They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Kingdom of Heaven Begins

Finger of God

Finger of God

The idea of the Kingdom of Heaven is born in the Hebrew Bible with the story of the Exodus. What is meant by the Kingdom of Heaven? It is a very important concept to get a hold of.

John the Baptizer came preaching in the Desert of Judea saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near”. This phrase,” Kingdom of Heaven”, occurs 33 times just in Matthew. Jesus, in Matthew 4:17 began to preach, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” In almost every parable, He says the “Kingdom of Heaven” is like…

Paul, in Acts 28:31, says, “Boldly and without hindrance He preached the Kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ. Mark and Luke use the phrase” Kingdom of God” to say the same thing. This phrase occurs over 30 times in Luke. In Luke 9:1 when Jesus sent the twelve out, He sent them to preach the” Kingdom of God”. In Matthew 10:7 Jesus tells His disciples, “As you go, preach this message, the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

Although the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” doesn’t actually appear in the Hebrew Testament, it occurs 120 times in the New Testament. The Hebrew phrase is “Malchut Shamayim” which would have been a common phrase to their world. The phrase was used in a pious way to avoid using the actual name of God, which was commanded in Exodus 20. So you would think of a synonym for God. God was the God of Heaven, so use heaven as a synonym for His name. If you look it up, Jesus never used God’s name in the New Testament, He calls Him Father. In Luke and Acts the phrase Kingdom of God was used when they were writing to the Gentiles. Kingdom of God = Kingdom of Heaven.

Even though the expression” Kingdom of Heaven” or” Kingdom of God” does not actually occur in the Hebrew Testament, the one fundamental theological statement that is made in the O.T. is that God is the Ruling Lord, He is God, alone, and He alone is reigning on the throne of His kingdom. This is what is meant by the “Kingdom of God”. In Hebrew, the word translated kingdom (Malkuth) is a dynamic word signifying royal power, just as the English, kingdom, means the authority and power of a king. In the biblical tradition, the idea of the “Kingdom of God” is God’s exercise of His royal power (see David’s prayer in 1 Chronicles 29:11). To have a kingdom, you must have a king that is ruling and reigning over it.

The great example that serves as a pattern for the rest of the Bible, of God’s exercise of His sovereign power, is the Exodus. The events of God’s delivering His people out of the slavery of Egypt to the Promised Land were viewed by the Bible writers as the pattern for all His future acts of kingly power. Prophets looked for a second Exodus that would be greater than the first (see Isaiah 51:9-11 and Hosea 2:14-25), where the Kingdom of God would show up in power under the rule of His representative, the Messiah. The writings of the Essene community at Qumran showed that they believed the” Kingdom of God” was among them now.

Jesus said in Mark 1:14-15, that the time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. This appears to mean that the time for waiting is over; God is now initiating the Second Exodus. When Jesus’ read the Isaiah 60 and 61 passages that predict the 2nd Exodus and the arrival of the Messiah, He says, “today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”. It’s here, the kingdom is here! So the concept of the” Kingdom of God’ is interwoven throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. But the concept of the “Kingdom of Heaven”, the place where it was born, where God first shows up in great kingly power to his people, is the Exodus, in Egypt. All the rest of the Bible is shaped by the Exodus. It is the pattern by which the rest of the Bible develops. What was the pattern?

Hathor & Osiris

Hathor & Osiris: gods of Egypt

The Kingdom of Heaven starts when God acts in great power and the finger of God shows up (Exodus 8:19, 31:18, and Psalms 8:3, Luke 11:20) – also similar phrase the “hand of the Lord”. Pharaoh’s magicians recognized these great powers as they saw the miracles of the plagues unfold. They told Pharaoh, this is just the finger of this God working, as if to say, what would happen if He put his back or legs into it. You better not mess with this God, He is all powerful.

After bringing the miraculous 10 plagues on the Egyptians and defeating the Egyptian gods, God leads his people out to a place where they camped at Pi Hahiroth. Here, He again acts in unbelievable power as the waters of the sea are parted and the Israelites walk through on dry ground. This leads to the 2nd step of the Kingdom, people call Him Lord. Exodus 14:31 says “And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in Him and in Moses his servant.”. They stood on the bank of the sea and danced and sang a song to God and called Him Lord. He is our God; we will follow Him, and not the old ones we used to follow in Egypt. “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord”, says chap 15 vs. 11. Think about that based on where they had just come from. The Lord will reign forever and ever says vs. 18. The children of Israel have finally decided who the King is! It’s not Pharaoh or the gods of Egypt who they were to serve.

