Final Instructions

By Exodus 31, God has been giving instructions to Moses for the last ten chapters – instructions for social laws, ceremonial feast days, the construction of the tabernacle, the garments of the priests, and nearly everything in between. Finally, God wraps up the conversation by telling Moses who has been chosen to build the holy tabernacle:

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship.

And I, indeed I, have appointed with him Aholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have put wisdom in the hearts of all the gifted artisans, that they may make all that I have commanded you…” (Exodus 31:1-6, NKJV)

I find these words to be of special importance. We so often think of God pouring out His anointing Spirit on pastors, ministers, evangelists, and missionaries. We think of the work of the LORD as encompassing preaching, teaching, and witnessing – but not much else. Yet here we have a beautiful illustration of God’s Spirit being poured out on an ordinary workman. “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri,” the text reads. “That’s my guy!” God says. “This is the one I have specifically called and chosen to build My holy tabernacle.” What an overwhelming privilege! I would think that this passage offers encouragement and affirmation to those of us who may not have been called to a specific vocation of church ministry. We may not be pastors or foreign missionaries, but, guess what, we’ve still been chosen and anointed to do a very special work of the LORD. You have received a unique calling that only you can fulfill! When you look at it that way, you realize that every single activity of your daily labor—no matter how menial it might seem—can be turned into an act of worship! The New Testament admonishes us to live out this “true worship” which comes by surrendering every facet of lives—whether at work or home or church—to God’s will. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1, NIV; see also 1 Corinthians 10:31.) It is both an encouraging realization as well as a sobering mandate of responsibility.

The final set of directions that God gives Moses is in relation to the Sabbath day: “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you.’” (Exodus 31:12-13, NKJV). At first I found this repetition of the Sabbath commandment a little strange. Hasn’t God already given clear directions for the Sabbath in Exodus 20? Why the need to repeat? It then occurred to me, however, that the placement of the Sabbath reminder here is indeed very significant. God and Moses have just been talking about all the things that the people will need to do to prepare a dwelling place for the LORD: they will need to build the tabernacle, they will need to craft the sacred furnishings, they will need to prepare the priest’s garments, they will need to perform the dedication ceremony – and the list goes on… Perhaps God wanted to use this last repetition of the Sabbath promise as a way to remind the people that it is not their works, but God’s work, that will make them holy. God wanted His children to take a break every single week on the Sabbath day, to stop and remember – “that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you” (verse 13).

It’s almost as if God has intentionally book-ended this entire mountain-top discourse with the Sabbath. We first read about it in Exodus 20, at the heart of God’s proclamation of the Ten Commandments (the “Ten Promises”). And here we are reading about the beautiful Sabbath promise once again at the end of Exodus 31. I think God wants us to learn something today as well. As we discussed in our previous lesson “The Law, Part 2 – Sabbath,” Sabbath is so much, much more than a mere day of the week. It’s an attitude. We can either live our lives striving to get something that we already have, or we can begin abiding in the promises that God has bestowed upon us. (See John 15:1-8.) The Sabbath signifies a salvational rest. It’s a day we observe every week, where we remember that we can stop working to earn anything with God. We can’t impress Him. We can’t earn our way to heaven. Instead, we simply rest in His self-sacrificing and eternally-lasting love for us.

And with that last reminder, God delivers to Moses His holy law and covenant – the transcript of His very own character of love:

“When the Lord finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, written by the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18, NLT).

Written with God’s very own finger! The question we are now left with is, “What will Moses and Israel do with this overwhelmingly-beautiful token of God’s covenant relationship?” We wait until the next chapter to find out.

The Law, Part 2 – Sabbath

At the heart of God’s law, we find the fourth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). The Sabbath promise acts, in many ways, as the central connecting point between the first half of the Ten Commandments and the second half. It’s a command that intersects our relationship with God and our relationship with others. The Sabbath promise takes us right back to the creation story. In fact, it is the one commandment that gives us a direct reason to obey it, all because of who God is (a Creator God, no less) and what He has done for us: “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (verse 11).

