The Power of the Gospel

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
– Philippians 1:12-14

This Sunday during the New Members Class we share our testimonies of salvation and how God continues to work in our lives. We always think of our testimonies as our stories but really it is God’s great story of sending His Son to sacrifice Himself on the cross and then to rise from the dead. There is power in the Gospel! The message of Christ changes lives! The beautiful thing about the Gospel is that it knows no boundaries. It does not matter the life situation, the background, or even the eloquence of the speaker; God’s Spirit can break down any wall and lives will be changed.

One great example is Paul, who was a murderer of Christians. While Paul was on his way to persecute Christians he met Jesus and Paul’s life was changed. Paul wrote many of the books within the New Testament, and one of those books is Philippians. In Philippians Paul talks about this great power of the Gospel. In Chapter 1 of Philippians Paul mentions two examples of the Power of the Gospel. The first is Paul’s situation of being in jail. Jail is often a broken place full of hopelessness, especially during Paul’s time. Yet the Gospel breaks through the situation, and Paul makes it known that throughout the whole imperial guard the Gospel has gone out. The second situation is the speakers themselves. Paul says that some are not preaching with the right motives, yet Paul says, “…whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” The Power of the Gospel breaks through any situation, the darkness of prison or the poor motives of the speaker.

The Gospel brings eternal life and it knows no boundaries; no matter the situation, the truth of the Gospel does not stop. This gives us strength to speak Jesus Christ to those God brings into our lives. People need to know the Gospel, people need to meet Christ. That is why we serve, go on Mission Trips, go to Breaking Bread, and much more. Paul in Romans says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Who do you know that needs to hear the Gospel? By that I don’t mean just invite them to Church, but God wants you to share. Don’t be ashamed of the Gospel. Speak truth and watch God break down the walls.

Samuel

And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” – 1 Samuel 3:8-10

If you’re a parent I’m sure you’ve had the experience in which you were calling one of your children but they would not respond. You call them and maybe they hear you, or maybe they don’t hear you, so you keep calling over and over again. Usually this can lead to frustration within the relationship.

God and Samuel find themselves in an almost similar situation. Samuel has laid down for the night to rest and he hears what he believes to be Eli calling out for him. So he runs in and asks Eli what he wants. Eli says that he had not called for him. This happens two more times and each time Samuel thinks Eli has called for him. By the third time, Eli catches on to what is happening. He realizes that it is God calling out to Samuel. Eli instructs Samuel to answer the Lord next time he hears the voice. A fourth time now Samuel hears the voice, and instead of running to Eli, Samuel says these great words: “Speak, for your servant hears.” Samuel now understands who is calling him and he responds to the Lord and seeks what He wants. The Lord tells Samuel a difficult message, that God has rejected the sons of Eli. This is a hard message for Samuel to pass on to Eli, but he is faithful to God’s words to him.

The story points out that God had not spoken much to his people at this point. It even points out that Samuel did not yet know the Lord, so all these things led to confusion for Samuel. Samuel heard the voice but he didn’t know it was God calling to him. So often in our lives we can seek out God’s plan and yet miss it simply because we weren’t listening. We don’t hear God’s voice in the same way as Samuel; instead we hear it through His Word, through prayer, and through the counsel of other believers. In those areas we know that God still speaks, often all He wants is for us to acknowledge that we hear him and we desire to listen for what He has for us. That is the second lesson from Samuel. He was faithful. He did not get the most uplifting message from God, yet when Eli asked, he knew he had to tell even though he didn’t want to. God desires that we are faithful to him. That we follow through and live the life to which he has called believers. Sometimes it can be easy, other times it can be difficult. Yet in everything, God wants us to acknowledge Him and be faithful to His instruction. God wants us to repeat the same word as Samuel: “Speak, for your servant hears.”

Caleb

But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” – Numbers 13:30

“But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.” – Numbers 14:24

On Sunday, Jim opened up the Word and spoke about the failure of Israel. They were afraid to enter the land because of the negative report about the land. The 10 bad spies informed the Nation that there was no way they could take the land because the cities were too strong and it was filled with giants. However, two spies tried to tell Israel that God was with them and would fight the battles for them. Those two were Joshua and Caleb. Joshua gets a lot of attention in the Bible; he takes over for Moses and leads the Nation eventually on their conquest of the Promised Land. I want to look at the life of Caleb and what we learn from him. He is a small character in the story of Israel, but he makes a big impact.

We first hear of Caleb in Numbers 13, where he is introduced as one of the twelve spies. Scripture mentions that he is from the tribe of Judah (13:6). The tribe of Judah is probably the most famous tribe within all of Israel. It is from the tribe of Judah that the future kings of Israel will come, and Christ will ultimately come from this family line as well. Eventually when the Nation becomes two Nations, it is broken into Judah and Israel. But we will learn more about that later.

