Sin and adultery and knowing the truth

Text Numbers 5:11-31 Time 01/03/12 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
I would like us to look this evening at Numbers 5:11-31. Before we begin to think about why these verses are in Scripture and what they have to teach us, we need to get clear in our minds what sort of verses they are and what they actually say.
So let's consider first what sort of Scripture this is, what it says and then what it has to teach us.
1. What sort of Scripture is this and what is it about?
This is Old Testament Scripture, of course. We can divide the Old Testament into three parts – Law, Prophets and Writings. This passage is, of course, in the part we call the Law, the first five books. It is not only in that part of the Old Testament but it is law.
In these verses we have instructions given by the LORD to Moses on what to do in a certain situation. This is what is known then as case law. Some laws are what are called apodictic laws, laws such as Do not commit adultery, do not murder. That law simply says do not murder, never murder in any circumstance. Case laws deal with what should be done in a certain situation. The situation here is slightly complicated. It applies when
Either (12-14) a man's wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him so that another man has sexual relations with her, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure
Or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure - .
If a woman committed adultery, if she went astray, if she was unfaithful, there were clear punishments under the law but here we are dealing with a case where there are no witnesses and a woman is only suspected of adultery by her husband. She may be guilty, she may be innocent. This passage is about what to do where a man is not sure about his wife. Whether it applied the other way round – a woman who suspected her husband is not clear.
2. What does this Scripture actually say?
These verses say three things.
1. What to do.
In verses 15-26 we are told what is to be done in such a situation. The jealous husband (15) is to take his wife to the priest. There are a number of things to be done at the Temple.
1 First the husband must (also) take an offering of a tenth of an ephah of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour olive oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder-offering to draw attention to wrongdoing. The addition of olive oil and incense probably stood for the joy of a grain offering but in this case it is not appropriate.
2 Then (16-18) The priest has to do a series of things.
  • He must bring the woman and have her stand before the LORD. Being before the LORD solemnises the ceremony.
  • Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. Holy water would be water consecrated to this ritual or just to God in some way, such as being from the Temple wash basin. Perhaps it is the fact the dust is from the tabernacle floor that is the important thing about that ingredient.
  • Next After having had the woman stand before the LORD, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder-offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse. Loosening the hair may be a sign of mourning. The bitter water that brings a curse is often debated. Is this water, water that tests or proves, that brings a curse, that instructs? One writer suggests water that blesses or brings a curse.
  • Then there are the words of the priest (19-22) He is to put the woman under oath and say to her, (1) If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. But (2) if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband, here the priest is to put the woman under this curse - may the LORD cause you to become a curse among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries. The woman calls down a curse on herself if she is guilty. The two parts of the curse are first - may the LORD cause you to become a curse among your people. The second is more difficult. The NIV speaks of when God makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell but literally it is when “your thigh sags” and when your abdomen swells. It is suggested that what would happen was that she would suffer first in her thigh or the part with which she committed adultery and then in her womb where a baby would normally begin to grow. It could simply refer to how the potion once drunk would prevent further intercourse and child bearing.
  • Then the woman is to say, Amen. So be it. Literally Amen, Amen.
  • Further (23, 24) The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. This is a very obvious piece of symbolism. Ink would wash from parchment quite easily. Perhaps a specific piece was kept for this purpose.
  • Finally He shall make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering will enter her. This also is full of obvious symbolism.
  • After that (25, 26) The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the LORD (that is carry it back and for in God's presence) and bring it to the altar. The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water. This is a further act of good faith suggesting innocence.
Such trials or ordeals were common in ancient times and in some cultures still survive. In Medieval England, for example, an accused man was required to take a stone from boiling water. If after three days his hand was healing he was innocent. In 19th century Madagascar there was trial by eating poisonous nuts from the tangena tree.
2. The possible outcomes
There are two possible outcomes.
1 (27) If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse.
She will not be able to have children and will be under the curse.
2 (28) If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children.
3. How it worked
In and of itself water with dust and ink in it could not produce the result described. It could only happen if God somehow intervened. Perhaps it was never used. If a woman had committed adultery and her husband proposed this she would surely be wiser to admit it and suffer the consequences of having committed adultery rather than go through with this. If she was innocent, then her very willingness to go through with it would surely be such a strong testimony to her husband that he would not need to hold her to it.
3. What does it have to teach us?
The summing up comes in verses 29-31 This, then, is the law of jealousy when a woman goes astray and makes herself impure while married to her husband, or when feelings of jealousy come over a man because he suspects his wife. The priest is to have her stand before the LORD and is to apply this entire law to her. The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin. In other ancient cultures the man would be out to death if his accusation proved false but not here.
Clearly the ritual here is no longer to be followed nor can it be. Nevertheless we are to know and consider this law and learn from it. There are a number of points to be made.
1. All sins are known to God. Sometimes they are strangely brought to light in this life, sometimes not. However, one day they will all be judged when Jesus Christ returns to judge the secrets of men according to the gospel (Romans 2:16).
2. In particular adulterers and the sexually immoral will be judged. The violate the holy vows of marriage is a great sin and highly provoking to God. It deserves to be judged and soon will be. Paul says 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 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. God will find one way or another to prove the innocence of the innocent, and to bring out the fact they really are innocent. Think of the way the discovery of DNA is now not only bringing about convictions of the guilty but also the freeing of the innocent.
4. Titus 1:15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. The same word can be, as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 2:16 To the one … an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. The same providence can be for good to some and for harm to others.

