Introduction: Welcome to Expound our weekly worship and verse by verse study of the Bible. Our goal is to expand your knowledge of the truth of God as we explore the Word of God in a way that is interactive, enjoyable, and congregational.
Skip Heitzig: Numbers, chapters 8 and 9, God willing, before we take the Lord's Supper together. The elements that are in your seat we're going to take them at the end of our service together before we go home. And to prepare our hearts I want you to step back with me to an ancient time, the Old Testament era when the children of Israel are scattered beneath that great mountain Mount Sinai. The tabernacle is erected. They're about to celebrate the Passover together, which is where we get our cues from the Lord's Supper or for the Lord's Supper, for the communion service.
We take it directly from the Passover meal that Jesus shared with his disciples taking the elements. He said, "Do this in remembrance of me." And he was celebrating that ancient celebration of the deliverance from slavery, the deliverance from Egypt. And then he took and he capitalized on that and applied that to what he was about to do on the cross. And so it is fitting that we are in this section of Scripture as we take communion, as we take the Lord's Supper. Chapter 8 and chapter 9 of Numbers are short in comparison to some of the other chapters. So, it is possible we'll be able to make it through before we take these elements.
Chapter 8 of Numbers is all about lamps and Levites; chapter 9 is about the Passover and the Presence, to make it memorable. Let me explain. Chapter 8, lamps and Levites, seven lamps placed on one lampstand called the menorah brought candlelight into the house of the Lord in the Holy Place. Those lamps are set out in chapter 9, and the instruction is given by the Lord to Moses, and then given from Moses to Aaron and his sons to do that. So the lamps are given then the Levites are spoken about. They're commissioned to do the work of ministry in the tabernacle. That's chapter 8.
Chapter 9 is about the Passover and the Presence, that ancient meal of deliverance, the Passover, followed by that beautiful cloud that surrounded the place of worship in the desert, the cloud and the pillar of fire that represented the presence of God. That comprises chapter 9. We have---I have behind me, you have in front of you on the piano a menorah. And I put it out here because chapter 8 opens up with the lighting of lamps and the configuration of these lamps in the Holy Place. So allow the menorah as well as the flame of these candles to help take you back into the scene.
If you can, it always helps to try to crawl into the scene and experience it, taste it, smell it, hear it. So, tonight stand next to Moses as he hears the instructions from the Lord, watch as Aaron hears what Moses has to say to him and then goes out to obey it. And then watch and hear the rustling of the crowd as they come close around the tabernacle so that the tribal representatives can lay their hands on the Levites and pray for them as they are commissioned. Now, as we begin chapter 8 and speak about the candlestick, the menorah---the menorah, the instructions for it are given in several sections in the Old Testament.
But it was the only light in the tabernacle, the only place where light emanated from. It was of pure gold essentially, one solid piece of gold having one single vertical shaft, and on each side three branches. So, a total of seven lamps, that's the menorah and sometimes people get it confused with the hanukkiah which has nine, and people call that the menorah. A menorah has seven and the seven was the lampstand that stood in the Holy Place.
The hanukkiah is for the Festival of Hanukkah, because of eight days, plus one extra candle as the lead candle, so that the lamps could be lit off of that one, because of the celebration of the Festival of Lights that is celebrated around this time of the year. Later on a temple would be built, and in the temple would also stand this huge menorah. The rabbis would call the temple, get this, "the light of the world." The temple, they said, is the light world. They thought it's the center of the world and the temple is the light of the world principally because a light that emanated from the Holy Place in that menorah, that lampstand.
Now, Jesus Christ will come along and turn that rabbinical thinking on its ear when he will say, "I am the light of the world." If you were to go to Israel today, you would discover a menorah in Jerusalem. We're going to show you a couple pictures of it. They have reconstructed it. There is a group in Israel called the Temple Institute. It's a group that is sworn to the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. They have trained priests. They have a Sanhedrin.
They have made the implements of the temple, including this gold menorah that stands under guard, of course, because it's millions of dollars' worth of pure gold in the old section of Jerusalem. They got the idea, the measurements, the size, all from four hundred pages of documents from ancient times that they have culled through to get the right specifications. And they are looking forward, as we are but for different reasons, the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. With that in mind we now come to chapter 8, verse 1.
"And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 'Speak to Aaron, and say to him, "When you arrange the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the lampstand." '" That is, the little casing of oil where there will be a wick that will be trimmed, that will give off light itself, will be to the anterior, the front of that lampstand, so that all the ornate work will be able to be seen by the priest as he goes in and it will reflect on that huge golden structure."And Aaron did so; he arranged the lamps to face toward the front of the lampstand, as the Lord commanded Moses."