Caleb, along with Joshua, knew that God had promised this land to His people and that He would fight their battles for them and give them the land. But over and over the people refused to listen to them; at one point they even took up stones to try and kill Caleb and Joshua! They knew the truth but the people were unwilling to listen to them. So, Israel refuses to enter the Promised Land and it costs this generation their lives.  The Nation will again wander in the desert for40 more years. Of this generation only Joshua and Caleb would enter the land, in the Book of Joshua. For his trust in God Caleb is rewarded with land for him and his descendants when they eventually enter the land.

Sometimes it is easier to go with the majority, to just agree with what is being said because you know if you speak against the majority it might cost you something. Caleb found himself in this type of situation. The 10 spies had made the people see the land as dangerous and impossible to conquer. Caleb was in the minority; he had truth on his side but the people were unwilling to listen. Truth is not decided by numbers, truth is God’s truth and it does not matter how many people are against it or against us as believers. We need to take the courage of Caleb and follow God wholeheartedly knowing that the truth is on our side. People will not like what we have to say, but we need to be loving as we express the truth of God. Israel did not listen and it cost them their lives.  In the same way those who do not hear the truth of God will find eternal death away from God. Like Caleb, we need to be willing to silence the crowd and speak the truth, and God will reward those who stand up for him. I want to be like Caleb – do you?

Joshua

Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. – Joshua 1:6-7

Israel is finally ready to enter the land that was promised to Abraham. The generation that did not trust God in the Book of Numbers has died, and Joshua is now ready to lead the Nation. Israel is about to cross over the Jordan River and face many enemies that are in the land God is giving them. God in Chapter One will encourage Joshua and give some important instructions.

Three times in Chapter One God tells Joshua to be “strong and courageous” (1:6,7,9). Israel is about to face many battles as they clear the land of the godless nations. But God wants Joshua to be strong and courageous in the battles they will face. God will give the land to Israel; He will fight their battles. God wants the Nation to trust Him and it starts with Joshua as their leader. Joshua was one of the spies, along with Caleb, in Numbers 13 who said they should go and take the land. Yet, the people did not trust God. God now wants Joshua to lead the people with humility, looking to God for their strength. God also instructs them to keep the Law of Moses and not depart from its teachings. If they follow the teachings within the Law it will go well for them, but if they depart from it, struggles and hardships will come upon them.

For us today this chapter teaches some great principles to live out in our lives. We are most likely not about to head into an actual battle, but we can apply these teachings to our lives as well. Israel knew the outcome; God was going before them in battle and would give them victory. We know that the battle is already won – sin has been defeated, and we know that when Christ comes back the battle with evil will come to an end. We should be strong and courageous knowing that anything this world throws at us finds defeat in Christ. Now that does not mean that things always go well. Remember, Israel will lose their first battle against Ai. We are not guaranteed the easy, struggle-free life. The second part of the instruction is to remember God’s Word. They only had the first five books; we have much more revelation now. I know my day is just different when I have been in God’s Word. It aligns me to where God wants me to be. He wants us thinking and meditating on His Word daily. God wants His people to trust Him. We read His Word and we learn to trust Him more and more. He is there, He has not left. God wants us to be strong, courageous, and in His Word, so that we can put our trust in Him in the good times and in the bad times.

Deuteronomy

“In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the people of Israel according to all that the Lord had given him in commandment to them…” – Deuteronomy 1:3

Deuteronomy is, for the most part, the final messages from Moses to the nation of Israel before they enter the Promised Land. The book is described as being similar to a constitution for the people.

In the opening four chapters Moses is retelling how Israel has failed, yet also how God has protected and guided them and the grace He has shown over and over. It must have been hard for the Israelites to hear again how they had not listened to God before when He wanted them to enter the Promised Land. But the point Moses is trying to make is not the failure of Israel, instead he wants them to understand the mighty acts of God in saving His people. Yes, they failed and were punished, but God never gave up on His people. He was there with them in those moments. The goal was for them to not dwell on how they failed; the goal was to remember how God was there for them. Over and over in the Old Testament Israel is called to remember all the great things God has done for them. This remembering should give them confidence and help them trust God with their future and follow His ways.

