Mark 6:30-44 – Feeding the Five Thousand

30 The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught. 31 Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.

32 So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone. 33 But many people recognized them and saw them leaving, and people from many towns ran ahead along the shore and got there ahead of them. 34 Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

35 Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. 36 Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.”
37 But Jesus said, “You feed them.”
“With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!”
38 “How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.”
They came back and reported, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.”
39 Then Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of fifty or a hundred.

41 Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. He also divided the fish for everyone to share. 42 They all ate as much as they wanted, 43 and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish. 44 A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed. (Mark 6:30-44, NLT)

If we think back to our previous study, we remember that the disciples have just returned from going out and preaching the Gospel to the surrounding countryside. We can imagine, then, that as they return, they are ecstatic about what they have seen and witnessed of God’s power. They have performed miracles and cast out demons in Jesus’ name! They are bursting to tell Jesus all about it! But Mark 6:31 tells us that as they seek this opportunity to sit down and share everything with Jesus, “there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.” The disciples can barely get out more than a few sentences at a time due to the crowd which unceasingly clamors around Christ.

And so Jesus says to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” Let’s stop and think about this in terms of life-application for a second: There are times when we also need to just stop and rest. I like how the NIV puts Jesus’ words: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Jesus invites us, “Come with me… Come to a quiet place and rest with me.” We, too, should learn to listen for these words of Spirit in our lives… Listen for when He might be saying to you, “Come with me and rest for a while….”

And so, as we place ourselves back in the middle of this story, we can picture everything: The disciples finally have the opportunity to withdraw from the crowds and get some one-on-one time with Jesus. They have been craving this opportunity. Wouldn’t you? But then we read in Mark 6:33: “But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them” (Mark 6:33, NIV). Just imagine how the disciples must have felt… They were sooo looking forward to this personal, intimate experience with Jesus, but then, here come the clamoring, noisy mobs of people! No matter where they go, the people always seem to find out and follow, making unceasing demands on the time of Jesus. I even find myself reading this story and feeling angry and frustrated at these insensitive, intrusive people!

But… “Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things” (verse 34, NKJV). Christ is able to look out among the clamoring multitude and see past the annoying insensitivity of the crowds. He is able to see their need. The disciples see unwelcomed intruders. But Christ sees sheep without a shepherd. He sees the mission of the kingdom.

I can, of course, relate most closely with the disciples. We can just imagine their annoyance at this unwelcome interruption to their personal time with Jesus. This was supposed to be their vacation! So, we can also imagine their motive as they approach Jesus with a “suggestion” — “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.” Come on, Jesus, wasn’t this the whole reason we came to this place? To get some R&R and quality time together? Can’t we just tell them to go away, please!? 


Ironically, the disciples, if we remember, have just returned from preaching and sharing the kingdom of God, but their response indicates that they still had some learning to do about the kingdom.

Jesus then responds to his disciples in an intriguing way. In fact, Jesus makes a number of very interesting statements throughout each of the four Gospel accounts of this story. Let’s take a look at what He might have been trying to teach his disciples then and us today:

“They do not need to go away.” (Matthew 14:16)

Jesus patiently listens to the disciples’ suggestion, but His response is firm: “No, they don’t need to go away.” There is a gentle underlying rebuke in those words. We just talked about the necessity of sometimes “coming away” and resting. But, there’s apparently an exception to that rule. Jesus teaches his disciples that human need always comes first. Jesus had intended to retreat privately with his disciples, but when human need comes to the forefront of the picture, Jesus drops His initial plan and postures Himself to serve. He teaches His disciples to do the same. He wants us to get our priorities straight.

Next, Jesus turns the table on the disciples in a way they most certainly did not expect:

“You give them something to eat.” (Matthew 14:16)

You see, Christ takes the need at hand, elevates it to the forefront of our priority list, and then turns it around on us as opportunity for action on our part.

In response to this, the disciples hem and haw about what to do next. Well, we don’t have enough money… We don’t have enough bread… What are we supposed to do??? It’s impossible for us to do what you’ve asked, Jesus! (We often do the same thing, don’t we?)

That’s where Jesus’ next words come into play….

