generation would have benefited. These truths are:
One Story in Two Parts
Numbers is a story with two parts. The first is about the generation of Israelites who rebelled against God and ultimately died under the judgment of God without seeing the Promised Land. And, part 2 is about the second generation of Israelites as God prepares them to enter the Promised Land, complete with promises of victory and his expectations of their holiness. The dividing line between the two parts is found between chapters 25 and 26. Chapter 25 ends with the Israelites contracting a plague that resulted from their continued idolatry, their worship of Baal at Peor, and their sexual impurity with Moabite women, which defiled Israel in God’s eyes. But, chapter 26 begins with a new beginning, a census of the second generation. At this time Israel was purged of the rebellious men and women of the first generation by God’s gracious judgment.
Does Numbers Prepare Us for the New Testament and Jesus? Yes.
Numbers carries on the themes seen throughout the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Bible. Three of them are:
The first generation of the Israelites rebelled against God, the God who had miraculously delivered them from Egyptian slavery. This could have led to the end of redemption history. God certainly would have been justified if he had he simply destroyed his people. But, as he showed with Adam and Eve and countless others, he refuses to abandon his people even in their rebellion and sin. He loves them and seeks them out to restore them in his grace. The principle character of the book of Numbers is the same principle character of the rest of the Bible – the Lord God himself. He keeps his covenant with his people, guides them through the wilderness, continues to provide for them, and remains personally involved in their covenant life because of his covenant love for them. This is but a foretaste of the way in which he will seek out his people in the Lord Jesus Christ. He not only does not abandon his children; he provides hope for them in the salvation offered by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Numbers continues the theme of holiness that we first encountered in Exodus. God requires his people to maintain holiness. He seeks to dwell with them. Therefore, they must be holy as he is holy in order to interact with him. This is a call for us to be obedient in our faith. God has provided the holy one, Jesus, through whom and in whom we have the blessing of his presence. But the call is to be holy as he is holy in Christ.
The Israelites prepared, failed, and then prepared again for the holy war in Canaan. This reminds us of the ultimate battle of the holy war between Heaven and Hell through which Christ will win the new heavens and the new earth. Christ began the last battle with his life, death and resurrection. He continues this battle by the preaching of the gospel and through the church today. And, he will complete the war when he returns. Don’t lose heart. Christ is supreme!
Numbers asks a Final Question
As we read the last sentence of chapter 36, we notice that the story of Numbers is incomplete. The future of Israel is in question. Will the second generation be faithful and so receive the blessed promises of God? Or, will they follow in their parents’ steps and rebel against God and thus receive his just judgment? That’s a question each follower of Christ has to answer for himself or herself. Will I be faithful to the call?
 Reformation Study Bible (NIV).
On our (Chester ARP Church’s) journey through the Bible this year, we will read many passages that will clearly and wonderfully reveal the loving, holy, and just character of God. In fact, we believe that every word of the Bible is given to us for that exact purpose. Charles Spurgeon once preached, “from every text in the Bible is a road to Jesus Christ,” and since Jesus is the purest manifestation of God (John 1:18; Hebrews 1:1-2), the Bible, in its entirety, the glory and character of God by telling the story of Jesus.
The passage we read (or, are planning to read) today in Exodus 33-35 is a wonderful example of this truth. As I read it, I was struck by several things it reveals to us about our God. First, he is a forgiving God. You will remember that chapter 33 follows Exodus 32 where we find the story of the Israelites worshipping the golden calf they made while Moses was on the top of Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from God. Their idolatry angered the Lord, which caused him to prepare to leave them to fend for themselves without his ever-present provision. But Moses interceded with God on their behalf and plead for his forgiveness. God graciously forgave them because he’s a forgiving God.
Second, God is a gracious God. The end of Exodus 34 contains the great story of when Moses asks to see God in his glory. Perhaps, his faith was weak. Perhaps, he needed some encouragement to continue to lead these hard-headed people through the desert and into the Promised Land. Perhaps, he was just curious as to what God’s glory looked like. Whatever his reason was, he asked to see God’s glory and God graciously obliged. Moses’s life was transformed instantly as he saw the glory of God pass before him.
Third, God is an orderly God. Exodus 35 begins a section of the Bible, which continues throughout the whole next book, Leviticus, that tells us of the particular and orderly way in which God prescribed for his Tabernacle to be built and records the meticulous law he gave to the Israelites to govern their lives, their worship, and their morality. We can’t read these chapters without seeing that God is a god of decency and order (1 Corinthians 14:40), who holds his people accountable to a standard of belief, behavior, and worship. In his being, God is a god of order and expects the same from the people who bear his name.
