Day 52: Inside or Outside?

Numbers 5-6; Mark 4:1-20

Key Verses

Numbers 6:22-27
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

“So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

One of the more offensive tenets of the Christian faith is that there is a distinction between those inside the Kingdom of God and those outside the Kingdom. Let’s face it, our culture values inclusiveness…. and at first glance, both of today’s passages seem to paint an exclusive picture of the Christian faith.

In Numbers, we continue to read about the people making preparations to enter the promised land. Today’s passage describes the “cleansing” of the camp (for more information on how to interpret OT cleanliness laws, see Day 42). Those who were “unclean” had to live “outside the camp.” One of the purposes for removing unclean people from the camp was to set Israel apart from other nations, but another reason was to create a picture of purity that pointed forward to God’s Kingdom… The physical act of “cleansing” the camp symbolized the spiritual purity of God’s future Kingdom.

Fast forward to today’s teaching in Mark…Jesus teaches in parables to further emphasize this principle of “insiders” vs. “outsiders.” He says that those who are in God’s Kingdom will understand his teaching, but those outside will not. In today’s passage, the very point of the parable was that there will be those who hear the word of the gospel, and will reject it. In other words, there will be outsiders.

But notice a very important subtlety… Who is the one doing the rejecting? Is it God? No. When Jesus comes, he opens the door of the Kingdom to people from ALL nations and tongues. There is no distinction between Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave or free.

What the Old Testament and Jesus both teach is that entrance to the Kingdom is absolutely exclusive because it requires perfection. Everyone would be outsiders if Jesus hadn’t paid the price of admission on our behalf. But because of Jesus’ sacrificial payment, all are invited in; therefore, the Kingdom becomes all-inclusive :) Sadly, we know people who choose to reject the invitation…

But. Jesus holds out hope even for those least likely to enter the Kingdom…

Mark 4:12
[For] those outside, everything is in parables, so that
“they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.” 

There is always hope for the unbeliever! Lest they should turn and be forgiven! Do you think of the Christian faith like an exclusive club – thus making the unbeliever feel judged and uninvited? Or do your words and actions make people feel welcome and safe? Remember, apart from God’s grace… we would all be outsiders!

Day 51: The Precision of God

Numbers 3-4; Mark 3:22-35

Key Verses

Numbers 3:9-10
And you shall give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are wholly given to him from among the people of Israel. And you shall appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall guard their priesthood.

Mark 3:35
“For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

Numbers 3 & 4 concentrate on numbering the Levites.

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine” (Numbers 3:12).

The ESV Study Bible explains: “In the last plague, every firstborn male Egyptian and every firstborn of their cattle died, but the Israelite boys and cattle were spared. So after this, all Israelite firstborn boys and cattle were dedicated to God. That meant the cattle were sacrificed and the boys should have served God in the sanctuary Ex. 11:4–13:15. But after the golden calf incident, the Levites took the place of the firstborn boys Ex. 32:25–29. The census showed there were 273 fewer Levites than first-born males in the other tribes. To redeem those 273 Israelites who had no Levite to take their place, five shekels (Num. 3:47) per person had to be paid. This is the tariff prescribed in Lev. 27:6 for boys under five. Five shekels would have been about a year’s pay for a herdsman.”

Do you notice the precision of God? Nothing was overlooked. Every detail was considered and described. God is a God of order, not chaos :)

Mark 3 contains a difficult saying of Jesus that is found in all 3 of the synoptic gospels…

“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:28-29).

It is helpful to consider the precise nature of God’s character when interpreting this verse. Jesus was not being elusive. His speech was plain and precise. But what did he mean… exactly?

To blaspheme against the Holy Spirit is to persistently reject his saving work in your life. The Holy Spirit testifies in our hearts that Jesus is Lord. The Holy Spirit softens and humbles our hearts to ask for salvation and forgiveness. To reject the work of the Spirit is, in essence, forfeiting the chance for forgiveness. If you have been saved by the work of the Spirit, then this “eternal sin” is impossible for you to commit. Only those who refuse to be saved remain “unforgivable.”

God is clear. God is precise. There is one true God and one way to salvation….only through the atoning work of Jesus on the cross. There is no sin we can commit that can trump the power of His sacrifice – except to reject Him. That would be a very sad, “eternal” mistake.

Day 50: Encamped Around the Presence of God

Numbers 1-2; Mark 3:1-21

Key Verses

Numbers 2:1-2
Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying,
“The people of Israel shall camp each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ houses. They shall camp facing the tent of meeting on every side.”

Mark 3:9-10
And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him.

We begin the book of Numbers today! Numbers chronicles Israel’s time in the desert and begins with the people making preparations to go to war. If they wanted to take the land, they had to prepare to fight…

From twenty years old and upward, all in Israel who are able to go to war, you and Aaron shall list them, company by company (Numbers 1:3).