The Sabbath reminds us that we were designed for a weekly rhythm of work and rest. Although we are to labor for six days of the week, there is one day, the seventh, where we are supposed to let it all go and simply cease (what the word sabbath literally means). It’s a day where we stop worrying about how we are going to balance the checking account at the end of the month. We lay aside the distractions of our careers and the frenzied consumerism of the world around us. It’s a day where we exercise our complete faith and trust in God’s provision for our lives. It’s a day where we place our relationship with God and our relationship with others (verse 10) as our highest priority. In fact, Jesus went on to expand the meaning of the Sabbath by emphasizing our responsibility to others, to our community. Jesus was all about healing sickness, relieving suffering, lifting burdens, and breaking bonds on this extra special day, and we should be, too! “Therefore it is right to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:12, WNT).

The Sabbath promise goes so much deeper than mere weekly physical rest, however. The Sabbath signifies a salvational rest. It’s a day where we remember that we can stop working to earn anything with God. We can’t impress Him. We can’t earn our way to heaven. Instead, we simply rest in His sacrificial provision for us. In Ezekiel 20:12, God reminds us why He gave us His Sabbath: “Moreover I also gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them.” It is so that we would be reminded weekly that HE is the one who sanctifies our hearts, purifying our lives and washing us clean from all sin.

rest_here

Sabbath is so much more than a day of the week. It’s an attitude. It’s a state of being. We can either live our lives striving to get something that we already have, or we can begin abiding in the promises that God has bestowed upon us. (See John 15:1-8.) The Sabbath, at its core essence, is an invitation from our Heavenly Father to lay aside our own man-made works and attempts at righteousness and surrender our hearts to the sway of His Holy Spirit’s rule. We are to simply rest in the assurance of His grace and love.

To illustrate this point, I want you to try something with me: Take a really, really deep breath and hold it for five seconds. Now, slowly exhale… Did you feel it? That that one fleeting moment of almost complete peace and relief? That indescribable feeling of just letting it all go? That right there is a taste of what Sabbath is all about–both in the physical sense, as well as in the spiritual! “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:9-10). God’s invitation for us to enter His rest is standing wide open. What a beautiful promise to start our day with.

Happy Sabbath, friends!

In the beginning…

“In the beginning, God…” Before anything was ever created, God alone existed. Scripture tells us that God has existed for all of eternity and that there was never a time when God did not exist. But God was never alone. The word for God in this passage is Elohim ­– it is a plural word in the unified sense. We understand Elohim to be the three Persons of the Godhead, who have ever existed together in an inseparable bond of love, fellowship, and unified purpose. It was from this communal purpose of love, that the Godhead began Their work of Creation. “God created the heavens and the earth.” And so, we begin our brand new series on Genesis. I’m so glad you’ve decided to join us for the journey!

The sequence of Genesis 1 is absolutely fascinating! In days one through three, our class noticed that God performs a work of separating: Light/Dark, Sky/Water, Land/Seas. On the second half of the third day, God also creates plants and vegetation and, therefore, begins His work of filling. The remaining days follow as such: sun/moon/stars, birds/fish, and, finally, animals/mankind. Interestingly enough, the order of creation follows an intriguing pattern. Notice how, beginning on the fourth day, God begins to fill the places He created previously. For instance, the fourth day’s sun, moon, and stars fill the expanse of space (light/dark) which God created on the first day. The fifth day’s birds and fish fill the sky and waters from the second day. And animals and humans on the sixth day fill the Land which was separated on the third day! Isn’t that cool!? What an awesome Creator!

Our account, of course, builds in climax. The progression to man and woman’s creation is truly dramatic and beautiful. After God has filled the earth with teeming seas and luscious life-filled land, God (Elohim) takes a moment to step back and consider the next step: “Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.” And so, God creates mankind in His image, male and female. It is at this point in the creation narrative that we realize that absolutely everything which God created was created for the purpose of mankind. God built everything up for this moment, for the creation of his two children, created in His very image! We weren’t an afterthought, friends, we were God’s ultimate purpose all along.

