“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of my book. Now therefore, go lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you. Behold, My Angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit for punishment, I will visit punishment upon them for their sin.’ So the Lord plagued the people because of what they did with the calf which Aaron made.” (Exodus 32:33-35, NKJV).
Many times, people will look at the God of the Old Testament and wonder how this wrathful, vengeful, ready-to-punish god could possibly be the same grace filled, forgiving Savior of the New Testament. How do we correlate the two? How do we understand that the God of Heaven sent His Son, with the same character of the Father, to earth, incarnate, and that the wrath of the Old Testament god is the same as the grace of the New Testament Savior?
It would be easy for me to say that the simple-minded, recently freed, Hebrew slaves were the cause for God’s judgments. That such a wayward people of times past, who were used to the whips and bondage of their foreign rulers, needed a hard God who kept them in line and treated them as they were used to be treated.
While there may be some accuracy in the need to hold the Hebrews bondage to rules and regulations of which they were familiar, it would appear that it would be a cruel god that would free His people, who a few chapters earlier had “…seen the oppression of [His] people…have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for [He] knows their sorrows” (3:7) and planned to deliver them just to then punish them further. Afterall, why would God free His people just to kill them in the wilderness?
As always, it is very important to not take the Bible as an isolated event, we must take the Book as a whole, from Genesis to Revelation and all stories, books and concepts in-between. The story of the Exodus, in one way, is more about Moses as a leader than about the people he is to lead. Moses is being groomed, he is being formed, he is learning how to have an agape love toward a wayward people. Moses is to be an example of above mentioned “The Angel” in the text we are examining; Moses is the example of the love of God toward a wayward people, seen in Jesus as God Incarnate in the New Testament.
Taking the Bible as a whole, then, we can look at the prophet Ezekiel where he says, “So you, son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you shall surely die! and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.” (Ezekiel 33:7-8).
Does this soften the wrathfulness of God in the Old Testament and help us put into the right place and context for the role of Moses? I think so, at least to a degree. Moses as an example of being the leader of God’s people, was responsible for warning of God’s judgments. Not that God is out for blood, but He is out for justice. It is up to the leaders that God places in the lives of these wayward people to warn the people who to approach the God of the Universe.
In fact, in the very next chapter of Exodus we see the centrality of grace in the God of the Old Testament and that should help us consider the character of the God of the Old and God of the New Testament to be the same – grace, love and consequence. In fact, grace and love are always followed by consequence. Consequences shouldn’t always be thought of as bad, rather, it is just the result. If you follow God’s commands, the consequence is eternal life; if you choose not to follow His commands, the consequence is punishment and, as Paul says, the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23). Moses is a bearer of news to God’s people. Moses is the one to define or speak for God, the consequences of both right- and wrong-doing.
As Moses was able to communicate with God as a friend talks to a friend, (“face to face” as Exodus 33:11 notes); Moses also understands that he has a role as a leader for these Hebrew freed-slaves. “Then Moses said to the Lord, ‘…You say to me, ‘Bring up this people.’” (Exodus 33:12). Moses recognizes that he is the watchman for all these people. As Moses was still talking with God, Moses says, “You have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found grace in My sight,’ Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people.” (33:12-13). The watchman discussed in Ezekiel is the role Moses considers here – he recognizes that he is not the savior of this people but works for the Savior through grace as a watchman – guiding them and directing them to have the same relationship with God that he enjoys.
Continuing, God replies to Moses saying, “…My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest…you have found grace in My sight and I know you by name.” (vs. 14, 17).
Jesus is recorded in Matthew as saying that He would give rest (Matthew 11:28) and again Jesus would later say, as recorded by John, that as the Good Shepherd, those that follow His commands, “…hear His voice; and He calls His own sheep by name…” (John 10:3). And lastly, Jesus again says that His Presence will be with us, “…even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).
