Light and life at Christmas

Text John 1:1-9 Time 11 12 13 Place Childs Baptist Church
Let's begin by talking about Christmas trees. The origins of the Christmas tree is lost in antiquity although the connection with Germany is definite. It is from Germany in the nineteenth century that the Christmas tree along with other traditions came thanks to Queen Victoria's husband Prince Albert. It probably goes back to the pagan past there and the winter tradition of bringing evergreens into the home. This tradition continued even after the Germans stopped worshipping trees and began to worship God under the influence of missionaries like Boniface.
It is said that Martin Luther began the tradition of putting lights (candles then) on the tree. One Christmas, it is said, he was walking in snow covered woods and noticed how the snow shimmered in the moonlight. Back at home he put candles on a fir tree and told his children an appropriate story. By the way, it was 1882 before the first electrically lit tree appeared – in New York unsurprisingly. Luther's idea was that the tree stood for darkness and the lights for Jesus the light of the world.
Of course, if you live in the northern hemisphere, the very nature of things means that at this time of year you get long dark nights (December 21 is the shortest day) and this is relieved by increasingly sophisticated and ubiquitous lights. The ideas of darkness and light are not difficult and come this time of year in the UK it is everywhere.
I say all of this because of the verses I want us to focus on tonight. The verses are verses 1-9 of John Chapter 1. They use the word light some seven times and the word darkness comes in verse 5: The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. Now clearly John is using the word light (and darkness) in a symbolic way. He does it all the way through the Gospel (think of Nicodemus coming by night and Judas stepping out into the night). It is well known that John begins his Gospel reflecting the beginning of Genesis – In the beginning was God ... In the beginning was the Word .... Genesis goes on to speak about God saying Let there be light and John says Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. Generally speaking, light is good and darkness bad, light stands for knowledge and goodness, darkness for ignorance and evil. What happens in Genesis 1 has a symbolic as well as a literal meaning.
We want to say four things from these verses.
1. Realise that the Word has life and is the light of men
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
John begins by going right back to the beginning. To speak of the second person of the Trinity, the one we most often refer to as The Son, he uses the word Word. He says several slightly overlapping things about the Word.
1. In the beginning was the Word. If you go right back to the beginning the Word was there. He existed then. He has always existed.
2. And the Word was with God. Being there from the beginning The Word was with God who was also, of course, there from the beginning. He was with or towards God – face to face with him.
3. And the Word was God. Not only is it correct to say that he was with God but he also was God just a she is God now.
4. He was with God in the beginning. Just to re-iterate in part right at the beginning the Word was face to face with God the Father.
5. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. Everything that was created was made through him. Nothing has ever been created without him. He had a hand in it all. One reason we know he is not a creature is because of this statement.
6. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. This follows on from the statement about everything being made through him. He has communicated life to every living creature. Any life it has comes from him. As Hebrews 1:3 puts it, he sustains all things by his powerful word. John reports later how Jesus says (5:21, 24-26) For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. Or what about John 11:25, 26? I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. John adds back here that life was the light of men and that is another I am saying – John 8:12 I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. That phrase light of life comes up many times in the Old Testament and the words light and life are obviously linked. To be alive is to see the light. Once the light goes you are dead.
So to recap, the Word is God and yet there is a sense in which he can be with God. It is as God and with God that he created all things and continues to give life and light to all. This Trinitarian theology is so important to keep to the fore in our thinking. Without that we are left with no incarnation and no gospel to share.
2. Understand that the light shines in the darkness of this world and is not overcome
That brings us to verse 5 a slightly difficult verse to translate The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it or better overcome it. The word used is best understood as referring to the darkness failing to overcome the light. This world is pictured as being in darkness – standing for ignorance and wickedness. Nevertheless the light of life continues to shine in it. The darkness is not able to choke out the light, it cannot extinguish it. When you want to put out the Christmas tree lights you switch off the power. If it is a candle, you can easily snuff it out and there is darkness. The light from God, however, is not anywhere as easily removed. It goes on shining even in the darkness of this world. Think of all the evil there has been in the world. Sometimes it overwhelms us it is so much. But the light goes on shining. Increasingly, day after day the light shines more and more brightly as we approach the perfect day.
There's something to give thanks for! It is there to encourage us. Sometimes it seems as though the night is closing in on us and the light is about to be snuffed out. When we begin to think like that we ought to stop and think again. That is not the reality. What is that verse from Isaiah quoted in Matthew 12:20? A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out. Or think of Romans 13:12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.
3. See that John the Baptist was not the light but bore witness to it as we must
Verses 6-8 are helpful in getting the difference between a prophet and the Word of God clear in our minds. There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
We like to drive down to Oxford Street at some time around this time of year to see the lights. Now if we go down and see the lights and then tell you “They're really great this year. You should go and see them” then it is pretty clear that we are witnessing to the lights. Even if I say something like “I've seen the lights. Hey they're good” my point should be clear. I suppose I could wear a t-shirt with “I've seen the lights” on it or write it up for my blog. I might become such an advocate for the lights that people might even say it's the West End lights man. I suppose there is someone who gets it all organised. Do they ever say “He is the West End lights”? I don't know.
Well, John the Baptist was a man sent by God. Some did think he was Messiah but he wasn't. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe says John. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. Like all the prophets before him he was not the light as such but one who pointed to the light and to the Lamb as he so famously called him, the Lamb of God.
That's our job too as Christians be witnesses to the light, to point people to Jesus Christ.
4. Praise God that the light of men has come into the world
The last verse I want to look at tonight is verse 9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. This is where John has been heading. He is talking about the Word of God and he has said that he is The true light, The true light that gives light to every man
Now he says he was coming into the world. His light was already in the world, nothing could stop it shining. But now the Light himself was coming into the world. He was shining in his own world and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. As John puts it so strikingly in verse 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. As he says elsewhere they preferred darkness to light because their deeds were evil. Nevertheless, just as the darkness could not overcome the light so to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. They were supernaturally born again.
Verse 9 says The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. Verse 14 says the same thing in a different way - The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. The light idea is not dropped entirely - We have seen his glory, John says the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. Verse 18 sums it up No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.
What a reason to praise God. God has not left this world in its darkness of ignorance and evil. The light has not only shone but the light itself has come into this world and shone here on earth. How can we picture it? It is one thing for a you to be lost in the dark and for a helicopter to shine down its beam of light to help you see. It is another for the helicopter to land and for the crewmen to get out and take you by the hand and lead you as he shines his powerful torch in front of him. Every illustration breaks down. Here it is that we do not have a man with a torch but one who is light itself, a human torch as it were.
A light can lead a person astray. It can lead nowhere or into danger. It can be as we say a mere flash in the pan. A true light, however, is a guiding light. It leads away from the rocks and safely to harbour. Christ the Light of the world is the one to look to now and always.

