CTT | Cattle on a Thousand Hills

Have you ever been listening to a sermon about tithing or fundraising or about our need to proclaim and declare prosperity because we serve a God who owns the “cattle on a thousand hills”? What does that phrase mean? Where does it come from? How does it relate to me? Well, today, we’ll take a look at this portion of a verse and then we’ll examine its context. We’ll find Biblical answers to all of these questions, and I’ll try to address some of its abuses.

The partial quote comes from the second half of Psalm 50:10.

Psalm 50:10 (ESV)  For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.

Interesting verse, but this isn’t a proverb, comes from a Psalm. So let’s read the Psalm and confirm who is speaking to whom, and what the topic of this conversation is.

Psalm 50 (ESV) | God Himself Is Judge

A Psalm of Asaph.
50 The Mighty One, God the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God shines forth.
3 Our God comes; he does not keep silence;
before him is a devouring fire,
around him a mighty tempest.
4 He calls to the heavens above
and to the earth, that he may judge his people:

Okay, so far we have the LORD God who who speaks and summons the earth that He may judge His people. Let’s continue to see what He is saying.

5 “Gather to me my faithful ones,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!”
6 The heavens declare his righteousness,
for God himself is judge! Selah
7 “Hear, O my people, and I will speak;
O Israel, I will testify against you.
I am God, your God.
8 Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;
your burnt offerings are continually before me.
9 I will not accept a bull from your house
or goats from your folds.
10 For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know all the birds of the hills,
and all that moves in the field is mine.

Interesting. The phrase we are examining today finds itself among several references to the fact that God is in-fact God, and that everything belongs to Him already. Who is God speaking to? Those who made a covenant with God by sacrifice, those under the Mosaic covenant. God declares that He will testify against Israel, for He is their God. God does not rebuke them for their sacrifices, their burnt offerings are continually before him, but notice he shifts immediately by saing He will not accept a bull from the house of Israel, nor goats from her fields. He owns every beast of the forest, all the birds of the hills and all that moves in the field. This reference to “a thousand hills” isn’t to be taken as a literal 1,000 hills, as if there could be cattle on the 1001st hill that didn’t belog to God, God is saying He owns them all. But where is this going? Is this headed toward a health, wealth, and prosperity teaching?

12 “If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and its fullness are mine.
13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats?

Israel was not the only nation whose worship included animal sacrifice, they were just the only nation who worshiped the LORD God. The pagans (consider the Egpytian gods, and later the Greek and Roman gods) sacrificed to idols and false gods, for their gods had to be fed, served, nourished, and appeased. Here, God is reminding Israel that He did not require these blood sacrifices for His sake, and even if He could hunger, He wouldn’t look to us for His sustinence. God doesn’t need your permission nor your cooperation, the world an everything in it belongs to Him. The notion that God has need of us in any way is a purely pagan one. The sacrifices of the Mosaic Covenant are part of their current covenant, but more importantly they point ahead to the Last Sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Christ, the Son of the Living God.

14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
15 and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

What does it mean to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving? It first requires faith that it is God who has provided for your needs, that it is God who has saved you. For this definition I’m borrowing heavily from Hebrews 11:4-6. Both Cain and Abel brought sacrifices, but Abel found favor in the eyes of the LORD by faith. But now we get to the judgment against the people. Remember, their observance of the animal sacrifices under the Law isn’t why God is pronouncing judgment on Israel, so let’s look at what has been missing.

16 But to the wicked God says:
What right have you to recite my statutes
    or take my covenant on your lips?
17 For you hate discipline,
and you cast my words behind you.
18 If you see a thief, you are pleased with him,
and you keep company with adulterers.
19 “You give your mouth free rein for evil,
and your tongue frames deceit.
20 You sit and speak against your brother;
you slander your own mother’s son.
21 These things you have done, and I have been silent;
you thought that I was one like yourself.
But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.
22 “Mark this, then, you who forget God,
lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!
23 The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
    to one who orders his way rightly
    I will show the salvation of God!

Verse 16 hits Israel of the day, and today’s prosperity false-teachers, right between the eyes. You don’t get to demand that God keep His promises “according to the Law” in response to your faithless attempts at keeping the Law. God plainly lists how Israel falls short of the Law. Sure they keep the outward works of the sacrifices, but the lack faith, therefore their gestures are not pleasing to God. Notice how it’s beeing worded, you cast My Words behind youyou who forget God.  A good cross-reference for this Psalm can be found in Isaiah 1 where, again, God is calling out Judah for her lack of faith despite the multitude of sacrifices. Without faith, it is impossible to please God.

