Day 59: On the move

Numbers 20-21; Mark 7:24-37

Three days ago we read at the end of Numbers 14… that because of unbelief, the people would have to wait 40 years to enter the land. Numbers 15 begins with, “When you come into the land you are to inhabit, which I am giving you…” In other words, God is gracious and reaffirms that despite the 40 year delay, He will, in fact, give the people the land.

The next 5 chapters (15-19) describe how the Israelites should observe the law – in the land. Their life in the promised land would be different from life in the wilderness – the changes in the law reflected this change.

Now we come to Numbers 20. And the 40 years are almost complete. The people gather together in the wilderness of Zin – which is just south of Canaan and happens to be the same area the spies first crossed on their way into Canaan years earlier. But that generation has passed away and we see that their children – though still rebellious, are not quite as bad as their fathers… Rather, the focus switches to Moses’ and Aaron’s rebellion. The consequences for their disobedience are severe, as Aaron dies and Moses is prohibited from entering the land.

We also read of the Israelites marching northward through the Transjordan (the land East of the Jordan River) and we see God’s favor return to His people as they defeat the kings of the Transjordan.

It’s an exciting time :) We are on the verge of seeing God fulfill a promise He first made to Abraham hundreds of years earlier!

But ultimately, all of God’s promises are fulfilled in the person of Jesus – who we find traveling to Jews in the outer most regions of Tyre, Sidon and the Decapolis in today’s reading from Mark. This may sound trite, but I love Jesus. I love watching his movements and actions. I LOVE reading about his healings. I can almost imagine myself being pressed on all sides by the crowds – hoping to catch just the glance of his eye…  When I read Mark’s gospel, I feel like I’m watching personified compassion on the move :)

Until tomorrow… when the plot thickens ;)

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Day 58: The Real Life

Numbers 18-19; Mark 7:1-23

These two passages seem to be in stark contrast to one another. Numbers restates and adds to the cleanliness laws – while in Mark, Jesus chides the Pharisees for their hypocritical observance of the cleanliness laws. Who was right? Well, both of them are…

Remember… God was establishing a people with a law that was a physical representation of His future spiritual kingdom. Cleanliness is a HUGE deal to God. The people were taught through the word pictures presented in the law that uncleanliness was connected with death – whereas cleanliness was associated with life. This is why a person was deemed “unclean” when touching any animal or person that was dead.

Jesus teaches that it is not the physical things that make a person unclean – but rather it is the sinful actions of the heart that defile a person. Our hearts are unclean… which means they are associated with death – spiritual death.

How do we reverse the spiritual death in our hearts? Our hearts must be made clean! …But how? We know that the blood of animals is insufficient to cleanse the heart! But listen to the writer of Hebrews…

The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:13-14)

Jesus’ once-and-for-all-sacrifice makes life possible – not just the physical representation of life – No! His sacrifice opens the way for us to have true, spiritual life. The real life – the forever kind of life! I don’t know about you, but I want some of that life!! I find it in Jesus…

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Day 57: The Judge & The Healer

Numbers 15-17; Mark 6:30-56

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God.” Numbers 15:37-41

The people needed a reminder… a daily, visual cue – to obey the Lord. Their hearts were prone to wander – to lust after lesser gods. We see it in Numbers 16-17 – how the people didn’t trust Moses, how the people rose up against the priesthood – how they wanted to be their own god.

God didn’t care much for the rebels. They died in a public display of power as the earth swallowed them whole. They obviously didn’t remember to regard their tassels that day! ;)

The tradition of wearing tassels continued into Jesus’ day. We read in Mark 6…

And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well (Mark 6:56).

The Greek word for fringe is the equivalent to the Hebrew word for tassel. Jesus wears the tassels – but instead of being a reminder to obey, they were a source of healing.

God is both the Holy Judge and the Tender Healer. So, Come… Bow to touch the fringe of his garment and rest in the arms of your Savior.

Day 56: The tragedy of unbelief

Numbers 13-14; Mark 6:1-29

God does not work in the midst of unbelief…

And [Jesus] could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief (Mark 6:5-6).

In today’s passage in Numbers, we read of the gross unbelief of the Israelites. Except for Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb… the rest of the people refused to trust in God’s promises, and therefore they disobeyed God’s good word. The consequences were severe… no one would enter the land – except Joshua and Caleb and the children. God promised that in a span of 40 years, everyone in the current generation would die…

The people, hearing the harsh judgment, immediately backtracked and made a half-hearted attempt to take the land. But God was not with them, and they were brutally defeated.

This is a hard lesson. God does not work in the midst of unbelief. If we are actively disobeying Him, can we expect Him to work in our lives?? Even Jesus, in the midst of his hometown rejection, could not perform the usual mighty display of miracles. His power was limited in the face of rejection.

Ultimately, God’s promises are always fulfilled. The people of the next generation inherited the land. But those who disobeyed missed the blessing! God will accomplish his good plans for the world – with or without us…

God, please help me to obey. Help me to trust in your good word, and give me the faith to choose your ways over my own desires and plans. Please God, don’t let me miss the blessing! Oh God… ““I believe; help my unbelief!”

