The God We Want and the God Who Is

The God We Want and the God Who Is
By Cody Roberts

(Numbers 21:4-9). Every time I read or think about this passage of scripture I am astonished at how perfectly it portrays Christ (John 3:14-15). It is such a beautiful picture of the gospel. It parallels the power and simplicity of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Much as the Israelites had to simply fix their eyes on the bronze serpent, we must only call upon the name of the Lord and we shall be saved (Romans 10:13).  It is also a powerful display of God’s will to turn the wandering and rebellious hearts of His people back to Himself. However, as usual, Israel’s full devotion to the Lord does not last.
            Let us fast-forward about 700 years. At this point in time the kingdom of Israel had split in two, and Israel (northern kingdom made up the 10 tribes not Judah and Benjamin) had recently been conquered by the Assyria. God had spared the southern kingdom of Judah from the Assyrians due to faithfulness of a few good kings, a characteristic that Israel lacked (Joram and Hoshea were their best kings and they were mediocre at best). The most faithful king of Judah was Hezekiah who reigned form 716-687 BC. By this time the children of Israel had gotten into a bad habit of worshipping other gods (2 Kings 17:7-14). A few of the previous kings of Judah had done right in the sight of the Lord (1 Kings 15:14 and 2 Kings 15:2-4 are just a couple examples), but Hezekiah was the first king to actually remove the “high places” and worship sites to the false gods that the people had been worshiping. This is recorded in 2 Kings 18:1-5.
Now I want you to read that passage again. Anything strange catch your eye? I sure hope so. I was a little taken aback the first time I read through this passage. One of the items in the list of things that Hezekiah destroyed was the serpent from Numbers 21. The Israelites had literally named the serpent and were treating it as an idol. They had perverted something that was intended by God to be a beacon of His love, His provision, and His son into another box on a checklist of spiritual rebellion against the almighty God. I don’t know about you, but the thought of that absolutely breaks my heart.
It’s pretty easy to sit here as we read our Bible and absolutely blast insults and condemnation at the Israelites. I mean how could a nation that had seen the hand of God at work guiding them and protecting them over and over and over again continuously turn from God to the point that they were wrongly worshiping an object that was once an instrument of God’s salvation? It is ludicrous! But before the self-righteous side of your ego gets to swelling too much let’s take a step back. Yes it is terrible what the Israelites did regarding the idols and especially (in my opinion) the bronze snake, but don’t we do the same thing….
I highly doubt that any of us has a pretty little snake on a stick tucked away in our closet that we burn incense too, so what do I mean? I stated before that the idolatry of the snake was the Israelites was of taking something that God intended to be for His glory and twisting it into something displeasing to God and even sinful. How often do we do this with church and our relationship with Christ? Flip over to Acts 2:42-47 so we can get a Biblical idea of what the church is supposed to look like. We see the worship of God. We see true love and fellowship with fellow believers. We see selfless giving. We see group of people united in the Holy Spirit. We see people hungry for knowledge about God. We see a love for the lost (even for the people that 50 days before were calling for the execution of Christ). We see new souls coming to salvation every day. I truly believe that this is a model of what the church, the bride of Christ, is supposed to look like.
Unfortunately this is not always the case. I have three observations throughout scripture that are common ways people corrupt their view of the church. Before I go any further I would like to state (what I hope is) the obvious. When I say church I am not talking about any particular church. I am also not trying to call anybody out or hurt anyone’s feelings. I am writing to myself as much as I am anyone else. However it would be foolish to think that this is not an issue that is relevant in the culture that we live in, and 2 Corinthians 13 tells us to “Examine yourself as to whether you are in the faith” so here ya go.