Quite simple, God said it, let's do it. "Now this workmanship of the lampstand was hammered gold; from its shaft to its flowers it was hammered work. According to the pattern which the Lord had shown Moses, and so he made the lampstand. And the Lord spoke," verse 5, "to Moses, saying." Now, beginning at verse 5 we have a ceremony, a ceremony to take a certain tribe, the tribe of Levi, and they will do the work of ministry in the tabernacle. This is their commissioning service. This is their ordination service.
There's some notable features. Principally the children of Israel gather around, sacrifices are made on behalf of the Levites, they are sprinkled to cleanse them, and people lay their hand on them. "The Lord spoke the Moses, saying; 'Take the Levites from among the children of Israel and cleanse them ceremonially. Thus you shall do to them to cleanse them: Sprinkle water of purification on them, and let them shave all their body, and let them wash their clothes, and so make themselves clean.' "There is a New Testament Scripture that is a corollary, I believe, to this ceremony we're reading about.
Can you guess what that Scripture is? It's Romans, chapter 12. Now listen to it: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, that you might prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." The imagery in Paul's mind seems to be the imagery of these Levites as they present their bodies for the work in the tabernacle.
Verse 8, "'Then let them take a young bull with its grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil, and you shall take another bull as a sin offering. And you shall bring the Levites before the tabernacle of meeting, and you shall gather together the whole congregation of the children of Israel.' "So, so far the flow of the chapter is the menorah is lit, there's a certain way to do it. The sons of Aaron were to do it trimming the lamps in the evening right at twilight. Right when the sun goes down over the horizon, there's that warm glow in the atmosphere, that's twilight.
When the sun goes down, the lamps were to be lit, and they would remain lit all the way till the next morning. There is an interesting passage of Scripture in Frist Samuel, chapter 3. It's the calling of the prophet Samuel. Remember that, when he was just a little boy and the Lord spoke and said, "Samuel, Samuel"? And little Samuel said, "Here I am." It's interesting because it says this: "In those days the word of the Lord was rare and there was no widespread revelation." Then it says the priest Eli went to lay down in his place and before the light went out in the tabernacle the Lord spoke to Samuel and called him into ministry.
So, from looking at that literally, before the sun rose, it was early in the morning, late at night. It was the darkest part of the night just before the dawn would come up over the horizon. Very early in the morning before the sun rose, the lamp was about to go out, the menorah was about to go out in the tabernacle that the Lord spoke and called this young boy into ministry. That's what the text means. However, most commentators in reading that, because it sort of follows off of this lighting of the lamps, will say that there's a symbolic meaning to it.
In the darkest part of the night the Lord was about to reveal his plan through a young boy named Samuel. In the darkest period of their history when there was no widespread revelation, when God wasn't speaking anymore and it was dark, not only was it dark physically, it was dark spiritually, the Lord unveiled a new plan. Now that is a principle, we even talked about it on Christmas Eve and the week before, if you remember, when we played off the theme of darkness and light. "The people who sat in darkness," Isaiah said of the Galileans, "have seen a great light; and on those people a great light has dawned."
That is God's method. And I'm so glad for it that no matter how dark it gets God still has a plan. I'm banking on that in the days we live in. During the Roman occupation of the land when the Greco-Roman world was dark and people were tired of polytheism and moral relativism, and the secularism of the age didn't satisfy, it was dark and the people were sitting in the darkness of the Galilee of the Gentiles, and God has a plan to send the light of the world, Jesus Christ, to shine. The menorah is also a beautiful picture of the church, because, as I mentioned, the only light in the entire tabernacle structure was the menorah.
So God's house was lit with something that symbolized his presence, his truth. And I think that's a picture of the church. If there's one place where the light of God's truth should never be obscured, it's here, it's in his house. We should always shine without apology. The truth of God's Word, as David said in Psalm 119, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path." So Aaron obeyed, then all of the Levites gathered for this ordination ceremony. But watch this, watch the people and what their role is in it.
Verse 9," 'You shall bring the Levites before the tabernacle of meeting, and you shall gather the whole congregation of the children of Israel. And so you shall bring the Levites before the Lord, and the children of Israel shall lay their hands on the Levites; and Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord, like a wave offering from the children of Israel, that they may perform the work of the Lord. Then the Levites shall lay their hands on the heads of the young bulls, and you shall offer one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering to the Lord, to make atonement for the Levites.' "
So follow the order here. The Levites were to take the place---do you remember of what? The firstborn, very good, the firstborn male, all of them in that land. And we saw that the number of the people, the number of the priests, the number of the men in the tribe of Levi was very close, almost identical with just a few hundred off, to the firstborn males in the whole nation of Israel. They were to take the place. So in walking forward and laying hands on the Levites, it was a gesture of identification. "You are taking the place of our firstborn sons. We are laying our hands on you and identifying with you in this regard."
