We Will Move...When the Cloud Moves: Part Nine

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Part Nine:  The Cloud for Us Today

The cloud in the wilderness was a literal cloud, but it was part of a story within a greater story.  The Old Testament is full of promises God made to His people, as well as shadows of how He would fulfill them.  The lamb sacrificed and the scapegoat released on the Day of Atonement were shadows of the ultimate Day of Atonement when Christ Himself was crucified for all our sins once-and-for-all.  The Tabernacle and Temple were a shadow of the ultimate buildings which are people constructed together by God into a community called the church.  The priests in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament were shadows of each and every believer who is called to minister before God sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise.  And on and on it goes. 

So where does the cloud fit into the greater story?  If the cloud was the shadow, what is the fulfillment?  The Holy Spirit!  And there is one key text I’ve already alluded to that helps make that connection.  In Matthew, Mark and Luke we find that connection.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil.  For forty days and nights…  (Matt. 4:1-2)

The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan for forty days.  (Mark 1:12)

Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from Jordan River.  He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days.  (Luke 4:1-2)

In the unfolding drama of the redemption Christ was bringing to the Father’s world, the various incidents of Jesus’ ministry are unfolded to us as fulfillments of things God promised or did in the Old Testament.  The crossing of the Red Sea pictures Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt.  They were “baptized” as a whole group of people into the leadership of Moses, who is a shadow of Jesus.  Jesus was the ultimate deliverer, and His baptism in the Jordan River represents a baptism for His people into His leadership and redemption.

Recalling that the cloud led the nation through the Red Sea and out into the wilderness for forty years, Jesus also, according to these texts, was led into the wilderness…except by the Holy Spirit.  The cloud for the children of Israel in the Old Testament then, is a shadow of the Holy Spirit for the children of God, or the church, in the New Testament.  It is He who leads us today.  Recalling and reusing the whole slavery/redemption motif, Paul teaches in Romans 8:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves.  Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children.  Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”  For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.  And since we are his children, we are his heirs. (vv. 14-17)

Just as the cloud provided leadership for a rescued, redeemed, delivered and empowered people of Israel, the Spirit of God provides the same today for His children.  And it is precisely this truth that equips each child of God to resist the temptations of the wilderness we all fact today.  While Jesus’ substitutionary conquering of the temptations in the wilderness over a forty day period was a fulfillment of what His people were unable to do in forty years – namely, trusting and obeying God – the same power He had to do so – the Holy Spirit’s leadership – is the very same power we have inside of us!  What this means is that my failures in temptation are covered by the Savior’s once-and-for-all redemption through His blood…AND the Father counts His success in the wilderness as if it were my own success.  So I’m both forgiven and I’m treated as if I’m a super-conqueror in all temptations.

But here is something else that makes it even more awesome, as if that were really possible at all.  Not only am I forgiven in my failures in temptation.  Not only am I treated as if I have a 100% success rate in conquering temptation.  I am also given the same power Jesus had to actually have real success in my every day fight with temptation.  And that power is the Holy Spirit!  I have forgiveness.  I have representation and substitution.  AND I have the supernatural power!  I’ve got it all!

This is crucial truth I am resolved to hang on to here.  It is life-giving and life-sustaining truth.  And it is in those times when I do not hang on to it that I fall to temptation and sin.  Knowing that the Spirit today is the key to every believer’s every problem with every temptation in every wilderness experience, Paul explains our responsibility this way.

Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit.  So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death.  But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.  For the sinful nature is always hostile to God.  It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.  That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.

But you are not controlled by your sinful nature.  You are controlled by the Holy Spirit if you have the Spirit of Christ living in you.  (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.)  And Christ lives within you, so that even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God.  The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you.  (Rom. 8:5-11)

Again, set in the slavery/redemption motif, Paul is out to make one crucial thing utterly clear for the people of God: the Spirit of God leads the child of God and empowers the child of God to conquer sin.  This is where the cloud in the Old Testament differs from the Spirit in the New Testament.  The cloud did not indwell each person.  It indwelt only the Tabernacle and the Temple.  But in the New Testament the Spirit indwells every believer.  In the Old Testament the cloud surrounded the top of Mount Sinai while God was giving the law, a law which convicted and condemned every person as a sinner against God.  But in the New Testament the Spirit indwells each believer and writes the law of God on our hearts so that we will no longer have an inclination to rebel against God (Ezek. 36:26-27; Jer. 31:31-34).