This thanksgiving is a fruit of faith in God’s Word, for apart from faith in God’s Word we do not give thanks to God. As we examine our lives according to the 10 Commandments, we see that we fall woefully short of these today. As we examine the sins pointed out in the Psalm above, we see that we fall in that very same category. We sin. We are not under the Mosaic covenant, so where does that leave us? We look to the cross of Jesus Christ, and we believe in His finished work on the cross. We offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving to God for the body and blood of His son, Jesus Christ, received by Grace through faith.

So how does this Psalm 50 reference apply to us? We don’t feed God by our sacrifices, He feeds us by His Word. This passage in no way points to our temporal prosperity.

Conclusion

Whenever someone pulls out the description of God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, know that the Psalmist is declaring God to be God of all things, the whole earth, all of creation and all that is in it. If the invoking of this description of God isn’t focusing on giving thanks to God for our salvation, be careful… it’s probably being lifted out of its context. This isn’t a “do more good works” text. God isn’t rebuking Israel for their lack of good works; rather, for their lack of faith.

Romans 16:24-27 (ESV)

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.

In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

CTT | Praise, Worship, and Music

CTTAs we start to focus more and more on Discernment in Music posts, the need to clearly define some of our terminology becomes clear. There is a tendency in modern evangelicalism of treating Praise and Worship as interchangeable terms. I believe that to be an error in theology. Worse, there is a tendency to treat both Praise and Worship as pertaining only to music and singing. If you asked today’s evangelical youth to define Praise and Worship, you’d probably get a breakdown along the lines of “praise is when you’re rockin’ out for God, and worship is the slower music before the sermon”. Worship and Praise are not the same thing, and neither is defined by music, singing, or dancing.

Worship ≠ Praise ≠ Music

Today’s post will not be an exhaustive treatment of this thesis; rather, it might be considered more of an introduction. It will not be a short post. The visible church has been overwhelmed by this music-centric understanding of Praise and Worship for decades… Hillsong, Vineyard, and Jesus Culture have built empires on this error of theology, and that doesn’t happen overnight. Don’t take my word on this, but take what I’m presenting here to the Word of God to see if it is True.

For the empiricist reader, I fully recognize that you “feel something” whenever you are engaged in “corporate worship” of a certain sound, a certain vibe, and many of you attribute that sensation to the Holy Spirit’s approval of the music, singing, and other inclusions of art in the “worship service”. There is often the argument of, “there is power in praise and worship music”… and to that I will agree. However, let me urge you to suspend that thought for just a second, and consider that while there is clearly emotive power in music, that doesn’t necessarily constitute God’s approval. The thought, “I really enjoyed that” shouldn’t morph into “the Presence of God was there”… but it does in evangelical speak. The world can manipulate the emotions and the senses through the arts better than any of today’s mega-church corporations… and we see this when they constantly copy the world’s techniques. The world has perfected the art of staging a concert down to scientific and engineering detail. Emotional manipulation through the arts is a multi-billion dollar industry (Movies, Music, TV, and Internet).

Music

I’m a big fan of music. I find enjoyment in a wide array of musical styles and genres. I have played in Church worship teams, sung background and the occasional lead, and ran a small mobile DJ business that I handed over to my little brother when I enlisted in the US Army. I love music. Is it possible to incorporate music and the arts into our proper Praise of God? Absolutely.

Psalm 150 (ESV) | Let Everything Praise the Lord
1 Praise the Lord!Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens!
2 Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his excellent greatness!
3 Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
4 Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
5 Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!

Throughout Chronicles whenever King David directed the people of Israel to Praise the Lord he assigned musicians and singers to mark the event. He had instruments made and he wrote many songs and hymns. He also had chief musicians who wrote Psalms. You’ll find hundreds of songs and references to songs throughout the Bible… but you won’t find the arrangements. You’ll find the lyrics, but not the melody. Music can add emotion to lyrics, but it cannot sanctify them. When God ensured His Word was recorded and preserved throughout the generations unto this day, He preserved His Word, but not the musical arrangement. Why is that? Because in Christ we have musical freedom, but we dare not neglect or abuse His Word. Praise doesn’t require music. Music is a gift to us from God that can be used to heighten our emotional engagement with the substance of our Praise (God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), but music is in no way required for praise. The music doesn’t make the praise, it is the Praise that makes the music pleasing to God. Praise Him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness!

