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12. Opposition In The Wilderness, Pt. 2, (Num. 13:1-14:45)

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As we journey with Moses and the Israelites through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land, we are learning some great lessons about leadership and about our own hearts that sometimes complain against God and against his leaders.

Last time we covered Numbers 11-12, “Opposition in the wilderness, Pt. 1,” and now I would like to continue on with “Opposition in the Wilderness, Pt. 2, in Numbers 13-14. Here, the Israelites were camped at Kadesh-Barnea in the Wilderness of Paran, from where Moses sends out the 12 spies to scout out the land of Canaan and bring back a report. This turns out to be a watershed event as we shall see.

The subject of this study is: “The consequences of unbelief.” We have summarized the primary theological teaching in these two messages as follows: The right response to personal attacks is humility, while trusting God to vindicate you.

The Israelites were now at the border of the land of Canaan. God had told them many times what Canaan was like, what nations were there, how he would defeat their enemies and give them their promised inheritance. Now, just as they are about to enter and take possession of it, God instructed Moses to send spies into the land to bring back a report (13:1-3).

In Numbers 11 and 12 we noticed that:

I. Opposition from within can easily produces discouragement (Num. 11).

II. Opposition from within sometimes involves betrayal (Num. 12).

In this study of chapters 13 and 14, we will see the third theological principle…

III. Opposition From Within Sometimes Manifests Unbelief (Num. 13-14)

These chapters and this experience of the Israelites are full of instructions for us…

1. It’s good to know your enemy’s territory before you attack (13:18-25). It’s good to know whether the people are strong or weak, few or many (13:18), whether the land is good or bad (13:19), whether the cities are like camps or fortified strongholds (13:19), whether the land is fertile or barren (13:20), whether there are forests to contend with (20), and to bring back samples of the fruit of the land (13:20).

So, the 12 spies carried out their mission (13:21-25). They cut down a branch of grapes from the valley of Eschol that was so big they had to carry it between 2 men on a pole (13:23a). They collected pomegranates and figs (13:23b), and, 40 days later, they brought back their report (13:25).

2. It’s always good to receive a full, honest, and unanimous report (13:26-29). All the spies agreed that there was good news and bad news. The good news was that the land was fruitful as the luscious and plentiful samples proved. It obviously was exactly as God had described it, a land “flowing with milk and honey” (13:27) – it was fertile, bursting with good, natural food. But the bad news was that the people were strong and the cities were fortified and very large (13:28). Worst of all, the descendants of Anak were there and they were giants. It’s always good to receive a unanimous report, but...

3. It’s complicated when there are conflicting recommendations (13:30-33). The twelve spies all saw the same thing and all reported the same observations, but their recommendations as to the next step were polar opposites. Caleb and Joshua recommended attacking and possessing the land (13:30). “Let’s go up now and take possession of the land because we can certainly conquer it” (13:30). These two men were characterized by faith and courage. They saw victory, milk and honey, grapes, pomegranates and figs. What they saw was exactly what God had told them. They believed God, that what He had promised he would enable them to accomplish. They weren’t deterred at all by what they saw and found. Caleb said, “We can certainly conquer it” (13:30). So, two of the spies recommended attacking and possessing the land, but…

The other ten spies recommended retreating (13:31-33). “It’s a good land, but…” they said. “But” is usually a sign of unbelief and it certainly was here. These 10 spies were paralyzed by unbelief. Instead of believing God, they saw only danger, defeat, giants, fortified cities, and enemies (Amalekites etc.). Their recommendation was based on fear rather than faith. They said, “We can’t attack the people because they are stronger than we are!...The land that we passed through to explore is one that devours its inhabitants and all the people we saw in it are men of great size” (13:31-32). They were concerned about what they could do. They saw their own weakness but failed to see God’s power. They described it as a land devours its inhabitants. All the people they saw in it were giants (13:32), so big that “to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers and we must have seemed the same to them” (13:33). This would not be the last time they would have to deal with giants. There would come a time when Israel would face another giant in the Valley of Elah, and once more they would cower in fear.

So, why the two different recommendations? They all saw the same land, the same people, the same fruit. They all had the same instructions from Moses, just as he had received them from God. They all had God’s promise to give them the land. They all came from the same ethnic background and culture. They all had the same experiences and history. Why the difference in attitude and outlook? The difference was that two of them believed God and the other ten did not. Joshua and Caleb believed God, but the rest didn’t trust God’s power, God’s goodness, or God’s promises.

The attitude of the ten is typical of so many Christians. They know the gospel, they can explain Christian doctrines, they know the good things of Christianity (the “milk and honey”), but they are overwhelmed with the dangers, problems, and the possibility of defeat - the giants of the Christian life. Their eyes are on the obstacles, not on God. Instead of seeing the blessing, they see the difficulties. As Warren Wiersbe says: “Unbelief always sees the obstacles… Faith always sees the opportunities.” Instead of trusting Christ for every need, doubting Christians see the problems and obstacles. Doubting God is like refusing to enter the land. Many Christians fail to enter into the benefits and blessings of their spiritual blessings in heavenly places (Eph. 1:3) because they doubt God.

Giants and fortified cities are real obstacles. They were real in Canaan. No sense pretending they weren’t. The question is, how do you deal with them? When there is good news and bad news, what do you do? Do you turn back in doubt and rebellion, or do you press on in faith and confidence?

4. Conflicting recommendations can cause rebellion (14:1-6). After receiving the conflicting reports, the people were confused and demoralized. They heard one report with two different recommendations and they instinctively believed the bad report, not the good one. “The whole community broke into loud cries and the people wept that night” (14:1). They wept out of despair, hopelessness, and confusion. What should they do? Behind them was the wilderness, in front of them the fortified cities and giants.

There is a time for weeping but this wasn’t it. This was the time for bold action, courage, excitement. They were on the verge of accomplishing the objective for which God had brought them out of Egypt. They were about to enter the land of promise, the land of milk and honey. Instead, they were demoralized and responded by opposing Moses.

Opposition from within sometimes manifests unbelief. Unbelief can cause you to draw back from something that should fuel your adrenaline, and, as a result, discouragement can set in. Unbelief leads to all kinds of consequences…

a) Discouragement. Discouragement is a very powerful tool of Satan. It attacks all ages and destroys thousands. It robs Christians of their joy. It makes mountains out of molehills.

b) Emotional turmoil. Discouragement plays havoc with your emotions. And your emotional responses produce all kinds of side effects like bitterness, anger, depression, rebellion. That’s what happened here.

Demoralized people tend to rebel against God and God’s leaders. “All the Israelites complained about Moses and Aaron, and the whole community told them, ‘If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land to die by the sword? Our wives and children will become plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?’ So they said to one another, ‘Let’s appoint a leader and go back to Egypt.’” (14:2-4).

The “if only” crowd exists in every church, group, or family. “If only things were different.” “If only we hadn’t...” Or, “If only we had...” A negative opinion or report always seems to sway the majority. The “if only” people only ever see the down side. They abandon trust in God as soon as a bad report is heard. In fact, they think, God has become downright mean.

We see that here. They blamed God for their situation. “It’s all very well that God helped us cross the Red Sea and drowned Pharaoh’s armies and all that, but for what? To bring us out here to be killed, not by thirst or the desert heat but by the sword? And what about our poor innocent wives and children? We thought this move out of Egypt would be good for them, give them a new future, new hope, better education, better prospects, better living conditions. But oh, no! Now they’re victims of a subtle scheme by this God of ours. Let’s get out of here! Let’s find a new leader and return to Egypt.”

It’s easy to fall into the trap of blaming God, isn’t it? We see the problems and obstacles and difficulties and we so easily begin to blame God. We would rather blame God than trust him for the future. We see only the obstacles and not the opportunities. We see only the defeat and not the victory. We see only our weakness and not God’s power. And that’s when we begin to hanker for the “good old days.”

Blame can so easily lead to outright rebellion as it did here with the Israelites. We don’t stop at assigning blame to God – we go further and renounce God’s headship and follow someone else. “Egypt” always seems better than present circumstances. Forgotten are the bull whips of the task masters. Forgotten is the cruelty of having to make more bricks without a supply of straw (Ex. 5:7). Forgotten are the living conditions, the back-breaking work, the slavery. Forgotten is their cry to God for deliverance (Ex. 3:7). Forgotten are the mothers’ cries when their baby boys were drowned in the river by the Egyptians (Ex. 1:22). All of that is forgotten and Egypt now is looking very good. Such is the deceit of unbelief and rebellion.

5. Only those who trust God act with confidence (14:7-10). Only Joshua and Caleb trusted God. Remember our thesis: The right response to personal attacks is humility, while trusting God to vindicate you. Joshua and Caleb saw the vision, the beautiful country and its delicious fruit. And they concluded: “The land we passed through and explored is an extremely good land” (14:7). And they remembered their great God, their God who is greater than any giant. “If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land” (14:8-9a). They gave three reasons for this confident assertion:

a) “We will devour them” (14:9a). “We will eat their lunch. They’re done like dinner.” This is the confident and courageous response of Joshua and Caleb to the negative report of the other ten spies that “the land we passed through to explore is one that devours its inhabitants” (13:32). No, say Joshua and Caleb, on the contrary, “we will devour them.”

b) “Their protection has been removed from them” (14:9b).

c) “The Lord is with us. Don’t be afraid of them.” (14:9c).

Joshua and Caleb’s report and recommendation were clear, confident, and concise. As to the land itself, they said, it was “an extremely good land” (14:7). The food was plentiful and tasty, the proof of which was the grapes, the pomegranates and figs. As to the Lord, they said, he “is pleased with us” (14:8a). He will keep his promise. He “will bring us into this land… and give it to us (14:8b). So, “don’t rebel against the Lord” (14:9a). They said, in effect, “Don't bite the hand that feeds you. We have a great and good God. As to the people of the land, ‘don’t be afraid of them’ (14:9b). We may be small compared to them, but their protection is gone. They are helpless.”

Do you know how the people responded? They wanted to stone Joshua and Caleb to death (14:10)! So they rejected the promised land, they despised God, and they rebelled against God’s leaders. Rather than face a few giants, they wanted to turn back.

Giants can do that to us – cause us to cower in fear, cause us to run away, cause us to distrust God. Sometimes, it seems easier to run away from giants than to believe what God says. When God’s people rebel...

6. Ultimately, God steps in (14:11-25). “How long will this people despise me? How long will they not trust in me despite all the signs I have performed among them?” (14:11). To reject God’s leader is to reject God himself, just as Saul of Tarsus was actually persecuting God when he persecuted God’s people. Remember: The right response to personal attacks is humility, while trusting God to vindicate you. And now God steps in and says, “I will strike them with a plague and destroy them. Then I will make you into a greater and mightier nation than they are” (14:12).

Does this remind you of an earlier scene? Didn’t God say this once before in Ex. 32:10? But Moses didn’t say a word – no anger, no rebuke, no argument, no revenge. He didn't jump at the Lord’s proposal to get rid of these stiff-necked people once and for all. No, just like before…

Moses interceded for the people (14:13-19). He said to God: “If you do that the Egyptians will hear about it and they’ll tell the Canaanites. Your reputation and character are at stake here. They have heard that you are among these people, that you are seen face to face, that your cloud of protection is over them, that you lead them by the cloud by day and the fire by night. If you kill them, the nations will despise you and say that the Lord wasn’t powerful enough to finish the job. He couldn’t bring them into the land - that’s why he killed them in the wilderness. So, I pray, let the power of my Lord be great. Let your longsuffering and mercy be seen, forgiving iniquity and transgression. Certainly don't compromise your holiness and justice - you do not clear the guilty; you bring the consequences of continuing sin even on the 3rd and 4th generation. But please, pardon the sin of this people according to the greatness of your mercy, just as you have forgiven this people from Egypt even until now” (14:13-19).

What a plea! What humility! What grace! This is the plea of a faithful leader who responds to personal attacks with humility, while trusting God to vindicate him. No revenge. No rancor. No malice. No resentment. But pure grace and compassion. What a big man Moses was!

God responds to Moses intercession (14:20-25). God says: “You’re right Moses. You have passed the test of your leadership with flying colors. I have already pardoned them according to your word. But you are right – there will be consequences, just like the last time at Sinai after the golden calf incident. And so all these men who have seen my power and glory in Egypt and in the wilderness and who have tested me these 10 times, they will not enter the land except for Caleb – he’s different; he has a different spirit than the others; he has followed me fully – he will enter the promised land and his descendants shall inherit it” (14:20-24).

The consequence of unbelief and rebellion is that...

7. God’s judgement falls on the rebels (14:26-45). The discipline of God led to death (14:26-38). All those who were morally responsible (20 years old and up) were barred from entering the promised land (14:30). They would die in the wilderness (14:29, 32-33) and their sons would be consigned to wander in the wilderness for 40 years – one year for every day they spied out the land (14:34).

The only exceptions were Caleb and Joshua (14:30) and the little ones (14:31). And the 10 spies who brought the bad report (14:36-37), who persuaded the people not to enter the land, and who induced the people’s complaints, they died immediately by the plague (14:37).

The discipline of God led to death, and the unbelief of the people led to defeat (14:39-45). Chastened by the death of the 10 spies, the people were desperate to reverse their earlier decision and gain back God’s favor (14:40), so they vowed to “go to the place the Lord promised, for we were wrong” (14:40). They ignored God’s earlier warning not to enter the land because the Amalekites and Canaanites were there (14:25). They ignored Moses warning that they would fail (14:41-43) by transgressing God’s command (14:25). Nonetheless, they tried to enter the land (14:44-45) with a pseudo self-confidence and a false bravado, and they were resoundingly defeated by the Amalekites and Canaanites (14:45).

Final Remarks

The events that took place at Kadesh-Barnea are not limited to the Israelites. We all face similar decision-making, watershed moments when we have to make decisions in the face of conflicting reports. Who do you believe? What should you do?

There are always those who see the negative side of things and who recommend not moving forward. Often it seems that the nay-sayers form the majority and speak the loudest. It was that way among the Israelites. In this case, ten against two – ten negative reports and recommendations against two positive. And the rest of the Israelites fell under the influence of the ten negative, ignoring the two positive.

Perhaps you have noticed this phenomenon in your church or among your Christian friends. The majority so often seems to prefer to turn back to Egypt, ignoring God’s instructions and assurances, rather than go forward into Canaan, trusting God’s promises and obeying his commands. So many people seem to find their comfort and confidence in the crowd – for them, there is safety in numbers. But our comfort and confidence are in God, regardless of the number who join with us. Our safety and security are in Him. The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are protected (Prov. 18:10; cf. Prov. 3:26; Isa. 41:10).

