A Biblical Theology of offering – Exodus 35.1-46.7, Luke 22.1-38

Some times when I am reading the bible and I get to the descriptions of ceremonies and offerings in the Old Testament my eyes glaze over a little. It feels so stuffy and irrelevant immediately the word tabernacle is explained.

Something that has helped me appreciate the history more and see the importance of understanding these descriptions in the bible to understand their trajectory for what they are pointing to. So to endeavour to bring some of that goodness to us all I will make a few stop offs through Gods story to get taste of what tabernacles and offerings teach us.

  • Offerings are to the Lord for the Lord’s work – Exodus 35.4-9, 20-21 

Moses said to the whole Israelite community, “This is what the Lord has commanded: From what you have, take an offering for the Lord. Everyone who is willing is to bring to the Lord an offering of gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.

20 Then the whole Israelite community withdrew from Moses’ presence, 21 and everyone who was willing and whose heart moved them came and brought an offering to the Lord for the work on the tent of meeting, for all its service, and for the sacred garments.

The New International Version. (2011). (Ex 35:4–9). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

In this passage we see a command comes from the Lord to bring an offering to the Lord. The offering is served the purpose of contributed to maintaining of the tabernacle (the place of worship) as well as a sign of allegiance to the Lord. There is a certain level of extravagance that comes with the offering. So many different types of offerings are made to honour the Lord and show his standing amongst the people of God.

The clarification made on the offering is that is to be done by those who are ‘willing’ and whose hearts are ‘moved’. The offering is not a legally binding action but is to be an action that reflects in the desires of those bringing it.

  • Offerings are not divorced from actions of life- Amos 5.21-24

21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. 24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

The New International Version. (2011). (Am 5:21–24). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

In Amos we see God speaking to his people in anger because they think that they can placate him or show allegiance to him with offerings and festivals. The issue is that there lives do not match the relationship they seek to express with their offerings. With their offerings they are expressing allegiance and worship but with their actions they ignore the people God loves, they perform injustices upon people, they ignore the truth of what God calls them to be.

In this part of God’s word we see a connection made between the offering and the actions of someones life. They cannot be separated. God cares about the hearts and actions of the ones bringing an offering to him. The action of worship cannot be separated from the actions of the individual. This is because someones actions reveal their heart. Humans are not simply rational beings but beings of affection. Our actions are not rational but are driven by the desires of our hearts. God condemns his people here for performing a religious action when their hearts desire is not orientated to God’s plan for them and their world.

  • Our lives are the offering – Romans 12. 1-2

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. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

The New International Version. (2011). (Ro 12:1–2). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

As we move through the story we see a change occurs. Rather then us bringing offerings to the tabernacle we bring ourselves as an offering to Lord. We bring our whole lives as an act of worship to the Lord. In the Old Testament God did not divorce the offering from the life of those offering and now the point is even more sharpened and focused as the offering and the one offering are tied intimately into the same action.

Through the Jesus death our sins are paid for and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we become the people of God who are being transformed in our minds and thus our actions. As we exist as Gods people and seek to live out his will in dependance upon the Spirit and repentance in the Son we are an offering to the Lord.

  • Application

Our eyes need not glaze over when we read of the tabernacle and offering in the Old Testament. When we read them we see an image of what life is like under God and what he is doing in us as we work as apart of his kingdom. The trajectory of those offerings was not legalism but a concern from the Lord to have his people aligned with him. It was him seeking to have his people constantly reminded of who he is and who they are to him. The offering is a sign of who we are ‘in’ or who we apart of. In the past the offering was a sign of being in the promises of God. The Lord was most concerned with the heart of the one giving the offering (needed to be willing). The offering could not be separated from the actions of the offerer because God is concerned with the heart he sees the true heart of people in their actions. Then in the age of the Spirit post Jesus death and resurrection the offering is our very lives empowered by the Spirit to be transformed to worship as living sacrifices.

God has set a trajectory through history of a people offering to give honour to him. Now he has worked in such a way to bring the truth into the hearts of believers that they honour him now with their lives. What a wonderful story we get to experience of a God who is bringing a people to worship him with all of their lives. He does so knowing that the best thing for all humanity is for all creation to have peace with its creator.

The offering we read in the Old Testament is not a boring ceremony to read through quickly but a reminder of a God who is Lord over all and has a plan for all his creation. It is a sign of our God who has a trajectory for his servants to glorify him in all that they do. A sign of a God who become one of us to empower us to make the truth that the world needs to know known to all.

 

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Detail in every plan

Today’s FDR is Exodus 36:8-38:31 and Luke 22:39-52

Our Old Testament reading today provides eye-wateringly detailed descriptions of the building of the tabernacle and the elements contained within. Not only so, much of it is repeated information from earlier in Exodus (re-read chapters 25-30)! The materials were expansive and expensive – over a ton of gold, 4 tons of silver and 2.5 tons of bronze (New Bible Commentary), not to mention all the curtain materials!

