Idols in the Church

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

In Numbers 21 the Children of Israel wanted the luxuries of Egypt instead of the presence of God. So God allowed snakes to enter the camp, providing the opportunity to learn how much they depended on Him. The people soon realized they had made a mistake and begged for the snakes to be removed. That is when God instructed Moses to make the brass snake and lift it on a pole, so when people looked at it they could live. The snake was a reminder that God was the source of their healing. The snake was not the goal, but a means to the goal. The goal was the Messiah, later known by name as Jesus.

And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. John 3:14-15 NLT

The purpose of the bronze snake on a pole was to lead people to worship Jehovah, the same Person who later walked this earth as Jesus Christ. However, over time, people began to worship the bronze snake itself! During a revival, Hezekiah destroyed the bronze snake so that people would worship God instead of making idols out of the things that pointed to God.

He removed the pagan shrines, smashed the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke up the bronze serpent that Moses had made, because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it. The bronze serpent was called Nehushtan. 2 Kings 18:4 NLT

So we see here that even good things can become idols when they become the focus of our worship instead of God. Worshiping the creation instead of the Creator is a very easy yet dangerous thing to do! The snake on the pole is not the only God-ordained symbol that God’s people made an idol out of instead of worshiping God Himself. The Sabbath is an eternal symbol and memorial pointing us to our Creator.

For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy. Exodus 20:11 NLT

Yet when Jesus walked the earth He had to remind people that the Sabbath was an eternal, never to be removed symbol to lead us to God, and not something to be worshiped in and of itself. The Sabbath was not to be an idol.

Christ reiterated the truth that the sacrifices were in themselves of no value. They were a means, and not an end. Their object was to direct men to the Saviour, and thus to bring them into harmony with God. It is the service of love that God values. When this is lacking, the mere round of ceremony is an offense to Him. So with the Sabbath. It was designed to bring men into communion with God; but when the mind was absorbed with wearisome rites, the object of the Sabbath was thwarted. Its mere outward observance was a mockery. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages Page 286

So an idol is anything that absorbs our affections more than Jesus, even if it is something in the church. We may not have statues of Mary in our churches, but is it possible there are still some idols lying around in our church? Let’s not be too smug. If God’s true people had idols in Hezekiah’s day, and again in Christ’s day, chances are good we need to take a good look around, and see if there are any symbols,  traditions or dates – as good and noble as they may be – that are absorbing more of our focus and worship than Jesus.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here. 

Jesus as the Sanctuary, in Light of the Cross

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

In Numbers 21:1-9 God has Moses set a brass serpent on a pole so that if anybody was bitten by a serpent, they could look at this serpent on a pole and be healed. Now as real and literal as this serpent was it was only symbolic. There was no magic in the brass or the pole. This brass serpent was to point forward to Jesus dying for us on the cross and curing us form the snake bites of that old serpent the devil. Still some people started worshiping the brass serpent because they could not see past the pole and get the big picture. 2 Kings 18:4 tells us, finally Hezekiah destroyed the brass serpent because people were worshiping it instead of God. The problem was they saw the brass serpent as the end of their theology instead of looking beyond the pole to what it represented.

Today some say there is no literal sanctuary in heaven, while the Seventh-day Adventist Church continues to teach what I understand to be true, that there is a literal sanctuary in heaven. See Hebrews 8:-12. However, if your theology stops at either the literal sanctuary on earth or the literal sanctuary in heaven your theology still falls short. Just like the brass serpent was real and literally existed, those who could not see beyond the brass serpent still fell short in their theology. Yes there is a real sanctuary in heaven but even the real and literal sanctuary in heaven is not the end of our theology.

When Jesus came to this earth He referred to His body as a temple. See John 2:19. A temple is a dwelling place. Today we dwell in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. See Ephesians 2:6. Jesus was the most the Holy Place and his humanity was the veil shielding us from the glory so as not to destroy us.  As real as both the earthly sanctuary is, and as real and literal as the heavenly sanctuary is, neither sanctuary is the goal of our theology. Jesus is the goal of our theology!  For years while I have been writing and preaching about the sanctuary and making Jesus the center of my preaching and writing, I have had people call upon me and remind me that there is a real sanctuary in heaven. That is nothing that I have ever refuted. I teach there is a real sanctuary in heaven. I just don’t make the real sanctuary building in heaven the goal. I make Christ the goal. Still people want to remind me that there is a real sanctuary in heaven. That makes about as much sense as someone reminding me about the brass serpent when I teach about the cross! Yes, I know there was a real brass serpent but that real brass serpent was not the goal. The cross of Christ is the goal. In the sanctuary message Christ is again the goal.