Not only that, but the laying on of hands was sort of like a transfer of obligation: "We are now transferring to you the obligation of performing the service of the Lord on our behalf. We identify with you and we transfer onto you the obligation to do the work of the tabernacle for all of us that are firstborn who belong to the Lord, because he redeemed in the tenth plague all the firstborn in Egypt. We transfer that unto you." Then the Levites laid their hands on an animal transferring to them the guilt, their guilt as well as the guilt and obligation of the children of Israel.
So ministry is transferred symbolically, and guilt is transferred symbolically onto the animals who were killed and their blood was shed. Now, we've seen it before, but it's a beautiful picture of Jesus Christ who performed two functions: he was the Great High Priest and he was the lamb itself, "the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world." But also I think we have a beautiful model of ministry here. Those in the ministry were brought before the congregation, recognized as being in the ministry, and through the laying on of hands released to the ministry.
We do very much the same when we bring an intern pastor on and something is being called into full-time ministry. There is an accountability. We pray for them publicly when they're licensed. Then when they're ordained, we do the same thing, so you know who they are, and we can pray for them, and they can be released into ministry. And even as the Levites were set free from normal occupation, their full-time occupation taken care of by the rest of the children of Israel was for full-time ministry, even so those on our staff, our pastoral staff especially, have been freed from worldly obligation to be able to pray for you, minister to you, counsel, whatever you might need.
And as you lean on the pastors, know that the pastors must be leaning on the Lord and trusting the Lord, and not going about it in any kind of a cavalier manner, but a very holy stand-in for those who are trusting in the Lord. Verse 13, "'you shall stand the Levites before Aaron and his sons, and then offer them like a wave offering to the Lord. You shall separate the Levites from among the children of Israel, and the Levites shall be Mine. After that the Levites shall go in to service the tabernacle of meeting. And so you shall cleanse them and offer them, like a wave offering."
" 'For they are wholly given to me from among the children of Israel; I have taken them for myself instead of all who open the womb, the firstborn of all the children of Israel.' "So just keep that in mind that the firstborn of the land rightfully belonged to God because God was the one that saved them, saved their lives through the tenth plague by placing the blood, that's Passover, on the lintels and doorposts. The death angel passed over them and the firstborn among the children of Israel were protected while the firstborn among the Egyptians were killed.
So God is saying, "They're mine. I saved them, they're mine. But let's set apart the tribe of Levi to do the work instead of them. You lay your hands on them, you identify, you release them, and we'll call it a deal," for lack of a better term. Verse 18, "'I have taken the Levites instead of all the firstborn of the children of Israel. I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the children of Israel, to do the work for the children of Israel in the tabernacle of meeting, and to make atonement for the children of Israel, that there be no plague among the children of Israel when the children of Israel come near the sanctuary.'"
"Thus Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the children of Israel did to the Levites; according to all that the Lord commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so the children of Israel did to them. And the Levites purified themselves and washed their clothes; and then Aaron presented like a wave offering before the Lord, and Aaron made atonement for them to cleanse them." Now, when it says "like a wave offering," it doesn't mean he took anybody and waved before the Lord. Like, "Whoo! You're on a ride." It was like a wave offering. He was offering them up to do the work of the Lord to be wholly consumed with the business of God.
"After that the Levites went in to do their work in the tabernacle of meeting before Aaron and his sons; as the Lord commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so they did to them. Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 'This is what pertains to the Levites.' "Now watch this, "'from twenty-five years old and above one may enter to perform the service in the work of the tabernacle of meeting.' "Minimum age twenty-five, hold that thought. Verse 25, "'and at the age of fifty years they must cease performing this work, and shall work no more.' "Mandatory retirement at age fifty.
If you are an FBI agent, the mandatory retirement age is age fifty-seven. If you're a Levitical priest, the mandatory retirement was age fifty. Maybe it just took that much out of them. "'They may minister with their brethren in the tabernacle of meeting, to attend to needs,' " so they can assist, " 'but they themselves shall do no work. Thus you shall do to the Levites regarding their duties.' "What's the minimum age here? Twenty-five. We have a seeming---underline that in your mind---seeming discrepancy in the Scripture. If you can remember back, it's been a while, when we were in chapter 4 the minimum age was given as age thirty there; here's it's twenty-five.
It says you begin at age thirty, here it says twenty-five, and so somebody reading this might say, "We have a contradiction." No, it's a seeming contradiction. And I'm going to tell you why it is not a contradiction, but it's easy to manage. First of all, there is ample rabbinic literature that has as a source that there would be a mandatory five-year apprenticeship before releasing them into the ministry, five years. So it is possible that they began at age twenty-five, they were apprenticed for five years, and then they were released at age thirty to serve twenty years till they were fifty, and then mandatory retirement.
There's a better explanation that sort of brings all that in one piece. In chapter 4 it was age thirty where you would start to carry the tabernacle through the wilderness. That's when you could put it on your shoulders and bear it as part of the team, the different tribes, the different families. Here it is not the carrying of it, it's simply working in it. So, it could be then that they began working in it at age twenty-five, assisting those who had specific jobs of carrying different implements and infrastructure. But only when they were age thirty could they bear it on their shoulders and carry it, after a five-year apprenticeship. Make sense?
