Monday, August 10, 2015

Got Rest?

Thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery.  And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land.  And I said to you, “I am the Lᴏʀᴅ your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.”  But you have not obeyed my voice.  (Judges 6:8-10)

Midianites and Amalekites were having their way raiding Israel.  For seven years bands of invaders swept through the country from east to west and back again, leaving a wasteland via plunder and pillage.  God allowed this because the people of Israel had returned to doing evil: a lesson needed to be given.  After enough time the people of Israel “were brought low” and in the midst of their affliction “cried out for help to the Lᴏʀᴅ.”

We know nothing of the man who came with the message of the Lord.  In fact, I would say we might likely be surprised there were any prophets in Israel considering their spiritual state.  Should we be?  Reading enough of the Bible, especially the sections we call the Major and Minor Prophets, we see that their historical settings are generally when governmental leaders are self-serving, encouraging rapid decline, while spiritual shepherds are leading people astray.  The prophet is sent with the message of condemnation to elicit confession and repentance. 

The prophet gave a blistering message.  Notice the opening sentence: “I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery.”  While the encouragement may be self-evident, the rebuke is scathing as it reminds the people of a time on Sinai when the Lord spoke those same words to Moses to introduce the Ten Commandments (Exod 20:2).  The people would know immediately where the rest of the message was going.  The Lord then uses the prophet to heap more on their heads by reminding them of His work on their behalf in driving out the nations, giving the Promised Land, and assuring them that He was their God with nothing to fear of any other so-called god.  But Israel had not obeyed.  What a stinging rebuke.  The Almighty Creator of heaven and earth delivered a people and fought for them to secure what He had promised, and they neglected Him.

Yet within the biting and stinging rebuke was encouragement the people needed.  God had made promises.  He had delivered them.  He had fought for them.  He was (and is) a God that is close and not far off.  He is still their God, and they are still His people.  What comfort!  Though there is not an explicit word of good news, this has prepared the people for the deliverance to come, as about this time the angel of the Lord comes to Gideon with the most shocking of pronouncements, “The Lᴏʀᴅ is with you, O mighty man of valor.”  A people who had been beaten down and broken to the point of hiding out in caves and other holes in the ground were to be delivered by a man who could only see the circumstance and not the God of grace and promise.  That same God still delivers today.

We live in a world beaten down and broken by our own hand.  Since the day Satan tempted Eve and both ate of the forbidden tree, sin ran rampant throughout mankind, and we look upon the devastation millennia later.  Rather than the marauding hordes absconding with physical goods, Satan perpetrated a master stroke through deception and subtlety: the first couple would willingly hand over their very souls.  From that time onward, we have continued on that path, eschewing what satisfies the soul and replacing it with that which can not.  The pursuit to fill the emptiness drives our cravings for that which drains further.  Whether or not we believe the attempts are are a noble goal of reconnecting with the divine—whoever or whatever that might be—each person is trying to fill a void that cannot be filled by human means.

In the aftermath of the Fall, God made a promise to crush the head of the serpent.  There would come a time when this great wrong would be made right.  Choosing a people for His own possession, God entered into a covenant with them, showcasing how He was different from all other gods and bestowing on them the privilege of being His witness to the world.  This covenant contained not just promises and blessings, but also warnings and consequences.   The relationship between the Lord and His people was one based on God’s attributes and character and was therefore entirely holy in nature.  God and His people were set apart for each other, therefore what came between (i.e., sin) had to be put away.  While there were temporary remedies through the shedding of blood, nothing was sufficient for the ultimate task.  God had to give Himself to be the final sacrifice and did so as the Son, second person of the Godhead, came into this world, put on humanity.  In so doing, He crushed the serpent’s head: sin no more had dominion.  What does this mean for today?

We still live in brokenness caused by sin.  We still seek for what cannot satisfy.  One can expect this behavior from the world.  Satan has so deluded them that the pursuit of vain things is considered the purpose of life with wealth or notoriety the pinnacle achievement; or discovering those things to be out of reach, they simply grasp for any fleeting bits of meaning.  Sadly, many in the Church act the same way.  Either they try to continue justifying themselves thinking to add to the work already completed in Christ for their salvation or to work fervently to prove myself as worthy of having received salvation.  They fail to understand that when Jesus said, “It is finished,” He meant just that.  God’s favor is gained by believing on the Son, not engaging in a flurry of “spiritual” activity at home or the local assembly, nor engaging in so-called meditative and contemplative practices masking as Christianity.  Jesus calls us to rest in Him.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  (Matt 11:28-30)

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