Why Manna? God’s Grace Displayed in Our Grumbling

In Exodus 16, the word “grumbling” is used eight times to describe Israel’s response to their hunger. It is easy to accuse them of lacking gratitude and faith, but I am afraid I would’ve been among their number. They watched God rescue them from slavery in Egypt with signs and wonders, yet they find themselves in the wilderness without food.

What was their response? They grumbled. They complained. They reminisced on how good the food was in their Egyptian slavery. They questioned all that God had done for them and wondered whether it was Him who did it after all. They blamed Moses, “you have brought us out into the wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Ex 16:3).

Israel’s grumbling is not the response we expect when we read the story, especially right after God’s miraculous provision of water. But perhaps we should expect it. If we are honest, we probably would have grumbled too. But that’s good news. Because God’s responds in grace and provides for their needs.

In v. 4-8, God promised to send meat (quail) in the evening followed by bread in the morning. This bread was called “manna.” When Moses reveals this promise to the people, He begins by telling them that God “has heard your grumbling.” God responds to the people’s need without them asking. There isn’t a prayer uttered in this chapter. Just grumbling. Complaining. Blaming others. Yet God knew what His people needed. And He gave it to them. They were undeserving, yet He gave it to them. Why? Because He loves them. That’s grace!

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Matthew 5:1 & Jesus as the Greater Moses

As we begin considering the content of the Sermon on the Mount, we’ll quickly notice that every verse is packed with meaning, including the very first one. Matthew 5:1 reads, “Seeing the crowds, he [Jesus]went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.” In this verse, Matthew begins to reveal Jesus as the greater Moses. How? By the little phrase, “he went up on the mountain.”[1]

In Exodus 19:3, Moses “went up on the mountain” to receive God’s law and deliver it to the people of Israel. In the Greek Old Testament (The Septuagint), which Matthew was undoubtedly familiar with, the phrase describing Moses’ ascent reads, “ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος.” Even if you can’t read Greek, you can see the identical nature of Matthew 5:1, which reads, “ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος.” This phrase is used only three times in the Septuagint, each referring to Moses’ ascent to Sinai (Ex 19:3, 24:18, 34:4). This limited use makes the argument for Matthew’s intentional quotation compelling. He clearly wants his readers to note the connection and realize that Jesus was ascending the mountain to teach God’s people just like Moses did.

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Sermon on the Mount (Pt. 1- Interpretation)

While in seminary, I attended a doctoral colloquium where Dr. Charles Quarles described the Sermon on the Mount as a kind of New Covenant Torah. By this, he meant that the Sermon on the Mount is the standard of life that will characterize the members of the New Covenant (Jesus’ followers). Ever since that talk, I have desired to take the time to study the most famous message ever preached.  As I study, I am going to write what I am learning on my blog. This will allow me an opportunity to synthesize what I am learning, and I hope that it will be beneficial to some of you as well![1]

The SM begins in Matthew 5, after Jesus ascends a mountain and begins to teach. He describes the nature of those who will be recipients of His blessings. He proclaims an upside-down kingdom in which the least are the greatest. And He presents a way of life rooted in a pure heart that loves God supremely and serves others sacrificially. His words have been regarded as the “manifesto” of the Christian faith and are well-respected by those inside and outside the church (see Mahatma Gandhi and the Sermon on the Mount, for example[2]).

In today’s post I want to consider the proper interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount. As I began my study, I was surprised to see how many different ways that the SM is interpreted. For those outside the faith, the SM is primarily interpreted as a description of the Christian life. This is not entirely incorrect, but it is often viewed as the primary substance of Christ’s message, which it is not. One must also account for and synthesize many other truths that Jesus taught, such as Him being the Son of God who would save His people via His death and resurrection, to understand the true substance of Christianity.

Inside the faith, interpretations are primarily concerned with understanding the purpose of the SM. Is it meant to be a law that exposes sin and drives people to the grace of God in Christ? Is it a code of ethic that will only be realized in heaven? Is it a way of life for elite Christians only?[3] Or is it a description of the kind of life that God progressively creates in His people by His Spirit?

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