As you read these chapters you may find some other things more applicable to your life than these I’ve mentioned, and that’s ok. There are many lessons we can learn from them as the Holy Spirit illuminates our hearts and minds while we read. These three aspects about God’s character, however, struck me powerfully this morning.
May the Lord add his blessing to you as you read his word to get to know him more and more fully everyday. Happy Reading.
Pursue Christ. Elevate Others.
What’s up everybody?
On Sunday we talked about how Psalm 50 tells us that thankfulness needs to be cultivated in our lives because it is not natural to us. Here are a few suggestions from Jerry Birdges’s book The Practice of Godliness to help you cultivate a habit of thankfulness:
May the Lord bless you richly in his grace. Pursue growth and practice thankfulness.
…We have to let God be God. His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8) and we’ll never fully understand the mind of our sovereign and good creator. We have to trust him with our lives to work out all things for his glory and our good. We walk by faith in Christ and commit ourselves to sharing the gospel with other people so they can have the opportunity to place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as well…
We had a lively conversation during our Bible Study on Wednesday morning as we studied Westminster Shorter Catechism Question #20, which asks, “Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?” The answer is: “God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.”
Our teacher, Buzzy Elder, did a good job unpacking the answer in three parts – God’s motivation for his salvation, the subjects of his salvation, and his method of salvation. We were encouraged to hear that God chooses to save his people (us) from their (our) sin and its effects out of his own pleasure and that he accomplished this salvation through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.
As Buzzy prepared to move on to Question #21, someone asked the question, “Well, who is actually saved?” I thought, “Here we go” and chuckled a little. Buzzy answered the question well and then led lively discussion about the doctrine of election that resulted in varying degrees of confusion, frustration, clarity, and concern among the group.
A Hard Line
The Doctrine of Election is one of the most discussed — even rejected — doctrines of the historic reformed faith. I believe this is because it forces us to draw a hard line between the just and the unjust, between those who are being saved by grace through faith and those who aren’t. We simply don’t like to think in such black and white terms.
Absolute religious truth offends our modern sensibilities. Whether we realize it or not, we have all been shaped by the philosophies of contemporary American civil religion, which teach that all men, women, and children are relatively good and walking in the same ultimate direction. Religion’s role is therapeutic in that it helps its adherents to feel happier, more relaxed, fulfilled, and healthier. Thus, no one religion is better than any other, for they all fulfill the same function: to help an individual get farther down the road to where we are all going.
The Just and the Unjust
But there is a difference between the just and the unjust, isn’t there? The Bible clearly distinguishes between those who profess faith in Christ and those who don’t (Matt. 7:13-14). Those who do (Christians) are just and those who don’t (Non-Christians) are unjust. The just and unjust aren’t going to the same place; they aren’t walking in the same direction. The just will receive eternal life with God and the unjust will receive eternal destruction.
Does this mean that Christians are inherently different than non-Christians? No. We are all the same. We have been created equally in the image of the same God. And, we have all sinned against our universal creator, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “for we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” – his holy standard (Romans 3:22-23). So, what makes the difference between the just and unjust? Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ made possible by the grace of Almighty God does. The just have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ and thus been made right before God through his life, death, and resurrection, while the unjust have not trusted Jesus and so remain unreconciled to God in their sin.
Therefore, we’re all equally guilty before God in our sin with our rebellious hearts, but God freely chooses to redeem his chosen people in his grace. And, he has the authority to do it however he wants to do it. He can redeem all, none, or some of those who’ve sinned against him simply because he is God. That is his prerogative, and it cannot be taken from him.
Let God Be God
Because we understand that salvation is God’s sovereign prerogative, our objection to the doctrine of election isn’t theoretically with God’s authority to save whom he wishes; rather, it is with our often precarious experience of his salvation in this life. We typically express our concern in two questions. First, there is the question about us personally: How do I know that I am elect? The answer is simple: If you have placed your faith in Christ and repented from your sins, then you are elect, for only those who are elect will be converted to faith in Christ. If your testimony is that you have been saved and transformed by grace through faith, then you are counted among the elect. In this sense, the doctrine of election is a doctrine of assurance (Eph. 2:1-10).
Second, there is the question about other people – our friends, our family members, people all over the globe. Are they elect, and if they are, how do we know it? The answer is two-fold. If they have placed their faith in Christ and repented of their sins, then they are in the number of the elect. Plain and simple. But, if they haven’t placed their faith in Christ, we don’t know if they are elect or not. God hasn’t published a list. However, we do know that they will never know the joy of salvation unless they are told of the good news of Jesus Christ in the gospel and are given the opportunity to place their faith in him and repent of their sins. In this sense, the doctrine of election is a doctrine of motivation for Christian missions (Rom. 10:14-17).