The argument that God is a vengeful god in the OT and a loving god in the NT is faulty. While there are many more stories, particularly difficult ones in the book of Joshua, I believe the premise is the same. The character of God is evident as loving, grace filled and produces consequences for those that follow Him and for those that don’t follow. But even more so, the burden is on the leaders of God’s church, pastors yes, but fellow lay Christians as well, have a responsibility to be watchmen over God’s people. To guide them, to instill in them the understanding of what God expects and needs to be able to have a Holy God dwell with an unholy people. As watchmen we relay information to the people God entrusts us with and as watchmen, we are held responsible if we are faithful to relaying that information or hiding it from them and thus having their punishment, their blood, on our hands.
There are some months in the calendar year that we appreciate more than others. January – New Years; March – St. Patrick’s Day; April – well, fools enjoy the first; May – Spring; June – Weddings; July – Independence; August – School starts; September – Labor day; October – Halloween; November – be thankful; December – Christmas.
But a month that gets left behind is February. We have claimed it for Black History Month but we don’t even celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. in February but instead, near his birthday in January. So, while each month we can have a claim to fame, February seems to be left in the dust. In fact, even though it is the second month in our calendar year, maybe it isn’t even second best but twelfth best with little fame and fortune to its name.
If you do a simple Google search of the meaning of the month’s name, pagan and all, it will come up with “The word February comes from the Roman festival of purification called Februa where people were ritually washed.”[i] All of a sudden, the month has more interest – well at least for nerds like me. There is meaning to the month, it is a time of washing.
Now, I should warn you, I was born and raised and still am a Christian. Some of you may stop reading this blog right now because I mentioned the meaning of the name, “February” and now you want to jump to conclusions before you even get to my point. No. I am not celebrating an ancient pagan god. Rather, I am going to make a claim, right here and right now, we should, however, still celebrate a time of washing even in our Christendom Western World.
The idea of baptism is not a new own to the Judeo-Christian world either. In fact, you can find claims in 1 Corinthians (10:1-2) and 1 Peter (3:20-22) where Paul and Peter both talk about the idea that the ancient Hebrew people passed through some sort of water, spiritually symbolizing a baptism. So, what is the definition of baptism? Well, according to a definition from Goggle it is, “…symbolizing purification or regeneration and admission to the Christian Church.”[ii] I think that is a horrible definition, but unfortunately accurate for the concept the Christian and Catholic Churches use today.
I’m going to define baptism as a symbol of repentance and surrender to Christ, that wherever you go, He will be with you and save you from your sins.[iii] In this sense, the Hebrews when they passed through the Red Sea were baptized into the faith of Moses and Moses’ God that He could save them and when Noah boarded the boat with his wife, three sons and three daughter-in-laws, they were saved because they believed upon the spiritual and literal salvation that God would bring as they built the ark and floated above the chaos.
Baptism does not equal salvation, lets make sure we are clear on that before we move on. The Catholic Church will argue differently, but from a PROTESTant-Christian individual, it is nothing more than a symbolic representation that you believe in my definition of baptism above.
What does all this have to do with February? Simple, you need to be washed, your sins stink. That’s ok, so do mine. Baptism IS the answer to stinky sins. This doesn’t mean that once we are baptized, we will never sin again – that is just foolishness. What it does mean is that I have accepted that Jesus forgives me and I do my best to follow His will, but I will stumble but He will be with me. (Last month we talked about our condition of continually being in Sin (capital S, remember?) – our human nature we live in is a Sinful one.) Baptism is an initiation into understanding the love of God more deeply, not a graduation proving that you will never sin again.
My favorite verse, well one of my many favorite verses, is John 3:17, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (NKJV). The New Century Version says it like this, “God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world guilty, but to save the world through him.”