How to deal with temptations and sins

Text Numbers 5:1-10 Time 05/02/12 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We have begun to look at the book of Numbers and do far we have considered the first four chapters. Those chapters are not easy because they chiefly contain lists. However, in Numbers 5 we come to laws or rather clarifications regarding laws that have already been given and a new law. This evening we just want to look at the clarifications found in Numbers 5:1-10. The connection with the previous chapters is probably that having spoken in Chapters 3 and 4 about the priests and Levites and how they were to guard the tabernacle we now come to some important matters concerning them in relation to the people.
There are two things here. Both sections (1-4, 5-10) begin with the same phrase The LORD said to Moses. I think we need to give full weight to both parts of that sentence. It is the LORD who speaks here. This is God's Word. However, it was spoken to Moses and so it is part of the Old Covenant and with the bringing in of the new covenant many things have changed and so we need to bear that in mind as we seek to see what God wants us to learn here. There are no doubt two things at least to learn about holiness.
1. Hear God's command to exclude all the unclean and learn to avoid all that offends God
We need to say four things
1. Hear God's command here to exclude all who are unclean
In verses 1-3a we read of three sorts of people that are to be excluded from the Israelite camp - The LORD said to Moses, Command the Israelites to send away from the camp anyone who has an infectious skin disease or a discharge of any kind, or who is ceremonially unclean because of a dead body. Send away male and female alike; send them outside the camp.
This builds on a number of laws that have already been given in different places in Leviticus. The three categories are “The diseased” - the old versions refer to leprosy but most scholars today believe that the way the Hebrew term is used it must include diseases besides what we now call Hansen's disease. “Those with a discharge” - this is a little vague but would include any discharge of blood or other bodily fluid but probably it is those again with some sort of disease that are in mind. “Those who have touched a dead body”. Touching a dead animal or person incurred ceremonial uncleanness.
What the three examples have in common is that they involve communicable uncleanness. Anyone who touched such a person would themselves be ceremonially unclean. By putting such a person outside the camp that danger was averted. The matter of ceremonial uncleanness meant something and it was to be taken seriously.
As we have said many things have changed since then but the need to be serious and sensible in the face of disease is well known today. We know a lot more today about infection and contamination and the harm they can do. The same thing is true of death and ought to be when it comes to the matter of holiness, which is the subject these verses raise for us today.
2. Understand why this was to be done
The reason for this seriousness and caution as we have said was so that they will not defile their camp, and note the addition - where I dwell among them. The tabernacle of tent of meeting where God visibly dwelt was there among the people have we seen, right at the centre and it was important that they remember that. God was there! The camp, therefore, was to be holy. It was to be a special place.
Something similar can be said about churches today. When we meet and not only when we meet God is in the midst. We must take very seriously the need to be holy, therefore. We ourselves must take care to be holy and we must be careful too not to cause others harm, even inadvertently, by a thoughtless word or action. We are to be a holy people.
3. Notice how the Israelites were quick to obey this command
There is an emphasis on the obedience of the Israelites in this matter in verse 4. It says The Israelites did this; they sent them outside the camp. They did just as the LORD had instructed Moses. It would have been enough perhaps to have said The Israelites did this; or if that was not clear to say The Israelites did this; they sent them outside the camp. But it is They did this; they sent them outside the camp. They did just as the LORD had instructed Moses.
Again they are an example to us of prompt and thorough obedience.
4. Learn to avoid all that offends God
Although the concept of ceremonial uncleanness has been done away with in Christ there are still things to learn here. We need to remember that God is with us and he expects us to be holy. We need to get rid of anything in our lives then that is going to lead us into sin. We need to look at our lives and consider how we live.
Is there anything in my life that is making it more likely for me to sin or for me to lead others into sin. What about the job I do? What about studying and the way I go about it – is that leading me into sin in some way? The sort of work or study it is, the hours it takes, the sort of people it brings me into contact with? What about my patterns of rest and sleep? Am I going to bed too late? Am I getting up too late? Am I taking time to relax? And what about my leisure time? Is there too much TV or the wrong sort of TV? What about what I read or how I use the computer? How am I using the Lord's Day? Am I getting the most out of it? We absolutely must get rid of anything that is likely to lead us into sin or to offend God or that will lead others into sin.
Of course, a Christian cannot see the phrase outside the camp without thinking of the point that the writer to the Hebrews makes – that it was outside the city gate that Christ died. Under the curse of God he was crucified outside the camp. He says, therefore, Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. This is to apply the idea in a different way – outside the camp is the place of shame and disgrace. It is not where the world thinks it is at – but this is the place to be.
2. Hear God's words on what to do when you sin against another and learn to deal with sin
The second section here repeats a law found in Leviticus 6 but with some elaboration. There are three things to say
1. Listen to God's words about wronging another here
There are three things under this first heading.
1 Recognise that we sometimes wrong each other
In verses 5 and 6a it begins The LORD said to Moses, Say to the Israelites When a man or woman wrongs another in any way. In fact it could be more general than that. It could be “When a man or woman does wrong as men do in any way”. Whichever way we take it the subject is sin and probably it is the sin of stealing that is chiefly in mind. We are reminded that although we are not subject to ceremonial uncleanness in the way people once were we are still able to sin as they were able to do then. If it was easy to be ceremonial unclean – just touch a dead body or have some bodily discharge – so it is always easy to fall into sin. We should not but how often we do. Such sin must be dealt with.
2 Realise that is unfaithfulness to the Lord
When we sin it is not just against others and against ourselves but as it says here when someone sins they are thus unfaithful to the LORD. It is unfaithfulness to the Lord for those who are bound to him in covenant especially are failing him when they sin. They are being unfaithful. When we sin then we must see this dimension – it is also against God.
3 Understand that such sins incur guilt
It says of such a person that person is guilty. We cannot say “well, we all sin, it is just one of those things”. No, we must see that we incur guilt when we sin. We are guilty. Our consciences testify against us. We are not innocent.
Do you see that? Because you have sinned you are guilty. You know that you deserve punishment.
2. Notice what is to be done in such a situation and how that applies to us today
The second thing is about what the guilty must do. There are at least two things here.
1 There must be confession
7a and must confess the sin he has committed. You have to own up. Even if no-one else knows you are guilty you have to confess. You have to acknowledge that you have sinned.
When you sin do you confess it? Do you own up. I don't think this means that we have to tell everyone everything we have ever done wrong but it does mean we cannot deny our sin and must be frank about our guilt.
2 There must be restitution and more
More than that He must make full restitution for his wrong, add one fifth to it and give it all to the person he has wronged. We are used to hearing about guilt and confession but we hear a lot less about restitution and potting things right. It is not enough just to confess sin we need to do something to put things right. So if you steal something you must give it back and more, if you are unkind in some way then you must make it up to the person and more. There must be restitution and compensation. Under the law this is set down as 20% extra. We are no longer under such a law but we must do something to put things right. You have upset someone – you must help put that right, you have been guilty of adultery, say, you must not only confess your sin but somehow try to pay back the one you have wronged.
3. Consider what to do when restitution cannot be made
In verse 8 a situation is envisaged where restitution cannot be made – either because that person is dead or perhaps because they are in some position where they cannot easily receive a gift (in slavery say). But if that person has no close relative to whom restitution can be made for the wrong, it says, the restitution belongs to the LORD and must be given to the priest, along with the ram with which atonement is made for him. A sacrifice must be made anyway but in addition something is to be given to the Levitical priest. Verse 9 and 10 add that All the sacred contributions the Israelites bring to a priest will belong to him. Each man's sacred gifts are his own, but what he gives to the priest will belong to the priest. That is not of so much interest to us as the Levitical priesthood has been superseded with the coming of Christ. The principle still stands, however, that where we cannot make restitution to an individual we can still make it to God quite apart from our need to trust in the sacrifice of Christ for forgiveness.
So whereas in many cases restitution can be made to a person – the parents you disobeyed (if they are still living), if still living - the person you stole from, the child man may have abused, the person you lied to, where that person is no longer alive or you have no contact with them you can nevertheless pay it back to the Lord as it were. So say a man looks at pornography. He is unlikely to be able to find those people an make restitution to them but he can do it to the Lord. If he has been lazy, say, and there is no-one in particular that has harmed he can nevertheless make restitution in Christ to God.
Here is something to think about then. Am I guilty of a sin? If so, confess it to God and, where appropriate, before others. Don't stop there, where you can, make it up to those you have sinned against and more. If it is not so much individuals who you have direct contact with then do it to the Lord by giving to him – time, energy, money, etc.
So we are saying firstly that we must keep out of our lives all that is displeasing to God. When we do sin we must not only confess it and trust in Christ's sacrifice on the cross for forgiveness but we must also make some effort to make restitution and do some more – if we cannot make it up to individuals we can at least do it before God.

