2013 Women's Ministry Theme: REST

"Come unto Me...and you will find rest for your souls."
2013 Women's Ministries

Sunday, May 5, 2013

An Example of Unbelief
Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.  Hebrews 4:11 NASB

Do you ever struggle to believe God’s promises to you? To believe that His intentions in real life—your life—are as good as they look on paper?  I do. 

In college and seminary, although I was daily confronted with God’s wisdom, power, and love through the teaching of godly professors, I often gave in to doubt in my personal walk.  I can remember stumbling down the sidewalk to my apartment after classes one day, thinking “God doesn’t have a wonderful plan for my life, like He does for other people.  I don’t think He cares anymore; I’ve disappointed Him too often, and now He’s just silently putting up with me.” Those days, I was doubting because of unwanted circumstances.  Now, even though God has provided some of the things I longed for most, I still find reason to disbelieve His goodness—now it’s questioning His saving purpose in my life because He still allows me to frequently sin.  You say Your Spirit is conforming me to the image of Christ.  Oh yeah?  Then why was I awful to my husband for the third time today? 

Recently God, in His grace, brought me face to face with the true nature of disbelief through an account recorded in the book of Numbers, convicting me of my sin and showing me how wrong my thinking is.

It is an intense time in the Israeli camp.  Not many days before, a man was stoned to death for breaking the Sabbath.  Jehovah had added this epitaph to the execution: “So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.  I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God.

Numbers 15

Now, two leaders of the tribe of Levi are staging an outright mutiny. Their contention is with Moses’ leadership, and in their fury they make the following claim: “Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must make yourself a prince over us? Moreover you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey…”

Numbers 16

Their first allegation is astonishing.  Moses brought them out of a land flowing with milk and honey?  No indeed—he was God’s shepherd to lead Israel out of the misery of bondage in Egypt, for the high privilege of being set apart as God’s chosen people.  God’s magnificent promises to them included a home in the fertile, bountiful land of Canaan.  But in their rebellion, these men willfully turned God’s promises upside down.  They cast Egypt as the real land of blessing. 

Even more outrageous is their follow-up statement: “You have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards.”  After castigating Moses for bringing them out of Egypt in the first place, now these men are blaming him for the failure to enter Canaan!  Keep in mind the real reason for the failure: as a nation, Israel had refused to trust God and had rebelled against His faithfulness.  They had an opportunity to enter the land of milk and honey, but instead their unbelief resulted in exile that would last forty long years.


Ridiculous, isn’t it?  Those Israeli men were so blatantly wrong in their statements about God and reality!  And yet we do exactly the same thing when we turn our experiences into a reason to doubt God.  In the New Testament writings God declares His commitment to making His children more and more like Christ, giving us greater joy and giving Him greater glory.  When our lives seem undesirable in small ways or in profound ones, this isn’t an indication that God has stopped being interested.  Difficult circumstances are often the very thing He uses to lovingly make us more like His Son.  Even the daily experience of sin can be a reminder of God’s constant goodness to us.  While my sins are still totally offensive to a holy God, His Word tells me over and over that Jesus Christ died and rose again as the sufficient sacrifice for all my sin, and that because of Him I’m accepted by the Father now and forever.

In Hebrews 3 and 4, the writer admonishes us to take God at His word and to trust Him—and warns us not to follow the example of unbelieving Israel.  What part of God’s Word are you finding it difficult to believe?  Does the example of Israel in Numbers 16 remind you at all of yourself? What is a practical way you can remind yourself of the gospel and find rest in Jesus Christ’s work for you?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  Matthew 12:28-30