That is amazing! February should be a time we recognize, again, that Jesus saves! We who have been baptized should recognize that we are children of the Most High God and that He loves us so much that He doesn’t judge us, but saves us. Likewise, those that are contemplating baptism should understand that it is about the love of God to save, not the guilt of sins to punish. February, even with its pagan roots in the nomenclature, reminds us of the love of God in washing us clean. King David, a sinner through acts of adultery and murder, just to name a couple, wrote in his Psalm asking God for repentance from those sinful acts, said, “Wash me clean from my guilt” (Ps. 51:1, NLT). Take this month of washing, February, and remember what God has done for you each day of this month:
[i] Retrieved December 19, 2018 from https://www.dictionary.com/e/february/
[ii] Retrieved December 19, 2018 from https://www.google.com/search?q=define+baptism&rlz=1C1CHBF_enUS759US759&oq=define+baptism&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.1626j1j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8
[iii] Matthew 8:28:20; John 3:17
Every January it is bound to happen. You may write them down, you may put a reminder in your phone, whatever it is, you make New Year’s resolutions and probably most of them go by the wayside faster than your Christmas tree is placed by the curb. But we do try. We try to make commitments to dieting and exercise; to vacationing more and working less; to spending quality time and making memories instead of money. But no matter how hard we try, most of us probably don’t make it through a quarter of the year before we have gotten back into our old habits and routine and have left that list on a desk underneath other clutter or have deleted the reminder on our phones out of annoyance.
We have this idea that we must improve because of the new year. We think, “New Year, New Me” but that mentality doesn’t stick and we just rotate back into old self ways. I think this mentality also rears its ugly head in the Christian church. We think, “If I am a Christian, I must obey God and will be free from sin.” We think after the symbolic tradition of baptism that, “New birth, new me” and then we try our hardest to not fall prey to Satan’s temptations and lusts of the flesh.
The Apostle Paul will say in his first epistle to the church at Corinth “…we shall all be changed…in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet…” (2 Cor. 15:52, NKJV). This is when the New Year, New me can start – at the end of time. Until then, I’m stuck with an old me and old habits. HOWEVER (notice this is in caps), that doesn’t mean we don’t strive to change for the better. Even Paul will also say that, “…shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!” (Rom. 6:1, 2).
So, what are we to do in this paradigm, where I want to be new and change but must also realize that, just like my New Year’s resolution, my obedience toward God may wane and I have no doubt I’ll sin again, probably even before January 1st is over?
I think it is important to realize that we live in a condition of Sin (notice, again, the capital letter). Humankind, and ultimately the planet, fell to Sin upon Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden. I can’t commit to escaping the situation of sin we are. The Bible also tell us that, “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). I cannot help but be in Sin. Just like I cannot change my skin color, I am a sinner. Period. Our hearts are evil continually (Gen. 6:5).
So, should I just go on sinning? We already answered that above with Paul, “Certainly not.” So, what am I supposed to do? We are to follow the example of Christ. When Christ was tempted by the Devil, see Matthew 4, Christ did something we should emulate, He quoted scripture. The only way we can work on our sins (notice lower case, these are actions that we commit that are against God’s wishes for our lives) is if we can quote Scripture. Scripture is our key, it is our defense against Satan’s tactics in our lives, tactics that derail us – things like sexual lusting and acts against others, lying and gossiping at work, school and elsewhere, denying people help that are in need – these are just a few of the sins, actions, that we either perform or neglect to perform that tear us apart from each other and place God at arm’s length in our lives. But if we can quote scripture, we have a defense.
Ok, ok, ok – hold on – I should admit right now that I am the worst at memorizing Scripture. I try and it just doesn’t come naturally. I can’t tell you where things are from exactly, I may say “Paul says it somewhere,” or “Jesus mentioned it in the Gospels, I think”, in any case, Jesus quoting Scripture to thwart the devil’s attacks wasn’t the main focus – it was the fact that He had a relationship with God that Jesus was able to stand against sin.