Keeping the festival and walking in the Spirit

Text Numbers 9 Time 13/05/12 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We are looking at the Book of Numbers and we come this week to Chapter 9. You will see from the headings there in the NIV that this chapter contains two main things.
First, in verses 1-14, something about the Passover, and then, in verses 15-21, something about the cloud above the tabernacle.
  • 1-14 In verses 1-14 we are told how God spoke to Moses in the Desert of Sinai in the first month of the second year after they came out of Egypt and told him to Have the Israelites celebrate the Passover at the appointed time. As in the previous year when it was celebrated the first time, it was to be celebrated at twilight on the fourteenth day of that first month, in accordance with all its rules and regulations. We read in verse 5 that The Israelites did everything just as the LORD commanded Moses. This was the first festival following the erection of the tabernacle. There was a problem though. Some were unable to celebrate on the day as they were ceremonially unclean on account of a dead body. These people came to Moses and Aaron to ask what to do. They felt they shouldn't be kept from presenting the LORD's offering with the other Israelites at the appointed time just because they happened to be unclean that day. The answer given was that in such a situation or, if unable to keep the festival because away on a journey, for example, they are still to celebrate the LORD's Passover. In such case they are to do it on the fourteenth day of the next month in the normal way. This was not to be turned into an excuse for keeping Passover when one fancied. If you didn't keep the festival at the right time without good reason then you must be cut off from your people for not presenting the LORD's offering at the appointed time. They will bear the consequences of their sin. Verse 14 adds that A foreigner residing among you is also to celebrate the LORD's Passover in accordance with its rules and regulations. You must have the same regulations for both the foreigner and the native-born.
  • 15-21 In verses 15-21 Exodus 40:34-38 is more or less repeated and we are told how On the day the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony, was set up, the cloud covered it. The cloud it seems was not just over the tabernacle but over the Holiest place in the tabernacle. At night the cloud looked like fire and during the day like a cloud. Verses 17 and 18 say that Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the LORD's command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. Sometimes the cloud remained in one place a long time and at others only a few days or even only from evening till morning. Long or short the Israelites always stuck with it. 21b-23 Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. At the LORD's command they encamped, and at the LORD's command they set out. They obeyed the LORD's order, in accordance with his command through Moses.
So these are the two things here. It is quite interesting I suppose but what has it got to do with us today? Are we supposed to keep the Passover still? Should we expect to see a pillar of cloud over our meetings? Surely not. So what is there to learn? There are at least two things.