Saved for service

Text Numbers 3, 4 Time 29/01/12 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
I want us to look this evening at Numbers 3 and 4. Now once again, as in the first two chapters, the material looks quite unpromising. It appears to be just another list of names and such like but just as with the first two chapters there were things to learn such as remembering that God is in our midst and that God's people are on the move and need discipline and order, so there are lessons to learn here too.
In the previous two chapters, the Tribe of Levi has been pretty much left out of the reckoning because they were the priestly tribe. Now in these two chapters they come into their own and we are told the important role that they had in connection with the tabernacle or tent of meeting where God was worshipped. First, we have some background then the names and the duties with something on the redemption of the first born in 3:40-51. We want to say three things from these chapters
1. Consider sin – its judgement and forgiveness
The chapter begins by talking about Aaron and Moses and their immediate family. The Levites were the priestly tribe and they were all to serve in the Temple in some way or as priests of some sort. As the old adage goes “All priests are Levites but not all Levites are priests”. Within Levi there was the priestly family from which the High Priest himself, Aaron and his successors, were to come. So Moses writes (1-40) This is the account of the family of Aaron and Moses at the time the LORD talked with Moses on Mount Sinai. This is a brief genealogy or family tree then. The names of the sons of Aaron were Nadab the firstborn and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. Those were the names of Aaron's sons, the anointed priests, who were ordained to serve as priests. But then he has to remind us of something that we can read about back in Leviticus 10. In part it prepares us for what we read later in Numbers 16 of Korah's rebellion. Nadab and Abihu, however, fell dead before the LORD when they made an offering with unauthorised fire before him in the Desert of Sinai. They had no sons; so only Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests during the lifetime of their father Aaron.
It is quite a shocking story. The way that it is written up in Leviticus suggests that the men got drunk and that is partly why they did what they did but that is not an excuse - rather a warning to us all of the danger of alcohol or of any other kind of drug. What they did was to offer unauthorised fire on God's altar. God himself has lit the fire on that altar and it was not for them to add to it, as they clearly did. The punishment was that God struck them dead. They thought they could add something to what God was doing but we cannot add or subtract or tinker with the worship of God without putting ourselves in danger of his wrath. We may think God was harsh here but if we do we fail to see how important right worship God is. Just because God has overlooked such sins many times should not blind us to the fact that such blasphemy deserves his judgement every time. The Lord often chooses to make an example of transgressors right at the beginning of something or at some crucial moment. When we think of Nadab and Abihu we remember too Uzzah in David's time who was struck dead for touching the ark and of how in the New Testament Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead when they lied to the Holy Spirit in the early days of the church (Acts 5).
So let's remind ourselves of
1. Sin's judgement. In this case Nadab and Abihu suffered immediate judgement for their sin. It's not always like that. We must not forget though that every sin will be judged. Jesus reminds us that even our idle words will be judged. Nothing escapes God's attention. If we do not repent and find forgiveness, we too will be judged like these men.
2. Sin's universality. It is perhaps discouraging to think that right at the beginning two apparently holy men set apart to priesthood should fall into sin so quickly and so easily. Sadly, sin can often be found at the very heart of the most holy places. We must not assume that because a man is a priest or a minister he cannot sin. No, even the most holy sin and even those who make the highest claims to holiness can fall into open sin. Such sin must be judged. As Peter say (1 Peter 4:17) It is time for judgement to begin with the family of God. James reminds us (3:1) how those who teach will be judged more strictly. We know that many will claim to know Jesus but on that final day he will tell them he never knew them. Let's assume nothing about ourselves but be ready to be judged.
3. Sin's consequences. That phrase They had no sons is easily missed but it is new information. What a tragedy! Not only were they killed but their family line was cut off too. Sin has consequences. We ought to remember that too.
Sin, however, can be dealt with and does not have to have its devastating effects. The Levitical system was designed to demonstrate this very fact in vivid form. And so in 3:14-39 we are told how The LORD said to Moses in the Desert of Sinai, Count the Levites by their families and clans. Count every male a month old or more. He counted them, as he was commanded by the word of the LORD. We then have the names in verses 17ff. Levi's sons were Gershon, Kohath and Merari and so these were the three main divisions.
In verse 39 we read that The total number of Levites counted at the LORD's command by Moses and Aaron according to their clans, including every male a month old or more, was 22,000.
Before that we are told the numbers of each clan:
Gershonite clans, … 7,500. The Gershonite clans were to camp on the west, behind the tabernacle … At the Tent of Meeting the Gershonites were responsible for the care of the tabernacle and tent, its coverings, the curtain at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, the curtains of the courtyard, the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard surrounding the tabernacle and altar, and the ropes - and everything related to their use.
Kohathite clans … 8,600. The Kohathites were responsible for the care of the sanctuary. The Kohathite clans were to camp on the south side of the tabernacle. … They were responsible for the care of the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the articles of the sanctuary used in ministering, the curtain, and everything related to their use.
Merarite clans … 6,200 … they were to camp on the north side of the tabernacle. The Merarites were appointed to take care of the frames of the tabernacle, its crossbars, posts, bases, all its equipment, and everything related to their use, as well as the posts of the surrounding courtyard with their bases, tent pegs and ropes.
