(This is the fifth segment of five brief Bible studies, on our way to 20 segments containing one hundred mini-studies. The idea is to select very brief but poignant biblical texts, those we tend to rush past, and pull us back for more spiritual nourishment. To check out the previous segments, go to www.joemckeever.com and scroll back into January, 2015.)
21) There’s something in Exodus 20 we must not miss. And it’s not the Ten Commandments!
“An altar of earth you shall make for me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings….. If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone; for if you use your tool on it, you have profaned it” (Exodus 20:24-25).
I find this stunning. In the same chapter where God gives Israel the Ten Commandments, He makes provisions for an altar. Altars are places of death, where animals are slaughtered as sin-substitutes. According to this text, the altar could be made of dirt or rock, either one.
So much for the way of salvation being to “just keep the commandments.” (The next time you hear someone say that is their religion, ask them why God included provisions for an altar in the same chapter. They will not have an answer, believe me.)
Even as He gave the commandments to His people, the Lord knew we could not keep them. That did not stop Him from issuing them, please note. Just because we cannot attain God’s holy standard, He’s not lowering it to the level we can reach. He does something far better.
He built in a failsafe method by which, once we “came short of the glory of God,” as Romans 3:23 puts it, we could return to Him for forgiveness and be restored into His fellowship.
We come to an altar. And, as we know, every Old Testament altar points to Calvary, the place where Christ “once and for all” (according to Hebrews 9) paid the debt for our sin.
Do not miss the note about prettifying the altar with “hewn stones.” The altar was a place of death. It was bloody, dirty, smelly, with flies and refuse. Animals were slaughtered there. As any farm boy can tell you, that is not a pretty sight. As someone has said, “Jesus was not crucified on a beautiful altar between two golden candlesticks but on the town garbage dump, between two thieves.”
This is all about grace. God’s law is His law. His standard is perfection. But “all have sinned,” and thus God builds into the system from the very first the concept of atonement, an innocent victim paying the price for man’s sin.
Never let it be said that the Old Testament is a book of Law and the New Testament a book of Grace. It’s all grace, friend, from one end to the other. Even the law was given by God’s grace.
22) The two best intercessors God knew. Jeremiah 15:1
“Even if Moses and Samuel stood before me, my mind would not be favorable toward this people. Cast them out of my sight….”
If anyone knows whose prayers work best, it would be the Heavenly Father to whom each prayer is addressed. And according to this text, the two best pray-ers ever were Moses and Samuel. (The background was God’s impending judgement on the nation of Judah. It was too late for the people to repent, He said, and beyond time for the prophets to go to bat for the people. The date has been set, the wheels are in motion, the judgment is on its way.)
Bible students will enjoy dropping back into the Old Testament to check out how these men, Moses and Samuel, devoted themselves to interceding for the Lord’s people. For our purposes here, I’ll merely point out two scriptures….
In Numbers 14, Moses interceded for Israel at Kadesh-Barnea, when they refused to enter the Promised Land. God seemed ready to dismiss the whole bunch and mark the Exodus off as a noble but failed attemtpt to do something redemptive. Then, Moses stepped up and prayed. In his prayer, Moses a) reminded the Lord that the pagan Egyptians would gloat over this, b) informed the Lord (so to speak) that pagan nations would see this as God’s inability to bring His people to their destination, and c) then he quoted God’s own words back to Him. “Lord, you said you are longsuffering and abundant in mercy…..” (a reference to Exodus 34:6-7).
“Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray,” said Moses. “According to the greatness of your mercy.”
As for Samuel’s intercession, we do not have a lot of specific instances, but we know he was a man of prayer. In fact, the name “Shamu-El” literally means “God hears.” Once Israel had insisted on a king to rule over them and the newly inaugurated Saul was in place, Samuel made this promise to Israel: “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you” (I Samuel 12:23).
For the spiritual leader to fail to pray for God’s people means to sin against God. This is serious business indeed.
Let the leaders of God’s flocks be people of prayer. Anything less is to fail them and betray the Lord’s call, big time.
23) The most helpful text about homosexuality may be I Corinthians 6:9-11.
I received a phone call late one Sunday night from a prominent pastor in our state. Why he called me has remained a mystery ever since, for we were not close friends. As we chatted, he said, “I really got ’em told tonight.” I said, “What did you preach?”