“How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” (Mark 6:38)

In response to our excuses, Jesus makes things very simple for us: But what do you have? What resources are available to you? Go and see. Christ expects diligent effort on our part to “go and see.”

But, we can’t forget the very next words that Jesus says. After the disciples are able to finally scrounge up five loaves of bread and two fishes, what does Jesus say next?

“Bring them here to me.” (Matthew 14:18)

After pooling the resources that we do have, we must then realize that what we have gathered is dismally inadequate–unless we first submit them to God for His blessing. We gather and then we take to Jesus for His blessing!

Christ’s next words are found in John 6:10:

“Make the people sit down.” (John 6:10)

After submitting our resources to God for His consecration, we are then to prepare to receive His blessings! This is where faith comes into the picture. Do we really believe God will do what He says He is going to do? If so, then we need to position ourselves in a way to receive His blessing!

Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. (Mark 6:41)

Jesus frames everything He does in prayer. For every need, He pleads in supplication with His Father. For every blessing, He expresses thanks to His Father. (Why do we so often act as if we can do less?)

Jesus’s final recorded words come from the Gospel of John. They bear beautiful significance and meaning:

“Gather up the broken pieces that are left over, so that nothing is wasted.” John‬ ‭6:12‬ ‭NET‬‬

“Gather up the broken pieces…” Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from this study is that we serve a God who specializes in gathering the broken pieces! Our God fixes things. He took a broken situation in this chapter of our study and fixed it to be something beautifully miraculous, and he can fix things in your life, too. We can all look at our lives and see waste, can’t we? Wasted time. Wasted opportunities. Wasted relationships. And we can each feel the brokenness, can’t we? Broken families. Broken health. Broken dreams. But there is a God out there who desires nothing more than to gather those broken pieces of our lives and lovingly mend them back together – if we will just let Him! What seems like waste to us, God can redeem and turn into blessing! I love this quote:

“With God, nothing is ever wasted. He’ll never waste an experience; He’ll never waste a hurt; He’ll never waste a dream; He’ll never waste even a single piece of bread.”

 

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Mark 6:1-9 – Scandalized by Grace

Jesus Rejected at Nazareth

1 Jesus left that part of the country and returned with his disciples to Nazareth, his hometown. The next Sabbath he began teaching in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. They asked, “Where did he get all this wisdom and the power to perform such miracles?” Then they scoffed, “He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.” They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.

Then Jesus told them, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.” And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. (Mark 6:1-6, NLT)

After his traveling circuit, Jesus returns to his hometown where we would expect the now-famous Rabbi to be welcomed by His old neighbors and friends. However, instead Jesus is met with scorn and ridicule. Who does he think he is? He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary… This statement contained a two-pronged insult. One, by calling Jesus out as a carpenter, they were bringing attention to the fact that Jesus had maintained a lower-class occupation in His early life. Two, by identifying Jesus as the “son of Mary,” they were mocking the “questionable” nature of Jesus’ birth.

“They were skandalizō by him”–they were scandalized by him–“and refused to believe in him” (verse 3). I wonder, is there anything that “scandalizes” us about who Jesus is today? Perhaps the audacity of His birth, death, and resurrection story? Or the unapologetically radical nature of His teachings? What about the kinds of people Jesus chooses to work through or interest our lives with? What about the limitless grace that He dares to offer those who we know least deserve it?

And he was amazed at their unbelief” (verse 6). The only two times we read of Jesus being amazed is, one, at the unexpected faith of a Gentile (Matthew 8:10) and here, at the astounding unbelief of his own people. We also learn here that God’s work in our lives can be stagnated and stalled by our unbelief: “And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them…” (verse 5) I’ve heard it said, God can work with no belief, but he can’t work with unbelief! Perhaps this is one of the reasons we don’t see God’s mighty works in so many of our churches today.

I don’t know about you but this passage makes me reflect and ask myself: Where in my life might I have caused Jesus “to be amazed”? Was it because of my surprising faith in an unexpected situation? Or was it because of my consistently astounding capacity for unbelief in the most obvious circumstances of God’s providence in my life? (More likely the latter, I think. Thankfully we serve and incredibly patient God!)

