Following the LORD

A little more than a year after the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt they left Mount Sinai where Moses had received the Ten Commandments and traveled toward the land of Canaan. Numbers 10:11-13 tells us, “In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle of the testimony and the people of Israel set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai. And the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran. They set out for the first time at the command of the LORD by Moses.” The King James Version of the Bible translates the phrase set out as took their journey. The Hebrew word naça (naw-sah´) implies a change in location, but the word journey gives us a clearer picture of what the Israelites experienced when they left the wilderness of Sinai. Naça “has the basic meaning of ‘pulling up’ tent pegs (Isaiah 33:20) in preparation for ‘moving’ one’s tent and property to another place; thus it lends itself naturally to the general term of ‘traveling’ or ‘journeying’” (H5265). In the case of the Israelites, the people weren’t traveling to a designated location, they were following the LORD who “went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night” (Exodus 13:21). The pillars of cloud and fire were manifestations of the LORD’s presence and were intended to guide the Israelites to the place that God wanted them to go. Exodus 13:22 states, “The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.”

The pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire were not the only means the LORD used to communicate his will to the people of Israel. Moses was considered to be God’s personal representative. “Moses was a type of Christ (Hebrews 3:2-6). He was chosen by God to be a deliverer (Exodus 3:1-10), functioned as a prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15), and was faithful as God’s servant (Hebrews 3:5). Moses was a mediator between God and the Israelites (Exodus 17:1-7; 32:30-35), as Christ is for his church (1 Timothy 2:5; 1 John 2:1, 2)” (note on Numbers 12:7). In Numbers 12:6-7, the LORD made it clear that he was communicating with Moses directly. He said, “’Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself know to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD.’” You might think that having direct access to God would make it possible for you to know and do everything that God wants you to, but even Moses failed in his obedience to the LORD. It says in Numbers 27:12-14, “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. When you have seen it you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes.’ (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin).”

The LORD stated that Moses had rebelled against his word and had failed to uphold him as holy before the eyes of the people. The Hebrew word that is translated uphold as holy, qadash (kaw-dashˊ) “is used in some form or another to represent being set apart for the work of God. Qadesh, or qadash, as verbs, mean ‘to be holy; to sanctify’” (H6942). Qadash is translated consecrate in Exodus 19 which focuses on the LORD coming down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. When Israel first encamped at Mount Sinai, the LORD called to Moses out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:3-6). John’s greeting to the seven churches in the book of Revelation eludes to the fact that the kingdom of priests that God intended to make of the nation of Israel was accomplished through the establishment of these seven churches. John wrote:

John to the seven churches that are in Asia:

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:3-8)

John’s synopsis of Jesus’ completed work of redemption mentions only the fact that believers in Jesus Christ have been freed from their sins by his blood (Revelation 1:5). The King James Version of the Bible states that Jesus washed us from our sins. The Greek word louo (looˊ-o) means “to bathe (the whole person)…Metaphorically: to cleanse and purify from sin, as in being washed in Christ’s blood (Revelation 1:5)” (G3068). Jesus talked about this cleansing when he washed his disciples feet. John wrote in his gospel message:

Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” (John 13:5-11)

Jesus distinguished between the new birth and regeneration when he said, “the one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean” (John 13:10). The difference that Jesus pointed out between being bathed and washed was what he referred to as being completely clean or sanctified. The Greek word hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) “means to make holy and signifies to set apart for God, to sanctify” (G37). “Christians need constant cleansing and renewal if they are to remain in fellowship with God” (note on John 13:8).

The Geek word anakainosis (an-ak-ahˊ-ee-no-sis) stresses the process of sanctification and the continual operation of the indwelling of the Spirit of God. “Anakainosis means ‘a renewal’ and is used in Romans 12:2 ‘the renewing (of your mind),’ i.e. the adjustment of the moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God, which is designed to have a transforming effect upon the life; and stresses the willing response on the part of the believer” (G342). Paul said in his letter to the Romans, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2). Being conformed to this world means that you are making yourself like everyone else, you are trying to fit in and to be accepted by your peers. Paul encouraged Roman believers to present their bodies as a living sacrifice. What Paul meant by a living sacrifice was that followers of Christ were expected to use their physical capabilities and resources to accomplish God’s will instead of their own.

The Israelites were told that they were delivered from slavery in Egypt and taken to the land that had been promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob because of God’s faithfulness (Deuteronomy 7:9) and were warned to not think of themselves as being responsible for their success (Deuteronomy 9:5). It was the LORD’s will for the Israelites to drive out the nations that occupied the land of Canaan “because of the wickedness of these nations” (Deuteronomy 9:4). Moses told the people of Israel, “Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people. Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD” (Deuteronomy 9:6-7). The Hebrew word that is translated rebellious, marah (maw-rawˊ) means “to be (causative make) bitter (or unpleasant)…Marah signifies an opposition to someone motivated by pride…More particularly, the word generally connotes a rebellious attitude against God” (H4784). God noted that the Israelites had repeatedly tested him and would not obey his voice (Numbers 14:22) and said to Moses:

“None of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it. 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 14:22-24).

God said that Caleb had a different spirit and that he had followed him fully. Caleb went against the rest of the men that gave a bad report after spying out the land of Canaan. Numbers 13:30 states, “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.”  The Hebrew word that is translated well able, towb (tobe) “naturally expresses the idea of being loved or enjoying the favour of someone” (H2895). Rather than looking at the size of their enemies or the rough terrain of the country, Caleb saw the blessing that God wanted him to experience and believed that he was able to do what God expected him to in order to receive it.

The individual inheritances that the people of Israel received in the land of Canaan were determined by lot (Joshua 14:1-2), except for Joshua and Caleb. Joshua tells us:

Then the people of Judah came to Joshua at Gilgal. And Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart. But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the Lord my God. And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the Lord my God.’ And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.” (Joshua 14:6-12)

Caleb gave God the credit for keeping him alive for forty-five years and said that he was as strong at the age of eighty-five as he had been when he was forty. The strength that Caleb was talking about was more than likely divine power, spiritual capability that came from God, but physical strength was also necessary for Caleb to be successful because he would have to actually go on the battlefield and face the Anakim, the people of great height who made the spies seem like grasshoppers to them (Numbers 13:32-33). Caleb knew that his success wasn’t dependent on his fighting capability, but on his relationship with the LORD. He declared, “If the Lord is with me, I will drive them out of the land, just as the Lord said” (Joshua 14:12, NLT).

Caleb’s statement, “If the LORD is with me, I will drive them out of the land” (Joshua 14:12) was in part an acknowledgement that God was not obligated to be with him. The Hebrew word that was used to communicate the idea of God being with Caleb was ʾeth (ayth). ʾEth is properly translated as “nearness” (H854). When Jesus’ birth was announced to Joseph, he was told:

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:20-23)

Jesus’ mission to save his people from their sins and the name that he was called, Immanuel, which means God with us, convey an important point about the way that God works in people’s lives. We have to be near God in order for his power to save us to be effective.

Jesus used the words “follow me” when he wanted someone to be a part of his ministry (Matthew 4:19; 9:9 John 1:43). The Greek word akoloutheo (ak-ol-oo-thehˊ-o), which is translated follow, is properly translated as “to be in the same way with, i.e. to accompany” (G190). Jesus made it clear to his disciples that they would have to disconnect themselves from the things that they were used to in order to be with him. Luke tells us, “As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:57-62). Jesus associated his followers with the kingdom of God and indicated that there was nothing more important to them than accomplishing God’s will on earth. Rejoicing in the Holy Spirit, Jesus said of his Father’s will, “’I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise, and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’ Then turning to the disciples he said privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it’” (Luke 10:21-24).