So they were trained at age twenty-five, they served in the tabernacle at age twenty-five, but at age thirty they could then carry it. I see here a beautiful picture of what a Christian is to be. When I look at the Levites, I see a beautiful picture of Christian people. Like the Levites we are redeemed, we are cleansed, we are set apart for service, and we have not an earthly inheritance, but a heavenly inheritance. That was the tribe of Levi. They were redeemed. They were cleansed. You saw the sacrifices here. They were set apart for special work, the Lord's work. They had no earthly inheritance, no tribal allotment, only certain cities, Levitical cities, but they had no tribal land allotment.
Theirs was a heavenly inheritance, not an earthly inheritance. So it is of every single believer. We have been redeemed. We have been cleansed. God sets us apart to do his work. And our hope isn't on the earth, our hope isn't in the political structure of the earth. We don't give up all hope if our political party doesn't win the election. We're not putting all our eggs in this earthly basket. We, like Abraham, "look for a city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God." And so the Levites are a beautiful picture of you and I, the Christian going through this world.
I've thought a lot about this age restriction and I've come to this. I find it interesting that God demanded from age thirty to age fifty, which is---you know their youth is gone out of the way by age thirty. You can sort of know who you are; you should. You should just sort of be prepared for what you're going to do. You know where you're going, and obviously they knew this calling. But age thirty to fifty is the prime of life, and God is saying, "I want the best years of your life." The principle is God wants the very best from us.
Not just, "Ah, that's good enough. It's for God." "Honey, we're not using those old clothes and that old piano anymore, give it to the church." Give God your best. Not just your best stuff, not just the first 10 percent of your income, but your very best energy, the prime of your life, the very best years of your life. That's one lesson. The other thing it shows me is how concerned God is for those that serve him. God loves with a special kind of concern and care those who serve him. So, he doesn't want them to be overburdened.
He wants to use the best years of their life, but he doesn't want to bring them so they're frazzled. He'll use them for his purpose and glory, and then at age fifty you just transition. You're not done serving him, but you serve him in a different way. Now, I am comforted by the fact that this is an Old Testament, not a New Testament directive. If I'm reading my Bible correctly, Paul didn't quit at age fifty, neither did Peter. As they survived they served the Lord and they influenced people. But the older we get, we serve in a different capacity.
And those in the ministry who get older need to be training the younger generation, and more and more stepping aside and transitioning a whole other generation in place where they can as the older generation encourage them, train them, give them some godly wisdom and restraint and constraint, but then continue to serve. Never be afraid of serving the Lord. Never be afraid of absolutely, totally, 100 percent abandoning yourself to the will and the work of the Lord. He'll take care of you. He's very generous. He doesn't want to overburden you.
And every now and then when I see a servant of the Lord saying, "Oh, ministry, it's so hard. I'm, like, overburdened. I can't sleep," I'm like, "Dude, you are, like, carrying the wrong burden." Jesus said, "My yolk is easy, my burden is light." And if you're just, like, crushed all the time, then come and see me, I can tell you how to have a little fun in ministry. And I think it ought to be fun. And we on the staff, we have a lot of it, otherwise it would drive us nuts. If you are serving the Lord and you are breaking your back doing it, and you think that fatigue is next to godliness, you are carrying the wrong burden.
Even the priest---God instructed that the very clothing that the priests wear be made out of linen. Ever worn linen, linen pants, linen shirt? It's just so airy and so soft. It's comfortable. You know, some of the fashions today, some of the jeans are like---okay, you think they look cool, but try wearing them all day. They're, like, just---they're fatiguing just to wear. I find it interesting that when God had an outfit for the clergymen, it was comfortable. God is more interested in inspiration, not perspiration. That's why their garments weren't made out of wool, but linen. And so the Lord commanded, and so they did.
Now in chapter 9 we come to the Passover. And here's what's cool about chapter 9: chapter 9 has an interface to it, and that is chapter 12 of Exodus. Chapter 12 of Exodus is the Passover. One year later is this chapter. One year elapses and a year later God instructs his people to celebrate the Passover. It's the first anniversary of their redemption. God had already instructed them to keep the Passover, now he repeats himself and says, "Now is the time to keep it, because that one year anniversary is coming up." If you don't already know, you show know that Passover to a Jewish person is the very hinge of his or her existence.
Throughout the Scripture it's what all of the Jewish people look back to. It was the hinge upon which the door swung open of freedom to them. No longer were their estranged, they were now God's people. No longer were they slaves, they were now free to serve the Lord completely. And the Passover marked for them the very beginning of their year. They reckon time according to their redemption. God said, "This day, this month shall be the beginning of months to you." In fact, let me just read it to you in chapter 12 of Exodus.
