Let My People Gather: What We Can Learn from an Ancient Church-State Debate

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1 Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the Risen King, ‘Let my people gather, that they may hear my Word, sing my praise, and remember my sacrifice.’ ” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is this Lord, that I should obey his voice and let you gather? I do not know this king, and moreover, I will not let your people gather.” 3 Then they said, “The God who raised the dead has told us, ‘You are to gather every Lord’s Day to proclaim the resurrection and to worship me, lest I bring pestilence or sword on you.’” 4 But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you risk the lives of your people and your neighbors? Get back to your homes and love your neighbors.” 5 And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the cases of COVID are now many, and you want to risk the spread of more diseases!” 6 The same day Pharaoh commanded his health officials and tax officers, 7“You shall no longer let these people open their businesses, as in the past, or receive their stimulus checks. Instead, let them go and provide for themselves. 8Moreover, their annual taxes shall by no means be reduced, for they are selfish. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go worship our God.’ 9 Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.”
Exodus 5:1–9 (A Covid-19 Paraphrase)

Few doctrines are more important for churches today than understanding the relationship between church and state and the proper authority of each. In our church, we have taught from the New Testament what obeying the governor means and doesn’t mean, what love of neighbor entails, and how to walk in freely in society without binding the conscience of another. Yet, as I have been reminded by many other pastors recently (e.g., here, here), we also need to look at the Old Testament to find examples of saints standing up for their faith.

As Paul reminds us on multiple occasions (Rom. 4:25; 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:1–11; 2 Tim. 3:16), the Old Testament is not just for Israel. It was written for new covenant believers, and thus we should consider how men like Moses, David, Elijah and others stood for truth against tyrants like Pharaoh, Saul, and Jezebel—yes, that wicked queen who has been in the news recently.

We need to learn from the faith of the saints, not only because Hebrews 11 tells us too, but because we need courageous models to imitate. As our world continues to press against the church, we need to look beyond the evangelical leaders who tell us to trust that the intentions of government are good, and obey lest we ruin our witness. Instead, we need to look to biblical leaders, who in obedience to God, refused to make decisions based upon some social merit system with the government. Countless Old Testament saints knowingly invited the wrath of the king. Yet, instead of ruining their witness, this became the very means by which God’s power become evident to the redeemed and the unrighteous alike.

Today, we need many lessons in this kind of unqualified obedience to God. And one place where we find great help in this type of obedience is Exodus 5:1–9 and Pharaoh’s refusal to let Israel gather at Sinai. Above I have offered a paraphrase of that passage. Though the whole of the chapter, as well as Exodus 6–7, provides wisdom for walking in our world today. For sake of space, we fill focus on these verses and how they apply to our current world. From them, I will list six ways that the confrontation between Pharaoh and Moses, or really between Pharaoh and Yahweh, instructs us today and why churches cannot simply wait upon the government to reopen the church. We must obey God and gather at our Sinai, the Mountain called Zion (Heb. 12:22–24).

I know that not all will agree with this application, but that’s why I’m writing. I am prayerful that this appeal to Scripture will provide one more biblical argument for gathering, even as governing authorities say not to and many Christian leaders are saying, “Wait. Be Patient. Don’t lose your testimony.” Yet, as our brother in Canada, James Coates, sits in jail for gathering God’s people to worship God, we cannot be silent and pretend that the governing authorities have the best interest of the church in mind. Rather, with eyes fixed on Scripture, it is imperative for Christians to understand what is going on and what has always been going on (John 15:18–25). With this pursuit of applied wisdom in ind, Exodus 5:1–9 helps us to better see the world around us today and how to gather when pressures and politics outside the church hinder the assembly of God’s people.

May the Lord give us the boldness of Moses and Aaron to obey God and stand before our governing authorities and say: Let my people gather![1] Continue reading

Redemption, Covenant, and Dwelling: Seeing the Three-Fold Pattern of Salvation in the Book of Exodus

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Patterns are everywhere. In aviation, you have flight patterns; in economics, you have patterns in the stock market, in detective work, police look for patterns of suspicious behavior; and in sports, defensive coordinators look for patterns in the offensive schemes of opposing teams. In short, we live in a world full of patterns!