1. Remember to keep the festival with the bread of sincerity and truth
There is an interesting New Testament reference to the Passover in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8. There Paul says Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new batch without yeast - as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the bread of sincerity and truth.
Passover is very much connected with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Paul says their boasting is like yeast the yeast of malice and wickedness. Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed so fulfilling what the Passover pointed too. The right response for his people is now to turn from boasting, malice and all other wickedness.
Here the Israelites are reminded of how certain things may prevent them from celebrating Passover. They are to be determined still to celebrate it, however. Nothing is to be allowed to get in the way. They are also reminded that it is not just for Israelites either. Any foreigners with them are to celebrate it too.
That raises some questions for us then. Christ our Passover Lamb has already been slain, are you determined to keep the Festival by living lives of sincerity and truth? We must not let anything stop us doing that. We must also encourage such sincerity and truth in others who live with us or who we come into contact with in other ways. We must point them to Jesus Christ the Lamb of God in whatever way we can. Remember how John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and he said Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! We also must seek to draw attention to him and let nothing else get in the way. Remember to keep the festival
2. Remember to walk in the Spirit and keep in step with him wherever he leads
Then what about this phenomenon that the Israelites were led through the desert by God's presence manifest in this pillar of cloud and fire? May be you find such a thought very attractive. “I wish we had a pillar of cloud and fire guiding us every step of the way through the desert of this life” you say.
But before we are too quick to envy them let's take note of what Paul says again in 1 Corinthians, this time in Chapter 10. The chapter begins
For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.
And so Paul takes opportunity to warn against idolatry, sexual immorality, putting Christ to the test and grumbling. So, he concludes (12) if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!
So we are unwise to envy the Israelites the cloud and their other blessings!
When it comes to the matter of how we should live then, when we come to the New Testament there are also again some very interesting verses, this time in Galatians 5:16-26, where Paul talks about walking by the Spirit, being led by the Spirit and keeping in step with the Spirit.
So I say, live (lit walk) by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Now the connection is not immediately apparent but I think that it can be established that Paul has at the back of his mind the exodus from slavery in Egypt. In 4:8 he says Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. His point is (4:3) that It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Having left Egypt, they are now free to walk in step with the Spirit.
This view would seem to be confirmed by verses like these
Isaiah 63:11-14 Then his people recalled the days of old, the days of Moses and his people - where is he who brought them through the sea, with the shepherd of his flock? Where is he who set his Holy Spirit among them, who sent his glorious arm of power to be at Moses’ right hand, who divided the waters before them, to gain for himself everlasting renown, who led them through the depths? Like a horse in open country, they did not stumble; like cattle that go down to the plain, they were given rest by the Spirit of the Lord. This is how you guided your people to make for yourself a glorious name.
Nehemiah 9:19, 20 Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the desert. By day the pillar of cloud did not cease to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them.
Perhaps you noticed in the hymn we sang
Come, Holy Spirit, fire by night,
pillar of cloud by day
lead for I dare not take a step
unless you show the way.
So here is a second point. Having said that we must keep the festival with the bread of sincerity and truth, we can also say that we must be determined to walk in the Spirit, to be led by the Spirit and to keep in step with him. The Israelites would not so much as move if they were not led to it by the pillar of cloud and fire. We need that same sort of commitment too today to the leading of the Spirit. We are not talking here about knowing what to do in the sense of guidance as we usually think of it but of the matter of obedience. To keep instep with the Spirit is to obey him, to do what pleases him, unwilling to grieve him or quench his work in our lives. We are going through a desert and we do not know the way as we have never passed it before. We need the Spirit of God to lead us. We must look to him. We do not have visible signs like those Israel had but we know we have the Holy Spirit within and he gives us every encouragement to obey the Word of God of which he is the author in every way. We should increasingly be seeking to do that. The key to that is knowing God's Word and putting it into practice.

