In the bad times as well as the good times
“Fulfil your works, your daily tasks, as when there was straw” (Exodus 5:14).
When everything seems to be going from bad to worse, we must pray that God will give us the strength that we need to keep on loving Him, trusting Him and serving Him. Our circumstances may have changed. Nothing seems to be going right. We didn’t think it would turn out this way. Has our Saviour changed? Has He gone away and left us? No! He hasn’t. He’s still with us. Are we still with Him? or Do we opt out when the going gets tough? Lord, You are faithful to us. Keep us faithful to You.
"God will surely visit you" (Exodus 13:19).
Sometimes, when we’re reading the Scriptures, there are some words that just jump out at us. We say to ourselves, “That was just what I needed to read.” We say to God, “Thank You, Lord for that Word. You’ve spoken Your Word to me. It was just the right Word – for me, for right now.” Here’s a great word of encouragement – “God will surely visit you” (Exodus 13:19). What a great privilege this is – God visits us! Are we ready for His visit? Do we pretend that we’re not in when He comes knocking on our door? or Are we so pleased to get a visit from Him? Often, we’re so busy with small things – things that don’t really matter that much in the light of eternity – that we fail to give the Lord an enthusiastic welcome.
As I thought about these words of encouragement – “God will surely visit you”, I looked at the rest of the verse and read these words, “the bones of Joseph”! Here, we see the realism of God’s Word. It lifts us up to the eternal God, but it also keeps our feet on the ground – with a reminder of our mortality! Do we need to hear about “the bones of Joseph”? – Of course, we do! We’re not going to go on forever. “The bones of Joseph” – there’s more than this. There are the heavenly “mansions” (John 14:2). Then, we’ll be going to “visit” the Lord. We’ll be more than visitors. We’ll “dwell in the House of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6). That’s our glorious future. This is what we have to look forward to!
Here-and-now, we must settle for something less than that. We’re not quite ready for the fullness of His glory. He’s preparing us for glory. He’s giving us His visitations. He’s giving us ” a foretaste of glory divine.” How well prepared will be for the full revelation of God’s glory? We’ll never be fully prepared. We’ll always be sinners. We can, however, draw encouragement from God’s precious promise – “God will surely visit you.” Here-and-now, we must learn to appreciate God’s visitations. They’re preparing us for something better – “Eye has not seen. Ear has not heard. Neither has it entered into the heart what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
"showing mercy to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments" (Exodus 20:6).
In there, among the Ten Commandments, there's the word, "mercy" - what a wonderful word! What a wonderful thought - God is merciful. He does not look upon us in our sin. He looks upon us in His Son, our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He looks at Jesus - dying on the Cross. He sees Jesus, bearing our sin - and He sees us, receiving Jesus' salvation. "In my place, condemned He stood. Hallelujah! What a Saviour!" - This is mercy, and it's right here in the Ten Commandments. How wonderful is this!
God's Word speaks here of our love for the Lord and our obedience to His commandments. Where does this come from? It comes from the Lord - from the God of love, grace and mercy. Before we come to the Ten Commandments, we have the great declaration of God's salvation: "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (Exodus 20:2). Real love for the Lord and true obedience to his Word can never be reduced to legalism. It's always much more than that. His love for us inspires our love for Him. Our obedience to His Word is grounded in gratitude for His love.
Thousands came out of Egypt. They had been redeemed by the Lord. They weren't taken straight into the Promised Land. They had to spend many years in the wilderness. Is that not the story of our life? We want to love Him more truly and obey Him more fully - but our sin keeps on holding us back. We're not the finished article. We're a work in progress. Thousands - this is not just about the spiritual leaders, people like Moses and Joshua. This is about ordinary people, people with a story tell: "This is what the Lord has done for me." My story is not your story. Your story is not my story. Each one tells their own story - in their own way. All of us tell the same story - "Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me ... " This is mercy - and it's reached so many different people: different names, different faces, different places, one Saviour - Jesus.
How does God's mercy lead us in the pathway of loving him more truly and obeying Him more fully?
"May your Spirit make us look at the commandments not as a set of observances. May they move us to serve you not in a slavish way but as your sons and daughters who love you and whom you have set free. May we thus fulfil more than the law and serve you as your sons and daughters, in whom you recognize Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord forever."
"As grateful children of God, let us put our hearts into seeking in the commandments not our will but the will of God, so that we do not ask what God orders us to do but simply how we can respond to his love and show that love to the people around us."
"Commandments are not just observances that guarantee our salvation. they are a response to all God has given us. We ask God not what we are obliged to do, but what He expects us to do to respond to his love."
"May we learn from Jesus that love is the heart of the law and that true love knows how to serve" (Camilo J. Marivoet, "Liturgy Alive - Models of Celebration: Weekdays", pp. 314-316)
We've read about "thousands", receiving God's mercy, "thousands", learning to love God and obey Him. God's Word describes, for us, the glory of heaven. It says that there will be "a great multitude, which no man could number" (Revelation 7:9). How amazing is this! We'll come from different nations, different languages, different cultures and different centuries. Each of us will come with a different story to tell - our own unique story of what the Lord has done for us. There will be so many differences, but they will mean nothing to us. We will all be singing the same song. We'll be singing, "Salvation to our God, who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb" (Revelation 7:10). As we think of where we have come from - the depths of sin - and where we have been brought to - the heights of glory, we will sing to the Lord: "Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might be to our God for ever and ever" (Revelation 7:12).
