Numbers: don’t give up all hope like Israel!

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Imagine yourself as part of Israel camped at Mt. Sinai for two years. The trumpet has finally sounded that it is time to move to the promise land. Goodness me, the excitement in the camp is overwhelming! Men are beating their chest for the amount of land they will occupy, farms they will establish, and homes they will build. The women are relieved that finally they will live in a proper house with a proper kitchen not this camp life cooking outside.

Unlike when they left Egypt in a hurry, disorganized, chaotic, unsure – now they leave Mt. Sinai super organized as we see in Numbers 10. As they marched to the promise land, we are told that “Judah’s troops led the way. They marched behind their banner [the Lion], and their leader was Nahshon son of Amminadab” (Numbers 10:14). They were folloed by the tribe of Issachar, then Zebulun, then the Levites (the Priests) carrying the Ark of the Covenant and other Temple furniture. Then others followed in an orderly beautiful pattern.

Numbers 10:33-36 (New Living Translation) states: “They marched for three days after leaving the mountain of the Lord, with the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant moving ahead of them to show them where to stop and rest. As they moved on each day, the cloud of the Lord hovered over them. And whenever the Ark set out, Moses would shout, “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered! Let them flee before you!” And when the Ark was set down, he would say, “Return, O Lord, to the countless thousands of Israel!”

The divine presence was so powerfully visible to all the people. Soon the excitement faded, legs grew tired, stomachs were more hungry, bodies were tired. Remember they had been camped for two years and had entered into a daily routine settled life. This massive movement was exciting but tiring, would be better if they just disappeared from Sinai and re-appeared in the promise land. So the people started complaining – Moses, this is too much, you want to kill us! In their immediate discomfort, they lost sight of the big objective, vision, and mission.

So we get to Numbers 13 and 14; I find the crucifixion of Jesus painful to read, I also find Numbers 13 and 14 painful. Moses sends 12 spies to Canaan, they come back and all agree the land is flowing with milk and honey. Joshua and Caleb said we can take the land, the other 10 spies convinced the 600,000 men fit to go to war that they can’t take the land. These men get so angry and mad, and wanted to kill Moses. The cloud of God by day and the fire by night that protected them is still there, yet they were so fearful, and angry, and decided to kill Moses.

Two years after leaving Egypt, we are told in Numbers 14:1-4 (NLT): “Then the whole community began weeping aloud, and they cried all night. Their voices rose in a great chorus of protest against Moses and Aaron. “If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!” they complained. “Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” Then they plotted among themselves, “Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!”

In their immediate discomfort, they lost sight of God’s big plans. One of the great hymns says “Count your blessings, name them one by one…”. I am afraid that even after we have counted our blessings, we could still turn around and say “God, you are not welcome here”. When we hit bad times, let’s be patient a little more with God. Let us not give up all hope like this people did in Numbers 14:1-4.

Great God, help us not to lose all hope in this troubled world, Amen!

Numbers: divine masterpiece and epic human tragedy!

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Numbers Chapter 1 starts with the counting of the men in Israel, who were 20 years and above, who are able to go to war. This took place in the camp at Mt. Sinai, one year after they had left Egypt. Mt. Sinai was in the arabian desert, a place where God brought Israel so they could spend quality time with him; the desert was a place of intimacy between God and Israel. God changed Israel from dressing, eating, living, and worshipping like Egyptians during this period. The next step was for them to march to the land of Canaan, a 2 weeks journey, and take it by war.

In Numbers Chapter 2 the camp was re-organized, in such a way that the tribes were arranged around the tabernacle (the temple); 3 tribes were on the east side facing the entrance to the tabernacle, 3 on the west side (the back), 3 on the north side, and 3 on the south side. Based on the population of the tribes, some Bible scholars have noted that the arrangement of the camp formed the shape of the cross when viewed from above (click on the image on this blog to see how this looked).

Chapters 3 to 9 records various instructions to the Levites (the priests), about their job caring for the tabernacle; and instructions on lifestyle for the people. While these might seem much, remember that Israel was a new nation without laws, culture, and tradition; God had to start from scratch. Note that in our countries today, though we have laws, our governments continue to make new laws.

We then get to amazing Chapter 10; after two years camping at Mt. Sinai, God told them to move. Now, the men counted in Chapter 1 were a total of 603,550; when women and children are included, the camp had at least 2 million people. Moving such a large number of people could cause confusion and chaos, but God had given them sufficient instructions on how to move in a very orderly manner like an army. This is a masterpiece on how to organize a people to work together in unity.

However, God’s beautiful plan, for them to take over the promised land after 2 weeks of travel, would very quickly meet with murmurings, complaints, doubts, and rebellion from the people. We get into a tragic period in the story of Israel. The events during this period told from Numbers Chapters 11 to 25, took 38 years, at the end of which 603,548 of those men counted in Chapter 1 all died in the wilderness.

