The kept fire

“Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it shall not go out.” Leviticus 6:13

Throughout all the generations of the Mosaic priesthood, the altar was lit. Day and night it never ceased. A perpetual fire was maintained upon its bronze structure; living flame ever flickered before the living God.

The fire of this altar was never extinguished because there was always another sacrifice to make. We have detailed accounts— exhausting accounts—of sacrifices and offerings of many kinds on divine record. If you find the reading of Leviticus a weary task, imagine living it. Men must devote their lives to the business, because the business of sacrifice never stopped. Lebanon itself was not enough to burn.

All this changed when Jesus was nailed to the tree. When the true spotless Lamb carried our sins through the fires of God’s wrath against us, the flame of divine fury went out. No animal sacrifice ever atoned for a single sin; they prefigured the real sin sacrifice to come. All who trust in Jesus have passed out of judgment.

Because we are free, our lives are now living sacrifices to God. Do not our hearts burn within us when we consider the sweeping majesty of the sufferings and subsequent glories of our Lord Jesus Christ? Fire of a different sort, of thanksgiving and zeal, is now maintained before him. This fire of God is to be kept burning on the altars of our hearts continually; it shall not go out. We will enliven the farthest reaches of eternity with its stirring influence.

Smeared in the Spirit

“unleavened wafers smeared with oil” Exodus 29:2

Jesus is his name, but his title is Christ, or Messiah. Jesus is who he is; Christ is what he is. He is many things: Prophet, Priest, and King. There have been many prophets, many priests, and many kings, but he is all these and more in one. He is the Christ.

The word Christos is the Greek New Testament version of the Hebrew Old Testament Meshiach. It means anointed. Of all the things that Jesus is, he is above all, and encapsulating all, and pervading all, the Anointed One. Ok so that’s what the word means, but what does it mean? It means he’s the One who is anointed with the Spirit of God, that which the old anointing oil signified.

He is the pleasing One, the chosen One, the promised One, the sent One, the equipped One, the saving One, the victorious One, the coming One. He is the Father’s delight and the Father’s delight rests upon him in the form of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Spiritual man.

In him we are also spiritual, anointed with the Spirit of God. He is our true sacrifice, but in him we are living sacrifices of thanksgiving to the living God. With great joy in Christ, may our hearts be as the wave offerings of unleavened wafer, smeared with the Spirit of God. For that is what this word smeared is in the Hebrew—anointed.

The art of dropping science

“He made the veil of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twisted linen; with cherubim skillfully worked into it he made it.” Exodus 36:35

Bezalel oversaw the craftsmanship of God’s tabernacle. This was a matter of science and art. His intelligence of material—whether it be precious metal or fine fabric—was the foundation of his creative skill—whether it be shaping furniture or hammering gold. Or weaving fantastic creatures into the veil, as we have here.

Passing over the mind-expanding symbolism of cherubim guarding the way to God’s presence, we must pause on these emphatic words: “skillfully worked into it”. Here was excellence. Here was wisdom. And here was hard work.

Do you suppose it mattered to the priests what these cherubim looked like? Before this veil they ministered day and night. They spent their lives in this physical revelation of God and his ways. Were the tabernacle thrown together haphazardly, there would be a confusion of signals. Was God worthy of all excellence, or (since God is spirit), were outward matters of no importance? Certainly excellence was important, because God gave Bezalel gifts to make it so. The likeness of these heavenly creatures woven upon the veil would have been majestic, and would have served the faith of the priests.

This principle of excellence translates very well to our technological age. There is something in it to be used for God’s glory. We have the truth; let us present it as best we can, with skill. Our social media, websites, and all that may advance the cause of Christ in a digital age, is to be done with craftsmanship. Our books should bear skillfully designed covers that entice readers to wonder at the awesome theme and peak within. Is this manipulation? No, this is casting truth in its proper light.

This principle applies even to the invisible aspects of life. Take, for instance, the matter of speech. How we form our words matters, for “sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness” (Proverbs 16:21). This sweetness of speech is more art than science. In fact, the art of sweetness (think, perhaps, of what we call charm) serves the science of truth, for it increases its effect, and clears the way for its reception. We do not rely on the skill of sweetness to persuade people—the skill presents the truth in clearer light, allowing it to work by its own merit more freely. What could shroud the good news more than harshness of speech?

So whether we are weaving cherubim like Bezalel, or designing websites, or talking doctrine, may God’s people do so with skill and excellence, and with art, that God may be praised through his truth.

