Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Commissioned Series: Week 2 - Commissioned in Authority

In my last two years of high school I had a coach, who was the parent of one of the players. He started coaching the year before I arrived at the school, and won the league. I had high hopes for the team when I joined, because they only lost one player, and were gaining several others. But my hopes were quickly dashed, when I realized what kind of coach he was. Instead of teaching his players, he would berate them.
I remember my first pre-season game my senior year with the team. We were playing against a team a division above ours and I was pitching. By the third inning, I had allowed 1 run, but they had kept us to 0. Their pitcher was either really good, or as I believed, we just weren’t prepared. Up to that point in practice I had taken five swings against a live pitcher. In two innings were the pitcher had struck out six players in a row. Then in the third inning, the first batter came up, strikeout; the second came up, strikeout; then it was my turn. The coach always put me last in the batting lineup when I pitched, even though when I played the field I hit 5th. But here I was hitting ninth. The opposing pitcher had eight straight strikeouts, and was looking for the ninth. I wasn’t going to let that happen. The first pitch I was given I hit, a ground ball to the shortstop, my team were on their feet cheering me on. I ran as hard as I could to beat out the throw and a split second before my right foot hit the bag, the ball reached the first baseman. I was out, the inning was over. I hustled back to the dugout and the first words out of my coach’s mouth were shouted at me, “You hit the bag with the wrong foot!”
Instantly I was furious. I tried not to respond as I entered the dugout to grab my glove, as he berated me for not hitting the bag with the correct foot. See, the general accepted technique to stepson a bag in baseball is with the left foot. This allows for the body to make a left turn easier when going to second base. And as I grabbed my glove the constant yelling from the coach finally broke me. My 5’11 skinny frame lunged at the 5’6” portly man, and if I would have gotten a hold of him, I don’t know what I would have done. Luckily my teammates grabbed me. I left then and there in a furious mood. Eventually I apologized for my behavior, never receiving one in return. 
Years later, I met one of the shortstops from the other team who remembered me from that game. He told me that after I left, they destroyed us, a fact none of my teammates let me know. 
My dad told me once, that he asked the principle why they kept that coach around, and the answer was, he got them free equipment through his work, and when his son graduated, he would be gone.

I never like that coach, because I believe he used his authority as a coach to berate and demean his players, going so far as the during year they won their league, chasing a player with a bat. No one on the team liked him, the staff tolerated him, but everyone saw, that this man was given authority and was not worthy of it. 

And it’s this idea of authority and using it correctly that brings us back into the text of Matthew 28, verses 16 through 20; where, last week, we began to dissect, what is commonly referred to as the Great Commission. We started down this path, because as we talked about at the end of our ARK Series, when a person puts their trust into Jesus as their Savior, they are indwelled with the Holy Spirit and are now the ark of God’s presence on earth.
In our first week of the year, we tackled the context of the Great Commission. And in the context, we saw three important points: First, the disciples met Jesus on a mountain. The eye witness Matthew pointed this out, because mountains represented encounters with God throughout the Old Testament. The second point we noticed, was that the disciples worshiped Jesus. Matthew points this out, because Jesus himself makes the clear proclamation that only God is worthy to be worshiped (Matthew 4:9). So by the disciples worshiping Jesus, and by him receiving that worship, Jesus infers that he is God Almighty. The last point we saw last week, and the one that we walked away applying to our own lives, was the fact that Matthew pointed out that there was still disciples that were doubting. We talked about how even in their, and in our, doubt, God can still use us.

With the context understood, we can now jump back into the Great Commission of Matthew 28, verses 16-20. And like we said last week, we’re going to read through the whole passage and then focus on a particular verse or verses. So let’s read together starting in verse 16 of Matthew chapter 28.

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Like we said last week, when we understand the context of the disciples encountering God on a mountain, worshiping him and yet still having doubts, it puts into perspective the words of Jesus that follow their doubting. 

In verse 18, Jesus speaks and says these important words, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to.”

These words are in direct response to their doubting. Jesus is saying that there is no need to doubt because he has all authority in the universe. But today, I want us to focus on three words from this passage, “all”, “authority”, and “given”.

The reason I want us to stop and focus on these three words, is because when we glance over these words, I have found that people misapply their meanings and come up with all sorts of beliefs from them.

So today we’re going deep into Scripture so that we can fully understand the meaning behind what Jesus is saying in this verse and how we are to respond with what he is calling us to do. First, let’s tackle the first and the last words, because the one in the middle is the most troublesome it seems.

The word all, is the Greek word pas (pas), which means the parts making up the whole. Simply put, it’s a jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces of the puzzle are brought together to make the whole. In this case, it’s the pieces of heavenly authority and earthly authority.
One of the harder things to understand about Jesus, is that on earth he is both fully God and fully man. And as such, Jesus actually excludes himself from using his divine power. Paul says it like this in Philippians 2:6-7, “Who (Jesus), being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”
Those words, “he made himself nothing”, literally mean, he emptied (Greek: kenoó [ken-o’-o]) himself of his divine power.
And we see this through Jesus’ earthly ministry. In John 5:19 it reads, “Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”
Later on in verse 30 of that same chapter Jesus says, “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.”
Earlier in Matthew’s book, satan, recognizes that Jesus has put away his divine power when he became a human and so entices Jesus to break this emptying in Matthew chapter 4 verse 3 where it reads, “The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’”
And so, when Jesus says, all authority, he is making a point to let us know that on earth, he only had some authority, which was the authority given to him to accomplish certain tasks. But now, all, every piece of his divine authority had been restored.

Which brings us to the word given. The Greek word didómi (did’-o-mee), has the idea behind it that something is being bestowed. In that Philippians passage, if we were to pick it up in verse 9 it reads, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
As Jesus completes his earthly work, which started with him emptying himself of his divine power, he is restored by God the Father in all of his infinite power and status.

Taking these two words together, we can now read verse 18 like this: Every aspect of Jesus’ divine authority, which he had emptied himself of, has been restored to him, because of his work on earth and through the cross.