"The Feast of Ingathering" (Exodus 23:16).
We are gathered into Christ. Jesus came "to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10). This is Good News - but it's not to be kept to ourselves. Good News is for sharing. We're to gather others into Christ. As I thought about this phrase, "the feast of ingathering", my thoughts turned to the words of Psalm 126:5-6 - "Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy." We are to take the "precious seed" with us. We are to sow the "precious seed." We are to trust in the Lord's promise: We "will surely come back with shouts of joy, bringing our sheaves with" us. Our salvation is a tremendous privilege - and so is the service that we offer to our Lord. The Lord has saved us, and we say, "Glory to You, Lord." He has called us to be His servants, and, again, we say, "Glory to You, Lord." We look at our life in Christ - being gathered into Him and gathering others into Him, and we say, "This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes" (Psalm 118:23). In the New Testament, we read about a man called Levi (Mark 2:13-14). He was to become Matthew (Matthew 9:9-13). Spiritually, it looked like his life was going nowhere - until Jesus came along, and everything changed. He was never the same again. What a big part Matthew has had in the ingathering of men and women for Christ. He was no longer Levi, a despised and forgotten tax collector. He was Matthew, the Gospel-writer. In Matthew's story, we learn about being gathered into Jesus and gathering in others for Jesus. His story is a story of both conversion and call. His life was turned around. It was turned outward towards others. He had a new purpose in life - winning people for his Saviour. We see the opening of his eyes. Before Jesus spoke the two life-changing words, "Follow Me", was Levi watching Jesus? Was he seeing something different in Jesus? Was he beginning to see himself differently? Was the Spirit of the Lord working in him, preparing him for these life-transforming words, "Follow Me"? His immediate response - "he got up and followed Jesus" - suggests to us that the Lord was already working in his heart, preparing him for that moment when his new life, his life of discipleship, his life of mission would begin. On the day that Jesus came along, Levi saw himself as he really was - a sinner. He also saw Jesus as He really is - the Saviour of sinners, his Saviour. He was gathered in to Jesus - but this was just the beginning of gathering many others into Jesus. We see the stirring of his heart. Had Levi noticed Jesus? Had he sensed something of the love of Jesus? Was he already beginning to hope that Jesus might do something special for him? Was the love of Jesus already reaching out to him before Jesus spoke the words, "Follow Me"? One thing we can say is this: Levi's conversion was a conversion of the heart. He gave his whole heart to the Lord Jesus - and, when he speaks to us in his Gospel, he speaks to us from his heart, and he speaks to our hearts. We see the opening of his ears. As we read Matthew's account of his conversion, we are struck by the power of Jesus' words, "Follow Me." Whatever we may think about what could have been happening in Levi's life prior to that moment, we must say this: The moment that Jesus spoke the words, "Follow Me" was the moment that life began again for Levi. It was the moment that he was saved by the Lord - saved from a life of serving his own interests, saved for a life of serving his Saviour. We see the changing of his life. Levi, the tax collector, became Matthew, the Gospel-writer - a new name and a new mission. He was not only gathered into Jesus. He began a new life of gathering others into Jesus. We see the loosening of his tongue. We don't know a lot about Matthew. In Acts, we read of Peter and Paul. They were faithful and fruitful preachers of the Gospel. We don't read about Matthew being a preacher. We do know that, in his Gospel, he was speaking for his Lord. He was letting the world know how much Jesus meant to him. He was playing his part - a very important part - in gathering in men and women for the Saviour. What about us? Will we play our part in the great "ingathering"? "Return to the Lord ... He will revive us ... He will raise us up ... He will come to us like the rain ... " (Hosea 6:1-3). Return to the Lord. This is where it begins. A life of faithful and fruitful service to the Lord begins when we return to the Lord, when, like Levi, we say to Jesus, "Yes, Lord. I will follow You." He will revive us. We pray for revival - a great ingathering of many people to our Saviour. Where does it begin? It begins with ourselves: "He will revive us." He will raise us up. This is not just a little pick-me-up. This is resurrection. In ourselves, we are spiritually dead. In Christ, our risen Saviour, we are made alive. He will come to us like the rain. "The spring showers water the land" - This is what we must pray for: a spiritual harvest which will bring many people to the Saviour and much glory to God.
"The skin of Moses' face shone" (Exodus 34:35).
What glory there is in the presence of the Lord! The glory of the Lord was shining upon Moses. The glory of the Lord was shining out from Moses. In the Lord's presence, there is light. When we come into His presence, we come out of the darkness, and we come into the light. It is the light of His glory. It is the light of His love. It is the glory of His love. This is what changes us. This is what makes us new men and women. How can we remain the same when we have been in the presence of the Lord? Was there something special about Moses? No! There was something special about God. Is there something special about us? No! There's something special about God. In His presence, everything changes. The things that seemed so important to us are seen in a new light - the light of eternity. They are seen for what they really are. Do these things really matter as much as we thought they did? or Have we been shaped too much by the world's way of thinking? In the Lord's presence, everything seems so different. Light is shining upon us. It is the light of God's Word. It is the light of the Gospel. His light is a great light. It shines brightly. It will not be overcome by the darkness. Often, we feel that the darkness is so powerful. It seems like we're struggling to get into the light - and the darkness keeps on pulling us back in. What do we learn when we come into the Lord's presence? What do we learn when we read His Word? What do we learn when His Gospel reaches us? We learn that it's not all about us - our struggle to break free from the darkness. It's all about Him - His power to set us free. "Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace."