When a church renovated its worship center, the decision was made to hang a beautiful portrait of Christ on the wall directly behind the pulpit. When the pastor got up to deliver his message on the Sunday morning after the renovation was complete, a little boy in the congregation who was still new to the church’s worship services asked his mother, “Mom, who is that man who stands so we can’t see Jesus?”1
Portraits of Christ are important. They’re particularly important to God—especially those He Himself presents in Scripture. We need to make sure that we never obstruct them—that we never “stand so people can’t see Jesus.” Instead, we must faithfully uphold these images so they can convey all God wants them to convey.
Just ask Moses. In a fit of uncontrolled emotion, he distorted a picture of Christ that God intended to present to Israel, and, through the pages of Scripture, to future generations. Making their way across the wilderness after being freed from slavery in Egypt, the Israelites lacked water, and they grumbled and complained. Moses and Aaron met with the Lord, who instructed Moses, “Take the rod; you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water; thus you shall bring water for them out of the rock, and give drink to the congregation and the animals” (Num. 20:8).
Moses, however, didn’t speak to the rock. Overcome with frustration and anger, he took his rod and hit it twice. While life-sustaining water did pour out, God punished Moses for not obeying Him: “Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them” (v. 12). The place was called Meribah, which comes from the Hebrew verb meaning “to contend” or “to argue.”
Why was God so upset? Disobedience always displeases the Lord, but here something else was involved as well. Exodus 17 indicates that earlier, at a place called Rephidim, a similar situation unfolded. Water was nowhere to be found. The people complained there too, but God told Moses what He needed to do to set the stage for a miracle. “Behold,” the Lord said, “I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink” (Ex. 17:6). Moses obeyed God, and even though the people had grumbled, they had water to drink. This place also was called Massah, meaning test, and Meribah, the same name given to the location mentioned in Numbers 20. The differences in what occurred in Exodus 17 and Numbers 20, however, indicate these were two different places.
Pieter de Grebber, Moses Striking the Rock
We need to understand that at the Meribah in Numbers 20, Moses ruined a divinely orchestrated picture of Christ. Jesus is the Rock (see 1 Cor. 10:1-4; Eph. 2:19-21; 1 Pet. 2:4-8). He also is “living water” (John 4:10-14). He had to die, or be struck, only once. Based on His death, salvation comes to all who repent of their sins and trust Him for forgiveness and eternal life. In other words, sinners need only speak to Him—for, having already died, He stands ready, willing, able, and even anxious to forgive (see Heb. 7:25-28).
We see just how important this portrait of Jesus was to God when we realize that because of Moses’ disobedience, God would not let His servant enter the promised land! Later, when the Israelites were about to take possession of the land, Moses recounted that he had asked God to reconsider, but the Lord said, “Enough of that! Speak no more to Me of this matter” (Deut. 3:26). Does this sound harsh? If it does, we need to remember that God is God. His judgments don’t reflect His opinions but reality.
In the New Testament, we see that a similar situation unfolded in the Corinthian Church with regard to the Lord’s Supper. Paul wrote these words in 1 Corinthians 11:
27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.
In other words, some had died because they failed to approach the Lord’s Supper with necessary reverence and respect. Remember—the Lord’s Supper is a divinely created picture of the sacrifice of Jesus’ body and blood on the cross.
We can be assured that God is keenly aware of divine signs and images that are being misrepresented today. Thousands of years ago, God placed the first rainbow in the sky as a reminder of His faithfulness after the flood of Noah (see Gen. 9:8-17), but in 2015 many people see rainbow colors and celebrate evil in the name of the politically correct principles of “diversity” and “inclusiveness.” Then there’s marriage—a sacred institution ordained and instituted by God (see Gen. 2:18-25) as well as a picture of Christ’s relationship with His church (see Eph. 5:22-32). Needless to say, that picture is being muddied and distorted everywhere people look. If marriage is redefined in America, how can it possibly continue to represent in society anything close to the relationship God ordained it to represent? If we lose marriage, we lose an image that helps people understand why Christ died. While we cannot expect non-Christians to act as Christians, neither can we ignore the fact that America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and for many years upheld those ideals.2 Yet in recent decades in this country, we have, as a nation, kicked God out of public life. Given all the opportunities we as Americans have had to hear and respond to God’s truth, we must understand that God will hold us accountable.
What, then, does it mean in our day to stand so people can see Jesus clearly? We can cite at a growing number of examples of believers who are so standing, including Barronelle Stutzman of Richland, Washington, who is putting her livelihood and all her possessions on the line to uphold genuine marriage.3 Oregonians Aaron and Melissa Klein also are taking a public stand to present Jesus with clarity, even at great risk to themselves and their livelihood.4
“But how,” someone might ask, “do such actions reflect Christ’s love?” We need to understand that it never can be loving to participate in a lie, which is exactly what Stutzman, the Kleins, and many others are now being told they must do. Pray for an increasing number of pastors to have courage to publicly stand with these believers and to explain to their people the importance of biblical marriage.
Greg Quinlan is a former homosexual. Today, he serves as a lobbyist for the New Jersey Family Policy Council. His perspective on ministry to homosexuals is rooted in part in a clear understanding of the way the early Christians lived out their faith in the first century. Here are his insights.
The reason we see so much of a proliferation of homosexuality in our society now is because we live in a sex-saturated culture.…The first century church thrived in a hyper-sexualized homosexual culture in an age of sexual anarchy. So can the 21st century church. We do not need to compromise our message in order to bring homosexuals into the church or accommodate them.…The truth is the truth, and if we love someone, we will tell them the truth that homosexuality is destructive to someone. I know because I watched 100 of my friends die of AIDS.5
Certainly there are many inappropriate and unloving ways to uphold the truth, but there never can be a loving way to distort it.
Copyright © 2015 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.
1Adapted from Vance Havner; see http://jesusalive.cc/quotes.htm
2Copy and paste this web address in your browser: http://firstprinciplespress.org/newsite/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/America-is-a-Christian-Nation.pdf
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Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
April 10, 2015