Now, for some of us, maybe most of us, these two ideas are commonly understood. But there are those that want to either bring Jesus down to merely an exulted human or lift him him beyond human limitations, but the Scriptures won’t allow those interpretations. Instead, the understanding of Jesus being fully God and fully man, with the limitations of a human while on earth is the Scriptural view of Jesus’ earthly work.
But I’ve noticed that when it comes to the word authority, there is a lot of misunderstanding. I have seen this lead into one major misinterpretation of what authority means in Scripture and in the life of the believer.

And so, let us dive into what Scripture has to say about authority.

Now, we can go in one of two directions with the time we have left. We can either talk about Jesus’ authority or we can talk about the believer’s role in that authority. Through my time in prayer, it has been pressed on me that we need to focus on our role in authority, because more and more I have seen it be misinterpreted. Many people understand that Jesus’ authority is infinite and all encompassing. But what about the believer? And so I want to bring us to the misinterpretation of authority in the believer’s life first, and dive into what the Scriptures have to say about it.

One of the more common misinterpretations I have heard, uses verses like Romans 4:17. The verse reads, “As it is written: ‘I have made you a father of many nations.’ He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.”
The common paraphrase that I’ve heard focuses’ solely on the last phrase of the verse and sounds like this, “We as believers can call things into being, things that were not.”
Not only is it taking the verse out of context, inserting us when the verse doesn’t mention us at all, but it gives us authority to do things that only God can do. This misinterpretation has at it’s core a misunderstanding of where we stand in authority.

So let’s get into what the Scriptures say about authority and what it means in our lives.

First, the word used of authority in Matthew 28:18, is the Greek word, exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah). Exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) means the power to act, the right to have, the freedom to do. And so Jesus is saying in Matthew 28:18, that all powers to act, and all rights to have and all freedoms to do, are his.

But this word appears a lot in the New Testament, in fact it appears 102 times, and in almost every book.
Of these 102 times, we can break that down into 5 categories. First, the references to God or Jesus’ authority is referenced in 31 verses. Second, in reference to the believer there are 19 verses. Third, in reference to earthly governments we’re at 12 verses. Fourth, to satanic authority, there are 14 verses. And finally, the miscellaneous use of the word, with another 16 verses.
In several of these verses the term authority is used multiple times, and the Greek word gets translated into authority, power, right, and freedom. 
But right off the bat, we can see the main focus of the word authority in the New Testament, far and above all other uses, exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) is focused on God’s authority, his power, his right, and his freedom.

And so, when Jesus says that all authority in heaven and on earth is his, we can see throughout the New Testament, just what that means. And if you would like a list of these verses that talk about God’s authority, come tonight to our sermon discussion and I can given them to you.
But like I said earlier, there is a misunderstanding of what the role of the believer has when it comes to authority. And so, I think it best to allow the Scriptures to dictate to us what role in authority or what authority God didómi (did’-o-mee), or bestows to us. So let’s focus on those. 

In the 19 verses that connect believers to authority, all 5 (Matt. 10:1; Mark 3:15, 6:7; Luke 9:1, 10:19) in the first three Gospels, reference Jesus giving authority to cast out demons, heal the sick, and proclaim the kingdom of God. The only reference in John’s Gospel (1:12) talks about a believer’s right to become a child of God. In the rest of the New Testament, there are five references to ministers of the Gospel having a right to compensation (1 Corinthians 9:4, 5, 6, 12,18; 2 Thessalonians 3:9). Two references to church discipline (2 Corinthians 10:8; 13:10). One reference is in having authority over, or being in control of our sexual appetites (1 Corinthians 7:37). One reference tells us to not misuse our authority or our freedom (1 Corinthians 8:9). Then there is one reference to being identified with Jesus in his suffering (Hebrews 13:10). And the last three references come from the book of Revelation where we’re told that when we overcome we’ll receive authority to judge nations (2:26), the second death has no authority over us (20:6), and we’ll have the authority or right to eat of the tree of life (22:14).

So now all that said, what can we glean from the authority that we have in Scripture? Well first, we’re intimately connected with Christ who has the authority.  In 10 of the 19 verses the believer has no authority apart from Christ. Any authority we have comes from him, and is done at his command. That’s really important, because where he has every piece of authority, we only have a piece. 
This is why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” We are merely a representation of the authority that Christ wields.
Next, five of the verses show us that we should be in support of those engaged in ministry. So as believers we need to be looking for those ministry that are sharing the Gospel through speaking the word, caring for those in need, and honoring God though it. I’m not saying you should support the Alliance ministry, though I think you should, what I am saying is that you need to be led by God to find the ministries he wants you to support. 
Then, two of the verses tell us that there is a structure in the Church of correcting Church related matters, and so we need to be under that authority. Each of us then, is called to a group of believers so that we can be accountable. If you’re not in such a group, then you’re actually missing out on the blessing that it brings. Because none of us is supposed to be a loner in this family of God.
Next, one verse calls us to be in control of our sexual desires. Really that means in control of our whole body. Our physical desires should not control us, but rather we should be in control of them
And finally, one verses tells us to not misuse any aspect of this authority. Not to misuse our thinking about where the authority comes from. Not misuse what ministries we support. Not misuse the accountability and fellowship of believers. Not misuse our bodies. 

So the authority that Christ bestows to his disciples, is to spread the Gospel, support each other in spreading the Gospel, be humble in our spiritual walks by being accountable to other, be in control of our bodies, and to not misuse any of it.
It makes sense that this is the authority that we are bestowed by Christ, because the first two words following Jesus’ proclamation that he has all authority in heaven and on earth is “Therefore go…” 
Each of us is to share the Gospel, each of us is called to support the sharing of the Gospel, each of us is called to a body of believers to be accountable, each of us is called to bring our desires under Christ’s rule, and each of us is called to not misuse any of it.

We are called by the authority of Jesus to conduct ourselves as he calls us. Not into what our own desires have for us, but what his desire is for us. We do not call those things that were not into being into being, but rather, we speak the words of Jesus, “Very truly I tell you, the Son (the believer) can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son (the believer) also does (John 5:19).”

