A Kingdom of Forgiven Priests (Story Notes #6)

GoldCalfMy church is, across all departments, going through The Story, a chronological, abridged edition of the Bible that takes you through the story of Scripture from Genesis to the end of Acts in 31, novel-like chapters. It’s a fun project that’s challenging me to deal with narrative sections, teach large chunks at a clip, and point my kids to Christ throughout the whole redemptive-historical story-line of the text.

That said, it seemed worth it to start posting my notes for these talks on a regular basis. It might happen every week, or not, depending on how helpful I think it is, or time constraints. My one request is that you remember these are pretty rough notes and I’m teaching my students, not a broader audience.

Things get screwy when you forget who you are–even for a little bit. For instance, when a poor college kid forgets that he’s a poor college kid, and acts like a rich one–well, that looks like years of credit card debt. The same thing is true for Christians who forget their identity–it can look ugly. Tonight we’re looking at the story of Israel getting its primary identity, and as we look at that, we’ll learn something about our own identity as a Kingdom of Forgiven Priests.

Recap – Now, at this point in the story, God has already set the Israelites free. God basically kicked the Egyptians butts by sending ten plagues from everything like flies, to hailstorms to boils to killing the firstborn in every household and so finally the Pharoah let the people Go (Sunday school style). Yeah, and so Moses led them out of Egypt into the desert and here’s where we pick up in verse 1

Text – Exodus 19:1-6

A Kingdom of Priests — Ok, so here we are at the base of the mountain and God here is about to make his covenant with the Israelites. He’s about to make the deal that will make the Israelites his people and he tells them that if they will be his people, if they will keep his covenant, his ordinances and worship him, then the nation of Israel will be for him “A Kingdom of Priests and a holy nation.”

Here we see what God was up to in saving the Israelites. He saved them out of slavery to Pharoah in order that they could be free to be for him a “Kingdom of Priests and a Holy nation.” He saved them for a task. He saved them so that they might serve God his priests, so that they might be a holy nation “out of all the nations.”

In this context, what does it mean to be a priest? Well, in the ancient world and even today, a priest was someone who stood between God and the rest of the people. He was the person who represented God to man and brought man to God. He was the go-between, the representative, the middleman. He taught people the ways of God and led the people in the worship of God. If you wanted to know what a god was like, you’d go check out his priest.

So, what does it mean for God to call an entire nation to be his “Kingdom of Priests”? Well, God is calling these people, to be his representatives to the world. They were to be a nation that taught the rest of the world what God was like. Like Adam in the Garden, they were to live in a way that revealed God to his world.

Israel and the Church

Ok, now, if you have your Bibles I want you to go to 1 Peter 2:9. Fast-forward from Moses about a thousand years to about the year 60 something A.D. Peter, one of the first followers of Jesus is writing a letter of encouragement to Jewish and Gentile Christians, the beginnings of the Church scattered throughout Asia Minor who are possibly suffering persecution and whatnot. Towards the beginning of the letter here in chapter 2 verse 9 he drops this statement:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy…Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

Hold on there, did you hear that first part? “But you are a chosen people, A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, belonging to God that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Do you see what Peter is doing here? He’s writing to this early Christian community composed of both Gentiles and Jews and invokes the Exodus text about the Israelites to apply it now to the community that has formed around the person of Jesus.

He tells this group that they are now to be to Jesus, what the Israelites had been for God back in the day. They are to be the people who declare the praises of “Him” who called them out of darkness into his marvelous light. Just as the Israelites were supposed to do this for the God revealed himself in the Exodus, the church is supposed to do this for that same God who revealed himself in Jesus.

This happens in two basic ways, both in the OT and in the NT:

1. Living Good Lives Among the Pagans — See, in just a chapter, Moses is going to lay down the 10 commandments (and the rest of the commands of the covenant) that express God’s expectations for the relationship. As Israel obeys those commands and observes them, the world begins to see what God is like.

It’s kind of like in your family, you have family rules. When you find out about your friends house-rules growing up, you find out about their parents. Are they uptight? Relaxed? Fun? Organized? Etc. In the same way, God’s commands are the house-rules that reflect God himself. That’s because those commands are not just arbitrary rules that God makes up, but expressions of his character. So, when you look at the commands they begin to tell you about what he’s like:

1-3 God demands we worship no other gods, we worship him and honor him properly because he cares about true relationship.