"The Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, 'this month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying; "On the tenth of the month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for the lamb, let him take his neighbor next to his house according to number of the persons; according to each man's need you shall make your count for the lamb."
"'"Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep of the goats. You shall keep it till the fourteen day of the same month," ' " or the fourteenth day of the month Abib, Abib. Later the name was changed to Nisan just like the car. The month of Nisan, the calendar changed, everything changes. "Now you will celebrate on the fourteenth day of this new month, called the first month of the year, your redemption. You will celebrate it." Do you remember the history of the Passover? Here's a thumbnail sketch: seventy people, descendants of Jacob, left Canaan and came to Egypt.
In that place under the protection of Pharaoh they grew, they multiplied, they flourished. They grew to a couple million, maybe up to 3 million people. But eventually a pharaoh arose who didn't know who Joseph was and he enslaved them all. And for four centuries they remained under oppression and slavery, and they cried out to God for help, and God sent them Moses. And Moses, this middle-aged stutterer, became a spokesperson before the Pharaoh and the Egyptians. And God wanted to get the attention of the Egyptians.
They didn't listen to Moses' speech, but they would listen to ten plagues. And God got their attention by plague after plague until the very last plague, the tenth plague is when a lamb was slain and the blood was put on the lintels, that doorjamb on the top, that weight-bearing doorjamb on a house, blood on there and on the doorposts. Like the form of a cross the blood was splattered, and the angel of death would pass over those homes. Now, God had already instructed, as I mentioned, that they were to keep the Passover. It's been a year.
God comes again to Moses with a special announcement: "It's time for you to keep the Passover now on the one-year anniversary." I have a question for you: Why did God have to remind them to do it a second time? Was it because they were disobedient to God? Some commentators believe that's to be true. I don't think so. I don't think they were willing disobedient. Here's my take on it: they were just preoccupied. Life started preoccupying them. They're preparing to march across the wilderness, and dads and moms are thinking about their children and the march and the long days.
"And what about grandma?" and "Is she going to make it?" And life is just getting busy, and when life gets busy, people tend to be preoccupied with those things and they begin to marginalize spiritual things. It still happens. Life get busy, kids have soccer, kids have school, we've got this meeting, I have that interest, the game is on Sunday. And so pretty soon people say, "Well, I'll just skip church this week. I'll skip reading my Bible. Life is becoming just overwhelming to me. I'm preoccupied with real life." And so they begin to marginalize spiritual things.
That's why we need reminders. That's why we need sermons. That's why it's valuable to read books and listen to radio programs and to be inspired by God's truth, because we tend, that's our tendency, to be preoccupied with life. And God has to remind us, "You have been redeemed, and I am to be number one in your life." And so God comes the second time and commands them to keep the Passover. "Now the Lord spoke to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai," chapter 9, verse 1, "in the first month second year after they came up out of the land of Egypt, saying: 'Let the children of Israel keep the Passover at its appointed time."
" 'On the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight,' " the going down of the sun, that soft glow after the sun goes over the horizon when evening turns to night, " 'you shall keep it at its appointed time. According to all its rites and ceremonies you shall keep it.' So Moses told the children of Israel that they should keep the Passover. And they kept the Passover." There's no disobedience. There's not recalcitrant attitudes or aberrant behavior. They did it. "At twilight, in the Wilderness of Sinai; according to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so the children of Israel did."
The keeping of the Passover from this time, this moment onward is going to take upon itself a very strict, organized system, so that every year to this day the feast, as Passover is called, some of you know it, the Seder Feast. Ever heard of the term the Seder, "We're going to have the Passover Seder"? The word Seder means order, because there was on order of service. Certain things happen at certain times. There's four glasses of wine. The kids are involved, and the kids ask the question: "What makes this night different from all other nights?"
And the Seder or order has the answers. "On all other nights we eat matzah or bread with leaven in it; on this night we only eat matzah, unleavened bread. On all other nights we eat vegetables; on this night we eat bitter herbs. On all other nights we don't dip our vegetables into salt water; on this night we dip twice in salt water. On all other nights we sit up when we eat; on this night we recline." There's the order of service. And to make it fun so the kids would look forward to the Passover Seder, it wasn't some boring church service, the kids got to look for leaven.
It was a little ceremony called the Bedikat Chametz, say that ten times, "the search for leaven." And the kids would find the leaven and they'd rid the house of it. It's a beautiful order of service. It's that Passover upon which the communion service is built. Jesus Christ died on Passover. He is "the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world." The imagery is beautiful. So, in one sense for us it is commemorative, Passover is, and in another sense predictive, it's prophetic. It commemorated being released as slaves as Egypt. It predicted Jesus Christ who would come and be the Lamb for the sins of the world.
