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

Call Down Fire from Heaven

There is an interesting story about Jesus and his disciples that occurs in the gospels only in Luke 9. The time frame of the story is in the very late stages of Jesus public ministry.  He has taken his disciples to the northernmost part of Israel, to Caesarea Philippi, where He revealed to them what was about to take place as far as his death and resurrection were concerned.

Click on map for route and location details

Click on map for route and location details

Then he takes three of the disciples, Peter, James, and John up on a high mountain to experience what has been called the “transfiguration”. While they are watching, Jesus meets with and talks to the “angelic” appearing Moses and Elijah, two of Israel’s greatest prophets, who have long since died and gone to heaven. They also see their rabbi transfigured and hear the voice of God thunder from the heavens. It is obvious that they are in special company in a special time in history.

After this amazing incident, the Bible says that Jesus, realizing that his time to be crucified was at hand, set his face resolutely towards Jerusalem.  To get to Jerusalem, which is south of the Galilee quite a distance, the group decided to go the shortest route through the Samaritan mountains. They had taken this route in the past, if you remember when Jesus met the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well in Samaria. The Samaritans and the Jews did not get along, at all. Most Jews would not even risk going through Samaria and the same could be said for the Samaritans, as they were reluctant to go through Israel. Their hatred for each other had been going on for centuries.

As they traveled in Samaria, Jesus sent some messengers ahead to reserve a place to stay and to have something to eat. However, the Samaritans were not friendly at all, and would not let the disciples make any arrangements for their rabbi.

When James and John saw the Samaritans rude behavior, they quickly asked Jesus,”Can we call down fire from heaven on these guys and teach them a lesson and destroy this Samaritan village?”Jesus rebuked James and John and said, we’ll just go to another village. In the King James translation, Jesus replies, “I did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them”.

Why would the disciples want to call fire down from heaven, besides the obvious fact that they were mad at them? If we knew our text better, the answer would be obvious. Elijah, the first great prophet of Israel, the one that they had just seen on the mountain, had done the exact same thing to the exact same people, in the exact same area, for the exact same reason! Look at the story in 2 Kings Ch.1! By gosh, if Elijah didn’t put up with these unruly Samaritans, then neither will we! Also, Elijah had called down fire from heaven in the contest with Baal on top of Mt. Carmel. So the fire from heaven was a prophet thing!

Moses, the other great leader of Israel that they had just witnessed, also called down fire from heaven on the Sons of Korah in Numbers 16:35 and on Aaron’s sons in Leviticus 10:2. So the disciples were trying to emulate these great prophets when they asked Jesus for permission to scorch these Samaritans! They had great precedent to do so; surely their rabbi would go along with it.

Jesus, however, said, “My ministry is going to be a little different “. What Moses and Elijah did was appropriate for that time and situation, but my ministry is going to be about trying to save these people’s lives, not wipe them out”. In fact, Jesus uses the Samaritans as examples in a lot of his parables and stories to show that we’ve got to love even our worst enemy, e.g. the story of the Good Samaritan.

Doesn’t this make this story a lot more interesting when you know the history and the context behind what was happening? We need to know our Hebrew Testament so much better! That is the book and the stories that Jesus and his disciples would have been so familiar with. This should motivate us to be better students of the text! Our rabbi and his disciples certainly were good students!

From the Burning Bush to the Cross: Making of a Leader

Moses & the Burning Bush

Moses & the Burning Bush

I wanted to look closer at the events surrounding the burning bush to learn more about Moses and what qualified him to become such a good leader.

To recap, Moses is in the Midian desert by Horeb, which means barren or dry, and is the name for the general area of Sinai, where Mount Sinai is. He sees the bush on fire and goes over to investigate because it is burning, but does not burn up — a consuming fire, that didn’t consume. God calls his name twice — which we’ve already discussed, saying that God had a big job for Moses.