Praise

What is praise? In a secular sense, praise is the act of expressing approval or admiration; commendation; laudation (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/praise). The focus of the definition isn’t on the act; rather, on the substance of what is being sung/spoken. There are cases where the praise might purely contextually based, such that an outsider may find the praise ambiguous. For example, if a group of people are gathered in the living room to watch a team sporting event on TV… everyone might cheer a great play without articulating what was assumed to be witnessed by all. Everyone might simply yell, “YEAH!” or “WOOHOO” while throwing their hands up in the air. That is praise. It isn’t very clear praise for someone who didn’t witness the play, or has no knowledge of what is taking place on the television. However, if the outsider were to ask any one of them what they were praising, we’d expect them all to articulate the object of their praise (e.g. the great play). Before we abandon this analogy, please note that as the crowd grows larger, the likelihood of one of the “praisers” not understanding what they were praising or why grows. What becomes of that individual? They are either labeled a “false fan” of the game, or a fan of being a fan, or a praiser of praise irrespective of the object of said praise… they just like seeing folks “happy”. Sadly, many a modern church congregation fits this sports fan analogy better than what is prescribed of a Church in the New Testament.

Turning to the Scriptures, I’m going to stick with a solid English interpretation of the Bible and will not be diving into the Ancient Hebrew or the Koine Greek. For those of you who have faithfully studied the Biblical languages, feel free to search these things out in the original texts. We’ll start by a rough examination of the use of the word “praise” in the ESV, beginning in Genesis.
The first time we see this word is in Genesis 12. God called Abrahm to leave his country and his father’s house and go to the land that He would show Abram. Abram believed the Word of the Lord and obeyed. He took his wife, Sarai, and followed as the Lord led him. Let us pick up in verse 10.

Genesis 12:10-15 (ESV) | Abram and Sarai in Egypt
10 Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” 14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house.

So, in this historical narrative, we find out that Sarai is indeed beautiful in appearance, so much so that Abram fears for his life and opts to lie about her. The Egyptians praised her to Pharaoh. What does that mean? They communicated to Pharaoh what they saw and knew about Sarai. They had esteemed her greatly and were praising her as one in whom the Pharaoh should take interest. They had been given wrong information regarding her, but their praise of her beauty was not wrong. They were praising what they had witnessed.

Skip ahead to Genesis chapter 29, we find Isaac’s son, Jacob, and his two wives Leah and Rachel. Jacob had entered into an agreement with Laban to marry Rachel, but Laban tricked Jacob into first marrying Leah, Rachel’s olders sister, so Jacob then had to promise to work longer for Laban to finally marry Rachel. Now Jacob has 2 wives but loved Rachel and hated (“loved less” in this sense) Leah. Let’s pick up in verse 31.

Genesis 29:31-35 (ESV) | Jacob’s Children
31 When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. 32 And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, “Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.” 33 She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon. 34 Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi. 35 And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she ceased bearing.

Our first introduction to the concept of praise reflects an expression of witness of the beauty of Sarai. Here, we see praise as an expression of thanksgiving for what God has done for Leah. It is expressed in his name, Judah. It is fitting, then, that the Promise of the Messiah is given to the tribe of Judah.

Genesis 49:8-12 (ESV) | Jacob Blesses His Sons
8 “Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
your father’s sons shall bow down before you.
9 Judah is a lion’s cub;
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
11 Binding his foal to the vine
and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,
he has washed his garments in wine
and his vesture in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes are darker than wine,
and his teeth whiter than milk.

Judah will be praised for what God will do through his generations. In Revelation 5, Jesus Christ is identified as the Lion of Judah.

Revelation 5:1-5 (ESV) | The Scroll and the Lamb
1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Praise begins and ends in God the Father and God the Son. We offer praises to God for who He Is and what He has Done. As we close out Genesis and move into Exodus, we find our next occurrence of the word “praise” in the Song of Moses, Exodus 15.

Exodus 15:1-3 (ESV) | The Song of Moses
1 Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord, saying,
“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
2 The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
3 The Lord is a man of war;
the Lord is his name.

God is being praised in this moment (and forevermore) for who He is (our strength, our song, and our salvation) and for what He has done. The remainder of this song is confession of what the Lord has done by His Mighty Hand. Miriam led the singing with tambourines. This song is revisited and expanded in Psalm 106, and was likely accompanied by a greater complement of instruments. Psalm 106 extends this theme of thanksgiving for God’s grace and mercy and mighty works for a sinful and forgetful people, Israel.

I’ve heard it said in multivarious ways by various people that they just couldn’t get into the Praise at a given church due to its music. It is one thing to be distracted by technological problems, painful volume levels, or having music that is very poorly played, but to cite a musical style as inhibitive of Praising God is folly. Sometimes the phrasing comes out, “it doesn’t feel like the Holy Spirit is free to move in their worship service”. I think that the vast majority simply haven’t been taught what Praise really is. If you are finding it hard to Praise God (with or without music), I submit to you that it is due to not having an understanding of who God is, what He has done, who you are, or you have an unhealthy fixation on your own senses.

