Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

Sermons, Devotions, and News from Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iola, WI

Thanksgiving Eve Service

Redeemer Lutheran Church invites you to join us for our Thanksgiving Service, held Wednesday, November 23rd at 6:30 PM.  You are welcome here!

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Feasting with God #56 – “Drinking My Tears”

Feasting with God #56 – “Drinking My Tears”

Text: Psalm 42:3-6a

“My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.”

Life is hard.  Bills to pay; money to earn to pay the bills; hours to work to earn the money to pay the bills.  And that’s just the difficulty of material things.  What about the difficulties of emotional distress?  What about depression, anxiety, and everything in-between?  And what about the difficulties of interpersonal relationships?  What about friends who are distant and unable to help, and enemies who are near and seeking actively to harm?  Or what about those oblivious people who are even nearer that aren’t actively seeking to harm you, but by their ignorance do more damage than enemies?

Amid this life of pain and tears, of dullness and apparent meaninglessness, the question is asked, not just by your enemies, but by your own soul, “Where is your God?”  Where is God during trial and hardship?  Why does God allow suffering?  These questions have tormented people for millennia.

This song of Psalm 42 sings of a memory amid suffering:

These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.

The memory of the singer is a sweet one, when he would dance in front of the mass of thousands of worshipers coming into God’s house, singing songs of praise to God, all eager and excited to come and worship, to receive the spiritual blessings of God.  The memory’s sweetness serves to make the current situation—he is away from the festivals of praise, he is suffering, he is surrounded by enemies and tormented by them—all the more bitter.  But the memory also serves to encourage him:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

Remembering the worship, the hymns he sang, the singer who suffers now encourages himself that he “shall again praise” God.  He recognizes that the situation of suffering in which he finds himself now is temporary, fleeting.  He had a foretaste of the eternal joy and glory he would experience when he worshiped.  The hymns he had sung told his soul that he would sing hymns of praise to God in heavenly bliss.  “Even in this life, we as Christians will travel showing that our citizenship is in heaven, that we’re bound for the promised land.  The Bible pictures our earthly life like a camping trip.  We are just tenting here as Israel did for forty years.  We are waiting to be free from the vanity of this prison house.  Therefore our hope and confidence are not based on how large our tents are here but on the fact that heavenly mansions are waiting for us.”[1]

Remember your worship when you go home.  Remember the hymns we sing, and the joyful message of salvation that they sing to you, melodiously providing the hope of your eternal life when you will sing to your Lord in heavenly bliss.  Let the notes of song lift you above this terrible existence, this foul campground, and provide you a glimpse of heavenly bliss.  Your God has become your salvation in the person of Jesus Christ, who died, taking all our bitter tears into himself, and rose into life amid the joyous song of angels just as we will rise into eternal life to join that angel song.

Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
Hold me with Thy pow’rful hand.
Bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more.

Open now the crystal fountain
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through.
Strong Deliverer, Be Thou still my Strength and Shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death, and hell’s destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises I will ever give to thee. Amen. (ELH 262)

[1] Gaylin Schmeling, “Our Citizenship is in Heaven,” From Wilderness to Promised Land (Mankato, MN: Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary Press, 2012), 114.

Feasting with God #55 – “The Rich Man and Lazarus”

Feasting with God #55

“The Rich Man and Lazarus”

Text: Luke 16:19-31

19“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.  20And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.  Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.  22The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.  The rich man also died and was buried, 23and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.  24And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’  25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.  26And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’  27And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—28for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’  29But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’  30And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  31He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise form the dead.’”

This is a concept that is found throughout Scripture’s teachings.  Jesus said it also when he told the disciples: “I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:24).  Paul likewise warned, “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world….  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim. 6:6-10).  And Jesus also stated, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, / but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matt. 4:4).

Countless times throughout Scripture this concept is repeated.  It is the concept of the man who sees his self-sufficiency and obtains what reward he can earn, and of the man who sees his need and obtains what reward is given freely.  Scripture does not say that it is impossible for a rich man to enter heaven, but instead, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).  This is what Abraham told the rich man in this account: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.”

Noticeably, the rich man does not like this answer, because he knows that his family will not accept this.  They, like him, are probably rich, relying on their wealth and comfort.  The rich man sees no need in himself.  Therefore he sees no need to have faith in anyone but himself.  The one who seeks his reward in earth will have his reward in earth, and nowhere else.