Skills to make the frills

“See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you…” Exodus 31:2-6

The LORD directed Moses to arrange the tabernacle; he gifted these men to build it. Their gifts matched their calling. There exists no calling without a gift to match. Many have felt called to marry a certain someone—and may have even told them quite plainly so!—but have not been gifted to win the elusive heart. Alas! the pain and misery of missing our true callings for our own ideas of what they should be.

Well, there was no question about what these men were supposed to be doing. They were good at it. Mark the source of their skill: “I have filled him with the Spirit of God” (v. 3). These were spiritual gifts, not natural abilities. Whatever natural ability they possessed was not only improved, but lifted, and transformed, by the Spirit of God.

No wonder, when we consider their great task. They have to build God’s tent! With what skill must the gold be hammered, the curtains woven, the breastplate ornamented! Every detail has divine meaning; all must be executed with divine enablement. God was with them, and with their skill. Their tools taught them marvelous things! And piece by glorious piece the tabernacle was built.

Is it not the same for you and I? Are we not all of us building God’s temple, stone by living stone? Have we not received spiritual gifts to build up the body of Christ? What has God made you good at? Ask the believers in your life how you have been used to bless them, and what area of service or teaching God has filled you with skill for. Above all things, seek the building up of the church, and know that the Spirit of God is with us and with our skills for the name of Jesus Christ and the glory of God.

An experiential reading of the Bible

Bible reading. We know we should do it. We sometimes enjoy it. But, perhaps, for the most part it is the mundane task we are happy we did but not thrilled to accomplish. Fear not! There is great hope for children of the living God.

When does Bible reading cease to be a task and become, well, leaving the garden with Adam and Eve, walking with Enoch as he is translated, entering the ark with Noah, sojourning in tents with Abraham, going upon the Mount with Moses, ministering in the tabernacle with Aaron, conquering the land with Joshua, hiding in caves with David, journeying to Jerusalem with the Queen of Sheba, walking in gardens with Solomon, beholding the Lord with Isaiah, being cast into the pit with Jeremiah, being caught up between heaven and earth with Ezekiel, dreaming in a strange kingdom with Daniel…?

When does it become 400 years of silence as we anticipate the coming of the promised One, laying eyes on the redemption of Israel with Simeon, prophesying in the wilderness with John, being called with Peter and John, walking with Jesus, partaking of the miracles, seeing him crucified for our sin, mistaking him for the gardener with Mary, finding the empty tomb with John (and Peter, a second later), receiving the gift of the Spirit in tongues of fire, being cut to the quick with the Pentecost 3000, preaching boldly with Peter and John, being martyred with Stephen, struck blind with Paul, rejoicing with the believers over him…?

When will it transform into seeing Satan fall like lightning, partaking in the great war in heaven, standing in awe of the Lion who cracks the seals, seeing him coming on the clouds, standing with all human beings of all time before the throne of the Lamb to be judged, having every tear wiped away, reigning with him over a new universe? Well, these things it will become before too long. But for now, we salute these realities by faith, embracing their gloriousness as we await their revealing in the waking life of this poor world. With prayer and patience, we will begin to walk in the realities of God as we sojourn through our Bible reading plans. Onward!

God's Hornet

“I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites from before you.” Exodus 23:28

God goes before his people. This comfortable theme appears here and there in Scripture and finds its fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ who went before us into death and glory. In our text God promises to go before the children of Israel into the land. He presents his promise in the figure of hornets.

If the mention of that insect doesn’t leave you with any distinct impression, the prior verse spells out exactly what God means by it: “I will send my terror before you” (v. 27). That is God’s idea of hornets; it seems also the reason why he didn’t make them three feet in length! Our glorious Creator fashioned hornets to be aerial emissaries of terror. A personal bodyguard of them (at their current size!) would be a formidable asset to any man.

What adds wonder to wonder is that God not only presents his promise under this figure; he presents himself under it. It’s his terror. It is himself, or more properly speaking, his Son, who goes before. Verse 23 says, in parallel, “When my angel goes before you…” The Angel of the LORD is a divine messenger both distinct from the LORD and identified with him (v. 20-21). He’s the Hornet of God.

Christ goes before us in this way. We are called to take this land of Canaan, this spiritual life, and he sends our foes into dismay before us. He has already gone ahead of us into death and judgement, and into resurrection and life forevermore. He has terrorized both our sin and the devil, destroying death’s sting by stinging death to death. He has ascended to the right hand of Power, where he ministers as our forerunner and breaks the power of sin in our lives today. When we follow him, he’s with us, and wars before us. He swarms and overwhelms our spiritual foes. Let’s be mindful of his glorious, terrible presence and all his helps for us today.