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve Disciples

Then Jesus went from village to village, teaching the people. And he called his twelve disciples together and began sending them out two by two, giving them authority to cast out evil spirits. He told them to take nothing for their journey except a walking stick—no food, no traveler’s bag, no money. He allowed them to wear sandals but not to take a change of clothes.

10 “Wherever you go,” he said, “stay in the same house until you leave town. 11 But if any place refuses to welcome you or listen to you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate.”

12 So the disciples went out, telling everyone they met to repent of their sins and turn to God. 13 And they cast out many demons and healed many sick people, anointing them with olive oil. (Mark 6:6-9, NLT)

I think it’s interesting that our story, without missing a beat, moves so quickly from a place of rejection to a platform of projection. The Gospel of Chris will not be stymied or obstructed or defeated by rejection, and neither should we! Now, there are a couple of significant observations from this passage. First of all, by instructing His disciples to pack nothing for their journey, Jesus was asking them to trust in the hospitality of the villagers they would meet along their way. (In that Middle Eastern culture, offering hospitality to travelers was a sacred responsibility!) In fact, in the longer account of Matthew 10, Jesus further tells his disciples to find a worthy home in a village and to remain there the entire time, cultivating as much as possible the newfound friendships with their hosting family. Theologian William Barclay makes a keen observation:

It was the Rabbinic law that when a man entered the Temple courts he must put off his staff and shoes and money girdle. All ordinary things were to be set aside on entering the sacred place. It may well be that Jesus was thinking of this, and that he meant his men to see that the humble homes they were to enter were every bit as sacred as the Temple courts. (William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible)

The disciples’ task on their journey was twofold: 1.) to proclaim Christ’s message of repentance, and 2.) to act as ministers of mercy in whatever village they arrived in. The purpose of Christ has always been to bring healing to the entire being–both soul and body. As His vessels of mercy, our commission is to do the same. Let’s again read the words of William Barclay’s insightful commentary:

To the people they brought the King’s mercy. Not only did they bring this shattering demand upon men; they brought also help and healing. They brought liberation to poor, demon-possessed men and women. From the beginning Christianity has aimed to bring health to body and to soul; it has always aimed not only at soul salvation, but at whole salvation. It brought not only a hand to lift from moral wreckage, but a hand to lift from physical pain and suffering. It is most suggestive that they anointed with oil. In the ancient world oil was regarded as a panacea… In the hands of the servants of Christ the old cures acquired a new virtue… the power of God became available in common things to the faith of men.

When we think of Jesus’ stern warning to abandon unbelieving towns “to their fate,” I think that warning makes more sense when we consider the disciples’ mission in the context of what Barclay just shared above. They were to be vessels of liberation and healing for these villages, for both body and soul. For a community to reject such a beautiful overture, such a marvelous invitation, is truly an affront for which there is no atonement possible. “I tell you the truth, the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah will be better off than such a town on the judgment day.” (Matthew 10:15).

What a sad realization that we have the capacity to stand and look Love directly in the eye only to turn around and walk away, scandalized by a concept of Grace that is too big, too close, too simple for us to believe.

 

Mark 1:1-20 – The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

The life of Christ is revealed to us through the lenses of these four Gospel accounts. Each of these authors brings a different perspective to the table; each one presents a unique angle from which to better understand Christ’s character and mission to this world. And in this way, we are offered four beautifully correlated yet distinct accounts on the life of Jesus. We can get a feel for each Gospel writer’s “agenda” from their respective opening passages. Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus, proving that Jesus is the Son of David – the long-awaited Messiah King of Israel. Luke opens his Gospel by stating his intention to organize Jesus’s life into “an orderly account” for his readers (Luke 1:3). John, of course, poetically takes us to a time before creation ever existed: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). And then we have the account of Mark, which I hope to spend the next several months studying with you. Mark is sudden, abrupt, to the point: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). There’s no frills, no nativity story, no background to Jesus’ earthly family. Nope, Mark simply wants to make two big points up front: 1.) There’s some good news to tell about this guy named Jesus, and 2.) Oh, by the way, He’s the Son of God.