My challenge for you this week is to take inventory of your life. First, in what areas are you trying to have authority, when the authority hasn’t been given to you? Sometimes, we try to force God into doing our will, but it is his will we need to be seeking. Second, in the areas of authority he has given you, what are you not following through in? Sharing the Gospel, supporting ministries, being accountable to others, not letting your desires overcome you, or just misusing it for your benefit and not Christ’s. 
Jesus has only given us authority in a very narrow area, and even so, there’s a lot to be done with it. What are we trying to do beyond that? 

Let us be God’s people, a people under Jesus’ authority, working out the limited authority he has given us today. Amen.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

The Commissioned Series: Week 1 - Commissioned in Doubt

When Marika and I were in our first year of marriage, we led a missions team down to Honduras for two months. While we were getting trained to lead this group, we had to attend a week long leadership camp, where they pushed us both physically and mentally. For the most part, I was fine, because most of the tasks weren’t out of the realm of my abilities. That is until we got to a challenge called the high ropes course.
Now, if you’ve never experienced a high ropes course, let me tell you it’s all in the name. It’s high above the ground with all you have to support you are the ropes, and it’s an obstacle course to navigate through. Personally, ropes and courses are fine with me; I’ll run a course, and play with ropes all day long. It’s when you take those two things and put them twenty feet high above the ground that I start to doubt my abilities. Because I don’t have a fear of high places, but of long drops.
In order to get me through the course, as I held on for dear life, Marika, who didn’t seem to have any trouble with the whole situation, spent the whole of the time encouraging me every step of the way. But the most harrowing part of the course, and the part that almost all of our group failed at, was this thing called the “X”. It was the final challenge of the course, and you had to accomplish it with a partner. 
The challenge went like this: You faced your partner, put your arms out, and held each other’s hands in front of you. Then you made your way onto two ropes that gradually moved away from each other. The object of the challenge was to lean on your partner’s hands as your feet moved out from under you. You would eventually get to a position of almost being parallel to the ground.
I obviously had my doubts, but through Marika’s encouragement we were the only two from our group who finished the whole thing without falling. And that is why I will never do another ropes course for the rest of my life. I beat it, and so I will end as a champion.

But it’s this idea of doubting that brings us to a new series as we kick off this new year. We ended last year with our Ark series, finalizing it with the understanding that if we have accepted Jesus as our Savior, then the Holy Spirit has been given to us, making us the ark of God’s presence in this world. 
This is done through Jesus’ death on the cross, his resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of God the Father.
Recently, I had a conversation with someone where the idea of apostleship and commissioning were brought up. Through that conversation and my prayer time following it, I was brought to a point where I understood God’s leading for us to talk about what it means to be commissioned by God. What it means for a believer to carry the presence of God in this world.

So for the next several weeks, we’re going to unpack one of the Alliance’s core passages, Matthew 28, the Great Commission. So if you have you’re Bibles, we’re going to be camping out in Matthew chapter 28 verse 16-20 for the coming weeks, as we dive deep into what it means to be commissioned by God and carry his presence into the world.

And as we open to Matthew 28, verse 16, I want to bring us up to speed on where we’re at in the passage and why we’re beginning where we are.
First off, let’s talk about the passage in it’s context. We’re coming at the end of one of the original twelve disciple’s Gospel account of Jesus. So as we read this, this commissioning is from an eyewitness account. Through the eyewitness of Matthew, we are given insight, not just of the words of Jesus, but of the state of mind of the disciples. Matthew’s Gospel is also undeniably focused on connecting Jesus with the Old Testament. So throughout his writing, we are brought back to Old Testament ideas. When we come to this passage, were coming directly after the resurrection, where we’re not told the number many days that have passed, just that Jesus is risen, and the disciples are to meet with him. Matthew ends his account of Jesus’ ministry here, because it’s where we see Jesus passing of the torch, of his work to the disciples. That’s the passage in context of where we find it.

The Second thing I want to point out is where we’re starting the passage. Though most translations start the passage in verse 16 with the heading, “The Great Commission,” when most people talk about the Great Commission, they’re usually only talking about verses 18-20. But for me, the situation that the disciples find themselves in, and that Jesus is speaking into, is just as important as the words that Jesus uses. Because as we’ll see, the words Jesus uses reflect the state of mind that the disciples are in. Therefore, I believe that we need to make sure we encompass verses 16 and 17 into the Great Commission to fully understand it.

So let’s do just that. We’ll read through the entire passage, and then go back and start to unpack it. Let’s start reading the Great Commission in Mathew 28, starting in verse 16.

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Alright, a lot is going on this is passage, so let’s focus on verses 16 and 17 today. In these two verses, Matthew gives us the location and the state of mind of the disciples as they see Jesus resurrected. 

First, let’s talk about location. Verse 16 reads, “16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.” In Matthew’s Gospel, mountain is mentioned twelve times. Nine of those are in connection to seven physical locations. The devil tempts Jesus on a mountain in chapter 4. Jesus delivers a sermon from a mountainside in chapter 5. Jesus goes to a mountain to pray in chapter 14. Jesus is transfigured on a mountain in chapter 17. In the end times, Jesus says that people are to flee to the mountains in chapter 24. And finally the mountain where the disciples are in this passage. 
Why is this important? Because Matthew’s focus on mountains, is a direct connection to the Old Testament understanding that to meet with God, is to meet him on his holy mountain. Abraham meets God on a mountain when he is called to sacrifice Issac. Moses meets God on the mountain where he receives the commandments. Elijah meets God on the mountain where he is encouraged to return to ministry. 
It’s where we get our phrase mountain top experience. The mountain being closer to the stars, is connected with the idea that the further up you go from the earth, the closer you are to heaven. Therefore, God meets you on the top of mountains.
So the fact that Matthew is pointing out that the disciples met Jesus on the mountain is significant. How significant? Let’s move into verse 17.