But, then, what does God have us, his children, do as soon as His work of creation is complete? God and man alike shabath. Mankind’s first job was to rest with God in the holy promise of Sabbath. Not because God needed rest, or because we were tired – but because we needed to realize that God has created and accomplished absolutely everything for us. There was nothing that we could add because it was already perfectly complete. Therefore, our first job as humans was to accept His gift and rest in His love. The Sabbath day was and still is a gift from God – an entire 24-hour period of uninterrupted worship and fellowship with our Creator. It’s still a promise for us today! It’s not merely a day on which we lay aside our physical work, but it’s a day that we spiritually rest as well. Echoing God’s words in Genesis 2:1-3, Jesus Christ fulfilled that spiritual promise for us when He cried out on that Friday evening, “IT IS FINISHED!” Therefore, remembering what Christ accomplished for us on the Cross, we rest not only in God’s work of Creation, but in His work of Salvation as well! “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:9-10).

John 19 – The Cross

Hi there — this is Cece from Dallas First Church. I am so excited to share some highlights from our Stepping Stones class. This week’s study of John 19 brings us to the foot of Calvary. As I prepared for the study this week, I was overwhelmed with the unfathomable depth of the chapter before us. And we had such a short amount of time to discuss it all! That said, let’s jump right in!

Chapter 19 ushers in the astounding conclusion to John’s narrative of Jesus’ life. So many of the beautiful symbols we have discussed in John’s Gospel all meet their fulfillment in Christ’s self-sacrificing death. We see Jesus as the “the Lamb of God” who acts as our Passover Lamb and “who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn. 1:29). We see Jesus as the Father’s gift of love to fallen humanity (Jn. 3:16).  We see Jesus as the Living Bread which was torn and broken for “the life of the world” (Jn. 6:51). And we see Jesus lifted up “as the serpent in the wilderness” to take into Himself the curse of our sin-sick world. Paul tells us in  2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” In all of these things, Christ was our Substitute for the death we deserved. He took upon Himself the unutterable horror of the world’s guilt and bore the excruciating separation from the Father. Can you even imagine? Christ who had lived in such close communion and fellowship with the Father would now feel the agony of complete separation from his beloved Dad. That’s what killed Him. It broke His heart:

But it was not the spear thrust, it was not the pain of the cross, that caused the death of Jesus. That cry, uttered “with a loud voice” (Matthew 27:50; Luke 23:46), at the moment of death, the stream of blood and water that flowed from His side, declared that He died of a broken heart. His heart was broken by mental anguish. He was slain by the sin of the world. (The Desire of Ages)

As Jesus died in triumph over sin, however, he cried out, “It is finished!” Notice the intriguing correlation with Genesis 2:1-3: “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” Look at the unmistakable link between God’s work of creation and His work of salvation! And, intriguingly enough, both of these concepts are intimately connected with the beautiful Sabbath promise which God has given us! While we completely respect the position of others who may disagree, we believe that the Sabbath is a reminder that we rest in the work that God has performed! “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his” (Heb. 4:9-10, NIV). It is our reminder that we have absolutely nothing to bring to the table; we can only accept what He has done for us – we accept His sacrifice for us! And that’s exactly what John would want us to see.

Friends, as we close, I just want to say how convicted I have been lately that there is absolutely no way that we can get too much of Christ and His sacrifice for us! There’s no way that we can talk too much about it, sing too much about it, think too much about it! I’m telling you, that’s where it’s at! Having said all this, please take some time to prayerfully read the paragraph below:

The spotless Son of God hung upon the cross, His flesh lacerated with stripes; those hands so often reached out in blessing, nailed to the wooden bars; those feet so tireless on ministries of love, spiked to the tree; that royal head pierced by the crown of thorns; those quivering lips shaped to the cry of woe. And all that He endured—the blood drops that flowed from His head, His hands, His feet, the agony that racked His frame, and the unutterable anguish that filled His soul at the hiding of His Father’s face—speaks to each child of humanity, declaring, It is for thee that the Son of God consents to bear this burden of guilt; for thee He spoils the domain of death, and opens the gates of Paradise. He who stilled the angry waves and walked the foam-capped billows, who made devils tremble and disease flee, who opened blind eyes and called forth the dead to life,—offers Himself upon the cross as a sacrifice, and this from love to thee. He, the Sin Bearer, endures the wrath of divine justice, and for thy sake becomes sin itself. (The Desire of Ages, p. 755)