If I have lost you in my blog, hold on – what I mean is this. We need a relationship with Jesus. The only way we can do that is if we spend time with Him. One way to do this is through reading His word, the Holy Bible (Scriptures). By spending this time with him, when our actions try to deviate us away from Him, we can stand just like He did against sin. We cannot get out of our Sin (notice capital) condition, we are sinners, evil continually. But we can form a relationship with Jesus that allows us to trust in Him more and more and as time moves on, we will still slip and break our New Year’s resolutions, we will still sin, but we will understand His love for us more and more.
That is the purpose of a relationship with Jesus – to know how much He truly loves us. If we make resolutions to be better about not sinning, we can’t keep those promises. We will fail. But if we make resolutions to just try and get to know Jesus more, we can take those steps. We can read the Bible more and pray more, but even if we fail at that, we can always pick up the pieces and move forward, recognizing that Jesus came not to condemn, but to save (John 3:17).
If you are like most people during this time of year, that awkward moment between Thanksgiving and Christmas where life seems to speed up, you have thousands of things on your mind, on your plate and on that famous to-do list.
But this Christmas season should not be about the hustle and bustle, it should be about peace and goodwill. Have you ever wondered why Christ came as a baby? Maybe the simple reason is because it required patience. Salvation required patience. Let that sink in for a moment. In the world of Baby Jesus, religious leaders had been looking for the Messiah for generations, like thousands of years’ worth of generations. Then comes the Messiah, as the song infamously reminds us, “away in a manger” and apparently, “no crying did he make.” I’m not so sure on that last one being a parent of two, newborns rarely sleep all night without a peep.
But in any case, Jesus came to the world as a baby and started the story of the redemption of mankind suckling at His mother’s breast. At the beginning of this restoration of man and God, Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, was told to name the baby in Mary’s womb as, “…Jesus, for He will save His people form their sins.” (Matthew 1:21 NKJV). The early beginnings of the purpose of Jesus are spelled out by this angel – the purpose of this child would be to save mankind from their own sins. This was the Messiah, “wrapped in swaddling clothes” (Luke 2:12). And the only way that God could come to earth to save humanity from their sins, was to take the risk and grow up in this world, being “tempted as we” (Hebrews 4:15) are in every fashion, overcoming the power of sin, dying on the cross to rescue humanity and raise again on the third day. This is the Gospel story that the angels sang to the shepherds some 2,000 years ago (Luke 2). Salvation required patience, from birth to the death of the cross and resurrection, some 30 or so years passed on this earth.
God had to be with us, Immanuel (Matthew 1:23), in order to save us. Many times in our rushing around in this awkward time of year we forget the true meaning of Christmas. We may say that, “Jesus is the reason for the season” but in reality, the patience of salvation is the reason for the season. A Child being born by a virgin in Bethlehem started the earthly process of salvation of all mankind – the Son of God dying and raising again in Jerusalem is the finishing of the justification of sin. Salvation requires patience, God is not slow to return and take us to Heaven, just as He was not slow in coming to earth as a baby, but His plan of salvation requires patience, “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).
So where does that put us as we speed toward the 25th of December? Simply, we need to pause, more than once a week, maybe even more than once a day, and just remember. We need to remember that as patient as Jesus is in His story of redemption, we too need to be patient. We need to be patient with people who have hurt us, we need to be patient with people who annoy us, we need to be patient with traffic and the other annoyances of life. We need to just rest assured that if the God who spoke the heavens into existence can be patient with us, we too, in following His example, need to be patient as well. In this hurried time of year, we need to slow down. We need to picture the Baby Jesus laying in a manger, wrapped and sleeping. We need to picture the years in between the nativity and Jesus at age 12 talking with the rabbis at His synagogue. We need to imagine the years between 12 and His baptism, almost two whole decades, where He was probably going about His earthly father’s business in the carpenter shop before being called to His heavenly Father’s business in salvation of mankind. We need to be patient with ourselves and with others- recognizing that as we have treated the least of these people, we treat Jesus the same way (25:40). Let us chill this holiday season, let us also remember: Salvation takes patience.