But the poor man, Lazarus, “who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table,” only the scraps, the most unworthy pieces, he sees how deep his own need is.  It is a constant illustration in his own life that he cannot save himself.  The Law has been and continues without stopping to be preached to his soul.  This left him in terror of hell, worrying that the fires of torment would come upon him.

The irony of the story is that the one who was full of comfort in his position found himself in torment, while the one who was tormented in his position found himself in comfort.  This can only be because, as Abraham says, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.”  The rich man did not heed the Word of God.  Lazarus did—that is the impression we are left with.

Human nature seeks to build a god and confidence in anything—anything—other than the pure Word of God.  It may be riches or wealth; it may be our own abilities; it may be our families, our love, our good feelings.  But none of these grant the assurance of salvation.  Instead, salvation is found most assuredly, certainly, without doubt, in Scripture, where we find one of these prophets pronouncing:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn. (Is. 61:1, 2).

To this, Jesus said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).  He is the fulfillment of all Scripture, the source, the climax, the one in whom we rely.  We could not save ourselves, but in hearing the Word of God, we see that he has already saved us.

Eternal God, our Savior Jesus Christ, give us grace to face temptations from all sides.  Remind us that you have already overcome all things for me, and are even now preparing a place for me at your side.  In your name we ask it.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #54 – Feeding God

Feasting with God #54

 Feeding God

Text: Numbers 28:1-8

1The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2“Command the people of Israel and say to them, ‘My offering, my food for my food offerings, my pleasing aroma, you shall be careful to offer to me at its appointed time.’  3And you shall say to them, This is the food offering that you shall offer to the Lord: two male lambs a year old without blemish, day by day, as a regular offering.  4The one lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight; 5also a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with a quarter of a hin of beaten oil.  6It is a regular burnt offering, which was ordained at Mount Sinai for a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the Lord.  7Its drink offering shall be a quarter of a hin for each lamb.  In the Holy Place you shall pour out a drink offering of strong drink to the Lord.  8The other lamb you shall offer at twilight.  Like the grain offering of the morning, and like its drink offering, you shall offer it as a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

If your family was like mine growing up, you had daily devotions.  Ours were always right after supper.  While we kids were squirming, anxious to get out and play with our friends, Dad took up the devotion book and read, sometimes including questions about the devotion, sometimes with a recitation of the Creed or Luther’s Small Catechism, always ending with prayer.  Maybe you do something similar each day.  Maybe this devotional series is part of your routine.

The daily devotional life of Israel centered around this core: each day, once in the morning and once in the evening, they sacrificed a perfect male lamb.  This sacrifice is presented in an interesting way: it’s called by God, “my food for my food offerings.”  Does God need food and drink?

In Egypt, the Israelites would have been surrounded by a polytheistic religion in which worshipers provided food to placate their gods, although more commonly the Egyptians left food offerings at the tombs of loved ones, so that they could be sustained in the afterlife.  In Canaan, the Israelites were to be confronted with religions that sought even more fervently to feed their gods, so that the gods would be happy with them.  Does the true God want the same thing?

In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, we state:

In Num. 28:4f. three parts of that daily sacrifice are repre­sented, the burning of the lamb, the libation, and the oblation of wheat flour.  The Law had pictures or shadows of future things.  Accordingly, in this spectacle Christ and the entire worship of the New Testament are portrayed.  The burning of the lamb signifies the death of Christ.  The libation signifies that everywhere in the entire world, by the preaching of the Gospel, believers are sprinkled with the blood of that Lamb, i.e., sanctified, as Peter says, 1 Pet. 1:2: Through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.  The oblation of wheat flour signifies faith, prayer, and thanksgiving in hearts.  As, therefore, in the Old Testament, the shadow is perceived, so in the New the thing signified should be sought, and not another type, as sufficient for a sacrifice. (Ap XXIV 36-37)

In the Old Testament, the people of God were in training.  They were learning as children the building blocks of their education, the alphabet and simple addition and subtraction.  So they were taught to understand that, for their sins, a daily—a double-daily—sacrifice of blood was required.  And the creature to be sacrificed had to be perfect.  Its blood had to be given to God, and its meat burned.  Fine flour had to be offered as well, bread with the meat.  God thereby used a picture that they would have been familiar with to teach them: they would have been well acquainted with the idolatrous practices of placating gods with food offerings.  The true God informs them that, yes, indeed, there does need to be placation for sin.

But this was all training.  It’s fulfillment came in Christ, the ultimate perfect “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  His death, and no longer he burning of a lamb each day, took away all sins once and for all.  And as though to say, “I no longer need this food, for all wrath is turned away; therefore instead I give you this wonderful food,” God gives us, not the blood of animals, but “the blood of Christ,” and not the flour of fine wheat, but “the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:16).  To turn away God’s wrath, Jesus gave him the final offering.  And now we are given the blessed feast.