Paul referenced this epic tragedy in 1 Corinthians 10:1-11 (New Living Translation) (shortened): “I don’t want you to forget… about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them… Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did… These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.”

Dear God, give us grace and strength to go all the way with you, Amen!

The deep and powerful book of Numbers

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Why do countries count their population? Knowing the numbers of men, women, children, elderly, and foreigners helps the government to plan. Knowing the numbers of the different groups in a country determines where housing, roads, markets, schools, and hospitals are built; it also determines the size of the police and the army.

The book of Numbers is about counting and organizing Israel, while they were in the desert, in preparation for taking over the promised land of Canaan. At the start of the book, God asked Moses to count the men who were 20 years and older, and who were able to go to war (Chapter 1). This was repeated again towards the end of the book (Chapter 26). The second count took place almost forty years after the first.

As we study Numbers, we will learn about what happened between the first count and the second. We will see God fulfilling His plans. We will see the wisdom of God as He takes a disorganized group of people out of Egypt and turns them into an organized country in the desert, then leads them as an army into the promised land.

In addition to nation building, Numbers shows God keeping his promise to make Abraham the father of a mighty nation and the ancestor of Jesus (Genesis Chapters 12, 15, and 17). We will study Numbers with the mindset we applied to Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus – these books help us understand how much God invested into establishing Israel because they were the road to the messiah.

Apostle Paul said in Romans 15:4 (God’s Word Translation): “Everything written long ago was written to teach us so that we would have confidence through the endurance and encouragement which the Scriptures give us.” Think about this, God promised Adam and Eve a son to crush the head of the serpent, Abraham inherited the promise, Israel lived in the promise, and Jesus fulfilled the promise.

Great God, give us light as we study the book of Numbers together, Amen!

The rich young ruler, blind Bartimaeus, and Jesus

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The books of the gospel, provide not only insights about Jesus, but insights about how different people responded to Jesus. The response of these individuals help us to also understand our response to Jesus too.

We have been in Mark for the past six weeks; two Sundays ago we learnt about Jesus and the rich young ruler, last Sunday we saw how blind Bartimaeus responded to Jesus. Both encounters are from Chapter 10 of Mark; they happened as Jesus was on his way from Capernaum in the north to Jerusalem in the south.

Mark had made us understand that Jesus went about his mission with urgency. Jesus was also very popular; the biggest celebrity around. The rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-22 thus approached Jesus in public, hoping that in front of the crowd, he will receive praise and become a celebrity too. He came to Jesus not as a follower but to win additional trophy for his cabinet.

Compare this to blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52; he was blind a beggar but he had heard about Jesus – the man of the moment. Miracles of miracles, this Jesus was passing his way, wow, wow, wow! There is a noisy crowd, ok, I am going to shout and scream “Son of David, have mercy on me!”. The rich man was independent and did not need a savior, Bartimaeus was dependent.

When I come to Jesus, do I come as an equal, a colleague, a fellow VIP, or do I come accepting that I am meeting divine greatness (Son of David)? The rich man came to meet a fellow VIP for recognition; Bartimaeus came to meet divine greatness for healing. What is your mindset toward Jesus?

Mark 8:27-28 (NIV) answers it best: “Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

Lord Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us, Amen!

Lessons from when Jesus healed blind Bartimaeus

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One of the more popular sports person today is Leo Messi, the soccer player watched by billions all over the world. When he plays, he brings a lot of joy to his admirers and followers around the world. If this person brings joy to the world, why don’t we have him go entertain people in troubled places around the world as a means to bring about world peace? A related question is asked about Jesus.

The question is: if indeed Jesus healed, why did he not go to hospitals and heal everyone? Let’s study the narrative in the book of Mark about the healing of blind Bartimaeus for answers. Hopefully, we will learn why Jesus heals (and this is available to me and you) but did not spend all his time in hospitals.

Mark 10:46-52 (New Living Translation) (shortened) says: ‘Then they reached Jericho, and… blind beggar named Bartimaeus… heard that Jesus… was nearby, he began to shout… “Be quiet!” many of the people yelled at him. But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”… So they called the blind man… [he] threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came… “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked… “I want to see!” And Jesus said to him, “Go, for your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road.’

What lessons do we learn about healing in this Bible passage? First, Jesus is on the move preaching to all in every place, he is passing our way with his free healing powers, such that even blind Bartimaeus the beggar could get it; Bartimaeus was fully convinced that in ‘Jesus, Son of David’ his solution had arrived; Bartimaeus kept it simple when Jesus asked ‘what do you want?’ His answer: ‘I want to see’ did not try to buy Jesus; he did not say ‘Jesus I will give you gold and silver, make me see’.