It's further predictive of his coming again. "When you eat the Lord's Supper," Paul said, "you show the Lord's death until he comes." So it has a component even of us anticipating the second coming of Jesus Christ, has all those elements, and it takes its cues off of the Passover. "Now, there were certain men," verse 6, "who were defiled by a human corpse," that is, they touched a dead body, "so that they could not keep the Passover on that day; and they came before Moses and Aaron that day." Now you might ask, "Well, why would they do that?"
Well, you know, there's sometimes you can't avoid that. If Aunt Sally falls dead next to you, you know, watching camel races, you prop her up and realize she's dead, you're defiled. You didn't plan for that to happen, it just happened. Somebody, some group was defiled by touching a corpse. In verse 7, "Those men said to him, 'We became defiled by a human corpse. Why are we kept from presenting the offering of the Lord as its appointed time among the children of Israel?' And Moses said to them, 'Stand still, that I may hear what the Lord will command concerning you.' "
I love this. In other words, Moses is saying, "You know, I don't know the answer to your question, but I'll go find out." I like it when a person doesn't know the answer and doesn't try to bluff. One of the most spiritual answers is "I don't know." I use that a lot. People will ask me the weirdest, wildest, craziest questions, many that I've never thought through, and I'll go, "No clue." Now, I don't always have the benefit of saying, "Well, just a minute. Okay, well, the Lord just spoke to me and...." Of course, there are some people that say that, but this actually happened.
He needed to hear from the Lord because this was an extenuating circumstance. So here's the Lord's wisdom: "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 'Speak to the children of Israel, saying: "If anyone of you or your posterity [your kids or grandkids] is unclean because of a corpse, or is far away on a journey, he may still keep the Lord's Passover." '" But watch this, "'"On the fourteen day of the second month," ' " thirty days after everybody else takes it, " ' "at twilight, they may keep it. They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs," ' " just like the rest did a month prior.
"'"They shall leave none of it till morning, nor break one of its bones. According to all the ordinances of the Passover they shall keep it. But the man who is clean and not on a journey, and ceases to keep the Passover, that same person shall be cut off from among his people, because he did not bring the offering of the Lord at its appointed time; that man shall bear his sin. If a stranger dwells among you, and would keep the Lord's Passover, he must do according to the rite of the Passover and according to its ceremony; you shall have one ordinance, both for the stranger and the native of the land." ' "
Go back and notice in verse 12, "They shall leave none of it till morning, nor break one of its bones." This Scripture is referred to in the gospel of John, chapter 19. Jesus is crucified. John who is one of the disciples of Jesus Christ who was also an eyewitness to the crucifixion at the cross, he writes the story, tells about it. Listen to what he says: "Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the body should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for the Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, that they might be taken away.
"Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with him. But when he came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs." It was common if you wanted to end the death. Crucifixion could last for a couple days. You died by asphyxiation, but sometimes it would just linger on hour after hour. And after a couple of days the victim is still alive. So to just sort of put him out of his misery you break the legs, the lungs collapse, you can't lift the body up any longer, and they die pretty quickly.
But they didn't break Jesus' legs. "But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear," verse 34. I'm reading to you of John, chapter 19. "And immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen," that is John, "has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, 'Not one of his bones shall be broken.' And again another Scripture that says, 'They shall look on him whom they have pierced.' "
The Jews requested that Jesus' legs be broken, and here's why: the Jews, the Jewish leaders of Jesus' day want to so discredit Jesus and showing him by his mutilated state that he is accursed by God hanging on a tree, rejected and abandoned by God because of this horrible death, that he couldn't possibly be their Messiah. That's what they're trying to show. That's why they request, "Let the legs be broken." So they broke one's legs, the other, but Jesus they thought he was already dead. They put a sword or a spear in his side, now came blood and water.
John says, "I was there. I saw this. And this just didn't happen haphazardly, this happened because it was anticipated by the prophets. Jesus' death, John is saying, was under the control of God. He died at precisely the right moment. He was not a victim, he was the victor. He was calling all the shots. This was predicted by the prophets. Jesus' death has been predicted by Jesus. In fact, when Jesus died the Bible says he dismissed his own Spirit, right? And then he bowed his head, "It's finished," and he gave up his Spirit, he released his Spirit back to the Father.
John is saying, "I'm connecting all of the dots. The Scripture, anticipated by the prophets, is coming true right before my eyes, and I'm telling you this that you might believe." Back in the 1960s, 1965 to be precise, when I was just a wee little lad, there was a very popular book put out by Hugh Schonfield called The Passover Plot. It sold millions. Here's the premise of the book: Jesus staged his own death and resurrection. He knew he had gotten in trouble, but he was planning this all along. And that when he was hanging on the cross, says Schonfield, he had one of his followers give him water to drink laced with a very potent drug that would render him unconscious.