It was already a dark night with no moon or stars to light my path. There was nothing to guide me in this complete darkness and then it hit, out of nowhere, it came crashing up against the bow. A storm the size of the Empire State Building crashed up against my little fishing boat. I tried to pull back on the oars, it was foolish for me to be out in the middle of this sea at this hour anyhow, but I was trying to make it across this 8 mile stretch to the other side. I knew that this particular location was prone to these types of swells, but the coast was clear when I pushed off earlier this evening. At first, I didn’t panic, I knew what I was doing – after all, I was an experienced sailor. I grew up on the sea, this wasn’t my first rodeo on the waves.
Fortunately, also, I wasn’t alone on this boat, I had my companions with me, most of them were experienced in fighting these waves also. I took solace in the fact that together we could beat this beast of a tempest. As we heave-hoed it was hard to hear each other over the roar of the wind. We went into automatic survival mode at this point, looking at each other with fear-stricken faces barely visible in the pitch-black night, we pushed on doing the best we could to keep our little boat from going under.
As our muscles continued to strain to bail water out and keep our boat afloat, I realized something, I realized that I wasn’t going to win this battle. It was too much for me to handle – even as I looked around that tiny boat that was adrift and powerless against the evil billows that had formed, I leaned over to my colleagues and said, “we aren’t going to make it”.
“On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, ‘Let us cross over to the other side.’ Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him. ‘Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’ Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, ‘Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?’ And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, ‘Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?’” (Mark 4:35-41, NKJV).
Life’s storms are rarely predictable and hardly ever easy. It can feel like you set out one morning doing your every day routine, something you have done a thousand times before, but then something changes. A mistake is made. A job is lost. A divorce is finalized. A child becomes ill. A friend betrays you. Whatever storm approaches your calm sea and makes it an agitated turbulent squall, it can happen suddenly and make you realize, “I am not going to make it”.
Depression is often overwhelming. At times you can sense its approach like clouds brewing in the mid-west sky bringing lightning and thunder from the west with them. Sometimes, depression comes upon you suddenly, out of nowhere, like being stung by an unseen bee – its force brings you down quickly, sinking as if the solid ground beneath you was like trying to walk on water. The tricky thing about depression is that you don’t know its duration. It can last for moments or for days – months – years. It can go as quickly as it came, or it can last as a constant companion, looking over your shoulder at every move you make, judging you – condemning you – reminding you of your worthlessness.
Just like those sailors so many years ago were caught in the whirlwind of uncertainty on the Sea of Galilee, believing their very life was about to end, depression doesn’t let you see past the waves of uncertainty in your life now. Depression sets in, darkening your view, limiting your ability to see past your immediate challenge. With each passing moment, like water pouring into a sinking boat, depression continues its rage – piling upon you an extreme weight, sinking your life deeper into despair. As you toss back and forth, struggling for air to breathe against the onslaught of waves, depression continues its relentless gauntlet of telling you that you will not make it through. Depression robs you of your present, limits you in your ability to see a way out of your present and steals your hope of a future.
With this reduced ability to think clearly, you start to panic. Just as the disciples neglected to remember their Savior was in the boat with them, the dread of depression will also make you feel alone, isolated, left without courage. Depending on your severity of depression, your own thoughts drown out other advice, other ways to see life in the moment. Just like the disciples could not “choose” to make the storm that they were submerged in go away, depression is not a choice that one can decide their way out of. It was at this juncture that the disciples had only one last ditch effort, and in the end, those of us with depression, it is often our last-ditch effort as well.