“17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” In verse 17 we’re given an action, and a state of mind. Let’s focus on the action first.
Matthew says that the disciples “worshiped him”. The word Matthew uses here is, proskuneó (pros-koo-neh’-o), which sounds a little like prostrating. And in fact means something similar. Proskuneó (pros-koo-neh’-o) means to give reverence to someone by getting down on your knees and kissing their feet.
This is the same word that is used by both the devil and Jesus in their clash in Matthew 4:9 and 10. While on a mountain the devil says to Jesus, “‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and Proskuneó (pros-koo-neh’-o) worship me.’ 10 Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall Proskuneó (pros-koo-neh’-o) worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’””
So, when Matthew uses proskuneó (pros-koo-neh’-o) here, he’s not using it lightly. Matthew is helping us understand the response of the disciples to Jesus. But what is more telling, is Jesus’ response to them. When we read the whole passage together, there is no rebuke, no correction from Jesus to the disciples. This points us to Jesus’ true identity of being fully God and worthy of our worship.

But let’s now turn our attention to the state of mind of the disciples. After the disciples worship Jesus, Matthew adds three words, “but some doubted”. The word distazo (dis-tad’-zo) is a combination of two greek words, “dis” and “stasis”. “Dis” means double, whereas “stasis” means stance. The proper understanding of the word then is a wavering between two stances, positions, or beliefs.
This word is only used one other time in the the New Testament and it’s by Matthew in chapter 14 verse 31. Listen to how it’s used in that context. Starting in verse 25 of Matthew chapter 14 it reads, “25 And in the fourth watch of the night he (Jesus) came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you distazo (dis-tad’-zo) doubt?”

Jesus speaks of Peter’s wavering between his trust in Jesus and his fear of the wind.
In the context of the Great Commission passage, the disciples are wavering in their belief of who Jesus really is. Sure they’re worshiping him, but they’re not sure about it.

And it’s here that I have to say, I love the intentionality and the honesty of Scripture. How many of us, if we tell a story about ourselves, try to leave out the most unflattering parts and embellish the parts that make us look better?
Growing up I used to tell this story of when I fell in a ditch. I was about seven or eight and I was riding my bike back from my friend’s house. We lived out in the county and my friend’s place was about two miles from mine. On my way back, I was practicing a wheelie, when a rattlesnake crossed right in front of me. When I tried to avoid the snake and I fell into the ditch along the side of the road. I hit my head, and when I came to, the sun was setting. I felt wetness on my scalp, and I thought I was bleeding, but when I went to move my arm to touch my head, I felt a really bad pain shoot through it, and I thought it was broke. As I was feeling the pain in my arm, I heard the faint rattling sound that is unmistakable for a rattlesnake. I sat there and thought of what I should do. I slowly looked around, but couldn’t see where the rattle was coming from. The grass had turned golden and was so thick, the rattle could be coming from anywhere. I laid there for a while, not daring to move. Then, I got up the courage to move slowly. With my hurt arm and pounding head, I pulled the bike out with my good arm and rode the half mile that remained to my house.

That’s a good story right? Let me add the unflattering details and bring back the embellishing. I wasn’t practicing my wheelies, I just hit a small patch of pebbles that had been thrown onto the road by a car coming off of a gravel road by my house. And there wasn’t a snake, the rustling sound I heard, was the wind through the grass. The wetness on my head was sweat, because it was summertime, and my arm wasn’t broke just really bruised. But when I told that story when I was younger, people would pat me on the back and tell me how brave I was. But the reality is, I wasn’t. I was just a shaky kid on a bike that didn’t want people to think he was such a bad rider. So I embellished the story, and got rid of the unflattering parts.

We tend to embellish the good and down play the bad, but the Scriptures don’t do that. They let us know the struggles of real people. Matthew could have easily left out the fact that all of the disciples where in this state wavering in their worship of Jesus. I mean, they were his inner circle, his eleven apostles, the first evangelists and leaders of the Church. But we’re told, that even after his resurrection, they were still doubting.
And I am so glad that Matthew lets us know that this was the reality of the disciples, because the words that Jesus uses, makes more sense when shown in the light of the disciples wavering, and it gives me hope as well.
These eleven disciples would go on to spend the rest of their lives being persecuted. These eleven waverers, would go on to be the first building blocks in Jesus’ Church. These doubters would go onto write the New Testament and give encouragement to those that would follow after them. 
By letting us know that even these eleven wavered in their belief, and showing us that Jesus still commissioned them to carry out his work, gives me hope.

One of the things I struggled with when I was first called to ministry was, can I really do this? Am I really able to be a pastor? There are times when I waver even today with this question. But when I read about the wavering of these eleven disciples, and how God still used them, I realize that God can still use me when I waver.

Even in our wavering faith, God can use people like you and me. Peter wasn’t the brightest, Matthew wasn’t the most liked, John and James where hot heads, Thomas was a realist that needed hard evidence, Simeon and Thaddaeus were revolutionaries, Andrew was a simple man that stayed out of the spot light, Nathaniel was prejudice against those from Nazareth, Philip didn’t usually grasp the harder teachings of Jesus, and James the son of Alphaeus, well he got stuck with the nick name James Lesser, so yeah he didn’t do a lot.
These men weren’t the best in any regard, yet God used them to radically impact the world. That should give us hope, hope that even at our worst God can use us. Even in our doubts, in our wavering, God can use us. And when we understand that God uses common men and women of wavering belief, then we can understand how each of us is commissioned by God to accomplish all that he has for us.

Today, if you have put your trust into Jesus, yet you struggle in that trust, I want to encourage you that God can and will use you. You are commissioned to do his work, and let your wavering push you deeper into trust, deeper into the Scriptures, and deeper into worship. 