Worship

Worship isn’t a subset of music. It isn’t the “slow songs”, though it is possible for a slow song to be sung in worship. Praise is a subset of Worship. Music can be used to enhance our worship, so long as it doesn’t become the object of our worship. Let’s start with the basics, but I want to begin with something Jesus told the Samaritan at the well.

John 4:19-26 (ESV)
19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

What is the context of the Samaritan’s reference to worship? If you think it’s singing slow songs, you’ve missed the greater meaning of worship. She is contrasting the Samaritan worship up in the mountain, but the Jews declared the only place of worship was in Jerusalem. She is referring to the Temple. Worship, in the Mosaic Covenant, encapsulated all that took place in the Temple of God (first the tabernacle). If we look back through Genesis as we did with Praise, we’ll see that the first forms of worship mentioned are the sacrifices to God.

Genesis 22:1-8 (ESV) | The Sacrifice of Isaac
1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

In its purest sense, Worship is the act of serving God. The sacrifices of the Law, the bowing of the head in reverence to God, the prayers, and also the songs of praise are all forms of Worship. The Law articulated what it was for Israel to worship God, and it also set limits as to what forms of worship were strictly forbidden. This is what is being discussed at the well in Samaria. The Samaritans were guilty of mixing Jewish worship with the worship of false gods. They kept the old “high places” built to false gods and incorporated the Asherim and other gods of the Assyrians in their religion. This is why the Jews despised them so, they were not merely a people of mixed bloodlines, but of mixed religion. Jesus’s answer to her isn’t to pick a side between Samaritans and Jews; rather, it is to declare that He had come to reconcile all men unto God through Himself. This Samaritan, was waiting for the Messiah, the Promised One… and He presented Himself to her.

The New Testament clearly demonstrates what it means to be a true worshiper of God, that it is only done by faith, and that faith is the gift of God. In the New Covenant we still have prayer, the Psalms, the public reading of the Word (Law and Gospel), and Christ instituted communion. What do we do about the sacrifices? Our giving is still an act of worship, if our hearts are right (Sermon on the mount). The book of Hebrews does an excellent job of teaching worship in the context of the New Covenant.

Hebrews 12:18-29 (ESV) | A Kingdom That Cannot Be Shaken
18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

Hebrews 13:1-21 (ESV) | Sacrifices Pleasing to God
1 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. 4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”

7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.

20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Amen. Let us clean up our understanding of Worship that is pleasing to God, and then let us strive to correct the language. Corporate Worship is everything you do as a gathered assembly of believers. We may sing songs of Praise, but everything we do in service of our God and Saviour is to be worship offered by faith, in spirit and in truth. Your giving, your prayer, your speech, your attire, your embraces, and your kisses, do all as an act of Worship to the Glory of God, whom you serve (Worship).

In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

DiM | “Soul on Fire” by Third Day

Today is “Discernment in Music” (DiM) day here at Faithful Stewardship (2 Corinthians 10:4-6 (ESV)).

March 10, 2015. Today we’ll be taking a look at “Soul on Fire” by Third Day which currently sits at #13 at 20theCountdownMagazine.

We’ll continue using this top 20 song list until I find a better list.  Your feedback in this would be greatly appreciated.

Last week, Third Day released their latest album entitled “Lead us back“. They are calling this a Worship Album. The first single released is their song “Soul on Fire”. Their latest tour is being called the “Soul on Fire” tour. So, let’s take a look at this new song. It’s a very catchy song, and I am drawn to their musical style. Musically, I love this song. However, lyrically this isn’t one of their better songs.

VEVO Lyric Video

Lyrics (via K-Love)

Soul On Fire by Third Day

God, I’m running for Your heart
I’m running for Your heart
Till I am a soul on fire
Lord, I’m longing for Your ways
I’m waiting for the day
When I am a soul on fire
Till I am a soul on fire

Lord, restore the joy I had
And I have one to bring me back
In this darkness, lead me through
Until all I see is You

Lord, let me burn for You again
Let me return to You again
And Lord, let me burn for You again
Let me return to You again

God, I’m running for Your heart
I’m running for Your heart
Till I am a soul on fire
I want to be
Till I am a soul on fire
Till I am a soul on fire

Publishing: © 2014 Songs From The Quarry (ASCAP) / Thankyou Music (PRS) / I Am Pilgrim Songs / Sony/ATV Tree Publishing (BMI)
Writer(s): Mac Powell, Tai Anderson, David Carr, Mark Lee, Brenton Brown, Matt Maher

Discussion

I’ve taken to dispensing with the “pros” and “cons” on songs that seem to just miss the mark such that I struggle to build either a Pro or a Con list. In this case, I’m completely confused by this song and its messaging. So, we’ll just talk about what has me confused, we’ll look at the Scriptures that I think are relevant to the message and draw to a close for now. If you are in possession of better insight, such as an interview with the band that sheds light on what they think the lyrics convey, do please share it either via email or in comments below.

Soul on Fire?

The most glaring problem is this phrasing. It’s in the title, the tour, and throughout the song repeatedly, but it is never defined. There are certain denominational idioms relating to being “on fire for God”. It’s such a popular component to seeker-sensitive song writing that it was included in the following parody of how to write a worship song by the folks at Blimey Cow:

The problem, even beyond the funny parody, is that despite the prevalence of this theme throughout modern emotive music there is not much in Scripture that supports this narrative. If we are talking about Biblical references that tend to be invoked by “Soul on Fire” theme, the very first one that comes to mind isn’t something we should be chasing.

Matthew 10:24-28 (ESV) 24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. 26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

I’m certain this is not the sort of “Soul on Fire” that Third day is singing about. Eternal judgement waits for those who die in their unbelief, and face Jesus Christ as Judge who has the authority to destroy both soul and body in hell.

It could simply be a secularism where we’ve turned the notion of “burning with passion” for someone and redirected it toward God. Reading through the second and third stanzas, there is a sense of returning or getting back something that was lost. A rekindling of an old flame. All of these are romantic allusions that don’t quite fit Biblical worship, unless you are allegorizing Song of Solomon (Song of songs) as a picture of God’s relationship with Israel and Christ’s relationship with His Church. Even in that context, it should be corporate wording, not individual… because, well, Christ is returning for His People, the Church, not me individually.  I know that is a tough thing to say coming from a Western mindset and speaking mostly to a Western audience, but our cultural bias is one of extreme individualism that doesn’t fit Scripture. I pray the Holy Spirit grant insight in this for I suffer from this Western mindset, too.

I want to give this song its best construction, and for me to do so I need to invoke an intermediate allegory or imagery of a burnt offering or sacrifice. The first form of worship after the fall was that of the offering, the sacrifice to the Lord God. When God gave Moses the Law, the sacrifices were burnt offerings to God. If we bear in mind the concept of a burnt offering, and the aroma of obeying the Law and making a satisfactory sacrifice by faith unto God, then we have an intermediate step for a right understanding of what the phrase “Soul on Fire” might be when we then jump into Romans 12.

Romans 12:1-2 (ESV) | A Living Sacrifice
12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

In this way, we might understand what it means to present ourselves as living sacrifices to God. Perhaps it is in this way that the song is waiting for God to send down fire igniting our hearts and our souls demonstrating His acceptance of our living sacrifice. But what does such a sacrifice look like for those who fall under the New Covenant of Christ’s Blood? Let us turn to the book of Hebrews, chapter 13.

Hebrews 13 English Standard Version (ESV) | Sacrifices Pleasing to God
1 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. 4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”

7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altarfrom which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. 20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus,the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

22 I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. 23 You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon. 24 Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings. 25 Grace be with all of you.

 

These are the Sacrifices that are pleasing to God, and not a single one can be done rightly apart from Faith. Where the song falls short of this (aside from needing an intermediate interpretation) is that it suggests that one simply needs to wait on the emotional unction or burning within. Even the disciple’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) where the Disciples recall a burning in their hearts was not a purely passive event. They were listening to the Words of Jesus as He recounted to them all that the Scriptures said regarding Him. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17 (ESV))”.  Don’t just wait to be set on fire, and don’t settle for vague allegory of “running to God’s heart”… read His Word, listen to His Word being faithfully preached, and pray for understanding from God the Holy Spirit. Emotions are fleeting and easily manipulated. I thank God that faith is not an emotion… and Truth isn’t a feeling.

Conclusion

This song isn’t for the unbeliever, it doesn’t preach Law or Gospel. It’s heavily coded chuch-jargon, and unhelpfully so. It is far to focused on the individual for it to be suitable for corporate worship in my opinion. I don’t question Third Day’s desire to inspire their listeners to a fervent love for God and true worship. But you can’t skip over the preaching of the Word of God. You can’t skip over the need for repentance, and forgiveness for even the sins of unbelief and of doubt. He is faithful to forgive us, and He has sealed us by His Holy Spirit until the day of His Return. Rest in that. There will be times when we feel like we are super-charged, burning-hot, souls on fire for God and walking in triumphant procession leading the throngs in worship into the Temple of the Most High God… and then there will be times when our souls will be downcast and the persecution from the world weighs heavily upon us, just as it was for the author of Psalm 42. Let us close with the last verse of this Psalm

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

To God be the glory, Amen.
In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

Worship or Entertainment?

Tickets to Worship for Entertainment?

Tickets to Worship or for Entertainment?

Looking back over our first year of blogging, it is clear that the most visited feature of this site is our Discernment in Music (DiM) where we take a Biblical look at the most popular songs being played on “Christian Radio” today. The concern is that we’ve allowed our minds and hearts to be filled with anything calling itself “Christian” without carefully examining what is being conveyed by these songs either directly or by inference. Many of these songs are working their way into Churches for “Praise and Worship”, so we really need to make sure what we preach (with or without musical accompaniment) is in keeping with sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

Toward the end of the Fall, we here in the Georgia started getting a lot of concert events hosted by local Churches and Christian Radio stations. There are some Artists who draw large crowds these days all on their own: Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, and Toby Mac. In some of the more remote/rural areas, it’s hard to get one of the big names to do a concert so what event planners will do is set up Music Festivals to bring several artists together. Local stations will often promote these events heavily, offering free tickets as incentives for community engagement, but for the most part tickets to the event are purchased for anywhere from $15 to $35 per adult. Touring, ticket sales, and Album/iTunes sales are the basis for the careers of these musicians and their production team. This is their job. This is what they do to earn their salaries. Yet, within the Christian Community, we also include all of this as their Ministry. Is that true in every case?

***Edit: Some artists do the concert events for free so that ticket sales can go toward a local Charity or fund raiser. These should still not be sold as “worship”, but I wanted to make it clear that the money isn’t always going to the artists***

At the close of one such musical event last fall (2014), there was a comment made that seemed to stop everything in its tracks… like in the movies where someone makes an awkward comment in a huge house party and everyone freezes and you hear the Vinyl Record come to a screeching halt.

“…So come on out and join us on [Day] starting at [Time] for a night of worship and celebration…”

Are we paying for the opportunity to worship God, or are we paying for a night of musical entertainment? I can understand if you just rolled your eyes, or let out a sigh of exasperation… but while you are still here and reading, think about the question one more time. What are we paying for to attend one of these concert events? What is the advertisement on Christian radio actually selling? Are they selling a chance to experience skillful music and dazzling lights or are they selling “worship”? Let’s pause that thought for the moment, to consider its implications.

Entertainment

I’m not implying that there is anything inherently wrong with entertainment. I attended a Tim Hawkins comedy show at a local church on a Friday night. Nothing wrong with laughter, and Tim Hawkins is a professing Christian. His theology for the most part is sound, and he’s quite skilled as a musician and he understands comedy well. However, despite the fact that he plays the guitar, his event wasn’t advertised a worship event. The call to attend was to enjoy a night of comedy. Laughter isn’t a form of worship found in the Bible. Tim does try to present the Gospel during a set or between bits, but we aren’t buying tickets to a sermon, and they aren’t trying to sell sermon tickets. I can’t imagine anyone in attendance thinking to themselves, “wow, I’m really worshiping Jesus right now by enjoying these jokes”. It simply isn’t what we consider to be an act of worship, and rightly so. Can the Gospel be preached at such an event? Absolutely. Can something funny be shared in a sermon without drawing away from the Word of God? Yes. But we don’t confuse the two categories. One is entertainment, the other is Church, but everything can point to Christ (and we should endeavor to point to Christ in all that we do).

Worship

Let’s talk a little bit about Worship as it is described in the Bible. Searching (admittedly I’m not searching in the Hebrew) in the ESV for “worship”, the earliest mentions of the word are in conjunction with offering of sacrifices to God.

Genesis 22:1-5 (ESV) | The Sacrifice of Isaac
1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”

There isn’t always a mention of a burnt offering. In place of a burnt offering, there is sometimes a prayer of thanksgiving or of praise clearly uttered to the Lord God, such as in the case of Jacob’s servant when tasked with finding a suitable wife for Isaac.

Genesis 24:12-28 (ESV) | A Wife for Isaac
12 And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. 13 Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. 14 Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.”

15 Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, came out with her water jar on her shoulder. 16 The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known. She went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. 17 Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water to drink from your jar.” 18 She said, “Drink, my lord.” And she quickly let down her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink.19 When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” 20 So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels. 21 The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the Lord had prospered his journey or not.

22 When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing a half shekel, and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels, 23 and said, “Please tell me whose daughter you are. Is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?” 24 She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” 25 She added, “We have plenty of both straw and fodder, and room to spend the night.” 26 The man bowed his head and worshiped the Lord 27 and said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the Lord has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.” 28 Then the young woman ran and told her mother’s household about these things.

Before the Law, and the Mosaic covenant, this is what the Lord God considered to be Worship. We know this, because this portion of the Law was dictated to Moses by God. But we also know that the Laws within the Mosaic Covenant defined right Worship, and that God made clear that Israel was NOT to worship God ways that they learned from the fallen world. Rather than pick through the Old Testament, let us jump to the book of Hebrews, to see this explained after the cross of Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 9:1-14 (ESV) | The Earthly Holy Place
1 Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. 2 For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. 3 Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, 4 having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. 5 Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.