What started as a night of great terror for the people turned into a great victory, by the finger of God. They came out of the water a different nation. Here, the nation of Israel was born, through wind (ruah) fire and water. The Red Sea became a birth canal through which they emerged as a new people. This is the first time a whole community of people called Him King. It is interesting to note here that the people were saved first and then believed. Our philosophy is that you believe first and then you are saved.

Immediately after this great miraculous saving experience God takes his people out into the harshest desert in the world. This is the third part of the Kingdom of Heaven story:

  1. The finger of God shows up and acts in great power
  2. People see and call Him Lord and King, and
  3. People obey the king.

God is saying you have called me King? Are you sure? Let me show you how to make me your king. Let me take you out to the desert. We’re going to leave the fertile place, the place with lots of water and food, and we’re going to go to a place where it’s hot and dry and you will have to count on me for your food and water. If you obey me in these circumstances I will make you a kingdom of priests.

Are you going to be willing to take on the yoke of obedience in your daily life? If you’re going to call me King and Lord, then you must go out and do my will. I want my will to be done. To call Him Lord we must be obedient to Him.

The Kingdom of Heaven is found in the desert. God did not let his children go the easy way. He led them into the most severe desert in the world, “to humble you and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger…to teach you that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord”. Deut 8:2-4 (also read rest of Deut 8). The desert is the place where He gently and patiently takes us to teach us and demand from us, obedience. God’s desert plan is to put us in tough circumstances so we can see who we are and what we are doing here, and what is in our hearts. We can’t get away with just calling Him King; we have to make Him King, by being obedient, by actually serving Him and doing his will.

It seems, in the church today, we want to see the finger of God, and we want to see His great power displayed. We like calling Him Lord and King with our praise songs, but to submit to His will? We want very little to do with the obedience part. The Kingdom of Heaven shows up when people obey, it doesn’t come without obedience.

Exodus 19:4-6 says it perfectly: “‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ “. This conversation took place at Mt. Sinai and God was extending his covenant relationship to all the nation of Israel. This was an outgrowth of the covenant He had set up with Abraham in Genesis 15, 600 years earlier. “Now if you will” and “then I will” are covenant expressions. If what? If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then what? He will make us His treasured possession and we will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Israel was to be God’s kingdom (the people who acknowledge the fact that you are our King), and like priests we are to be wholly set apart to do his bidding, His will and His service. We are to be a holy nation – a nation that is set apart both individually and collectively as different, distinct people that are doing His will. We are to be set apart that much that we are like priests serving in God’s kingdom. We don’t call Him king, we make Him king.

In summary, we have grossly under stressed obedience. The Lord’s people should be a people who are called to and driven by obedience. We want to make our king dance like He made us dance. We should want to do everything in our power to make Him king. Obedience is always the response to grace. How else could we respond to what He’s done for us? We must walk as Jesus walked, must do what He says. I hope I can catch the importance of this in my life so His kingdom will come to me right now where I am, not just someday in heaven.

How Strong is the Culture’s Hold on You (Me?)

As we studied the Exodus and applied the parallels to our life here in America, I have to ask myself – at what point am I willing to let go?  It took 10 plagues and miracles just to get them started on the journey, including seeing the firstborn of every Egyptian killed.  And it took them till the Red Sea incident to get them to trust completely.

Why would the Israelites need 40 years in the desert?  Because Egypt had such an incredible hold on them!  It took that long just to get Egypt (the world) out of them.

On a personal basis, each one of use has to renounce Egypt and embrace the wilderness.  Each one of us has to have an Exodus experience, where we leave Egypt behind and trust God to lead you through the wilderness, through the unknown.  Until you get to that place in life you are still in the land of bondage.  We live in Egypt, but we can’t let Egypt live in us!  The only reason God leaves us in Egypt is because He loves the Egyptians – like Moses, we are to be “like God” (Ex 7:1b) to them.  But, we are not to be like them.

The desert is a place of curse in one way because there are snakes, scorpions, heat, and no rain – it not necessarily a place we would choose to be on our own.  But the desert is also a place of blessing beyond all places because that’s where God is, and that is where he meets with us.  He has our attention in the desert.