The Priesthood then and now

Text Numbers 8:5-26 Time 06/05/12 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
The next thing in Numbers, following the setting up of the lamps in the Tabernacle, is the setting apart of the Levites ready for their service there. The Levites have already been mentioned extensively in Chapter 4 where their numbers are given. The passage can be divided into the first part which is directly concerned with their purification (5-14) and the second part (15-26) is about the commitment they were to make.
If we are to benefit from a passage like this today we need first to say something about priesthood. We need to say four things.
1. There are false priests. A priest is really a go-between, someone whose job is to represent you to God or to a certain god. Many religions have priests today. Such men are claiming that in some way or other they can get you to God. Such claims are false.
This is not to deny that priests are needed today but simply to say that if you ever meet someone who claims to be a priest or is able to get you to God, do not trust him.
2. Priests before the Law. The first true priests were heads of households like Noah and Job who led their families in worship and made sacrifices on their behalf or Melchizedek who may have had greater responsibility again. Moses own father-in-law was a priest in Midian, probably a true priest.
3. Priests under the Old Testament law. Then with the coming of the law under Moses a change came about. At first it was God's intention that every firstborn son in each family should be a priest but then that was changed and so Aaron became the High Priest, his immediate family priests and the whole tribe of Levi assistants to the priests. Even today if a Jewish man is called Cohen (priest) or Levy, he will be expected to carry out special duties at the synagogue.
4. Priests under the New Testament. When we come to the New Testament a remarkable thing happens. First, there is a change of priesthood from Aaron's descendants to the Lord Jesus Christ, the one true High priest. Further, every individual Christian man or woman now becomes his own priest in Christ. This doctrine is always in danger of being lost and was more or less lost for many years until in the early part of the sixteenth century it was rediscovered by Martin Luther. In 1520 in his To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation he wrote
That the pope or bishop anoints, makes tonsures, ordains, consecrates, or dresses differently from the laity, may make a hypocrite or an idolatrous oil-painted icon, but it in no way makes a Christian or spiritual human being. In fact, we are all consecrated priests through Baptism, as St Peter in 1 Peter 2 [:9] says, "You are a royal priesthood and a priestly kingdom," and Revelation [5:10], "Through your blood you have made us into priests and kings."”
This does not mean that Protestants do not recognise that certain men are gifted and should be set aside to preach but it does mean that these people are preachers who preach not priests who engage in sacrifices and other ceremonies to bring people to God.
So with that in mind we say from this passage
1. Consider how they were set aside to Levitical priesthood then and how it happens now
So in verses 6-14 Moses is told to Take the Levites from among all the Israelites and to do several things to them in preparation for their future service, all so that (14) In this way ... the Levites would be set apart from the other Israelites, and says God the Levites will be mine.
There are two main parts.
1. There was a need for ceremonial purification and real purification for priests today.
There were three parts to this making them ceremonially clean. To purify them, Moses had to
1. Sprinkle them with water. He was first to Sprinkle the water of cleansing on them. It is not clear where this water comes from but its symbolism is clear. This is a ritual washing.
2. Have them shave their bodies. Then have them shave their whole bodies. Herodotus says that Egyptian priests had to do the same thing. The idea appears to be of ceremonially going back to being a baby.
3. Have them wash their clothes. And wash their clothes. And so they will purify themselves. That was the other part, another ceremonial washing.
In Titus 3:4, 5 Paul says to believers When the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. When a person becomes a Christian he is washed and he is renewed. He is born of water and of the Spirit. His heart is sprinkled clean and it it is renewed. That is the way into today's priesthood. Unless you are born again and sanctified by the Lord you cannot be his priest. Being a priest to God involves being born again.
2. There was a need for sacrifices then and a need for sacrificial service now.
1. A burnt offering and a sin offering. 8 Have them take a young bull with its grain offering of the finest flour mixed with olive oil; then you are to take a second young bull for a sin offering. Verse 12 spells out how the Levites are to lay their hands on the heads of the bulls, using one for a sin offering to the LORD and the other for a burnt offering, to make atonement for the Levites.
2. Laying on of hands. 9 Bring the Levites to the front of the tent of meeting and assemble the whole Israelite community (probably just the leaders). 10 You are to bring the Levites before the LORD, and the Israelites are to lay their hands on them. The point here is presumably that these Levites were to represent the whole community and so the identity is ceremonially established.
3. A wave offering. 11 Aaron is to present the Levites before the LORD as a wave offering from the Israelites, so that they may be ready to do the work of the LORD. This time the Levites themselves are to be a sort of sacrifice, symbolising their dedication to service. 13, 14 Have the Levites stand in front of Aaron and his sons and then present them as a wave offering to the LORD.
The parallel here is the way we are urged in Romans 12:1, 2 that in view of God's mercy, we must offer (y)our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God - this is (y)our true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, says Paul but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will. Just as the Levites became the actual sacrifice so we too must being given up to serving God as his priests. Our service is acceptable because of the atonement Christ has won on the cross.
2. Consider the work of the Levitical priesthood then and the work of priesthood now
In verses 15-26 more is said about the Levites dedication to God and their service. We can take note of 5 things and again compare and contrast.
1. They are to work in the Tabernacle, we in God's presence.
In verse 15 it says After you have purified the Levites and presented them as a wave offering, they are to come to do their work at the tent of meeting. That was their sphere of work there in the presence of God. We too are called as priests to work in God's presence, always aware of him.
2. They are wholly given to God and we must be too
16-18 They are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to me. (Given, given – given twice, it is literally). I have taken them as my own in place of the firstborn, the first male offspring from every Israelite woman. Every firstborn male in Israel, whether human or animal, is mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set them apart for myself. And I have taken the Levites in place of all the firstborn sons in Israel. They were God's by providence and redemption and so too every Christian who he has both chosen and redeemed. 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.
3. They are given to Israel and we are to serve God's people too
19 From among all the Israelites, I have given the Levites as gifts to Aaron and his sons to do the work at the tent of meeting on behalf of the Israelites and to make atonement for them so that no plague will strike the Israelites when they go near the sanctuary. In a similar way our priesthood is to be pursued to the end that we serve others and bring blessing to them – as we pray for others and teach them, etc.
4. They worked under Aaron's supervision, we under our High Priest Christ
22 After that, the Levites came to do their work at the tent of meeting under the supervision of Aaron and his sons. They did with the Levites just as the LORD commanded Moses. The parallel is clear here. We are priests but only under our great High Priest Christ.
5. They were to work only for a certain part of their lives, we for all of ours
23-26 The LORD said to Moses, This applies to the Levites: Men 25 years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the tent of meeting, but at the age of 50, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the tent of meeting, but they themselves must not do the work. This, then, is how you are to assign the responsibilities of the Levites. When the Levites were numbered in Numbers 4 (see verse 3) they were numbered from 30-50. perhaps the first five years were more like training years. By the time of 1 Chronicles 23:27 the age of 20 seems to have marked the lower limit – presumably because the task had changed and more were needed.
In the New Testament no starting or retirement age is given. Those two facts suggest that anyone can come to Christ how ever young and that there is no real retirement in the service of Christ. So come whatever age you are and stay serving to the end.

