The Requests He Makes
Exodus 32 -33 recalls the biblical story of Israel's disobedience and the role Moses plays as mediator and advocate. Last week's Exodus passage, the story of the golden calf, sets the stage for this week's lesson—Moses' further negotiations with Yahweh. Moses' requests of Yahweh reflect the legitimate concerns of one who seeks to faithfully follow God.
I. The Faithful Follower Seeks God's Promise
Much like those with whom Paul will later contend, the Jews want signs as the Greeks seek wisdom, Moses seems to say: I need proof. Moses wants Yahweh to be even more specific, becoming almost pressing with his questions to Yahweh. Moses says, "Show me your ways" (v. 13). As usual, Moses wants divine assurance. Earlier in their first meeting, Moses craves God's divine name, but the answer is solely the mysterious response: "I AM WHO I AM." He says further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you'" (Exod. 3:14). God's response to Moses' request is that they will be given rest. That is, soon Israel will rest in the promised land of milk and honey. To know God's ways is to know God's promise.
II. The Faithful Follower Seeks God's Presence
Moses keeps pressing, however. He asks that Yahweh "go with them," by saying, in effect, unless you go with us, then how can we be a distinct people and how will people know I (Moses) have found favor in the Lord's sight? Yahweh's answer is affirmative in yet another promise: "I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name" (v. 18). Thus, from the text, it appears that Moses does indeed receive divine assurance.
III. The Faithful Follower Seeks God's Person
But Moses presses on. He wants to see God's glory. Much to the reader's surprise, God grants still another request and tells Moses how the Lord will be made manifest to Moses. When the Lord passes by Moses, the glory of the Lord will be shown to Moses, and Moses will see the Lord's back, though not face-to-face as was earlier alluded to in Exodus 33:11 "The LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend." In Moses' persistence is his success as he receives the divine blessing of relationship with the Lord. Any accomplished musician will tell us that the secret of being able to master a complex piece of music is no secret but is contained in the adage to practice, practice, practice. Perseverance is a character quality difficult to develop. Many people want to do things well; few pay the personal price to master a skill or develop an art.
One of the most amazing qualities of faithful people is the ability to stick with a task until it is complete. I often wonder if one of the reasons faith seems so difficult for many of us is that we want it to be present in our lives without cost. Faith worth having, however, means being put under God's authority. This is contrary to our nature but necessary for our salvation. We do not work for salvation, but neither do we expect to be handed a relationship with God that is thoroughly one-sided. Any covenant worth having is a covenant between two partners.
The story of Moses gives great guidance in what a person who truly desires God can become by God's great grace. Perhaps Moses was a spiritual relative of the woman about whom Jesus spoke when he said, "In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, 'Grant me justice against my opponent'" (Luke 18:3) . Good faith on people's part is faith that keeps coming and coming. (David Neil Mosser)
Thanks for the Memories
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Many people are reluctant to give and receive gratitude. Perhaps saying thanks seems like an admission that another's assistance was needed. This acknowledgment reminds us of our interdependence when we would rather take pride in our independence. Paul had no trouble giving thanks. He thanked God for Jesus (Rom. 7) , and he thanked God for memories of the Philippians (Phil. 1:3) . The record is not as clear as to how Paul received thanks, but if he received it as well as he gave it, he would be an excellent role model for us. A high point in Paul's expression of gratitude came in the opening verses of 1 Thessalonians. Following his usual greeting, Paul enthusiastically wrote, "We always give thanks to God for all of you" (v. 2). The word picture is one of deep and joyful thanks. What moved Paul to such a superlative expression—and what should cause us to give thanks as well?
I. We Can Be Thankful for the Faithfulness of God's People
In verse 3, Paul specified three reasons for his gratitude: "work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." This is a favorite collection of words for Paul—faith, love, and hope. The accolades were appropriate. The Thessalonians had the benefit of Paul's presence for a short time, perhaps as little as three weeks. Paul fled the city after threats were made on his life, and he worried about the welfare of the Christians left behind. The report he received of the Thessalonians' work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope gave reason for his expression of gratitude.