Like Bartimaeus, let’s come to Jesus with the cry “Son of David, have mercy on me!” If my money, degrees, beauty, or race, can give me the perfect life, great. However, if with all I have achieved, I am still burdened and weighed down with troubles, try Jesus. Come like Bartimaeus, simple, ordinary, humble, sincere, follower!

May the Lord bless you, keep you, heal you, in Jesus name, Amen!

When Jesus missed owning a private jet!

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The four gospels teach us about Jesus from different angles. They share some similar stories and events, but they have their own unique message about Jesus. When you find an event that is commonly shared, it is a major event. One of the shared event is the encounter between Jesus and a man referred to as ‘the rich, young, ruler’ (see Matthew 19:16-23, Mark 10:17-22, and Luke 18:18-23).

We read in Mark 10:17-22 (New Living Translation) (shortened): ‘As Jesus was starting out… to Jerusalem, a man came running… and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”… to answer your question, you know the commandments… “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,”… “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.’

This man was influential and important; probably came from a prominent family for him to have been so rich and part of the rulers at a young age. This is the Church member who can buy Jesus a private jet plane. Ok, they did not have planes, he could buy Jesus comfortable gold chariots and wagons pulled by the best horses, to make his long travels from Galilee to Jerusalem smooth and easy.

So, why did Jesus not accept this very important person (VIP) immediately? Why tell him to first give away all he owned to the poor, and come back and follow him? Think about this: if this man grew up in wealth, with servants, neighbours and friends, praising him for his good looks, intelligence, and good behaviour, then he would expect Jesus to fall in line, to confirm, and praise, and bless him.

Instead, Jesus challenged this man, perhaps for the first time in his life, to do something selfless, humbling, and sacrificial. Was Jesus intending to embarass this man or to make him a poor beggar? No, Jesus was saying to him, ‘if you wish to follow me, whoever you think you are, whatever you think you own, don’t matter to me, I am not interested, none of it wins you any credit with me’.

It is common for wealthy people, or the highly educated, or the highly skilled (musicians, actors, sport stars), to want to be at the front of the line wherever they go. The rich young ruler was used to being in front of the line and assumed that will be the case with Jesus. When Jesus pointed out he needed to empty himself, bend low, and start with the basics of bein g a servant to the people, the man fell apart.

I have often been like this rich young ruler; I come to God with my sense of pride and achievement as a scholar, an academic, a loving husband, a father of three lovely kids, a respected teacher; I come to God with the mindset that says ‘look at me and my beauty and my good grades and my wonderful kingdom’, and God says to me and to you ‘put it all away, just be a simple child in my presence’.

Lord, help us stay simple, as we walk with you, and serve the world, Amen!

The joy report from book of Mark!

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Life has always been tough for many in our world; COVID-19 has made it even tougher and depressing. It is as if everyone in the world is living in a slow moving horror movie. Humans always find a way though, to make the best out of a bad situation, while hoping for a better day. That better day arrived for this leper in the book of Mark, when he met Jesus, and his troubles melted away.

We read in Mark 1:38-45 (The Message Bible) (shortened): ‘Jesus said, “Let’s go to the rest of the villages so I can preach there also. This is why I’ve come… A leper came to him, begging on his knees, “If you want to, you can cleanse me… Deeply moved, Jesus put out his hand, touched him… Then and there the leprosy was gone… Jesus dismissed him with strict orders: “Say nothing to anyone… But as soon as the man was out of earshot, he told everyone… spreading the news all over town. So Jesus kept to out-of-the-way places, no longer able to move freely in and out of the city. But people found him, and came from all over.’

Wow, what a joy report from Mark! A person with leprosy at that time was a condemned person. Leprosy was feared as a disease that could easily spread but hard to cure. If untreated, it could lead to crippling and deformation of hands and legs, and blindness. So, people with leprosy were kept in their own quarantine community. When they moved about, people kept a social distance from them.

Living with leprosy, was to live in a personal horror movie. So for this leper in the book of Mark, the better day he had hoped for, dream about, came when he heard Jesus was around the corner. He came to Jesus begging on his knees, I imagine him crying too, this is a desperate man. Jesus delivered big time for this man; deeply moved, Jesus put out his hand and touched him, a taboo for nobody touched lepers; Jesus touched him and healed him. Glory, glory, glory, to God in the highest!

Jesus healed this man and asked him to keep this quiet, but this was explosive news. The man burst with joy and went about telling everybody, telling the whole town. Jesus became a mega-star, he could not move about freely preaching the gospel, but that did not matter, for people found him, and came to him from all over. I don’t know about you, but I am thrilled by this joy report. It makes me smile, makes me glad, makes me yearn for an equally life changing, heart bursting joy report, in my life too.