As I read through the Gospel accounts, especially the Gospel of Mark, I like to make a habit of pretending that I am reading the story for the very first time, with no prior knowledge of the events taking place. This reading paradigm helps us place ourselves in the shoes of Mark’s first century audience, who may have known nothing about Jesus. Mark’s target audience was almost certainly Roman, and Mark wastes no time in taking his readers directly to the point. In fact, Mark’s opening line would have struck a familiar note to his audience. Prior to Christianity, the word for “gospel” (euaggelion) was already used among the Romans in connection with emperor worship – particularly with the emperors’ birthdays and other memorial festivities. For example, a calendar inscription from about 9 B.C. proclaims of Augustus Caesar:the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings [euaggelion] for the world…”* Notice the striking similarities with Mark’s opening line? Mark wants us to see that it is, in fact, the good news about Jesus Christ that will truly change the course of history.

After his attention-grabbing introduction, Mark then immediately launches into an account about John the Baptist, the prophet who is to prepare the way before the Lord:

John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.

Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:4-8, NKJV)

With so little background information and context provided, we as the “first time reader” can really only hope to pull out three key takeaway points from these verses: 1.) John is a radical man with a radical message. 2.) This radical message based on the precept of “repentance” (more on that later) has caught the attention of an entire nation. 3.) There is Someone Else coming after him with an even more radical message and an even more fanatical mission!

As the reader, we don’t even have time to digest what all of this might mean before Jesus Himself shows up on the scene:

It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. 11 Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

12 Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. 13 And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.

14 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:9-15)

The pace here is almost completely overwhelming! Jesus is baptized, and then immediately a voice speaks to Him from heaven, affirming that He is the Son of God. Then immediately (one of Mark’s favorite words!) the Spirit drives Him into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, and then He comes back and starts preaching? What’s up with all of that?? As Mark’s “first century audience,” we are basically left in a confused daze as to what’s going on so far, except for one major point: This Jesus guy is most definitely NOT a normal man! No, this is a decidedly non-ordinary Man with an extra-ordinary message and mission of supernatural proportions!

Let’s notice that Jesus’ message has two directives here: Repent, and believe in the gospel. Scholars point out that the English word “repent” (to feel remorse for sins) is far too shallow for the original Greek word metanoeō. They argue that the Greek term denotes a much more radical transformation of thinking – a complete 180 degree turnaround of how life is perceived and lived. So, Jesus isn’t merely saying, “Feel bad about your sins before coming to God.” He’s saying, “Turn around! No matter what direction your life is headed–no matter how well you think things are going for you–this life-transforming good news is going to make you take a 180 degree reversal in your life! So stop right there in your tracks, turn around, and follow Me!”

We see a radical example of this kind of “metanoeō” in the very next passage, in Jesus’ calling of His first disciples. Let’s read:

16 And as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 17 Then Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 They immediately left their nets and followed Him.

19 When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets. 20 And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him. (Mark 1:16-20)

This is what “metanoeō” looks like! It’s not so much that these fishermen had egregious sins to repent of—it’s that they had just experienced an encounter with the Son of God and, therefore, their lives would not—could not—ever be the same again!

You know, the abruptness and lack of context in this account initially bothered me. Why in the world would these fishermen leave their nets to follow a random guy they have potentially never met before? And then I finally realized that that is the exact question that Mark wants us to ask! You see, the other Gospel writers intentionally give us a more thorough introduction to who Jesus is before He starts calling people to follow Him. Mark, on the other hand, wants to first establish up front that Jesus is a Man who is worth leaving everything behind to follow—even though we don’t know why yet! From this point on, Mark will spend the entire remainder of the book answering this all-important, crucial question which lies at the heart of his gospel message: Why should I metanoeō? Why should I also follow Jesus?

*Cited from: Glen Davis, “Pre-Christian Uses Of ‘Gospel’

Covenant

All along our Exodus journey, the climax has been building and building as the Hebrews approach Mount Sinai to meet with their God. On this mountain, God will finally reveal Himself to His people, and here He will invite His people to enter in to an eternal covenantal relationship with Him: “You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation'” (Exodus 19:4-6, NLT).