Lord, we thank you that, through the offering and sacrifice of your Son, you have turned away all wrath for our sins, and even more have given us the undeserved gift of a heavenly feast.  Let us receive this gift worthily, with believing hearts, and therefore be strengthened by it in faith and love, until we may finally come to your kingdom, where we will partake of the blessed heavenly banquet in eternity.  In your Son’s name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

March 25 is Christmas?

At Redeemer, we’ll be celebrating the Incarnation and the Death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the same day: March 25th.  Learn why from this video by a church in our fellowship:

Join us at 6:30 p.m. on March 25th to learn more.

Feasting with God #53 – Israel, the Lioness in the Wilderness

Feasting with God #53

“Israel, the Lioness in the Wilderness”

 

Text: Numbers 23:18-24

18And Balaam took up his discourse and said,
“Rise, Balak, and hear:
            give ear to me, O son of Zippor:
19God is not man, that he should lie,
            or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
            Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
20Behold, I received a command to bless:
            he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it.
21He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob,
            nor has he seen trouble in Israel.
The Lord their God is with them,
            and the shout of a king is among them.
22God brings them out of Egypt
            and is for them like the horns of the wild ox.
23For there is no enchantment against Jacob,
            no divination against Israel;
now it shall be said of Jacob and Israel,
            ‘What has God wrought!’
24Behold, a people!  As a lioness it rises up
            and as a lion it lifts itself;
it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey
            and drunk the blood of the slain.”

God has been very strict with his people as they wandered through the wilderness.  Even a toe out of line, and his discipline was upon them.  At the same time, they felt his grace as well, for even though they grumbled, he continued to provide them with miraculous food and victory over enemies.  But it may have been difficult for them to see the big picture—why was God doing things this way? why did he demand this or that sort of behavior? why did he provide this or that specific blessing?  Well, now Moses gives us a glimpse into the perspectives of outsiders.

Balak, king of Moab, saw how Israel was coming and conquering all the surrounding nations, and sought a way to remove the threat.  He sent Balaam to lay a curse on them.  But Balaam, being warned by an angel (and by his donkey; Num. 22:22-41), had to tell Balak that the Israelites could not be cursed by him, because God had predestined them for a higher purpose.

Leading Israel through the wilderness, through such a difficult terrain and such mighty effort, God was directing them toward a goal: yes, they would take the land of Canaan, but if that were all, then the dispute would be between men and nations.  Balak could then certainly have come to God and said, “Why should they have this land.  Why not I?  I could obey you, and not grumble against you.”  And God would be left in his court to weigh the options between different men for who should have the right to a scrap of land.

And this is going on in the world right now.  How tumultuous isn’t the land of Palestine—the Israelis think it is theirs, because God promised it to their forefathers; the Muslims think it is theirs, because their Qur’an claims that it was given to them, to replace the Jews; and the Christians believe it is theirs, or that they should restore it to the Jews, because of some strange, worldly readings of New Testament passages.  But God isn’t worried about some parcel of land.  God “has blessed, and I cannot revoke it.”  His people, under his care and guidance, are an unstoppable force, accomplishing his purposes.  “God brings them out of Egypt / and is for them like the horns of the wild ox.”  He charges forward toward his goal, so that this magnificent people is like “a lioness” rising up: “it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey / and drunk the blood of the slain.”  The nation of Israel would, under God’s might, accomplish his purposes for them.

And his purpose culminated in this: the blessing God pronounced on Israel was all rooted in the original promise given to Abraham their forefather: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:2-3).  Through Abraham’s descendants would come a blessing for “all the families of the earth.”  But those who pronounced a curse against God’s people (such as what Balak wanted to do) would be excluded from this blessing.  And this blessing came about in Abraham’s offspring: “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2).  The people of Israel themselves, “not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth…desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:13-16).  Thus the true, full Promised Land, is the one provided by Jesus Christ, who died to win it for us, and ascended, declaring the purpose: “I go and prepare a place for you, [and] I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3).

Come, Lord Jesus, and bring us to the heavenly place you have prepared for us.  Through your death, it is ours.  Forgive us our sins, therefore, and clothe us in your righteousness, so that we may take possession of our heavenly Promised Land.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Reblog: “Which Candidate Should I Support?”