6 These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, 7 but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. 8 By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing 9 (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10 but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come,then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 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. 13 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, 14 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.

Let’s unpack this a bit. The Laws, the specific rituals of the priesthood and of the people (offerings, washings, consecration/fasting, etc.) and the blood of animals where all regulations of worship. This is what it was to Worship the Living God under the Old Covenant. All of these forms of worship pointed to Jesus Christ whose blood would finally succeed where previous forms of worship failed, in that it would purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. What are we to do now? We still offer sacrifices to God in our worship, but what sacrifices do we offer?

Hebrews 13 (ESV) | Sacrifices Pleasing to God
1 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. 4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”

7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.

20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

22 I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. 23 You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon. 24 Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings. 25 Grace be with all of you.

Declaring the mighty works of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and bearing the reproach of the world are pleasing acts of worship. Music isn’t even mentioned here. Does that make music sinful? Nope. It doesn’t make music anything. We’ve over-cooked the role of music in our modern-day understanding of “Worship”. We’ve done it in our churches and we’ve done it on the Radio, and we’ve done it in our Entertainment.

Conclusion

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with being entertained, especially not in a God-honoring format. That doesn’t mean that such entertainment also qualifies as “worship”. But how you conduct yourself in such environments matters. We were created to worship God, but our sinful nature is eager to worship anything other than God. Most often our sinful flesh urges us to worship ourselves and our desires. And we tend to do so much more flamboyantly than we do for God… and this was true even in the Old Testament (Exodus 32). Christians who attend concerts for entertainment simply need to guard their hearts from false teaching and false worship. Having a “praise band” in your church is fine, if what they are doing is indeed an act of worship to the Living God and not a form of entertainment for the congregation (that’s a very difficult “if” to evaluate by the way). The “praise band” does not worship God for the congregation, even when they are doing it well with the right heart. The call to worship is for everyone, not just the ones on the stage, and we dare not “sell” opportunities to Worship a Living God. Can ministry happen at such events? Yes. Can worship take place at such events? yes. Is that what we should be selling? No.

Hebrews 13:20-21 (ESV) 20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

What is your Testimony?

Stiftshuette Modell

Stiftshuette Modell Timnapark CC BY-SA 3.0

Growing up in Evangelical churches, we heard often from folks who wanted to share their testimony with the church. A lot of weight was given to the sharing of one’s testimony. In fact, it was weighted so heavily that many times I heard caveats that both disturbed and discouraged me in my faith. Caveats such as, “well, my testimony isn’t nearly as powerful as that of brother so-and-so” or “I don’t have much of a testimony, because I grew up in a Christian home”. Such rubbish. This is NOT Biblical, and I want to end the week by looking at what our testimony is.

Your Testimony isn’t about you

We will look at the Biblical definition of what a testimony is, and what our testimony is supposed to be in a minute, but I want to point out that the major flaw in the caveats I mentioned is that they betray a fundamentally flawed view that a testimony is about the person giving it. It isn’t. Have you ever heard someone give their testimony and start to get a little uncomfortable about how they keep going on and on about how bad they were? We get into weird competitions over who was the “most bad” person was before they were saved.

Everyone born of man is born equally dead in sin. Sin isn’t a merely list of wrongdoings, it is a state of being.

Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV)
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Romans 3:9-20 (ESV)
9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law,so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Apart from the Gospel, no one is righteous, nor can they be made righteous or justified in God’s sight, even by the Law. Man’s need for Jesus Christ is Universal. In the same way, all who have come to the knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ share in that same testimony, that we all need Jesus. We don’t need to add to our sinfulness to amplify the Gospel. On some levels, we want people to know that the Gospel finding ME was such a super big deal that no one should ever doubt in it. But that isn’t the focus of the Gospel, it is a blanket truth for all of mankind. Unless the Gospel of Jesus Christ finds you, you have no hope of salvation. And that is why we preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our testimony isn’t supposed to glorify our sin; rather, it is supposed to focus on the Word of God.

Now, let us take a look at some Biblical foundations of what a Testimony truly is so that we might have a better understanding of what it means to share your testimony.

The Ark of the Covenant

If you remember in a post from earlier in the week I made reference to how the Passover Lamb pointed to Jesus on the Cross, as an atonement, the final atonement for all our sin. How in the Israelites leaving Egypt points to our being rescued out of the kingdom of Darkness, and how their passing through the Red Sea points to our water Baptism which represents joining Christ in His death and burial and resurrection to a new life in Him. We also compared the wandering of Israel for a generation in the wilderness to our living in a fallen and sinful world as we make our way to the Promised Land which in our case is the Kingdom of Heaven by the blood of Jesus Christ. In keeping with that same imagery, let us now turn to Exodus 25, when God commanded Moses to build an ark.