As we break this interaction in Exodus 19 and 20 down, however, I think it’s fascinating that God keeps emphasizing to Moses, “Don’t let the people break through the boundaries of the mountain; don’t let them see Me, or else they will die” (my paraphrase). God stresses these instructions over and over again. It’s almost as if God anticipates the children of Israel wanting so badly to see Him that they will break through the boundaries just to get a glimpse of His glory. However, the stark irony is, that when God does come to the mountain and invite the people to approach Him, the people “stood at a distance, trembling with fear” (verse 18). In fact, they find God’s Presence and voice so terrifying that they plead with Moses in verse 19, “You speak to us, and we will listen. But don’t let God speak directly to us, or we will die!” They even beg Moses to wear a veil over his face when he returns from speaking with God so they won’t have to look on the residual light of God’s glory. (Make a note of that! We’ll revisit this thought a bit later.) The tragic irony of this story is that the people want nothing to do with God’s Presence. “We promise that we’ll do everything this God wants,” they cry out to Moses, “Just please tell Him to stay away from us!” It all boils down to this: Israel wanted the protection and benefits of God’s covenant, but not the relationship with the Covenant Giver. Here is a people who want to basically get as far away from their God as possible, and yet, in Exodus 19:8, they boldly proclaim, “All that the LORD has spoken WE WILL DO” (NKJV). You really think so, huh? And yet, just a matter of days later, we find the camp in full-blown rebellion against their God… How very, very sad.

mtsinai_covenant

But what does this story mean for us today? Why so much focus on the glory and the veil? What does all of this have to do with the Old and New Covenants? It has everything to do with them! It is from this vantage point that we find the stage brilliantly set for the glorious revelation of God’s New Covenant with us today. We can read about it in Hebrews, chapter 8:

If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it. But when God found fault with the people, he said: The day is coming, says the Lord, when I will make new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah…

I will put my laws in their minds,
and I will write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
And they will not need to teach their neighbors,
nor will they need to teach their relatives,
saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’
For everyone, from the least to the greatest,
will know me already.
And I will forgive their wickedness,
and I will never again remember their sins.”
(Hebrews 8:10-13, NLT)

You see, this time around God wants us to get something straight: It’s not about what we do for God. It’s all about what HE does for us! At the end of the day, it can all be summed up like this:

Old Covenant: “All that the LORD has said, WE WILL do” (Exodus 19:8)

vs.

New Covenant: “I WILL put my laws in their minds, and I WILL write them on their hearts” (Hebrews 8:10)

That is the fundamental difference between the Old Covenant and the New. In actuality, this has always been God’s plan for us. There’s a sense in which God never intended there to be an Old Covenant versus a New Covenant. The problem with the Old Covenant isn’t God’s posture towards us, because that has remained eternally unchanged — it’s ours toward God. The problem is the veil that lies over our hearts and minds. The veil came about because the children of Israel did not want to look at the glory of God. God’s Presence was entirely too disruptive and unsettling for them. Instead, they believed they could keep their end of the covenant in their own strength — without the transforming power of God’s Presence, without the relationship. And this is, in fact, something that we can be just as guilty of today. You see, God’s glory in our lives can be quite an uncomfortable thing. God’s glory unleashed can take us for a pretty wild ride — a ride where we aren’t the ones driving! We simply can’t remain unchanged in the face of it. That’s a pretty terrifying prospect for us. We would often prefer to “obey” on our own strength, in our own way — just like Israel. And so, we look for “veils” to keep God’s Presence at a safe distance from us. As 2 Corinthians 3:14 says, “the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth.” We may go to church, read a daily devotion occasionally, and listen to KLTY during our morning commute, but when it comes to really allowing the transforming power of God’s Presence to be unleashed in our lives… Well, we too often decide that we’re much more comfortable simply “standing at a distance.”

Now, here’s the amazing piece of the picture! Thanks to the life and death of Jesus, “whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (2 Corinthians 3:16). Because of our massive failure to understand and respond to the invitation of relationship offered through the first presentation of the covenant (Hebrews 8:8), it was necessary for Jesus to introduce the second presentation of the covenant. We broke covenantal relationship the first time around, and God responded by allowing Himself to be broken, to be torn apart at the cross. But, praise God, in that sundering of the Godhead, something else was also was also ripped down — that separating veil: “Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matthew 24:51). What fantastic news! The largest veil of all has already been torn apart! What’s left is for us to allow those little veils in our lives to be pulled down, so that we can directly behold God’s glory — the glory that comes from a living, breathing daily relationship with Him, in His abiding Presence. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NKJV). This glory transforms us from the inside out! All of the sudden, we realize that we don’t have to work to earn anything with our Heavenly Father. We simply accept, in a beautiful Sabbath rest, the unspeakable gift which He has given us. We are then able, as we surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit, to live in complete harmony with God’s breath-taking covenant and His eternal Law which governs it.