Finally we are told that Moses and Aaron and his sons were to camp to the east of the tabernacle, towards the sunrise, in front of the Tent of Meeting. They were responsible for the care of the sanctuary on behalf of the Israelites. And then we have this ominous word again Anyone else who approached the sanctuary was to be put to death. Matthew Henry says that the Jews had this verse inscribed on a golden sword that was hung at the entrance to the Temple in later times.
Sins can all be forgiven but they have to be forgiven in God's way. He is the one who provides the way to forgiveness.
2. Consider God's love and redemption
In the rest of Chapter 3 (5-13, 40-51) we learn about how God set the Levites apart to himself and how they then served to symbolically redeem the whole of Israel. There are very important concepts here that come up elsewhere in the Bible and that are important for us to understand.
1. Belonging to the Lord as the firstborn
In verses 5-13 we hear how The LORD said to Moses, Bring the tribe of Levi and present them to Aaron the priest to assist him. That is their work They are to perform duties for him and for the whole community at the Tent of Meeting by doing the work of the tabernacle. They are to take care of all the furnishings of the Tent of Meeting, fulfilling the obligations of the Israelites by doing the work of the tabernacle. It is on their behalf that they work. Give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to him. They are under his supervision. Appoint Aaron and his sons to serve as priests; anyone else who approaches the sanctuary must be put to death. This is because as the LORD also says (12ff) I have taken the Levites from among the Israelites in place of the first male offspring of every Israelite woman. The Levites are mine, for all the firstborn are mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set apart for myself every firstborn in Israel, whether man or animal. They are to be mine. I am the LORD.
You see the logic – when God struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, he set apart for myself every firstborn in Israel, whether man or animal. At some point the Levites were chosen in their place. This choosing of the first born implies an unbreakable covenant love. That is why Jesus is spoken of as the firstborn and in Hebrews 12:23 it speaks of believers as the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. The firstborn is a favoured son in biblical culture. (Think of Joseph who is singled out as such by Jacob). Here we see symbolically how God sets his firstborn aside to himself to serve him. Under the new covenant we are all priests of that sort.
2. Redemption
Later in the chapter (40-51) the subject of redemption comes up. There Moses is told to Count all the firstborn Israelite males who are a month old or more and make a list of their names. He is also to Take the Levites for me in place of all the firstborn of the Israelites, and the livestock of the Levites in place of all the firstborn of the livestock of the Israelites. I am the LORD. So Moses does this and finds (43) that The total number of firstborn males a month old or more, listed by name, was 22,273. That is 273 more than the number of Levites. The same thing is done with the animals. Moses is then told (46) To redeem the 273 firstborn Israelites who exceed the number of the Levites, he is to collect five shekels for each one, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. He is then to Give the money for the redemption of the additional Israelites to Aaron and his sons. This Moses does as commanded. And so the idea of redemption and paying a ransom is brought out very clearly. It involves substitution. Of course, when we come to the New Testament we learn that Jesus is the Great Redeemer it is the payment of his precious blood that secures salvation for all who trust in hum.
God claims every Christian and all that he owns (the animals too). As Paul reminds the Corinthians you are not your own, you have been bought with a price.
3. Consider working as a team
In Chapter 4 you have the census of the three divisions of Levi and their work. Obviously things are very differently organised today and the work is very different. Nevertheless there are lesson to learn about serving the Lord. Not the least is the need to work together.
1. Maturity is important for effective service
Verses 3, 23, 30 Count all the men from thirty to fifty years of age who come to serve in the work in the Tent of Meeting.
2. We must be ready for spiritual warfare
This is still a census of fighting men. The word used for service implies that. They serve the war effort but by a different means. We too are in a war – a spiritual war and we need to be ready for that.
3. The greatest care should be taken with the things of God
See verse 6 Then they are to cover this with hides of sea cows, spread a cloth of solid blue over that and put the poles in place. 12 They are to take all the articles used for ministering in the sanctuary, wrap them in a blue cloth, cover that with hides of sea cows and put them on a carrying frame.
What care. We can't be casual or careless when it comes to anything to do with God. Things must be done in order and according to the order.
4. God's people are to value the ministry as God's gift
Another lesson. Verses 17-20 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, See that the Kohathite tribal clans are not cut off from the Levites. How could that happen? So that they may live and not die when they come near the most holy things, do this for them: Aaron and his sons are to go into the sanctuary and assign to each man his work and what he is to carry. But the Kohathites must not go in to look at the holy things, even for a moment, or they will die.
The lesson here is that there must be care over such holy things. We must see where there is danger to others and take care not to expose them to that danger. What affect is this going to happen on the other person? We could say more but time is gone.
5. Do not forget the open access to God that we now have
How easy it is for us today. You may be thinking to yourself I don't really follow of this - Levites and altars, etc. Well, don't worry, we no longer need to know such details. Christ has done it all for us and Christianity is the easiest religion in the world. God is full of grace to all who trust in him.
6. Look at the example of teamwork and interdependence seen here.
Each man had a job to do and each man did it. That was how it was. That is how it should be with us too. See 1 Corinthians 12.