Exodus 25:10-22 (ESV)
10 “They shall make an ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. 11 You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and you shall make on it a molding of gold around it. 12 You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on itsfour feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. 13 You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. 14 And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark by them. 15 The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. 16 And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you.

17 “You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. 18 And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. 20 The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. 21 And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. 22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.

Now, outside of the Law of Moses, this ark is most commonly referred to in the Bible as the Ark of the Covenant. What we see in Exodus and in Numbers, though, is that it is referred to several times as the Ark of the Testimony. I hadn’t noticed that before, so it’s very exciting for me to read now. We see here God instructing the building of the ark, and he tells Moses that he will be giving him a testimony that should be placed into the ark. Before we get to that, notice where the mercy seat of God is placed… over the testimony. We can already see here, that the Mercy Seat of God rests atop the Testimony that God will give. Let us move ahead a bit as we follow the instructions regarding the ark.

Exodus 26:31-35 (ESV)
31 “And you shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. It shall be made with cherubim skillfully worked into it. 32 And you shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, with hooks of gold, on four bases of silver. 33 And you shall hang the veil from the clasps, and bring the ark of the testimony in there within the veil. And the veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy.34 You shall put the mercy seat on the ark of the testimony in the Most Holy Place.35 And you shall set the table outside the veil, and the lampstand on the south side of the tabernacle opposite the table, and you shall put the table on the north side.

This veil, is the one that was found split when Christ died on the cross. Notice that before Christ, the veil separated God’s people from the mercy seat except for certain times, and then only by proxy (the High Priest). Now, let’s jump ahead a bit (Moses was given a lot of instructions here) to chapter 34.

Exodus 34:27-35 (ESV)
27 And the Lord said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 28 So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.

29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. 32 Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the Lord had spoken with him in Mount Sinai.33 And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face.

34 Whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, 35 the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

Praise the Lord. The testimony is the Law of God, the 10 Commandments. They were given to Israel as a testimony to His Covenant with them. If you read from the beginning of the chapter, you see God instructing Moses to bring 2 fresh tablets to replace the ones that he smashed after seeing the sin of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai. Those, too, were called the tablets of the testimony.

Exodus 31:18 (ESV)
18 And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.

Exodus 32:15-16 (ESV)
15 Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. 16 The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.

Exodus Chapter 40 concludes the instructions given to Moses regarding the tabernacle and the ark.

Exodus 40:16-21 (ESV)
16 This Moses did; according to all that the Lord commanded him, so he did. 17 In the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, the tabernacle was erected. 18 Moses erected the tabernacle. He laid its bases, and set up its frames, and put in its poles, and raised up its pillars. 19 And he spread the tent over the tabernacle and put the covering of the tent over it, as the Lord had commanded Moses. 20 He took the testimony and put it into the ark, and put the poles on the ark and set the mercy seat above on the ark. 21 And he brought the ark into the tabernacle and set up the veil of the screen, and screened the ark of the testimony, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

The Day of Atonement

Now that we know that the testimony Moses was to place inside the ark was the two tablets of the testimony. They were placed into the ark of the Testimony, upon which rested the Mercy Seat of God, and all of it was behind the veil. Let us skip ahead to Leviticus to see the Ark of the Testimony and the Mercy Seat.

Leviticus 16:1-5 (ESV)
1 The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the Lord and died, 2 and the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.3 But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. 5 And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.

Leviticus 16:11-16 (ESV)
11 “Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. 12 And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil 13 and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. 14 And he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.

15 “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. 16 Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses.

We see a great deal going on here, but I wanted to point out this Day of Atonement and the special place of the ark of the Testimony and the Mercy Seat, and the blood of the atoning sacrifice. All of this points to Christ.

Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant*

In closing, I recommend reading the book of Hebrews. The writer of Hebrews explains the 2 covenants beautifully, and when you read through it, take the time to cross-reference the Old Testament passages.

Hebrews 8 (ESV)
1 Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. 5 They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” 6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

8 For he finds fault with them when he says:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah,
9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
and I will remember their sins no more.”

13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

And the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, is that this new covenant is available to all people, not just the Jew. And our testimony, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Revelation 19:9-10 (ESV)
9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”10 Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

Amen. Whenever you share your testimony, know that what you are sharing is not supposed to point to you; rather, it is to point to a risen Savior, whose blood was shed on your behalf, so that you can stand before the Mercy Seat of God without fear of judgement.

Hebrews 10:19-25 (ESV)
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Grace and Peace to you in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord,
Jorge