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And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25

Have you ever wondered why we do church the way we do? Well the truth of the matter is that church methodology had been prescribed thousands of years ago and is recorded in God’s Word the Bible. Believers know that all scripture is God-breathed, that it’s a beneficial doctrine for rebuke, refinement, and righteous teaching; that is if we desire to be Godly, complete, and thoroughly equipped for Christian service (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Let’s start in the New Testament.

The Early Church

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47

I whole heartedly agree with this narrative, as it lays out for us an illustration of what an effective body of believers should look like. However, we can go deeper and consequently put more meat on this bone as we venture back into the Old Testament. While Acts 2 gives us a paragraph, the Book of Nehemiah devotes an entire chapter to the subject. Let’s go through some of those informative passages.

The Earlier Church

Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month. Nehemiah 8:1-2

The faithful gathered and were of one mind. The Apostle Paul, an Old Testament scholar himself, would extend this concept to the believers at Philippi, writing, ‘if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind (Philippians 2:1-2).

They went to a symbolic place–the Water Gate, where life giving water flowed and where everyone habitually gathered. They were out in the open where access could be easily gained and where secrets could not be contained. No one would be excluded as they happened upon the meeting.

They sought a knowledgeable person (Ezra) and a reliable source—God’s Word, The Book of the Law. I love the fact that it was the only resource utilized.

The assembly was orderly and only those who could hear with understanding were in attendance. Why? Because those without understanding, namely children, were a distraction—a good reason why children should be in Sunday school classes and not in church proper.

Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood which they had made for the purpose; and beside him, at his right hand, stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Urijah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah; and at his left hand Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam. Nehemiah 8:3-4

Ezra’s service was about six hours long this day. I submit to you that this was not the norm, but it was what the Lord ordained for this particular day. Understand that the people were eager, willing, and attentive. If the question was raised, “How long is church?” it sounds as if the answer would have likely been, “As long as it takes!” We note that the people were glad.

We see the use of a pulpit, but observe that the preacher stood atop it and not behind it. In other words, he stood upon a platform whereby he could be clearly seen and heard by everyone in attendance. And he wasn’t alone; Ezra had many knowledgeable men at his side.

And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 7Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law; and the people stood in their place. So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading. Nehemiah 8:5-8

Ezra opened The Book of the Law (a scroll actually) in front of the people making it clear that this was, a) God’s Word and, b) he wasn’t making this stuff up as he went along—he had thirteen men up there on stage with him to testify to that fact.

When the Word was opened, the people stood. We take note that nobody instructed them to stand–it was understood by all that God was in their midst. In honor to God they would stand and later in reverent worship they would kneel. Again, there was no direction to do so; their orderly response was an obedient gesture that was discerned by those who believed.

In addition to the men standing with Ezra on the pulpit, there were more educated men mingling about the crowd assisting those with questions about the text. In this manner, no one left the meeting without clarity. My friends, this is the need and purpose of the church today—for God’s word to be read clearly and with explanation so that the congregation can be equipped for Christian service.

And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 11 So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them. Nehemiah 8:9-12

At first we’re perplexed and wonder why the congregation wept and was mournful. Let us recall our Bible studies that remind us that the word of God is alive and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12).

We can better understand their grief when we understand the text they were studying that day—The Law. The Law brings sorrow to those who understand the implications; i.e., that we fall way short in our compliance and that perfect adherence is impossible. The Law is merely the road sign that points us to our solution found in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:24).

And they found written in the Law, which the Lord had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, and that they should announce and proclaim in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the mountain, and bring olive branches, branches of oil trees, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.” …And there was very great gladness. Nehemiah 8:14, 15, 17b

This passage demonstrates why there is need to go through the Bible cover-to-cover for fear that something be left out or forgotten. Too many churches today follow sermon lectionaries which stipulate particular passages to be highlighted and taught based solely on the church calendar. On the exterior it appears a nice method, but sadly it only minimally scratches the surface of what God would have us hear. Frankly, some topics are never discussed in this system. That ought not to be.

In Nehemiah’s case ultimately, and in due season, there was great gladness within the congregation because the people heard the Word–the whole truth and nothing but the truth as it were. If this does not sound like your church it might be time for a change; what that change looks like is between you and the Lord.


These ramblings are typically (but not always) a byproduct inspired by God through my personal Bible study at SearchLight with Pastor Jon Courson and with my pastor at Calvary Chapel Coastlands.

