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Acts 7:1-8 // Jesus and the story of Redemption (pt 1)

1 “Is this true?” the high priest asked.

2 “Brothers and fathers,” he said, “listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he settled in Haran, 3 and said to him:

“Get out of your country

and away from your relatives,

and come to the land

that I will show you.”

4 Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this land you now live in. 5 He didnt give him an inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground, but He promised to give it to him as a possession, and to his descendants after him, even though he was childless. 6 God spoke in this way:

“His descendants would be strangers

in a foreign country,

and they would enslave

and oppress them 400 years.

7 I will judge the nation

that they will serve as slaves, God said.

After this, they will come out

and worship Me in this place.”

8 Then He gave him the covenant of circumcision. After this, he fathered Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day; Isaac did the same with Jacob, and Jacob with the 12 patriarchs.”

Acts 7:1-8

There is a lot of trust, faith even, that begins God’s story of redemption through Abram and his future offspring. From the very beginning, faith has been the hinge-point. Abram and his family had to trust God when they left where they were living to begin this new life with Him in the lead. They relocated again after his father died in Haran before settling in Canaan. But even then, Abram lived as a nomad, travelling with his flocks and herds as the seasons changed, in the land God promised to his descendants. Then God promises, along with the land and it’s abundance, a period of oppression and slavery under a foreign thumb. 

What kind of promise is that?

“I’m going to set you and your family here, but first, you are going to be slaves.”

Would you want to listen to that promise? Would you even consider it as an option? Probably not.

But Abram did…and we ask “Why?” 

Because Abram knew that he was dealing with YHWH Elohim, and not some capricious human being or false god.  He wasn’t going to move him around just to mess with him. He wasn’t going to allow his grandchildren and great grandchildren to go into slavery just because He thought it might be fun. YHWH Elohim had a greater plan in mind and Abram believed him. Hebrews tells us that God credited it to him as righteousness. Trust and faith cannot be separated. It would be silly to say otherwise. Trust is part of the definition of faith. And Abram had faith that God’s plan was bigger and better than anything he could ever have divised for himself, and that if there was something difficult to deal with along the way, that God had a greater purpose in mind for it. God didn’t cause the Israelites the pain of their future slavery, He allowed it, and there is a great difference to understand there. 

When Stephen began this sermon to the Sanhedrin in Acts 7, he began with the reminder of suffering and redemption. This element was a common theme through the life and history of the Jewish people. God gave direction, the people listened for a short time, they became apathetic & rebelled, they were faced with the consequences for their sins and upon their repentance, God saved them. 

Over and over again, God saves them. 

And it all began with Abram & the faith he had in God’s ability to make good come from the mess of life. And God would do this within the rhythms of His grace. The constant pulse of His great love, the beating of His heart, would be a comfort to His children all throughout their history with Him & He promised this to Abram form the very beginning. He promised His presence through the good (inheriting lands and the expansion of his family) and through the bad (oppression, slavery and pain.) 

Stephen wanted them to remember in their hearts what they knew in their minds: that God loved them and had a plan that was bigger then them or their own wisdom. God’s plan was deeper, wider and stretched further than the control they were trying to exercise over it, and in turn, Him. Stephen began this first and last sermon trying to get them to recall the faith they were supposed to have in God and in His ability to save His people, and so he told the story of their collective hearts in an attempt to get them to see the role that Jesus played in this great love story. 

AS we try to GoLove people, we need to remember these rhythms of grace as we speak and serve, teach and share with them. We need to take their hearts on the journey that God has mapped out, show them His heart in His dealings with people, and express His concern for the souls of men, His role in seeing justice done and freedom brought into the lives of all of us who are oppressed by sin. Even if it is our first and last ‘sermon,’ it will be totally worth it to speak the love of God to a hurting heart. 

  

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Numbers 36 // The Final Point of the Matter

“10 The daughters of Zelophehad did as the Lord commanded Moses. 11 Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, married cousins on their fathers side. 12 They married men from the clans of the descendants of Manasseh son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained within the tribe of their fathers clan.