II. We Can Be Thankful for the Proclamation of God's Word
In verses 5-10, Paul wrote that the power of God was at work in Thessalonica through preaching. He made three particular points about this preaching: The preaching of the gospel came in power (v. 5a ). The verb Paul used indicates some vital force was in operation. It was used to describe the coming of various natural phenomena—earthquake, thunder, or lightning. Paul's point was that the preaching of the gopsel was accompanied by this kind of power because God was in the preaching. The gospel came in the Holy Spirit (v. 5b ). This thought complements what Paul had just said about power. The preaching of the gospel came "with full conviction" (v. 5c ). This completes the thought. Conviction is the result of the Holy Spirit's working in believers. They had the Spirit's assurance as they preached.
Paul virtually broke into rhapsody as he described what happened as a result of this preaching of the gospel (vv. 6-10). First, they became followers (read it, Christians) after receiving this gospel in affliction to be sure, but also in the joy of the Holy Spirit (v. 6). Second, they became role models for Christians throughout the surrounding territory (v. 7). Paul knew that because their faithfulness had been literally broadcast everywhere (v. 8). Third, Paul knew that their testimony was built not only on their radical new lives as Christians but also by their patient hope in the return of Christ (vv. 9-10). In many nations of the world and in many communities in our own country, the same kind of affliction awaits those who would share the gospel. Rather than seeing them as hopeless situations, we should view them as potential Thessalonicas; that is, places in which people need to and sometimes will make a radical change in their lives and then will share with us the steadfast hope as we await the return of Christ. (Al Fasol)
Death and Taxes
There is a story about an Internal Revenue Service agent who made a phone call to the county-seat town's best-known pastor: "Mr. Bob Smith put down on his tax return that he made a contribution of $3,000 to your church last year. Is that true?" After a brief pause on the other end of the line, the pastor quietly responded, "If he didn't, he will." The familiar adage goes that the two things one cannot escape are death and taxes. Today, we are going to look at what, to some, is the more frightening of the two—taxes. In this text, Jesus is confronted with a question concerning the head tax paid to the Romans. The Pharisees use false flattery in an attempt to disarm Jesus so that they then can entrap and humiliate him with a tricky yes or no question.
In Jesus' day, questioning the tax system was dangerous business. The establishment of this tax had provoked a revolt of the Jews in Galilee in the year A.D. 6. The Jews had become enraged concerning the placing of God's land at the service of pagans. Jesus sets his own trap for the Pharisees by asking to see the coin used to pay the tax. By doing this, Jesus reminds the Pharisees that they already acknowledge Caesar's authority by having his money in their possession. They possess a Roman coin, bearing the image of the emperor and conveying Roman ideology.
I. We Have a Legitimate Obligation to the State
Jesus simply and profoundly declares that Caesar is owed what bears his image and name—money. Jesus is not drawn into a debate between church and state. He acknowledges that being a servant of God does not exempt you from being a tax-paying servant of the state. Jesus emphasizes, however, that the higher duty is to be rendered to God.
II. We Have a Greater Obligation to God
God, Caesar's Lord, is to be rendered the things that are God's. God is owed what bears his image and name—our very lives. There is a lovely estate in Georgia, the beautiful grounds of which were being expertly tended by a caretaker. Every tree was trimmed, the grass was mowed, and stately beds of flowers were in bloom. Yet not one soul was around to observe any of the beauty except for the caretaker himself. A visitor surprised the man after stopping to see the striking sight and asked, "When was the owner last here?"
"Oh, ten or twelve years ago, I guess," said the caretaker.
"Then from whom do you get your instructions?"
"From the agent who lives in Atlanta," the caretaker replied.
"Does he ever come around to inspect the place?"
"No, can't say that he does," answered the caretaker.
"And yet you keep it trim as if he were going to come tomorrow?"
And with that the gardener interrupted the curious visitor: "As if he were going to be here today!"
God calls us to be good stewards of all with which we have been entrusted. One day the Master will come back to check on things—you can count on it. Will he find you and me ready?
Waiting patiently at the cash register, Uncle Sam stands ready to receive a seemingly ever-increasing portion of the money we spend. It's as inevitable as death. The next time you see tax figured into your bill, while you sign the ticket for the credit transaction, remember the words of the penniless itinerant preacher. Render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's. (Scott Salsman)