God's Church, precious and heaveny light bearer

Text Numbers 8:1-4 Time 29/04/12 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
In Revelation 1 we have wonderful description of the risen and glorified Lord Jesus. Before John sees the Lord he hears a voice and turns to see who it is coming from. He tells us (1:12, 13) I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. By lampstand is meant the article of furniture that was found in the Temple, where there were several, and in the tabernacle, where there was just one, and that we read about here in Numbers 8:1-4, the menorah.
We looked at a whole long chapter last week but this week I just want us to focus on these four verses.
The lampstand is described most fully in Exodus, in chapters 25 and 37. In Chapter 25 Moses is told to make it and in Chapter 37 we read that
They made a lampstand of pure gold. They hammered out its base and shaft, and made its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms of one piece with them. Six branches extended from the sides of the lampstand - three on one side and three on the other. Three cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms were on one branch, three on the next branch, and the same for all six branches extending from the lampstand. And on the lampstand were four cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms. One bud was under the first pair of branches extending from the lampstand, a second bud under the second pair, and a third bud under the third pair – six branches in all. The buds and branches were all of one piece with the lampstand, hammered out of pure gold. They made its seven lamps (which were to be set up on it so that they would light the space in front of it) as well as its wick trimmers and trays, of pure gold. They made the lampstand and all its accessories from one talent of pure gold (75 lbs or 34 k – worth over a million pounds at today's prices). We do not know the size of the lampstand though the rabbis thought it was 5' tall and 3.5' wide. They also say that seven lamps were lit in the night and three in the day.
Back in Revelation 1 we read that John is told to write down what he saw. He is also told that The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
The menorah or lampstand has become a well known symbol of Judaism but when we read of the lampstand here it is right that we should think of the church of God. This lampstand is a picture of the church – and of a church like this one. It is not the only thing the lampstand points too. It can also stand for life – life and light are often mentioned together. It can also stand for God's Word, which the Psalmist in Psalm 119:105 says is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.
What I want us to do this evening then is to consider the local church as pictured here and I want to say two main things.
1. Consider the church of God and its precious and heavenly nature
Perhaps we can begin at the end and look first at verse 4. There we read This is how the lampstand was made: It was made of hammered gold - from its base to its blossoms. The lampstand was made exactly like the pattern the LORD had shown Moses.
There are two things to note here then. This lampstand, like the church was to be
1. Precious - made of hammered gold. Everything in the holiest parts of the tabernacle was gold. Some things were made of wood covered with gold (like the table and the ark). Other things (like the mercy seat or atonement cover over the ark and the lampstand) were made of pure gold. There are more expensive metals than gold but it is generally agreed that gold is the most attractive. Even today in the Olympics for example you have the order of the medals – gold, silver, bronze. God was also often connected to sacred places as here but the main thing about it is how precious it.
Now given that the lampstand mentioned here is later connected with the New Testament churches it is wise that we ask whether there is any significance in the fact that it is made of gold, hammered gold. Surely that suggests the preciousness of the church to God. The fact that it is hammered gold may be hint to us that the church is often a suffering church but the main thing is the preciousness to God of his church.
In 1 Peter 1:9 Peter says to believers But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. This goes back to Exodus 19:5, 6 where God says Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation and Malachi 3:17 On the day when I act, says the LORD Almighty, they will be my treasured possession.
It is the church that Christ loved and gave himself up for to make her holy …. Hence some of the seemingly extravagant language in Song of Songs. It is called in Acts 20:28 the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

