A GOD-CENTERED ACCOUNT OF THE WILDERNESS JOURNEY; LESSONS IN PRAYER; SERMON ON THE MOUNT
For thirty-eight years God’s people went around in circles. This was not due to them getting lost or losing their sense of direction. They knew where they were. They were under Divine Discipline.
They were learning the importance of submission to the revealed will of God.
They could not have gone into the Promised Land if they tried. God had made an oath that not one of those who were over the age of twenty when the ten spies first discouraged the faith of the multitude, with a negative report of the Promised Land, would be able to enter into it. Joshua and Caleb, who wholly followed the Lord, were to be the only exceptions.
Now, at last, they headed north and were camping on the threshold of the Promised Land near the Jordan River.
The Book of Deuteronomy opens with Moses speaking to the new generation. These are the ones whose parents died in the wilderness.
Moses encourages the troops with a God-centered view of their history. God was faithful to their fathers, even when their fathers had been unfaithful to Him. And God was faithful to guide and provide for them even during the 38 years of their murmuring and complaining. Moses sets the record straight. The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness.
The LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast desert. These forty years the LORD your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything (Deuteronomy 2:7 NIV).
Unfortunately, they had not been grateful for His guidance and provision.
Deuteronomy 1:32-33 32 “But for all this, you did not trust the LORD your God, 33 who goes before you on your way, to seek out a place for you to encamp, in fire by night and cloud by day, to show you the way in which you should go.”
Moses tells of when they were finally given permission to cross the Brook Zered, a brook they could have crossed thirty-eight years earlier if they had believed the report of Joshua and Caleb.
‘You have circled this mountain long enough. Now turn north” (Deuteronomy 2:2-3; NASB)
This had been a long time coming. Keep in mind that Moses had spent 40 years in Egypt, 40 years in the back side of the desert and was just about to complete another 40 years leading His people in the desert. I would say it is time for some green grass!
Moses reminds the new generation of some important facts about the most recent leg of their journey.
- DON’T FORGET- GOD IS IN CONTROL
Moses’ speech affirms that in their march north, the Lord had shown himself to be Sovereign over the nations. He knew what was going on in the hearts of each leader from each tribe.
For example, the Lord assigned land to the descendants of Esau (the Edomites) and descendants of Lot (the Moabites and Ammonites; Gen 19:37-38). He also knew what it was that would provoke them to anger. He instructs Israel how to conduct themselves as they travel among them to preserve peace. He warns the Israelites not to fight. In doing so they would be fighting against His will, for He had given the land to these people as a possession and would not concede a single footstep.
The Lord knew the hearts of King Sihon of the Amorites and King Og of Bashan. As a result of their obstinacy, the LORD hardened their spirits and gave their land for the Israelites to conquer.
God used the victories over the Amorites and the people of Bashan to give Joshua and the Israelite army practical training in warfare that would be needed in their future battles against the Canaanites once they crossed the Jordan River.
Joshua was being groomed for leadership. He was learning what his role would be in receiving victories from the Lord. The victories of the Israelites over King Sihon of the Amorites and King Og of Bashan were to be held up as examples of what was to come, if they would put their trust in God.
Moses gives a stirring speech in which he turns to personally address Joshua:
“You have seen with your own eyes all that the LORD your God has done to these two kings. The LORD will do the same to all the kingdoms over there where you are going. 22 Do not be afraid of them; the LORD your God himself will fight for you” (Deuteronomy 3:21-22).
They were to walk by faith and not by sight. They were not to be afraid of the giants in the land. King Og of Bashan, whom they had just defeated, was no ordinary sized human being. His bed was 13 feet long and 6 feet wide!
With the thrill of an accomplished victory fresh in his mind, and the prospect of conquering Canaan so close at hand, Moses begged once more that the LORD would allow him to enter the Promised Land (Deut 3:25).
Moses confesses to the assembled crowd that the Lord did answer his prayer, but not in the way he had hoped. The Lord said to Moses, “Enough! Speak to me no more on this matter” (Deut. 3:26).
Like the Apostle Paul who repeatedly sought the Lord to take away the thorn in his flesh, Moses had repeated his request in hope that he could change God’s mind on His disciplinary verdict. God’s verdict upon the children of Israel was sealed with His oath, yet that was not the case with Moses’ discipline. However, Moses received his final answer. Sometimes we will hear the Lord say, “My grace is sufficient.” “Enough! Speak to me no more on this matter.”