4. God tells us to rest because he is the creator and wants us to trust in him.

5. He wants us to honor our parents, and respect the authority by which the world functions.

6. Lying about our neighbors destroys the fabric of love and respect he wants for the world.

7. Stealing is the opposite of the generosity which characterizes the Creator God.

8. Murder is the opposite of the God who gives life.

9. Adultery is an affront to the value God places on relationships and promise-keeping.

10. Coveting reflects an ingratitude and lack of contentment that denies God’s provision.

The point is, in each of these commands you see something about the world and the God who made it. As Israel lives out these commands, the pagan nations around them find out something about the God that they worship. They would see that the God of Israel had just and wise laws and so was a just and wise God.

The same is true for us. As we live good, just, patient, honest lives in front of our neighbors, they should see something about the God we worship. It should be the kind of thing where, even though they don’t believe in God, or agree with our beliefs, they should be glad we’re their neighbors because of the lives we live with them.

Problem –  The problem is that Israel sucks at this. I mean, really, royally sucks at this. They hear the law, agree to it in a very sacred ceremony, and then Moses goes up the mountain for a 40 day to get the law on Tablets. In the middle of that, Israel get’s antsy and decides, “You know, let’s make an idol. That sounds like just what we need. Let’s get an idol.” Of course, right at the front of the list of commands is, “no idols”, right? Now, as usually happens, when you start worshiping other things, other sins follow. All idolatry leads to immorality somehow. In this case, they start partying, doing weird, freaky sexual stuff, and just getting crazy.

Now, I read this and kinda shake my head, but that’s totally me, right? I mean, I’ll be at church one minute, and then next I’m cursing somebody out in my car, or hating my neighbor, or back at that same sinful pattern I’ve been trying to break. I don’t know what it is for you. Maybe it’s being at that party. The blunt in hand. Blacked out again. Sinfully controlling people around you. Lying to make yourself look better. Disrespecting your parents. Coveting and comparing yourself to your neighbor. Murdering people in your heart.

So, how are we supposed to be priests if we’re caught up in all of this? How do we represent God to the world if half the time we look just like them?

2.  Singing His Praises For Salvation. This leads us to the next way we show the world what God is like. Its something that comes up, not so much in the text of the chapter, but in all the chapters that the Story cuts out. See, over next chunk of Exodus, and the whole book of Leviticus, God lays out a pattern for worshiping him, the other key task of the priests.

“And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.(Exodus 25:8, ESV)” Just like in the Garden, God wants to dwell with his people. He gives laws for how the Tabernacle, the traveling tent in which God met with Moses should be made. If you study it, it’s gorgeous and intricate, in-laid with all kinds of craftsmanship. Beyond that, it goes through in painstaking detail the processes involved in dwelling and worshiping the holy God. There is chapter after chapter about how to deal with ceremonial issues, and at the center of them all stands the chapter on the Day of Atonement.

See, God gives the people of God his laws, but the fundamental truth about Israel is that it can’t keep it. Inevitably, they will fail to obey God’s commands and so for them to maintain right relationship, God institutes the sacrificial system in order to deal with that. The sacrificial system teaches two truths simultaneously: God wants relationship with us, and our sin gets in the way of that. God’s holy and perfect character is opposed to our sin, while still loving us.  Throughout the system of sacrifice we see that God is totally holy, perfect, righteous, and will not tolerate sin. And yet, he loves sinners and wants to be near them, so he provisionally accepts sacrifices in their place to pay for their sins.

In the sacrifices, there were multiple levels of meaning going on, but at the heart of it was the recognition that sin deserves death. As the worshiper brought the animal to be slaughtered, they were basically saying, “God, through my sin I’ve chosen to reject you, the source of life, which deserves death. Through sin, I’ve chosen to break relationship with you, the source of life, so I shouldn’t have life with you.” And God accepted that animal in their place.