1.  The consumer approach to Christianity

I want you to consider a very famous quote by John F. Kennedy during his inaugural speech. “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” That was a pretty powerful challenge, but how does this apply to the church/Christianity? Take a look at John 6:24-27. This passage lays out a description of people who were following Jesus not because He is the Son of God, but because Jesus fed them and they “ate of the loaves and were filled.” Also think back to the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19). Bear in mind that the same people laying palm branches before Christ and shouting, “Hosanna in the highest” were shouting, “Give us Barabbas” and “Crucify Him” only five days later. One of the many faults of the “followers” of Jesus at that time was they believed that God’s promised savior was going to set up an earthly kingdom. They believed that Jesus was going to free them from the hand of the Roman Empire. The Jews were all about some Jesus when they were being fed and believed a revolution was on the horizon, but when things didn’t go that way they were astonishingly quick to turn their hearts. They should have had the heart of a servant, but they were only worried about being served.
What is your goal of church and Christianity? Is church a place to meet good friends? Is it a place to enjoy some fun trips and make some memories? Are you looking to be served, or are your humbly seeking to obey Christ out of a love for Him? Don’t get me wrong, I have met some of my closest friends in church, and I love a goo, fun trip as much as the next guy, but if that is my only goal I have missed the mark as badly as the first century Jews. Let’s put a little spin on JFK’s quote. “Ask not what the church can do for you – ask what you can do for the church.” Because after all that Christ has done for us doesn’t he deserve our complete obedience?

2.              The Pharisee approach to Christianity

“Whitewashed tombs.” That is how Jesus describes the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 12:27. From the outside the religious leaders looked like they had everything figured out. They followed all of the religious ceremonies to a T. They knew the scriptures like the backs of their hands. They gave their tithes and offerings. They observed the law given to Moses. However they were missing the most crucial aspect of a “religious” life: a love for and obedience to God. Their self-righteous nature blinded them to the true nature of God and to the gift of His Son.
   I fear that a great multitude of people treat church the same way that the Pharisees treated the temple. I fear that people find their peace and hope in church attendance, tithing, and knowing all of the “Sunday school answers” instead of a true relationship in Christ. I hope and pray that you are not a church member to feel good about yourself or to make others think more highly of you. If that is true then how are you any different than the religious leaders in the time of Christ? Christianity is not about any of those things above. It is solely based on a relationship with a God that loves us enough that He gave His life for us. The things above are good, but only if they are fruit that is produced in obedience to God through a relationship with Christ.

3.              The god-in-a-box approach to Christianity

I am by no means going to claim that I know what was going through the minds and hearts of the Israelites in the time of 2 Kings, but here is my best interpretation of why they would name and idolize the bronze snake. I believe that the Israelites despised the idea of having God as Lord over them. Deep down I think there was a part of them that wanted to be #1. To truly see the bronze snake for what it was would warrant nothing less than a total loving submission to God, a reverence that would place Him as supreme ruler of your life. Could it be that naming the snake was their way of trying to manipulate God into something that they wanted him to be instead of worshiping Him for who He is? Maybe they were trying to “put God into a box.” I know that sounds kind of confusing (I wish I could explain it a little better), but hear me out.
How often do we approach God in prayer asking Him to bless what we are doing instead of asking for His guidance? We ask God to bless our path instead of asking God to guide our path according to His will. Is that mentality really placing God as Lord of your life? To truly follow God is to place His will ahead of your own while trusting that His will is perfect. That’s not a lighthearted commitment, but it is what Jesus calls us to in Luke 9:29. Jesus displays this for us perfectly by his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42-44). The Israelites didn’t follow God in that way. They made the serpent into something they could control while still being in control of their own lives. I want to close this section of the study by challenging you with my favorite quote. "There is a God we want, and there is a God who Is- and they are not the same God.  The turning point in our lives is when we stop looking for the God we want and start seeking the God who is." -Patrick Morley
            I sincerely pray that this doesn’t apply to you. I hope that you are deeply in love with Christ and are humbly submitting to His lordship completely. However, if this is not the case I beg you to get right with God. If you would like someone to talk to please get with me or Edwin or any leadership team member/connect group leader. We love you and are not here to judge or ridicule you. I can’t speak for anyone else previously listed, but I’ve been there. I have been in all three of those categories at some point in my life, and I don’t want that for you.
            This world is in dire need of Jesus. I am reminded every day that we live in a broken world that can only be cured by the love and blood of Jesus Christ. We need a revival. The world needs a revival, and this revival is only going to start by the church being the hands and feet of Christ through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Just imagine the impact for the Kingdom of God we would have if the church was like the church in Acts 2. That is why this lesson has been on my heart. My heart breaks for the lost. My heart breaks for those who are dying doomed for an eternity in Hell. “The harvest is truly plentiful, but the laborers are few (Matthew 9:37).” “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:14)” It’s time for the church to be the church again, and it can start with you.  

- Cody Roberts