“I gave ’em that passage in I Corinthians 6 about homosexuals and queers and the effeminate not going to heaven.”
I said, “Did you preach it all?”
“What do you mean?”
I said, “After listing that group, Paul added, ‘And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified.'”
(A fun note. The way I always remember that list–washed, sanctified, justified–is by WSJ. Wall Street Journal. True story.)
I said, “Did it ever occur to you that if the church at Corinth was reaching homosexuals for Jesus, they could not have hung out signs saying ‘Fags will burn in hell.’ They had to have been welcoming those people and loving them into the kingdom.”
Long pause. Then he said softly, “I sure wish I’d talked to you before I preached that sermon.”
I know nothing good to say about homosexual activity or behavior. It frightens me, if you want to know the truth. I have my own opinion about the origin of a lot of homosexuality, but it’s merely my opinion and God has not called me to preach that. Until He says otherwise, however, I’m preaching that God loves all people, He has revealed His plan in His Word, all are sinners (that is, we fail to live up to that standard), Christ died for all, and everyone must repent and place trust in Christ and then live as changed people. Saved live with one huge focus every day of their lives: to obey the Lord. To do His will.
24) The best prayer we can ever pray is one of the shortest. Acts 22:10.
When Saul of Tarsus was intercepted on his murderous mission outside of Damascus by the risen, living Lord Jesus Christ, he looked up into the brightest light he’d ever seen. Hearing that the Voice out of the sky belonged to “Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,” Saul muttered this prayer: “What shall I do, Lord?” (Or, “What will you have me to do?”)
That was the moment of Saul’s salvation, when he could lay himself open to the risen Christ to do His will.
The church belongs to the Lord Jesus and not to me the preacher or you the deacons or elders. It is His. “I will build my church,” Jesus said in Matthew 16:18. He is its Owner and Operator. The only question for those of us called to His service is, “Lord, what do you want done with your church?”
If they ever call on you to lead the opening prayer for a church business conference or a committee meeting, I challenge you to stand and say, “Lord, this is your church. Show us what you want done,” and sit down.
You’ve said it all. You’ve said it just right.
Now, wait on him. (That is the hard part, incidentally.)
25) The most overlooked parable in Scripture. Luke 17:7-10. And maybe the most needed one among God’s most faithful.
Some parables can be found in multiple locations. This one is found only at Luke 17:7-10. (Those numbers are easy to remember. 17. 7-10.)
Please pause and read it in your Bible. Then, highlight it because you will be needing it. As we say, there is nothing else like it in the Word.
We must not be sidetracked by peripheral considerations. Jesus is not endorsing slavery. He’s making a point about service in the Kingdom using a situation His hearers identified with. Some in the audience owned slaves, some hired themselves out as servants, and doubtless a few bond-slaves were to be found. So, everyone understood Jesus’ story.
“When you have done everything I have commanded you, then say (to yourself), ‘I am only an unprofitable servant; I’ve just done my job.'” (my paraphrase of verse 10)
Please notice several things about this parable….
1) We are not told to say these things to each other. Instead, we are to “give honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7). Scripture does not hesitate to single out faithful servants who have done well. “Submit to them” and “acknowledge such men,” Paul instructs in I Corinthians 16:16,18.
2) We are not told that God says these things to us. When we have served well, He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things; I will make you ruler over many” (Matthew 25:21,23). “Henceforth, there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness,” Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:8.
3) This is a little speech we say to ourselves. “I am only an unworthy servant, just doing my job.” Why? Why would the Lord suggest we say such a thing to ourselves?
–It drives a stake through the deadly ego that craves recognition and demands appreciation. (In one church I pastored, we quit recognizing the “senior adult of the year” because some were upset they were not chosen. “I’ve been here longer than she has.” “I deserve it more than he does.”)
–It heads off problems before they arise in the Body of Christ. (My observation is that at least half the internal squabbles in a typical church arise from people getting their feelings hurt. Luke 17:10 would stop that before it started.)
–And do not fail to notice that we say this to ourselves after we have done everything Jesus has required of us. (This is the place for a smiley-face. The simple fact is not one of us–not this preacher, not youl, not anyone you know–has ever done everything commanded of us by our Lord in His Word. And, according to this parable, even when we do get to that point, we should merely look around for our next job.)
Let’s give thanks for the wonderful parable of Luke 17:7-10. It’s just what I needed, and I’ll bet you did too!