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Being Sent to Follow: What Sukkot Teaches us about Sending

“…that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 23:43

Happy Sukkot!  Let us meditate on the Feast of Tabernacles!

Growing up in a Jewish family meant that from late September through late October we would celebrate Sukkot.  The main way we celebrated was by building a temporary structure in our backyard to represent a “booth” or a temporary structure. There were many days we had the purest intentions to sleep outside, but growing up in Colorado during this time of the year…I always ended up back in my cozy bed.

So what is Sukkot and why dig into this while we meditate on our core value of “Send?” Sukkot is the festival of Tabernacles, a “gathering of the year’s end.”  This holiday has agricultural significance as it marks the end of the harvest time and the agricultural year in Israel. However, this season draws its deepest significance from the Exodus story and the deep dependence that the Hebrew people displayed on the will of God (Leviticus 23:42-43). How powerful is it that as our own community here at New City spends time on our core value of “send,” we have the opportunity to celebrate and remember what this means through this festival?

Sukkot is the remembrance of a community on the move, dependent on the Lord, and believing in a destination. Would you utilize these passages and prompt questions to guide you?

God’s people on the move…

  • Exodus 25:28
    • What does the word “dwell” mean to you?
    • What is the significance of God’s promise to dwell with us?
    • How are you experiencing God dwelling with you as you “tabernacle” with Him?
    • Check out Revelation 21:2-23
  • Numbers 9:15-23
    • What guided the Israelites to get up and move? Do we live this way now pertaining to the presence of God as our guide?
    • The tabernacle exemplified intimacy with the Lord, but there was flexibility (could be up for 2 days, a month, or a year) and mobility. How does this challenge and inform us as we meditate on “send”?
    • What would it look like to see our church as more of a tabernacle than a temple?

God’s people dependent on the Lord…

  • Are you living dependent on the Lord as you live sent, like the Israelites depended on the pillar of cloud and fire?
  • Sukkot celebrates God’s people’s dependence on Him as they wandered. How can we remember and celebrate our dependence on God as we are sent, wandering in the world with mission and promise?
  • Exodus 13:21-22
    • What provision did the pillars provide?
  • Exodus 14:24
    • How have you seen God’s protection as we live sent?
  • Exodus 16:1-36
    • How have you seen God’s provision as you are on the move living sent?
    • Have there been any unique directions or promises from God as you are on the move?

God’s people believing in a destination…

  • What destination do you have in mind as a Christ-follower?
  • Joshua 3:1-17
    • What directions do you see in their  “last steps” as they arrive?
  • Numbers 13:1-33
    • How are you being one of the 2 and not the 10 as you are living sent?
      • What does it require?

As we explore our core value of “Send,” we are usually moved to think about the Great Commission, Acts 1:8 into Acts 8:1, and so on. What if we took time to see how the men and women of the Old Testament lived sent lives in dependence on the Lord? Let’s take time this week to think about the significance of the tabernacle and what that says about our God and how that might inform how we engage with God in His mission in the world.  

 

Zach Meerkreebs, Lead Planter and New City Stories Contributor 

Nothing But the Blood of Jesus

As Christians in our modern context, it is difficult for us to envision a time when the gravity of our sins and their subsequent atoning took place by the literal sacrificing of animals on an altar. Although that visceral picture might make us uncomfortable to think about, it was the reality of those who lived in the Old Testament under the Former Covenant. As with many things in the Christian faith, we must know where we have come from to be truly grateful for where we are today. Let us remember the inadequacy of the Former Covenant, in order to embrace the beauty of the New Covenant that Jesus established for for us by His blood.

The book of Hebrews is a New Testament letter that is rich with insight into the meaning of the Cross of Christ. Today, I would like to look at Hebrews 9:12-15, which states:

“He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore, He is the mediator of a New Covenant.”

While much of this language may be foreign to you, I believe this passage, and the broader text surrounding it, argues four main reasons why the sacrifice of Jesus is superior to the sacrifice of goats and calves:

  1.  Firstly, while under the previous covenant, the high priest had to first offer a sacrifice for his own sin before making atonement for the sins of others, whereas Jesus, who was in fact sinless, did not have to do so. His flawless obedience to the Father made him the only man in history with the ability to offer sacrifices for all those other than himself. How humbling, that the one man who was innocent, gave of Himself for the guilty. The blood of Jesus is PURE!
  2. Secondly, because of the utterly sinful nature of humanity (including the high priests of old), under the previous covenant these sacrifices would have to be made repeatedly in order to establish continual purification for the people. Jesus, however, being without sin, is able to offer a “once for all” sacrifice that is eternal and lasting. This gives us an entire new perspective on the moment that Jesus declares “it is finished” on the cross right before He gives up His spirit and submits to death. The blood of Jesus is FINAL!
  3. Thirdly, the high priests of old used the blood of animals. Conversely, Jesus gave of His own blood as an act of willingly laying down His own life. While animals are unable to consciously sacrifice themselves (and were simply the chosen vessel) Jesus IS able to sacrifice Himself. The end of Hebrews tells us that “for the joy set before Him, (He) endured the cross”. The blood of Jesus is PURPOSEFUL!
  4. Finally, while the old purification system had to do mostly with an outward purification of the external, Jesus offers an inward purification of the “conscience.” He is not only able to make us righteous in the way that we relate to those around us, but indeed provides a way to cleanse our innermost being, heart, soul, body, and mind. As the book of Hebrews states, “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to Him.” The blood of Jesus is REDEEMING!