Amid your episode of depression, I can guarantee one thing if you are religious – you will eventually, in that last moment, call out, “Teacher, do you not care that [I] am perishing?” Well, maybe you will use different words, like “God, where are you?”, “God, I need help.”, “God – save me.” Actually, that last phrase mirrors Matthew’s Gospel in his rendition of this story where the Greek says, “Lord – Save – We perish.” (see Matthew 8:23-25). When you are at your lowest, at the point where you cannot see past the here and now, the last words of the religious 12 on that fishing boat were “Lord, save – we are going to die.” Nothing else mattered in their world. All their years of experience left them with three words in Greek: “Lord – Save – [we] perish”. When you are at what seems to be the end of your life, when depression tells you this is it, this is the end of the road, cry out to Jesus, who sleeps in the boat, “Save – Jesus – I can’t make it.”
I want to pause here for a moment and remind my readers, I am not a counselor, I am not a psychiatrist, I am not a psychologist – I am a pastor and a teacher. I do not claim that this blog post will solve or treat your depression. Rather, I claim that we all feel like these disciples at times on the boat. Drowning in a sea of chaos within our minds, unable to see the shoreline and feel helpless and hopeless on the sea of depression. If you are struggling with depression, depressive thoughts and deep – dark issues, I urge you to seek professional help. Depression is a disease, just like diabetes, both need medical attention, both are serious, and both require your immediate action.
The Bible will continue to tell us that Jesus calms the storm, but then He also tells the fearful disciples something. Jesus will look at His closest friends, those that He picked to follow Him, and say, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” (Mark 4:40).
I don’t believe that Jesus rebukes his followers like He rebuked the wind and the waves. No, rather, Jesus asks why they have no faith – when the disciples were at their last-ditch effort, they claimed that they would perish. Jesus, in asking why they are fearful, asking why they have no faith, is inquiring about their trust in Him, or rather, lack of it.
Let me explain another way, for the Christian, we will have storms that come upon us as we journey across the sea of life. Christians are not guaranteed an “easy” life. Just because someone has Jesus in their boat, in their hearts, as they traverse the path of life they are on, doesn’t mean life will be free from heartache and heartbreak. Jesus, in his rebuke of the disciples, is asking that even though the storm of life was seemingly life-ending at that moment, with Jesus, there should be peace in that storm.
This is MUCH harder said than done. To have peace is the last thing that you have when you are in the depressive state in darkest times. To remember that Jesus is in the boat of life with you, seems so simple. It seems like I should be able to say, when I believe my life to be in danger, “It’s ok, I got Jesus.” But instead, I usually, like the disciples, scream, “Lord – I perish” or even worse, as Matthew’s Gospel claims, “Don’t you care, Lord, that I’m dying?” How then, can I have peace in depression?
Many times, we try to manufacture our own peace in times of depression. We grab the buckets of addictions, like alcohol, smoking, porn, sex, to try and bail ourselves out of the storm our mind places us in. We try to desperately grasp at anything we can do to save ourselves and dig ourselves deeper into depression. Instead, the Bible tells us in this story, have peace.
The 107th Psalm tells us “They [people] reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brings them out of their distresses. He calms the storm, so that its waves are still. Then they are glad because they are quiet…” (Psalm 107:27-30). Jesus isn’t upset the disciples called out to Him. Rather, He is pointing out that what matters is what we say when we call out to Him.
In my depression I need to call out to Jesus – but I shouldn’t doubt that He is with me. Even more so, I shouldn’t make accusations that He doesn’t care if I perish or believe that my life will end because He doesn’t care. He is sleeping, not because he doesn’t care – but because of His confidence in His peace-making abilities. My believing that He can make peace in the most seemingly peace-less situations is a test of my practical faith – faith where I put into practice what I believe.
I cannot tell you that in the middle of the sea, when you are in your room at night with your head in your hands, crying tears that seem to be unending and unable to see past your present storm, that doubt will not creep back in. I cannot tell you that when the skies seem bright and sunny, and the sea as calm as glass that a tempest like you have never seen or felt before won’t take you by surprise. But what I can tell you – that the Peacemaker Himself is in your boat, turn as ask for His help in your storm.