Unlike your ancestors, you didn’t come to Mount Sinai-all that volcanic blaze and earthshaking rumble-to hear God speak. The earsplitting words and soul-shaking message terrified them and they begged him to stop…

No, that’s not your experience at all. You’ve come to Mount Zion, the city where the living God resides. The invisible Jerusalem is populated by throngs of festive angels and Christian citizens. It is the city where God is Judge, with judgments that make us just. You’ve come to Jesus, who presents us with a new covenant, a fresh charter from God. He is the Mediator of this covenant…

(Hebrews 12:18-24, The Message)

Passover

“Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go.” Pharaoh’s defiance has reached its apex, and now God is about to show up on the scene and let Pharaoh know just who the LORD is. Exodus chapters 7 through 10 tell us all about it. In a series of intensifying plagues, God takes each of the Egyptian deities head on to prove His supreme power. Yet, Pharaoh stubbornly persists in his defiant pride. Finally, in Exodus 11, the LORD pronounces the final plague which will succeed in getting Pharaoh’s full attention: throughout all the land of Egypt, each and every firstborn child will die.

But, thank God that we have Exodus chapter 12. In this chapter, God outlines the simple, yet very specific, instructions on taking a lamb without spot or blemish, sacrificing it, and smearing its blood on the doorposts of each home. Every family that follows these instructions exactly will be spared from death. The plague will “pass over” their home.

Interestingly enough, the instructions for the Pesach feast marked the beginning of a brand new year and a new calendar system for the Hebrews (Exodus 12:2). It’s as if God was saying, “Remember all those years in slavery? Well, you can forget them now! We’re wiping the slate and starting over again from scratch.” As G. Campbell Morgan puts it, “God is ever the God of new beginnings in the history of failure.”

On the tenth day of this new year, each family was to choose a perfect lamb. For the next four days, the family was to take care of that little lamb in the home. The lamb was to be loved and cared for, treated as a part of the family. Can you imagine how difficult it was for the family to then take the cherished pet and slaughter it? This practice was intended to teach how heart-wrenching the sacrifice of Christ, our Passover lamb, would be, as well as the terrible, ugly consequences of sin.

The blood of the lamb was then to be applied to the doorposts of the home. Why the doorposts, I wonder? Maybe it’s because doorposts represent the every-day activities of our world. The Scripture often speaks of our “coming in and going out” – the daily rhythm of our lives, so to speak. (See Psalm 121:8.) I am reminded then, that when we accept the gift of Jesus, it is something that covers our entire lives. Not one piece of our daily routine can be left out of His all-encompassing sacrifice. Likewise, the Hebrews were instructed to eat every bit of meat of the paschal lamb (Exodus 12:9-10). None of it was to remain to the morning. When we think of the sacrifice of Jesus, we can’t pick and choose what part of Him we want, can we? No, we must take all of Him and accept ALL of His atonement for us. This has profound, course-altering implications for how we live our lives.

I think it’s fascinating that God gave all these instructions and instituted this feast–a party of celebration, really–all BEFORE He ever delivers His children. It takes some faith to celebrate your freedom before liberation actually happens, doesn’t it? In our way of thinking, we would put the deliverance first, and then have a party to celebrate it. But not God – He reminds us that we can have such faith in His Word, that we can begin celebrating even now.

Finally, the scripture goes on to say, “And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years–on that very same day–it came to pass that all the armies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:41). It may have seemed like God was silent those 430 years, just like it may seem like God is silent and distant in our lives during some seasons. Yet we can know with full assurance that God is constantly, ceaselessly working behind the scenes to accomplish his purpose for us with exact and perfect precision.

It’s a thought that we can take hope and courage in.

