March 26, 2012


One of the most tragic characters in the Old Testament is the man called Achan, whose story is told in Joshua 7. The Israelites had just crossed the Jordan and entered into the Land of Promise. God had just miraculously razed the fortified city of Jericho. And one of the greatest victories of the Old Testament had just been won. God was, indeed, bringing about His promise to grant His people vineyards that they had not planted, wells that they had not dug, and houses that they had not built. But there was one stipulation. In Jericho, the first city to be captured, all the spoil of the city was under “the ban.” Livestock, in this city, could not be taken by the Israelites as plunder. Houses could not be moved into. And treasure could not be distributed among the victorious soldiers as spoil. In other cities to be captured, these rules would not apply. But in this first conquest, all of the booty was the Lord’s, and His alone.

So the people of Israel defeated the city, destroyed its buildings, eliminated its inhabitants, and put the spoil in the treasury of the Lord. Then, fresh off this victory, they sent a detachment to overtake the much smaller city of Ai, but were chased away like stray dogs, with their tails between their legs. Why? How could they defeat a fortress like Jericho, and not a tiny village like Ai? Because the Lord had not gone up with them to Ai as He had done at Jericho. And why had He not gone up? Because someone in the camp of Israel had ignored God’s instructions regarding “the ban” in Jericho. Someone in the camp had stolen from the Lord and buried some of Jericho’s treasure in the ground inside his own tent! By casting lots, it was discovered that a man named Achan was the culprit. And, by the end of the day, Achan himself was buried like his treasure, beneath a pile of stones.

You can read the whole story yourself in Joshua 7. But let me suggest three important lessons from the downfall of Achan.

1. Covetousness. Why did Achan take the spoil that he knew well belonged to the Lord? Why did He deliberately break a known commandment of God? Well, he didn’t march into battle that day, intending to break God’s law. Rather, he got sucked in. “When I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar” he said, “and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold … then I coveted them” (emphasis mine). Do you see? Achan did not wake up that day with his heart set on disobedience. But when he saw the silver and the gold, he was carried away into it just the same … because he had given place to covetousness in his heart. And the same can happen to any one of us. We don’t always set out on our day, intending to do something really sinful. But covetousness has a way of sucking us in. So be on guard against it, before you ever see the silver shekels and the bar of gold!

2. Community. One of the saddest parts of Achan’s sin is the way it affected the whole community of his people. The armies of Israel were abandoned by God and put to flight because of one man’s covetousness. Some of the men were even struck down, we are told. And Achan’s entire family was executed alongside him … all because he could not control his own sinful heart. What damage to the whole community was done by this one man! And this scenario is not uncommon. Your sins and mine always affect many more people than just ourselves – even when, like Achan, we think we have them safely hidden. Indeed, Achan has become proverbial. Whenever God’s blessing seems to suddenly depart from a church, the question is always whether their might be an Achan in the camp. Let it not be so at your church! Guard your heart against every form of evil … on behalf of your family and your church community!

3. Consequences. Sin is serious. Achan stole some goods that normally would have been his for the taking, but this time were off limits. He committed what we might think of as a ‘small sin’. And, not only did it have dire effects for his whole community, but for Achan himself. God’s command was that he be executed … and he was, with great pain! “The wages of sin is death” – Achan’s sin, and our sin. Even a single ‘small sin’ is worthy of death in God’s sight. And, while we are eternally grateful that Jesus died the death that we deserve, we ought not continue doing that which so heinously provokes the Lord; that which necessitated such an awful fate, not only for Achan, but for our Lord Jesus.

So put aside any known sin in your life! Don’t be an Achan in anyone’s camp. Don’t give in to covetousness, or any other secret lust. And most of all, when you do fall … always look to Jesus, who died the death of millions of Achans, including each of you who believe.

March 19, 2012

The Death of Moses and the Life of Jesus

I finished reading the books of Moses this morning – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. And, as you might guess, with the end of the books of Moses comes the end of the life of Moses. He died in Deuteronomy 34. And when I read that final chapter of his books, a I felt a strange sense of nostalgia come over me. I began to feel that I might just miss Moses a little bit. Strange indeed!

On the one hand, of course, I have never met Moses. He lived and died thousands of years ago. And yet, on the other hand, I feel like I have walked by his side these last three months. The events of Exodus-Deuteronomy – 137 Bible chapters, over 10% of the entire Bible – all took place within his lifetime. And, though those books are not biographical, Moses appears in nearly every scene – sometimes in great courage and leadership; other times in personal anger and foibles – but always there, walking with God like no one had done before (and only One has done since!).

There are several unique facts about Moses, mentioned in his burial chapter (Deuteronomy 34); several bits of his story that make me marvel at this man. The first is that, while Moses led the people of God for all those years, he was not allowed to enter the land of promise with them. He saw it from a distance, yes. He could almost smell its produce. But he was not allowed to cross the Jordan (vv.1-4). A sad end, in many ways. And yet the author of Hebrews tells us that Moses had an even greater Promised Land to look forward to – “the city … whose architect and builder is God.” Are you looking to that city, even if you should never see the mightiest blessings of God in this life? Am I?