In conclusion, we have to let God be God. His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8) and we’ll never fully understand the mind of our sovereign and good creator. We have to trust him with our lives to work out all things for his glory and our good. We walk by faith in Christ and commit ourselves to sharing the gospel with other people so they can have the opportunity to place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as well, all the while holding fast to the biblical truth that “God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life…”
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” — Matthew 9:37-38
Jesus calls us to participate in his mission to redeem sinners by prayer and action in Matthew 9:35-10:15. We are to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send out laborers, and we are to participate in the harvest. Notice the following four points about Jesus’ life, ministry, and expectations for his disciples in this passage.
First, Jesus was actively involved in a ministry that demonstrated and exercised the power of his kingdom (9:35). He taught in the synagogues. He proclaimed the good news of his kingdom. And, he healed every disease and affliction.
Second, Jesus had compassion on the crowds of people who had gathered around him because they were harassed and helpless (9:36). They were weary, tired, exhausted, exposed, and dejected. Their leaders, who were supposed to care for them, had abandoned them, burdened them, and blamed them.
Third, Jesus relieved people’s burdens (9:35). He healed their afflictions in his grace and mercy. This healing, however, was not merely a physical one. Jesus proclaimed the good news of his kingdom while healing them of their diseases and afflictions. The outward healing illustrated the inner healing of the gospel in their lives.
Fourth, Jesus expects his disciples to have compassion on people as we participate in his ministry of relief (9:37-38). The harvest is plentiful. We need more laborers. And, the need is urgent.
Therefore, pray earnestly for laborers for the harvest (9:38). Pray for spiritual eyes and a compassionate heart so that you may see people as they really are and discern their needs (9:36). And, be prepared to be the answer to your prayer as you participate in the harvest by doing gospel ministry (9:35, 10:1-15).
“You’ve got to finish what you started.” is a sentence I have heard all my life from my coaches, teachers, and parents. I have a bad habit of not finishing the things I start. I start strong and then fade toward the end.
Recently, I made my way through J.D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy (a book I highly recommend btw). When I read the last page, I remember thinking, “Wow, I finished it.” Out of the many volumes in my library, this is one of the few that I’ve read all the way through. I tend to lose interest quickly. I don’t know why; I just do.
While struggling to finish a book is trivial, finishing other things – like our journey of faith in Christ – is not. Repeatedly, the Bible tells us that we have to finish our lives in faith with Christ. We have to persevere in faith. We have to remain steadfast in our faith. We have to walk in repentance and faithful obedience in order to receive our reward at the end. Paul instructs us to “remain steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).
So, let me encourage you to press on in faith. Make sure you are committed to finish what you started because finishing matters. May the Lord bless you richly in his grace by strengthening you in your faith.
In 1986, the late pastor James Montgomery Boice wrote, “There is a fatal defect in the life of Christ’s church in the twentieth century: a lack of true discipleship. Discipleship means forsaking everything to follow Christ. But for many of today’s supposed Christians – perhaps the majority – it is the case that while there is much talk about Christ and even much furious activity, there is actually very little following of Christ Himself. And that means in some circles there is very little genuine Christianity. Many who fervently call Him ‘Lord, Lord’ are not Christians [at all]” (Matt. 7:21).
Sadly, I think Boice’s assessment of general evangelical Christianity is as true today as it was 30 years ago. I’ve seen it in my own life. I talk a lot (as you know) about Christ and am consumed with furious activity. However, I’ve recently been convicted of how little time, energy, and emotional resources I spend actually following Jesus – going where he went, doing what he did, thinking how he thought, loving as he loved. I wondered if you are the same way.
Therefore, I have decided to focus our teaching and preaching time along with the rest of our congregational life on growing as active disciples of the Lord Jesus. You will hear a lot about discipleship as a whole and the five elements that make up our active pursuit of Christ: obedience, repentance, submission, commitment, and perseverance, in particular. By God’s grace, I pray we will end 2018 with a greater desire to forsake everything to follow Jesus.
May 2018 will be a wonderful Christ-centered year for you and your family!
H.A. Ironsides, in his sermon on Psalm 33, defines worship simply as adoration: worship is the soul’s adoration of God Himself. All of the things we do in worship are meant to assist us in adoring God, but none of those things are actually worship. We worship God when we adore him for who he is. Period.
Like any great song book, the Psalms have an order. It is:
The order is as divinely inspired as the hymns. As we read the Psalms, we often see the flow of thought from one psalm to the next. This is certainly the case with Psalms 32 and 33.
Forgiveness Leads to Worship
Psalm 32 is primarily about confessing sin and the gracious forgiveness that God offers to us. David is consumed by the effects of his sin, which he feels in the very core of his being. He suffers spiritually and physically. He confessed his sin before God and found joy in the blessed forgiveness of God. And the psalm concludes with verse 11.