“Now, you will see what I will do”

As we read through Exodus 4, we see that Moses and God have been going back and forth on this “deliver my people” business for a while now, and finally, Moses runs out of excuses. “But Moses again pleaded, ‘Lord, please! Send anyone else'” (Exodus 4:13, NLT). Finally, the real reason comes out – Moses simply does not want to go. God has been exceedingly patient with Moses up to this point. God has parried every excuse Moses has brought to the table, but finally God gets a little ticked: “Then the Lord became angry with Moses” (verse 14). When God calls us to do something, He is more than willing to patiently work with our weaknesses and even our wavering faith. But when it boils down to sheer unwillingness to obey His call, then that’s what frustrates God and hinders His ability to continue working with us. But God compromises with Moses, I guess you could say. He agrees to send Aaron along with Moses. Of course, this ends up being a less-than-ideal situation since Aaron will end up causing a number of sticky patches along the way. However, under God’s direction, Moses and Aaron do eventually make their way to Egypt to meet up with the Hebrew elders:

Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel… So the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel and that He had looked on their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshiped. (Exodus 4:29-31, NKJV)

Then they bowed their heads and worshiped… I love this. When we learn of God’s amazing love and when we see His revelation in our life, our only proper response is to worship. Worship is a response to what God has done for us. Worship is the glue that holds our relationship with God together.

So things are off to a promising start, right? The people believed! Now it’s just a matter of politely asking Pharaoh to set his slaves free, right? With God on his side, Moses is sure to have the road clearly laid out before him! Except, that’s not exactly how it plays out, is it? Exodus 5 details the disastrous fallout of Moses’ audience with Pharaoh and the painful consequences that the suffering people must bear. If we’re honest with ourselves, we can hardly blame Moses for his agonizing cry:

Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all!” (Exodus 5:22-23, NIV)

I think there’s a lesson in this reminding us that, sometimes when we follow God’s call, things may get worse before they get better. God hadn’t filled Moses in on all the details, but He had given Moses the big picture. Moses must learn to trust God with the big picture, even when the details seem to go the wrong direction. And so must we.

I appreciate Moses’ raw honesty with God. But I love even more how God responds to Moses… In response to Moses’ bitter outcry, God simply says, “Now you will see what I will do…” God isn’t angry with Moses, as we might expect. Instead He simply replies, “Just watch, Moses, and see what I can do.” Let’s remember that! Sometimes, when it seems like we’ve reached the end of our rope in life, when it seems like our backs are against a wall and there’s nowhere else to turn, just remember that those times are often the exact opportunity God has been waiting for to say, “Now, you will see what I will do!”

The LORD gently reminds Moses that He is fully aware of His children’s suffering, and that, with each stinging whip lash, His own heart has reverberated with the pain: “You can be sure that I have heard the groans of the people of Israel, who are now slaves to the Egyptians. And I am well aware of my covenant with them” (Exodus 6:5, NLT). God then wraps everything up in a beautiful restatement of His covenant. In a seven-fold “I will” promise, God reaffirms His covenant with His people:

“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I AM the Lord [YHWH] and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I AM the Lord.‘” (Exodus 6:6-8, NIV)

Notice how this beautiful promise is bookended by a declaration of God’s holy name – a claim of His identity and character. Before we jump head-first into our busy schedules this week, let’s take some time to meditate on God’s seven-fold promise to us today:

  • I will bring you out from under the yoke of the bondage.
  • I will free you from being slaves to this world’s sin and addiction.
  • I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of power.
  • I will take you as my own child.
  • I will be your God.
  • I will bring you to the land, the spacious place (Psalm 18:19), I swore to give you with an uplifted hand. (That is both a promise for this world and the world to come!)
  • I will give it to you as a possession, an inheritance. (“In Christ also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.” Ephesians 1:11, KJ21.)

May the Father and Son and Holy Spirt richly bless you today!

“I AM WHO I AM”

The end of Exodus 2 gave us insight into God’s perspective of His people’s suffering: “God heard their groaning, and he remembered his covenant promise… He looked down on the people of Israel and knew it was time to act” (verses 24-25, NLT). Chapter 3 unveils God’s plan to deliver His children.

