OLD TESTAMENT READING: Numbers 4-5:31
The most important thing for the people of God is that they would know the Presence of the Lord among them. The Lord agreed to manifestly dwell with the Israelites on the terms of His covenant. They could relate to Him on the basis of His testimony in the tabernacle, which is the testimony of Jesus in the gospel. God’s commands regarding the Tabernacle spell out what is required in order for God’s presence to be among His people.
- We must give careful attention to God’s thoughts in all that we do.
- They must respect the divine order. Every member of the community counts (and is numbered). Every member is given an assignment as a sacred trust.
- There are clear lines of accountability within the ranks.
- We are to walk and work together according to the assignments we have been given as the people of God.
- The success of the people of God bearing witness to God’s purpose and plan depends upon their overall submission to His directives revealed through His Word.
This reminds us that God has a plan for His ‘called out ones’, the church, to walk together in local assemblies. Each member of that community has an assignment that is vital to the purpose of the whole – to bear witness to the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The mission of the local church is clear:
19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
The Kohathites were given the responsibility to transport the ark, the table of showbread, the lampstand, the golden altar of incense, the articles for ministry, and the bronze altar. They were assigned to carry the holy furnishings of the Tabernacle but were forbidden to look upon or touch them. First, Aaron and his sons had to pack and cover them with coverings of cloth and waterproof hides of sea cows. Each item of furniture was to be covered with a particular color of cloth, with the sea cow cover put on in a certain order. The ark of the covenant had the sea cow cover underneath and the blue cover visible outside. The table had both blue and scarlet cloth covers underneath with the sea cow cover on top visible to the people. All the other items transported by the Kohathites had the sea cow cover. There was no outward beauty in these items, as they prophetically picture Jesus in his earthly humanity.
Isaiah 53:2 (NASB) 2 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
What people noticed about Jesus in his earthly ministry was the ‘heavenly blue’, his ‘otherly qualities’, his holy character, and the heavenly authority He demonstrated over nature, sickness, demons, and death, through His signature miracles. The ark of the testimony, covered with blue cloth, bore the tables of stone upon which were written the commandments. Jesus’ character fulfilled the law with the testimony of His loving life. People also saw the heavenly nature of the miracles. His testimony as the conqueror of death is reflected by Aaron’s rod that budded after it had been cut down. People were attracted as Jesus fed them spiritual nourishment in his teaching, bread from heaven. But the glory of God’s full testimony is only revealed when we see Christ Jesus crucified, risen, and ascended– His blood on the mercyseat. Until we see God’s glory in the gospel of the finished work of Christ, the coverings continue to veil Who He truly is from our eyes.
The Kohathites, who carried the sacred furniture, were under the supervision of Aaron’s son, Eleazar, who carried the anointing oil and sweet incense (Numbers 4:16).
The Gershonites, who carried the curtains (the outer court curtains and entrance curtain) and the ropes and equipment for the Tabernacle curtains were under the charge of Aaron’s son, Ithamar (Numbers 4:28).
The Merarites, who were assigned to carry the frame, the crossbars, posts, bases, and outer curtain for the Tabernacle were also under the oversight of Ithamar (Numbers 4:33).
These important assignments remind us to appreciate every member and ministry of the local church. Each one has an assignment that contributes to the maintenance of the life of the whole. Each one walks in a loving relationship with the others and humbly submits to the directions that God has given through those who have been appointed as overseers.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 (NASB) 12 But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, 13 and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.
Hebrews 13:17 (NASB) 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.
Numbers 5 teaches us that it was imperative that purity be maintained in the camp. All that were unclean in any way were to be put outside the camp. This does not mean that they were banished or left to perish, but that they were not permitted to maintain their proper place and service within the tribes of their people. Those who were ceremonially unclean according to the Law (suffering an infectious skin disease, suffering a discharge, or having touched a dead body) were sent outside the camp.
Most unusual is the Test for the Unfaithful Wife. We learn that if a husband was suspicious, but could not prove, that his wife was guilty of having an extra-marital affair, there was a recourse provided in the law. The husband could prepare a jealousy offering consisting of grain, without oil or incense upon it, and bring his wife and the offering to the priest. The priest would take holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor in it. The priest was to write upon a scroll the curses that are promised to come upon those who transgress and then wash them clean off the scroll into the bitter water. The priest then takes the grain offering from her hands and wave it before the Lord bringing a handful of it upon the altar as a memorial. She then drinks the bitter water. If she is innocent of the adultery her husband suspects, no harm will come to her, she will be acquitted of all charges and will be able to have children.
The passage highlights the perils of jealousy between a husband and a wife and the importance of maintaining a strong marriage bond and nuclear family in the interests of national strength. The drinking of this water was harmless in itself. Only an act of God would bring proof of guilt.