Learning from how Israel was commanded to camp

Text Numbers 2 Time 22/01/12 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We began to look last week at the Book of Numbers. As we said then the book takes up where the book of Exodus ends. Its other name in Hebrew is "And he said" reminding us that it carries on with the narrative.
Exodus takes us from the birth of Moses in Egypt where the people of God were in slavery to their miraculous exodus from that place into the desert where they meet with God and receive his Law. Numbers covers the period immediately after the receiving of these commands at Sinai and the setting up of the tabernacle, where God was to be worshipped in their midst. The book begins with the numbering of the people and preparations for resuming their journey. The journey then is begun but is marked by a series of complaints and punishments. They arrive at the borders of Canaan and send in spies but their pessimistic report results in a refusal to take possession of Canaan and so they are condemned to death in the wilderness until a new generation grows up to carry out the task. The book ends with that new generation in the plain of Moab ready to cross the Jordan.
In many ways this collection of people was in constant danger of turning into a rabble but they were not to march through the desert willy nilly just as they pleased. Rather there was a place for everyone and everyone was to be in their place just as God dictated. This group of people was to be an army and a congregation of God's people and such a calling demands order and organisation. Like Chapter 1, which records the census of the time, Chapter 2 may look a little unpromising as a help for living in the 21st Century as it contains chiefly another sort of list, this time the order in which they were to camp and to travel through the desert. Nevertheless, a careful consideration will reveal some possibly obvious but nevertheless important lessons. So
1. God's people are on the move
The Chapter opens with these words The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: The Israelites are to camp round the Tent of Meeting some distance from it, each man under his standard with the banners of his family.
The plan that follows is not like a plan for a housing estate but for a mobile unit that camps and then moves on. Now this fact is important. These people were camping but on their way to somewhere else — to the Promised land. We too as believers are encouraged to live as aliens and strangers, as those who have no enduring city here but who are looking forward to the city to come. So we say
  1. We must keep pressing on towards the goal. We are passing through. We are on a journey. Lots of people like to speak in those terms today. But the thing with us is that we are pressing on to a specific goal — heaven itself Israel's goal was the Promised Land and ours is the heaven it in some ways stands for. So (1) we're going somewhere and everything must be bent to that end and (2) we don't belong here any more than Israel belonged in the desert. No, we're passing through.
  2. We must be focused on the Lord. It is clearly not without significance that part of the plan was that Israel should camp round the Tent of Meeting some distance from it and even when they marched it was to be in the midst. Thus they learned to keep their focus on God. Imagine how every day they would wake and go outside their tents and there it was just a little distance away — the Lord's holy tabernacle. No we need to organise our week so that the same sort of thing happens. Each week should begin with worship with God's people if we can. Each day should begin if at all possible with the Word and prayer. Put your Bible where you can see it when you wake up if that helps. One reason we have a big Bible at the front is to stress that point. Keep a Bible on the dining room table where the family read the Word perhaps. Here's a good reason why churches should be at the centre of communities not tucked away in a corner somewhere.
  3. We must work as a team. This is another legitimate lesson. They were to camp each man under his standard with the banners of his family. The standard was the flag or something similar, each quite distinctive no doubt, under which each tribe was to gather. Each division within the tribe was also to gather under certain banners. What a sight it must have been. Just as our bodies have been designed so that they co-ordinate and are most useful to us so here there was an order that involved different people having different task, different responsibilities, a different order. It was important that each one played his part and so it is in the life of the church, as the New Testament spells out in more than one place.
2. God's people are to be mobile and must keep disciplined order
In verse 3-32 Moses tells us just exactly how the tribes were arranged when they set out. We begin in the east, where the sun rises at the start of each day. There the divisions of the camp of Judah were to encamp under their standard with their leader Nahshon son of Amminadab. As we already know there were 74,600. With them (either side?) was to be Issachar under Nethanel son of Zuar … 54,400. Then Zebulun under Eliab son of Helon 57,400. Verse 9 says that All the men assigned to the camp of Judah, according to their divisions, number 186,400. They will set out first.
Next on the south comes Reuben ... 46,500; Simeon ... 59,300 and Gad ... 45,650. 16 All the men assigned to the camp of Reuben, according to their divisions, number 151,450. They will set out second.
Then we read in verse 17 that the Tent of Meeting and the camp of the Levites will set out in the middle of the camps. They will set out in the same order as they encamp, each in his own place under his standard.
They in turn will be followed by the sons of Rachel On the west ... Ephraim (40,500) ... Manasseh (32,200) and Benjamin (35,400) 108,100 altogether.
Last On the north comes Dan (62,700) ... Asher (41,500) ... and Naphtali (53,400). 157,600 altogether.
Verse 32 concludes These are the Israelites, counted according to their families. All those in the camps, by their divisions, number 603,550.
It would seem that the order is intended to optimise co-operation and minimise potential conflicts. By now Judah is being recognised as the leading tribe so they are first. That cannot be without significance. It is the Lion of the tribe of Judah who saves — the Lord Jesus Christ who was descended from Judah. Rather than trying to put with them Reuben and Simeon, who had lost their place as Jacob had prophesied, the lesser tribes of Zebulun and Issachar are with Judah and Gad is drawn up to accompany Reuben and Simeon who are meanwhile appropriately near Levi. The sons of Rachel then lead the second half and the sons of the handmaidens bring up the rear end, Dan the first born leading the two others.
The general lesson here is that God is a God of order and orderliness is important in every sphere of life — from order in an order of service at church to keeping order and tidiness in the way we order our private worlds. In the church we are to learn, in Irving Jensen's terms, to keep our places ... to recognise our dependency on others ... to keep our eyes on the standards ...and to listen to the leaders. What blessing we might know if we could just do that. Don't forget to look above all to Jesus Christ as our Leader.
3. The importance of ministry among God's people
The penultimate verse speaks about the Levites (33) The Levites, however, were not counted along with the other Israelites, as the LORD commanded Moses.
This reminds us of
1. God's special purpose for his people. These Levites were mediators between God and man. By their sacrifices they found a way to God for the people as instructed. They symbolised the presence of God among his people. We have no priesthood as such today but God's presence and the mediating work of Christ are things we must never forget but always keep at the forefront of our thinking.
2. Judgement and grace. Further, the people with the Levites in their midst were going to bring God's judgement on the Canaanites while they themselves knew God's mercy and grace.
That's how it is now too. In the New Testament (2 Corinthians 2:15-17) Paul says For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.
Don't miss that reminder of the importance of obedience in the final verse So the Israelites did everything the LORD commanded Moses; that is the way they encamped under their standards, and that is the way they set out, each with his clan and family.