However, God’s consolation prize was to give Moses the opportunity to get a magnificent view of the Promised Land from the top of Mt. Nebo on the Pisgah cliff. (His next view would be on the Mount of Transfiguration in the Promised Land with Jesus!)
This is a fitting picture of the Law (Moses) pointing out and envisioning the righteousness of God (The Promised Land). But the Law is only able to give us the knowledge of righteousness. It is not able to bring anyone into the experience of it. Another man, Joshua, (a type of Jesus) will be able to do that.
For what the law (Moses) was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son (Yeshua, the greater Joshua)..4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:3-4).
NEW TESTAMENT READING: Luke 6:12-38
If you have any doubt of the important role that prayer has in the life of a man or woman, look to the example of Jesus. Jesus is a man, as God created man to be; functioning perfectly in communion with God; uninhabited by sin, fully inhabited by God the Holy Spirit, with every human faculty operating according to divine design. He is man in God’s idea of normalcy.
God created man to walk in fellowship with Him in the Garden of Eden. Sin brought a barrier of separation. The perfect correspondence between God and mankind was broken. It is not until we get to Genesis 4:26, after the death of Abel, and learn of his appointed substitute, Seth, that we read: “Then began men to call upon the name of the LORD (YAHWEH).”
When His disciples observed Jesus praying, they said, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). His prayer life demonstrated the quality of communion that God originally intended for man.
In Luke 6:12 we read:
It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God (Luke 6:12; NASB).
Prayer is intended to be more than an informal ‘chat’ with God; the exchange of information or the discharging of our petitions. As Jesus taught, it begins with a recognition of His Name, His nature, His attributes and a submission of our will to be in conformity to His- “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”
We recently observed that one of the characteristics of Joshua’s leadership was that he would go in and come out before the people (Numbers 27:17). This referred to his going in to the Tent of Meeting to inquire of God and his coming out to communicate and implement the will of God. The “going in” represents our vertical relationship of communion with God. Our “going out” represents the outworking of our obedience to the will of God in service to others; our horizontal relationships and responsibilities.
Jesus had an important decision to make. Even as God chose the Patriarchs, so God was choosing a new group of twelve, one of whom would betray him. He surrendered His will to God’s will knowing that it would ultimately pain Him.
The Scriptures tell us that Jesus knew “from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him” (John 6:64). Jesus also knew that He had a rough road ahead, and so would those He chose as His ministry team. He knew that the future of the church would be dependent upon their instrumentality. He relied upon the Father’s resources for the enterprise of making disciples who would become “sent ones”, apostles to the world. We can imagine that during this whole night of prayer that Jesus, who had real human emotions, suffered in those emotions as He submitted to the will of the Father.
7 In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. 8 Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered (Hebrews 5:7-8; NASB).
Lord, teach us to pray!
Jesus’ choice of the Twelve, upon which so much would depend, reminds us of Paul’s words to the Corinthians:
26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God (1 Corinthians 1:26-29; NASB).
After coming down from the mountain and calling the Twelve as His apostles, Jesus began to minister to the multitudes in the presence of His newly appointed apprentices. Then Jesus gave instruction to those who identified with Him as to their attitude and behavior towards a world that would be in opposition to Him.
THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT
The Sermon on the Mount is not a code of Christian principles or ethics. It is a description of the life of Christ, which is normative of life in the kingdom of God. It is a picture of how God intends us to function in this world as those who are in Christ.
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO ARE IDENTIFIED WITH CHRIST.
The kingdom of God is radically different from the kingdom of THIS WORLD. In THIS WORLD people value being rich in self-importance instead of being poor in spirit (Luke 6:20). They have no, or little, appetite for being right with God, functioning rightly, or appreciating the things of God. They value enjoying their sins, and laughing at sin, rather than mourning sin and its work of destruction (6:21). They seek popularity and wide acclaim rather than being hated for godly convictions; being adored, rather than isolated and disenfranchised for their identification with Christ.
Those whose allegiance is to the kingdom of THIS WORLD want to make a name for themselves, seeking recognition and honor, while those identified with Christ will have their name scorned as evil.
WHAT IS TO BE OUR RESPONSE TO THE WAY WE ARE TREATED IN THIS WORLD? Self-pity? Complaint? No!
