Today’s Bible reading: Numbers 6-7:89; Mark 12:38-13:13; Psalm 49:1-20; Proverbs 10:27-28
Today we read Numbers 6 in which God creates a special provision for anyone, man or woman, who wants to set themselves apart from the world for God. This person would be a “Nazirite” (from the Hebrew word “nazir” meaning to “set apart”). Anyone wishing to do this had to give up wine and alcoholic drinks (we can therefore conclude that wine and such are not prohibited for believers). They also were not to cut their hair while the vow was in effect. This would publicly demonstrate that they were a Nazirite. Two famous Nazirites in the Bible were Samson (with his famous long hair) and John the Baptist.
Dead bodies, even those of close relatives, were off limits to the Nazirite as they had to remove themselves from sin as much as possible (death being the result of sin in the world). The vow could be ended at the discretion of the Nazirite. At that time a public ceremony at the Temple would take place during which the Nazirite would offer up sacrifices and shave his head, indicating that the vow has ended.
I think this is all pretty cool. I think I would liked to have been a Nazirite. I say that not because I would love to have long hair (or any hair!). But I think separating oneself from the world for God is very difficult but worthwhile thing to do. Not many of us could do it, especially today considering the fast-pace of the world and all its distractions.
At the end of Numbers 6 God tells Aaron to say a prayer over the people. God told Aaron to tell the people what God wants to do for them. Notice the six things that He wants to do: bless, protect, smile upon, be gracious, show favor, give peace. God wants to do all those things for you and to you. God isn’t looking for reasons to whack you over the head because of sin. That is not who God is. God is loving. He is caring. He made you so you could be with Him. Why would He treat you badly? That would be no way to attract you to Him.
The events in Numbers 7 are likely out of chronological order with the rest of this book. Most likely these things happened earlier than Numbers 1. That is not a “mistake” in the Bible. Many events in the Bible are not recorded in their chronological order.
Notice how each tribe brought the same gifts. All the tribes were all equal before God. It would have been arrogant for one tribe (one who had more people) to give more than another. At this point the Israelites are still living as God wants them too.
The warning Jesus gives us in Mark 12 today is very powerful. He was speaking against the religious leaders in His day but clearly these warnings hold true for those people who are religious leaders today. As we’ve already read, and will continue to read, God’s definition of a leader is a servant. Their goal is to serve others and not themselves. But these religious leaders, and some today, wanted to be noticed. They went out in public in their religious garb and accepted special greetings (Mark 12:38). They pretend to honor God in public all the while committing crimes in private (Mark 12:40) like cheating widows (or molesting boys).
God hates religion. Religion is man-made. It is man’s attempt to bring honor to himself in the hope that God will reward him with a place in heaven. This is false hope that relies on a person’s “goodness” to get to heaven instead of relying 100% on Jesus’s death to open the door to heaven. Jesus’s death was God’s work. It was something He had planned since Adam & Even first sinned (Genesis 3:15). Religion is the work of man. It is man’s way of saying to God “Hey, look at me! I’m pretty good. I deserve to be in heaven.” Sadly, this will not work. You aren’t good enough. No one is. That is why God has to don a human body and live on this earth for the sole purpose of dying. If you are good enough then what was Jesus’s life and death all about? To claim that you deserve to go to heaven because of your not-so-bad behavior is reducing Jesus (aka God) to meaninglessness. Such an opinion is just another way of saying that God isn’t necessary.
Jesus teaches us all a big lesson on giving today in Mark 12:41-44. Many rich people gave large amounts of money, but they weren’t going to miss that money. They had plenty more what that came from. But a poor widow, who only had enough to live on, gave all she had. This shows us that it is not how much we give that is important to God. It is the spirit with which we give that matters. Notice that this woman didn’t just give more than one rich person… she gave more than all the rich people. Her gift, although less in dollar-value, was more when measured in heart-value than all the other givers Jesus saw.
As I’ve mentioned previously God has definitely given me the gift of giving. I love to give money to my church and Christian causes. When I do this passage is in the back of my mind. I always question myself to make sure that I am giving from my heart and am not giving because I want something from God in return. Giving is one way we worship God. Just like singing. Or reading our Bible. Or praying. Or serving others. We need to do all these things with a humble spirit, offering ourselves to God in return for all the wonderful things He has done for us. Not the least of which was dying for us so we can go to heaven.
Jesus accurately predicts the fall of Jerusalem in Mark 13. Forty years after this conversation the Romans suppressed a Jewish uprising and in the process destroyed the Temple. A fire melted all the gold in the Temple and it flowed down between the stones at the bottom of the building which had been erected without mortar. Roman soldiers dismantled the entire Temple stone by stone in order to retrieve the gold. Isn’t that an interesting way for Jesus’s prophecy to come true?
In Mark 13 Jesus warns us that there will come a time when His followers will be persecuted and even killed for their beliefs. That time started immediately after His resurrection and continues to this day. In many countries including Pakistan, Indonesia, and China (to mention just three) Christians are put to death for believing in Jesus. If we are ever in such a situation we should consider it an opportunity to tell the authorities about Christ (Mark 13:9). That would have to be one of the most difficult things to do. I can’t imagine being in such a situation. Christians anywhere in the world who is going through this need to be supported and uplifted in prayer.
This is a good segue into Psalm 49. Verse 5 asks why fear when in the presence of enemies? God is with us. Even if we are about to be executed for believing in Him. Those who are the enemies of God believe they can redeem themselves before Him with good works. But the price is too high. No one can ever pay it (Psalm 49:8). I like verse 13 which tells us that many who achieve earthly success will be remembered and honored for a long time. But their fate is hell if they haven’t cast their sins on Jesus who gladly takes them upon Himself.
For this reason we need to not be jealous or angry when those who hate God achieve earthly success. As mentioned a few times, this is something I struggle with a lot. But Psalm 49 is one Psalm that I turn to over and over again to deal with it. My sight is set on eternity. Not the temporary things this life has to offer.
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