Lessons from the first census in the desert

Text Numbers 1 Time 15/01/12 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
I would like us this evening to begin looking at the Book of Numbers, the fourth book of the Bible. It is a little off putting as in Chapter 1 and other places the main thing we find is a list of names and numbers or something similar - hence the name – one writer suggests that it is the name that puts people off. It also covers the period when the Israelites were in the desert (one of its names in Hebrew is “in the desert”) and that may put people off too.
I don't think we should be put off, however. This is still part of God's inspired and infallible Word and it has important lessons to teach us about faith, holiness and commitment and other matters too. This is the book that also includes many famous stories such as the lifting up of the bronze serpent, Moses raising his hands so that Joshua and the army below prevail over the Amalekites and the story of Balaam and Balak.
Leviticus comes between but the Book of Numbers takes up where the book of Exodus ends. Its other name in Hebrew is “And he said” reminding us that it carries on with the narrative. Exodus takes us from the birth of Moses in Egypt where the people of God were in slavery to their miraculous exodus from that place into the desert where they meet with God and receive his Law. Numbers covers the period immediately after the receiving of these commands at Sinai and the setting up of the tabernacle, where God was to be worshipped in their midst. The book begins with the numbering of the people and preparations for resuming their journey. The journey then is begun but is marked by a series of complaints and punishments. They arrive at the borders of Canaan and send in spies but their pessimistic report results in a refusal to take possession of Canaan and so they are condemned to death in the wilderness until a new generation grows up to carry out the task. The book ends with that new generation in the plain of Moab ready to cross the Jordan. Some suggest it lacks structure but in his commentary John Currid convincingly suggests that it contains a series of narratives and laws with the references to the tabernacle at the centre in Chapter 16 and 17. With six sections before and six after that, the pattern reflects the way Israel would camp around the tabernacle as noted in Chapter 2.
So Chapter 1. Some of you will remember that earlier on last year the government was taking a census, as it does every ten years. Remember the mauve Household Questionnaire? It is not easy to organise such things and it takes quite a bit of time and money. Governments find it useful, however, to have accurate information on population and similar matters in order to plan for the future. Now at the beginning of Numbers we have a census. Unlike a UK census, this census is not concerned to number every single person but one would guess that there were about two million present. With smaller numbers and everyone being in one place it was easier to conduct than ours are but it would not have been that easy. What I want us to do this evening is to look at it and what we are told about it and draw out a number of lessons.
1. Learn about the ways of God
The book begins with this statement The LORD spoke to Moses in the Tent of Meeting in the Desert of Sinai on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Israelites came out of Egypt. He said: Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one. You and Aaron are to number by their divisions all the men in Israel twenty years old or more who are able to serve in the army. One man from each tribe, each the head of his family, is to help you. We are then given the names of the heads of each of the tribes, those from each tribe who helped Moses and Aaron (5-16). The tribes are given in order of the sons of Israel – first Leah's sons then Rachel's then those of the handmaidens. Gad moves place later on for some reason that is not clear. There are at least three lessons to learn about God.
1. Learn about God's sovereign power
We were thinking a few weeks ago about the decree of Caesar Augustus commanding a census in Syria around the time when Jesus was born. Augustus was able to command a census because he was the sovereign power over the Roman World. At the very least God's call for a census of his people was a reminder of who was in control, who was the sovereign power. It wasn't Moses. It wasn't one of the rebellious groups of Israelites that rose up from time to time. It was God himself.
The sovereignty of God is one of those truths we need to keep coming back to, reminding ourselves who is in control.
2. Learn about God's love
God is not just like a sovereign commanding his people to stand up and be counted, he is also like a shepherd counting his sheep, like a mother of father checking that everyone is present. This census speaks of his love for his people as a company and as individuals. It reminds us of the Book of Life itself where the name of all the elect are found.
We have spoken already today about the love of god. It is a fundamental truth never to be forgotten.
3. Learn about God's faithfulness
The census was also a reminder of God's covenant faithfulness. God had made his covenant with Abraham and then with Isaac and Jacob. When Jacob went down into Egypt they numbered about 70. They weren't a nation or people just a rather large family. Now some 400 or so years later they were a people a nation about two million strong. It was a testimony to God's faithfulness over the years. They were once not a people but now they were the people of God. That faithfulness continues to this very day and is something we can always count on. He will never fail his people. He keeps all his promises.
2. Learn about walking with God
We are then told from verse 17 about the carrying out of the census. Moses and Aaron took these men whose names had been given, and they called the whole community together on the first day of the second month. The people indicated their ancestry by their clans and families, and the men twenty years old or more were listed by name, one by one, as the LORD commanded Moses. And so he counted them in the Desert of Sinai.
We are not told how long it took but it must have been less than 20 days as they left then (10:11). They soon they had the numbers anyway (20-43) for each of the tribes All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, one by one, according to the records of their clans and families.
 
21 The number from the tribe of Reuben was 46,500. 23 The number from the tribe of Simeon was 59,300. 25 The number from the tribe of Gad was 45,650 27 The number from the tribe of Judah was 74,600 29 The number from the tribe of Issachar was 54,400 31 The number from the tribe of Zebulun was 57,400 33 The number from the tribe of Ephraim was 40,500. 35 The number from the tribe of Manasseh was 32,200 37 The number from the tribe of Benjamin was 35,400. 39 The number from the tribe of Dan was 62,700 41 The number from the tribe of Asher was 41,500. 43 The number from the tribe of Naphtali was 53,400.
 