- JOY -Rejoice and be glad. LEAP for joy! (Luke 6:23)
Jesus gives warning to those who settle for riches now only to be impoverished for eternity; well fed now, only to be hungry later; taking sin lightly now, only to be mourning eternally.
- LOVE YOUR ENEMIES
Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you. Then Jesus gives examples of doing good. Every example would be considered absolutely UNREASONABLE in THIS WORLD. Offer the other cheek to those who hit you. Give your shirt as well as your coat for those who would rob your coat. Do not ask that stolen items be returned. Treat them the same way you want them to treat you. This is quite different from the conventional understanding of the Golden Rule. We don’t expect others to treat us the way that Jesus is calling us to treat others. This is the life of Christ. It’s an altogether different kind of life. It is a different kind of love. It is not the love that looks for reciprocity (Luke 6:32). Our idea of “good works” fall short of “God’s works” (Luke 6:33-36). The good works that reflect God are those that show kindness and mercy to those who are ungrateful and evil (Luke 6:35-36).
- DON’T CONDEMN- FORGIVE. (DON’T ADOPT A JUDGMENTAL, CRITICAL SPIRIT)We are not to judge or condemn without first recognizing God’s judgment and condemnation upon Jesus Christ who identified with our sin on the cross (2 Cor. 5:21). We should not have a judgmental attitude or critical spirit, but instead keep the cross of Christ as our constant reference point, remembering the mercy we have received.
Jesus’ command to ‘judge not’ does not mean that we do not discern, speak out against, or deal with sin, in our lives, or those of others. John quotes Jesus in his gospel:
24 “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment”
(John 7:24 NASB).
1 Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted (Galatians 6:1 NASB).
Jesus was a friend of sinners while never approving of sin..
- BE GENEROUS.
We are made in the image of God and God is a giver. In giving freely to others we demonstrate our confidence in God as our abundant resource.
38 “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” Luke 6:38 (NASB)
READING FROM PSALMS
This psalm wonderfully expresses God’s purpose for the church- to both declare and demonstrate the good news. The benefits of being reconciled to God through faith in Christ should be obvious. His way (v.2), His rule, His guidance (v.4) and His blessing should speak of His salvation. The church exists for the benefit of its non-members- that Christ would be made known through the members of His body, the church—that all the people would praise Him (v.3, 5)
Psalm 67:2 (NASB) 2 That Your way may be known on the earth, Your salvation among all nations.
READING FROM PROVERBS
Proverbs 11:27 27 He who diligently seeks good seeks favor, but he who seeks evil, evil will come to him.
To seek good is to seek God. There is goodness in no other. So, to diligently seek good is to seek God’s favor. To turn to other sources will net disappointment.
PRAY FOR THE NATIONS- CAMBODIA
A fertile, forest-covered state of southwest Indo-China on the Mekong River.
Population: 15,053,112 Annual Growth: 1.66%
Capital: Phnom Penh
Answer to Prayer
An open door for ministry remains, although some limitations are in place. The great suffering of Cambodians in the past has been transformed into great responsiveness to the gospel, as many and diverse ministries see sustained fruit.
Challenge for Prayer
The scars of the terrible genocide of 1975-79 remain evident. Nearly two million were killed, over 60,000 lost life or limb to landmines and most of the population over age 30 need deep healing from the trauma of their losses and suffering. Pray for:
- a) Justice to be seen and to be done regarding those who perpetrated the crimes. International tribunals face difficulty in bringing the Cambodian government/judiciary on board with the justice process, and the culture of corruption and impunity still holds sway. The beginning of Khmer Rouge trials should assist in this process.
- b) Healing for the deep psychological wounds. Many cope with the trauma through detachment and suppression of trauma, some by inflicting pain on others. Pray that counselling and the Holy Spirit might bring true restoration.
- c) A government that seeks the good of all and is worthy of the trust of the people. Violence, manipulation, graft and selfishness hitherto have been the rule. The situation is so ingrained and endemic on every level that it must be torn out by the roots.
PRAYER: God of grace, we see how You have proved Yourself to be faithful to Your people, even when they have proven themselves to be unfaithful to You. You have been faithful to teach, correct, discipline, show mercy and forgive. We ask that we would be mindful of the judgment that Your Son bore to pay the penalty of our sin, that we would not have a judgmental spirit towards others, but forgive as we have been forgiven. Strengthen us with faith in the gospel and enable us to be bold witnesses. May Your way and Your salvation be made known to the nations. In Jesus’ Name, we ask it. 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