Walking with God is the path of blessing and security, but it can be a lonely one and certainly a challenge to our faith. God calls us to trust him when we are unable to see the end result of the decision we make today, and that can be disconcerting. But that is the life of faith. Remember, “we walk by faith, not by sight” ( 2 Cor. 5:7). Just as salvation is an individual decision, not collective, so also is the life of faith. If you follow the crowd in the matter of the salvation of your soul, you will be lost. You have to decide individually to follow Christ, regardless of what your friends or family might think or do. Jesus said, 34 If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me and the gospel will save it (Mk. 8:34-35).

Caleb and Joshua stood alone against the crowd at Kadesh-Barnea. They were like the apostle Paul who said to Timothy, “At my first defense, no one stood by me, but everyone deserted me” (2 Tim. 4:16). They were strong for God, only two men (together with Moses and Aaron) out of thousands. Isn’t that often how it is? Just a few faithful men. That’s all God’s needs to carry out his purposes, a few good men, men who can stand tall and strong in faith even in the face of murderous threats and rebellious opposition, men who embody the thesis of this message that the right response to personal attacks is humility, while trusting God to vindicate you. And God resoundingly vindicated them on this occasion.

The consequence, of course, for the majority who sided with the ten spies, rebelled against God and rejected His gracious and bountiful provision in Canaan, was devastating. In response to Moses’ intercession on behalf of the people (14:13-19) the Lord said to Moses, 21 As I live and as the whole earth is filled with the Lord’s glory, 22 none of the men who have seen my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tested me these ten times and did not obey me, 23 will ever see the land I swore to give their ancestors. None of those who have despised me will see it…29 Your corpses will fall in this wilderness—all of you who were registered in the census, the entire number of you twenty years old or more—because you have complained about me. 30 I swear that none of you will enter the land I promised to settle you in, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun” (Num. 14:21-23).

God held the adult men (20 years old and up) responsible for the rebellion. His judgement on these rebels at Kadesh-Barnea was to make them wander in the wilderness for 38 more years (40 years in total from the time they left Egypt), during which they would die and never enter the Promised Land. And the ten spies who influenced the rest against Caleb and Joshua “were stuck down by the Lord” (14:36-37). They died on the spot!

There are severe consequences for rebelling against the commandments and promises of God. God had blessed the Israelites beyond comprehension. He had demonstrated his sovereign power in the 10 plagues, the exodus out of Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, the provision of food and water, protection from the sun, the provision of heat at night, and guidance by the cloud by day. They had every reason to trust God to take them safely to Canaan, give them victory over the Canaanites, and grant them possession of the land. But they rejected God, disobeyed his commandments, and hankered for Egypt, its customs, food, and culture.

How much better is it to trust the Lord! Yes, it might be hard. Yes, it might mean standing alone against the crowd. But in return, you enter into the blessing of God’s promises, ultimately culminating in the enjoyment of his presence forever.

How much better is it to be one who bears the criticism and mockery and opposition of the crowd in order to be true to God. Remember, the right response to personal attacks is humility, while trusting God to vindicate you. The vindication of God is our great reward when we hear him say, Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy” (Matt. 25:21). How much better to be one whom God vindicates. Not someone who is always fighting for your rights, defending yourself, but someone who is content to let God fight for you, to let God defend you.

If you were in this situation, would you respond in faith like Caleb, Joshua, and Moses, trusting God for the outcome of whatever your circumstances might be? Or, do you see yourself sometimes like the ten spies, who only see the obstacles and not God’s opportunities, who couldn’t see the vision, couldn’t see God’s promises, didn’t believe God?

How would you characterize yourself? A man or woman of faith, who is willing to stand against the tide of public opinion even when the prospects humanly speaking look dim. Or, a man or woman of unbelief, who turns tail when the going gets tough, who rebels against God when the way ahead is hard and the outcome unclear.

May we be men and women of faith today, who respond to personal attacks and opposition with humility, while trusting God to vindicate us.

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13. The Giant Of Discouragement (Num. 13:1-14:45)

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Before we leave this significant episode in the life of Moses, let’s review what we have studied thus far in previous editions of this series and then draw out some principles concerning the causes, characteristics, and consequences of “The Giant of Discouragement.”

1. The Task (13:1-3; 17-20). The 12 spies who were sent into the land of Canaan (the promised land) were given the task of searching out the land and bringing back a report. God had told them many times what Canaan was like, what nations were there, how he would defeat their enemies and give them their promised inheritance.

Note that the request for a search and report came from the people, not from God. 20 I (Moses) said to you (Israel): ‘You have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. 21 See, the Lord your God has set the land before you. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has told you. Do not be afraid or discouraged.’ 22 Then all of you approached me and said, ‘Let’s send men ahead of us, so that they may explore the land for us and bring us back a report about the route we should go up and the cities we will come to.’ 23 The plan seemed good to me, so I selected twelve men from among you, one man for each tribe” (Deut. 1:20-23). Perhaps God permitted this search in order to reveal what their hearts were really like.

Accordingly, the spies brought back some of the wonderful fruit of the land, but they also brought back mixed reports.

2. The Reports (13:26-33). The two spies (Caleb and Joshua) brought back a good report. “Caleb quieted the people in the presence of Moses and said, “Let’s go up now and take possession of the land because we can certainly conquer it!” (13:30). They saw victory, they saw milk and honey, grapes, pomegranates and figs. These 2 spies were characterized by courage and confidence in God.

But the ten spies brought back a bad report. They admitted that it was a good land but they saw danger and defeat. They said, “It’s a good land – it flows with milk and honey - but…” (13:27-29). “But” is usually a sign of unbelief. They saw giants, fortified cities, and all the “-ites” (Amalekites etc.). Their conclusion? “We will be soundly defeated” (13:31-33). These 10 spies were paralyzed by fear.

3. The Attitude. All 12 spies saw the same land and the same people. They all had the same instructions from Moses. They all came from the same ethnic background and culture. They all had the same experiences and history. So, why the difference in attitude and outlook? The difference was because of their confidence in God. Joshua, Caleb, and Moses believed God but the rest didn’t believe that God would keep His promises.

The attitude of the 10 is typical of so many Christians. They have the assurance of salvation; they know all the Christian doctrines; they know the good things of Christianity (the “milk and honey”), but they are overwhelmed with dangers, problems, and the possibility of defeat - i.e. the giants of the Christian life. Their eyes are on the obstacles, not on God. Instead of seeing the blessing, they see the difficulties. Warren Wiersbe writes: “Unbelief always sees the obstacles… Faith always sees the opportunities.”

The refusal to enter the land is a type of the believer’s refusal to claim his or her blessings in Christ. Instead of trusting Him, doubting Christians are filled with fear. Instead of believing His promises, doubting Christians are overcome by the potential problems.

Make no doubt about it, giants are real. They were real in Canaan - no sense pretending they aren’t. The question is: How do we deal with them?

4. The Result. A night of complete discouragement followed, resulting in (a) open rebellion against God (14:1-3), (b) a proposal to elect a new leader (14:4), and (c) the cry to return to Egypt (14:4).

Discouragement is a very powerful tool of Satan. It attacks all ages, destroys thousands, robs Christians of their joy, and makes mountains out of molehills. Discouragement causes all kinds of side effects - bitterness; anger; depression etc. So, what was the cause of their discouragement?

I. The Causes Of Discouragement (13:26-33)

1. Dependence on men, not God. God had said He was giving the land of Canaan to them (13:2), but they neglected God’s promise and listened to men. All their trust was in the 10 men, not God.

Take the example of David. Goliath paraded his bravado before the children of Israel morning and evening. “When Saul and all Israel heard these words from the Philistine, they lost their courage and were terrified” (1 Sam. 17:11). But to David, Goliath was merely an “uncircumcised Philistine” (1 Sam. 17:26). To him Goliath was defying the “armies of the living God” (1 Sam. 17:36). God, through the means of nothing but a stone and a sling, was who he trusted despite the doubts of his brothers and King Saul. He was the epitome of courage when everyone around him cowered with fear.

So, the cause of their discouragement was, first, their dependence on men not God. Second…

2. Listening to the many, not the few. The report of the ten spies was accepted but the report of the two was rejected. The ten spies discouraged the people from going forward in faith. The two spies urged the people to trust God - taking Canaan, for them, was not a problem (13:30).

There are so many voices in the world (1 Cor. 14:10). The temptation is to be drawn in by those who are the most persuasive, or by those who are the most popular, or by those who seem to offer us the most benefit. The question is: Whose voice will we listen to? The voice of God, which gives courage and leads to victory, or the voice of the people, which instills fear and leads to failure?

3. Heeding the bad news, not the good. There were four pieces of bad news and three pieces of good news. The bad news was:

a) The strength of their army. “The people living in the land are strong…stronger than we are” (13:28a, 31b). The implication? “We are too weak.”

b) The size of their cities. “The cities are large and fortified.” The implication? “We can’t penetrate them or overcome them.”

c) The ferocious cannibals. “The land we passed through to explore is one that devours its inhabitants (13:32a). The implication? “They’ll eat us alive.”

d) The size and strength of the men. “We also saw the descendants of Anak there… All the people we saw in it are men of great size. We even saw the Nephilim there—the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim! To ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and we must have seemed the same to them” (13:28b, 32b, 33). The implication? “We are puny, small, like grasshoppers in comparison.”

All the bad news had to do with size and strength, but there was also good news:

a) The land was rich and nourishing. “It is flowing with milk and honey” (13:27). The implication? “What God had said was true. “

b) They could take the land. “Let’s go up now and take possession of the land because we can certainly conquer it!” (13:30). The implication? “God is able to give us victory in spite of what things look like.”

c) Their diet would change. “They cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes, which was carried on a pole by two men. They also took some pomegranates and figs” (13:23). The implication? “We will have a wonderful diet after only having quails and manna for so long. This land is plentiful, full of sweetness and nourishment. No more nasty tasting leeks, onions, and garlic as in Egypt, but sweet tasting fruit.”

Bad news always seems to outshine good news. Often we get drawn in to listening to it as these people did. You can have lots of good news and only one piece of bad news and guess what dominates your thinking, your mood, your outlook? The bad news! Pessimism always seems to overshadow optimism. Potential always seems to eclipse opportunity.

It’s not that we should be foolhardy. We need to be realistic and responsible. But let’s not allow the “naysayers” to rob us of our confidence in the Lord.

So, the cause of their discouragement was (1) dependence on men not God; (2) listening to the many not the few; (3) heeding the bad news not the good. And four…

4. Responding with fear, not courage. Moses had said: “Be courageous” (13:20). But fear gripped their hearts. They were afraid of the giants and the walled cities. They had to make a choice – “fight or flight.” Courage said: “Fight.” Fear said: “Flight.”

Elijah was faced with the same choice. God had answered his prayers and the rain stopped (1 Kgs 17). God fed him by ravens bringing him bread and meat. He had performed miracles by the power of God. The widow’s barrel of flour and jar of oil never ran out (1 Kgs 17:8-16). He had raised the widow’s son from the dead (1 Kgs 17:17-24). He had called fire down from heaven to consume the water-soaked sacrifice (1 Kgs 18:20-40). But when Jezebel threatened his life, fear struck his heart (1 Kgs 19:1-4)) and discouragement set in. He became so discouraged that he wanted to die. He did the worst thing he could do – isolated himself. He thought he was the only one left who served God (1 Kings 19:10). He engaged in this pity-party, this “poor me” attitude: “I’m the only one left. Things are really bad. There’s no hope for me. I can’t do this on my own.”

Have there been times in your life when you have experienced great fear and discouragement? What are some of the factors that seem to generate discouragement? Often, self pity and loneliness foster discouragement. Elijah thought he was all alone in serving the Lord. “I’m the only faithful one. Everyone else has given up. Nobody cares about me. Nobody knows the troubles I’ve had.” But God still had 7000 faithful to Him.

Often, discouragement comes right at the time of a spiritual high. It doesn’t back off because we read our Bible and pray. In fact, it may even get worse as Satan ramps up his attack. Satan loves to harass us when we are discouraged – he takes full advantage of our moments of weakness.

The final cause of the Israelites’ discouragement was fifthly…

5. Walking by sight, not faith. They saw the walled cities, the giants, and the cannibals. They weighed their options and decided that the cards were stacked against them. Things were not the way they had first appeared or that they expected.

We see an example of this in Cleopas and the other disciple (Lk. 24:13-35). The crucifixion was over, the news of the empty tomb was out but the disciples did not remember Jesus’ promise of resurrection. Things hadn’t turn out the way they were supposed to. They expected Jesus to be reigning as king, not crucified like a common criminal. Their hopes and expectations were shattered. Discouraged, Cleopas and the other disciple were on their way out of Jerusalem on the road to Emmaus. They were going away from the centre of blessing. They were trusting their own resources, not trusting the Savior’s promise. Then, Jesus revealed himself to them, their hearts burned, and their eyes were opened.

Living by sight puts the burden on you, but living by faith roles the burden onto God. Trusting in circumstances is risky at best and disastrous at worst. People of God must walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).

Those, then, were the causes of discouragement. Now let’s look at…

II. The Characteristics Of Discouragement (14:1-10)

1. Weeping. “Then the whole community broke into loud cries, and the people wept that night” (14:1). Weeping can come from many sources. Sometimes people weep for joy. Sometimes people weep from anger. Emotional circumstances can cause weeping, like the death of a loved one. The children of Israel were weeping here because of hopelessness, despair. They had nowhere to turn - behind them was the wilderness, in front of them the walled cities and giants. They felt trapped, hopeless and they wept from despair. What could they do?

Unbelievers are “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). They have nowhere to turn. Believers, on the other hand (a) “do not grieve like the rest, who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13); (b) “boast in the hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2); (c) trust in “the God of hope” (Rom. 15:13); (d) have “hope in Christ” Cor, 15:19); (e) have the “the hope of salvation” (1 Thess. 5:8). (f) rejoice in the “hope of eternal life” (Titus 1:2; 3:7); (g) are waiting for “the blessed hope” (Titus 2:13).

So, weeping is often a first characteristic of discouragement. Second is…

2. Complaining. “All the Israelites complained about Moses and Aaron” (Num. 14:2). Complaining had become their way of life in the wilderness. They grumbled about being thirsty (Ex. 15:24; Ex. 17:3) and God gave them water. They grumbled about being hungry (Ex. 16:2) and God gave them manna. Then they grumbled about the manna (Num. 11:4-6) and God gave them quails. They grumbled that God had brought them out to die (Deut 1:27) and repeatedly God protected them, delivered them, provided for them.

“The whole community told them, ‘If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this wilderness!’” (14:2). Did they really think that death in Egypt would be better? How soon their memories of bondage in Egypt had faded. They had lived for 400 years in abject slavery, surrounded by death, abuse, and hatred. And now they are complaining?

How often we look upon grumbling as a little sin. But what seems like a little sin soon gets possession of us. Grumbling and complaining quickly affect your outlook on the whole of life – it becomes part of your personality. But Christians should be known for our thankfulness, for all the blessings God showers upon us. Do you know how blessed we really are? What blessings come to mind right now? We should be the most thankful people.

Christians should be the most positive-thinking people. We have everything to be positive about. What should we be positive about? We know who we are, why we’re here, and where we’re going. We have everything to live for in hope and security.

If we become infected with the sin of grumbling, it can come back at any time and for the slightest of reasons. It soon becomes the standard way we respond to any negative circumstance – we can’t see beyond it.

Eve’s heart-problem was a secret complaint. Her underlying attitude seems to have been a secret grumble as evidenced in her misquote of what God said: “You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die” (Gen. 3:3). Her secret grumble soon got out of control. Urged on by Satan she said in her heart: “Why shouldn’t we eat of this tree anyway. God isn’t the good God we thought. He’s depriving us of a benefit that is rightly ours.” This is how easily a secret complaint can become outright rebellion and then blame: “The serpent deceived me and I ate” (Gen. 3:13). Just so with the Israelites. There was weeping and complaining, and then…

3. Blaming. “Why is the Lord bringing us into this land to die by the sword? Our wives and children will become plunder” (14:3). Blame is the core of most negative emotions. It is the reason why we get angry, jealous, envious. We don’t want to take responsibility for our own actions.

Blame is holding someone else responsible for hurting us, depriving us of something, cheating us etc. “God is responsible for this problem at the edge of Canaan. He brought us out here - we didn’t want to come at all. We’re victims of a mean trick!”

Blame never affirms but criticizes. Never builds up, but destroys. Never defends, but attacks. Never forgets, but remembers. Never forgives, but accuses. Never restores, but wounds. Never smiles, but frowns. Never solves, but complicates. Never unites, but separates.

For several years my wife and I volunteered in the chaplaincy program at a prison. All the men in that prison were there because they had done something wrong, but they always had an excuse. It was their parents’ fault or, they hit hard times, or the judicial system isn’t fair. They constantly had to justify themselves by blaming someone else.

We must take responsibility for our own actions. The lawyer in Lk. 10:29 didn’t want to take responsibility so he attempted to justify himself. Jesus never tried to justify himself - even when he was wrongfully accused (cf. Luke 4:30; Luke 23:9; 1 Pet. 2:22-24).

We should practice self-examination not self-justification. Psalm 139:23-24 says, “Search me, O God” and 1 Cor. 11:28, “Let a man examine himself…”

Instead of the works of the flesh (like hate and blame), we should produce the fruit of the Spirit “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control.” (Gal. 5:22).

Weeping, complaining, blaming all led to…

4. Rebellion. “So they said to one another, ‘Let’s appoint a leader and go back to Egypt’” (Num. 14:4). God and Moses are out of the picture now. “Let us…” They were saying: “It’s all up to us now. Let’s take control – self-government is what we need.” This was out-and-out rebellion. The Israelites never judged their rebellious spirit even after this experience. Eventually, they provoked Moses, causing him to lash out in anger against them - “Listen, you rebels!” (Num. 20:10) - as a result of which he was barred from entering the promised land.

Rebellion is the overthrow of authority, resistance to government. Rebellion reveals underlying attitudes like insubordination, disobedience, distrust, anger, cynicism.

Jesus was never rebellious. Isaiah prophesied of Jesus, “I was not rebellious…” (Isa. 50:5). Peter says, “When he was insulted, he did not insult in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten but entrusted himself to the one who judges justly” (1 Pet. 2:23).

Weeping, complaining, blaming, rebellion. Then…

5. Murder. “The whole community threatened to stone them” (14:10). Anger goes all the way from mild irritation, indignation, to wrath, fury, and to uncontrolled rage. When fully expressed, anger produces murder. That’s what Jesus said, “From the heart come evil thoughts, murders…” (Matt. 15:19).

What is the biblical teaching about anger? “Be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). Anger is a God-given emotion but anger must not be sinful. It’s a question of controlling it, not letting it dominate you or be improperly expressed. Jesus expressed anger sometimes but he was only ever angry for the right reasons and with complete control (e.g. with the money changers, religious hypocrites).

Anger must have safeguards. Don’t prolong anger – “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger (Eph. 4:26b), Anger needs to be curtailed or it will turn into bitterness and sin. “Don’t give the devil an opportunity” (Eph. 4:27). Don’t let your anger be expressed in such a way that you are weakened and the devil reproduces his character in you. Sustained, uncontrolled anger gives the devil an open door. When it gets beyond your control, you know this is not righteous anger. When you act in a way that fails to express the nature and character of Christ, you know this is not righteous anger. When your anger reflects badly on your testimony and the character of God, you know this is not righteous anger. Sadly, there are many angry people in our churches.

We’ve seen the causes of discouragement (13:26-33); the characteristics of discouragement (14:1-10). Now…

III. The Consequences Of Discouragement (14:22-45)

Unabated discouragement can lead to rebellion and even murderous intent. There are consequences for uncontrolled fleshly activity, for unabated discouragement. There is the consequence of…

1. Forfeiting God’s blessings. The Israelites were barred from the land and wandered 40 years. They missed out on God’s blessings - the very best that God had in store for them – and they didn’t even know it. What a tragedy of epic proportions! Here they were, on the verge of entering into all the glorious provision and promises of God and they lost it!

I wonder, sometimes, how many times we fail to enter into the wonderful provision and promises of God because of rebellion and uncontrolled anger, even murderous thoughts and intentions? How many times do we miss out on God’s blessings because of the unjudged activity of our flesh?

One consequence of unabated discouragement is forfeiting God’s blessings. There is also the consequence of…

2. God’s discipline that leads to death. The ten spies died (14:36-37) because they complained against Moses and caused the people to sin. God chastises his children as a faithful Father - “Whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son…” (Heb 12:6). If we persist in this way of thinking and living, we may come under God’s discipline. Sometimes, God’s discipline ends in death – e.g. if Christians do not judge their own sinful behavior (1 Cor. 11:30).

The consequence for unabated discouragement in this story is the discipline of God – forfeiting God’s blessing and even death itself, the most extreme form of God’s judgment.

There is the consequence of missing out on God’s blessings, the consequence of God’s discipline, and there is also the consequence of…

3. Disobedience that leads to defeat (14:25, 39-45). Disobedience may lead to defeat. Chastened by the death of the 10 spies, the people now tried to go into the land in their own strength and they suffered enormous defeat. Their confidence was in themselves, not God. As a result, they were defeated by the Amalekites (14:45).

Final Remarks

1. Conquering giants requires great skill and discipline. It requires expertise and self-control to throw a sling shot at giants. Ultimately, only God can defeat the giant, only he can win the victory.

2. Winning the battle over spiritual giants isn’t won with a sword. It’s won with the “shield of faith” (Eph. 6:16), which preserves us from enemy attacks, keeps us free from fear, protects us from the shouts of threats, gives us confidence in the midst of battle - confidence in God.

Billy Graham once said…

“Today many people are living in the bondage of fear. In a recent study, a psychiatrist said that the greatest problem facing his patients was fear. Afraid of going insane, committing suicide, being alone, or afraid of heart disease, cancer, disaster, or death. We are becoming a nation of fearful people. Down through the centuries in times of trouble, temptation, trial, bereavement, and crisis, God has brought courage to the hearts of those who love Him. The Bible is crowded with assurances of God’s help and comfort in every kind of trouble which might cause fears to arise in the human heart. Today, the Christian can come to the Scriptures with full assurance that God is going to deliver the person who puts his trust and confidence in God. Christians can look into the future with promise, hope, and joy, and without fear, discouragement, or despondency.”

3. The antidote for discouragement is courage (14:6-9). The 10 spies were frozen with fear. The 2 spies were motivated by courage - brave, fearless, unswerving in their faith in God. Remember: “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment” (2 Tim. 1:7).

4. The giant of discouragement can be overcome through intercessory prayer (14:13-19). God offered to destroy the entire nation and make a new nation through Moses’ descendants (14:11-12). But Moses, in grace and mercy, interceded on behalf of the people (14:13-19). Such is the great value of intercessory prayer.

Related Topics: Christian Life

14. When Leaders Lose It (Num. 20:1-13)

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The wilderness wanderings of the Israelites is about to end. God’s judgement against the first generation of Israelites to come out of Egypt is over. After 40 years, they are back at Kadesh and they are about to enter the promised land. This is the place of judgement for this was the place where their wilderness wanderings began under the judgement of God. This is the place where God resumes his work, where God’s plans were temporarily interrupted due to Israel’s unbelief and rebellion, where God shows that his purposes and plans never fail. This is the place of departure where God’s judgement was pronounced and to which God’s people must always return in order to start afresh with God.

Sin cannot be swept under the carpet. It must always be dealt with openly and honestly. A new, fresh walk with God always starts at the point of departure. Continuance in the journey to the Promised Land begins at the place where it fell apart. God had been faithful to His character of holiness and justice. The question now is: Would the next generation (a) sanctify the Lord God in their hearts, and (b) demonstrate that commitment by faith and obedience? - the two characteristics that God demands and that were absent from the previous generation.

This is a place of sorrow and joy - sorrow at what had caused the demise of their fathers and God’s judgement on them; joy that they served a merciful God who is fully trustworthy and will complete his promise.

The subject of this study is “Accountability to God.” The theological principle that we learn in this passage is that God holds us accountable - you cannot presume on the grace of God.

This is a sad chapter by all accounts because we immediately run into another dispute over water at Kadesh, a dispute that is framed by (a) the death of Miriam at the beginning, (b) the death of Aaron at the end, and (c) the prevention of Moses from entering the land in the middle.

In spite of God’s faithfulness, we see that...

I. Some People’s Hearts Never Seem To Change (20: 1-5)

Other than Joshua and Caleb, only Moses, Aaron, and Miriam remained from the previous generation and now Miriam, Moses’ sister, has just died (20:1). She is the one who had intervened and cared for Moses at his birth and who, in a sense, risked her life for Moses back then (Ex. 2:4-9). Miriam is the one who, at the beginning of their desert wanderings, led their victory song of thanksgiving after crossing the Red Sea (Ex. 15). Now, at the end of their wilderness wanderings, Miriam is dead. Moses had loved his sister deeply, so much so that he had interceded for her to be healed when God struck her with leprosy after challenging Moses’ authority (Num. 12:1-13). Moses’ precious sister is dead and buried in this place.

Undoubtedly this detail is recorded here as a prelude to Moses’ downfall in this chapter. The writer wants us to connect Moses’ grief over the death of his sister to the complaints of the people that follow and then with his subsequent action. Barely has his sister been laid in the grave than it says, “There was no water for the community, so they assembled against Moses and Aaron” (20:2).

Now only Moses and Aaron are left to lead a new generation, who needed to experience and know Yahweh – his nature, his character, his demands of obedience and faith. This generation had only heard about God’s miraculous deliverance from Egypt – they had not experienced it themselves. What they had experienced was God’s acts of judgement as their fathers died in the wilderness. And we see now that they had not learned from their experiences - their hearts and attitudes were no different from the previous generation.

The question is: Would they now experience the same demise as their fathers? Would they see the future as hopeless as their fathers had? Perhaps so, for they contended with Moses saying, “If only we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord” (20:3). That’s incredible! They were actually calling for God’s judgement to fall on them. They would rather be killed by God because of an apparent lack of water than experience the power of God in supplying all their needs. 4 Why have you brought the Lord’s assembly into this wilderness for us and our livestock to die here? 5 Why have you led us up from Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It’s not a place of grain, figs, vines, and pomegranates, and there is no water to drink!” (20:4-5). They were actually invoking divine judgement. They were saying that it would have been better to have died when the others did.

To prefer death over life is utter despair. To describe as “evil” the place to which God had brought them is blasphemy. To prefer God’s judgement over liberty is outright rejection. To infer that Moses’ intent was to kill them is total distrust. To blame Moses and Aaron for their circumstances is rebellion. This is heartlessness at its worst, utter callousness. Apparently this second generation is no different than the first generation who had just died in the wilderness. They are just like their parents who grumbled about the lack of water (cf. Ex. 15:23-26; 17:1-7). These are people whose sole focus in life was themselves - their needs, their wants superseded anything or anyone else. It didn’t matter to them that Moses and Aaron had just lost their sister and were consumed with grief as they mourned her death. That didn’t hinder the people complaining. They were so insensitive, so self-centred, so concerned with themselves.

Discontent seems to be an incurable disease. It’s contagious – spreads like wild fire through a group of people. Whiners only think of themselves. They don't consider the needs or feelings of others.

Complaining and murmuring against others is a spiritual problem. It’s a lack of submission. It’s arrogance (“I know best - my wants are the priority”). It’s the absence of basic Christian love. How inappropriate was this whining against Moses and Aaron. But when people are out of fellowship with God and focused on self, this is what happens. They act rudely and insensitively. They trample on others and cause untold hurt.

Spiritually, the Israelites were far from God and living according to the flesh. Complainers never seem to take self-responsibility. They never suggest solutions, but only voice complaints. They never take initiative, but always expect others to look after them. Complaining against God’s leaders is to complain against God.

This is, at its root, spiritual rebellion. And rebellion, at its root, is unbelief displayed in anger. These people didn’t trust God to provide for their needs. They make no mention of God’s grace in withholding judgement, God’s provision of food and water, God’s protection from the heat and their enemies. How long is it going to take for them to “get it”? When will they begin to trust God? Do they even know God at all?

Everything that God had done so far in their journey had proved conclusively that God is totally faithful and fully trustworthy, God is all-powerful and all-knowing. God is gracious, long suffering, patient, forgiving. Yet, despite all that they had experienced about God, they were still unbelieving. They still didn’t trust God or God’s leaders. They were still cynical that Moses had brought them out here to die (20:3-4). The wilderness, in their estimation, was now an “evil place” (20:5), a place with no grain, no figs, no vines, no pomegranates and, most importantly, no water. Isn’t it ironic, that the fruits they claimed were missing (figs, vines, and pomegranates) were the very fruits the spies had brought back from Canaan 40 years before (13:23)?

Some people’s hearts never seem to change. So, what do we do when faced with this attitude?