This is a reminder that we must always have a high view of the church and remember how precious each individual in it is.
2. Heavenly - made exactly like the pattern the LORD had shown Moses. The lampstand in the tabernacle was not the result an idea that a man had. No, like other items in the Holy Places of the tabernacle it was made exactly like the pattern the LORD had shown Moses. Its design was God given. In Hebrews 8:5 that point is taken up when he say that earthly priests served at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: "See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain." The tabernacle was designed to teach us things that are found only in heaven.
Something similar could be said of the church. The church is not a human institution. It is a God appointed assembly made up only of those who he chose in eternity. It is the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. Although some are in heaven already while others remain on earth it is sill a heavenly grouping, heaven wrought and heaven bound. This is why the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
So another thing here is to remember the God given design of the church. The blue print is in heaven as it were.
2. Consider the church of God and the call for it to shine
If we go back to verses 1-3 we see that there are two parts to what is said there.
1. There is the command
1, 2 The LORD said to Moses, Speak to Aaron and say to him, When you set up the lamps, see that all seven light up the area in front of the lampstand. The lampstand we know was on the south side of the Holy Place and the table on the north side. There were no windows and so the lampstand did the job of lighting up the area where the table was. Aaron is given the responsibility for doing this.
He is to light all seven lamps. The lampstand appears to have had one central stick and three coming out on either side, making seven in all, the number of perfection. Whether the six branches were rounded or straight we do not know you see both designs.
2. The obedience
We read in verse 3 that Aaron did so; he set up the lamps so that they faced forward on the lampstand, just as the LORD commanded Moses. That very first time it was Aaron himself who did it. At other times no doubt there were other priests involved. Aaron did, however, just as he was commanded and set up the lampstand so that it would do exactly what it was intended to do – to shed light. God had already spoken (7:89) from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law and the sacrifices were soon to begin. It was right then that the lampstand shed its light so that the bread could be put on the table and the incense on the golden altar.
Jesus himself is the Light of the world but his people are also to be lights in the world. Perhaps in terms of the lampstand we can think of the central stick as pointing to Christ and the others as sharing with him in this work. Certainly the lampstand bears light where as the lights are lights kept alight by the olive oil in them, which speaks of the work of the Spirit.
Remember Jesus's words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:13-15) You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. We are to live as children of light For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. In Ephesians 5:9-13 Paul says Live as children of light.(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible - and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.
This is an important part of Christian teaching that some are taught very young. I remember singing when I was very young “Jesus us bids us shine with a pure clear light like a little candle burning in the night”. I never quite got it as I thought the words were “Jesus bits of shine”.
Rather it is
Jesus bids us shine With a pure, clear light,
Like a little candle Burning in the night.
In this world of darkness So let us shine -
You in your small corner, And I in mine.
This is what the often mocked children's song “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam” is all about.
Jesus wants me for a sunbeam, To shine for Him each day;
In every way try to please Him, At home, at school, at play.
When I was a bit older they used to have us sing
Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning
Give me oil in my lamp, I pray
Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning
Keep me burning 'til the break of day
There was also a modern version of it
Give me batteries in my torch, keep me shining
Give me batteries in my torch, I pray
Give me batteries in my torch, keep me shining
Keep me shining 'til the break of day
(There was even a slightly irreverent chorus Ever ready, ever ready)
I used to refuse to sing it because I didn't see what it had to do with anything. I now understand that it is a reference to lamps as on this lampstand and shining for the Lord.
Spurgeon once said in a sermon
I would not give much for your religion unless it can be seen. I know some people's religion is heard of, but give me the man whose religion is seen. Lamps do not talk, but shine; a lighthouse sounds no drum, it beats no gong, and yet far over the waters its friendly spark is seen by the mariner. So let your actions shine out your religion. Let your conduct talk out your soul. Let the main sermon of your life be illustrated by all your conduct, and it shall not fail to be illustrious. Have I not told you before that the only bit of ecclesiastical history we have in the whole New Testament is—what? The sermons of the Apostles? No, no, the "Acts of the Apostles." So let your history be written, so that it may have this title - 'The acts of such-and-such a man'. This will furnish the best proof that you have been with Jesus.”
Perhaps we can say from this passage in Numbers that Christian leaders have a responsibility to keep the lamps lit, as it were, but it is important that we all shine and that is the main thing to see here. As a church we are to be a lampstand, holding Jesus high that all may benefit from seeing him. We too must lead holy lives that point to him and that show the way from darkness and sin into his Kingdom of Light. This is what we must increasingly do as individuals and together.
This is what we are designed to do. This is what all our precious privileges should lead to – shining out. In Philippians 2 Paul calls on believers to Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then he says you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold out/hold firmly to the word of life. $ The footprint of the menorah must have been quite small but it could send out light quite a way. We must be the same. Think of a lighthouse sending out its light far and wide.