The plan was then he would be taken off the cross, presumed dead. Joseph of Arimathea, one of his other conspirators, would place him in his tomb, nurse him back to health, move the stone out, and voilà! Stage a resurrection. The problem came, says Schonfield, when that soldier with a spear lanced Jesus' side and killed him. So the plot backfired on Jesus. It was The Passover Plot. Again, it was a wild and crazy made-up story. It was so popular as every weird story of Jesus is---The Passover Plot. I disagree with Schonfield's story, but I do agree with his premise.
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was a plot. It was not an earthly plot staged by a would-be messiah with conspirators; it was a heavenly plot. Jesus Christ is called "the Lamb slain before the foundations of the world." It was a plot hatched in heaven, meted out, and staged on the earth for all to see. And John writing about it says, "I get that now. This was predicted by the prophets." God's plot to send his Son to die at the precise moment and be raised from the dead is indeed a Passover plot, but it included a real resurrection. "Not one of his bones shall be broken." Enough said. I wanted to tie that in before we take the Lord's Supper.
Okay, we're going to finish up the chapter and then we're going to pray and take these elements. The lamps have been lit, the Passover has been celebrated, and now it's time to resume the journey through the wilderness. Question: How is God going to lead them? How is God going to direct them? You have a few million people out there, it's going to be sort of hard to blow a whistle, one guy waving his hand saying, "Hey, all two million people, can you see me over here?" It would be very difficult to manage that; would it not? So how are they going to move? Well, GPS, God's Positioning System. And it's described in verse 15.
"Now on the day that the tabernacle was raised up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the Testimony; from evening until morning it was above the tabernacle like the appearance of fire. And so it was always: the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night. And whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, after that the children of Israel would journey; and in the place where the cloud settled, there the children of Israel would pitch their tents." We are not quite sure if the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night was just only over the tabernacle structure or possibly centering on the tabernacle but covering the entire camp.
We're just not told. I believe, I lean more on the second than the first, because the cloud would provide a beautiful covering from the intense heat and sunlight that is out in the exposed Sinai Peninsula. And it can get quite cold even in the desert at night in the wintertime. It just snowed in Cairo record snow all throughout the Sinai Desert. It gets cold. So having a pillar of fire centering and spreading over the camp would provide light at night, like sleeping out in a parking lot with lights, and a nice level of heat in the wintertime. Beautiful to think of it that way.
When the cloud was taken up, they left; when the cloud stopped, they stopped. Verse 18, "At the command of the Lord the children of Israel would journey, at the command of the Lord they would camp; as long as the cloud stayed above the tabernacle they remained. Even when the cloud continued long, many days above the tabernacle, the children of Israel kept the charge of the Lord and did not journey." I can only imagine how exciting it must have been if you're camped in one place one day to look up and see that cloud just beginning to move. Right?
Because you know, "We're packing up. We don't know where we're going, we don't know how long we're going to march, but God is on the move and we're going to follow. We're about to go on an adventure." Now, let me just tell you that the Christian life is a lot like that. God doesn't always tell you how or where or how long, but he moves you. And I will say, when you abandon yourself wholly to the will of God, it is the most exciting adventure. Just to see what unfolds during the day and the week and the month and the year, where God is taking you, it's just like, wow! Awesome!
And you might get a little bored: "Boy, I've been sitting around his camp for a long time, but, boy, how exciting when that thing begins to move." Something else, if they moved and they camped according to the movement of the cloud and the pillar of fire---right? That's true. That's premise 'A', and that's true. That's what it says. But we also know that much of their journey was fraught with difficulties, attacks from armies, very, very hard, harsh difficult situations. It must mean since God is the one starting and stopping the journey that God appointed and knew about all the difficult things that were going to go in the lives of his people. Right?
But God was still directing even though times got tough. Correct? So why do we think, "It's a hard time, God must not be in it"? Really? Maybe he led you in that on purpose. "Why would he do that?" Because he loves you and he doesn't want you to stay a kid any longer. He wants you to grow up a little bit and trust him in the most difficult situations. And so all the difficulties that happen in the wilderness were not accidental, they were providential, purposeful. God was directing them and they had that assurance because they're following that cloud and that pillar.
"So it was"---verse 20, and we'll finish it out. "And when the cloud was upon the tabernacle a few days: according to the command of the Lord they would remain encamped, according to the command of the Lord they would journey." That would be sort of a bummer to put down roots for like three days and then say, "Uh, it's moving again. Couldn't we just, like, kept moving and then camped a month?" Those are just my thoughts. God's ways are not mine; that's a good thing. "So it was, when the cloud remained only from evening until morning: when the cloud was taken up in the morning, that they would journey; whether by day or by night."
Remember they have a flashlight. "Wherever the cloud was taken up, they would journey. Whether it was two days, a month, or a year the cloud remained above the tabernacle, the children of Israel would remain encamped and not journey; but when it was taken up, they would journey. At the command of the Lord they remained encamped, at the command of the Lord they journeyed; and they kept the charge of the Lord, at the command of the Lord by the hand of Moses." This cloud and this pillar of fire is the presence of the Lord, visible presence to them of the Lord.