Thing is, all of this points to the Gospel of Jesus at multiple levels. In Jesus, God makes a way for the relationship to work. In Jesus, God comes near to us despite all of our failures and all of our inability to perfectly keep the Law. Jesus is God in the flesh, coming near to dwell with us. It is God saying, “I know what you’re like. I know you can’t pull this off, or make this relationship work, so I’ll go ahead and ensure it.” And so Jesus goes to the Cross, and actually substitutes himself for us to pay for our sins as they deserve, without destroying us in the process.

So, in the sacrificial system we see why we worship. We worship because God has come near in Jesus and saved us from sin and guilt, and set us free to live for him. And there’s a holy irony about it: when you see God’s grace towards you in Christ, forgiving you for your failure to keep the commands, you begin to worship him more, and the reverse of the idolatry pattern kicks in: you start to obey more.

And this is the pattern that we model to the world. We show the world who God is in our obedience, our praise to God for his mercy on our disobedience, and our renewed love and gratitude for him in that.

What does this Look like? A lot of things, but it includes people who praise God by obeying and singing about his forgiveness for the times they fail. People who strive to live holy lives in front of the world around them. People who are honest about their failure to one another. People who are gracious when others do the same. It looks like a Kingdom of Forgiven Priests.

Soli Deo Gloria

God v. The gods in the Exodus (The Story Notes #5)

moses and ramses

My church is, across all departments, going through The Story, a chronological, abridged edition of the Bible that takes you through the story of Scripture from Genesis to the end of Acts in 31, novel-like chapters. It’s a fun project that’s challenging me to deal with narrative sections, teach large chunks at a clip, and point my kids to Christ throughout the whole redemptive-historical story-line of the text.

That said, it seemed worth it to start posting my notes for these talks on a regular basis. It might happen every week, or not, depending on how helpful I think it is, or time constraints. My one request is that you remember these are pretty rough notes and I’m teaching my students, not a broader audience.

Text: Exod. 3

We come here to the story of the Exodus. If you’ve seen the 10 Commandments or the Prince of Egypt, or just grown up in Sunday School, you know what I’m talking about. Thing is, as far as the Bible goes, there are few books, or stories more important than this one. The story of the Exodus shapes the rest of the story to come, and the Gospel as a whole. While we can’t hit all of it tonight, I want us to see a few key points that you need to grasp if you’re going to understand the Exodus and really the Gospel itself.

So, what we’re going to do is answer three questions: What does God do in the Exodus? How does he do it? What’s the result?

Re-Cap – But first, let’s do a little recapping. So, last week we saw that Joseph led his family down into Egypt and life was good. It was good for a long time but then, his family grew and started becoming a mighty nation, so a later Pharoah enslaved them and put them to work. This last for hundreds of years and it was generally a horrible time. After about 400 years of this, things got interesting.

Pharaoh decided to kill all the little boys of the Hebrews in order to curb the population. It didn’t work too well, but one little Hebrew boy in particular was saved and, through a quirky chain of events, was adopted by Pharaoh’s sister/niece. He was named Moses. So, this Moses was a Hebrew, raised as an Egyptian in the household of Pharaoh. After he grew up, there came a point when he began to be burdened by the plight of his people. He ended up killing a guard who was beating a Hebrew slave, and it kinda looks like he might have been trying to save his people, so, the current Pharaoh got pissed and Moses had to run away.

Moses ran away to the desert, met a family, married a girl and then worked as a shepherd for 40 years. And that’ where we pick up the story.

What Does God Do? Now we can start to answer the question, what does God do? He reveals Himself in Saving Israel. That’s something you need to understand. God’s beating heart in saving Israel is that people would know him for who he is, the saving God who keeps covenants, unlike all the false gods. So God drafts Moses to head up this effort.

Encounter w/ Moses in Genesis 3

There’s a lot going on here, but the big thing is God’s revelation of his name. See, Moses asks him, “What should I call you?” In Egyptian theology, to know a god’s name is to know how he works. Well, God wants Israel know him for who he is so he gives them the name ‘I am that I am.’ That tells them a few things:

  • You can’t control me. I’ll give you a name, but the name just tells you that as opposed to all the gods you know, the God who promised your ancestors is the real God.
  • It also tells us that  “I’m faithful and you can count on me. You can’t know me fully, but I do want to be known by you.”

