12. Place of Trust

Wilderness Meditations: 12. The Place of Trust

Jn 3:14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up

Lev 16:10 the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.

Recap:  We have been considering how we think, how we look at the world and look at life, how we have to come to the end of ourselves before we can truly be open to God. We reminded ourselves in the last study how we need people in our lives. We can’t get by without God and it is difficult to get by without people. People are one of God’s resources to us, that was a primary lesson we learned afresh in the early months of the 2020 Pandemic lockdown.

Things Taken for Granted: In a previous series about guilt, about how we can fall short of the things God has for us, we noted things we take for granted in our lives, and the wonder of our salvation was one of those things. Now I am sure there are many, many Christians, who have simply attended church, joined in the worship and prayers and listened to the sermons, week after week, month after month and year after year, but as we have done that the shear repetition of it all has meant that it has dulled our appreciation of who we are and what Jesus has done for us. As a result of that, so often our repetitious ‘services’ have meant that we hear the words but we still try to make ourselves good, make ourselves righteous, make ourselves spiritual, in order to win God’s approval. And it is there we fall down.

Through the lockdown period, church-going ceased, services started up online, meetings were conducted via Zoom. Suddenly many felt isolated from what they had known of as ‘church’. Suddenly, with the trappings stripped away, many were looking afresh at what they believed. It was a time of reassessment, of realising God’s salvation through Christ was THE only way, knowing Him personally had to mean more than turning up at a building on Sunday mornings.

The Old Testament Speaks: A snake on a pole? “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up.” (Jn 3:14) As the snake in the wilderness became of focus of both repentance and faith for healing (Num 21:9), so Jesus was lifted up on the Cross, lifted up by God in reputation (Phil 2:9) and lifted up from death into heaven where he rules at his Father’s right hand (Acts 2:33, 5:31, Eph 1:20). We may be in the wilderness but we too have died (Rom 6:2), have been raised (Rom 6:4,5),  and there, in the Spirit, we are seated with him (Eph 2:6). It doesn’t matter about the limitations of Covid-19, rejoice in the fact that we are divinely supernatural people who have been ‘lifted’ with Christ.

But then a scapegoat in the wilderness? The word ‘scapegoat’ is familiar, one who takes the blame – unfairly! There were two goats in Lev 16, one offered as a sin offering to take the guilt, the other sent into the wilderness to take the act of sin out of God’s presence. In the New Testament the application of that is brought to us: Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many.” (Heb 9:28) He took our guilt and punishment on the Cross and passed into the wilderness of death, carrying our sins away. If, in this wilderness, you see this scapegoat more clearly, understand God is just reassuring you that you can’t take your sins away, Jesus can and has. Don’t take them back.

Reality? So there is the teaching which, it is quite likely, you’ve heard before. But there are various things in those two pictures involving the wilderness, that should create questions in us:

Coming to the snake on the pole (the Cross) in the wilderness (of the lost and fallen world) required recognition that, having been bitten by snakes (the many expressions of sin in the world), we were at the end of ourselves and death faced us. Repentance meant facing the pole (the Cross) and the one on it, seeing the cause of our woes being nailed to death and taken by our Saviour, accepting his death was on our behalf. We receive it and are forgiven, cleansed and healed. Have we taken that for granted?

One of the two goats took our guilt. Jesus took our guilt. Do you still live a life tinged with guilt? Your guilt has been dealt with. Once you confessed it and repented, God forgave you. (1 Jn 1:9). Done deal, there is no more to be said. The other goat took our sins away into the wilderness (of death). Do the wrongs of your past still lurk in the background? Realise they have been removed, taken far away, you are a new creation in Christ, “the old has gone, the new is here.” (2 Cor 5:17).

And us? With all the trappings stripped away, have you been able to see in this wilderness with a fresh clarity the reality of your salvation. You are what you are not because of your church-going or other ‘spiritual acts’ but entirely because of the combined work of Christ on the Cross and now the applied outworking of that by the indwelling Holy Spirit: the past work, the present outworking, all coming from Him. Our part? Just to believe it and receive it in reality. May that be so.  

Even More Caring

When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took here into his home. John 19:26,27
We have seen Jesus caring for all those who unknowingly were involved in the greatest tragedy in history, which was also the most glorious event in history (think on that!), and then we saw him bring hope and assurance to a dying sinner.  Now he brings care and attention to his mother.
If God had been anything like us, it’s fairly certain that at this point of his human experience, Jesus would be raining down curses on mankind, curses on every being in sight, who ultimately brought him to this place.   If he were like Job (see Job 3) he would curse the day of his birth, and perhaps even his mother for bringing him into this world.  That is not an uncommon thought in those whose lives have been less than a blessing!  Yet there is nothing of that in Jesus.   As he hangs there in agony he sees, through the bloodshot eyes and screaming agony, his mother and the apostle John standing there, helpless, just looking on.  His heart reaches out and he feels the agony she feels as she looks on and sees the horrendous thing that are doing to her son.    He also senses in her a fear for the future – what now?  In three quick ways, possibly sparing his breath as the torture of the cross bears down on him more and more, he conveys a wealth of meaning.Dear woman,” he addresses his mother.   Not ‘mother’ which would have driven the sword through her heart even more (Lk 2:35).  “Dear woman” was how he had addressed her at the wedding in Cana (Jn 2:4) where he was separating himself off from her, indicating he was a man with a mission, not merely her son.  Similarly now, he gently disengages from her and her from him.  It’s time for her to let him go as her son, for soon she will see him as her Lord.  This is the Son of God redeeming the world, not just ‘her boy’.
Here is your son,” taken out of context might be taken to mean, “Here I am your son. Take in what you see,” but the context clearly indicates that he is referring to the apostle John, often referred to in this Gospel as ‘the disciple whom he loved’, who was standing next to her.   It’s as if, in disengaging from her, he says, “I’m no longer your family, John is.”  And so he turns his eyes to John and mouths, “Here is your mother.” John knows Jesus and understands.    He probably nods, and from then on he takes her into his family and cares for her.
In these words, in this incident, there is a divine transaction taking place.  So far, for the last thirty years or so, the Son of God has been relating to people as a human being. There have been a number of significant relationships.  Now, and we use that word a third time, it is as if Jesus is disengaging himself from human relationships.
We have referred previously to the sin offering in the Law of Moses, that prefigured Jesus.  The flesh and hide were taken “outside the camp” and burned (Ex 29:14) and the writer to the Hebrews identified Jesus with this (Heb 13:11,12).   On the Day of Atonement, that we have also considered (Lev 16), there were two goats. One was sacrificed as a sin offering (v.9), and the other was to be cast out into the desert as a scapegoat, a goat that would carry their sins away (v.10,20-22).   Could it be that the two goats represent two aspects of Jesus, one the humanity of Jesus that died on the Cross taking our punishment, and the other the Son of God side that could not die but would carry the sins away to hell?   As the end draws near, the Son of God prepares to disengage himself, in love, from those he has loved.   His human life is coming to an end and the divine is preparing to carry our sin away. Is this what was just starting to happen, for you and me?
Lord, we recognise that what was taking place on the Cross was a mystery. You have shared some of the truth with us and have left us to wonder and speculate about the rest. Even as we wonder and speculate, we realise that we are just grasping to catch a wonder that is beyond our wildest dreams in the incredible thing that you have done – paid our price and taken away our sins.   Thank you so much!