I have had my share of failures and sin and rebellion in my wilderness.  I would have acted right along with any number of unfaithful Israelites in the wilderness, complaining and whining against God’s faithful and loving leadership.  I probably would have been one of those thousands that were killed for the rebellious activities.  I can distinctly recall specific times when I have acted as an unbelieving fool in times of temptation and trial, just because I was scared God might not do anything good for me any more.  I chose to believe that when I sinned enough times in a particular way then the cloud was no longer standing in the center of town, and I no longer had the Spirit’s leadership in my life.  I made conscious choices to deny the truths of His promises that He would never leave me or forsake me.  Maybe you can relate to that.

Most of these failures and occurrences of rebellion center on anxiety and worry.  I used to be a “worry-wart” as my mom was once fond of calling me.  To be honest, I am probably more of a repenting “worry-wart” because I still fail from time to time.  Thankfully I have had my rear-end kicked enough in the wilderness that those moments are growing fewer and farther between.  But I can recall times when I felt myself sinking into the deepest pit of despair and depression because I would stress out and worry about stuff that I could do nothing about.  (And that’s a tool Satan uses quite regularly with all God’s children it seems…falsely convincing them that they have some sort of responsibility to fix themselves and set everything straight so that God will be pleased with them.) 

The lie I believed and still find myself believing from time to time is that God is really not near to me anymore.  I choose to believe, in those seasons, that the cloud has left and there is no more mercy, no more leadership, no more security, and no more direction.  If there were any one human being, other than Jesus, who understood this it was the apostle Paul.  For it was while he was in jail – falsely imprisoned and deeply persecuted – that he chose to believe the truth about his situation:  God was still near.  And this drove his behavior so that he did not fall (at least that we read of) to the activities and behavior of the sinful nature he talked about in Romans 8. 

When he was ministering, evangelizing, and attempting to plant a church in Philippi he was arrested, beaten, and imprisoned.  Surely that would have been a time where I personally might have fallen to despair and depression.  But not Paul.  You’ll recall that he and Silas sat in jail, probably on bleeding, sore bums, with their feet and hands chained to a wall, their bleeding and bruised backs pressed against cold, moldy stone walls, rats in and out chewing at any food offered to them, which they probably couldn’t reach anyway.  And instead of giving in to the anxiety and worry that are rooted in the lie that God has forsaken them, they chose instead to sing praises to God.  No doubt remembering his experience in their town, Paul writes to the Philippian church years later to follow his example by believing in the promise of God’s omnipresence.

The Lord is at hand; [so] do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus…What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.  (Phil. 4:5-7, 9, ESV)

 Once again, the words of the writer of Hebrews echo in my head once more, especially in those wilderness times when money is either tight or non-existent.  It is so easy to give in to doubt, discouragement, and despair when finances are stretched for us in difficult transition times.  This is the other area where I have sinned the most and have not led my family well.  Thankfully, like the seasons of anxiety and worry, which are undoubtedly linked to financial stress, the episodes of failure are growing fewer and farther between.

Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have.  For God has said, “I will never fail you.  I will never abandon you.”  So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear.  What can mere people do to me?...Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever…  (Heb. 13:5, 6, 8)

I resolve to be done with worry, anxiety, financial stress, and discontentment about my situation, whether I’m in transition or not…but especially when I’m in transition.  I resolve today to believe that God is always with me, near me, and inside of me through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Read the entire series here in one document.

About the Author: Rob is a entrepreneur in Statesboro, GA, where he envisions and pursues missional-shaped business for the kingdom. He and his wife Sherri have been married for 18 years and together have three sons and a daughter. Rob believes the mission of the gospel is summed up in four simple phrases: know God, obey Jesus, make disciples, and plant churches. This is the pursuit of his life, as well as the point of his blog.

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