Moses took off his sandals at God’s request, and Moses was afraid even to look. God says “I have seen the suffering (tseqah) of my people in Egypt”. Moses probably thought. “It’s about time — yes!” Then God says “I’m going to come down and rescue them and bring them out to a new land”. Again, Moses probably said, “right on! It’s about time! Get them out of there!”

Then God drops the bombshell, “I am sending you to bring my people out of Egypt”. It suddenly dawns on Moses that this huge task is going to be laid on him and you could certainly understand why he wouldn’t feel qualified. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” Why me?

At this point, you would have expected God to list all of Moses’ qualifications:

  1. I rescued you in an Ark, just like Noah, to start a new creation
  2. I raise you with Pharaoh, you know him and the Egyptian ways
  3. I’ve trained you in the desert for 40 years, where you are about to lead you r flock, the Israelites

Moses had good qualifications. But God didn’t talk about qualifications; he simply said “I’ll be with you.” Great leaders always have the qualifications, but that doesn’t make them a great leader. Leading like God does is what much makes them great. Moses becomes one of the greatest leaders in history because he always had the interests of God’s people at heart. Moses wasn’t the perfect leader, as we are seeing in Numbers. But, Deuteronomy 18:17-20 says that there would be another leader coming who would take it to the perfect level. Jesus would take Moses’ pattern of servant hood to an even greater level. Moses in his great, but imperfect way, will show us why there needs to be a second Moses.

Moses, as the great leader of the Exodus, set a pattern of leadership that Jesus would follow later. Even as a little boy, Jesus was taught to be like Moses. Be a servant, be a good shepherd. Moses was the first shepherd of God’s people and Jesus called himself the good Shepherd.

Later, after the golden calf incident, God is ready to destroy his people and start over. Moses pleads with God to take his life instead. Exodus 32:32 – “But now, please forgive their sin-but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” Isn’t this exactly what the second Moses would do later? Moses pled for their lives and Jesus bled for their lives. His pattern came from the example and words of Moses.

When God put Moses in the cleft of the rock and let him see his glory, the first thing that came out was God’s mercy and compassion. Another Moses showed the same qualities. Oh, he had the power, but Jesus wanted to be known as someone who healed lepers and made the blind to see and the lame to walk.

In summary, great leaders have servant’s hearts and have love and compassion above all. Power and politics don’t change the world, but love and compassion do. Feed the hungry, visit the prisoners, heal the sick, clothe the naked, and that will change the world. Moses set the first and best example of what a leader should be. God spoke with Moses, face to face and told him, he was pleased with him. In Matthew 9:36, the writer, speaking of Jesus, says,” When he saw the crowds he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Moses was the first shepherd; Jesus was the good and ultimate Shepherd and our model for a great leader. Amen and Amen.

Spaghetti: The Bible Is One Long Thread

It has been exciting and a blessing to see how the Bible ties together so amazingly. It’s like a big long spaghetti noodle. When you pull it out of the bowl it just stays together all the way through. As we read and walk the Exodus story we begin to realize the common thread runs throughout all the major Bible stories.

In Genesis, God created man and woman so that He could fellowship with him. In Genesis 3, He walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. But then sin entered the world ,first as individual sin, eating the fruit and Cain killing Abel. Then sin began to multiply and became institutional.

Construction of the Ark

Construction of the Ark

Moses discovered in basket (Rembrandt)

Moses discovered in basket (Rembrandt)

It continued to develop until it finally became a kingdom of evil and God has to do something. In Genesis 6:5, it says that the Lord saw how great man’s wickedness was and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was to do only evil all the time. So He sent the flood and destroyed all mankind. However, He saves a remnant of mankind in an Ark (Hebrew tebah – Strong’s 8392) to start over. The word tebah is only used two times in the Bible, once here and once to describe what Moses was put in, on the Nile.