Matthew’s gospel has an interesting arrangement:  We see Jesus doing things for a while, then we see Him saying things for a while—chunks of action alternating with chunks of teaching.  (If you have a Bible with words of Christ in red, you’ll see a few pages of mostly black text alternating with a few pages of mostly red.)  Our theme verse comes at the end of a “red section,” so it’s helpful to look at what else Jesus says there.
  •   First, Jesus sends his disciples out on a mission saying “go nowhere among the Gentiles…but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  He warns them that they’ll face much opposition from the Jews, but that the reward will be worth it.
  • Then He spends some time answering the question “are you the Messiah?”  Jesus points out that that the Law and the Prophets predicted what both He and John the Baptist were doing, but very few people believed it.
  • Continuing on the topic of unbelief, Jesus also points out that the towns where He did a lot of His miracles refused to believe He was the Messiah—which made them more wicked than even Sodom and Gomorrah!
  •  Finally, Jesus talks about the people who will believe He is the promised Messiah: not the important religious leaders, but people who might be viewed as lowly and unimportant but trusting, like children.  This is where our text comes in.

Do you see a theme?  Lost sheep of Israel…Law and Prophets…the Messiah…  These pages show Jesus speaking especially to the people of Israel.  (Not too much farther on Matthew will show how Israel’s unbelief reaches a climax. Jesus will start speaking against the leaders more strongly, and ultimately He’ll turn his focus to the upcoming Church.)  Knowing who Jesus’ original audience is will help us understand what He said to them.

“Come to me, you who labor and are heavy-laden.”

 We can think of many things in our modern world that fit this description: raising a busy family; having mounting responsibilities at work; being deeply involved in ministry; carrying a heavy weight of expectations.  Is this what Jesus had in mind?  Maybe, but it’s also possible he was speaking specifically to people who were heavily burdened with man-made Jewish commandments.  In addition to the Law given by God through Moses, down through the years the religious leaders had added many other laws.  For example, God’s command not to work on the Sabbath now included “a woman cannot look in a mirror on the Sabbath, because she might be tempted to pull out a gray hair and that would be work.”  Seriously!  The people of Jesus’ day labored under a massive rule system that ultimately did nothing for them.  In His compassion, Jesus reached out and offered them rest from their unending, useless effort.

“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

  Here are three observations that may help us understand Jesus' words better:

·         “Yoke” was often used as a metaphor for the Law as interpreted by the rabbis.
·          “Learn from Me” is something a rabbi might say—an invitation to learn from an expert in the Law. 
·         “You will find rest for your souls” is probably a direct quote from Jeremiah 6:16.  There God says to Israel: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.   But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ I set watchmen over you, saying ‘Pay attention to the sound of a trumpet!’ But they said ‘We will not pay attention.’”  

Look at Israel’s response in the Jeremiah text.  In verse 19 God goes on to say “they have not paid attention to My words, and as for My law, they have rejected it.”  Doesn’t that look a lot like the response Jesus just described in Matthew?  Like the prophet Jeremiah, Jesus was God’s Messenger to bring Israel back to Himself and His perfect Law but the people refused to listen or believe.
In some ways the situations in Jeremiah and Matthew are different.  In Jeremiah’s day, the people outright rejected God and His Law.  In Matthew’s day the people looked like they were super-dedicated to God’s Law, but they exalted their own efforts and ended up rejecting God Himself.  In both cases, though, the people needed a rest for their souls that was only available if they came to God on His terms.  Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, was offering to show Israel the true purpose of the Law.  They needed to trust Him, repent, and return to God.

So how does this speak to us today? 

We’re not burdened under the Jewish Law; in Ephesians the Apostle Paul says the Church is a “new man” created apart from the Law.  But are we not still tempted to rely on our own efforts to win God’s favor?  Don’t we sometimes feel the pressure of unwritten rules that determine whether we are a success or a failure?  Doesn’t our pride often fuel a need to appear super-spiritual?  In the midst of these temptations, our hearts still crave a rest for our souls.  We, as believers today, must still come to God on His terms for us; we must come to Him through Christ.

Complete in Thee, no work of mine
May take, dear Lord, the place of Thine;
Thy blood  hath pardon bought for me,
And I am now complete in Thee.

Yea justified, O blessed thought!  
And sanctified! Salvation wrought! 
Thy blood hath pardon bought for me,
And glorified I, too, shall be!