And these patterns are just one hint that behind the created order, there is a Creator who has stamped his design on creation. Similarly, in the Bible we learn that there are patterns in redemption. And nowhere is this more true than in the book of Exodus. In Exodus we are introduced to God’s pattern of redemption—substitution, conquest, covenant, and glorious dwelling. These patterns repeat again and again in Scripture, and they are so important that even Jesus says to Moses and Elijah in Luke 9:31 that he is soon going to lead his own New Exodus. So today, as we begin to look at Exodus, we do so by recognizing the pattern of salvation found therein. Continue reading

On Reading Exodus: Four Approaches with Various Resources

sincerely-media-PH7TOStghPA-unsplashAs we move from Genesis to Exodus in Track 1 of the Via Emmaus Reading Plan, here are resources for the second book of Moses. If you missed the first month’s resources for Genesis, you can look here. Below is a recap on the Via Emmaus Reading Plan and a number of helps for reading Exodus.

The Via Emmaus Reading Plan

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Eternal Perspective in a Time of Isolation: A Meditation on Psalm 90 (with Sermon Video)

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[This is the first message in a series, Steadfast Psalms for a Scattered People]

This week our church was “cancelled.”

Praise around the throne of God went on unceasing, but our church didn’t gather because of the now-infamous and still-dangerous Coronavirus. With this unwanted hiatus, our elders decided to offer a devotional meditation for our congregation. This was not an attempt to replace church—an online “gathering” cannot reproduce what the body of Christ gathered does. Yet, we wanted to feed the flock from the scriptures. And this week that word came from Psalm 90, a prayer of Moses, the man of God.

You can watch the video here. What follows is a more fulsome meditation on this Psalm.

In these days of self-imposed and government mandated isolation, we need to learn from those who have walked the path of isolation and walked it well.

In the Bible, few have experienced soul-crushing isolation like Moses. At forty, Moses was a prince in the household of Pharaoh. Yet, in the blink of an eye, Moses went from the center of power in Egypt to the backside of the dessert, where he would chase sheep for another forty years. Continue reading

Ten Things About Deuteronomy 4:32–40: Or, What It Means for God to Speak from the Midst of the Fire

10 thingsIn preparation for Sunday’s sermon on expositional preaching, here are ten observations from Deuteronomy 4:32–40.

1. Future hope (vv. 25–31) is based on God’s past actions (vv. 32–39).

Grammatically, verse 32 begins with the word “for” (ki). This opening word reveals the relationship between verse 32 and what comes before it. Previously, verses 25–31 explained the future mercies of God—what Yahweh promised to do to restore his people (vv. 29–31). Verse 32 explains why Israel can have confidence in this future grace. Because God saved Israel from Egypt with omnipotent power, so we can trust he will act in power again to restore his people in the future. In short, Israel’s future hope (and our hope) stand on the powerful working of God’s grace in the past.

2. Covenant obedience (v. 40) is also the past actions of God (vv. 32–39).

On the other side of verses 32–39, we find another implied reason for action. Covenant obedience (“keeping his statues and rules”) is motivated by the redemption of God from Egypt and the revelation of God’s word at Sinai. In short, just as God’s previous works of salvation strengthen our future confidence in God, they also call for faithfulness. Continue reading

The Last Days: What Moses Teaches Us About End Times

time.jpegWhat are the “last days”? When are the “last days”? Are we now living in the “last days”?

These are questions that students of prophecy like to ask. They are also questions that are often answered by looking to current events, world crises, and various “signs of the times.” Yet, what if the “last days” are actually something that began 2,000 years ago (see Heb. 1:2)? What if the Bible actually begins speaking about the last days in the first book of the Bible? And what if most of the events associated with last days find explicit fulfillment in the events of the New Testament?

While not denying the blessed hope of Christ’s return, students of the Bible must consider how the Bible develops its own terminology. And if “last days” are a technical term in the New Testament, we do well to consider where does that language come from and how should be understand the Bible on its own terms.