II. Knowing How To Respond Takes Dependence On God (20:6-8)

What were Moses and Aaron to do? What resource did they have? They did the only right and proper thing to do – they turned to God and entreated him at “the doorway of the tent of meeting” (20:6a) where they fell on their faces before God. In other words, they prostrated themselves before God. They were at the end of their tether. And when you’re at the end of your tether there’s only one place to go – to God. To prostrate oneself is an indication of dependence, humility, servanthood, the lesser bowing before the greater. As someone else has said, “Humility and servanthood are the prerequisites for the manifestation of God’s presence and blessing” (R. Dennis Cole, NAC, Numbers, 326).

“And the glory of the Lord appeared to them (20:6b). It doesn’t say what this looked like or how God revealed his glory to them. Evidently, there was some visible demonstration of God’s presence – perhaps the fire and the cloud. And God graciously responded (20:7-8) by giving Moses and Aaron three simple instructions.

1. Moses was to “take the rod” (20:8a). This was no ordinary rod – it was “the” rod. This was the rod that he had obediently stretched out over the waters of the Red Sea. This was the rod with which he had obediently struck the rock before (Ex. 17:2-6).

2. Moses and Aaron were to “assemble the community” (20:8b). Moses the prophet and Aaron the priest were to gather the people in front of the rock. They were God’s agents to perform God’s miracle.

3. Moses was to “speak to the rock while they watch, and it will yield its water” (20:8c). The rod that had parted the death-threatening waters at the Red Sea now produces life-giving water from a dead rock. Since when could rocks yield water? Apparently this rock could. God said, You will bring out water for them from the rock and provide drink for the community and their livestock” (20:8d). This was a “water-producing” rock. There was already water in this rock ready to come out.

This is pure, boundless grace. This is grace for the rebellious. This is the undeserved favor of God, His unmerited goodness. As one commentator puts it, “this was water for the thirsty, bread for the hungry, a home for the homeless, rest for the weary, pardon for the sinful” (James Philip, Mastering the O.T., Numbers, 224). I would say this is the good news of the gospel, salvation for sinners, redemption for rebels, restoration for the fallen, reconciliation for the broken, reassurance for the fearful, hope for the despondent, forgiveness for the sinful, mercy for the offenders, pardon for the guilty.

Some people’s hearts, then, never seem to change. Knowing how to respond takes dependence on God. At step #1, Moses’ response was perfectly obedient – he took the rod. So also at step #2 – he gathered the people together. But at step #3, we see that...

III. Sometimes We Respond Emotionally And Disobey God (20:9-11)

This was the perfect storm. The people’s rebellion against their leaders incited their leaders’ rebellion against them. You can understand Moses’ frustration, can’t you? After all these years, the people’s hearts had not changed. Unbelief and rebellion could again prevent them from entering the land. When would they stop? When would they learn? When would they change and submit?

Now, Moses loses it in what he said and what he did. This is where it’s so easy for leaders in the heat of the moment to go wrong. As soon as he began to speak, Moses’ deep-seated anger and resentment and bitterness flooded out in a torrent. The build-up of the last 40 years came pouring out. Instead of speaking to the rock, he railed against the people. He took the rod, just as God had commanded him, he and Aaron gathered the people together in front of the rock, just as God had commanded him, and Moses said, “Listen, you rebels!” (20:10a).

Were they in fact rebels? Yes, indeed they were. But now, so was Moses. His words show utter defiance against God, utter insubordination. Jesus said: “The mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart” (Matt. 12:34). Jesus said that, “from the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, slander” (Matt. 15:19). James tells us that the tongue is the most difficult member of the body to control and often the tongue expresses the anger that is inside (James 3:5-8). Anger is an emotion that is so hard to suppress sometimes. And it is so often displayed in what we say and what we do.

“Listen, you rebels, must we bring water out of this rock for you?”(20:10). Moses refers to himself and Aaron (we) as though they had the power to perform a miracle. He did not attribute this provision of water to God at all but took the responsibility and credit for themselves. Moses now is no different from the pagan magicians of Canaan, claiming miraculous power, taking the place of God. Moses changed God’s instructions in order to take the opportunity to vent his anger.

So, Moses lost it. First he lost it in what he said - he did not speak to the rock but railed against the people. And then he lost it in what he did - instead of speaking to the rock he struck it with the rod, not once but twice. “Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff (20:11a).

To strike the rock was, symbolically, to strike God. The rock was a symbol of God’s provision and favor. The apostle Paul makes the connection: “That rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4). At that moment, Moses lost communion with God. In Ex. 17, Moses was instructed to strike the rock because there it was a picture of the Lord Jesus, smitten on the cross. But now, Moses was to speak to the rock because here it is a picture that Jesus’ death was “once-for-all” – no need to repeat it, no more offering for sin.

Moses now had the same rebellious attitude as the people. In his anger he acted no differently than they did. The root problem was the same – unbelief. The people looked at Moses and not God. Moses looked at the people and not God. This was a failure to do what’s right no matter what.

We respond this way sometimes don’t we? We fail to trust God and instead give in to feelings of resentment, anger, failure, frustration. I wonder what situations are the most likely to cause you to act this way? This was rebellion, disobedience, distrust of God and for that there would be dire consequences; Moses would pay dearly. What a tragedy that the meekest man who ever lived failed in his meekness, just like Peter, a bold man who failed because of fear.

Sometimes we respond emotionally and disobey God. And...

IV. When We Disobey God, There Are Consequences (20:11-13)

There were two responses from God - the response of grace and the response of judgement.

1. God responded to the people in grace. “Abundant water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank” (20:11b). In spite of the people’s complaints and in spite of Moses’ behavior, God poured out his grace. Who but God could produce water from a rock? Who but God in his grace would provide water for rebellious, ungrateful people? Who but God in his grace would abundantly supply their needs? What experiences have you had where God has graciously provided for your needs even though you have been disobedient?

This is our God. He is benevolent even when we are ungrateful. He provides for our needs even when we don’t give him the credit. He does not retaliate even when we attack him. Our sinfulness does not prevent God pouring out his grace. But beware of this - God’s grace does not cover over his holiness nor does it withhold his discipline. God responded to his people in grace, and...

2. God responded to his leaders in judgement. “But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not trust me to demonstrate my holiness in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly into the land I have given them’” (20:12). Remember our thesis: God holds us accountable - you cannot presume on the grace of God.

Moses and Aaron were examples to the people. They were God’s mouthpiece to the people. They were God’s agents in carrying out his instructions. They were commissioned to teach the people about God – his ways, his purposes, his character, his nature.

When we don’t trust God, we fail Him. Moses and Aaron had not trusted God’s word nor been obedient to God’s instruction. If they had, they would have demonstrated their faith. If they had, they would have given glory to God. At its root, Moses’ sin here was not that he struck the rock rather than speaking to it. Surely Moses did not think that striking the rock would be any more successful in bringing water from the rock than speaking to it! No, God points out the root problem, “You did not trust me to demonstrate my holiness in the sight the Israelites (20:12).

Moses acted with uncontrolled anger, striking rather than speaking, because he did not trust God. And because he did not trust God he did not cause the people to reverence God, “to regard Christ the Lord as holy” (1 Pet. 3:15).

So, rebellion and unbelief were manifested by the people in their rebellion against Moses and by Moses in not teaching them who God is and how he acts. Now, after all these years of mediating faithfully between God and the people (interceding for them, pleading for them, offering his life for them), he now fails through rebellion and unbelief himself. Moses had seen their unbelief and rebellion over and over again. Instead of trusting the power and word and character of God, perhaps he concluded that entrance into the promised land would never happen.

What wonder and pathos occurs here at Kadesh. Once before, the Israelites contended with Moses about the lack of water at Rephidim (Ex.17:7) and those waters were called Meribah (which means “contention”). That time, God instructed Moses to strike the rock and God graciously produced water. Now, 40 years later, the new generation of Israelites were evidently no different than their predecessors. Now once more they complain about the lack of water and again the place is called “the waters of Meribah” not because they contended with Moses, but this time because “the Israelites quarreled (contended) with the Lord, and he demonstrated his holiness to them” (20:13). Once more God shows himself to be both gracious and holy.

Disobedience and rebellion bring God’s judgement. Previously (Ex. 17:2-6) Moses obeyed God and struck the rock. But now, he was to speak to the rock and instead he struck it. It’s so easy to think that what you did before is alright to do again, that what God instructed you to do the first time is what he wants you to do the next time, that if it was alright to strike the rock the first time, why not now? Perhaps that’s how Moses justified his action now.

It’s so easy to move from humility (v. 6) to haughtiness (v.11), from dependence to independence, from utter faithfulness to utter rebellion, from consummate meekness to outright brashness, to fall from intimacy with God to defamation of God.

It’s so easy! And it can happen just that quickly, as it did for Moses. Now God’s great prophet and priest will experience the same judgement as the rebellious first generation. Neither Moses nor Aaron will not enter the land. Having failed as their mediator, Moses forfeited his office. Someone else would have the privilege of leading the people into the land. For one moment Moses went wrong and for that he would not live to see God fulfill his promise. He would not complete his leadership mission. He would not enter the promised land. He would miss the climax of all that he had lived for during the past 40 years. He would miss the parade, the celebration, the graduation, the victory for which he had worked so hard and so patiently.

I always think that’s so sad, such a sad end for such a great leader. And yet is it so sad? In one sense “yes” – he missed the grand finale. But in another sense, “no” – the time had come for a change of leadership and God had Joshua waiting in the wings. Joshua would lead the next generation into the land, the people that Moses and Aaron considered rebels, the people that Moses and Aaron resented so deeply. They would enter the land but Moses and Aaron would not. As Alfred Edersheim eloquently puts it: “Moses and Aaron (had become) aged pilgrims, worn with the long way through the wilderness, and footsore with its roughness and stones, whose strength momentarily failed when the weary journey was once more resumed, and who in their weariness stumbled at the rock of offence” (Edersheim’s Bible History, Vol. II, 188).

Moses would only see the land from a distance and Aaron would not even get a glimpse of it. What a sad end to such an illustrious servant. We see this in other great servants of God, don’t we? Like Elijah, who despaired and was removed from office and replaced by Elisha. Like John the Baptist, who despaired of Jesus’ power and person, doubted that Jesus was the Messiah, questioned how Jesus was using his power, thought that he was mistaken as to who Jesus was (Matt. 11:1-3), and he too was removed from office.

Final Remarks

1. You cannot presume on the grace of God. Remember: God holds us accountable - don’t take the grace of God for granted. God’s grace does not justify or overlook our disobedience. Rebellion in any form and to any degree is never glossed over by God. There are always consequences to our actions. There were consequences for the Israelites – all the men over the age of 20 died in the wilderness (14:22-23, 29) - and there were consequences for Moses and Aaron.

2. When we sin willfully, we may lose our usefulness for God. He may not be able to use us to accomplish his purposes. You can’t act contrary to God’s word and God’s will and still think you can walk in God’s way. “Can a man embrace fire and his clothes not be burned?” (Prov. 6:27). No! If you play with fire, you’ll get burned. It’s like our mothers used to say: “Don’t play with matches!”

3. None of us is exempt from the works of the flesh. The apostle Paul wrote, “I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think” (Rom. 12:3). “Do not be arrogant, but beware” (Rom. 11:20).

Well, we have much to learn from these wonderful O.T. accounts of the patriarchs, men and women who served God faithfully, whose lives are recorded in holy Scripture. “For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures” (Rom. 15:4).

4. Your legacy in life isn’t how you started – it’s how you finish. Those of us in the last lap of life need to strive to finish well. Remember, we are accountable to God.

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15. The Cure For Snake Bites (Num. 21:4-9)

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Does anyone here like snakes? I don’t, that’s for sure. Many people think that Africa is full of snakes but the truth is that, in all my trips to Africa, I have never seen one there. In 2009 I was in Lusaka, Zambia, at the home of some missionaries from Canada. When I was leaving their house to walk back to my room in the mission guest house, they said, “Be sure to walk in the middle of the laneway away from the bushes on either side. A few days ago we killed a cobra in our backyard!” That’s the closest I have come to a snake in Africa.

One time I was going to lead a team from our church on a short-term missions trip to Burkina Faso, West Africa. At one of the preparatory meetings with the team, one of the questions that was asked a couple of times was: “Are there snakes there?”

Some years ago, a young woman at our church encountered a snake in her apartment here in Canada. She came out of the shower and discovered a snake in her bedroom - that’s too close for comfort!

Well, in our passage today, the Israelites also encountered deadly snakes. The subject of our study is: “Faith – the cure for sin.” The theological principle that we learn from this passage is that salvation is by the grace of God alone through faith in Jesus Christ.

Consider the background to this story for a moment. Just before the Israelites were about to enter the promised land, Aaron had died because of his rebellion against God at the waters of Meribah (20:24) and the Israelites had been mourning his death for 30 days. Then they continued their journey toward Canaan and, as had happened many times before, “the people became impatient because of the journey” (21:4).

Impatience often causes us to complain against God. Complaints against God are the expression of discontent with God. Sometimes we might not even be aware of what we are doing, but...

I. Discontent Is Sin Against God (21:5)

The Israelites frequently expressed their discontent and complained against God. From a human perspective you can understand why. How would you feel if you had traipsed for 40 years in the scorching heat of a barren wilderness, if you had eaten the same food day after day, if your fathers and uncles etc. had all died along the way and you were left all alone to face the unknown future, if you didn't know where your next meal was coming from, if you were thirsty and there was no water in sight, and now one of your beloved leaders was dead?

But for all these years, God had proven himself faithful. Surely, they knew by now that he would bring them through, that he would provide for them and protect them. Even though this generation had not seen the Red Sea miracle, they had seen God’s faithful day-after-day provision for the last 20 years at least. How much more evidence did they need? Why did they still not trust him? I think the answer is because of discontent and discouragement.

So, once again the people spoke against God and against Moses. “Why have you led us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread or water, and we detest this wretched food!” (21:5). It seems like this has become their “wilderness refrain.” In fact, they had used these or similar words of complaint at least nine times by now. “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die here? ... We wish we had stayed in Egypt... There’s no food or water... We hate this detestable bread – it’s worthless and contemptible.”

These were direct accusations against God’s gracious provision all these years. They threw God’s grace and goodness back in his face. In fact, their complaint was completely untrue and their discontent was thoroughly unwarranted. They complained that they had “no water,” when in fact God had provided them with water over and over again. They complained that they had “no bread,” when in fact God had faithfully provided food every day.

Their real complaint was that they did not like the food – “this worthless bread” is how they described it. They considered God’s provision to be “worthless.” I wonder sometimes how often we consider God’s provision for us to be worthless. Oh, we may not actually use that word but in our attitudes and ingratitude isn’t that what we say to God? I sometimes wonder how often our complaints are unwittingly complaints directly against God. You may not mean it that way but ultimately that’s who you are complaining against, for “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). And yet, often we don't appreciate what God has given us, do we?

Like the Israelites, we think it should be better - not just bread but meat and all the trimmings; not just water but good, tasty drinks; not just a 3 bedroom home in the suburbs but an estate in the country; not just a middle management job but an executive position; not just able to meet the monthly rent but able to take exotic trips once in a while.

It’s so easy to become discontented with our lot in life. We seem to have very short memories when it comes to God’s provision, protection, and power. We seem to operate on such a short time line that, not long after one manifestation of God’s provision or protection, we expect another display of his power. And if that doesn’t happen, we become discouraged and discontented and start thinking bad thoughts about God. There’s no knowing how critical of God we can be when our hearts are filled with rebellion and discontent. And the root of discontent and rebellion is unbelief.

A critical spirit spreads like gangrene so that even God’s grace in Christ comes under attack. Nothing can satisfy the human heart until you are reconciled to God, until you have an intimate, saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ. And even then, we have to watch our hearts. Negativity, disunity, complaining, and accusations spring from our hearts so easily and so quickly. If you allow a root of bitterness to spring up (Heb. 12:15), it can destroy you. Only God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit can fully and eternally satisfy our hearts. And yet, so many people are complaining and critical. Why is that? Because of rebellion which is rooted in self-centeredness and, ultimately, in distrust of God.

If you don’t maintain an intimate, vibrant relationship with God through Jesus Christ, you will never be satisfied - you’ll always want more or something different. As St. Augustine said: “Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in Thee.” Or, as King Solomon observed, everything under the sun is futility without God. He tried to find satisfaction in wine, women, wealth, and music. “All that my eyes desired, I did not deny them… When I considered all that I had accomplished and what I had labored to achieve, I found everything to be futile and a pursuit of the wind. Here is nothing to be gained under the sun” (Eccl. 2:10ff.) He continues, “I observed all the work of God and concluded that a person is unable to discover the work that is done under the sun. Even though a person labors hard to explore it, he cannot find it; even if a wise person claims to know it, he is unable to discover it” (Eccl. 8:17). What then was Solomon’s conclusion? 13 When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: fear God and keep his commands, because this is for all humanity. 14 For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil” (Eccl. 12:13-14).

Only when your heart is right with God and you live with an eternal perspective will you be fully satisfied. On previous occasions when the Israelites had complained, God had responded in grace and provided what they wanted. But this time, God did not provide them with what they wanted. Enough is enough. The time had come for punishment for their sin - their constant sinful words, actions, and attitudes; their constant complaining and discontent.

There comes a time when...

II. Ultimately, God judges sin (21:6)

“Then the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit them so that many Israelites died” (21:6). This time, God did not respond to their complaints with the provision of food and water but with immediate judgement in the form of poisonous snake bites. This would certainly get your attention, wouldn’t it? Deadly snake bites.

The black mamba is one of the world’s deadliest snakes. It is the longest species of venomous snakes in Africa. It is the second longest venomous snake in the world after the King Cobra. It is also one of the fastest moving snakes on earth, if not the fastest. The venom of the black mamba is one of the most rapid-acting. In severe cases, a bite from a black mamba can kill an adult human in as little as 20 minutes. In fact, a black mamba can kill an elephant.

Some time ago, my wife and I heard a missionary tell his life story. He grew up as a missionary kid in a remote village of Ivory Coast where they had deadly snakes. One day, when he and his little friends were out playing, one of the boys was bitten by a deadly snake. Being 100 miles from a hospital, there was nothing they could do. He told how he held his little seven year old friend in his arms, how the little boy’s arm, where he had been bitten, swelled up so much that the skin of his arm split. The pain was excruciating and all he could tell his little friend was, “It’s alright. Soon the pain will be over and you will be in heaven with Jesus.” He held him until he died and then he and his friends had to bury him. A deadly snake bite for which they had no cure.

Death is the last enemy for which we have no cure. But one day even death will be destroyed by Jesus Christ. When he returns in power and glory, death will be swallowed up in victory.

None of us knows when we will die. None of the passengers on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014, knew that it would be shot down over eastern Ukraine and that all 283 passengers and 15 crew would be killed that day. None of the passengers on TransAsia Airways flight 222, flying from Taiwan to Penhu Island on July 23, 2014, knew that the plane would crash during the approach to land in bad weather at Magong Airport and that, of the 58 people on board, only 10 would survive. None of the passengers on Algerian Airlines flight 5017, flying from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, to Algiers, Algeria, on July 24, 2014, knew that it would crash near Gossi, Mali and that all 110 passengers and 6 crew would die that day.

None of us knows when we will die and none of us wants to die, do we? But all of us will die in due course, unless the Lord Jesus comes in our lifetime. That’s the Christian hope - the coming of the Lord while we are alive. Satan doesn’t want us to have hope in Christ. He doesn’t want anyone to trust Christ for salvation. Nor does He want Christians to have the joy of their salvation. He wants us to abandon our faith in Christ or, at the very least, to rob us of the joy of our salvation in Christ. And one of his primary methods of doing this is through discontent and discouragement.

Snake bites, then, are a picture of God’s judgement for sin. And the only recourse when we recognize that we have sinned is to repent and cast ourselves on the mercy of God.

III. Repentance Is The Only Escape From Judgement (21:7-9)

How quickly the Israelites recanted and confessed their sin. When they recognized that God was judging them, how quickly they changed their tune from complaining and discontent to repentance and confession. “The people then came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Intercede with the Lord so that he will take the snakes away from us” (21:7). The Israelites recognized that this was God’s judgement on them for their sinful complaints and discontent. The prospect of dying certainly got their attention.

God’s judgement can only be assuaged by repentance. That’s why the people responded as they did. They knew that they had sinned and needed to get right with God. The only cure for “snake bites” is repentance and confession of sin, which is exactly what the people did. They said, “We have sinned,” and they named the sin - “speaking against the Lord and against you (Moses) (21:7a). And they begged Moses to intercede for them with God again to “take the snakes away from us. So Moses interceded for the people” (21:7b). We don't know what Moses said, but we do know that...

Once more, God responded in grace. God’s gracious response was to provide a substitute in the form of a brass serpent on a pole. “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a snake image and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover” (21:8).

Why did it have to be set up on a pole? Because it was a sign for everyone to see and because it was available for everyone. All they had to do was look at it and they would be healed. Anyone who looked at it with understanding and belief (that’s the connotation) would live and not die. “So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole. Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered” (21:9).

The cure for “snake bites” is a look of faith. The cause of death becomes the source of life. This was not some sort of mid-eastern magic or ritual. This was a test of faith. Were they willing to look at a symbol of the cause of their death in order to have healing, forgiveness, and life? This could only be a look of faith for it would take faith to look at a brass serpent in the expectation that they would be healed, wouldn’t it? Just as the sacrifice of innocent animals in the O.T. was sufficient for sinful people to live, so here, those who were dying because of snake bites could be restored to life by looking at the image of a dead snake. The only pre-requisite was that they must identify with the substitute. In the case of an innocent animal, they identified with it by a touch of faith - laying their hand on the animal’s head. Here they must identify with the brass snake by a look of faith.

The question is: How would the Israelites have viewed this remedy? How would they have understood it? Would they intuitively connect it with the garden of Eden, where sin came through the “bite” of the serpent and death through sin? Would they have understand that the brass serpent was symbolic of what they were and what they deserved? Would they understand that, instead of killing them, a look of faith at the brass serpent would heal them? Would they understand that when the brass serpent was raised up on a pole, its activity was dead, its bite was impossible, its poison impotent, and that they were free from its tyranny?

The question is: Would the Israelites see in the symbol a reflection of the reality to which the symbol pointed? That either they would die or a substitute must take their place, that what was causing their death must itself be put to death in order for them to live, that death was the consequence of their sin - unless God provided a way of escape. The way of escape was through God’s provision of a substitute sacrifice that atoned for their sin, and their acceptance of that substitute sacrifice indicated by a look of faith, without which they would die.

So, the gospel of God’s grace to them was that the death of their sin must be put on public display and they must trust in God’s word that their look of faith would give them life. To look in faith at the symbol of what was causing their death is a “paradoxical act of faith in a God who controls all power over life or death” (R. Dennis Cole, Numbers, 350). This, of course, is an illustration of the death of Christ by which people who are dying spiritually can be saved, healed by the death of a Substitute on the cross. This brass serpent looks forward to the one final sacrificial Substitute in the death of Jesus Christ.

God said that “the wages of sin is death” but God also said that “the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). Jesus took on himself our sin and died our death to satisfy the holy demands of God against our sin, so that by faith in him we would not have to die eternally, but have the present possession of eternal life. In fact, in speaking with Nicodemus, Jesus himself refers to this passage in Num. 21 as analogous to his own death. He said, 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Anyone who believes in him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God. 19 This is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil” (Jn. 3:14-19).

In explaining the nature and necessity of new birth, Jesus reminds Nicodemus of the O.T. experience of the brass serpent. The analogy is as follows...

1. Sin is like a venomous snake bite - it will kill you. It courses through your entire body so that no part of it escapes the deadly venom. We are tainted by sin in every part of our being. Of course, the analogy of the snake bite goes back even further to Genesis 3, where sin was introduced to our original parents by Satan through the serpent. And thus, the disease of sin spread through the entire human race – i.e. sin permanently corrupted all the human race; it was permanently engraved on our spiritual DNA. Thus, like the Israelites, we need healing from the disease of sin. As with the venomous snake bite, there is no time to be wasted to save your life. Thus, God, at just the right time, provided his Son to be our Saviour, so that by his death we can live.

So first, the analogy is that sin is like a venomous snake bite. Second, the analogy is that...

2. Sin demands God’s punishment. Because the Israelites sinned by complaining against God, they were punished. God does not overlook or excuse or water down sin. Sin is sin and God is holy – he cannot tolerate sin. God said, The person who sins is the one who will die” (Ezek. 18:20). Sin is rebellion against God, disobedience. Sin blinds us and binds us so that we cannot please God, cannot accept the truth of God about ourselves. Sin separates us from God. This was true of Nicodemus, who approached Jesus at night - a reflection of the darkness of his soul. He needed new birth. He needed his spiritual eyes opened.

The analogy then is, first, that sin is like a venomous snake bite; second, that sin demands God’s punishment. And third...

3. God has provided a way of escape. In our place, God offered his Son, the only perfect substitute, the sinless One who died for sinners like us. By looking to Christ by faith, we can be cleansed from sin, just as the Israelites could be healed by looking at the brass serpent. Jesus also said, “‘ 32 As for me, if I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself.’ 33 He said this to indicate what kind of death he was about to die” (Jn.12:32-33).

Remember our thesis: Salvation is by the grace of God alone through faith in Jesus Christ. Our sin was laid on Jesus. He bore our sins in his own body on the cross. He took our curse and bore the punishment of God for our sins in our place. He died our death so that we could live his life. And by identifying with him on the cross (i.e. by analogously looking at the brass serpent on the pole), we are healed! This is incredibly good news.

And yet for some it is so hard to accept. They ask…

(a) How could someone else pay the penalty for my sin?

(b) Isn't that cruel of God to hold a sinless person responsible for other people’s sins?

(c) How can I trust Christ’s atoning sacrifice for my eternal salvation? Can’t I earn God’s favor for myself? How do I know it’s true?

Here are the answers...

(a) Our substitute had to be perfectly acceptable to God. Obviously, God could not accept a sinner to substitute for other sinners – that would be like a murderer on death row substituting for another murderer on death row. Each must pay his own penalty. But there was one person who was suitable and acceptable as our substitute – Jesus, God’s holy, sinless Son.

(b) God did not cruelly lay our sins on Jesus. Rather, Jesus willingly agreed to take them and pay the penalty for them. He and his Father were in eternal agreement as to his taking our place on the cross.

(c) Trusting God’s provision for our salvation is so hard for people to accept. But that’s the nature of faith - not blind, unthinking faith but faith in the God who has revealed himself to us in creation, in our conscience, in history, in the person of his Son, and in his Word. When you consider all that God has revealed to us about himself, is it really that hard to trust him?

Final Remarks

Two things set this event in our passage apart. First, the very quick response of the people, whose unqualified repentance was accompanied by an unqualified confession. Second, the means of their salvation: (a) It was a simple remedy - to look in faith – which anyone of any age or condition could do. (b) It had an immediate effect. (c) It was a complete remedy - nothing to add, no other conditions, nothing else to do, the only and all-sufficient remedy.

And so it was, that “whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered (21:9). God always keeps his word. God does what he says. If you don't look to Christ in faith, you will die in eternal separation from God. If you do look to Christ in faith, you will live in eternal fellowship with God in heaven.

In this event, we see a picture of our salvation, that in the death of Christ...

1. He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it away by nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:14).

2. “What the law could not do since it was weakened by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh as a sin offering” (Rom. 8:3).

3. (God) made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

4. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree; so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet. 2:24).

Remember the primary theological principle of our study: Salvation is by the grace of God alone through faith in Jesus Christ alone. And your faith can be expressed in something as simple and easy as a look to Him. Will you do that today? As the old hymn says:

There is life for a look at the Crucified One,
There is life at this moment for thee;
Then look, sinner, look unto Him and be saved,
Unto Him who was nailed to the tree.

Look! look! look and live!
There is life for a look at the Crucified One,
There is life at this moment for thee.

Oh, why was He there as the Bearer of sin,

If on Jesus thy guilt was not laid?
Oh, why from His side flowed the sin-cleansing blood,
If His dying thy debt has not paid?

It is not thy tears of repentance or prayers,
But the blood, that atones for the soul;
On Him, then, who shed it, thou mayest at once
Thy weight of iniquities roll.

Then doubt not thy welcome, since God has declared
There remaineth no more to be done;
That once in the end of the world He appeared,
And completed the work He begun.

Then take with rejoicing from Jesus at once
The life everlasting He gives;
And know with assurance, thou never canst die
Since Jesus, thy Righteousness, lives.

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The Bible Teacher’s Guide, Christology: Knowing Jesus Christ

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Now this is eternal life—that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent.

John 17:3

Who is Jesus Christ? This question elicits a lot of mystery and confusion. Some say Jesus was only a regular human—maybe a wise man or prophet. Others say he is a created being, like an angel. Still, others say Jesus is God but not human. While others say he is both fully God and fully human. Who exactly is Jesus? Scripture teaches that our eternal destiny depends on how we answer this question (1 John 4:2-3, Rom 10:9-10); therefore, it befits us to reflect on this question and answer it correctly. In this study, we’ll consider what the Bible says about Jesus Christ, so that we may enjoy the eternal life, which only comes through him (John 3:16, 17:3) and also know, worship, and serve him in a more excellent manner (Rev 5:11-14). May God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit richly bless your study!

Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.

BTG Publishing all rights reserved.

This book is also available for purchase here on Amazon.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Christology

1. Christ’s Preexistence and Deity

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Scripture does not teach that Christ came into existence at his birth or that he was a created being, as some errantly teach. He always existed. Many Scriptures teach this: Micah 5:2 says, “As for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, seemingly insignificant among the clans of Judah— from you a king will emerge who will rule over Israel on my behalf, one whose origins are in the distant past.” Micah predicted that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem and that he would be the future king of Israel. However, Micah says that he had existed from “the distant past” or “ancient times” (NIV). Isaiah 9:6 says, “For a child has been born to us, a son has been given to us. He shoulders responsibility and is called: Extraordinary Strategist, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah predicted that a child would be born who would be called “Everlasting Father,” which means that this person, though born in time, had existed forever. In fact, Jesus said something similar about himself in John 8:58, which caused him to be mocked. He said, “… I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came into existence, I am!” When Christ said this, it was not just a reference to his preexistence, but also his deity. When God introduced himself to Israel during their slavery in Egypt, he introduced himself by the name “I Am” (Ex 3:14) and so did Christ. Christ has always existed, since he is God.

Christ’s Deity

As mentioned, not only has Christ always existed, he has eternally existed as God. This is the central aspect of Christ’s person, which many have questioned, struggled with, and denied. Certainly, his deity and eternality are hard to fathom. Yet, this is exactly what Scripture teaches. The author of Hebrews gives God the Father’s testimony about his Son in Hebrews 1:8, saying, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and a righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.” In the context, the author of Hebrews argues for the greatness of Christ by comparing him to angels. He does this by quoting God’s words about the Son in Psalm 45:6. God the Father calls the Son, “God,” which God never said about an angel.

In addition, John 1:1-3 says,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. The Word was with God in the beginning. All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.

John gives Jesus the title, “the Word,” which means that Christ is the communication of God—the way we get to know more about God and his will. Then John says that “the Word” was “with God,” “was fully God,” and also that the Word created all things. This is a clear declaration of Christ’s deity.

Paul makes the same declaration about Christ in Colossians 1:15-16:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him—all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers—all things were created through him and for him.

Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God, and he is the Creator of the earth. When God the Father created the earth, he did it through the Son and for the Son (Col 1:16).

Likewise, Peter said this about Jesus in 2 Peter 1:1, “From Simeon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ, have been granted a faith just as precious as ours.” Peter didn’t just call Jesus, “Savior,” but also “God.”

Further evidence for Christ’s deity is the fact that Jesus’ contemporaries commonly called him “Lord.” When they did this, they were employing a term (Kurios) that was used over 6,814 times in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, to refer to God.1 Wayne Grudem said this about the use of the term:

Therefore, any Greek-speaking reader at the time of the New Testament who had any knowledge at all of the Greek Old Testament would have recognized that, in contexts where it was appropriate, the word “Lord” was the name of the one who was the Creator and Sustainer of heaven and earth, the omnipotent God.2

Consequently, when the angels announced Jesus’ birth by saying, “Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11), they were saying that Jesus was the Lord God.

Finally, evidence for Christ’s deity is the fact that he accepted worship. In John 5:23, Christ said: “The one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” Essentially, that means if we don’t worship Jesus, we can’t worship God. Also, in John 9, after healing a blind man, Christ asked him if he believed in the Son of man (v. 35). After Christ revealed himself as the messiah, the man responded with, “‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him” (v. 38). In addition, after revealing himself to Thomas after his resurrection, Thomas said to Christ, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). The blind man’s and Thomas’ responses are especially amazing considering they were monotheistic Jews, who believed that only God deserved worship and worshipping anything or anyone else brought God’s judgment (Ex 20:4-6). Daryl Aaron said this about their worship of Jesus:

In historical context, what they did was absolutely revolutionary. And Jesus did not rebuke them. If thinking that he was God had revealed a terrible misunderstanding, Jesus could have taken the opportunity to say, “Hold on! Don’t worship me! Worship only God” (as, for instance, Paul and Barnabas did, and as angels repeatedly did). Jesus accepted worship because he is God and is worthy of it.3

Distinct

With all that said, though Scripture teaches Christ’s preexistence and deity, it also teaches that Jesus is “distinct” or separate from God. When talking to unbelieving Jews, Christ said this about himself in John 10:35-36:

If those people to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’ (and the scripture cannot be broken), do you say about the one whom the Father set apart and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?

In calling himself “Son of God,” Christ was not only emphasizing his equality with God but declaring that he was distinct from God.

We get a great picture of this distinctness at his baptism. Matthew 3:16-17 says:

After Jesus was baptized, just as he was coming up out of the water, the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my one dear Son; in him I take great delight.”

Clearly, in this passage, God the Father is separate from the Son, as God declares his pleasure in the Son. Also, the Holy Spirit is distinct as he falls on the Son.

Unity

In addition, Scripture also teaches Christ’s unity with God. In John 10:30, Christ said, “The Father and I are one.” Also, in John 10:38, he said, “…I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”

Jesus is God, and yet distinct from God, and at the same time unified with him. This is the doctrine of the Trinity, as the Holy Spirit is also distinctly God and yet unified with them. It is a mystery, which does not make perfect sense to us, but it is repeatedly taught in Scripture.

Daryl Aaron’s comments on the importance of Christ’s deity for the church historically are a helpful conclusion to this section of our study:

It is no surprise that from very early on, believers have contended for, fought for, and died for this teaching—the deity of Jesus Christ. In a nutshell, the doctrine is that Jesus Christ is fully God (not half God or one-third God) and eternally God (he did not become God at some point in time). Anything less has been considered heresy.4

One of the reasons this doctrine is so crucial is that if Jesus is not fully God, there is no salvation to be found in his death. The sacrifice that would be sufficient for the many sins of the many people had to be a sacrifice of infinite value. No human being could provide this kind of sacrifice; only God himself could. This is why the early Christians were so appalled at the deity of Jesus being denied. They knew his deity was absolutely vital for their salvation.5

Application

How should we apply Christ’s preexistence and deity? Since Jesus is eternally God (Is 9:6), we should worship and pray to him, even as we do the other members of the Godhead. In John 14:14, Christ taught his disciples to pray to him when he said, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” Likewise, in Revelation 22:17, the Spirit and the church pray to Christ, asking him to return, and others are encouraged to pray the same way. “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say: ‘Come!’” Finally, in Revelation 5:11-14, all the inhabitants of heaven and earth worship Christ for his great sacrifice:

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels in a circle around the throne, as well as the living creatures and the elders. Their number was ten thousand times ten thousand—thousands times thousands—all of whom were singing in a loud voice: “Worthy is the lamb who was killed to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature—in heaven, on earth, under the earth, in the sea, and all that is in them—singing: “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be praise, honor, glory, and ruling power forever and ever!” And the four living creatures were saying “Amen,” and the elders threw themselves to the ground and worshiped.

Since Christ died for us, delivering us from sin and death and giving us his righteousness so we can dwell and rule with him, we should worship and serve him eternally—for he is worthy of all honor, glory, and power! Thank you, Lord!

Reflection

  1. What stood out most in the reading and why?
  2. What are some common misconceptions about Christ’s origin?
  3. What are some support verses for the pre-existence of Christ before his birth?
  4. What are some support verses for Christ’s deity?
  5. If somebody asked you to explain the Trinity, how would you explain it?
  6. Why should people worship and pray to Jesus? Use Scripture to support.
  7. What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?

Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.

BTG Publishing all rights reserved.


1 Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 544). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

2 Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 544). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

3 Aaron, Daryl. Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day: How can I know God?

4 Aaron, Daryl. Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day: How can I know God? Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

5 Aaron, Daryl. Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day: How can I know God? Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Related Topics: Christology

2. Christ’s Humanity

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Scripture not only teaches that Christ eternally pre-existed as God but also that he is human. Isaiah 9:6 says, “For a child has been born to us, a son has been given to us…” The “son” being “given” refers to Christ’s deity. He pre-existed as God’s eternal Son. However, the phrase “a child is born” refers to the beginning of Christ’s humanity, when he was birthed and named Jesus. Before the incarnation, the Son was not a human. Matthew 1:18 speaks of this unique birth: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way. While his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.”

In the incarnation, Mary, Jesus’ mother, was found with child through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit created a child in her womb without her ever knowing a man sexually. The eternal God became a temporal man; the all-powerful God became a weak baby; the all-knowing God became an infant that grew in knowledge. Luke 2:52 said this about Christ as a child: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and with people.”

In Christ’s humanity, he could be hungry (Matt 4:2), tired, and thirsty (John 4:6-7, 19:28). Like humans, Jesus demonstrated regular emotions, as he wept at Lazarus' grave (John 11:35), felt compassion for people (Matthew 9:36), and even a deep depression before his death. In Matthew 26:38, Christ said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

This is a mystery we will probably never fully understand until we get to heaven. The merger of Christ’s two natures—his deity and humanity—is often called the hypostatic union. Tony Evans defined Christ’s hypostatic union as his “undiminished deity and perfect humanity united forever in one person.”1 Incarnation is a related term which refers to Christ becoming human.

The Incarnation

In considering the incarnation, we must ask, “How can Jesus be both fully God and fully human?” A very important text on this is Philippians 2:6-7. It says:

who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature.

Paul here declares that Jesus “existed in the form of God,” which simply refers to how Christ preexisted before the incarnation as fully God and equal to God the Father in his deity. Yet, though he was God, he did not consider equality with God something “to be grasped” or held onto. Instead, he “emptied himself,” which is the Greek word “kenosis.” Christ emptied himself in his incarnation, as he took on human form.

What does it mean for Christ to empty himself in his incarnation? There has been tremendous debate over this throughout history. It can be unequivocally said that Christ did not cease to be God or give up his deity in the incarnation. It is better to think of “emptying himself” as Christ “pouring” his deity into a human body during the incarnation.2 In this pouring, he limited the attributes of his deity temporarily. The New Living Translation paraphrases “emptied himself” in Philippians 2:7, as “he gave up his divine privileges.” For example:

1. In the incarnation, Christ put aside the full use of his divine attributes.

This is seen specifically with the use of his “omniscience.” Consider what Jesus told his disciples about his second coming in Matthew 24:36: “But as for that day and hour no one knows it—not even the angels in heaven—except the Father alone.” Christ put aside full use of his omniscience while he was on the earth. Some would even argue that Christ never used any of his divine powers while on the earth. He only used the power of God’s Spirit, like any faithful follower of God can. We see something of this in his casting out demons. In Matthew 12:28, Christ said, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has already overtaken you.” Christ declared that his casting out demons was not done by his own power but by the Spirit’s.

We also see Jesus being filled by the Spirit right after his baptism (Matt 3:16), led into the wilderness by the Spirit (Matt 4:1), and empowered by the Spirit after going through the wilderness temptation. Luke 4:14-15 says this about Christ after he left the wilderness: “Then Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and news about him spread throughout the surrounding countryside. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by all.” Clearly, the narrator wanted the readers to know that the Holy Spirit was now working through Christ powerfully, as he began his new ministry, which was marked by authoritative preaching and miracles. In the incarnation, Christ temporarily gave up the use of his divine attributes and relied on God’s Spirit during his ministry.

2. In the incarnation, Christ put aside his independent freedom as God.

Christ said that he came from heaven not to do his will but the Father’s will (John 6:38). In fact, Hebrews 5:8-9 says, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered. And by being perfected in this way, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” How did Christ learn obedience in his humanity? Even though Christ has always submitted to the Father (1 Cor. 11:3), as a man, Christ learned obedience to the Father in a way that he never did as God the Son. Isaiah 50:4 gives us insight into this, as it describes the daily routine of our Savior: “The sovereign Lord has given me the capacity to be his spokesman, so that I know how to help the weary. He wakes me up every morning; he makes me alert so I can listen attentively as disciples do.” In his humanity, Christ was led like a human; he sought the Lord daily for guidance and empowerment, even as we do. As mentioned, we also see Christ’s daily dependence on God in how the Holy Spirit led him after his baptism. Luke 4:1 says, “Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.” In this way, Christ learned obedience. He gave up his independent freedom and was led like a man—the perfect man, who was totally dependent upon the Father.

3. In the incarnation, Christ put aside his glory.

In heaven, he was glorified daily by the angels and the spirits of the righteous men made perfect (Heb 12:22-23); yet, as a man, he took scorn, shame, and being misunderstood. He gave up his glory and put on temporary, frail flesh. In fact, in John 17:5, before going to the cross, Christ prayed that God would restore his previous glory: “And now, Father, glorify me at your side with the glory I had with you before the world was created.”

4. In the incarnation, Christ gave up uninterrupted intimacy with God.

At the cross, he was totally separated from God as he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46). It seems that at this point on the cross, Christ was bearing the sins of the world and therefore could not have his previous intimacy. He was separated from God, so that we would not have to be eternally separated from God.

Insight on Christological Paradoxes

With all this said, the union of Christ’s divine and human natures in the incarnation helps us understand various Christological paradoxes in Scripture. For example, in Christ’s humanity, he could be separated from God on the cross (Matt 27:46), but in his deity, he could never be separated. Christ taught that he and the Father were one (John 10:3, 17:21). In Christ’s humanity, he was not omnipresent, as he was limited by space and time (John 11:14-15); however, in his deity, he was present everywhere, at all times. In Matthew 18:20, Christ said this to his disciples, “For where two or three are assembled in my name, I am there among them,” which reflects an aspect of Christ’s omnipresence. In Christ’s humanity, he was not omniscient (John 2:24-25). He declared that he didn’t even know the time of his coming (Matt 24:36). However, in Christ’s deity, he was omniscient, knowing all things. In John 2:24-25, John said this about Christ, “But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people. He did not need anyone to testify about man, for he knew what was in man.” Certainly, the union of Christ’s divine and human natures in the incarnation is a great mystery that demonstrates the wisdom, power, and glory of God.

The Necessity of the Incarnation

Why was the incarnation necessary? For several reasons:

1. The Son had to become human in order to make atonement for the sins of humans.

An animal’s death could not pay for the sins of the world—nor could an angel’s death. Christ had to become human to atone for the sins of humanity, but Christ also had to be God for his sacrifice to pay the penalty for all people. Consider the following verses:

For the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins. So when he came into the world, he said, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me. Whole burnt offerings and sin-offerings you took no delight in. Then I said, ‘Here I am: I have come—it is written of me in the scroll of the book—to do your will, O God.’”

Hebrews 10:4-7

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil)

Hebrews 2:14

2. The Son had to become a human to relate to us as a faithful high priest.

As a human high priest that has been tempted like us, he can sympathize with and minister to humanity. Hebrews 2:17 says:

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people.

3. The Son had to become human to become our perfect model.

Consider the following verses:

You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had,

Philippians 2:5

keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up.

Hebrews 12:2-3

For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly.

1 Peter 2:21-23

Christ being our perfect model is amplified by the fact that he limited the use of his divine attributes in the incarnation. Otherwise, we might simply say, “Oh, Jesus is God, and therefore, we can’t do this or that!” However, Christ had to wake up in the morning to pray in order to discern God’s guidance (Is 50:4, Mk 1:35). He had to pray all night to discern which disciples to appoint as his apostles (Lk 6:12-13). He had to fast for forty days to conquer the devil and become empowered for his ministry (Lk 4:1-14). Christ lived the perfect human life, so that we could model him.

4. The Son had to become human to rule over earth.

It was God’s original plan for Adam to rule the earth with his wife. In Genesis 1:28, God said this to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground.” However, when Adam sinned, he lost his opportunity to rule as God intended. Hebrews 2:8 describes how it was God’s original intention for humanity to rule but that presently “all things” are not under man’s control. The writer says: “You put all things under his control.’ For when he put all things under his control, he left nothing outside of his control. At present we do not yet see all things under his control.” Currently, all things are not under humanity’s control, but through Christ, God’s original plan will be fulfilled. Ephesians 1:22 says this in the context of Christ’s resurrection and ascension, “God put all things under Christ’s feet, and he gave him to the church as head over all things.” Also, in Matthew 28:18, after his resurrection, Christ said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” This rule will be fully manifest when Christ returns to the earth, and as his body, believers will rule with him (cf. Rom 8:17, Rev 3:21, Lk 19:17, 1 Cor 6:3).

Application

How can we apply Christ’s incarnation to our lives? It is good to remember that the Philippians 2:5-11 incarnation passage begins with, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). The hypostatic union, though mysterious, is meant to be a practical doctrine that affects the way we live. Therefore, it can be applied in many ways:

  • Christ’s incarnation challenges us to give up our rights in order to love God and others.

Philippians 2:6-7 says, “who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself...” Christ did not hold onto his rights and privileges as deity but relinquished them in order to better love God and others. Likewise, in Romans 14:21, Paul said, “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” To love God and others better, we often will need to give up certain rights and privileges, even as Christ did in the incarnation.

  • Christ’s incarnation challenges us to be servants of God and others.

In Philippians 2:7, Paul said Christ “emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature.” A slave or servant is consumed with the desires of those he serves. Likewise, instead of living for himself and his comfort, Christ sought to sacrificially serve God and others with his life. Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Similarly, Paul said he became a slave to all to be a blessing to others. In 1 Corinthians 9:19 (NIV), he said, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.” Christ served others so they might be saved, and Paul did the same. Therefore, the incarnation reminds us to live as servants—putting the salvation of the lost, the spiritual growth of believers, and the honor of God before our own desires.

  • Christ’s incarnation challenges us to radical obedience.

Christ’s incarnation was not simply his own idea, it was God the Father’s. God planned that Christ would come to earth as a human to die for humans. John 3:16 says, “For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son…” Also, Philippians 2:8 says this about Christ’s obedience, “He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross!” Christ incarnated so he could live a perfect life and die as the perfect sacrifice for humanity—all in obedience to God.

Likewise, we must be willing to obey God even when he calls us to do something radical—like risking a promotion or our jobs in general to keep our integrity, sacrificing finances or comfortability to serve someone struggling, changing our career to go into ministry, or leaving our home and country to preach the gospel in a foreign land.

The incarnation of Christ—him being God and yet becoming human—though mysterious, is intensely practical. We must apply its principles to our lives daily.

Reflection

  1. What stood out most in the reading and why?
  2. Why was it necessary for Christ to be fully God and fully human (the hypostatic union)?
  3. In what ways did Christ “empty himself” in his incarnation?
  4. What are some ways that the incarnation can be applied practically to daily life?
  5. What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?

Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.

BTG Publishing all rights reserved.


1 Evans, Tony. Theology You Can Count On: Experiencing What the Bible Says About... God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Angels, Salvation... Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

2 Evans, Tony. Theology You Can Count On: Experiencing What the Bible Says About... God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Angels, Salvation... Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Related Topics: Christology

3. Christ’s Sinless Life

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What’s another important aspect of Christ’s humanity? Certainly, we must consider his sinless life. He lived a perfect life without sin. Many Scriptures support this truth:

God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

And you know that Jesus was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.

1 John 3:5

For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin.

Hebrews 4:15

How can Christ be tempted in every way like us? There are two primary views on this:

1. A minority view is that Christ had a fallen nature like all humans but never sinned.

Karl Barth took this position. He said:

There must be no weakening or obscuring of the saving truth that the nature which God assumed in Christ is identical with our nature as we see it in the light of Fall. If it were otherwise, how could Christ be really like us? What concern would we have with him? We stand before God characterized by the Fall. God’s Son not only assumed our nature but he entered the concrete form of our nature, under which we stand before God as men damned and lost.1

Also, T.F. Torrance said this:

His taking of our flesh of sin was a sinless action, which means that Jesus does not do in the flesh of sin what we do, namely, sin, but it also means that by remaining holy and sinless in our flesh, he condemned sin in the flesh he assumed and judged it by his very sinlessness.2

This would mean that Christ not only conquered temptations from Satan and the world, but also temptations from a fallen nature (an inner tendency towards sin), which he received from Mary. Certainly, this would fit the writer’s statement in Hebrews that Christ was “tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). Our temptations are not primarily from the world and Satan, but from our flesh (Jam 1:14). This would demonstrate how great Christ’s victory over temptation was and, therefore, how he can relate to us and minister to us.

Those who take this view would use Romans 8:3 and Philippians 2:7 as support.3 Romans 8:3 says, “For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.” They would argue that when Paul says Christ came “in the likeness of sinful flesh,” he was not simply saying Christ was “similar” to humans who have a sinful nature, but that he was just like them—a human who had a fallen nature. They would point to Philippians 2:7 (NIV) which says, Christ was “made in human likeness.” Clearly, the word “likeness” used in that context is not arguing for Christ being similar to humans but actually being one. Since the same Greek word for “likeness” is used in both texts about Christ (Rom 8:3 and Phil 2:7), proponents of this view argue that the word should be interpreted the same. Christ came in the likeness of sinful flesh in that he was like humans in every way, including having a sinful nature (though never sinning).

With that said, there are logical complications with this view, such as: since sacrifices had to be without blemish (Dt 17:1), can Christ’s sacrifice be considered unblemished and therefore acceptable to God if he had a sin nature (Heb 9:14)? In addition, if Christ had Adam’s sin nature, he also was under Adam’s guilt, as all humans are. Romans 5:12 says, “So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned.” All humans “sinned” in Adam and consequently die, including babies who have never intentionally sinned. Therefore, could Christ’s death be salvific for all people if his death, at least in part, was a just consequence of Adam’s sin? Because of these complications and others, many have struggled with accepting this view.4

2. The predominant view historically is that Christ had a perfect nature, like Adam, but never sinned.

According to this view, Christ was tempted by the world and Satan but never from a fallen nature. Support for this view is reflected in Christ being called the last Adam. First Corinthians 15:22, 45 says: “For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive… So also it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living person’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”

Being the last Adam implies that Christ came like Adam did—without a sinful nature. Where Adam fell when tempted by Satan, Christ did not. Adam led his offspring into sin and death; while Christ led his offspring (those who come to him in faith) into righteousness and eternal life.

How did Christ avoid a sinful nature, though he was born of a woman? Traditionally, it has often been said that since Christ did not have a human father, he did not inherit a fallen nature. However, humanity’s sin nature is inherited from being in Adam’s line, which includes both mother and father. Scripture never teaches that fathers pass on the sin nature and not mothers. Christ not having a sin nature is probably best attributed to the fact that the Holy Spirit shielded him from it at conception (Lk 1:35).

How then could Christ be tempted in “every way” like us (Heb 4:15)? In “every way” would mean he was tempted by the same temptations—like lust, anger, unbelief, and fear—though not from the same avenues. He was tempted by Satan and the world but not through the flesh. Either way, Christ’s experience of human temptations makes him able to sympathize with us.

With that said, some find Christ’s ability to sympathize with us incredulous. They say, “How can he sympathize with us if he has never been tempted by the flesh or fallen to temptation—never lied or been sinfully angry? How can he relate to us without those experiences?”

Consider this illustration: Two Olympic powerlifters had to deadlift a heavy weight over their head for five seconds. One person lifted the weight but only for one second and then dropped it. The second lifted the weight and held it for the complete five seconds. If we were aspiring, competitive powerlifters, who would we ask for help? Obviously, we would ask the person who held the weight without dropping it. That is true of our Savior. Christ bore the full weight of temptation without failing, and because he never failed, he bore more temptation than any other human. Therefore, he can not only sympathize with us but help us in our time of need.

John MacArthur’s comments on this are helpful:

There is a degree of temptation that we may never experience simply because, no matter what our spirituality, we will succumb before we reach it. But Jesus Christ had no such limitation. Since He was sinless, He took the full extent of all that Satan could throw at Him. He had no shock system, no weakness limit, to turn off temptation at a certain point. Since He never succumbed, He experienced every temptation to the maximum. And He experienced it as a man, as a human being. In every way He was tempted as we are, and more. The only difference was that He never sinned. Therefore, when we come to Jesus Christ we can remember that He knows everything we know, and a great deal that we do not know, about temptation, and testing, and pain. We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses.5

Reflection

  1. What stood out most in the reading and why?
  2. Why was it important for Christ to be sinless?
  3. What are supports for Christ having a fallen nature but never sinning?
  4. What are supports for Christ having a nature like pre-fall Adam but never sinning?
  5. Which view do you think Scripture best supports?
  6. What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?

Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.

BTG Publishing all rights reserved.


1 Accessed 8/4/20 from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/you-asked-did-jesus-assume-a-fallen-human-nature/

2 Accessed 8/4/20 from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/you-asked-did-jesus-assume-a-fallen-human-nature/

3 Accessed 4/8/20 from https://carm.org/jesus-chist/what-does-it-mean-that-jesus-was-made-in-the-likeness-of-sinful-flesh

4 Consider the arguments against the Fallen Human Nature view in these articles: accessed 8/4/20 from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/you-asked-did-jesus-assume-a-fallen-human-nature/ and https://carm.org/jesus-chist/what-does-it-mean-that-jesus-was-made-in-the-likeness-of-sinful-flesh

5 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (p. 112). Chicago: Moody Press.

Related Topics: Christology

4. Christ’s Death

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Scripture teaches that Christ died as an atoning sacrifice for mankind. To “atone” means to pay the penalty for sins. Two reasons are given in Scripture for Christ’s atoning death—God’s love and his justice.1 John 3:16 speaks of God’s love. “For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” Because God loved people, he sent his Son to die for them. However, God also sent his Son to die because he is just, and therefore, sin must be punished. Romans 6:23 (NIV) says “the wages of sin is death.” Also, Hebrews 9:22 says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Christ died to pay the wages of sin so that sinners could be forgiven by a just God. Isaiah 53:5 prophesied this about Christ. It says: “He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins; he endured punishment that made us well; because of his wounds we have been healed.” In addition, John said this:

and he himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world.

1 John 2:2

But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 1:7

But not only did Christ die for our sins, he gave us his perfect righteousness (cf. 1 Cor 1:30, Phil 3:9, Rom 5:19). This is the doctrine of imputation. To “impute” means to credit something to the account of another. Scripture teaches that on the cross, our sin was imputed to Christ’s account, and when we, by faith, accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, his righteous life is accounted to ours. Therefore, there is a double imputation. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.”

On the cross, our sins were imputed to Christ, and consequently, God’s wrath was poured out on him. As Christ bore our sins and God’s wrath for them on the cross, he atoned for our sins—he made amends for our failures by paying the penalty for them.

The Extent of the Atonement

Who did Christ atone for? What is the scope of his atoning death? There are two primary views on this: One is called limited atonement. It teaches that Christ’s atonement was limited in that it paid the penalty for the sins of the elect (Eph 1:4)—those chosen by God before the foundation of the earth who will eventually accept Christ—but not for the sins of unbelievers who will ultimately reject him. The argument is, “If Christ paid for the sins of the whole world, then why would anybody go to hell?”

There are many passages that teach Christ died specifically for believers. John 10:11 says: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Who are the sheep that Christ died for? Sheep refer to believers. Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” Who did Christ give his life for? The church.

The limited atonement view is common among those from reformed backgrounds such as Presbyterians and Reformed Baptists. Again, this view helps answer the question, “How come unbelievers go to hell if Christ paid for the sins of everyone?” Proponents of this view see it guarding against a liberal view called universalism, which teaches that everybody will ultimately go to heaven, which clearly is not supported in Scripture (cf. Rev 20:11-15).

With that said, the weakness of the limited atonement view is that Scripture never says Christ did not die for all people. And, there are many Scriptures that at least seem to indicate that Christ died for every person and not just for those who would accept him. Here are a few:

and he himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world.

1 John 2:2

But false prophets arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. These false teachers will infiltrate your midst with destructive heresies, even to the point of denying the Master who bought them. As a result, they will bring swift destruction on themselves.

2 Peter 2:1

For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

This is the view that most believers hold, and it is called “unlimited atonement” or “general atonement.” This means that Christ not only paid for the sins of believers but also for those who will ultimately reject him. However, it must be noted, that even those who believe in unlimited atonement would say the atonement is limited in some way, since everybody will not be saved. They would say Christ died to pay for the sins of the world, but the payment is applied only to those who repent and follow Christ. Therefore, the atonement is universal but limited in application.

As a contemporary illustration, it is possible to purchase gifts for everyone at a party, and yet only a few take the gift, while most leave it behind. Some might not like the gift; others would prefer to buy their own. Some might have forgotten about the gift, and others might not have heard that there was a free gift. Only those who knew about the gift and chose to accept it, received the gift. Likewise, Christ died for the sins of every person on the earth, so they can have salvation (reconciliation with God), but only a few will receive it. Romans 6:23 says, “For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Christ’s Time in the Grave

What did Christ do while he was in the grave? Like the extent of the atonement, there is some controversy over exactly what Christ did while his body was in the grave. Some believe Christ’s spirit went to heaven for three days, while others believe he went to a place called sheol, a temporary abode for the dead in the center of the earth, often mentioned in the Old Testament (Gen 37:35, Ps 16:10, 86:13, Ecc 9:10, Hosea 13:14, Job 14:13, 26:6, etc.). Sheol is a general term, which can be translated as “grave” or “realm of the dead.”2

The crux of the argument is based on Christ’s words to the thief who was on the cross next to him. In Luke 23:43, Christ said, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” The question is, “Where was paradise?” Paradise is clearly a place of blessing where the righteous go after death. Revelation 2:10 and 1 Corinthians 12:2-4 use the word as a synonym for heaven.

However, even though the righteous and ungodly have always gone to separate places, many believe that before Christ’s resurrection, those two places were separate sections in sheol. The place for the righteous was called paradise (or Abraham’s side), and the place for the ungodly was called hell. Between these two places was a “great chasm” which no one could cross (Lk 16:26). This great chasm indicated that after death, a person’s fate was sealed and could not be changed.3 These two places in sheol are referred to in Christ’s story about a poor man named Lazarus and a rich man. In Luke 16:22-26, Christ said:

Now the poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. And in hell, as he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far off with Lazarus at his side. So he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in anguish in this fire.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things and Lazarus likewise bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in anguish. Besides all this, a great chasm has been fixed between us, so that those who want to cross over from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’

This story is a strong support for Christ’s visiting paradise, which was in sheol, within the center of the earth. Those who reject this say Christ’s story was a parable—a fictional story given to teach a spiritual principle. However, what makes this story unique is that Christ uses names, which never happen in parables. Christ speaks of Abraham (a real person) and a poor man named Lazarus. Using the names of real people instead of, for example, the “older brother” and “younger brother” in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, gives credence that the story was an actual event, including paradise being within sheol.

Further support that Christ went to the center of the earth after his death is Ephesians 4:8-9:

Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he captured captives; he gave gifts to men.” Now what is the meaning of “he ascended,” except that he also descended to the lower regions, namely, the earth?

Before Christ’s ascension into heaven, he first descended to the lower regions. This certainly refers to the incarnation, Christ coming to earth generally. But the description of “lower, earthly regions” (NIV) could also refer to (or include) his time in sheol, right before his ascension (cf. Matt 12:40).

Finally, support for Christ’s time in sheol can be found in 1 Peter 3:18-20, which says:

Because Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, to bring you to God, by being put to death in the flesh but by being made alive in the spirit. In it he went and preached to the spirits in prison, after they were disobedient long ago when God patiently waited in the days of Noah as an ark was being constructed. In the ark a few, that is eight souls, were delivered through water.

Though this is a controversial text, many believe it refers to Christ being in paradise proclaiming his victory over demon spirits held captive in hell. These spirits would be those who mated with women before the flood—creating a super race (Gen 6:1-4). Jude 1:6 describes them: “You also know that the angels who did not keep within their proper domain but abandoned their own place of residence, he has kept in eternal chains in utter darkness, locked up for the judgment of the great Day.” Likewise, Colossians 2:15 may describe Christ’s public proclamation of victory over these demons in sheol. It says, “Disarming the rulers and authorities, he has made a public disgrace of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

Apparently, paradise, and the believers in it, were moved to heaven after Christ’s resurrection. Ephesians 4:8 may refer to this when it says, “When he ascended on high he captured captives.” When ancient kings defeated an enemy, they would not only take enemy prisoners and lead them through their own cities in a victory parade as trophies, but also commonly recapture their own soldiers, who were previously taken as prisoners.4 When Christ ascended from sheol to heaven, he took his own people to heaven with him. This was the view of the early church. John MacArthur said this about the early church’s belief:

Early church dogma taught that the righteous dead of the Old Testament could not be taken into the fullness of God’s presence until Christ had purchased their redemption on the cross, and that they had waited in this place for His victory on that day. Figuratively speaking, the early church Fathers said that, after announcing His triumph over demons in one part of Sheol, He then opened the doors of another part of Sheol to release those godly captives. Like the victorious kings of old, He recaptured the captives and liberated them, and henceforth they would live in heaven as eternally free sons of God.5

With all this said, it must be noted that there is no support for Christ suffering for our sins in hell. Scripture teaches that Christ’s death was sufficient to pay the penalty of our sins (cf. 1 Cor 15:3, Heb 10:12)—no further suffering was needed. When he went to sheol, his time was spent in paradise—the place of the righteous. There he declared his victory over the enemy (Col 2:15) and then took the righteous to heaven (Eph 4:8).

Reflection

  1. What stood out most in the reading and why?
  2. What is limited atonement and what are supports for that view?
  3. What is unlimited atonement and what are supports for that view?
  4. Which view of atonement do you think Scripture best supports?
  5. Where did Christ go while in the grave and what did he do there? What scriptures support your view?
  6. What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?

Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.

BTG Publishing all rights reserved.


1 Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 568). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

2 Accessed 7/22/20 from https://www.gotquestions.org/Old-Testament-believers.html

3 Accessed 7/22/20 from https://www.gotquestions.org/Old-Testament-believers.html

4 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (p. 138). Chicago: Moody Press.

5 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (p. 140). Chicago: Moody Press.

Related Topics: Christology

5. Christ’s Resurrection

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Christ’s resurrection is an essential aspect of the gospel and our Christian faith. In Romans 10:9, Paul said, “… if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Paul describes the resurrection, as well as other fundamentals of the gospel, as of “first importance.” In 1 Corinthians 15:14 and 17 (ESV) Paul taught that if Christ has not been raised from the dead, our “faith is in vain” and “futile.” There is no Christian faith apart from the resurrection.

Its importance is demonstrated throughout the New Testament. The Gospels give testimony to the resurrection. In Acts, the apostles proclaim it throughout the world. The Epistles assume a resurrected, ruling Christ. And, Revelation predicts his coming to rule on the earth. As Wayne Grudem said, “the entire New Testament bears witness to the resurrection of Christ.”1

Therefore, we must ask, “Why is the resurrection so important and what are its implications for the Christian life?” There are many crucial implications:

Christ’s Resurrection Ensures Our New Birth

In John 3:3 (ESV), Christ said that in order to enter God’s kingdom, we must be “born again.” By nature, we are dead in our sins (Eph 2:1). Romans 6:23 (NIV) says, “the wages of sin is death.” Death refers to separation. People are separated from God as a penalty of their sins, and if never born again, they will be separated from God eternally. Spiritually speaking we are dead to God and the things of God, which is why we need to be born again. We need new life.

In Scripture, our receiving this new life is attributed in part to Christ’s resurrection. First Peter 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” In Ephesians 2:5-6, Paul said something similar: “even though we were dead in transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you are saved!—and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”

When a believer accepts Christ as Lord and Savior, they are identified with Christ in his death and resurrection. Romans 6:4 says, “Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life.” Christ’s resurrection delivers believers from spiritual death (and one day, physical death).

When somebody is physically dead, they have no sensitivity to stimuli. They can no longer enjoy or respond to beautiful music, a gentle breeze, or powerful words. This is also true of those who are spiritually dead in sin. They cannot respond to God, his Word, or worship; but when they are born again, they inherit spiritual life and therefore sensitivity to the things of God. They become hungry to know God, worship him, serve him, and others. They are spiritually equipped to worship God throughout eternity. This is what happens to a person at the new birth. In Scripture, the believer’s new birth is attributed to being spiritually resurrected from the dead through identification with Christ’s resurrection (1 Pet 1:3, Eph 2:5-6).

Christ’s Resurrection Ensures Our Justification

In Romans 4:25 (NIV), Paul said this about Christ, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” Christ’s resurrection was basically a declaration of God’s approval. It was a divine guarantee, a receipt of payment—proving that God accepted Christ’s sacrifice for sin.2 Therefore, those who trust in Christ are justified—meaning they are declared righteous, as though they never sinned. Wayne Grudem said it this way:

By raising Christ from the dead, God the Father was in effect saying that he approved of Christ’s work of suffering and dying for our sins, that his work was completed, and that Christ no longer had any need to remain dead. There was no penalty left to pay for sin, no more wrath of God to bear, no more guilt or liability to punishment—all had been completely paid for, and no guilt remained. In the resurrection, God was saying to Christ, “I approve of what you have done, and you find favor in my sight.”3

Remembering that we have been justified is especially important when the enemy comes to condemn us because of our sins and failures. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” God doesn’t accept us for our righteous works, whether in salvation or in sanctification. He accepts us because of Christ’s righteous works (2 Cor 5:21). Therefore, we can always run into God’s arms, accept his forgiveness, and enjoy his intimacy. Christ’s resurrection is a proof that God accepted Christ’s payment for all our sins—past, present, and future. Certainly, this isn’t an excuse to live in sin. It should be a motivation to run from it (cf. Rom 6:1-4). Romans 2:4 says, “God’s kindness leads you to repentance.”

Christ’s Resurrection Empowers Us to Conquer Sin and Live Righteously

In Christ’s death, he paid the penalty for our sins and broke the power of sin over our lives. But, through the resurrection, Christ empowers us to live righteously. In Romans 6:4, 6, and 11-13, Paul says:

Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life… We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin… So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, and do not present your members to sin as instruments to be used for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness.

Being dead to sin doesn’t mean that we no longer have a sin nature (v. 11)—we do. However, we are no longer slaves to that nature (v. 6). Because of Christ’s resurrection, we have been empowered by God’s Spirit to “live a new life” (v. 4). One day when we die and go to heaven or when we receive our glorified bodies, we will be delivered from the presence of sin all together. However, until then, we must walk in the resurrection power, which comes from Christ, to conquer sin and live righteously. In Ephesians 1:18-20 (ESV), Paul prays for us to be aware of this resurrection power at work in us. He says,

having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know … what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places

But not only do we need to know the power of the resurrection in our lives, we must also access it (cf. Eph 3:16, Phil 3:10). We do this by abiding in Christ. In John 15:5, Christ said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me—and I in him—bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing.” If we’re not abiding in Christ through daily prayer, Bible reading, worship, obedience to God, fellowship with the body, and serving, we won’t produce much fruit. The resurrection power won’t operate in our lives as it should. We’ll find ourselves constantly falling to sin and temptation and unmotivated to serve God. In fact, apart from abiding, we can’t do anything truly honoring to God.

Through his death and resurrection, Christ conquered sin, and because we are identified with both in our salvation (Rom 6:4), we are also empowered to conquer sin and live righteously (Rom 6:11-13). In light of this, Tony Evans said:

Therefore, if you and I have sin in our lives that is overcoming us and beating us down, it is because we have adopted faulty thinking. We are living as if Christ's resurrection life within us is theoretical and not real. The analogy is this. If death is real and not just theoretical, then your new life in Christ and your new power over sin are real and not theoretical. If you will learn to identify with your new life in Christ (Ephesians 2:5), rather than with your old life in Adam, you will have new victory in Christ rather than old defeat in Adam. You and I need to learn to think in terms of, "I am not what I used to be, so I don’t have to act like I used to act."4

Likewise, in the context of speaking about Christ’s resurrection and our future resurrection, Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “So then, dear brothers and sisters, be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” We should stand firm in the face of all trials, including persecution, death, temptation, and failure. We must not only stand firm but endeavor to serve the Lord wholeheartedly. Christ’s resurrection empowers us to conquer sin and live righteously.

Christ’s Resurrection Ensures Our Future Resurrection

In Scripture, Christ’s resurrection is commonly linked with the believers’ future resurrection. Consider a few verses:

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

1 Corinthians 15:20

But our citizenship is in heaven—and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself.

Philippians 3:20-21

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

1 John 3:1

Christ is called the firstfruits of those who have died (1 Cor 15:20) because, like the firstfruits of a harvest, his body pictures what the future harvest will be like, when those who follow him are resurrected.5 As Paul and John said (Phil 3:21, 1 John 3:1), our bodies will then be like his.

Since our glorified bodies will be like Christ’s, we must ponder, “What is Christ’s glorified body like?” Charles Ryrie notes several characteristics:

Christ’s resurrection body had links with His unresurrected earthly body. People recognized Him (John 20:20), the wounds inflicted by crucifixion were retained (20:25–29; Rev. 5:6), He had the capacity (though not the need) to eat (Luke 24:30–33, 41–43), He breathed on the disciples (John 20:22), and that body had flesh and bones proving that He was not merely a spirit showing itself (Luke 24:39–40).

But His resurrection body was different. He could enter closed rooms without opening doors (Luke 24:36; John 20:19), He could appear and disappear at will (Luke 24:15; John 20:19), and apparently He was never limited by physical needs such as sleep or food.6

In 1 Corinthians 15:37-38, Paul compares the glory of our new bodies with the difference between a seed sown into the ground and the plant which eventually comes from it. This clarifies that our glorified bodies will not be totally new in the sense of being made out of previously nonexistent material; they will, in fact, come from our natural bodies. As Paul said, the seed of our bodies, which will be sown into the ground, will be raised “imperishable,” “in glory,” and “in power” (1 Cor 15:42-43). They will be made fit for the kingdom, as they will no longer age, die, or decay (1 Cor 15:50). They will be glorious, just like our Lord’s body.

Conclusion

Christ’s resurrection is crucial to our faith. Because of it, we are born again, justified, sanctified, and glorified. Christ’s resurrection power resides in believers, enabling them to conquer sin and live righteously, and one day, through it, God will resurrect and glorify our natural bodies (cf. Rom 8:11). Apart from Christ’s resurrection, our faith is in vain and futile (1 Cor 15:14, 17). Thank you, Lord, for the resurrection!

Reflection

  1. What stood out most in the reading and why?
  2. Why is Christ’s resurrection so important for our faith?
  3. What are some applications of Christ’s resurrection for Christian living?
  4. What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?

Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.

BTG Publishing all rights reserved.


1 Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 608). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

2 Evans, Tony. Theology You Can Count On: Experiencing What the Bible Says About... God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Angels, Salvation... Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

3 Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 615). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

4 Evans, Tony. Theology You Can Count On: Experiencing What the Bible Says About... God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Angels, Salvation... . Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

5 Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 615). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

6 Ryrie, C. C. (1999). Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (p. 310). Chicago, IL: Moody Press.

Related Topics: Christology

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