Now, we begin Psalm 33 with these words:
Do you see the connection there? I hope so. Psalm 32 ends with a call to shout for joy and Psalm 33 begins with the same call. It is as if the psalms were ordered to flow after one another. They were.
We have a variety of ways that we think about worship.
All of these things assist our worship, but are they worship? No. H.A. Ironsides, in his sermon on Psalm 33, defines worship simply as adoration: worship is the soul’s adoration of God Himself. All of the things we do in worship are meant to assist us in adoring God, but none of those things are actually worship. We worship God when we adore him for who he is. Period. Ironside continues:
“It is occupation not with His gifts, not coming to Him to receives something, but occupation with the Giver; the heart going out in gratitude not only for what He has done for us but also what He is in Himself.”
This is true worship. We adore God for who He is.
Let me ask you: Can your worship of God be defined in this way? Do you come before Him simply to adore Him for who He is? Or, do you come to get something from Him? Do you do your devotions into order to ensure that you will continue to get your blessing from him?
I’m convicted. Maybe you are as well.
Why Do We Adore Him?
The Psalm gives us four reasons the Psalmist gives for adoring God. They are:
Jesus is the Word of God.
This all points to Jesus. He is the Word in the flesh. He is the creator. He is the king. He is our salvation. He is love. The word of God is central to this Psalm.
The Apostle Paul sums the point well.
The number of Americans not affiliated with Christian Churches is rising, and the Christian Church’s influence in our society is declining. This reality gives many Christians, myself included, a great sense of burden for non-Christians and for the future of the Christian Church, which we dearly love.
What can we do? The best thing we can do, out of the many possibilities, is to plant more Christ-centered churches. Planting new, biblical, Christ-centered, and confessional churches is the most effective way to impact the lost world for Christ. Period.
I have experienced this first hand over the past 4 years as I have overseen the church planting and revitalization efforts of Catawba Presbytery of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC). God has worked mightily and wonderfully in our church plants.
As the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church moves into the future, we must view our church planting efforts as intentional missionary endeavors of the denomination and our presbyteries. To do that, we must make the following three commitments.
1. We must commit to planting more churches.
Tim Keller has written, “The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for (1) the numerical growth of the body of Christ in a city and (2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city. Nothing else — not crusades, outreach programs, para-church ministries, growing mega-churches, congregation consulting, nor church renewal processes — will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting.”
He’s right. New and reclaimed Christians are often better served by new congregations because, unlike older, established ones, they do not have long-standing traditions, leadership and social structures, and other baggage that must be adopted, broken into, or carried. Additionally, new churches can think creatively about ministering to our diverse and transient society more so than established, mature congregations can. Research bears this out, indicating that 60-80% of attendees of church plants do not have any affiliation with other Christian congregations.
2. We must commit to viewing our church planters as missionaries.
Our church planters are missionaries, and they are planting in a “foreign” culture, full of idols with constantly changing norms. This is true even though their mission field oftentimes is within a 30-minute drive of our existing congregations. Planters must learn how to effectively communicate the gospel, the essence of the church, and the principles of the faith in a complex and changing environment. This takes time, and time takes a long-term financial commitment from those who support them.
3. We must commit to rethinking the timeline and funding paradigm for our church planters.
Our (ARPC) current funding paradigm was designed for a time when Christianity was the dominant influence in general culture. The social, political, moral, and intellectual landscape has changed drastically in the last 15 years, leaving Christianity to be simply one of the many voices being heard around the table of American religious and public life. Therefore, we can’t expect our planters to plant on the same timeline and have the same financial expectations now as they did in the early 2000s.
Presbyteries and the General Synod through Outreach North America should continue to support church planters financially with a lump sum to be disbursed over a period of 3-5 years. In addition, local congregations and individuals should be strongly encouraged to partner with the planters’ efforts by making long-term commitments to pray for and financially support our planters in much the same way as they partner with missionaries in foreign countries.
Furthermore, we must consider the church planting model that the planter has chosen and the context in which he will be planting when developing a timeline for his church plant. For instance, a church planter planting among the rural poor should take longer to develop solid leaders and become financially solvent than a planter planting among highly educated, upwardly mobile suburbanites. Any timeline that disregards these realities will be insufficient.
Christ will be faithful.
We plant churches expecting that Christ will be faithful to bless the work of his people as we go into the world and make disciples of all nations. Making disciples cannot be done completely apart from planting new churches. May we go forward and plant many churches for Christ’s glory, trusting him in his sovereignty.
 “Why Plant Churches,” Redeemer PCA, http://download.redeemer.com/pdf/learn/resources/Why_Plant_Churches-Keller.pdf