Day 55: Complaining

Numbers 10:11 – 12:16

After almost a year at Mt. Sinai… after the giving of the Law and the construction of the Tabernacle, the anointing of Priests and dedication of the Holy things… the people set out. Everything starts well – the people break camp as instructed, they march in the exact order that God commanded. The Levites comply with every instruction of how to transport the tent and the holy things.

But then.

The people complain… And everything goes downhill from there. Today’s reading ends with Moses’ own family turning against him and the Lord.

What happened? Their eyes turned inward on their unhappy circumstances. Self-pity crept in – which led to self-justification – which led to great anger from God.

This section of Scripture is deeply sad to me – mainly because I see the same sin patterns in my own life. When I complain, the ungratefulness in my heart is revealed. A thankless heart is a great sin – but thankfully… we serve a God who longs for our repentance. 

At the very end of today’s reading we see Miriam and Aaron conspiring against Moses. They were jealous of his special standing before God and deserved to die because of it, but God spared them – because of Moses’ intercession.

Moses points forward to Jesus – who lives to continually make intercession for us. The book of Hebrews teaches that Jesus is greater than Moses (Hebrews 3), and it also teaches that Jesus is our High Priest…

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Lord, please forgive me when I complain of my circumstances – belittling your sacrifice for me. Help me to pry my eyes off of myself and turn them toward you – my great High Priest. Please Lord, have mercy on me.

Day 54: The Cloud and The Fire

Numbers 8 – 10:10; Mark 4:35 – 5:43

Tucked in the middle of instructions and preparations to move the Israelite camp toward Canaan is a description of the cloud and fire. God’s presence was manifested as a cloud over the Tabernacle by day and fire by night. At any time the cloud (or the fire) lifted from the Tabernacle – the Israelites were to break camp and follow.

Whether it was two days, or a month, or a longer time, that the cloud continued over the tabernacle, abiding there, the people of Israel remained in camp and did not set out, but when it lifted they set out. At the command of the Lord they camped, and at the command of the Lord they set out (Numbers 9:22-23).

Maybe this is naive, but I’ve always been envious of this lifestyle of the Israelites. I envy the simplicity. If God moved, they moved. If God stayed, they were to stay. I long for the distractions of this world to be stripped away – so everything comes down to – if God moves, I move. If God stays, I stay.

Let me tell you something… He’s worth following. Just read today’s passage from Mark. He has dominion over the forces of nature, over all the spiritual world and even over death and life. This is a God who is powerful and rich in mercy. Mark’s account of Jesus raising the little girl from the dead has to be one of my favorite gospel stories. You can see His kindness in the details… how He takes her hand and how He ensures she receives food.

We live in a complicated time that is stuffed with stuff – all of which pull at our heartstrings and distract us from the Only One that really matters. Sometimes it takes a desert experience to bring our eyes back to a single focus… worship of the Savior. God, help us to see you through the fog of this world. Help us to see the cloud by day and the fire by night so that we might follow… and worship.

Day 53: The Word at work

Numbers 7; Mark 4:21-34

The Kingdom of God… it’s one of my favorite topics. In an earlier post I defined the Kingdom as a place with a ruler, a law and a people.

Today’s parables define another aspect of the Kingdom… the Word. The Word is the means of growing the Kingdom. What a person does with the Word, will determine if he’s in the Kingdom or out… The Word is the picture and message of Jesus. The Word is the call to repent. The Word is the gospel – the good news that Jesus is the sacrifice.

  • The Word sheds light on the human heart – just as a lamp lights a dark room (Mark 4:21-22).
  • The Word will increase in a heart that is teachable, but to a hard heart, it will be taken away (Mark 4:23-25).
  • The Word is sown as a farmer sows a field, and just as the plant grows slowly – almost invisibly at first – so does the Kingdom grow… slowly and steadily until one day its branches will cover the whole garden! (Mark 4:26-34)

The Kingdom is invisible. But one day, we will see the place and the Ruler – face to face… Moses was only able to hear God speak. God would speak from above the mercy seat in between the cherubim (Numbers 7:89). Moses didn’t go behind the veil to the Holy of Holies where God’s presence dwelled. No. The veil had not yet been torn. The way had not yet been opened. The all-sufficient sacrifice had not yet been given.

Jesus comes and opens the way for the sinner to go behind the veil into the Holy of Holies. There will be no tabernacle in the new earth – for God will not need a veil to hide his Glory – Rather, his Glory will shine like the sun and his home will be with… his people.

I take great comfort in the promise that though the Kingdom is invisible and grows slowly – that one day it will be so vast that it will be seen by all! The same principle is true of the Word at work in my heart. It is my responsibility to sow the Word in my heart – to read, meditate and trust. And slowly, steadily the Word will produce fruit in my life. This is the way of faith. This is the way of the Kingdom!

Day 52: Inside or Outside?

Numbers 5-6; Mark 4:1-20

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…

[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. Just something to think about ;)

Day 51: The precision of God

Numbers 3-4; Mark 3:22-35

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, for all the firstborn are mine. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both of man and of beast. They shall be mine: I am the Lord.”

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 firstborn males in the other tribes. To redeem these 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

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 want to take the land, they have 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 on 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.