I want to challenge you this week to write down where you struggle in your faith. For some it’s, how can a loving God allow evil. For others it’s, how do I love the unlovable. Still others it’s, I don’t have a response for the questions that non-believers ask me. Where do you struggle? How do you wavier? Bring it before God this week, and then re-read these two verses f those that came before you, who also wavered in their faith.
And through it, let us all become more humble before our God, bringing our doubts before him who still uses us, and worship him in truth. Amen.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

“ARK” Series, Week 5: The Ark of Completion

I think the majority of us knows that feeling of accomplishment, when we’ve worked hard on a project and at the end we step back and and think, wow, I did that. Over the summer,  I built a cabinet as a birthday, slash, anniversary present for my wife. It took several weeks, a lot of trial and error, the blood, sweat, and tears of me and my three kids, but sometime in October, I finished the project. It wasn’t quite what I had envisioned, but I think it turned out pretty good for my first cabinet.
I was pretty proud, and excited to show Marika. So I began the process of moving it to the parsonage. But I quickly realized that I had built it extremely heavy, and it would take more than just me to move it. So I got one of our teenagers, Karl, to help me. But after putting on the trailer and arriving at the house, I realized I needed more help. So I got one of our adult leaders, Gabe to help me and Karl lift the cabinet on to the porch. And that’s when we ran into another problem.
See, when I first drew up the plans for the cabinet, I had envisioned it being two separate pieces that would connect in the middle. But for stability and strength, I built it as one unit. Well, when I did that, I created an unforeseen problem, it was now too big to fit through either entrance door to the house. 
That cabinet stayed on the porch for the next two months, after which we finally moved it into our new house, through a 4x4 window we took out.
But once we got it in to the house, the sense of accomplishment finally came to me. I was finally done with this cabinet, now I could move onto something else.

But it’s this sense of finality, that brings us into our last week of our Christmas series on the Arks of the Bible. In the last four weeks we have covered three Old Testament arks, and one New Testament ark. And if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be looking at one final ark in the New Testament. This last ark is actually a combination of three and we’ll start looking at these starting in the 19th chapter, verse 23 of the Gospel of John.
And as we open up to John 19, verse 23, let’s understand what has gotten us to this point in our Ark series.

We started this series focusing on the word tebah, which is the Hebrew word for ark. The definition of this word describes a box or a chest. But when we looked at the application of this word in the Old Testament, we saw that it was only used in two instances. The first was to describe the boat that God used to save Noah, his family, and the land creatures from the flood. The second time we saw this word used, it described a small basket, which saved Moses from the infanticide that was happening to the Hebrew people. Neither one of these instances matched the definition of tebah, which is a box or chest.
And so we asked the question, is God using this word to help us understand something greater? And as we looked closer, we saw that the first ark represented God’s regret that he had to bring judgment on to his creation in the flood. In the second ark, we saw God hearing his people’s cries of agony as slaves to the Egyptians, and his plan to rescue them from it.
Then something happened, we saw that a new word was introduced that also meant ark, the Hebrew word aron. And like tebah, it’s definition was also that of a box or chest. Except this time, it really was a box or chest. This was the ark that God commissioned the people of Israel to build. This ark went on to be known as the Ark of the Covenant, and became the symbol to the Israelite people of God’s presence with them.
It was here, that we began to see a story of God’s work with humanity. Humanity is sinful and requires the judgment of God to happen, but God’s desire is not for humanity to be destroyed, and so in our agony God moves to enact a plan of rescue, where by he himself will rescues humanity by being present with them. It was here that we talked last week, about how the manger, even though it doesn’t have the word of ark, works as an ark. The manger encompasses the entire story of God and humanity, because it represents every ark that came before it. Which is the story of Christmas: humanity in trouble because of our sin, awaiting the judgment of God that will deal with that sin, but God hears our cries for mercy, and he enters into time and space himself, as Jesus, to take on the punishment that the judgment will bring. And it’s at the moment of the pouring out of God’s judgment on Jesus that we come to our last ark.

Let’s read together John chapter 19, starting in verse 23 where we find Jesus already nailed to the cross.

23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”
This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, “They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” So this is what the soldiers did.
25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

The Ark of the Manger and the Ark of the Cross are two interconnected moments in time. The manger represents the moment God entered the world to complete the work he had started in the garden of Eden, when one human, Adam, failed in keeping the command of God, and so allowed sin to be brought into the world. The judgment of God was then placed on every human following, but in God’s mercy, he heard our cries, and provided a way to take the judgment off of us. He himself, came as Jesus, the fully God, fully human being that lived the perfect life that we were created to, but have failed at. And because one man brought sin into the world, all it took was one man to take the judgment of God on himself for all of humanity (Romans 5:12-21).
And in Jesus’ last words, “It is finished,” he is not simply speaking of the pain and suffering he had to endure from the beatings and the crucifixion, but rather, he is speaking of the finishing of ark of Regret. The judgment that the first ark represented, was now carried out in the ark of the cross. All the punishment that we are deserving for our sin, is laid upon Jesus in that moment. And as he draws his final breath, everything that was spoken about this moment in the Old Testament was complete.

But that is not the end of it. It’s what follows the ark of the cross that finalizes the other arks of the Old Testament. In the second ark, the ark of Hearing, we talked about how the manger represents Jesus being the bridge between us and God. He is the advocate on our behalf, our connection with God. Through him, we are made right before God the Father, and he speaks on our behalf. Jesus is what Job was calling out for in Job 9. But if Jesus was dead, that advocacy could not be there, so instead, the pathway to Jesus being our advocate opens.

This is pathway is opened because of the ark of the tomb. At the end of chapter 19, we’re told that Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross and buried. After that we get these words in the 20th chapter, “1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.

The tomb is empty, because Jesus, God the Son, has raised from the dead, and after 40 days of interacting with his disciples, returns to God the Father, and now, advocates for humanity. This ascension to advocacy, then opens access to the final ark. 

We talked about the third Old Testament ark, being the ark of Presence. We talked about God’s desire has always been to dwell with his people, and how the word Immanuel means God with us. The life time Jesus spent with humanity, was only the beginning of that presence experience. It is through the empty tomb that the way to a moment by moment experience of God’s presence was opened.

Earlier in John chapter 14, Jesus says these words, “15 If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

At Jesus’ resurrection, the presence of God through the Holy Spirit is given to those who accept Jesus’ work on the cross on their behalf. When we accept that we’re a sinner, and we call on Jesus to be the Lord of our life, the Holy Spirit is given to us. God dwells with us, as he has desired to do all along. 
God the Holy Spirit dwells with anyone who accepts Jesus’ sacrifice on their behalf, acknowledging and turning away from sin, calling on Jesus as Lord. And God’s Spirit dwells with us, because the ark of the tomb is empty, Jesus has returned to God the Father, and Jesus’ words are fulfilled.

