Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Whose Terms?


Eugene Peterson, in his book, "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction" writes…"There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.” Holiness may be a lost virtue in certain respects, but it is, nonetheless, a critical virtue, and one that is as old as the Law. As with the first several chapters of Leviticus, there are some interesting connections between the old and new covenants in chapters 8-10. Under the old covenant, God’s people had a priesthood… while under the new covenant, God’s people are a holy and royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5, 9). God wanted His people, the nation of Israel, to be His “kingdom of priests,” but they failed Him by becoming “a sinful nation full of iniquity” (Isaiah 1:4). The nation decayed morally and spiritually because its leaders failed to be holy and obedient to God. Ultimately, He sent Babylon to discipline Israel for her sins. But, this wasn’t supposed to be the case from the beginning.

Consider the message of the Lord to His leaders in this book of the Law. God sets up Aaron, the brother of Moses, as the high priest over His people, Israel…and Aaron is to be an example and leader for them. We find the word “commanded” frequently in this section, signifying that God is in control of the situation with Moses and Aaron, particularly, and here with the ordination ceremony, in general. We see in 8:1ff that an assembly is called of the elders and leaders, and Aaron and his sons are ceremonially washed in the laver, one time. Aaron, as the high priest, is clothed in some beautiful garments (vv. 7-9, see also Exodus 28). Then, Aaron and the tabernacle are anointed with special oil (vv.10-12). Finally, Aaron’s sons are clothed…not as splendidly as the high priest…and this all symbolizes their consecration to the Lord. They are holy before God! The sin offering and burnt offering are given for Aaron and his sons symbolizing their total dedication to the Lord. All of the priests are anointed…sprinkled with oil and blood of sacrifices taken from the altar. They are “set apart” by God for His use. The ordination ram is eaten…and for the next week Aaron and his sons remain in the tabernacle court. It is critical that they be obedient to all these things prescribed by the Lord. When the week is over they begin serving the Lord at His altar…just a bit different than the way we do it today. :-) There is a purposeful priority for all of these matters. The key purpose of the tabernacle ministry is to glorify God whose glory dwells on the mercy seat in the holy of holies. This is to be the catalyst for the people of God to be holy. When it is complete…all of the people are forgiven (atoned) and dedicated wholly and holy to the Lord and, therefore, are able to be in fellowship with Him. Sins atoned = possibility of fellowship. This is the importance of discipline in our lives…that we are obedient to the things that the Lord holds dear for us. Many times, we get confused about what these things should be. I do know that when we focus on the right priority for our lives, there will be strengthening, growth and blessings.

Ty Tamasaka shares this -- Jesus tells a parable of the fig tree and its inability to produce fruit (Luke 13:6-9). Apparently, the gardener came back again and again to see if fruit was growing on the tree. Unfortunately, there was none. Obviously, this story is symbolic of God coming to look for fruit to receive from His people. Jesus probably shares this story in reference to God’s own people Israel whom He had given special attention to, but was not producing the fruit that He sought. What kind of fruit does God look for from me? I assume He looks for the fruit of the Spirit in the life of the believer; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). It is both encouraging and troublesome to note that although the gardener in the story sought fruit from the tree, he did also give it, "special attention and plenty of fertilizer." I like receiving special attention from God. That sounds, well, special. To hear that the master Himself will give me special attention in helping me produce the fruit of the Spirit that He wants from me is very comforting and encouraging. The troublesome part is what else He gives the tree in order to produce fruit. He gave it, "plenty of fertilizer." I often feel that I have plenty of fertilizer in my life, and I don’t find that all too encouraging. After all, what did they use as fertilizer in Jesus’ day? The same thing they use today. Maybe I need to redefine those times when I feel like I am surrounded by manure. Perhaps I need to recognize that it is specifically in those times that I am actually receiving special attention from God Himself. I have a tendency to reject the manure in my life. I don’t like the smell of it. I don’t like the situation. Perhaps God recognizes that in order to develop lasting fruit, one should be exposed to plenty of fertilizer. Verse 9 gives a sobering warning. "If we get figs next year, fine…if not, then you can cut it down." That is downright scary. Yes, God does give special attention. Yes, He does seek my growth and the fruit that I am to bear. Yes, He is merciful. He does offer grace. Still, there will come a time, when the talking ceases and the judgment comes. Have I experienced much manure in my life? Then I ought to be producing great fruit...

Moses, Aaron and his sons were to follow closely the instruction of the Lord. Everything that they were to do was on the Lord’s terms and not their own. Also, they were not to do so just to be keeping law for the law’s sake. God has a purpose in giving us the instruction that He does…and His instructions under the new covenant are not cumbersome as some believers like to make them. At the same time, we have no business dictating to God what it is that He should be doing for us…or what we should be doing for Him. Yet, this is, in reality, often what happens. Rather than adopting such a mindset…we are much better off if we submit…and listen. “It is for freedom that we have been set free” (Galatians 5:1 paraphrased)…and to do what? To do good…to bear fruit…to be purposeful. We have a responsibility to be disciplined disciples; otherwise we fall down (as we will see in the next message). We get into trouble because we neglect the matters that we need to tend to for the Lord. It is awfully easy to be an undisciplined disciple today…but God calls us to a much more meaningful, purposeful existence. It is up to you and to me to decide what we are going to allow the Lord to do to use us to be instruments to make a difference in the lives of the people around us. Choose to be a person who is going to make that difference.

Blessings, Don

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