God wants to be known for who he is, not the false, silly ideas we make up about him. He wants Israel to know hims as faithful, sovereign, and good. And so he goes on to tell Moses that he will make himself known in saving Israel, through the Exodus.

So how does God do it?

How Does God do it? Well, what stands in the way of Israel’s knowing him? Two things: Pharaoh/gods & the Israelite’s own guilt.

a. Judging the gods – The first great obstacle in Israel not knowing who God was her slavery to Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt. Israel was tempted to doubt, or fail to see God for who he is because they enslaved or overpowered by other gods, other dominating forces in their lives. And this is true of us. When there’s something in our lives that just seems to own us (slavery to porn, to relationship, work, etc.) we’re tempted to doubt God, right? Or maybe, if it’s something we like, we’re just tempted to not even look for him, right? I mean, this other little god, this thing is good enough, so why go looking?

God knows this, and so He moves to dominate the false gods of Egypt, to show that these false pretender gods are no match for his glory. That’s what most of this account is about: a demonstration of God’s power, God’s true supremacy over the false gods of the Egyptians who claimed power, including Pharaoh. It starts with Moses encounter with Pharaoh and the staffs.

1. The Rod – Moses goes to tell Pharaoh to let God’s people go, and he puts forward God’s staff as a symbol of authority. Now, the rod, in Egypt was a symbol of royal, god-like power. So, Moses throws his down and it turns into a snake. Pharaoh has the magicians do the same thing. Then, Moses’ snake eats the other snakes demonstrating that the rod that Moses bears is a true symbol of authority, God’s authority. Pharaoh still won’t acknowledge the Lord.

2. The plagues – In the same way, the rest of the plagues are a demonstration of God’s power. The Nile river had a god attached to it, as it was the source of life for the whole Delta, but the God of Israel turns it to blood. From there, all the rest of the plagues with animals, boils, etc. are systematically taking apart the pantheon and showing his total sovereignty over nature and everything in it. You can see this again, especially in the blotting out of the Sun, “You think Ra is the sun-god? Watch me turn off my lamp for a few days.” Still, every time, Pharaoh hardens his heart and refuses to listen to God in his stubbornness.

3. The death of the firstborn – Finally, this comes to it’s climax in the terrible judgment on the firstborn of Egypt and we see clearly God’s intent to reveal himself in judging the god’s of Egypt:

12:12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord

See, Pharoah had exercised the power of life and death over Israel’s firstborn, slaughtering an entire generation of them. Now God claims the firstborn of Egypt in recompense and judgment on the arrogance of Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt, showing that He is the true lord of life and death.

God will, over and over again judge the gods in your life, eventually showing you the way they either enslave your, or fail you. (Story of God exposing a false god in my life.) God will show you that every other god fails and is false. He will judge it and you need to pray for that, because in the end, the true God is what you need. He is the one who will not fail. He is only one who can satisfy your soul and save you in the day of trouble.

But that’s not the only way he reveals himself.

b. Showing Mercy to Israel — See, the other problem of was that Israel was guilty of sin and idolatry as well. We’ve already kind of gotten there, but while they were in the land and there is every indication that they had sinned and worshipped foreign gods as well. So, in The Passover God gives them a way of escaping the judgment they deserved.

The destroyer was coming through all of Egypt that night. While in most of the other plagues, God was separating out Israel from Egypt, to demonstrate his intent, here he would not. The destroyer would come through and take the firstborn in all of Egypt. As we talked about last week, the firstborn represented the hope and future of the whole family. To take them was atonement for the sin of the people. But God was gracious and so he told them that if they would take a Lamb, slaughter and put the blood over the doorway, they’d be saved. (For those concerned, there are hints that the Egyptians had the chance to put blood on their doorpost as well, if they had learned to fear the God of Israel at that point.)

He was saying to them, “I’m going to set you free, but realize that I know you are culpable as well. You’ve been willingly worshipping false gods that enslave you. And that deserves judgment. Instead, I will show mercy and deal with your sin by accepting this lamb in your place.” And so, through the judgment on the Firstborn and the Passover, God revealed himself by saving Israel. In that one act, Pharaoh and the gods were judged, and Israel’s sins were forgiven in mercy.