Then in verses 44-46 Moses sums up These were the men counted by Moses and Aaron and the twelve leaders of Israel, each one representing his family. All the Israelites twenty years old or more who were able to serve in Israel's army were counted according to their families. The total number was 603,550.
Again there are lessons to learn, lessons we may say about walking with God. The lessons are these
1. Recognise that there is fighting to be done
You notice that not everyone is counted in this census but only the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army. In the Ancient Near East 20 was a typical military age. There was fighting to be done. The Canaanites were not simply going to stand a side as Israel marched in and took their land. They would need to fight and even in this book we read about fighting, although the real fight begins in Joshua and Judges. Now, of course, today God's nation does not advance by means of physical fighting. However, there are spiritual battles to be fought and the New Testament often takes up that picture to speak about living the Christian life. Paul urges us in Ephesians 6 to put on the whole armour of God which he carefully describes and speaks of fighting the good fight of faith or using weapons that are not the weapons of this world but that can demolish arguments and pretensions and so on.
So here is another important reminder. We are in a war and we need to be ready to fight. The Christian life is not a picnic it is a battleground. Be on guard. Quit yourselves as men.
2. Recognise God's providential blessing
There is probably something to be learned from these numbers too. You notice that they range from as few as 32, 300 to as many as 74, 600. The sheer variation is reminder of God's providence. A single couple may produce many grandchildren and great grand children, etc, or they may produce very few or none. The main factor here is God's providence in ability to conceive, live birth and later longevity.
The biggest tribe is Judah, which is no surprise to those of us who know that was Jesus's tribe and the tribe of whom Jacob had said (Genesis 49:8-10)
Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons will bow down to you. You are a lion's cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness - who dares to rouse him? The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.
The next tribe in size is Dan (63, 700) but we should remember that Ephraim and Manasseh both spring from Joseph and so if you combine their relatively low totals (40,500 and 32,200) you get 72, 700. As Jacob had seen Joseph was to prove a fruitful vine.
So here are some reminders of God's providence and some hints of how God works in history so that certain people and certain families are more of a blessing than others.
3. Recognise our need of God's grace
The other thing to note here perhaps is that these 603,550 represent about two million. Some scoff at these large numbers and point out that Sinai is a desert area anyway. It is impossible they claim first that so many people could have come from just twelve men and try to explain it by saying that the figures are wrong or that thousand just means “unit” (eg of 500). They also raise questions over how many could be sustained in such a place. But they are forgetting the power of God and the miraculous way he provided the water and quails and manna that the people were enjoying at that time. They forget that, as Calvin says, “the intention of the Spirit is to represent to our eyes the incredible power of God in a conspicuous and signal miracle”. If we forget that not only will we get nothing from this passage but we will also fail to live by faith as we are expected too. Israel's problem was that they found it so hard to simply depend on God. We find it hard too but it is our only hope.
3. Learn about worshipping God
In verse 47ff we learn that The families of the tribe of Levi, however, were not counted along with the others. Rather The LORD had said to Moses: You must not count the tribe of Levi or include them in the census of the other Israelites. Instead, appoint the Levites to be in charge of the tabernacle of the Testimony (tabernacle means place of dwelling ie where God dwelled; testimony refers to the 10 Commandments in the ark in the tabernacle) - over all its furnishings and everything belonging to it. They are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings; they are to take care of it and encamp round it. That was their work. They were not involved in the ordinary fighting but they were required to encamp around the tabernacle and guard it. Whenever they would move it was the Levites job to take down the tabernacle, to carry it and then to re-erect to wherever they came next. No-one else must do it on pain of death, no outsider or unauthorised person.
Verses 52 and 53 explain further The Israelites are to set up their tents by divisions, each man in his own camp under his own standard. The Levites, however, are to set up their tents round the tabernacle of the Testimony so that wrath will not fall on the Israelite community. The Levites are to be responsible for the care of the tabernacle of the Testimony.
Again it is all a very long time ago in a very different setting but again there are lessons we can learn
1. Remember the presence of God
The tabernacle served to very visibly remind the people that the holy God was in their midst. Again much has changed since then but the tabernacle was always intended to point forward to Jesus Christ, Emmanuel or God with us, the one who is among us this very night by his Spirit. Just as they had to be very careful how they conducted themselves so do we for God is holy and a God of wrath and he must be worshipped as he demands not as we may happen to think he ought to be worshipped.
2. Remember the need for mediation
The very existence of a priesthood was a reminder of the need of mediation. Yes, God desired their worship but they could only draw near in the ways he had set down and through the High Priest Aaron and the help of the Levitical priesthood. Now just as the tabernacle is fulfilled in Christ so the priesthood is fulfilled chiefly in Christ. He is the One Mediator between man and God. The only way to the Father is through the Son. At the same time whereas in Israel the priests came from only one tribe not all twelve in Christ every believe, man or woman, boy or girl, is his own priest and can come to god through Christ himself. Further we all benefit from those who minister the Word to us in Christ (those who guard the worship and serve, those who in Paul's words Romans 15:20 – engage in the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God) for which we should be thankful.
3. Remember the humbling nature of worship
Perhaps we can also note the history of the tribe of Levi. You may remember that it was Levi and Simeon who in an attempt to avenge their sister committed a bloodthirsty claim against the Shechemites. This had led to the prophecy that they would be scattered in Israel. In Simeon's case that was fulfilled in Israel in that their towns were scattered throughout Judah. As for Levi, it was perhaps because they rallied to Moses at Sinai when Israel was in rebellion that they were made priests. Certainly they were made the priestly tribe (rather the eldest in each house being priest) which is a great privilege but later involved being scattered in Israel as they had to live in priestly towns all over the country. Even her their taking care of the tabernacle is spoken of as ministry that is serving or ministering. And so though there was some pride, perhaps, in being a Levite, there was some humiliation too, given the history. Being a Christian is like that too. Being a Christian is a little like that. Yes, it is a glorious thing but it begins by confessing your sin and humbling yourself before God.
4. Learn about obedience to God
Don't miss that final verse 54 The Israelites did all this just as the LORD commanded Moses. They did it without hesitation or reservation. Obedience to God is always a good thing and here we have an example of it, one that is to be followed. For us it is not taking a census but many other equally mundane and sometimes challenging things. Let's do as we are commanded.

Memorial Service Ravaka Rajo

Text Isaiah 6 Time 06/07/13 Place Trinity Road Chapel, Tooting
(Ravaka Rajo was a Malagas pastor and Seminary Director who died at t he end of April in Madagascar after being it by a motorcycle)
I count it a privilege and an honour to preach here this afternoon. I only knew Ravaka for a relatively brief few years of what was a sadly short life. I never saw him in his native Madagascar and so he was always at a disadvantage, especially in those early months when someone like me would chat away in English and Ravaka would endeavour to keep up in what I suppose was his third language. Even in that short time we recognised that here was a man of God, a gentle and quiet man in many ways but one whose great desire was first and foremost to serve the Lord. From our limited human viewpoint it seems a great tragedy that he should die so young.
Reference has already been made to Philippians 1:21. Certainly it is very important that we are all clear that for Ravaka to live was Christ – it was all about Jesus Christ. His death, of course, is gain for him because he is now with Christ forever. We all need to know Christ and trust in him and then when we die it may be loss to others but it will be gain to us.
When I knew I was to speak here today, however, my mind immediately went to a Scripture that I thought would be a help to us this afternoon as we reflect on our loss. My mind went to Isaiah Chapter 6. Let me read that short chapter to you now.
1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another: Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory. 4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5 Woe to me! I cried. I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty. 6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for. 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? And I said, Here am I. Send me! 9 He said, Go and tell this people: Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. 10 Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed. 11 Then I said, For how long, O Lord?And he answered: Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, 12 until the LORD has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken. 13 And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.

