On Freedom and Forgetfulness

As we took another step this week in our summer long journey through the Big Picture story of the Bible, we witnessed God’s single greatest Old Testament act of deliverance- the rescue of His chosen people from 400+ years of slavery in the land of Egypt. Through a stunning series of miracles, culminating with the parting of the Red Sea (and subsequent swamping of His people’s Egyptian pursuers), God led His people out of the land of their oppression on the fast track toward freedom in the land He had promised to their father, Abraham, centuries earlier.

But apparently, if the story of Exodus is any indication, freedom isn’t quite that simple. Though God’s people came out of Egypt physically free, in a very real sense, they were still enslaved spiritually by their own sinful hearts. This is evidenced by their stubborn doubt of God, constant complaining against God, and gross false worship of other “gods” throughout the remainder of the book of Exodus. All of these things, occurred, mind you, in the span of a few weeks immediately following one of the greatest recorded acts of salvation in history.

It would be easy to point a finger of accusation at the Exodus Israelites if it weren’t for the striking reality that on a regular, I am just like them– and if you’re walking around wrapped in human flesh, so are you. You and I live on the back side of the salvation event which the Exodus foreshadowed- God’s eternal rescue of His people from sin and death through the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches us clearly that if we have trusted Jesus, we are now free in the deepest possible way. We no longer have to live as slaves of sin’s power on us. Free from the weight of condemnation which presses down on all who are without Jesus, we can now run free, putting our faith in God’s faithfulness and possessing His Spirit’s power to obey His Word.

But much like God’s Old Testament people, we are a forgetful bunch, aren’t we? On the winding road of life’s journey, amidst the twists and turns of everyday life in this broken world, we are prone to neglect God’s goodness to us and focus instead on all we feel that our lives are lacking. Here are three key areas where I believe we are persistently prone to forget…

We forget God’s provision. Much like the Israelites who groaned in the desert for food and water, we quickly doubt God’s desire and/or ability to give us what we need. Perhaps you struggle to trust God for physical provision. Or for what you need to face a relationship challenge. Or for the spiritual equipping to fulfill what you believe to be His call on your life. Whatever the case might be, it is critical that we remember that God is not under resourced, and neither is He stingy with His people. There are times when this is incredibly difficult to believe, I know. But rest in this reality- God is an able Provider.

We forget God’s purposes. As we read the Old Testament account, we see that God pulls no punches in telling His people why He has chosen them as His own possession. It is made clear time and again that He desires that they would reflect and represent Him faithfully to one another and to the world as a conduit of His blessing. As New Testament followers of Jesus, God’s purpose is much the same in our lives. Often, though, we abuse the freedom afforded us and use it as a license to indulge our desires and ignore God’s. Let’s not make the tragic error of shackling ourselves to selfishness when God has freed us for something so much better- selfless service of Him and others.

We forget God’s grace. We can give intellectual assent all day long to the reality that we are saved and freed by God’s grace in Jesus, all the while practically living as though our standing before Him is wholly dependent on our performance. Functionally, we attempt to become our own “gods,” and when we do, we forfeit the joy of our freedom and enter into what I call a “shame cycle” of attempting to behave our way into God’s favor. But as the Israelites discovered- and as we all eventually discover- this is a losing battle always. You’ve never had the ability to free yourself from your sin, and when you try to do what only God can, you ironically enslave yourself all over again.

To experience true freedom, it is essential that you make the critical choice to surrender and remember. Though it is true that we are saved by grace at an initial moment of surrender to God, we must daily- and maybe even more- surrender ourselves practically to His leadership in our lives, remembering His faithfulness and resting in it as we pursue His purposes for our lives.

What aspect of God’s faithfulness have you forgotten today?

What would it look like for you to surrender yourself afresh to Him today?

What can you do practically to more consistently remember the freedom He has afforded you in Jesus?