13 These are the commands and ordinances the Lord commanded the Israelites through Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho.”
Numbers 36:10-13

In this final account of the book of Numbers, Moses records the point of the matter through a very ‘real life’ scenario. That in the accounting of their lives, the people were to first seek out God and His will, letting Him guide their decision making, their policy, their lives. And Zelophehad’s daughters had done this consistently in their seeking of their inheritance. They had come to Moses to seek out God and they followed through precisely how God had commanded them, and so they were obedient. One more signal to the people that they could indeed do the same. Obedience isn’t optional when we are walking with God. And for the Israelites, as for us, this is the only way we need to be concerned with, this walk of obedience.

The Israelites were going to experience a culture clash as they crossed the Jordan. They weren’t tempted by the Egyptian culture anymore, they had been their oppressors, and they were now on the verge of something new and discovering their identity among the nations. But as they moved in through Jericho, and on into the interior of Canaan, they would encounter peoples and their ‘gods’ that would become sources of temptation and struggle. Nobody likes to be seen as different or ‘backwards’ and monotheism was a very different idea at this time. These new heathen gods had stories and failings and passions and problems just like humans did, but YHWH was not so small and petty. YHWH is not tempted by evil, jealousy or greed, and so they would be different. YHWH does not need to share His power with a pantheon of others in order to create a culture of authority, He holds all authority on His own, and this would make the Israelites stand out. YHWH demands holiness, a sacred life, from His people, and the gods of Canaan were permissive if they were anything. YHWH stands alone, and so the Israelites would stand apart, and they must if they are to be obedient and thrive in their inheritance.

And so, as Moses closes out the book of Numbers, the final details of their travel to the Promised Land, he reminds the people of simple, daily obedience through the example of these five women who are seeking God’s will for their lives. As Christians, this should be the marker of our lives as well, that obedience, simply daily obedience and a seeking of God would make us stand apart from the world around us and the heathen cultures that seek to influence us.

The ‘Christian’ who looks like the world around them has no influence to spread or share, because their own life has not been changed. They are words without action, a dead witness. If we are to GoLove others as a part of our obedience to Christ, then we must live that separation and sacredness every day by our simple, wholehearted obedience and seeking after God. This consistency and dedication is the marker of a disciple who is concerned about what His Master does, says and thinks. And it would serve us well to serve our Master in this way, simply, daily, in the rhythms of His grace.

Numbers 34 // God’s plans, God’s way

Numbers 34:1-2
Boundaries of the Promised Land
“1 The Lord spoke to Moses, 2 Command the Israelites and say to them: When you enter the land of Canaan, it will be allotted to you as an inheritance with these borders:”

Numbers 34:16-18
Leaders for Distributing the Land
“16 The Lord spoke to Moses, 17 These are the names of the men who are to distribute the land as an inheritance for you: Eleazar the priest and Joshua son of Nun. 18 Take one leader from each tribe to distribute the land.”

The ‘Land Rush’ or ‘Land Run’ of the late 1880’s/ early 1890’s was an almost chaotic grab at property by settlers in the United States. The government at the time decided to ‘open up’ previously unavailable lands for settling, and while people had to pay the government for the properties they acquired, there was still a lot of previously claimed land (by the native tribes) that was sold to these new settlers. The tribal groups were supposed to get their share of the profits, but more likely they would have liked to have retained their lands. It’s a decision that would not go over well today.

This distribution of land to the 12 tribes of Israel was nothing like this chaotic attempt to promote settlement and expansion. Instead, God had His will at work in laying out borders ahead of time, assigning sections of land to the tribes according to their size and needs, and also as judgment on those people groups who were living in the land when the Israelites arrived. They had all had 40 years to see what God was up to and seek Him out, but they maintained their rebellion and sin and rather than seeking God out, they fought against Him instead. This was not some idealized sense of ‘manifest destiny’ and greed that drove the people of God. It was His will, His plan and it would be worked out in His way.

And so, when we read these passages of Scripture as Christ followers, we need to remember and understand that God has a set will, a set desire for how He wants things to be. He doesn’t bend and adjust to us, we bow to Him. He is righteous, sovereign and just. His plan and His ways are perfect. And if His desire is that His people, the Bride of Christ, would go and make disciples that make disciples, then that should be our primary concern, because that is His will, His plan and His way. We don’t want to stand with those who oppose Him, but rather rejoice with those who live, act and move according to His good purposes.

