The long shadow reaching back, leads us to see the radiance that awaits
Article linked to the Bible study post for July 11 and based on these readings for July 11, 2021, as listed in the Revised Common Lectionary:
OT: 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 — The Ark of God travels in praise procession to Jerusalem to be restored as the central place of Israel’s worship
NT gospel: Mark 6:14-29 — John, an Elijah-like prophet who prepared people for Jesus, is put to death by Herod the Tetrarch
NT letter: Ephesians 1:3-14 — Choosing Jesus brings new life in Him, the evidence of God also choosing us
• See also this week’s video introduction How God gives glimpse of revival in the present
This week’s story is about foreshadowing. Generally we see the building, or tree, or animal in sunshine and then become aware of the shadow falling from object. But at certain times of the day, like the ‘golden hours’ of morning and evening, the shadows are long. We may notice the shadow shape first. and then allow the shadow to lead us to what caused it.
Life with God can be a bit like that. He exists outside the constraints of time and space, but we don’t. So sometimes we see a shadow, a representation, of something which will happen long into the future. It’s as if what will happen, casts a shadow back to where we are in eternity, and we see the shape but not the whole picture.
1. Worship from then to now
The first story this week is an episode in the history of worship of the Israelite people. For several hundred years they were essentially nomadic, first in the desert wilderness, then slowly becoming settled in the new land God had promised them. All this time, worship was centred on the tabernacle, or ‘portable temple’ which also housed the Ark containing the stone tablets or the commandments received by Moses and other holy article.
The relationship between God and His people was different then — only priests, direct descendants of Arron, who were all members of the tribe of Levi, could enter the tabernacle, offer sacrifices and touch thje tabernacle furniture. Other branchers of the Levite family assisted in maintaining and transporting it. The penalty for inappropriate contact was death!
The same strict demaracations applied during the later period of temple worship, right up until Jesus’ time — and then they ceased. Why? Of all the spiritual gifts and leadership ministries described in the NT letters, there is nothing about priests. In an era when it was expected that *every* believer would know God personally through receiving Jesus as Saviour and Lord, the teacher or shepherd or evangelist would be an equipper, not an intermediary. The idea of robed priests, with processions and rituals, was drawn from Roman temple practice. Once Christians could meet openly, in the 4th century, upholding the official religion of the Roman empire, they adopted a suitably Roman way of behaving.
The OT reading is part of the story of the Ark of the Covenant, which had been captured by the Philistines. However, they discovered the effigy of their God, Dagon, toppled and broken and the people suffered tumours and sickness in three locations before they decided to put it on an ox cart and turn it loose to return to Israel. There it stayed in an out-of-the-way Levite township in the south during the rest of Saul’s reign.
When David was accepted by all the tribes as King of Judah and Israel, he was a very different kind oif person and above all, a worshipper. He knew that the best way to get all the people to place their reliance on God, was to have the tabernacle in a central place, accessible to all, and local to both the tribes of Judah and the northern tribes. Newly-conquered Jerusalem was just such a place.
David and all his men went to Baalah in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty, Who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark.
They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.2 Samuel 6:2-5
So the slow procession spared no effort in celebrating before the Lord, treating His holy possessions as His very presence. Until it all went wrong.
Coming away from the house of Abinadab, which was on a hill, the oxen stumbled, the cargo lurched and young Uzzah, who should have known better, reached out. And perished in the act. Only a priest or Levite could do that in those days.
Now David takes no chances for the continuation of the journey, making a specific sacrifice to mark its dedication to God and leading the praise party.
When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.2 Samuel 6:13-14
David was acting as a consecrated, humble worshipper. Saul’s daughter Michal saw this and resented it. With her focus on earthly privilege, she didn’t understand David sacrificing his personal dignity as king to give greater dignity to the King of kings. And so the Ark was brought into Jerusalem and set in its special place.
David would not see his vision of a splendid temple, the cent re of worship for the nation. He would not know that one of his descendants would be the Messiah of God who would fulfil the law and take worship into a whole different place by becoming the last high priest ever, enabling every believer, man woman or child, to know and express their love for God directly without needing tabernacle, temple or a special time.
2. The last may be honoured as the first
The second story is about Jesus’ cousin John who was the last of the OT prophets who had the honour of a very special role — to announce and usher in the unique ministry of Jesus.
Just as David’s actions laid the foundation for a much more personal kind of worship, so John’s actions built a basic expectation for people to respond to God in repentance and believing for the Messiah they had learned about.
Herod Antipas, the ruler of the Galilee region, had John imprisoned for no good reason, but rather the resentment of his new wife who had been his brother’s wife.
So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man.Mark 6:18-19
At his birthday banquet, attended by all the high-ranking local people, he was coerced by Herodias into having John executed. And so ended the ministry of a remarkable servant of God who many saw as another Elijah.
John was apparently a nobody, living out in the wilderness and baptising people in the river with the no-nonsense style and even the dress of Israel’s most famous prophet of old. Yet at his death he outranked them all, a name known by every believer today and honoured as the forerunner and herald of the Lord Jesus Himself.
3. The invisible mark of heavenly destiny
The third story in this week’s sequence is taken from Paul’s teaching sent to the churches around Ephesus. Paul is writing to Christian believers who have had a personal encounter with Jesus and know the transformation from old life to new the the Holy Spirit brings. This, Paul reminds them, brings glory to God but it also imparts the unique security of being chosen by God in an otherwise precarious, and at times endangered, life.
For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will — to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves.Ephesians 1:4-6
So, who does the choosing? Nobody becomes a Christian without weighing up the cost of making a choice to receive Jesus as Saviour and Lord — with consequences for home life and employment and a vulnerability to unsympathetic authorities who expected undivided loyalty to Caesar.
Yet “putting our hope (or trust) in Christ” is linked with “in Him we were also chosen”. It is as if heaven anticipates our decision, and our putting our confidence in Chrtist reflects a calling that was there all the time:
In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of His glory.Ephesians 1:11-12
This sense of reciprocal movements, our humble decision releasing a part of God’s eternal plan which comes to us, continues in the apostle’s teaching.
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit…Ephesians 1:13
This is like the auctioneer’s ticket of ownership. Heaven has bid for us and won us, and while we may still be in the earthly warehouse, the ticket says we now belong to Jesus.
Conclusion: Knowing who heaven says we are
We are “in Christ” and part of His special assembly, the *ekklesia* or ‘called out ones’. This gives us a spiritual confidence, because the Holy Spirit in us gives us an inner witness of this belonging. That’s why regenerated Christians of this personal faith in Jesus recognise each other, because the seal that the Holy Spirit puts on us, while not visible to the eye, is readily discerned spiritually.
This seal of the Holy Spirit is a foundation of the eternal life we will graduate to, when our earthly service is completed. This is our glorious future which can be glimpsed through the present, just as Jesus glorious ministry could be heralded by John. And just as the expressive, fulsome worship of God which knowing Jesus releases in us, was more than hinted at by David dancing and praising in aan undignified but beautful way.
Knowing who we are in Christ is a key to our living in Christ — as saints who stray into sin, rather than as sinners struggling to be found acceptable.