Now from these verses I want to say three things to you

1. Something about Ravaka - a great one has died and left us
The words that drew me to this chapter were the ones with which it opens. The chapter begins In the year that King Uzziah died. King Uzziah (or Azariah) was one of the good kings of Israel and Judah and although he made mistakes he was a godly man and a good leader. He has been called the most prosperous king, excepting Jehoshaphat, since the time of Solomon and he gave hope to people like the prophet Isaiah who were eager to see God honoured. His reign lasted some 52 years and we can be sure that Isaiah had never known any other king. But at last he died. Isaiah felt devastated.
I don't think it is difficult for some today to identify with that situation. Ravaka was no king, of course, but he was your king, Liz; your husband and protector, and he was a king to Anna and Jonathan, a gentle and loving lord over them. Pastors are not kings, either, but he was a good shepherd to the church in Antsirabe and not only that, the new Principal of the seminary as well. And now, and at a much younger age than Uzziah, he has been taken. This is the year that the Principal died, the pastor died, the husband died, the father died …. To feel devastated, especially when we consider how suddenly it has happened, is not wrong. It is perfectly understandable.

2. Something about Ravaka's God – a greater one is still on his throne
So what did Isaiah do when he heard his king had died? I think it is clear from this chapter that he did exactly what we are trying to do today. Isaiah went to the Temple of God there in Jerusalem. He went to the place where he could meet with God. We are not under the Old Testament law, of course, and there is no Temple. Jesus has come. He is our Temple. But we have agreed to meet together like this and to seek God. Isaiah tells us in verse I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Uzziah was no longer on his throne. Ravaka has gone from us. He cannot be a husband, a father, a pastor, a Principal, a denominational leader as he once was. We wonder why it should happen in the way it has. But make no mistake God is still on his throne. He is still in control. He is seated on a throne, high and exalted, and although the most Isaiah or we can see is the train of his robe, it is enough. We know he is in control.
Isaiah says that (2-4) Above him were these heavenly seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory. At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
Such details remind us that God is the holy one, the holiest of all. He is the Almighty one and the glorious one. How majestic, how powerful, how great he is.
That is where we need to fix our minds today. Ravaka is gone. We long to see him again in heaven, but for now, he has gone and so we must look to God.
And some of you may say to me but I find it hard to fix my mind on God. In John 12 in the New Testament there is a quotation from this chapter from verse 10. Interestingly, John says, Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him. The same glory Isaiah saw is the glory that was later to be seen in the man Christ Jesus. If you want to think of God and his glory, then, think of Christ – his holiness, his powerful miracles, his death on the cross for sinners. That is where to look.

3. Something about those who Ravaka leaves behind
And so for the rest of our time let's think about ourselves – those Ravaka has left behind. There are a number of things we can say from this passage.

1. We who remain are all sinners before God
Look at Isaiah's reaction to all this in verse 5 Woe to me! I cried. I am ruined! What prompted that? For I am a man of unclean lips, he says and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty. The presence of death and of God suddenly made Isaiah aware of his sinfulness. Simply talking about death and about God can have this effect. It is one reason why people don't like funerals. Perhaps you feel like that. As I speak, you find your sins coming to mind. Isaiah was supposed to be a prophet who spoke in God's name but he knew his lips were sinful lips. He knew too that the people who he spoke to were sinful as well. And he knew that God was watching them. It is hard to admit you are a sinner. I'm sure Ravaka found it hard the first time he did it. But he knew he was a sinner and we need to recognise that we are sinners too who will also one day die and have to face our Maker.

2. Yet we can be forgiven
And then we have perhaps the most wonderful bit in this chapter. 6, 7 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for. In the Temple there was more than one altar but the one in mind here is the one where the animal sacrifices were made. The live coal stands symbolically for atonement through sacrifice, forgiveness through what has happened on the altar. It is applied to Isaiah's mouth because that is where he was most conscious of sin. The coal is a means of removing sin and guilt. It points forward to the great sacrifice Jesus Christ was going to make by dying on the cross and so securing salvation for all who trust in him. We are all sinners but there is forgiveness in Christ.

3. Once we are forgiven we must tell others about the Lord
Next Isaiah says (8) Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? We do not know in quite what tone this is said but Isaiah's immediate response was Here am I. Send me! And I suppose that is partly how you ended where you are today Liz. In some way or another you heard God saying, as it were, Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? And you said Here am I. Send me! And that, ultimately, is how you met Ravaka. He too in a different way had also said Here am I. Send me! All believers, to a greater or lesser extent, are those who are sent. We have found forgiveness and we are called to pass the message on. We must tell others. Sometimes we come to strange junctures. You are at one now, Liz, and so are the Baptist churches in Madagascar, due to this strange providence. You want to say Here am I. Send me! I trust but where? Madagascar? The UK? Somewhere else? Who knows? In some ways they are only the details, as important as they are. Willingness to be sent is the first thing, the chief thing.

4. Tell them even though they may not listen
But then in verses 9-13a we are brought back to reality with a bump. It can sound very exciting – being sent, going out. But look what Isaiah is told He said, Go and tell this people: Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.
It is not going to be easy, and sometimes it isn't, perhaps we should say usually it isn't. 11 Then I said, For how long, O Lord?And he answered: Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the LORD has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken. And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. Isaiah was going to preach through lean and hungry years and eventually the people would be carried off into exile by the Babylonians. What bleak times they were. Isaiah was to do the work, nevertheless, and we who are believers must go on telling out the good news, whether people listen or not.

5. Be assured that some will respond
But the chapter doesn't end on that low note and nor do we. Verse 13b says But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land. When you cut down a tree like an oak or a terebinth that isn't the end of the story. They sprout again, they begin to grow again. We do not know yet what may come from this very death, tragic as it is. There is nothing automatic here and the previous verses ought to make us sober but who knows what might be next for you as a family, for the Baptist movement in Madagascar, for Madagascar itself.
This is a sad day for us let's not deny it but let us look to God, to Jesus Christ. Let's serve him as Ravaka sought to do when he was with us.