Numbers 2 goes on to detail exactly how the people were to camp and march. The Tabernacle would be guarded by the Levites and remained in the center of the people when they camped and when they marched. Remember, the tabernacle was God’s house. God dwelled there. The people were to camp around the presence of God. Numbers vividly portrays God’s presence dwelling with the Israelite people!

Both of today’s passages contain imagery of great numbers surrounding the presence of God. The account in Numbers is ordered and precise. Everyone had a place – so much so that it would be very obvious if a family or clan went missing. There would be an empty spot around the tabernacle! This was a model of community. This is a model for the church*!

By contrast, the scenes in Mark seem frantic. The crowds pressing in on Jesus were desperate. This is also a picture of community. Our churches are made up of hurt and broken people, desperate for the healing touch of the Savior.

Both passages teach valuable lessons about community and church life. The church needs each of us. If we go missing, there will be a noticeable gap that goes unfilled. But we also need the church. For that’s where God’s presence is found!!! If you don’t believe me, read Ephesians…

…you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).

The dwelling place of God is in the midst of a community of believers… being built together into a holy temple.

Are you desperate for the Savior?? Oh, I hope so. Now… go to church :) …And encamp together around the presence of God!

*I am indebted to author and teacher, Susan Hunt, for the application of Numbers 2 to church life.

Day 49: The reaping

Leviticus 26-27; Mark 2

Key Verses

Leviticus 26:45
“But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord.”

Mark 2:17
And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Leviticus 26 is difficult. The first half paints a breathtaking picture of a life of obedience. This is the life that God wanted for his people – this is the life that God wants for us!

But I know the story of the Israelites, and I know they fail to obey. God is true to his word. The horrible curses described in the second half of Leviticus 26 come on Israel – so much that the land will be laid desolate and the people will live as captives in a foreign land. But God gives a glimmer of hope…

Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God” (Leviticus 26:44).

Because the strict language of Leviticus seems so different from Jesus’ love and compassion, it might be easy to discount the Law as obsolete and meaningless to the modern Christian. No! God is still holy!! And our disobedience is still costly!

Fast forward to Mark… The Jews questioned Jesus in Mark 2 several times… “Why do you make yourself unclean by associating with sinners?” “Why don’t your followers obey the fasting laws?” “Why do you break the law and pluck grain on the Sabbath?” On the surface, it seems like Jesus is voiding the law with his actions. But he refutes this in the parable of the wine skins… No, he fulfills the law and deepens it to include what flows from the heart instead of describing only outward actions.

The Israelites disobeyed God’s law and they reaped the consequences.We are no different from the Israelites. We reap what we sow. If you look back at Leviticus 26 (in the ESV translation), God describes the consequences for Israel’s disobedience as “discipline” not “punishment.” Every consequence was brought about with the hope of repentance. Ultimately, God just wants us to repent. He is waiting for the turning… for our hard hearts to be brought low in humility and surrender. What are you sowing?? Humble reliance or hard-hearted independence?? Just like the Israelites, we will reap what we sow.

Day 48: Made clean

Leviticus 24-25; Mark 1:21-45

Key Verses

Leviticus 25:18
“Therefore you shall do my statutes and keep my rules and perform them, and then you will dwell in the land securely.”

Mark 1:27
And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

Leviticus continues today with more laws illustrating God’s holiness and justice. Remember the purpose of these laws as you read… God was forming a nation that would be set apart from the other nations. They were to deal compassionately with the poor (25:23-55). Laws were established to protect the land (25:1-7) and also give each generation a chance to earn a living in an agricultural society (25:8-17). Judges were to give fair sentences that equaled the severity of the crimes (24:17-23).

Imagine the peace and prosperity that would come to the people if they obeyed all that the Lord commanded! His plans have always been and remain… good.

But for those of us who find it difficult to see God’s goodness in the law… He sent his Son to demonstrate his love in human form. Let’s look at one scene from today’s reading in Mark…

And a leper came to [Jesus], imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, [Jesus] stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean (Mark 1:40-42).

This passage should have deeper meaning after reading through Leviticus… The leper was ceremonially unclean (Lev. 13). According to the law, if Jesus touched him, he would also be made unclean. But Jesus chose to touch him. Why? Jesus’ love and compassion were so powerful that instead of making Jesus unclean, his touch made the leper clean.* Doesn’t Jesus do the same for us?? That’s the gospel! And that’s good news :)

*This observation came from the study notes of the ESV Study Bible, Crossway Bibles

Day 47: Definitely Not Boring!

Leviticus 23; Mark 1:1-20

Key Verses

Leviticus 23:1
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, These are the appointed feasts of the Lord that you shall proclaim as holy convocations; they are my appointed feasts.”

Mark 1:17
And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”

I love the fact that God gave his people feasts. The feasts were in essence – holidays. God established “family traditions” for the Israelite nation! Each year is book-ended by two feasts which celebrate the escape from Egypt. The year began with Passover – a solemn memorial in which they ate unleavened bread for a week. The year then ended with the Feast of Booths. This feast was very different. Listen to its description…

And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.