These three arks connect us back to the story of all the arks. The ark of the cross connects us to the ark of regret, where God regretted that judgment had to come upon humanity. The ark of the tomb, connects to God’s hearing the cries of the people which the tomb provides an open communication between humanity and God. And the final ark, connects to the ark of the presence, you and I are that final ark. God’s dwelling is with humanity, because he dwells within everyone who has accepted Jesus as their Savior. These three arks, is what I like to call the Ark of Completion. Because within each, everything is finalized. God’s judgment is taken care of on the cross, the empty tomb gives us access to the God who hears us, and the Spirit dwelling in those who have accepted Jesus finalizes God’s desire to be with his people.

This is the end of the Christmas season, that we would fully realize that scope of God’s work on our behalf.  There’s a song called, “I Heard the Bells,” in the second verse of the song, the singer laments that he looks around and there is no peace on earth. And it can be so easy for us to look around this world and lament that God’s work was not accomplished, that Christmas story was just a story, but the peace it said it brought really didn’t happen.
But God wants us to understand that all that needed to be accomplished to bring humanity out of judgment and into the presence of God, has been accomplished. But that’s not the end of his work. And it’s this work that we’re going to pick up in our New Year series starting next week.

But for this week, I want to challenge you with this: If you haven't’ accept Jesus as your Savior, what is holding you back? I would love to have a conversation with you about it. There is no topic I won’t talk about, no challenge that I won’t discuss. What is holding you back from the God who loves you, when all it takes is a recognization of you own sin that we all have, and calling on him as Lord of your life?
If you have accepted Jesus as your Savior, then I want to ask you, is your life that God is dwelling in right now, honoring him? Do you speak as God speaks? Do you listen as God listens? Do you love, show forgiveness, and seek the good of others as God would? People talk about New Year’s resolutions, I want to challenge you to seek a more God honoring dwelling this year for him. As Jesus himself says in John 14:21, "Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.”
Let us show the world that we love God, by following him even closer this coming year and having his dwelling in our lives show it.

Let us be God’s people that live in the completion of his work on our behalf through the ark of the cross, the tomb, and our lives. Amen.

“ARK” Series, Week 4: The Ark of God’s Heart

What is the one goal of the majority of young children during Christmas? Isn’t it to get as many presents as they can? For a lot of kids, Christmas is the culmination of all their good deeds throughout the year, hoping that Santa brings them all their heart desires. And when Christmas starts being seen in the stores, and the song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” comes on the radio, being on the nice list becomes front and center to their lives. And if you know anything about Saint Nicholas, you would know that he doesn’t take kindly to those on the naughty list. In fact, Saint Nicholas in 325 A.D. was one of the bishops summoned to the first council of Nicacea to discuss issues about Church doctrine and the canon of Scripture. 
During these discussions, while a bishop named Arius was speaking, Nicholas became so upset with the way in which Arius portrayed God the Father and God the Son, that he got up from his seat, walked across the chamber, and to the shock of all the other bishops, slapped Arius in the face for his views.
So when the song says, “You better watch out, You better not cry, You better not pout, I’m telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town,” it should add, and he’s ready to slap some people.”
But it’s this idea that Christmas is a culmination of things, that brings us to this Christmas Sunday and back into our Christmas series “ARK”.
For the last three weeks we have been looking at three of the arks of the Old Testament. Each one adding to the story of God and humanity. Today, begins the culmination of that story.

So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be starting in Luke chapter 2 verse 1. This is the Luke’s perspective of the Christmas story.  See the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth is found in only two places in Scripture, Matthew and Luke. Reading the two together gives us a well rounded view of what was happening at the time of Jesus’ birth. Matthew gives us what happened when Joseph found out about Mary’s pregnancy, then we are fast forward after the birth to the arrival of the Wise Men, then immediately were told of Herod’s killing of children, and the Jesus’ family’s escape to Egypt. 
With Luke, we are given more details of the birth of John the Baptist that proceeds Jesus’ birth. We’re told of the angel Gabriel speaking to Mary and announcing her pregnancy. And finally, a more detailed reason of why Mary and Jospeh were in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. And it’s here that we pick up the Christmas story in Luke chapter 2, verse 1.

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius [Ker-een-e-us] was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

For the last three weeks we have discussed three arks, and now here is our fourth ark, the ark of the manger. Let’s dive into why the manger is our fourth ark. First off, the Greek word for manger is, phatné (fat’-nay), which means a couple of things: a cattle-crib; a feeding box for cattle; feeding-trough, a stall, and of course it’s most common form, a manger.
Now, unlike what we have seen the last three weeks, neither the Hebrew word tebah nor aron, the two Hebrew words meaning ark in the Old Testament appear in this passage. In addition, not even the Greek word for ark, kivo̱tós (key-vote-o-s), appears in this passage. So why then is the manger an ark?

Well if you’ve been following along with me for the last three weeks, we’ve been trying to understand what an ark is by Old Testament standards. The reason being, is that the word ark, both tebah and aron, both mean a box or chest. But when put into practical use, tebah is used first of a giant boat and second of a small basket. Aron on the other hand, is used of a box, both in the ark of the Covenant that we talked about last week, and the other two uses of it in the Old Testament.
So the question becomes, what is the proper use of the word ark, when it’s uses runs the gamut from a small basket to a gigantic boat?
It’s here that we showed that the one common use of the word isn’t in it’s strict definition, but rather what it represented. The first ark, was the gigantic boat known as Noah’s Ark; it represented God’s regret that judgment had to come to humanity. The second ark, Moses’ basket at three months old, represented God hearing the cries of humanity. The finally ark, commonly referred to as the Ark of the Covenant, represented God’s desire to have his presence dwell with humanity.

The manger is an ark, not because it uses the Hebrew or Greek words for ark, but rather because it encompasses all of these ideas into itself.

What do I mean by that?

First, let’s take a look at God’s regret that judgment has to come. Speaking of the coming Messiah, the prophet Isaiah writes in his 53rd chapter, “2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. 4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.”

God judged all of humanity with a giant flood with Noah’s ark, and God is going to judge humanity once again. Except this time, instead of a world wide flood, we get one man taking on the whole of the punishment that we deserve. The manger represents this, because as Matthew records in his Christmas account, the wise men brought three gifts, two of which were used in both religious ceremonies pointing to Jesus’ being a priest and in burial rituals, pointing to Jesus’ death.