This article was originally posted by Rev. Paul Fries on the Evangelical Lutheran Synod‘s website.  All rights reserved.

Political battles are being waged throughout our country. Who will be the party nominees? Who will be the next president? There are many issues deeply dividing our country that are concerning to all. Christians wonder which candidate they should support. God doesn’t tell us.

As Christians, we are citizens of two kingdoms: the kingdom of the left (this world—in whichever city or country we live) and the kingdom of the right (the Christian Church). It’s difficult to balance those two kingdoms in our lives since they often intersect and occasionally collide in opposition. What are we to do in a rage-filled political battle like the one currently being waged in the United States?

When it comes to politics, one concern of Christians should be to conduct ourselves in a manner that does not bring shame upon Christ and His Church. It is our thankful response to God to obey all of His commandments, to love our enemies, and to let ourconduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27). With those things in mind, we can enter into discussions respecting the views of others even when we strongly disagree with them.

As Christians, we cannot expect everyone to believe as we do. Our views on everything in life should be informed by our faith and seen through eyes focused on the cross. A different political view does not mean someone is not a Christian. They may have a very strong faith and yet support a candidate with some views inconsistent with Christianity for a wide variety of reasons. God does not require a political candidate to be a Christian.

As a citizen of the United States, you have the privilege of speaking your mind about political issues and candidates. As a Christian, be careful of the manner in which you speak your mind. As in all things, we must be patient with others and try to understand their views. When it comes to issues that contradict God’s teachings, we must stand firm in the truth of God’s Word above all else.

As a Christian, you are a citizen of two kingdoms. But only one of those kingdoms is eternal. Jesus has earned your citizenship in His kingdom by His perfect life and innocent death. And we live our lives in love and thanks for His mercy.

Which candidate should you support? You must decide according to your conscience. But note what God does say about political leaders: It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes (Psalm 118:9).

-Rev. Paul Fries

For more information on the government’s God-given duties as well as your responsibilities toward the government, read the passages under “Civil Government” in the Table of Duties in Luther’s Small Catechism.

Feasting with God #52 – Striking the Rock of the Lord

Feasting with God #52

Striking the Rock of the Lord

Text: Numbers 20:10-13

10Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?”  11And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock.  12And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”  13These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quar­reled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.

This marks the moment when Moses himself lost the right to enter into the Promised Land.  But what exactly happened?

Israel had been wandering a long time.  Over and over and over again they grumbled and accused Moses of leading them astray.  Even that great prophet had a limit to his patience, and now it was drawn quite thin.  He’d had enough.  God told him what to do in this instance: specifically, “tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water” (Num. 20:8).  But the spiritual leader of Israel was so emotionally worked up that, instead of speaking to the rock, ye shouted at the people: “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” and he “struck the rock with his staff twice.”

A similar occasion happened some time previously.  The people needed drink, and God commanded Moses to strike a rock (“Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink,” Exodus 17:6), out of which poured water for all the Israelites.  Paul exposes the meaning of this rock: “For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4).

What Paul means is that this miraculous water-bearing rock was a sacrament—a holy thing given by God to grant his grace and holiness to the people.  It reminds us of two New Testament sacraments: The first is the sacrament of water, the “washing of regeneration” (Tit. 3:5), baptism.  Just as water poured out of a rock for the Israelites, bringing with it God’s grace, so when we were baptized, water poured over us and brought God’s grace upon us.  The second is the sacrament which includes drinking, as Jesus said, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:27-28).  Just as the Israelites drank the liquid that came from the side of the rock (which was Christ), so we drink the blood that came from Jesus’ side on the cross in the Lord’s Supper.

When Jesus instituted his Supper, he gave it so that his disciples would take the blessings of his death: Jesus died to pay for the sins of the world and to bring forgiveness to all.  He told his disciples, therefore, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).  From that moment on, whenever the Supper was celebrated in the way Jesus instituted it, the very blood he shed on the cross and the very body born of Mary was present, with the forgiveness and grace he earned.  Just like Paul said, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).  In short, Jesus instituted his Supper and sealed it with the violent action of his death, and thereafter all that was needed to receive the same blessings are the words to accompany the materials.

This is what Moses should have understood regarding the rock in the wilderness.  That rock foreshadowed the blessings that would come from Christ Jesus.  Therefore when it was first given to the people, it was accompanied by the violent action of the staff striking its side.  But the second time, God wanted his people to know that he had already provided for them, and hereafter his providence was accompanied only by the words.  This principle was recorded later by Moses: “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:3).