The Common Condition

Storytelling is an art form. There are skilled, novice, and outlandish artists. Each storyteller must decide where and how to start the story. The most common form of storytelling is purely chronological – from beginning to end. The Bible is basically chronological. The grand Storyteller, the Lord God himself, inspired authors across millennia to write out the story one piece at a time. This summer we are teaching a series called The Big Picture. We are going through the entire Bible in 10 weeks. Our goal is to help people understand the big picture of the story found in Scripture. The big picture of the Bible focuses on Jesus. Everything in the Bible is preparation for, proclamation of, or participation in the Gospel of Jesus. (Dave Harvey) The Bible is telling the good story, the good news, of Jesus Christ. From its beginning to its end, the focus of the Bible is Jesus.   We chose to start, not with the beginning in Creation, but instead with the common condition we all know – brokenness. The Fall of Man recorded in Genesis 3 begins the reign of a common condition for every human, and therefore, the world itself.   Brokenness is obvious and out of control. The broken nature of our world, it’s sinful choices and selfish actions, are both obvious to even those who are doing them and, most certainly, out of control towards those they are being acted upon. In Genesis 3 and 4 we see the fast progression of brokenness. A broken world is filled with broken people living in broken relationships with God and one another. Adam and Eve no longer savor the moments in the cool of the day when the Lord God walks in the Garden, instead they hide from him. Adam immediately blames Eve for the situation. Cain, in only the second generation of humanity, kills his brother because Abel gave a pure and holy sacrifice to God while Cain did not. Cain’s relationship was broken with God already because he was unwilling to give God his best and his first. His relationship with Able was obviously broken by murder. Sin is obvious and out of control in our world because it is obvious and out of control in each of our own individual lives. We see how quickly this escalates in Genesis 6 through the life of Noah. God says that he “was sorry he made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” Yet Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation and he found favor in the eyes of the Lord. God spared humanity because he spared a righteous, yet imperfect man. The problem was that humanity had evil intention in all his thoughts. The essence of sin is rebellion against God and replacement of God. The story continues at the Tower of Babel where people decide to make their own way to Heaven and to make their own name great. God scatters humanity around the world and confuses their language so they might not attempt such an endeavor again. What do all these stories teach us? We are broken because we are in rebellion against God desiring to replace him with ourselves. The crafty serpent offers that place to Eve. He says if you eat of the fruit “you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Unfortunately that was true. We are like God in that we now know good and evil, but knowing evil means, for us, doing evil. In sin, we attempt to take God’s place…and the result is brokenness. On the Cross, Jesus did take our place…and the result is reconciliation. The reconciling and restoring nature of God is seen in every story. As Adam and Eve leave the Garden, God covers their nakedness and shame with the skin of a slain animal. He shed blood so their sin and shame might be covered. After Cain killed Abel and was banished from connection with others, God marked him so no one would take vengeance upon him. This marking is often mislabeled as a mark of sin. It is actually a mark of grace. It is God’s ongoing protection of Cain. After Noah leaves the Ark with scarce resources needed to repopulate the planet, he takes some of the clean animals and sacrifices them. He offers a pleasing sacrifice to God and God gives humanity a promise of not flooding the world again with a rainbow. At the Tower of Babel God disperses humanity not out of pride but out of grace. He desires what is best for them and he realizes that they will not seek that together. They will choose to seek self instead of Him, and he is best for them. God has always been gracious, yet he has also always been just. Jesus offers his life as one sacrifice for the sanctification of all for all time. He took our place. He replaced us with Himself. Brokenness is a condition we all share, but restoration is a promise we are all given.

Who Needs the Old Testament?

We don’t have much room for the Old Testament anymore. Sure, we’ll take some of the better stories like Joseph, Ruth, David, and Daniel. We might even read some Psalms and quote some proverbs. If we are particularly educated, we might grab something from Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Malachi. We have a general familiarity with Job and know the first three books of Genesis pretty well. But the rest of the Old Testament, we could do without. Who wants to read about z being the son of y who was the son of x? Who can make it through rules about mold and chewing cud and goat’s milk? Most intolerable of all may be the passages about killing entire nations, rules for slavery, and examples of polygamous marriages. In the end, many would like to just use the Old Testament for general guidance while focusing primarily on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

There’s a little problem with that approach, though. Jesus didn’t ignore the Old Testament at all. According to Robert Saucy in his book, Scripture: Its Power, Authority, and Relevance, Jesus was so familiar with Old Testament teaching that at least 1 out of every 10 things that he says in the four gospels is a partial or full quote of an Old Testament passage (110). When tempted by Satan in the wilderness, his responses were quotations of Old Testament passages. Even more, whenever Jesus taught, he asserted the Old Testament as authoritative – not just helpful sayings. How many times does Jesus say, “According to Scripture,” or “Have you not read,” or “What did Moses command you?” Jesus talked about historic figures and events from the Old Testament as if they were historically accurate and true. Examples include Moses, David, Sodom, Lot’s wife, the men of Nineveh and Jonah. In the end, Jesus had a very high view of the Old Testament.

But, we might say, that’s the only Scripture Jesus had. Obviously, the New Testament wasn’t written at that time, so he had to rely heavily on the Old Testament. There are two specific passages that might help us understand that Jesus’ love of Old Testament Scripture wasn’t just circumstantial.

Matthew 5:17-18 (ESV)

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

Jesus revealed himself as the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets. He was explaining to the people that he was not a new revelation, but was the full revelation of what had already been revealed in the past. We’ll see in our next verse how far he takes this. Also, Paul expands on this understanding in Romans, Galatians and other places. The author of Hebrews also expands on this.

The point: if you do accept the New Testament, then you really must accept the Old Testament.

Luke 24:27 (ESV)

In the days following Jesus’ resurrection, his followers were very confused. Two of these followers were walking on a road on that resurrection Sunday when Jesus came and walked with them, though he didn’t reveal himself to them. They explained to Jesus what had happened in the past few days and how disappointed they were because they had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel. Jesus called them foolish for not understanding the prophets (another reason to read the Old Testament) and then Luke says this:

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

He showed the two men on the road exactly how he, Jesus, is the Messiah of all of the Old Testament. He is the ark of salvation, the promised land, the serpent lifted high, the great king, the suffering servant, and the great shepherd. The Old Testament, as seen through the interpretive lens of the life, death, and ascension of Christ, shows that God has done and is doing everything that He said He would do. He is patient and faithful. He is the savior.

Over the next ten weeks we, at Fellowship Church, will be walking through the whole Bible to see the Big Picture of what God is doing and the centrality of Jesus Christ in all of Scripture. I hope that you will take this time of study to read the Old Testament for the first time if you have never done so before and to read it with renewed vigor if you have read it in the past. All of Scripture is God-breathed and sufficient for salvation and godliness. Let’s spend this summer in Scripture and see how God will change us through that pursuit.