What do we make of this? Is it recorded here in detail so that we can attempt to reconstruct the Tabernacle out on the FAC floodplain? As interesting a spectacle that this might be, I don’t think the detailed and repeated instructions are there for reconstruction purposes – I think that perhaps they are there to show that God is interested in the detail of his plans, and clearly this is important detail as the Tabernacle was to be the dwelling place of God as his people wandered in the wilderness. Can you imagine, the God of the universe, who called forth light from darkness, is interested in the intricate detail of the curtains and lampstands for his earthly dwelling place? God of the infinite and God of the detail – God over all creation. He not only knows and directs the detail of the tabernacle, he knows our detail, he knows our lives, he knows me… he knows you. As the Psalmist says ‘before a word is on my tongue, you, Lord, know it completely’! (Ps 139:4).

God’s plans for the Tabernacle are almost overshadowed in our reading from Luke today which reveals some detail in God’s unbelievable plan to rescue us. We would do well to slow down and meditate on these passages as we head into Easter.

Here, starkly, we see the anguish of Jesus, sweat running from his brow like drops of blood, asking the Father to ‘take this cup from me’, yet remaining obedient to the Father’s will. He is betrayed by both his sleepy disciples and by Judas’ kiss. I can’t imagine.

The God of the universe, who called light from darkness and the one who cares about the words on my lips – allows betrayal of his son unto death, by mortal man. This betrayal was part of the detail of His plan. It is a sobering and poignant dichotomy and to my human mind, quite unfathomable.  Moreover, this was always his plan. His plan was always to rescue his people through Jesus betrayal, torture, death and resurrection. From the beginning of time, through creation, the exodus and building of the tabernacle, God’s redemptive plan was at work, through Jesus, in order to bring us back into to Him. May we never gloss over the details of how His redemptive purposes were brought about in Jesus!

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (1 Peter 3:18)

Jesus our better Moses as our representative before God- Exodus 33.7-23, Luke 20.27-47

Context

In Exodus 33.1-6 a tension is created for God’s people. As you read v1-3 it seems like good news – God is affirming the promises he made to the slaves coming out of Egypt and connecting them back to the promises made in to Abraham. He is even sending an Angel before them to help them take back the land of ‘milk and honey’.

Then at the end of v3 God reveals that all is not well between he and his people. He will give them the land but he will not go down with them because they are a ‘stiff necked people’. Describing the people as stiff necked is to use an idiom related to farm animals refusing the leadership of their owners. This is the second time God has referred to them in this manner (Exodus 32.9). God is highlighting the refusal of his people to follow and worship as he has called them to. Repeatedly his mercy is lavished upon them and repeatedly they follow Him for a short time before there hearts are drawn elsewhere.

It is fascinating the reason that God will not go with them into the land. It is actually for their own protection that he doesn’t go with them. As He states in v3 (and Exodus 32.10) the rightful response of God to his stiff neck people would be to destroy them. The offence they cause by their action of refusing God again brings them under the anger of God and thus right deserving of punishment.

It is into this context that we find our passage. God has revealed his anger at his people and Gods people are distressed and afraid.

Tent of meeting – v7-11

It is in this context of distress that the peoples representative goes to God for them. The temporary structure where Moses meets with God is called the ‘tent of meeting’. Moses was the whom God used to speak to his people and thus had the privilege of a particular relationship with God. He had unprecedented access to God. In v11 The relationship is described; ‘The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend’.

No one else had that privilege. People could visit the tent of meeting but no one else met with God in the same way Moses did.

Moses brings requests for his people – v12-23

Moses goes to meet with God and reminds him of the relationship he has with Moses. Moses appeals on the basis that God gave him the job to lead the people and the intimacy of their relationship that God had previously stated in v12 – ‘I know you by name and you have found favour with me’. Moses goes one step further by asking God to teach him Gods ways so that he might know God better and continue to find favour with him.

God answers his request and says that his presence will go with Moses and he will give him rest. This is a promise of blessing and flourishing being with Moses. The promise of the creator of the universe being with Moses in all the trials and complications and victories that would come.

The reason for God’s response is that he is pleased with Moses and knows his by name. God is affirming the intimacy that Moses hoped to be true. God will go with Moses into the ‘land of milk and honey’. For God’s people the blessing of God being with them is because they have Moses representing them. God’s presence is with Moses and thus the people of God receive the benefits of Moses relationship with God.

Moses asks for one more thing in v18. He asks to see the glory of God which is to see the depth of who God is. He knows God in one sense but their is still mystery for Moses. There is still a depth of knowledge he has not reached. God promises to reveal more of himself to Moses but it is limited still. The reason for the limitation is that none, not even Moses, can see God in full and live. The gap between man and God is still broken, the relationship Adam and Eve had in the garden has not been repaired. Moses cannot walk beside God in the land like Adam and Eve did – there is still something more to be redeemed.