But Moses sought to impress the people, to wow them, to shock them into obedience, so he resacrificed the rock, deciding that God’s words weren’t enough.  He asked the people, “shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” as though it were an act that he, their spiritual leader, were to perform, not an act that God performed through him.

This occasion was something God intended as an act of grace, for although the people were rebellious and quarreling, he wished to provide for them.  Moses, as spiritual leader, ought to have performed the duty of dimply enacting God’s wishes for the people.  Instead, he took it upon himself to add to it.  Let this never be so among us.  Instead, let us take God at his word, and realize that his Word is powerful.  Specifically, his Word is powerful to save: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).

Lord, lead us ever to trust in you, and never in our own works.  Even though our patience may be running thin, even though we may wish to see action and immediate answer to our prayers, guide us to see that the power of salvation we receive is from you and your Word.  Lead us to see this Word for the great blessing that it is, and give us thankful hearts that appreciate this gift; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #51 – Contributing the Best of It

Feasting with God #51

Contributing the Best of It

Text: Numbers 18:29-32

29“‘Out of all the gifts to you, you shall present every contribution due to the Lord; from each its best part is to be dedicated.’  30Therefore you shall say to them, ‘When you have offered from the best of it, then the rest shall be counted to the Levites as produce of the threshing floor, and as produce of the winepress.  31And you may eat it in any place, you and your households, for it is your reward in return for your service in the tent of meeting.  32And you shall bear no sin by reason of it, when you have contributed the best of it.  But you shall not profane the holy things of the people of Israel, lest you die.’”

The Levites were appointed as the priests of the people of Israel; they made the necessary sacrifices and preached the Word of God.  But while all the other tribes would receive a portion of land to which they were coming, the tribe of Levi received nothing.  While all the others had an income, the Levites were those who served the people spiritually.  Therefore God instituted the system of tithing: 1/10 of the people’s livestock and possessions was to be donated to the Levites to support them.

This generosity could easily have gone to the heads of the Levites, so God made an additional demand: “Out of all the gifts to you, you shall present every contribution due to the Lord; from each its best part is to be dedicated.”  The animals that were brought to the Levites were slaughtered, butchered, divided in pieces, and the choice pieces, the most delicious, were to be burned for God.  The priests then were able to keep what was left over.

Perhaps your parents, like mine, trained you to give to church 1/10 of your income.  It’s a good practice, if the correct mindset accompanies the practice.  Two stories from Scripture illuminate the sort of “tithing” God wants.

First is the story of Ananias and his wife Sapphira.  These two became members of the Christian faith, and so were doing their duty to support the Christian church.  And they were property owners.  They sold some property, and gave some of the proceeds to the church, keeping some of it for themselves.  But sinfully, they reported that they had donated all of their gain.  What motivated the lie?  Probably they wished to appear more generous than they actually were in the eyes of the other Christians.  But as St. Peter said, “You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4).

Second, the story of Cain and Abel.  “Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.  And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard” (Gen. 4:3-5).  Cain brought out of obligation, but Abel brought “the firstborn” and “their fat portions.”  He brought the best.

You are probably familiar with the catchphrase, “God loves a cheerful giver.”  It comes from Scripture: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).  Tithing is a great practice—but it is no longer a command!  Even at the time of Israel’s wanderings through the wilderness, do you think God loved the thought of the Levites begrudgingly taking the most mouthwatering pieces of their income and burning them for God?

God commanded that the best be given to him, not so that the Levites would resent him.  God never commands behavior simply for behavior’s sake.  God wanted the attitude that is connected with the behavior.

Consider the situation of Israel: they were wandering in a desert, living in tents, no place to call home—they were on their way to the place they would call home.  Recall how they complained, virtually every step of the way, that maybe what they had was better than what they were promised.  God had a plan for them, a plan to bring them to a Promised Land flowing with milk and honey, a plan that would lead eventually to the birth of the one who would save all mankind.  God wanted the eyes of these Israelites not to be turned backward, toward their bondage, toward the paltry material possessions that they could earn; he wanted them turned forward, toward their liberty, toward the glorious blessings he would provide.  What better way to cause such a mindset than for the Israelites to give up the best of their material possessions.

That is what our offerings do.  When we put our check in the plate at church, it’s not because the church is a moneymaking industry.  It’s because we are learning to forsake these material blessings in favor of eternal, spiritual ones—a lesson that needs regular reinforcement.  Our eyes are focused on the divine, on the spiritual.  We give, not because we are commanded to, not because we must appease a wrathful God.  We give because we have received something infinitely better than these physical things.  God’s own Son—who was God himself!—died on a cross to pay the price for our sins.  This perfect blessing is ours.  What is there that we would prefer to hold onto other than this?