The manger also represents God hearing the cries of his people. In Job chapter 9 starting in verse 32, Job cries out to God from a deep despair that recognizes the separation between humanity and God. Listen to what Job says when talking about the gulf between God and people, “32 He is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court. 33 If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together, 34 someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. 35 Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot.”

Job’s cries are answered in the manger, as Paul writes in the second chapter of his first letter to Timothy, it reads, “3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.”

The manger is God hearing the cries of humanity, that they are lost in sin, and have no exit. So God creates a way for humanity, and that way goes through the manger, through Jesus.
Finally, the manger represents God’s desire to dwell with his people. In the commonly referred to Christmas passage found in Isaiah chapter 7, verse 14, it reads “14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” 

Now, in Matthew’s Christmas story, chapter 1 verse 23, we get the interpretation of the name Immanuel, which means God with us. But to take it a little more simple, the name is a combination of two Hebrew words, Im and El. El is the common use of God in the Old Testament, and Im is the word with. So at it’s simplest, Immanuel is God with. God will be with his people. In the manger, he has achieved the purpose of what the Ark of the Covenant was only a symbol of. God’s presence with humanity. Jesus, God on earth. 

Paul, speaking about Jesus in his letter to the Philippians, wrote in the second chapter, “6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

Jesus, God himself, walking and talking with humanity in a way that had never happened before, yet as always God’s desire happens through the manger. The manger represents, the regret of God’s judgment, God hearing humanity’s cries, and the presence of God with us. The manger roles them all into one, and that’s why it’s the Ark of God’s Heart. 
See, the story of the Bible is simple: God created us to be with him in his presence, but our sin separated us from him, causing God to have to judge us. But in our sinfulness, God found a way to fix the problem of sin and bring us back to him, back to a place of experiencing his presence. The manger, the ark of God’s heart begins that fix. And next week, we will talk about the final ark in our series, the Ark of Completion.
But today, on this Christmas Sunday, if you find yourself not in a personal relationship with God though the Ark of God’s Heart, which means, you do not have a personal relationship with Jesus, I want to call you to that relationship. We can all look at our lives, and know we have sin. We lie, we cheat, we steal, we gossip, we lust. We hurt other people with our words, our actions, and even our thoughts. All this is sin, that separates us from the God who loves us, and puts us under his judgment. But, God doesn’t want to leave us there, he came down as Jesus to take on the judgment we are under and the punishment that it brings, so that we wouldn’t have to experience it. That is Christmas. God with humanity to begin the process of bringing us out of sin and back to his presence.
And it’s done through Jesus’ perfect life, and the death he experienced for you and me. And all we have to do is simply accept his sacrifice for us, his taking our place in judgment. And we need to call on him as Lord of our life, turning over our life everyday so that he can live through us. 
Christmas shows us that sin has lost it’s power, because God came to us almost 2,000 years ago, and one day, God will return for us. But more on that next week.

This week my challenge for you is in two parts: First, if you haven’t accept Jesus as your Savior, then do it before Christmas. That would not only be your best gift of the year, but also the best gift for the rest of you life. Everything that I’ll ever receive on Christmas, pales in comparison to the gift of Jesus as my Savior when I was 16. And I want you to have that same life altering gift.
Second, if you have accepted Jesus as you Savior, first take some time to praise him, and then, pick one person before Christmas day, and show them God’s love. It’s that simple. 

Today, let us be the people of God that celebrate Christmas, not for what we get, but for Who we got. We have Jesus, and that’s better than any present we’ll ever receive. Amen.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

“ARK” Series, Week 3: The Ark of Presence

The clearest Christmas memory I have from my childhood is the time my family went to Colorado for a family reunion. I remember it because of three distinct parts of the trip. First, it was the first, and I think, only time I have ever been on a train. We boarded in Sacramento, California, and made our way to Grand Junction, Colorado. We even had to stop because snow had covered the tracks to point were the train couldn’t proceed for a time. Once we arrived in Colorado, I spent several days with my mom’s extended family. Which is the second part of the trip. I spent those days with my cousins, one of which, I performed the ceremony for her wedding a few years back. The final part of the trip happen when we finally got home. While we were away from the house, there was a 100 year freezing that happened. Which caused the pipes in the house to bust. It was not a fun situation to return to, with a whole section of our garage underwater.
But out of all the Christmas I’ve had, and all the gifts that I’ve been given, that one Christmas stands out as a clear memory, above everything else. And the main reason is because I spend a lot of time on an adventure with my family. 

And it’s this idea of being with people that we come back to our Christmas series on the Ark of the Bible. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be starting in Exodus chapter 25, verse 1 today. And as we open our Bibles to Exodus 25, verse 1, let’s look back to the two previous weeks, to see where we’re at in this series.

When we started this series two weeks ago, we started with the Hebrew word and definition of the word ark. We talked about how the word is tebah (tay-baw), which means a chest or box.
But when we looked at the first use of this word, it wasn’t exactly what I would use to describe what we saw. The first use of the word ark instead, was used of a giant boat that help Noah, his family, and the animals of the earth survive a major flood.
As we dove into this ark, we walked away calling this ark, the Ark of Regret, with Rescue. Because God regretted that he had to bring judgment upon the people for thinking of nothing but evil, but he provided a rescue for them as well. 
Then, moving on to last week, we saw the second use of the word tebah in the Old Testament. This time not referring to a gigantic boat with all of the earth’s creatures, but rather a small basket containing one three month old baby. This baby was saved, not from a flood, but from the infanticide that took his fellow Hebrew people. Eventually, the baby was adopted as a son by the Pharaoh’s daughter and named Moses. He eventually killed a man, ran away, had an experience with God in a burning bush, returned to his home, and was used by God to rescue the Hebrew people from the enslavement of the king of Egypt. We walked away calling Moses’ basket, the Ark of Hearing, because God heard the cries of his people and he saved Moses to use him to bring about their freedom. 
But one of the biggest take aways that I want us to see, is that God’s use of the word ark, does not necessarily follow the definition of the word. Instead of a box or chest, we’ve gotten a boat and a basket.