Jesus our tent and the one who represents his people

Jesus is the place where we go to meet God. For Moses it was the tent of meeting but for us the tent has come to us. We don’t need to go to a secret and safe place to meet God – in Jesus God has come to us in a deeper sense then even Moses experienced. God is not a mystery in a tent but a person who came among us and thus we can know more intimately. He is not hidden for our safety but reveals himself for our rescue.

Jesus is our representative. He becomes one of us and has a relationship with God the Father like no other does. Like Moses it is he that speaks to God on our behalf. It is he who represents us as he lives, dies, rises, and ascends to continue speaking to God the Father on our behalf. It is because of Jesus favour with God the Father that we receive the blessing of God’s presence. Like God’s people receiving the blessing of Moses relationship with God we receive the blessing of Jesus relationship with God as he is ‘God with us’. We receive t

We do not receive the curse of God’s absence if our faith is in Jesus. In Jesus we receive the blessing of God within us by His Spirit because of Jesus favour with the Father. It is through the another that we receive this blessing. Through our representative we receive something that we do not deserve.

 

 

Views of two special events

While they might be boring for some, ceremonies make fascinating viewing, they are often full of powerful symbolism and pageantry.

For the Israelites, the ordination of Aaron and his sons as priests and their consecration described in Exodus 29 must have been akin to a royal coronation.

Moses’ detailed account helps us feel like we are amongst the onlookers watching as the priests in their special garments are consecrated (set apart) for their important ministry and the  various sacrifices that are brought. As we can see – their role was not to be taken lightly – sacrifices were required to atone for sin in order to be presented as holy. The tent of meeting where God would speak to his people was also consecrated in a special way.

God set out what he required of his people before he would dwell amongst them:

42 It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. 43 There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. 44 I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. 45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. 46 And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.

Thankfully, through the Christ’s sacrifice on the cross we can draw near to God’s presence. But in the same way, our places of congregational worship and those seeking a priestly calling are still to be set apart for his holy purposes. Let us never forget to be praying for those who exercise a priestly function over us – that they may live holy lives worthy of their calling and that God would meet us as we gather together each week in our house of worship, that it will continue to be a ministry hub to the local community and give thanks for the sacrificial giving of God’s people over the years.

Luke 19:1-27 records for us a later spectacle – Jesus passing through the town of Jericho. A large crowd had gathered in the expectation of seeing something special. Amongst the crowd is Zacchaeus the tax collector.  He had come into wealth through questionable means. Despised by his community, no one was willing to offer him their vantage point and being of small stature he was forced to climb a tree in order to catch a view of Jesus. There were hundreds of faces looking at Jesus – but Jesus picked him out to host his travelling party. Many noses were put out of joint – how could this miracle worker and teacher of religion pick out such a sinner.

But Jesus saw something in Zacchaeus that others could not, and Zacchaeus saw something special in Jesus – it was an encounter his life was changed forever.

And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Let us be careful not to judge others and be a stumbling block to those who seek to come to Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Relationship not Rules …

Today’s Readings: Exodus 20:1-21 & Luke 14

Although my boys are well and truly grown men (one with 2 children of his own), if I close my eyes I can easily remember the years of parenting with my husband, from when they were babies, through the early years, adolescents, to young men leaving home; the conversations about what they could or couldn’t do; the responsibility we took for not just how we would live together but what it meant for us to live in relationship with each other, together as our ‘family’

The younger they were the more restricted the guidelines, but were these rules for rules sake? Certainly not. They were the expectations for what we considered to be how we would and could live in loving relationship … with all the challenges that life and parenting brought.

What we read today in the list of 10 Commandments, can, if we are not careful, simply be read as a list of rules to be obeyed. But this was not God’s intention, in the same way our intention as parents was never to simply provide a list of rules for our boys to obey to know they were loved.

This was about God setting down stipulations or requirements for what it meant for the Israelites, his chosen people … those set apart … to be in relationship with him, and as a direct result of this, how they were to relate to each other.

God had just delivered his people from Egypt and his expectation was that his people were to be steadfast and committed in their devotion to him. This is at the very heart of the covenant relationship.

You shall have no other God’s before me …. vs 3

You shall make no idols nor shall you bow down to them or worship them … vs 4

The rest of the commandments go on to set down the outworking of this love in how God expected his people to not only engage with one another – the orderly framework for society to function – but this was also about engaging the heart and mind. This was not just about outward obedience as coveting, the final commandment certainly demands a heart check response that could be difficult to ‘prove’ unless one act on the coveting.