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The man Micah had a shrine, and made an ephod and household idols; and he consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest . In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes…Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, since I have a Levite as priest!” …And the priest said to them, “Go in peace. The presence of the Lord be with you on your way.” Judges 17:5-6, 13; Judges 18:6

In the book of Judges we have been provided a prophetic illustration of what Christ’s church is not supposed to look like. Micah, our main character has created for himself a place of worship; one that has a semblance of authenticity, but in reality is a sham of what God desires or allows. Micah gets an ‘A’ for fleshly creativity, flexibility, pleasantry, and holisticism, but fails miserably in every area that is of divine worth. Simply said, Micah took what was holy, perverted it, and then bought into the lie that it was somehow real. In the end when all his religious stuff was stolen Micah discovered that his hand-built faith was indeed hollow.

Beware

The warning for us is to not repeat Micah’s error. Why is it then that we see churches like Micah’s popping up all around us? We do not have to look very far to find churches that espouse creative approaches to worship emphasizing feel good sermons where self worth and prosperity are stressed and where sin and hell are two themes rarely if ever spoken of. Where there is a flexible approach to theology where individual beliefs and moralities are tolerated and oft times celebrated. And finally, where there is a desire to analyze the Bible beyond the scope of its Divine authorship, omitting and inserting text as the body deems appropriate. These have the appearance of Christianity, but in reality are impure and tainted.

But They’re Preaching Jesus?

That’s true, but when ungodly things are allowed in, the entire batch is polluted. And it really doesn’t matter how small the contaminate—it still pollutes. Imagine your Mom made two beautiful cakes. “What’s in them,” you ask.

“Well,” your mom says,“for this cake I went into the backyard, scooped up a big pile of dog poo, and put it in; about a cup’s worth.”

“Umm, ok Mom, whatever, what about the other one?”

“Oh, this one has hardly any poo in it at all, maybe a small piece the size of a pumpkin seed.”

Which cake are you going to eat? A wise person realizes that any amount of contamination is too much. The same principle should hold true for the churches we attend and the preachers we listen to.


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The second lot came out for Simeon, for the tribe of the children of Simeon according to their families. And their inheritance was within the inheritance of the children of Judah…Then the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites came near to Eleazar the priest, to Joshua the son of Nun, and to the heads of the fathers’ houses of the tribes of the children of Israel. And they spoke to them at Shiloh in the land of Canaan, saying, “The Lord commanded through Moses to give us cities to dwell in, with their common-lands for our livestock.” Joshua 19:1 ~and~ Joshua 21:1-2

A Wonderful Illustration

Joshua had led the nation of Israel across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land. For believers today, the Promised Land is a depiction of the Spirit-filled life in Jesus Christ in addition to the historical event that it was. The battles had been fought and the victory contained, and all that remained were the mopping-up activities; skirmishes that continue to this very day. It was now time to divvy up the inheritance according to the guidelines the Lord established through Jacob back in Genesis.

Simeon and Levi were two of the twelve tribes of Israel and above we read about their portions. Simeon’s share of the inheritance was, as the passage cites, was within that of Judah’s and in time, Simeon was surrounded and swallowed up by the tribe of Judah. While there are most certainly descendants of the tribe of Simeon around today, for the most part they have been absorbed into Judah and we do not hear a lot about them from this point forward—a very sad indictment on that tribe.

The Levites on the other hand made out very well. While it is absolutely true they received no inheritance, they ultimately were given forty-eight cities in which to perpetually reside—unlike Simeon they were blessed on a very large scale. So what was the difference between these two tribes? We first need to go back to Genesis.

“Simeon and Levi are brothers; Instruments of cruelty are in their dwelling place. Let not my soul enter their council; Let not my honor be united to their assembly; For in their anger they slew a man, And in their self-will they hamstrung an ox. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; And their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob And scatter them in Israel.” Genesis 49:5-7

Simeon and Levi were in effect cursed because of their behavior in the Dinah incident. We would recall that their sister (Dinah) was raped by a guy named Shechem (who lived in Shechem). In retaliation, they duped the Shechemites into being circumcised and when they were recovering they went through that city and killed them all. This enraged Jacob and later on, as he handed out the blessing to his sons, he opts to lay a curse on Simeon and Levi.

The Levites are Redeemed

Now when Moses saw that the people were unrestrained (for Aaron had not restrained them, to their shame among their enemies), then Moses stood in the entrance of the camp, and said, “Whoever is on the Lord’s side–come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him. And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Let every man put his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.’ ” So the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And about three thousand men of the people fell that day. Exodus 32:25-28

The sons of Levi answered Moses’ call-to-arms; all the tribes were asked and only Levi responded. For this reason Levi was given a much larger and more generous portion of forty-eight cities. They still received no inheritance, but they were rewarded in their repentance—they took the correct stand when the godly call was put forth. Simeon could have responded similarly, but history records they remained silent. As a result Simeon’s portion was absorbed by Judah.