That sounds like a party to me! In fact, this feast reminds me of one big camping retreat (as the people were commanded to live in tents for the week). God is a lot of things, but he’s not boring.

We begin Mark today. Immediately, you should notice a different style of writing than in Matthew. Mark describes in 20 verses what Matthew took four chapters to cover. Mark’s gospel reminds me of a highlight reel that hits you with one power-punched scene after another. Reading it makes me want to hit the pause button! But Mark had a purpose, and it was to encourage discipleship. Matthew’s gospel ended with “The Great Commission” …to make disciples of all the nations. In order to be a disciple of Christ, we must know Him and imitate Him. Mark’s gospel makes this possible!

Day 46: The Great Reversal

Leviticus 21-22; Matthew 28

Key Verses

Leviticus 22:21
And when anyone offers a sacrifice of peace offerings to the Lord to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering from the herd or from the flock, to be accepted it must be perfect; there shall be no blemish in it.

Matthew 28:5-7
But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.

Leviticus 21-22 are difficult passages for me. Taken alone, they could portray God as uncompassionate and harsh. Especially difficult are the passages referring to “without blemish.” No priest or animal could have a blemish. That meant no blind priests in the tabernacle. Hunchbacks were not tolerated. Even if your hand was injured, you were not allowed. This seems like a different God than the one who made the blind see and the lame walk.

But I have an idea… What if God is painting a picture of his original design? What if he is pointing back to what should have been – before sin entered the world… Sin corrupted everything… even our physical bodies. Disability, sickness, and death were not part of God’s original plan. There was no “blemish” before sin.

But the resurrection of Christ undoes the effects of sin. It is the resurrection which begins the great reversal. What did C.S. Lewis write in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe?

Though the witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. But if she could have looked a little further back… she would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.

Yes! Death is working backward. We live in the time after the resurrection… when God takes our blemishes and redeems them – and he transforms them – and then he makes them into something…good.

Day 45: The Deep, Deep Love of God

Leviticus 18-20; Matthew 27:32-66

Key Verses

Leviticus 20:26
You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.

Matthew 27:50
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

I see God’s character ringing loudly through these chapters. I see the goal of restoring the world to its original creation design. I see compassion for the poor, reasonable dealings with others, jealousy for the worship of His people, a passion for purity and the grand plan to distinguish a people for His glory. And then we see the ultimate sacrifice… As God, himself dies to redeem his oh-so-lost-children.

And to think that I’ve doubted His goodness. And I’ve dared to doubt His love. Oh Lord, forgive me.

Day 44: Life-blood

Leviticus 17; Matthew 27:1-31

Key Verses

Leviticus 17:11
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.

Matthew 27:13-14
Then Pilate said to [Jesus], “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

Ephesians 1:7
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.

God tells the people: life is in the blood (Lev 17:11). The shedding of the animal’s blood, its sacrificial death, is a substitute payment for the sinner. For the consequences of any and all sin – is death. God graciously allows a substitute. The life is in the blood. The life of the animal is poured out on the altar as a payment for sin.

Jesus, standing before Pilate, offered no defense. He knew his role. When he was mocked and spat upon, he did not retaliate. He was the substitute. His life-blood would be poured out for our sins. Do you believe this? Do not belittle the sacrifice with indifference. Come to the cross and find rest for your soul.

Day 43: The Story of All Stories

Leviticus 16; Matthew 26:57-75

Key Verses

Leviticus 16:34
“And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.”

Matthew 26:65-66
Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He, [Jesus,] has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.”

Leviticus 16 describes the Day of Atonement. It was this day, only once a year, that the High Priest would enter the Most Holy Place and make atonement for himself and for the people. The sins of the people were ceremonially transferred to a goat, the scapegoat, and it carried the iniquity of the people away to the wilderness.

The temple, the ceremonies, the High Priest… all of it pointed forward to the Messiah. But the people didn’t expect the Messiah, their Savior, to be a suffering servant. Even Peter, compelled by fear and crushed by the grief of unmet expectations, denied knowing Jesus in the end. And ironically, it is the High Priest, the appointed mediator between God and the people, that sentences the Messiah to death. Christ is left alone to accomplish what He alone could do.

John Bloom writes from the September 18, 2010 entry of the Desiring God blog: “Jesus turned out to be far more than the Messiah had been expected to be. He was the consummate temple, Passover lamb, sacrificed goat, scapegoat, high priest, prophet and the King of kings.”

God can write a story! God is the ultimate author, originating all literary techniques such as irony, foreshadowing, symbolism. And to think… we are actually characters in His story. Amazing…

But when Christ came as the high priest of the good things we now have, he entered the greater and more perfect tent. It is not made by humans and does not belong to this world. Christ entered the Most Holy Place only once—and for all time. He did not take with him the blood of goats and calves. His sacrifice was his own blood, and by it he set us free from sin forever. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a cow are sprinkled on the people who are unclean, and this makes their bodies clean again. How much more is done by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:11-14. NCV).