So, the first two arks of this Christmas series are done, and we have two to go before we get to Christmas.

Now, let’s turn are attention to Exodus 25, verse 1.

1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. 3 These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; 4 blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; 5 ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather; acacia wood; 6 olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; 7 and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.
8 “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. 9 Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.

Let’s stop there. Moses, the one who was saved by the last ark, is now the leader to the whole of the Hebrew people. And he alone, is the direct communicator with God. This isn’t by God’s design, but rather by the people’s. God was too overwhelming for them, so they asked Moses to be the one to communicate with him directly.
So God speaks to Moses and tells him to have the people bring a offering of assorted goods. This offering is to be used to create a sanctuary, which will later be called both a tent, and a tabernacle.
Now, we get the reason for why this sanctuary is going to be built at the end of verse 8, “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.”

So the sanctuary is going to be a sort of house for God on earth. The word dwell is the Hebrew word shakan (shaw-kan'), which simply means to dwell, rest, or settle on something. It’s first used of God, in Exodus 24:16, where it says, “and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai.” If you have ever heard the term shekinah glory, this is where we get it from. God’s shakan, his presence dwelling or resting on something. 

This same word that described God settling on Mount Sinai, is now being used by God to convey that he wants a movable dwelling that goes with the people as they move forward to the land that he’s bringing them to. This dwelling is the sanctuary, the tent, or the tabernacle he is now calling them to build.
So what’s the first thing God tells Moses to build for this sanctuary? It’s an ark. But the Hebrew term used for this ark isn’t tebah, it’s aron (aw-rone). Now the definition is basically the same; aron means chest. What’s interesting about this word is unlike tebah, which is used only in two instances in the Old Testament, once to talk about Noah’s Ark and the other to talk about Moses’ ark, aron is used 202 times. But it is used in connection with three different ideas.
The first time aron is used, it’s to talk about a coffin in Genesis 50:26. Another time aron is used is in connection to same offering box that is mentioned in both 2 Kings 12:9-10 and 2 Chronicles 24:8-11. In total these two mentions correlate to the word being used six times. That means that the third use of the word is by far it’s most common form at 196 times. This use of the word is for the first thing that God tells Moses to build for the sanctuary. Let’s drop down to verse 10 of Exodus 25.

“Have them make an ark of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.”

Finally an ark that fits the definition of a box or chest. This ark is about 3 1/2 feet long, by 2 1/2 feet wide and high. Which is a rectangular box. 
It’s the first thing that is commissioned to be made, and as we find out later, it is to be placed in the most inner part of the sanctuary called the holy of holies. 

Now, let’s fast forward to Exodus 40 verse 34, we’re skipping over all the other things that are commissioned and the building process so the we can get to the end product. After everything is done for the sanctuary, the people set it up, and place everything where it’s supposed to go. Then we get to verse 34 of chapter 40 in Exodus.

34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
36 In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; 37 but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. 38 So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels.

God’s presence shakan, settled, dwelled in the sanctuary. And when it was time to go, God’s presence left the sanctuary and led the way. And when it was time to stop and stay a while, the cloud would stop, the tent was set up, and the presence of God would shakan on the sanctuary (Numbers 9:15-23).
Later, after Moses had died, a new leader took his place. His name was Joshua. God told Joshua to have the ark of the sanctuary lead the way into the land of Canaan, because the ark was the representation of God’s presence with the people. So much so, that centuries later David writes in Psalm 132:8, “‘Arise, Lord, and come to your resting place, you and the ark of your might.” Or as the Amplified version makes clear, “Arise, O Lord, to Your resting place, You and the ark [the symbol] of Your strength.”
In fact, it’s this deep connection between God’s manifested presence and strength in physical objet of the ark, that has led some scholars, with the NIV translators being some of those, to translate, Psalm 78 verse 61 as, “He sent the ark of his might into captivity, his splendor into the hands of the enemy.” In the case of this Psalm, the people had been in rebellion, so God allowed their enemies to overtake them, and allowed the representation of his presence, the ark, with the Hebrew people to be lost to them. Scholars use the word ark in this passage, even though the word in Hebrew aron doesn't appear here, because the connection between God’s manifested presence and strength is so deeply connected to the ark as an object, they let us know, that it is the ark that is being given to the enemies. And therefore the a physical expression of God’s presence leaving the people because they have turned their backs on him.

All this to say, that the ark that is commissioned by God to be placed in the sanctuary, that would eventually be commonly referred to as the Ark of the Covenant, is what I like to call the Ark of the Presence. Because it was so closely connected by the Hebrew people to where this ark was seen as the presence of God on earth.

As I reflect on this, I am reminded, that it is so easy in our lives to think that God is far away. That when we’re going through hard times, and we cry out to God, he doesn’t seem to be around. And the feeling of not having him near when you’ve experienced him before, makes the absence seem so much deeper.
Too often I have had conversations with our youth after a camp. Where at the camp they’re on fire. They’re ready to take on the world, but a few weeks later, they don’t have that same feeling, that same emotional high. I have talked with youth that say they don’t feel God’s presence when they’re not on that mountain and so their desire for him burns out.
And it breaks my heart, because I know God’s desire is to be with his people, but too often we allow the world around us to push out the presence of God in our lives. Not that he is gone, but rather we miss the fact that he is there. That he is shakan, resting on all those who have accept Jesus as their Savior. If we are not experiencing the presence of God, it is not because God doesn’t want us to, but rather we have allowed something to shakan, rest on us, that isn’t him.

This week I want to challenge you to seek the presence of God in three ways. First through his word; I want to challenge you to read Exodus 40, verses 34-38 and reflect on it for the next week every single day. Asking God to reveal his presence in a deeper way.
Second, I want to challenge you to listen to the song, “What do I know of Holy”, by Addison Road. A beautiful song that challenges us to think deeply of who God is when we are in his presence.
Third, praise God for his desire to be with us. You and I are not worthy of God’s presence, yet he wants to be with us anyway. That’s praise worthy.

This week, let us as a community of believers, move deeper into the presence of God, so that in all things we may know him as he desires us to know him. And that we would be know as a people found in the presence of our God. Amen.