On this question, G. K. Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology is immensely helpful. In the third and fourth chapters, he surveys the Bible to show how the Bible introduces, develops, and fulfills the language of “latter days.” In what follows, I will outline some of his thoughts on the use of “latter days” in Moses. I’ll also add a few observations of my own. And in the weeks ahead I’ll circle back to trace the rest of the biblical theology through the Old Testament into the New Testament. So stay tuned. But today, we’ll consider what Moses says about last days Continue reading

Gathered Worship: Why Your Soul Needs the Body of Christ (Deuteronomy 4:9–31)

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Gathered Worship: Why Your Soul Needs the Body of Christ (Deuteronomy 4:9–31)

As we took another look at worship this Sunday, we focused on the covenantal history outlined by Moses in Deuteronomy 4. In these verses, Moses directed Israel to remember the covenant God made with them, to guard themselves from idolatry, and to take comfort in Yahweh’s ongoing faithfulness.

While there are many differences between Israel on the Plains of Moab and the people of God today, there are similarities too. And by learning the pattern of worship—in particular, gathered worship—we will see what the Spirit teaches us about our identity in Christ and how gathering for worship plays a crucial role in our lives.

You can listen to the sermon online. Response questions and additional resources are listed below.

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Ten Things About Deuteronomy 4:9–31: Or, What Moses Says to Us About Gathered Worship and Jesus Christ

10 thingsIn preparation for Sunday’s sermon on worship, here are ten observations from Deuteronomy 4:9–31.

1. The middle section of Deuteronomy 4 can be divided into three time-plotted windows.

The first window looks back to the gathering of Israel at Horeb (4:9–14). The second window looks at the people present before Moses. It warns Israel to remember their covenant and not worship idols (4:15–24). Then, te third window looks to the future, to a day when Israel will be scattered because of sin; it also offers hope and the promise of Israel’s restoration because of God’s mercy (4:25–31). From this chronological presentation, Moses shows how the covenant with Israel extends from past to present and from his present to future.

2. The main point of each section is related: Guard your heart!

In verses 9–14 Moses says (twice!), Guard your heart by remembering the covenant made at Mount Horeb. The double command of guarding is seen in verse 9, when Moses says, “Only take care (šmr), and keep (šmr) your soul diligently, . . . ”

Next, verses 15–24 repeat the focus on guarding as Moses exhorts, “Therefore watch (šmr) yourselves very carefully.” In this section, the warning moves to the present, as he urges Israel to guard their hearts from idolatry by remembering who they are—a people redeemed by Yahweh (v. 20).

Last, verses 25–31 foretells a time when Israel will forget God and break their covenant. In other words, they will fail to guard their hearts. Nevertheless, in their failure, God will remain faithful. And Moses promises Yahweh will guard Israel’s future by remembering “his covenant” (v. 13) . As verse 31 states, “For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.”

From this reading, we can see how “guarding” is a theme that runs throughout Deuteronomy 4. Continue reading

The Covenants with Abraham and Israel: One or Two?

mick-haupt-eQ2Z9ay9Wws-unsplash.jpgIn his commentary on Deuteronomy, Daniel Block considers the relationship between God’s covenant with Abraham and his covenant with Israel. Entitled “the covenant with your forefathers” in Deuteronomy 4:31, he asks whether this is a reference to God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (cf. Exod 2:24; 6:4; Lev 26:4)? Or a reference to the covenant God made with Israel at Horeb (Deut 4:13)? Or is it somehow a reference to both?

In eight points, Block shows why it is best to see these two covenants as organically related. Instead of singularly referring to the covenant with Abraham or the covenant at Horeb, he explains that God’s covenant with Israel continues the covenant with Abraham. Adding legislation to the original covenant with Abraham, it extends the promises to Abraham and adds national stipulations for Abraham’s offspring. In this way, Block helps us read Moses on his own terms and to see how the biblical covenants relate to one another. Here’s how Block explains it: Continue reading

Revealed Worship (Deuteronomy 4:1–14)

bythebook04Revealed Worship (Deuteronomy 4:1–14)

On Sunday we began a new sermon series considering what Scripture teaches about worship. Over the summer we will learn from Moses, David, and Paul, but this first Sunday we began by hearing what Moses said about God’s pattern for worship at Sinai.

While our worship is not at Mount Sinai, but Mount Zion (Hebrews 12:22–24), the pattern of worship revealed to Israel teaches us about the worship God desires for those who have been saved by Christ. From the revealed worship at Sinai, we begin to see what God has in store for his church.

This week’s sermon considers this “revealed worship” and what it means for us today. You can listen online. Below are response questions and additional resources for studying what Scripture says about worship. Continue reading