Of course, that’s how he reveals himself to us as well, through Jesus Christ. See, Jesus Christ is the Passover lamb that was slain, and in his death and resurrection is the judgment on all the false gods that enslave us. His death and resurrection reveal the powerful, merciful God who saves us.

3. What is the result?  So what is the result? We are set free from slavery to false gods, to worship/serve the real God. See, God kept on telling Pharaoh to let Israel go so that they could ‘serve’ him. That word is the Hebrew ‘avodah.’ It can mean serve, or worship. In the end, it’s the same thing. The point is, God wasn’t setting Israel free so they could go off and do their own thing. He set them free from Egypt so that they could come and serve him, worship him, ultimately, to be in relationship with himself.

That is true of us. God doesn’t set you free from false gods, just to go off and do your own thing. He sets you free for relationship with himself. To serve him because serving him is the only true freedom there is. Of course, this only happens though when you see God for who he is in the Gospel: Powerful. Real. True. Covenant-keeping. Just. Merciful. Gracious. Loving.  Basically, all the things we see in Jesus.

And when you see that, the only fitting response is to worship, to serve him with your whole self.

Soli Deo Gloria

Moses = Mini-Israel = Jesus (Or, Theological Inception)

inceptionOne principle of Christian theological interpretation of Scripture is the practice of identifying typology. To over-simplify it, in the flow of redemptive-history, the sovereign God who ordains all things, prefigures the salvation to be accomplished through Jesus Christ by way of types (events, persons, symbols) to which Jesus Christ’s person and works are the anti-type.

For instance, Adam points to Jesus as Second Adam through whom God is creating a new humanity (Romans 5; 1 Corinthians 15). Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son Isaac points to the true Sacrifice of God’s only Son (John 3:16). The Tabernacle and Temple where God dwells with Israel points to the ultimate Tabernacling of God with humanity in Jesus Christ (John 1:14). Once you start to think in these terms, it’s almost impossible not to see Christ on every page of the Scriptures.

A particularly important type of Christ in the OT is Israel’s greatest prophet and deliver–Moses. In various ways, the NT reveals Jesus as the New Moses. Like Moses, Jesus escapes the death at the hands of a murdering king as an infant (Matt 2:13-18); he goes up on a Mount to give a new Law (Matt 5-7), which fulfills the old Law; he also institutes a new covenant that supersedes the old one (Lk 22); he rescues his people in a New Exodus of the Egypt of sin, death, and oppression into the Promised Land of salvation (Col 1:13-14). The list could easily be expanded.

While I’d known about these typological parallels between Moses and Jesus, I was nonetheless struck by this passage drawing out the way that Moses functions as a type and representative of Israel as well:

Moses, who narrowly escapes disaster by being placed in an ark in the River Nile (Exod. 2:1-10)…Moses’ salvation echoes backwards and forwards in the text; backwards to the salvation of humanity from the judgment of the flood by Noah (Gen. 6-8), and forwards to the Israelites’ future escape from the waters of the Reed Sea (Exod 14). Significantly…the figure of Moses, this child born as a type of saviour figure, not only saves Israel but also embodies Israel at times. His rescue from the water prefigures the nation’s salvation from the water; his escape after the death of an Egptian (Exod. 2:11-15) is a prelude to the Israelites flight after the death of many Egyptians (Exod. 12:29-39); his experience of being in the desert for forty years (Exod. 2:21-25) foreshadows the same for Israel (Num, 14:33); his divine encounters before the burning bush (Exod. 3) anticipates Israel before the fire of Sinai (Exod. 19-24).

Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible, pg. 94

Moses is not only a type of Christ, but a type for Israel. Israel, God’s firstborn son (Exod. 4:22) is another type of Christ, who also wanders in the desert for 40 days and is tested (Matthew 4), so on and so forth. Moses is also Israel’s embodiment at times, which is a type for Christ’s representative embodiment of his newly re-formed Israel. We could chase the connections for pages, but what I’m saying is that this is like a theological version of Inception: we have found a type within a type within a type.

The intricacy, beauty, and inter-canonical-coherence of the biblical history of redemption should lead us to awe and worship. While human authors create inter-textual resonances, the sovereign Lord of time creates inter-historical ones.

Soli Deo Gloria