Giving to the Lord

Text Numbers 7 Time 22/04/12 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
I want us to return this evening to the Book of Numbers. We come next to Chapter 7. There is clearly a break between Chapters 6 and 7 and part of the reason for that is that in Chapters 7-9 we go backwards in time. Numbers 1-6 actually deals with a time a month after Numbers 7-9. Numbers 7-9 really follows on from Exodus 40. The reason for the order is that Moses is about to describe how they set out on their journey through the desert carrying the tabernacle or tent of meeting and this chapter explains how carts and oxen were provided for the Levites to transport it.
As you can see, Numbers 7 is quite a long chapter and quite repetitive, though we only have to cast our minds back to the days before cinema and TV to see how effective a chapter like this could be when read aloud.
We are very practical people no doubt, however, and we immediately want to know what we can learn from this chapter. It is not very difficult to see what we can learn from this chapter as its theme is very obvious.
First in verses 1-9 we read how people made offerings (2) how They brought as their gifts before the LORD certain things (3) which were in turn given by Moses to the Levites.
It is the same in the rest of the chapter. We read (10) how they brought their offerings and how the LORD had said to Moses, Each day one leader is to bring his offering …. And so 12 times we read The one who brought his offering on the first day, etc. These offerings in each case included a grain offering, a burnt offering, a sin offering and a fellowship offering. At the very end we read (84) These were the offerings of the Israelite leaders … followed by more references to the various offerings and adding (88) These were the offerings, etc.
It doesn't take a genius then to work that this is a chapter about giving to the Lord. It is a description of a special offering or series of offerings that took place under the old covenant. Its lessons are relevant to the subject of giving under the new covenant in Christ.
Reports suggest that the average Christian gives much less. In America most Christians do not give regularly (only 7% do, they say). Of those who do, the average is only 3.8% of their income. I'm not sure what the situation is with us but a sermon on giving is surely not out of place. I will focus on financial giving here but there are many other ways to give as well, of course.
So I want to say two things to you

1. Consider the roots of giving to the Lord as seen here
1. Consider the worship connection
We are told that it was When Moses finished setting up the tabernacle, and had anointed and consecrated it and all its furnishings and when he had also anointed and consecrated the altar and all its utensils that the leaders of Israel, the heads of families who were the tribal leaders in charge of those who were counted, made offerings. This is the context for this act of giving. Worship is the normal context for giving. Paul speaks about it in 1 Corinthians 16:2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. It is part of our worship. That is one reason why we still pass round the bag.
Is giving part of your worship?

2. Consider the free will connection
The gifts they brought before the LORD that They presented before the tabernacle were freely given. It was their own unforced freewill offering. They waited on God to see how whether they would be accepted.
Are you freely giving to the Lord?