We fail also in our lives as well. Sin gets the better of us and it’s usually in those moments that we feel ashamed and unworthy of God. The last thing we feel God wants is us in our sinful and broken state. But this is when God’s grace shines the brightest; we can see the goodness of God sometimes in the lowest moments of life. It is why Paul can say, “…where sin increased, grace increased all the more…” (Romans 5:20) God’s grace in our lives gives us the confidence to know how God has worked in our lives. Israel could look back and remember what God had done for them; we as well can remember all that God has done for us. Think about what God has done for you. How have you seen God provide? How have you seen God protect? How does the grace of God change the way you live?

Numbers 20

And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” – Numbers 20:12

In Numbers chapter twenty we find what seems to be a shocking and seemingly unfair punishment for Moses. Moses has been God’s appointed leader for Israel for many years at this point. He went before Pharaoh and asked for Israel to be released from their slavery in Egypt. He led the people in their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, even though the people rebelled and were afraid to enter the land. Moses then leads the people for another forty years of wandering in the desert because of their disobedience in not entering the land. Moses has seen it all with his fellow Israelites. Moments of great worship and joy to the Lord, but also great rebellion against the Lord by the people.

Once again here in chapter twenty the people rebel against God and complain to Moses about the lack of water. Have these people learned nothing about how God has provided for them? Yet, again they complain and come to Moses for help. Moses at this point must feel like a parent that deals with the same problems with their kids over and over and over again. Moses finally snaps and has had it with his people. Moses goes before God and gets instruction to “speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water.” However, Moses, out of frustration, calls the people rebels, hits the rock with his staff twice, and then takes credit for the water that flows. Moses has not followed God’s instruction and as punishment God tells Moses that he will not enter the Promised Land. Israel’s great leader will not enter the land that he has been leading to people towards. This must have been a terrible disappointment for Moses. Moses did not listen and acted on his own out of his frustration with the Israelites.

We can become frustrated with many things in life. Life has a way of throwing things in our path; often times we just want to deal with it in our own way instead of taking it to God and seeking His wisdom. I think we will find that the more we try and do things our way, the more and more frustration will end up growing. When we take the time and bring things before God and seek His wisdom, and then follow His wisdom, we can see the bigger picture in life. Moses took his own path and it ended up costing him the chance to see the great Promised Land; what will it cost us when we try to handle things our way and not God’s way?

Numbers

The Lord spoke to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man
or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of separation to the
Lord as a Nazirite.”
– Numbers 6:1-2

In the book of Numbers we get introduced to a specific vow that either a man or woman of Israel could make. This is a vow of commitment to the Lord that could either be made by the person themselves or by their parents when the child was young. In Scripture we see three examples of this vow in Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist. This is a vow that could be a commitment of 30 days or up to a lifetime. There were three requirements for someone who would take this vow: (1) they must abstain from wine and fermented drink, (2) their hair could not be cut, and for a man his beard could not be shaved, and lastly, (3) touching a dead body was prohibited. These vows were to raise up a group of people that would be totally committed to God. This was a public commitment that would be known not just to the Nazirite but also to the people around them. The length of their hair and beard would draw attention and the Nation would know the commitment they had made.

Today we do not take quite the same vow to God. However, much like our call to be holy, we are expected to have a certain level of commitment to God and be different in the same way as a Nazirite. As mentioned before, these people stood out as different. We can apply this to our lives in the sense that we, as believers, should be dedicated, set apart, committed and separated to God. Do we stand out as different to the community around us because of the commitment to God that we have?

The Nazirites were willing to give up something in order to better commit their lives to God. Paul in Philippians 3:8 says, “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” Paul wanted to be closer to Christ than to anything else in this world. Our desire should be the same; this world has nothing to offer us, while Christ has everything to offer us. All He wants is a commitment from us to live differently and as those with hope in this dark world.

Leviticus

“Be holy because, I, the Lord your God, am holy.” – Leviticus 19:2

Leviticus can be one of the hardest books to read when reading through the Bible. All the instructions, rules, and standards being mentioned can be hard to keep up with and follow. However, it is important to remember that the things mentioned in Leviticus play a large role in the story of redemption that flows throughout the Bible.

The call to be holy first causes us to think about what being holy means. In the Hebrew, holy is defined by being pure, set apart, and free from defilement and unclean things. God is holy; He is pure and set apart from sin. God cannot be around sin. God is calling His people now to be holy just as He is holy. That is why as you read through Leviticus over and over you will see phrases that say, “don’t touch this because it is unclean, or don’t do this because it is unclean.” If the Israelites do happen to touch or do something that is unclean, then there is a purifying process one must go through in order to make them clean again.

Sacrifices also play a large role in the regulations of Leviticus. God knows that His people will sin and fall short of the rules and standards He is setting. The various sacrifices allow the people to make an offering to the Lord to acknowledge how they have failed to be holy because of their sin. The death of animals would serve as a sign to remove the guilt and punishment from the individual. These sacrifices showed that the cost of sin is death and that people were unable to redeem themselves. Over and over, day after day, sacrifices would be offered for the people’s failures.