The Camp at Pi-hahiroth

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon. Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.” So the Israelites did this .
Exodus 14:1-4

Map of the Sinai Peninsula

Map of the Sinai Peninsula

On day 4 of our first scout trip to Egypt, we left Goshen heading out on the Exodus route. It was amazing how quickly the green turned to stark desert. We crossed the Suez Canal and turned SE down towards the Sinai. We began to read and try to figure out where they might have camped. In Exodus 13:20 it says “After leaving Succoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert.” This is where the pillar of cloud and fire began to lead them.

Then we read in chapter 14, verses 1-4 that God told Moses to turn back and camp at Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the Sea. He said camp right by the Sea, the one that they were going to cross later. As we studied this and put it on a map, we realized that God set the Israelite people up where they are stuck next to the sea. There were several places that they could have gone around the body of water and kept on going, but he purposely put them with their back to the sea and the Egyptians coming after them. He put them in a position where they couldn’t do anything but cry out for help. This was the first time that the children of Israel put their trust completely in God and Moses. And one of the most major miracles in the Bible follows.

The metaphor is clear and obvious; God puts us in situations that are out of our control; no way can we fix it. We add very little, if anything, to the equation. And this is when God comes in power, if we completely put our trust in Him.

Amen.

Thoughts at the Red Sea

Shore of the Red Sea

Shore of the Red Sea

After spending the previous evening reliving the “night of watching” on the banks of the Red Sea, we went the next morning to another Red Sea location to film the story of the Israelites coming out of the water. There, it was brought home to me again, that they didn’t know the ending of the story like we did when they stepped in between those two walls of water. The story says that the Egyptians rode into the Sea after them. Will they come out on the other side also? Ex 14:30 says the Egyptians were laying dead on the shore, so they must have gotten pretty close in their pursuit. How would the Hebrew have people felt? What kind of power is this? Ex 14:31 says “when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in Him and in Moses his servant.” They got it! YHWH is God! And they broke out in song in chapter 15 “I will sing to YHWH (not other gods) “He has become my salvation.” He divided sea, this is my God! I’ll leave everything behind, no more Egypt and their gods. The parallels of crossing the Red Sea with our salvation are amazing. Calvary is our Exodus and the Red Sear our baptism. When the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, it was a birth canal through which a new people were born. The water is the grace part of salvation. We had to make a commitment by following Him and stepping in the water, but it was all God that took us through to the other side. The Israelites were saved by grace, just like we are – God took them out. At some point in our salvation experience we had to say, this is my God! I believe Him, I know Him now”, just like the Israelites did.

Celebrating the Crossing

Celebrating the Crossing

The people praised Him there on the banks of the Sea. The Hebrew can be translated not only to mean to “give credit” but also “oasis” or pleasant place to live” and can be translated “This is my God; I will be the place He lives”. The concept of us being God’s temple was already here at the Red Sea. The Israelites were saying, we can’t offer much, but if you want us, we give you our all! They danced for joy because Pharaoh was right behind them ready to wipe them out and YHWH saved them. Can you see why they would be so overwhelmed that they would jump for joy and sing?

A Jew will tell you that this is where the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven began. God acted in great power, like a king and his people called him King. To have a kingdom, you must have a king and his subjects.

If you continue to follow the parallels, being saved was not the end of the story, it was merely the beginning. If the water was the grace, then the desert is the response. We are not going to get to stand on the bank forever. Now comes the obedience part. God says, I not only want you to call me Lord, I want you to make me Lord by the way you live your life. I am going to show you what it means to make me Lord. Jesus said, “your kingdom come, your will be done.” We didn’t have to do the will of the father to get across the sea; we just had to make a commitment (that’s the grace part). Now let’s go out into the desert and let me start shaping you into what I want you to become. That’s the obedience part. He doesn’t want you to just tell him. The language He wants is obedience – now make me Lord, by the way you live. Obedience is never a burden, it is never legalism; rather, it is pleasing to God. Would you marry someone who only loved you because of what they got from you? When He takes us out of bondage and saves us by his grace, we have to leave all of Egypt behind. We must leave all the other gods, no matter how big. We can’t still have Egypt in our soul, we must leave it. God gets the Egypt out of us by taking us to the desert. We shouldn’t look at the desert as a disaster, but as a honeymoon where we get to know God and his provision for us. Be careful about how far you take grace. God did it all; He brought us out of bondage and put us on the banks of the Red Sea. But his salvation didn’t stop there, it started there. Now we have to go to the desert of life with Him and let Him shape us. We are working out our salvation.

Philippians 2:12b-13: “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”