Moses was also unique in that he lived for 120 years, yet when he died, “his eye was not dim” (v.7), “nor his vigor abated.” He was fresh and ready to serve the Lord even in his old age! Now again, Moses was unique in his health. Most of us will have great bodily struggle when we get old – a result of the fall. But shouldn’t our spirits, in old age, be as fervent as that of Moses?

Perhaps most unique to Moses are the fact that (v.6) God Himself buried him, and at a site that no one knows to this day; and that Joshua (or whoever finished Deuteronomy with the details of Moses’ death) could write that: “Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face” (v.10). Isn’t that an awesome statement? There was no one like Moses! No one walked with God like he did! That could still be said years after his death, when Deuteronomy was completed. Indeed, it could still be said when Malachi penned the final words of the Old Testament. Looking back at the end of all Old Testament history, readers of Deuteronomy could still say: “Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses”!

And yet, didn’t Moses himself say that, one day, there would arise a prophet “like” him (Deuteronomy 18.15)? He did! And so it was inevitable that the statement in Deuteronomy 34.10 would not always hold true! Indeed, a prophet has come – one who knows God face to face; one who was not only buried, like Moses, but who is risen! The great Prophet (capital ‘P’) has arisen; the one who outshines Moses like the sun outshines the moon!

Here is what Arthur Pink said about the two men:
The history of Moses was remarkable from beginning to end. The hand of providence preserved him as a babe, and the hand of God dug his grave at the finish. Between these termi he passed through the strangest and most contrastive vicissitudes which, surely, any mortal has ever experienced. The honours conferred upon him by God were much greater than any bestowed upon any other man, before or since. During the most memorable portion of their history, all of God’s dealings with Israel were transacted through him. His position of nearness to Jehovah was remarkable, awesome, unique. He was in his own person prophet, priest and king. Through him the whole of the Levitical economy was instituted. By him the Tabernacle was built. Thus we can well understand the high esteem in which the Jews held this favoured man of God. 
Yet great as Moses was, the Holy Spirit … calls upon us to consider One who so far excelled him as the heavens are above the earth. First, Christ was the immeasurable superior of Moses in His own person: Moses was a man of God, Christ was God Himself. Moses was the fallen descendant of Adam, conceived and shapen in iniquity; Christ was sinless, impeccable, holy. Again; Christ was the immeasurable superior of Moses in His Offices. Moses was a prophet, through whom God spake; Christ was Himself “Truth,” revealing perfectly the whole mind, will, and heart of God. Moses executed priestly functions (Exodus 24.6; 32.11); but Christ is the “great High Priest.” Moses was “king in Jeshurun” (Deuteronomy 33.5); Christ is “King of kings.” To mention only one other comparison, Christ was the immeasurable superior of Moses in His work. Moses delivered Israel from Egypt, Christ delivers His people from the everlasting burnings. Moses built an earthly tabernacle, Christ is now preparing a place for us on High. Moses led Israel across the wilderness but not into Canaan itself; Christ will actually bring many sons “unto glory.”*
So yes, as I close his books and move on into the book of Joshua, I am going to miss Moses. But I praise God that, as I read on, I will come to the One who walked with God even more profoundly than Moses did … and who is still alive so that He can walk with me, too.

*Arthur Pink. An Exposition of Hebrews. 21st Printing. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006. Pages 152-153.

March 12, 2012

Three Reasons to Defend the Unborn

This coming Sunday we have the joy of welcoming Dr. Patrick Johnston and family, from Personhood Ohio, to our Sunday services. They are collecting signatures for a petition that would allow Ohio voters the opportunity to define human life in Ohio – and all of the legal rights and privileges thereof – as beginning at the moment of fertilization.

What a privilege to live in a country and state in which such petitions, votes, and definitions are possible! What an opportunity we have, with the current Personhood push, to take the tide at its flood, and make a giant leap forward in protecting the unborn! And what a responsibility, as God’s people, we have for doing just that – protecting the unborn (through things like the Personhood petition, crisis pregnancy centers, adoption, and so on). With that responsibility in mind, and with the Personhood petitions waiting to be signed, allow me to remind you of three reasons why Christians ought to care about this issue; three reasons why Christians ought to protect the unborn ...

1. The unborn are persons, just like you and me. David said it famously, in Psalm 139: “You wove me in my mother’s womb … Your eyes have seen my unformed substance.” The way David speaks of God’s care for his “unformed substance” is the language of love! God looked into David’s mother’s womb and saw, not a mass of biochemicals, but a human being – even when that human being was in its first “unformed” days of existence! Baby David – and all other unborn babies – are persons! Indeed, they are the most defenseless persons of all! And, says David in another psalm: “Blessed is he who considers the helpless” (Psalm 41.1)! Will you consider them? Will you defend them, even in those first days of “unformed substance”? Are they human … to you?

2. It is difficult to “permit the children to come” to Jesus if we do not first let them come into the world! “Permit the children to come to Me,” Jesus said in Mark 10.14, “do not hinder them.” Jesus loves children! He loves it when they place their faith in Him, and rely upon Him as their Lord and Savior. And we are to permit them to come to Him! We are even to teach them and train them to come to Him (Deuteronomy 6.7, Ephesians 6.4). But, as I say, it is difficult for us to urge, or even permit, children to come to Jesus when we permit our culture to do away with them before they are even born! Think of all the little voices that will never praise Jesus’ name in a Sunday School class, or grow up to teach that same class … because their lives were considered valueless at the very outset! This must never be! So permit the children to come to Jesus, I say, by first permitting them to come into the world!

3. Rescuing helpless children is a portrait of the gospel of Jesus! What is the gospel of Jesus? That God sent His Son into the world to rescue helpless people; people who were doomed to die unless someone intervened on their behalf. Isn’t that what we rejoice in, Sunday after Sunday? Isn’t that what we sing about? Isn’t that all our hope and peace? That Christ died for us “while we were still helpless” (Romans 5.6)? And wouldn’t it be wonderful to honor Christ by doing for other helpless ones (on a small, temporal scale, of course) what Jesus has done for us? This is why Christians ought to care for the orphans, the widows, the persecuted church, the starving of the third world, and (of course) the unborn! Because caring for the helpless reflects precisely what Christ has done for us! And what better way to honor this Christ than to become like Him? In Ohio, we have an opportunity to take another step in that direction through the Personhood petitions. And so I urge you, like Jesus, to intervene on behalf of the helpless!

March 5, 2012

Acts 2 Devotion

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2.42

Here, I believe, is the biblical blue-print for how a church maintains its vigor, and health, and sense of direction. I believe it is that vital!  We simply must strive to align our lives – as a church, as families, and as individuals – with this pattern. So let me remind you of what the earliest church took up as their spiritual routine …

The apostles’ teaching. The first church at Jerusalem devoted itself to the instruction given by Jesus’ special emissaries to the world. They hung on the apostles’ words – both as they rehearsed the details of Jesus’ life and ministry, and as they explained what it all meant for mankind. When the early church wanted to know how to understand the Old Testament, they listened to the apostles’ teaching. When they needed to know how to be right with God, they turned to the apostles’ teaching. And when they needed instruction for day-to-day living, they obeyed the apostles’ teaching … the very same teaching that we have recorded in the Scriptures! And surely we are just as much in need of it as they! So let me ask you: Can your level of commitment to the apostles’ teaching be called devotion? Do you hang on their every word? Is the Bible precious to you?

The fellowship. Those early Christians needed the word of God. And they also needed each other. That’s what “the fellowship” means – they were devoted to living together in community; to doing life together; to confessing their sins to one another; to holding one another accountable; to sharing meals; to talking about the state of their souls; to caring for one another in sickness, and so on. Indeed, it was this togetherness that became one of the chief attractions of the church to the outside world. ‘Look at how they love one another’ was a common outsiders observation! Would it be their observation of us? Are there folks, in your local church, who are truly your family? Is there anyone with whom you can share your most painful prayer requests? Is there anyone to whom you confess your sins, and who keeps you accountable? Do you ever speak with anyone about the Sunday sermons or lessons? Are you enjoying true fellowship?

The breaking of bread. The church at Jerusalem was devoted, in other words, to the Lord’s Supper. And, of course, their dedication wasn’t mainly to the elements or the ritual, but to that which these things symbolized – the body of Jesus, broken for us sinners; the blood of Jesus, spilled for our forgiveness. They couldn’t get enough, in other words, of the gospel! Can we? Is the good news sweet music to your ears – even when you are hearing it for the thousandth time? Would you be disappointed to arrive at the end of a Sunday service, never having been brought to the foot of the cross? And are you glad when you have opportunities for sharing this good news?

Prayer. The early Christians were careful and diligent to do certain things, as we have been saying. But, O, what a healthy reminder, at the end of Acts 2.42, of their awareness that they could not do it alone! That’s why they devoted themselves to prayer! They knew they needed God, every moment of every day. Therefore they were constantly sitting at the foot of His throne in prayer – especially corporate prayer! Do we recognize our need for God as they did? Are we people of prayer? Do you have brothers and sisters in your church family with whom you regularly pray? What ought you be praying about? And for whom?

As you review my diagnostic questions – and as I review them myself – there are many reasons to be thankful! Surely the answer to many of them is a resounding ‘yes’!  But let us press on, in those areas where the questions show us a need for improvement, and strive for true, Acts 2 kind of devotion!