3. Consider the response connection
The men weren't told to do this. It was a spontaneous response. They saw the need and wanted to help. No-one forced them to it. The gifts were just what was needed as transporting the tabernacle was not going to be easy (even the silver sockets holding the frames in place weighed around 4 tons). We read that (6-9) Moses took the carts and oxen and gave them to the Levites. He gave 2 carts and 4 oxen to the Gershonites (responsible for curtains, etc, the lighter stuff), as their work required, and he gave 4 carts and 8 oxen to the Merarites, (responsible for the frames, stands, pegs, etc – the heavier stuff) as their work required. They were all under the direction of Ithamar son of Aaron, the priest. (But Moses did not give any to the Kohathites, because they were to carry on their shoulders the holy things, for which they were responsible.)
How good are you at seeing needs and responding? The church is always on the move so there are always new needs. When this church was started they did not have comfortable chairs or microphones and I don't suppose they served coffee and tea either. They certainly couldn't record the sermons and they didn't have a website. But things change and part of wisdom is to see that and to adapt wisely, the costs in money and time and energy being met by God's people who respond to the need.

2. Consider how God responds to such giving as seen here
The rest of the chapter looks a little forbidding but as one writer says it is very simple. Note
1. God receives gifts
Just as the leaders had provided carts and oxen to carry the tabernacle so now they make offerings. We read that (10, 11) When the altar was anointed, the leaders brought their offerings for its dedication and presented them before the altar. For the LORD had said to Moses, Each day one leader is to bring his offering for the dedication of the altar.
The Lord accepted them (which suggests they were brought in faith). He will receive your gifts if you give in faith.
2. God recognises those who give
The gifts were to be given day by day so that each tribe could be acknowledged individually. The tedious nature of it for us shows how each giver was recognised individually. The main offerings of those days (grain, burnt, sin and fellowship offerings) were all now offered for the very first time. The grain offering was given in a silver plate weighing 130 shekels and one silver sprinkling bowl weighing 70 shekels with a gold dish weighing 10 shekels, filled with incense.
The burnt offering or holocaust, the Shoah, acknowledged sin and symbolically brought atonement. It involved sacrificing one young bull, one ram and one male lamb a year old.
The sin offering was for specific sins or dedications and involved just one male goat.
The fellowship offering involved 2 oxen, 5 rams, 5 male goats and 5 male lambs.
The givers were 
  1. Nahshon son of Amminadab of the tribe of Judah
  2. Nethanel son of Zuar, the leader of Issachar
  3. Eliab son of Helon, the leader of the people of Zebulun
  4. Elizur son of Shedeur, the leader of the people of Reuben
  5. Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai, the leader of the people of Simeon
  6. Eliasaph son of Deuel, the leader of the people of Gad
  7. Elishama son of Ammihud, the leader of the people of Ephraim
  8. Gamaliel son of Pedahzur, the leader of the people of Manasseh
  9. Abidan son of Gideoni, the leader of the people of Benjamin
  10. Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai, the leader of the people of Dan
  11. Pagiel son of Okran, the leader of the people of Asher
  12. Ahira son of Enan, the leader of the people of Naphtali
Verses 84-86 note that they gave 2 silver plates, 12 silver sprinkling bowls and 12 gold dishes with their combined weights. It then says The total number of animals for the burnt offering came to 12 young bulls, 12 rams and 12 male lambs a year old, together with their grain offering. 12 male goats were used for the sin offering. The total number of animals for the sacrifice of the fellowship offering came to 24 oxen, 60 rams, 60 male goats and 60 male lambs a year old. These were the offerings for the dedication of the altar after it was anointed.
3. God reveals himself to those who give
The final thing to note is verse 89 which says When Moses entered the tent of meeting to speak with the LORD, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law. In this way the LORD spoke to him. It is in the light of these sacrifices which point to Christ that God speaks. Those who give not only know the joy of giving but also of God speaking.
John Currid says
The Moody Monthly once reported a story of a church in Siam (now Thailand) that was composed entirely of tithers:
"There are 400 members, and every member tithes. They receive 40 stangs (less than 20 cents [about 12p]) and their rice each week. Of this, each gives weekly one-tenth. Because of this they have more for Christian work than any other church in Siam. They pay their own pastor, and have sent two missionary families to spread the Gospel in a community cut off from the outside world. They are entirely responsible for this work and are very earnest about it. They are intensely interested in all forms of Christian work, especially work for unfortunates of every kind, and their gifts for this kind of work are large. They not only have accepted Christ but also, having found him good, are making him known to others. And every member is a leper."”
Are we good givers?