In closing, let us never forget the kind of redemption that Jesus has provided for His bride.

The purity, finality,  purposefulness, and redeemable quality of the blood of Jesus makes His blood of utmost superiority to all other blood sacrifices, particularly the blood of goats and bulls, in terms of forgiveness, atonement, and purification. When we realize that the sacrifice – that is, the crucifixion – of Jesus was a purposeful and decisive sacrifice, it will cause us to respond in overwhelming worship. The more we understand the inadequacies of the Former Covenant and our own inability produce a clear conscience, the more precious and valued the sacrifice of Jesus and the New Covenant will be in our own lives. I pray this passage causes you to ponder the beauty of Jesus this week and to worship with a clear conscience and a full heart.

Oh precious is the flow

That makes me white as snow

No other fount I know

Nothing but the blood of Jesus

 

Melody Hickey, New City Stories Contributor

Facing Jericho

And the commander of the Lord‘s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.   Joshua 5:15 ESV

If you are familiar with often recited Bible stories, then you might be familiar with the story about Joshua defeating Jericho.  Jericho was a city surrounded by walls, and Joshua was the leader of God’s people and the plan was for the army to walk around the city until the walls fell leading to victory for Joshua and his people. However, this strange plan was not just to walk around once, but to walk around the city once per day, for six days. On the seventh day, the Israelite army would march around Jericho seven times followed by seven priests blowing seven rams’ horns until the walls came crashing down and Israel could claim victory. This unusual method separates this story from most Old Testament stories of war.

Before Joshua even gets to Jericho, however, he has an even more interesting encounter. In Joshua 5:13 we notice this language: “When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked.”

If you have ever had a big moment coming right around the corner— the start of a new job, a big move, a tough decision, an important day at work— then you have been where Joshua is in this moment. Joshua knows that the conquering of Jericho is ahead because God has promised the Israelites the land, but he isn’t quite there yet. All he can do is think about what is to come and see Jericho in the distance.

When I am in this place before something important, all the possibilities at hand tend to crowd my mind. Maybe you do the same thing, maybe you ignore preparing for the big day that is coming, or maybe you plan and plan to make sure nothing will go wrong. In chapter 5 we see that when Joshua is in this very position, he has an encounter with a messenger from the Lord.

 

When Joshua looks up, he sees a man standing before him. Joshua asks the man if he is on their side or the enemies’ side. The man responds that he is neither, but he is a commander of the Lord- Yahweh’s army. Joshua then falls on his face and worships and asks, “What does my Lord say to his servant?” (Joshua 5:14b). This is already very different from my natural reaction to looming, important, and tense days ahead. Joshua encounters a member of Yahweh’s army, worships, and asks how he, the leader of his own army, can serve his Lord. The best part of this story, in my opinion, is the commander’s response.

“‘Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so” (Joshua 5:15).

The commander of the Lord’s army does not start off by giving Joshua the grand plan on how to face his enemies and have victory at Jericho. The commander does not give Joshua a pump up speech, nor does he bully Joshua into doing a good job. In a time of heavy stress, the commander tells Joshua that this moment is holy. Not only is this place holy, but Joshua is asked to take his shoes off and sit awhile.

Maybe this command is familiar to you. Earlier in the story of God’s people, Moses is also told to do the same thing when he finds himself standing on holy ground (Exodus 3:5). We are told that an angel of the LORD (Yahweh) meets Moses in a burning bush, and when Moses turns aside to see the bush, he is told to take off his sandals. This seems to be a common way that God invites His people to just listen and take a moment in His presence.

When Joshua takes his sandals off, the chapter ends. The next chapter picks up describing how Jericho is shut up inside and out. Then the Lord gives Joshua the seemingly silly plan to walk around the city for days. Even though this plan of attack seems strange, as readers who know Joshua’s recent encounter with God, we can be confident in the plan. We see that Joshua is not acting of his own strength or his own thought; rather, Joshua leads God’s people with the plan God gives him.

Later in the story we read that the plan succeeds. God had a plan, and he used Joshua’s leadership to carry out the plan. We see in Joshua that Christian leadership is full of difficult choices and, at times, large responsibilities. However, we also see in Joshua that Christian leadership begins in our devotion to God. Christian leadership begins when believers submit to God, trusting in God’s plan and in God’s ways. Joshua worships before the victory ever happens at Jericho.

This week think about these questions: What Jericho are you facing? What does it look like for you to “take off your sandals” and notice the holiness of where God has you? How can you praise God this week before you see a victory? Sitting with God reminds us that he is a God we can trust. He is the I AM and he calls us to look up, take off our sandals, and know that where we are standing is holy ground— not because of who we are, but because of who God is.

Mary Katherine Wildeman, New City Stories Contributor