The Application for Us

As far as Simeon and Levi go, we’re in the same boat. Their disobedient act is merely a representation of the types of things we did before coming to Christ. What they did afterwards is where we get an application we can use: Levi got back on the horse and Simeon did not. Simeon lived in a curse and Levi lived in their blessings. From a practical stand point, both were saved, but one wasted away in someone else’s brilliance and the other rose above the hand they dealt themselves. Yes, there were still consequences for Levi, but the Lord in His grace and mercy made away to bless them in a different way.

As a Christian, we have the same choices. If we want, in our saved-state, we can elect to do nothing. Oh, we’re still going to Heaven, but what a waste of a Christian we are on earth. Great is the reward in Heaven for those who willingly and cheerfully serve while stationed on earth.


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Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Take the Levites from among the children of Israel and cleanse them ceremonially. Thus you shall do to them to cleanse them: Sprinkle water of purification on them, and let them shave all their body, and let them wash their clothes, and so make themselves clean.” Numbers 8:5-7

Accepting the Completed Work

“If a person has been cleaned, ” we might ask as we read this verse, “why must that person then clean himself?” That’s a good question and zeroing-in on this passage helps to illustrate an essential spiritual principle, for it demonstrates that in order to effectively accept that which has already been provided, there must be a purposeful effort on the part of the recipient in order to receive and sustain it.

But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

Poodles and Pigs

When I was kid my mom had a poodle and every so often she would take him to have his hair cut so he looked the way poodles are supposed to look. The funny thing was that afterwards he knew he was looking good and strutted around like a proud peacock. In contrast, yank a pig out of the mud and give him a bath, the first chance he has he’s going to jump back in. Jacque (yes, ‘Jacque’) knew he was clean and made an effort to stay that way, while the pig, well, is just a pig and has no desire to be clean, get clean, or stay clean. The 1 John passage points out if we desire to stay clean we need to walk cleanly.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling… Philippians 2:12

Work it Out

By the blood of Jesus the work has been finished, but there is a work to be done, and while that may seem contradictory, it is not. Our effort is encompassed by our decision to maintain that which the Lord has provided and therefore is not laborious. Jesus said His yoke is easy and His burden is light, so while there is a yoke and there is a burden, His promise of ease and simplicity still stand. If we find the opposite to be true it is likely because we selfishly struggle with a desire to return to the mud puddle.


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Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel, and the livestock of the Levites instead of their livestock. The Levites shall be Mine: I am the Lord. And for the redemption of the two hundred and seventy-three of the firstborn of the children of Israel, who are more than the number of the Levites, you shall take five shekels for each one individually; you shall take them in the currency of the shekel of the sanctuary, the shekel of twenty gerahs. And you shall give the money, with which the excess number of them is redeemed, to Aaron and his sons.” Numbers 3:44-48What Is Going On?

There are a few things going on here, but in a word, God is reorganizing. Let’s tackle the events in order. First, the Lord has ordained that for the purpose of ministering to the needs of His Tabernacle, the first-borns of every tribe of Israel will be replaced by the first-borns of the tribe of Levi. Collectively we all may ask, “Why?”

…Then Moses stood in the entrance of the camp, and said, “Whoever is on the Lord’s side–come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him. Exodus 32:26

There’s your reason. Remember the golden-calf incident in Exodus 32? Well the Levites were the only ones who stepped when Moses made the call. Their reward comes a year later (at this time) when God made their ordination official—the tribe of Levi is the ministering clan of His dwelling place.

And why are the first-born the Lord’s? Unquestionably all creation is the Lord’s, but God’s right (for lack of a better word) to claim the first-born of Israel came about during the first Passover when He spared them all from certain death, therefore no one else can make claim to this cluster of people.

Redemption

As we read the Numbers text we first notice that the numbers do not add up. That is to say there are 22, 000 Levites and there are 22, 273 first-born slots to be filled, leaving a balance of 543 shoes to fill (did you get the math?). God in His infinite wisdom concluded that the only remedy was redemption—a price would have to be paid. Why does God resort to this solution? Only He knows in entirety, but it certainly does lay the ground work for a deliverance procedure all Christians have become familiar with.

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Is This the Backbone of Replacement Theology?

No. Replacement theology–the notion that the body of Christ, His church has somehow replaced the nation of Israel, is a false doctrine and it is certainly not what is being illustrated here. Replacement does not mean displacement. What it does mean is that the replaced have lost out on the double-portion customarily awarded to the firstborn. There is a cost for disobedience and we do reap what we sow, but as long as there is repentance towards Christ Jesus there remains an open door to salvation. The church of Jesus has been grafted into the vine; we have not swapped-out the old for the new.

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. 1 Peter 2:9-10


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