NEW TESTAMENT READING: Mark 12:18-37
Jesus answers the Sadducees and demonstrates that He is an authority on both the Scriptures and the power of God. The Sadducees deny the resurrection. They mock it with their silly question (Mark 12:23). They only accepted the authority of the Torah, the first five books of Moses, so Jesus answers on their playing field. He gives evidence of the reality of corporal existence in the afterlife, citing God’s self-revelation to Moses in the Torah, when He spoke from the burning bush, saying – “‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’, not the God of the dead, but the living” (Exodus 3:5, 15-16; Mark 12:27). He rebukes these Bible scholars saying, “You are greatly mistaken!”
Jesus knows what life is like in the resurrection. He has been there. He is the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25). He authoritatively informs the Sadducees that when the dead rise, they will neither marry or be given in marriage.
Jesus is asked by a teacher of the law, “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus replies with the Shema (Deut 6:4-5) and the exhortation to love God with all one’s heart with all one’s soul, mind, and strength and then to love one’s neighbor as one’s self (Leviticus 19:18,34).
The teacher of the law agreed that these commands were more important than ceremonial rectitude.
What is most astonishing is that Jesus has the authority to tell the teacher of the law where he stands with God.
Mark 12:34 (NASB) 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.
Jesus asks a question while teaching in the temple courts. He then explains from Psalm 110:1 that the Messiah, the Son of David, is in fact, greater than David, in that He is the Son of God.
Psalm 110:1 (NASB) 1 The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”
Those who trust in the Lord find Him as their total resource. All that they need is found in Him. The city of our God speaks not only of today’s Jerusalem, but prophetically of the New Jerusalem where the people of God as a new creation are living under the rule of God.
There is symbolic imagery here: “His holy mountain” speaking of God’s government; “in the far north”- an idiom for the place of God’s throne.
When Jesus refers to Jerusalem in Matthew 5:35 he gives it the name that the Psalmist ascribed to it in Psalm 48:2
Matthew 5:34-35 (NASB) 34 “But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING.
Jerusalem is the place to which Christ will return and therefore we can think of the benefits of His righteous rule as we read this psalm. One great benefit is found in verse 14.
Psalm 48:14 (NASB) 14 For such is God, Our God forever and ever; He will guide us until death.
Proverbs 10:26 (NASB) 26 Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the lazy one to those who send him.
Let us not be a source of irritation. Let us be diligent to do what we have been sent to do!
Area: 207,600 sq km
Landlocked; fertile agricultural land with extensive forests on the North European plains. Surrounded by Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. Smallest of the three Slavic nations of the former USSR.
Population: 9,587,940 Annual Growth: -0.47%
Answer to Prayer
The believing Church in Belarus is growing, even as Belarus’s overall population slides downward. Much of the growth occurs in the context of persecution and state hostility, and often believers must meet in difficult circumstances. But the Church is definitely increasing in numbers, in maturity, and in confidence.
Challenge for Prayer
The cultural and political dominance by Russia and Poland lasted for many centuries. Belarus itself lacks, to some degree, its own identity. Pray for a truly indigenous expression of Belarusian Christianity to develop and then spread using all methods: church services, theological education, literature, broadcasting.
The Chernobyl catastrophe in 1986 occurred in the Ukraine, but affected Belarus most severely. Subsequent environmental and human devastation is significant with 20% of the nation’s land affected, two million people uprooted, and several thousand dead or dying from radiation-induced cancer.
Religious groups face increasing pressure from government officials. These include Orthodox expressions that do not submit to the state-approved Moscow patriarchate.
Evangelical Christians are increasing despite concerted opposition and intensifying persecution. The state steadfastly maintains laws that forbid meeting in homes for worship, forming congregations of less than 20 people, opening religious schools, ministering outside of the home city, and importing and distributing non-state approved literature. The inability to buy or rent property for worship is the biggest problem for evangelicals.
Pray for the training of new leaders. As the Church grows, the new post-communist generation needs to be disciple and shaped according to Biblical values. This must be done amid repressive laws that restrict meeting, training, and education.
PRAY: Heavenly Father, we thank You for the revelation of Your glory and grace in the Person of Your Son. We whole-heartedly embrace Him as our Lord, our King, as our Salvation, our Bread from Heaven, the means of our Resurrection, and our Right Standing with You. We thank You for the testimony of Your authority in His works and in His words. We can rest assured that in coming by faith to Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life, we are coming to You. We ask that Your Holy Spirit continue to teach us, counsel us, and correct us as needed. We want to walk in ways that are pleasing to You according to the wisdom You give, In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
So, naturally, we proclaim Christ! We warn everyone we meet, and we teach everyone we can, all that we know about him, so that, if possible, we may bring every man up to his full maturity in Christ. (Colossians 1:28, J.B. Phillips paraphrase)
New Life Community Church, Concord, MA 10742