Numbers 14 // The Price of Faithlessness

“20 Then the Lord said, “I have pardoned, according to your word. 21 But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, 22 none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, 23 shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it. 24 But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.25 Now, since the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwell in the valleys, turn tomorrow and set out for the wilderness by the way to the Red Sea.”

Numbers 14:20-25

So, in chapter 13, Joshua and Caleb were the only two men who brought back report and endorsed the plan that God had laid out for them to move into the Promised Land. The other ten were awed by he land, but intimidated by the inhabitants and forgot what the Lord said He would do for them. They didn’t trust in Him, instead, they only saw their own abilities, their own strength, and so their faithlessness condemned them.

Their lack of faith bled out into what they said when they gave their report to the nation on the land. They saw its goodness, they experienced its richness, but they were limited by their own abilities and imagination. Rather than trust in God, they turned to self, and they faltered.  To put it plainly, they wimped out, they gave up and threw in the towel. Even thought they had experienced the hand of God over and over again, one mighty work after another, they looked at the promise He was unfolding before them and, to His face, said, “There’s no way we’re getting this. It’s too much, it’s too hard.” And they sat on their hands and cried.

It’s no surprise that God is angered at them. They should have come back rejoicing over what He was giving to them, cities they did not have to build, farms they did not have to plant, homes they did not have to furnish, and yet they called Him a liar, rejected His appointed leaders, and whined about going back into slavery instead. But as God will point out to them in their condemnation, their faithlessness didn’t just affect them, they wouldn’t be allowed to enter the Promised Land at all. But it affected their children and their children’s children, yet unborn. Their lack of faith in God forced their wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. Their faithlessness forced their children to grow up in desolation rather than richness. Their faithlessness forced their grandchildren to be born into that same wilderness, to never know stability until they were old enough to begin their own families by the time they would actually enter the Promised Land. So, 3 generations were affected by their faithlessness, and rather than leave a legacy that honors God, their children, upon entering the land 40 years later, will do so with a lackluster faith, only completing some of the tasks that God lays out for them to do. Because of their faithlessness, their grandchildren will not finish the work of driving out the inhabitants of the land and they will be corrupted and influenced by their pagan beliefs.

Faithlessness doesn’t just affect the person who lacks faith, but everyone around them. If we are going to GoLove others in the Name of God, then we need to do so in the boldness that faith allows. We need to speak up, live faithfully and trust in the Lord’s promises. He always makes good on HIs promises because as He is speaking the promise, He is already fulfilling it. He is not constrained by time as we are, He can promise on something and make good on it at the same moment, we only need to be faithful in the time we spend between those two points. It will affect others, no matter which way we lean, so let’s pray for strength, faith and boldness that matches the Lord’s desire.

Numbers 13 // Faith & Following

In this passage we see the obvious effects of faith and what a polarizing agent it can be when brought before people who have none. Caleb trusts fully in God to what He says He will do. Joshua doesn’t really speak up, but he is counted as being the other believing spy. You can hear the passion faith produces in his voice as he gives his report. The other 10 men cower in fear, create excuses and make up lies. They have no faith in God’s ability to do what He said He would do, and their lack of faith decimates the hearts of the people.

We need to be mindful, as we GoLove others in Jesus’ Name, that our faith, and how we respond to the promises of God is going to have an impact not just on our own lives, but on the lives of others, and possibly for generations to come. The Israelites would wander the desert for 40 years because of this faithless report. We cannot subject our own hearts, or the hearts of other we have influence with, to this sorrow.

Numbers 13:26-33
“26 The men went back to Moses, Aaron, and the entire Israelite community in the Wilderness of Paran at Kadesh. They brought back a report for them and the whole community, and they showed them the fruit of the land. 27 They reported to Moses: We went into the land where you sent us. Indeed it is flowing with milk and honey, and here is some of its fruit. 28 However, the people living in the land are strong, and the cities are large and fortified. We also saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites are living in the land of the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live by the sea and along the Jordan.
30 Then Caleb quieted the people in the presence of Moses and said, We must go up and take possession of the land because we can certainly conquer it!
31 But the men who had gone up with him responded, We cant go up against the people because they are stronger than we are! 32 So they gave a negative report to the Israelites about the land they had scouted: The land we passed through to explore is one that devours its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of great size. 33 We even saw the Nephilim there — the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim! To ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and we must have seemed the same to them.”

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