“One day Moses was tending the flock… He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush” (Exodus 3:1-2, NLT). I think it’s insightful that the Hebrew word here for Sinai (or “Horeb,” as is also used) is a word that means “dryness” or “desolation.” It is from the dry and desolate places–the places where we feel abandoned and hopeless–that God often reveals His Presence in our lives. (An encouraging thought.)

God calls to Moses from the midst of the burning bush. He introduces Himself. “I am the God of your father–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” He shares His plan to use Moses as His instrument of deliverance for the Hebrews, but Moses has some reservations, doesn’t he? “But Moses protested to God, ‘Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?'” (verse 11). Moses’ big concern here is, “Who am I?” Notice that God doesn’t even attempt to answer Moses’ question. He simply responds by telling Moses the only thing Moses needs to know: “I will be with you.” Moses is asking the wrong question. Because it’s not about who Moses is – it is, in fact, all about who God is!

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But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”

God replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you.”God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: [YHWH], the God of your ancestors-the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob-has sent me to you. (Exodus 3:13-15)

What’s going on here is profound. The Hebrew phrase for “I AM WHO I AM” is heyeh aser heyeh. The central word, hayah, simply means “to be.” God is claiming to be “the Self-Existent One.” He is completely self-sustaining and self-sufficient. Everything and everyone else derives life and receives breath from Him. As Acts 17:28 reminds us, “In Him, we live and move and have our being… ‘For we also are his children.'” Fascinatingly enough, God goes on to introduce his name as “YHWH.” (Most Bibles denote this term by reading “the LORD” in all caps.) This “Tetragrammaton,” as it is referred to, was considered to be the most sacred of all of God’s names. It only consists of four Hebrew consonants, and we have no idea what the vowels were, or even if there were any. In fact, many rabbinical scholars believe that these four consonants are meant to form a composite of the three tenses of that same Hebrew word hayah, “to be”: He Was, He Is, He Is to Come. (Sound familiar? Compare with Revelation chapter 1, verse 4 and 8!)

It gets even better than that! This name of God is also inseparably connected with the idea of God’s life-giving breath. As Rabbi Lawrence Kushner writes:

The letters of the name of God in Hebrew… are frequently mispronounced Yahweh. But in truth they are inutterable…

This word {YHWH} is the sound of breathing.

The holiest name in the world, the Name of the Creator, is the sound of your own breathing. That these letters are unpronounceable is no accident. Just as it is no accident that they are also the root letters of the Hebrew verb ‘to be’… God’s name is the name of Being itself. And, since God is holy, then so is all creation. At the burning bush, Moses asks for God’s Name, but God only replies with Ehyeh-hasher-ehyeh, which is often incorrectly rendered by the static English, ‘I am who I am.’ But in truth the Hebrew may denote the future tense: ‘I will be who I will be.’ Here is a Name (and a God) who is neither completed nor finished. This God is literally not yet…

A God who is neither completed nor finished… I am humbly reminded by this of how absolutely impossible it is to put God in a box. We can’t define Him; we can’t contain Him. God continues to grow and expand beyond our horizons of definition and constraint. That must also mean that we never reach the “finishing point” with God. We will never reach the place where we’ve experienced all of Him or where we’ve stopped growing and progressing in our relationship with Him. With God, the best is always yet to come!

It all circles back to the Creation account, doesn’t it? “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7, NKJV). So, if our every breath is an utterance of our Creator’s name–a reminder of His life-sustaining power–then that means that the very act of breathing is an act of worship! Look at what Romans 12:1 declares in the NIV: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies [your life, your thoughts, your breath–everything you are] as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship [‘this is truly the way to worship him’, NLT].” The songs we sing and the prayers we pray are all nice, but what is our Heavenly Father really looking for in His people? He’s looking for a people who simply “live life.” A people who live in such a way that every breath is a witness, a proclamation, of God’s Name–a declaration to the onlooking world of Who God Is! 

But I will reveal my name to my people, and they will come
to know its power.
Then at last they will recognize that I am the one who speaks to them…
My people will see again who I AM.
I will tell them, “I AM here. And I AM ready.
(Isaiah 52:6, NLT/The Voice, capitalization supplied)