Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Life Of A Believer - Don't Be Surprised!

After the exodus came the wilderness. The wilderness should’ve have been a time of growth and trust. Israel knew God’s power - they witnessed it as He forced Egypt to release them. They watched His wonders when He split the Red Sea. They should’ve been excited that God was on their side and anticipating the promise He was bringing them to. But a mere three days later, they started something that would become a habit for them - whining.

Three days after leaving the shore of the Red Sea, they came to a place named Marah. They named it Marah because the water there was tainted and undrinkable. They should’ve trusted the God who delivered them, but instead they began to groan about the lack of water. Instead of seeing through faith, they allowed themselves to get discouraged. But God still provided for them and miraculously purified the water there. Then He gave the Israelites there these instructions: “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his sight, obeying his commands and keeping all his decrees, then I will not make you suffer any of the diseases I sent on the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.”

Two months later, and the Israelites began to complain about the lack of food. Once again, they should’ve trusted in God’s care for them and His power to protect and provide. But they started to reminisce about the “good times” in Egypt. God, in His mercy began to down bread for them. When they saw it, they had no idea what it was - it didn’t look like any bread they had ever seen. So they said “what is it?” And that’s how their bread got its name - Manna means “what is it?” God sent enough manna every day to feed the estimated 3 ½ million people for forty years!

Then they traveled into yet another place where there was no water. You would think they wouldn’t be surprised by that - after all, they’re in a desert. But somehow, they weren’t expecting that. They started their usual process of complaining by coming to Moses and saying, “We thought God cared for us! Well, is God with us or not?” By this time Moses was feeling the pressure and prayed, “God, what am I going to do with these people?” But God told Moses exactly what to do. He called all the people together around one of the many large rocks in the area, and struck it with his staff. Immediately the rock broke open and water gushed out - enough to support every one of them! Sadly, the name of that place became “Meribah” because the people contended with God.

While they moved on from Meribah, the Israelites were attacked by a group of marauders known as the Amalekites. I would imagine that they would’ve whined about that too, if God had given them time! Instead God immediately commissioned them to go fight. He sent Moses up to the top of the nearby mountain and Joshua commanded the army. As long as Moses lifted his hands, the Israelites won. But when he dropped them for fatigue, they began to turn back in defeat. So two of Moses’ close advisers, Aaron and Hur, stood by him and held his arms up until Israel had completely wiped out the Amalekites. God then issued a declaration of war against them and commissioned the Israelites to wipe them out.

So...if you remember, everything that happened to Israel serves as an example for us. Israel’s exodus and deliverance pictures our salvation and baptism. Immediately after our salvation comes a time when we learn faith and obedience. This is a time when we learn that our biggest enemy is our self-life - a time to subject ourselves to God’s will.

It’s important to realize that not every example the Israelites set is something to follow. In fact, most of it is a warning to stay away from what they did. Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:1-5, “I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses.(In other words, they were all “saved”) All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.” Do you see that salvation isn’t the end, but the beginning of your Christian walk?

So let’s look at the example they set:

First Marah. Marah was where the reality first set in that their salvation didn’t mean immediate milk and honey. They realized that life could still be bitter, even when God was on their side. How many new believers fall away when they realize this? How many people come to Jesus with a anticipation that their life is immediately going to be fun and enjoyable - only to have their situations get worse? Their family thinks they’re nuts and abandons them, their old friends desert them, their spouse doesn’t understand their choice to serve God and argues with them....what’s going to happen? What every new believer needs to understand is that life will always be life. It is often bitter - but, when they hold to their faith, God can turn it sweet! Marah is the first test of faith.

Then came the Manna. Just like the Israelites had to learn to recognize their food, every believer needs to learn what their spiritual sustenance is. God’s Word is what will sustain the believer. A life inside its pages is a life of fullness. A life outside its covers is a life of spiritual starvation. Ironically, many Christians are still asking “what is it?” Is this the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God or isn’t it? Every believer needs to recognize what this book is and how necessary it is for them.

Meribah was there Israel’s doubt came out if full force. They loudly demanded, “Is God with us or not?” They could remember their salvation, but they weren’t sure about God’s continued presence with them. This is a common issue among new or immature believers. Every Christian can remember a time when they weren’t sure if God was still with them. We’ve all walked through Meribah - but it’s important to realize that God calls this kind of doubt contention. Why? Because He directly promised “I am with you always, even until the world ends.” Who are we to wonder if He’s with us? If you still find yourself walking through Meribah - answer it in faith, not doubt!

Finally, we come to Israel’s first battle. The Amalekites appear throughout the old Testament. Saul fought with them, David fought with them, and even Esther had to deal with an Amalekite - Haman! They are a picture of our fight with sin. That is every believer’s first battle. Just like the Israelites, we need to recognize that our victory doesn’t depend on us. They looked to Moses on the mountain; we look to our Savior, Jesus! Romans 7:24-25 gives us the key to victory in our battle with sin; “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.

These are four stages that every new believer will go through. Usually it doesn’t take them long to encounter each of them. We can succeed through each of them by standing in faith and staying in God’s Word!

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