Everything in the sanctuary points to the goal and end of our theology, which is Christ.

Christ is the Lamb of God that took away the sins of the world.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29 NLT

Christ is the light of the world that lightens every man.

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” John 8:12 NLT

Christ is the living bread who came down from heaven to give us eternal life

Yes, I am the bread of life!  Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died. Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.”John 6:48-51 NLT

Christ is the mercy seat (propitiation), through whose redemption we have salvation full and complete

Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.  For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past. Romans 3:24-25 NLT

Christ is our intercessor against the accusations of Satan

My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous.1 John 2:1 NLT

By the way, when we join Satan in making accusations, we fire Jesus as our advocate and hire Stan to replace him! Jesus can plead your case without making accusations against other people. Accusing others is Satan’s game plan.

Christ is the curtain that bore our sins in His flesh

 And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death,Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. Hebrews 10:19-20 NLT

The Sanctuary Revealed the Fall and Restoration of Man.  In Adam, humanity sinned, was defiled, and condemned to death. In Christ, the same humanity was reconciled to God, cleansed from all defilement, and justified to life.

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Romans 5:18 NLT

Through faith in Christ, sinners experience salvation.  This is the good news of the gospel and the truth of righteousness by faith. All this was revealed in the Sanctuary model given to Moses:

The Sanctuary was where God met sinners

I will meet with you there and talk to you from above the atonement cover between the gold cherubim that hover over the Ark of the Covenant. From there I will give you my commands for the people of Israel. Exodus 25:22 NLT

Today He meets us in Christ

 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19 NLT

The Sanctuary was where God revealed Himself to sinners

and they will know that I am the Lord their God. I am the one who brought them out of the land of Egypt so that I could live among them. I am the Lord their God. Exodus 29:46 NLT

Today He reveals Himself to us in Christ

Jesus replied, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father!  John 14:9 NLT

The Sanctuary was where God accepted sinners

Lay your hand on the animal’s head, and the Lord will accept its death in your place to purify you, making you right with him.Leviticus 1:4 NLT

Today He accepts us in Christ

To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. Ephesians 1:6 KJV

Whenever I am preaching, giving a personal Bible study or writing for SSNET.org, I always have this quote from the book Evangelism in mind:

The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary. I present before you the great, grand monument of mercy and regeneration, salvation and redemption–the Son of God uplifted on the cross. This is to be the foundation of every discourse given by our ministers.—Ellen White, Gospel Workers, p. 315.

Friends, the foundation for the discourse on the sanctuary message is not the literal temple on earth or in heaven. Yes, there is a real sanctuary up in heaven, I know. However, according to our prophet, in Gospel Workers page 315, the foundation of the sanctuary message is the sacrifice of Christ Himself. Just like the brass serpent on a pole pointed us to Christ, likewise the literal heavenly sanctuary points us to Christ.

You may study this week’s SS lesson on the sanctuary here.

John 3; God’s Cure for Unbelief

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

John  3:14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 

 3:15    That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 

 3:16    For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 

 3:17    For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 

 Eve sinned when she stopped believing in God’s love, and started believing Satan’s lie, that the forbidden fruit would give her a better life than what God had offered her. The root of sin is doubting God’s love. When we sin, we are saying, “I do not believe God loves me.” When we sin, we reject God who is life and we choose death. See Proverbs 8:36

In the desert the children of Israel, complained about God, strongly hinting that He must not care for them. God left as He does not stay where He is not wanted. In leaving, God opened the way for snakes to come into the camp. He did not send them in so much as He was just no longer there to keep them out. This opened their eyes to God’s love and they said they were sorry. Sorry for doubting God’s love. Moses made a brass serpent so that anyone who had been bitten could look and live.

So today, when we have been bitten by the lie of that old serpent the devil, saying God does not really love us, we can look to the cross. There we see a God who loved us so much that He died for us. Satan’s lie is exposed. We no longer believe in Satan. We believe that God really does love us. We reject Satan’s lie and we reject death. Eternal life is restored the moment we believe God loves us.

When we choose to believe Satan’s lies about God’s character, we reject God and choose death as an escape from the presence of God. When Satan’s lies are all exposed at the cross, we believe in God’s love and eternal life is restored. As we continue to believe that God really loves us, we continue to obey Him.

Eve rejected eternal life the moment she stopped believing God really loved her. Eternal life is restored the moment we believe in His love. At the cross we see that love.