In Matthew’s Gospel, the Pharisees try to test Jesus by asking the question:

‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’  Jesus replied: ‘Love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’  Matthew 22:36-40

Jesus reply to the Pharisees is a wonderful summary of how love of God must be first, but how it can never be isolated from our love of others.  If we truly love God, this will automatically be seen in the outworking of how we live life and engage with one another.  Not that any of this is easy, for Jesus in Luke’s Gospel spells this out in very clear terms.

And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:27

But we know we do this through the strength of the one who obediently went to the cross to bring us back into a relationship with God.  The words written in Hebrews are not just a great encouragement of faith, but make a great prayer. I encourage you to join with me, and make this your own personal prayer.

Therefore brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with sincere hearts in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscious and have our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and food deeds. Hebrews 10.19-23

KD

The nature of God communicated

Today’s FDRs are Exodus 15:32 to 16:36 and Luke 13:18-21

We see in today’s readings two very different aspects of God in His people’s lives.

The Old Testament reading records the early trip of the Israel nation after the Red Sea is allowed to close over the Egyptian army and its god-king Pharaoh.   Prior to this God’s actions are recorded as concentrating on trying to get the message across to Pharaoh that God was really in charge.  Note too that Exodus records in greater detail how God acts to only impact the Egyptians and to not inflict the plagues on the Israelites.

Now that the Israel’s oppressors are decimated, Exodus records God caring for His people.  Providing treated water for their drinking and a pleasant place to rest.  In today’s reading we see the provision of meat, quail, in the evening and bread, manna, in the morning.  Not just providing it but only in the quantities the people needed.  ( I marvel at the rancid worm filled food that manna becomes when too much is gathered and that double the portion is available prior to the prescribed day of rest.  Lasting for the two days.)  Here, in God’s Old Testament style of disclosure and His Grace, God communicates His own nature to the people of Israel by His care and provision

Today’s reading from Luke is a short study in Jesus’ role amongst us as well as a lesson in what God has prepared for His people.  That Jesus can speak of what the kingdom of God is like directly and by analogy speaks volumes about God’s will that we listen to His Son who speaks for Him.  No complex illustration is used here but two simple pictures.  One of a tiny seed of mustard growing into a huge tree that is a place of safety for God’s creatures.  The second of a small amount of yeast being the catalyst of the dough rising to great size.

We in the reformed Christian church argue that there is only one person, God’s Son Jesus, who is charged with communicating God’s will and nature to us.  We also acknowledge the existence of the Holy Spirit as God’s messenger to us individually.  His Spirit who is entrusted to guide us yet is part of the triune nature of our God. So we are capable, as believers in Christ, of learning from and obeying our one true almighty God.

May we do so with diligence.

Glenn

The meaning in ceremony.

I have a confession.

A painful one.

An embarrassing one (in some contexts at least).

Brace yourself…

I love a good Anglican prayer book church service.

There. It’s out. Feels better already.

It’s taken a long time to get to that point. Earlier in my life those same prayer book services drove me away from the church. To the teenage me they were boring, repetitive and meaningless.

Pomp without Purpose.

Ritual without Relevance.

Moments without Meaning.

Today, we read of the instructions for the passover in Exodus 12:1-28. Before jumping too quickly to consider the significance of the passover for Christians just stop for a moment to consider how this played out.

We know that the Israelites acted obediently (v27-28) and (SPOILER ALERT) that God did release the people from  Egypt.  There escape story is for the days that come but for now imagine the years between this story and the death of Jesus (which we will come to shortly).  Whether wanderers in the desert, inhabiters of the inherited land or aliens in exile the Israelites were to “obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance” (v24) and to pass the meaning of them onto their children. The ritual came with a story that carried much meaning.

No doubt across the centuries there were children and adults who stopped celebrating the passover, or at least stopped explaining it’s significance and meaning.  Yet some remained faithful not just to the ceremony but to the meaning. The story of God and his redemptive acts through the passover lamb, the story of how he rescued his people from slavery and liberated them to live together under his rule in the promised land… this story remained in the narrative of Jesus’ time.

It wasn’t a long lost story that Jesus played into, it was a known and experienced story which Jesus fulfilled.  In Mark 14 we see the size of this festival (v1-2) and the disciples total engagement in it (v12f).  At that passover, Jesus speaks of his own body and blood. His blood would be poured out for many. His disciples may well have remembered John the Baptists description of him as the ‘Lamb of God’ (John 1:29).  Regardless, Jesus takes all the meaning of the passover and shows himself as the new passover lamb who is rescuing God’s people from slavery and liberating them to live under his rule.

Take a moment this morning to remind yourself of the magnitude of the story in which we live – this incredible story of God redeeming the world, forgiving sin, and liberating his people for a new life and new purpose.  And next time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper together, allow its meaning to draw not only you, but those whom may ask the what and why questions, back into the grand story of our incredible God and his purpose for the world.