God starts over and makes a covenant with Noah. Once again sin starts as individual sins, but it multiplies into an evil kingdom at the Tower of Babel. At that time, the Bible says there were 70 nations (Genesis 10:2; note 14 from Japheth, 30 from Ham, 26 from Shem). God scattered them over all the earth as He cannot tolerate evil as a kingdom.

God starts over again with His plan to have a people for himself, with Abraham. Fast forward to Joseph and his experience in Egypt. In Genesis 46:27, it says that Joseph’s family numbered 70 in all. 70 nations grow out of Babel, and Joseph comes down as 70 nations.

God saves Moses with a tebah (ark) and uses him to start the process again of saving and starting over with His people. He sends them out on Passover, after killing the firstborn of the evil kingdom of Egypt that had been developed as a result of individual and corporate sin.

God continues to do the Exodus story when His son died on Passover, the day they left Egypt. He died as the Passover lamb. God is still doing the Exodus story today. Our culture is like Egypt.
The point is, the Bible repeats itself over and over with the Exodus story, with God wanting to have a people who are a royal priesthood, a holy nation. God is in the process constantly of redeeming His own.

God Picks a Partner

Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. 2 You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country.
— Exodus 7:1-2

How did God begin the process of rescuing his people?  He picked a partner to start the process!  Why in the world does God need a human partner?  Why does He so often seem to pick someone to be His hands and feet and voice?  Throughout human history He has done this.  Abraham and Sarah, David, Ruth – you could go on and on – and then He picked Jesus.  And then Jesus chose disciples, common men all.  To save His people, God chose Moses, which was an interesting choice.  Let’s take a closer look at what God did to get His partner ready to lead his people out.

We first meet Moses as an infant.  God puts him in and saves him with an ark (tebah), just like He did to a remnant in the past to start over.  He gives him a name that would be his destiny; in Hebrew, his name means “to draw out”.  God also places him in a unique position in his adopted family, as a man who would possibly be in line one day to be the next Pharaoh of Egypt.

He also evidently gave Moses a unique heritage.  Evidently, there were a few Israelites who still knew of and clung to the God of Abraham.  Moses’ parent’s names, give us a clue to their beliefs.  They are Jewish names, and Amram means “exalted people” and Jochabed means “give glory to Adonai”.  This gives us some idea of where Moses got his heart.  He must have had godly parents and grandparents.

Pharaoh subdues his enemies

Pharaoh subdues his enemies

How do we meet Moses as an adult?  He kills an Egyptian!  As a man, Moses had God’s heart – he had intense sympathy and compassion.  He was a man who would hear the cry of someone who was hurting and would come to their rescue.  In the Egyptian world, the stick represented the power that the Pharaoh wielded over anyone one that crossed him.  Image after image depicts him with a raised stick over his subdued enemies.  Moses acts like Pharaoh and hits with a stick.  He has to run away, he is an enemy of the Crown.

God says, I’ll teach you to lead like me, not like Pharaoh.  So He sends Moses to the desert to tend a flock of sheep for 40 years.  All God’s partners have to be trained.  Then, after 40 years, God shows up in a bush and says, “Are you ready to tackle the mission I’ve given you?”

If you will notice in Exodus 7, that God didn’t just give the message to send, He told Moses, “you be the message”.  “I will make you like God to Pharaoh”.   1 Peter 2:5 carries that same message, you, too will be a kingdom of priests.  We are supposed to show the world what God is like.  God is still looking for partners.  Are you interested in being one of them?  Are you willing to trade your cushy lifestyle for 40 years of desert training?

Moses was a humble man going up against the most powerful megalomaniac in the world.  Doesn’t make sense!  Moses was able to hear the cry!  Do you hear it?  Or do you cover up, you and your children’s ears?  We have to learn to have God’s heart and God’s ears.  In the New Testament there are nine examples of Jesus doing something dramatic when people cry out.

When a disaster happens, we often say, God, where are you?  God is saying to us, where are you?  He is looking for partners today!  Will you hear his call?  Amen.