The Apostle Paul talked about the end result of following the Lord in his letter to the Philippians. Paul said that he counted everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus and that he had suffered the loss of all things and counted them as rubbish (Philippians 3:8), so “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11). Paul considered the resurrection from the dead to be ultimate goal of being a follower of Christ. Paul said, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own” (Philippians 3:12). Paul thought of the resurrection from the dead as a possession, something that he had to press on to make his own. The Greek word that is translated press on, dioko (dee-oˊ-ko) means “to follow” or “to follow after” (G1377). In order to make the resurrection from the dead his own, Paul compared his life to a race and said, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Paul emphasized that effort was required to attain his goal and indicated that he had to strain forward to what lies ahead. The Greek word that Paul used had to do with stretching oneself in the sense of reaching beyond one’s grasp. Paul may have been thinking of heaven as a place that he couldn’t quite grasp, a place or state that was beyond his comprehension or imagination. Paul concluded with the statement, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved” (Philippians 3:20-4:1).

The body of Christ

Paul talked about spiritual gifts in the context of supernatural regeneration or what Jesus referred to as being born again (John 3:3). Paul wanted the Corinthian believers to understand that being identified with Christ meant you would receive a particular spiritual capability that was different than your natural capability in order to facilitate the effective functioning of the body of Christ. Paul said:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, ESV)

Paul described all believers collectively as the body of Christ and explained that in the same way that a human body has many parts that enable it to function effectively, so all believers are expected to function as a collective unit. Paul referred to both diversity and unity in his description of the spiritual capabilities that every believer is given and stated, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12).

The point I believe Paul was trying to make was that spiritual gifts are only useful in a collective sense. Paul used the expression tempered together (1 Corinthians 12:24) to describe the process God uses to unify the body of Christ. The Greek word sugkerannumi (soong-ker-an’-noo-mee) means “to commingle” (G4786). Figuratively, sugkerannumi can mean to assimilate. Paul was most likely talking about Christians being joined together culturally. One of the Old Testament uses of the phrase tempered together had to do with the creation of a perfume that was placed before the ark in the most holy place of God’s temple (Exodus 30:34-36). The individual elements of this holy anointing oil were beaten together until they dissolved and became an aromatic fragrance comparable to a priceless perfume. When Paul said there should be “no schism” in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:25), he was probably referring to an expensive garment that had been sewn together in such a way that it was impossible to tell that it wasn’t a single piece of cloth. Together, these illustrations suggest that the body of Christ is like an Olympic athlete that is able to accomplish superhuman feats through its collective efforts.

Preaching the gospel

The arrival of the Holy Spirit was marked by an unusual display of spiritual capability. Luke said, “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4). Luke’s phrase “as the Spirit gave them utterance” meant that their spirits were completely under the control of the Holy Spirit; the words they spoke were His words, not their own (note on Acts 2:4). The fact that the Holy Spirit enabled these men to speak in languages they had not previously learned might not seem all that impressive, but it had particular relevance here because as a result of this miracle there were numerous people of different nationalities and languages that gathered together afterward who were able to pass on the gospel message they heard more effectively (Acts 2:5-12).

Peter’s Pentecostal sermon was the first instance of anyone preaching the gospel after Jesus’s death and resurrection. His message, which was probably delivered to an audience of at least ten thousand people, focused on the fulfillment of prophecy and the bold declaration that “Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:32). Peter concluded his sermon with this statement, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus whom ye crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Although Peter’s cutting remarks may have been offensive to some of the people that were gathered together to listen to him preach, his message resulted in about three thousand people accepting Jesus as their savior (Acts 2:41) and a remarkable transformation began to take place in Jerusalem. Luke described what was happening with a simple formula that is still followed today by some fundamentalist churches. Luke indicated the body of believers “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). In other words, they gathered together regularly to hear the gospel preached to them, they celebrated communion, and collectively prayed for each other.

An unusual aspect of the early church’s behavior was their communal living. Luke said, “all that believed were together, and had all things in common; and sold their possessions and goods and parted them to all men, as every man had need” (Acts 2:44-45). The purpose of this type of living arrangement may have been to facilitate the preaching of the gospel. Since men were typically the only members of the household to earn a living and they had the primary responsibility of preaching the gospel in the early days of the church, sharing resources enabled more families to survive with less income coming in. Even though people weren’t forced to sell their homes and give the money to the church (Acts 5:4), there may have been a collective movement that made it seem like everyone was expected to. Luke’s account of the situation pointed out that everyone “did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,” meaning one of the side effects or end results of preaching the gospel was thankfulness and unity among believers.