However, Christ would put an end to this practice. God knows that mankind will never be able to keep His holy standards. Reading through Leviticus reminds us of this difficulty. Christ comes to earth to live the holy, clean, and pure life that we cannot live. He is the perfect Lamb of God for a sacrifice. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross is the one final sacrifice that removes the power and guilt of sin. It is in the death of Christ that true forgiveness is found. The death that comes with sin is defeated in Christ, and now when God looks at us He sees believers as holy because of Jesus Christ. The message of the cross flows through Leviticus and the entire Old Testament. The Bible is God’s story of redemption for His imperfect people.

Tabernacle

Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you. – Exodus 25:8-9

If you are up-to-date on the Bible Reading Challenge, you have just finished up a rather large section in Exodus. Starting in chapter twenty-five God speaks His instructions for the place of worship for the Israelites, the tabernacle. He describes the Ark, table, lamp stand, the outer curtains, the altar, the courtyard, the basin, inner curtain, the holy of holies, and much more. It can seem very tedious as you read through it all, but I encourage you to take note of all that God is describing to the people.

The Nation of Israel will now have a place to worship and make their sacrifices to the Lord. This is also the place where God will dwell with His people. God would show Himself as a cloud over the tabernacle. This was a sign to the people that God was with them. They could look toward the tabernacle and find strength in the Lord. The tabernacle was built to move from place to place as Israel wandered through the wilderness. It wouldn’t be until the time of Solomon that God would have the people build a permanent building for worship. In Jerusalem they would build the temple, which would become God’s dwelling place among the people again.

Within the tabernacle, and the eventual temple as well, there was the holy of holies, or the most holy place. This place was where God dwelled. Only once a year a priest would enter the holy of holies and offer a sacrifice for the sins of the people. This place was separated by a great curtain. If you remember, during the death of Jesus on the cross, Scripture mentions that this curtain was torn in two. God wouldn’t be kept just inside the holy of holies; His Spirit was now going to be inside His people. That is why Paul tells the Corinthians, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” The barrier (curtain) that was between God and man has been removed; we have His Spirit inside us and we can boldly approach Him. We don’t need a priest to go before God for us. We have His Spirit and we can bring our requests and cares before our loving God who dwells among us and in us. As the Israelites found strength in seeing the cloud above the tabernacle, we find strength and encouragement in knowing that we have God’s Spirit living within us.

Isaac

The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had
spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him,
whom Sarah bore him, Isaac.
– Genesis 21:1-3

We learn in Genesis 12 that Abraham was 75 years old when God first gave His promises to Abraham. In Genesis 15, the promise is again made that Abraham will have a son to be his heir and begin the promised great Nation. Genesis 16 tells us that Abraham is 86 years old when Ishmael is born. However, he would not be the promised son from God. Finally in Genesis 22, at the age of 100, Isaac is born to Sarah and Abraham. The long-ago promised heir has been born.

Think about the life of Isaac. He was the fulfillment of a promise made 25 years before, his birth. There was great joy and excitement in the family with the birth of Isaac. However, in the next chapter, God puts Abraham to the test. He tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to God. We do not get much reaction from Isaac in this story. He questions where the sacrifice is, not realizing it’s him. He is lying on the altar with his father holding a knife over top of him. Talk about a traumatic experience! Yet, Isaac will see the Lord protect him and provide a sacrifice.

Isaac grows and marries Rebekah. Isaac, while being a man of faith, also had his failures. Much like his father, Abraham, Isaac lied about his wife Rebekah and told Abimelech she was his sister, to protect himself. Drama always seems to follow this family. Isaac and Rebekah have twin boys, Jacob and Esau. Similar to the relationship between Isaac and his brother Ishmael, Jacob and Esau didn’t have the healthiest relationship. It didn’t help that Isaac had his favorite, Esau, and Rebekah had her favorite, Jacob. The drama goes on and Esau gives up his birthright as the first born to Jacob because he is hungry and trades his birthright to Jacob for soup. Then Rebekah and Jacob plot against Esau and Isaac, and get Isaac to give his blessing to Jacob instead of Esau. Isaac lived a life that would give any screen writer plenty of material to write about!

Yet through all this, God is working out his plan of providing a great Nation and the family line into which Jesus will enter the world in. Through it all, God is preparing salvation for His people in the long-awaited Messiah. The call of Abraham to sacrifice Isaac is a preview of the sacrifice that God will later make of His one and only Son, Jesus. This is the story that Genesis continues to build toward.