It was a reminder of God being with us and directing us. The formal name given to it is, some of you know, the Shekinah, or the Hebrew word is really Shekhinah/Schechinah, which literally means residence. Now if you know Hebrew, you will not find it in the Hebrew Bible. It is not a word ever found in the Old Testament. The word comes to us from the Aramaic writings called the Targums. The Targums were Aramaic commentaries on the Scripture for those who would be in the Babylonian captivity and never learn to speak Hebrew. They spoke Aramaic, which became the language of Jesus in the New Testament.
So this term "the residence" became translated into Hebrew the Shekinah, or the residence, or the presence of God. Here's the point of it all: God is in the center of the nation. God redeems his people and wants to be in the center of their life, and that is the Christian life. God redeems us for what purpose? That he could be in the center of our lives, that all of our lives would revolve around his will. And in a nutshell, what we see here is a picture of what it is to follow Christ. So the Passover, protected by blood, redeemed by blood, and we celebrate that.
You have the elements in front of you, underneath you, next to you in a convenient peel-top apparatus. It's funny, we're in a catch-22 here at Calvary. When we first started using this we got complaints that it wasn't "holy" enough, I guess, like the big chrome hub caps that we have when we pass them out to you. But then last time when we had formal communion we got complaints that that wasn't convenient enough and could we just do pop-tops. So, I guess people will be people whether they're in the wilderness complaining or they're in modern society complaining.
But we're not here to complain, we're here to celebrate. And, you know, it really is a celebration. One of my assistant pastors one time was out buying grape juice, a large quantity of it for communion, and in the line in front of him was a gal with a couple six-packs of beer. And she looked back and saw the enormous amount of grape juice and she turned to him and she smiled and she said, "Having a party, huh?" [laughter] She didn't know the half of it. We are having a party. God's people are happy people. Free people are happy people.
Psalm 32 said, "Oh how happy is the man whose transgressions have been forgiven, whose sin is covered," so we are celebrating. And I'm going to have a couple of my assistants come up; they know who they are. They're going to come up and they're going to pray for the elements. So, peel the top off and get down to the bread.
Pastor Nathan Heitzig: "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." That's bad news. But we are "justified freely by grace through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ." That's good news. Let's pray. Lord, we thank you for your body which was broken for our sins. And as we take this we're reminded that just as through one man sin entered the world, through another grace abounds. And, Lord, you are our grace, you are our redemption. Because you died, we can live. Because your body was broken and bruised, ours can one day be perfect in your presence. And so, Lord, we thank you for the greatest sacrifice that could ever be made and the life that it brings, in your name we pray, amen. Let's take the bread.
Pastor Neil Ortiz: I shared with the men of our men's ministry just recently on the heels of sharing communion with you all last time that if we're all going to have drinking buddies, my friend, this is the right kind of drinking buddy to have. And so with that would you please allow me to lead all of us in prayer for the juice.
Father, thank you so much that this truly is a celebration, God. And so, Lord, as we come before you, we do have contrition, we do have, Lord, a sense of how sacred this is in the humility that it brings. But we do so with a smile on our face that we are most privileged to be able to partake of this cup in remembrance of how you bled out for us. You gave your life that we might live, and for that, God, we rejoice, we thank you, and we do it, Lord, with a big smile and great joy. Thank you.
Pastor Brian Nixon: Do you know how blessed we are truly to commune with the Creator of the universe, to open up his Word and hear from him, to sit with brothers and sisters in a free country. Are we not blessed? And not only that, we have a marvelous Bible teacher to lead us through Scripture, this journey through the Bible. [applause] Yup. So if there's one thing we should be tonight is thankful. So I get the privilege of thanking the Lord, concluding us in prayer before we stand and sing our final song. But let's pause and reflect on what the Lord has done on our behalf.
Father, we thank you for this time for this opportunity to gather as your people as brothers and sisters around your Word, around communion. And we pray now, Lord, that you would fill us with your Holy Spirit that you would use us and equipped us for every good work that every step we take our eyes would be fixed on you, our heart would be knit with yours, and that you would lead us according to your purposes. So we sit as thankful people giving you all glory, declaring that your name is holy, and that you are righteous, and you are so good to us.
So, Father, have your way this day, this evening in us and through us. And may you be glorified through this campus at Calvary of Albuquerque, through every individual, through every family unit, through our communities in our neighborhood, through this city and this state, Lord. May you reign. And so, Father, be with us now as we just sing this final song. And for those who don't know you, Lord, may this be the night, may they come forward to receive prayer, to receive you as Lord and Savior. And so, Father, we just say we love you. And we pray this in Christ's name, amen.