Lord Jesus, keep our eyes ever fixed on you, and the eternal blessings we have won from you.  Although we are also blessed by you with many earthly blessings, let us view these as only a trust from you, of which we are guardians, until we receive our eternal reward.  Lead us to ever more thankful hearts, and guide us to see your blessings in all things.  In your name we ask it.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #50 – Why Not This Other Land?

Feasting with God #50

Why Not This Other Land?

The Destruction of Korah and His Rebellion (Num. 16:31-35)

 

Text: Numbers 16:13-14

13“Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flow­ing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us? 14Moreover, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards.  Will you put out the eyes of these men?  We will not come up.”

It seems like the entire 40-year journey through the wilderness was nothing but complaining, complaining, and more complaining from the Israelites. Now, some from the tribe of Reuben and from the tribe of Levi rose up with a party of 250 men to overthrow Moses.

Notice how they complained. In the first promise God made about the Promised Land, he said, “I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8).  The description of this Promised Land certainly made it sound appealing.  So these Reubenites certainly wanted such a land.  But how they specifically wanted this fulfilled was in the land of Egypt itself.  Moses brought them out of Egypt at the Lord’s direction, and they complained, “you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey”!  Because they didn’t get what they wanted, they complain that they would prefer slavery in Egypt to the promise of God.

Compare how Jesus was received: on Palm Sunday he rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, and the people shouted joyfully, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:9).  They recognized him as the Lord’s true prophet, the Son of David, the one who would bring salvation—much in the same way that the Israelites were pleased to follow Moses, another true prophet of the Lord, in all his directions and in his overthrow of the Egyptian enslavement.

If we track what Jesus did the following week in Jerusalem, he cleansed the temple, cursed a fig tree, made the chief priests and elders look like fools, told parables that called attention to the people’s unbelief and wickedness, stated that the people should pay taxes to Caesar and the oppressive Roman government, demonstrated the ignorance of the Pharisees, pronounced woes upon the Pharisees and Sadducees, lamented over Jerusalem and foretold the destruction of the temple and the end of the world, and declared that judgment would come upon the unbelievers. In short, Jesus made a lot of people angry, because he wouldn’t tell them what they wanted to hear.

Likewise, Moses, under the Lord’s direction, prescribed worship and laws for the people, focused the Israelites away from their selfish wishes and toward lives lived to God. The Reubenites probably had the added complaint that this man from the tribe of Levi (Moses) was leading them, those who were of the tribe of the oldest brother Reuben.  They thought that they should be the ruling tribe, that they should have that right.  They accused Moses of trying to blind them to what was really happening: “Will you put out the eyes of these men?”

We hear the same complaints today. “The Bible isn’t a science textbook.”  “The God of the Old Testament was hateful and unmerciful.”  “The Bible promotes slavery.”  All these complaints ultimately come down to one: “God isn’t telling me what I want to hear.”

We have been promised a greater land than the physical region given to the nation of Israel. Our Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey, will surpass anything we can conceive.  On this earth we are wandering as through a wilderness.  What madness could overtake us to look at what is promised and instead say to God, “Why not give us this as our Promised Land instead?”  Let’s not be so arrogant to think that we know what God should give us.  Instead, simply have quiet, receptive faith.

At the end of the week that began with Palm Sunday Jesus was betrayed by those he had angered and brought to his death. But praise the Lord!  That death was used by God as the means to accomplish the things he had promised.  Although people want certain earthly things (the overthrow of this or that government figure, certain rights or authority, the message and teaching we want to hear), God provides far greater things.  Through the death of his Son, he accomplished our eternal salvation, won for us a heavenly inheritance as sons of God.

Faith in this Savior, the reception of God’s grace for the eternal life won for us, that is the single greatest blessing we should seek from God—Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). Through patient faith in God, he blesses us eternally, and also temporally, in ways we may never even expect.  Have confidence in the blessed fact that God loves us and will care for us as he sees fit in his omniscience and omnipotence.

Dear Lord, we trust in your promises, and we know that you will fulfill them for us. Let us not be distracted by other things, our selfish wants and lusts.  Instead, lead us to ever stronger faith in you, not pride or arrogance of ourselves.  You have promised us eternal life on account of your Son’s sacrificial death and glorious resurrection from the dead.  Give us what you have promised.  We ask it in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission.  All rights reserved.