Of haters and holiness

“If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.” Exodus 23:5

Interpersonal conflict is where our godliness is really put to the test. Easily may we wax eloquent on the glorious doctrines of Scripture (and may God help us to do so more); readily may we tell others about Jesus (and may God strengthen us to do so all the more urgently). But real-life holiness is Jesus and his truth implemented in the midst of ordinary, every-day life.

Moses mentions one such ordinary relation as “one who hates you,” in other words, a hater. This is an infamous kind of relation, and the most of us fancy ourselves as having an army of them in our lives. (More likely is the sage utterance popularly attributed to Winston Churchill, “When you’re 20 you care what everybody things, when you’re 40 you stop caring what everyone thinks, when you’re 60 you realize no one was ever thinking about you in the first place.)

If we see the hater in everyone, perhaps the hater lies within. Nietzsche may help us here: “And if thou gaze long into the hater, the hater will also gaze into thee.” Above all, let God’s people be sure they aren’t smelling their own breath when they offer others a mint. And if haters be real, the text keeps us sober, for Moses speaks of “one” who hates you. A pack of haters rarely follows a man.

With that said, personal conflict is a reality in the Christian life, and the testing grounds of our spiritual maturity. We will pray for those who have wronged us, but helping them jumpstart their car, well that’s just a bit too far. In that case, we have not yet begun to love our enemies. Sin tells us to rejoice in their suffering; Christ calls us to help them, even in very practical ways. And this commandment is not burdensome. Have we forgotten that he loved us, his haters, and died under our sin-burden?

Who God really is

“In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you.” Exodus 20:24

An interesting verse, in an interesting context. Before God directed the children of Israel to build the tabernacle he gave them guidelines for making altars (v 22-26). Here, worship was accepted by him and blessed by him to the worshipper.

To remember God’s name means more than knowing how to pronounce it—many can do such things. To remember God’s name is to know what his name means. In other words, it is to know God. His name is who he is, in all his glorious attributes. It is to know him both truly, by knowing him rightly, and personally, by trusting and walking with him.

And so God promised to be remembered by the people throughout their generations, and to bless them accordingly. He did this at altars, many altars of long history (they are the “every place” he speaks of). But they were all leading somewhere, moving toward some goal, some ultimate, God-revealing, sinner-blessing sacrifice. That sacrifice was Jesus Christ. That altar of earth was the hill Golgotha, where the living God shows us who he is. John Owen speaks of this divine revelation in terms of wisdom.

As he is crucified, so he is the wisdom of God; that is, all that wisdom which God layeth forth for the discovery and manifestation of himself, and for the saving of sinners, which makes foolish all the wisdom of the world,—that is all in Christ crucified; held out in him, by him, and to be obtained only from him.

The cross is the place where God has caused his name to be remembered beyond all span of time. It shows the world who God really is. It is also the place of blessing for sinners. Christ was rejected in our place that we might be embraced by God; he was cursed in our place that we might be blessed by God. Here is blessing, not just for conversion, but for ever and ever. For here is your God who smiles upon you.

Hit the ground running

The hardest part of my day is springing out of bed the moment the alarm touches God’s anointed. I’ve found that a few preparations in the evening can help promote a punctual rising from the dead on the morrow. Anything for the edge!

There exists a connection between hitting the ground running and what we mortals call “a good day.” As my waking moments go, thither goeth my day. The momentum of a swift auroral resurrection propels me forward, while a failure to rise first thing can be a strange sort of lasting discouragement.

But, while this may be true in its own way, it is not ultimate truth. My day is not decided by psychological sleight of hand. We may feel these matters, and they may be quite useful to us in the natural course of things, but grace reigns in my life by the finished work of Someone else.

Our spiritual momentum is set and maintained by Christ. He awakened us in a split second of great power and set our feet immediately on the path of life, while his righteousness placed us once for all ahead of the game. So, wherever I am in my day, I can hit the ground running, for Christ.

A brief lesson in biblical meaning

As you read the following paragraph, ask yourself the question: Who is being spoken of?

He was the favored son, given revelation of his high destiny by God, yet hated by his jealous brothers. They plotted his death and handed him over to the Gentiles. Yet his brothers’ evil act, God meant for good, to send him ahead of them, to save them. Through his sufferings he rose to the very right hand of power, receiving the seal of the kingdom as all were commanded to bow the knee before him. He stored up bread and all the earth streamed to him for life, which could be found nowhere else. And the people offered their ends and lands and possessions to him, and their very own selves to his service, crying out, “You have saved us!”

Now, who am I talking about?

I’m talking about Joseph. But (let the reader understand) when we’re talking about Joseph, we’re also talking about the Lord Jesus Christ.