Jesus, we too have been in the shadow of a COVID-19 horror show, heal us, heal the world, give us relief, give us a joy report like this, we pray in your precious name, Amen!

Israel the line stander, Jesus the real deal

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Do you know that you can earn $25 per hour in the USA for being a line stander, also referred to as queue stander, line sitter or queue professional. This is real job for some people and it is especially in demand when a new product is coming out and there are long lines of people queuing up for, sometimes for days to be the first to get the new product. The job is to stand in the queue till you get to the front then the person you are standing for comes in at the front, and do their business.

Israel was a line stander for Jesus. Adam and Eve were promised a son who would reconcile humanity and God (Genesis 3:15); that promise passed on to Abraham and to Israel his descendants (Genesis 22). Israel was delivered from Egypt and made into a nation to witness about God, and ultimately be the vehicle that brings the promised son, the promised messiah, Jesus the Christ, to the world.

So, when Jesus began his work, he stated in Mark 1:15 (Good News Bible): “The right time has come,” he [Jesus] said, “and the Kingdom of God is near! Turn away from your sins and believe the Good News!”

Jesus said “the right time has come”. The right time to do his business has come; the line stander Israel acting and speaking for him for hundreds of years is now done. This is the good news; no more indirect relationship between God and humanity with Israel as the go-between; God has come down to reach out directly to everyone. So, we see Jesus in the gospel reaching out to Jews and Gentiles, preaching, teaching, healing, and feeding the multitudes among both peoples.

As you study the gospels, hopefully starting out with the book of Mark, using an online Bible translation you can easily understand, watch out for the urgency with which Jesus went about preaching this message, and watch out for how Jesus intentionally moves between Jews and Gentiles. In God’s mercy, “the right time has come” to reach out to everyone, and this “right time” has so far lasted 2000 years. Hopefully, we in this generation hearing this good news, will respond positively!

Thank you Jesus for reconciling all humanity and the Almighty God; open our eyes to see this good news, Amen!

Jesus in the gospel of Mark

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If you were to ask 10 of your friends, to write about you, what would they say? It is likely they will say many similar things about you, but also likely that each of them will have uniquely different things to say about you. My wife and my daughter will have similar things to say about me but also uniquely different things to say. The same applies to the four gospels about Jesus in the Bible. They all say some similar things about Jesus and at the same time they have their unique message about Jesus.

A unique message from the gospel of Mark, is about the speed and urgency that Jesus brought to the preaching and teaching work he did. Mark would often say “immediately Jesus did…” or “immediately Jesus went…”. Mark uses the Greek word “eutheos” translated as “immediately” in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible 41 times. This way of writing about Jesus is unique to Mark.

Take Mark 1:9-12 (KJV): “And it came to pass… Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And immediately the spirit driveth him into the wilderness.”

It is not surprising then that Mark is the shortest gospel. Mark writes about the teachings of Jesus but unlike the book of Matthew, he does not go into details. Mark is more about action – Jesus did this, and then this other thing happened, and immediately that other thing happened. It is fast and captivating, so if you want a quick overview of the life and acts of Jesus, start reading the gospel of Mark!

Dear God, in your wisdom you have given us four similar and unique gospels about Jesus; teach us how the four books support each other to teach us more completely about Jesus, Amen!

When Jesus fed the world!

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The first time we read the acts of Jesus in the Bible, we may be tempted to think that Jesus just went around doing things randomly, without a plan. However, as we study more and get to know the books of the gospel better, we see the plan and purposes behind the acts of Jesus more clearly. Take the gospel accounts of the feeding of the 5000 jews and the feeding of the 4000 gentiles.

Both events are shared in the gospel of Matthew and of Mark. In Mark Chapter 6, Jesus preached late into the evening around the jewish district of Bethsaida, on the western side of the sea of Galilee, and ended feeding a jewish crowd with 5000 men. Jesus fed them all with just 5 loaves and two fish; and after they had eaten, there was 12 baskets of left over bread (Mark 6:30-44).

In Mark Chapter 8, Jesus and the disciples had crossed the sea of Galilee, to the eastern side gentile district of the Decapolis (see Mark 7:31-37). Jesus preached for three days, and observed that the people were hungry. The disciples had just 7 loaves of bread; Jesus fed a gentile crowd that included 4000 men with this; after they had eaten, there was 7 sacks of left over bread (Mark 8: 1-10).

While the jews avoided non-jews like the people in the Decapolis, Jesus engaged with them, healed them, and miraculously fed a gentile crowd like he did for the jewish crowd. Jesus was making it clear that he had come to serve both jews and gentiles; he is messiah to all, not just the jews. Jesus publicly and purposefully fed both jews and gentiles to show he cares for us all.

Jesus announced this boldly to the jews in John 10:16 (New Living Translation): “I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.”

Dear God, thank you for redeeming us all from every nation, Amen!