The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: C

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Cloud was taken up, the

An exhortation delivered on the final day of an American Bible School.

"And when the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, then after that the children of Israel journeyed... at the commandment of the Lord the children of Israel journeyed" (Num 9:17,18).

Brothers and sisters, for this past week we have been resting and refreshing ourselves in the presence of the Lord. We have pitched our tents together as the camp of Israel in this place. But now, as we knew it would, the time has finally come for us to go. The "cloud" has been taken up from the tabernacle, and once more we must begin our journey.

How often have we heard it said, "Oh, if only the Bible School could go on forever!" If only we just didn't have to leave here, but could remain in this quiet, secluded place indefinitely.

Peter's Dilemma

Peter said much the same thing one time. Once he climbed a mountain with Jesus, and there he beheld him speaking with Moses and Elijah. Peter was overcome with emotion:

"Master, it is good for us to be here!" And he was right!

This week we have stood on the "mountain" with Jesus and the Apostle Paul and Elijah and Joshua the captain of Israel. And it has been good for us to be here with Jesus, to catch a glimpse of the glory that is his, and that will be Peter's and Paul's and ours also.

But it would not have been good for Peter and James and John to build three tabernacles and camp indefinitely on that mountain. There was work to do, down on the plains. They had to come down from the mountain, to leave that private place of sweet fellowship with God, and to go out into the world again.

If Peter had remained on that mountain, contemplating that glorious vision, the Jews assembled at Jerusalem would never have heard his words, "Repent and be baptized!"

If Peter had remained on that mountain, the lame man would have lain daily at the gate of the Temple until he died, never having felt the powerful hand of healing.

If Peter had remained on that mountain, Cornelius and his house would never have heard the gospel call, and the door of hope would never have been flung open to the Gentiles.

Why We Must Leave

Brothers, and sisters, if we all remained here, how many of our families and friends would never have a chance to enjoy the same privilege that we have had this week, this "feast of fat things"? How good it would be, not that we remain here, but rather that we leave here with a firm resolve that, if Christ remain away, we will try our best to bring someone new back to this wonderful place next year!!

And there is another reason why we cannot remain on this spiritual "mountain", why we cannot continue to pitch our tents in peace around the tabernacle of the Lord: Peter had to come down off the mountain in order to follow Jesus in the way. He had to leave that wonderful retreat in order to fail, and in that failure to find greater strength through the forgiveness of sins that only his Master could provide. Peter had to go back into the world before he could meet the resurrected Christ, before he could be a partaker of his Lord's sufferings so that he might be a partaker of his glory.

And the children of Israel had to resume their wilderness trek if they, and their children, and their children's children were to have any hope of reaching the Promised Land with Joshua.

Disciples of Christ are not made by sitting in the peaceful shade, but by struggling along the "rugged pathway". Here, in this place, we may be well-instructed. But only out there, in the bustle and turmoil and frustrations of the world about us, can we become by experience true disciples. Only out there can we begin to put into practice, and to prove the efficacy of, the lessons we have learned this week.

And, besides, why shouldn't we continue our journey? ... because, for all we know, just over the next hill, or around the next bend, we might find ourselves in the presence of Christ, in God's Kingdom. "The Bridegroom cometh"; we must go out to meet him!!

"The Lord is my Shepherd "

We read that God "made His own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock... and led them on safely, so that they feared not" (Psa 78:52,53). His pillar of cloud and fire led them on through a dangerous land, and through treacherous enemies, on their way toward the Kingdom. It is here and now, as we prepare to leave this place of peace and spiritual plenty, and resume our "wilderness journey", that the familiar words of Psalm 23 can be to us most meaningful:

"The Lord is my shepherd..."

not just "our" shepherd collectively, but "mine" individually. Each one of us might say these words. Wherever I go, He will be there to guide me. Though all men forsake me, "and days are dark and friends are few", yet the Lord will shepherd me. And even when I stumble and fall -- especially then -- He will be there to lift me up and set my feet on the path.

"I shall not want..."

True, I may lack many things that I would naturally desire, but I will lack nothing that I really need for my spiritual development. All things have been provided for my salvation, and even the lack of some things have been designed by God for my ultimate benefit (Rom 8:28). And though I have "nothing" now, as the world might count treasure, yet in Paul's words "I possess all things" because the Lord of heaven and earth is my Shepherd, my Guide and my Savior.

"He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
He leadeth me beside the still waters;
He restoreth my soul..."

Here we have rested and drunk of still waters; our "soul", our "inner man" has been refreshed and strengthened. But now we must stand again. Now we must follow Christ in the path of righteousness. Now we must walk through the valley of the shadow of death, so that we can learn to trust in God rather than ourselves, and so that we can (as did Paul) rejoice in deliverances past, present, and future (2Co 1:9,10). When our problems are small, then we are scarcely even conscious of our need for a Savior. But when those problems, and the doubts and fears that accompany them, mount up in our lives... then we can seek -- and find!! -- a Savior who will bless us abundantly above all we might ever imagine. Then he will be a Savior who is as great as our trials, who delights to bless us in a myriad of ways, and whose strength finds perfection only along side our weakness.

If our lives were altogether pleasant... if there were never trials, or illnesses, or pain, or failure, or death... would we still desire the Kingdom? Why should we? It follows therefore that God tries us because He loves us. It is the mercy of God that leads us out of our idleness and into the valley of tears. For it is there only, in the "world", that we can truly find God. It is through "tribulation" -- trial, pressure, stress -- that we must enter the Kingdom (Acts 14:22). These "stresses" and "pressures" are the "rod" and "staff" of the Divine Shepherd, which discipline and even "hurt" us, yet at the same time strengthen and direct us in the right paths. And thereby are we "comforted".

Even in the dreary wilderness, with the "wild beasts", our Shepherd prepares us a table, as He did for our fathers who came out of Egypt -- causing waters to run down like rivers and raining down manna from heaven (Psalm 78:16,24). We must not complain or doubt. We must never ask, as did they, "Can God provide a table in this wilderness?" (v 19). He can, and He does! Here before us on this table are the emblems of a body dedicated and blood poured out. Here as sheep we feed on the pasture provided by the Good Shepherd. And even while the beasts of prey circle menacingly, and the shadows lengthen, we are fed in hope, the words echoing in our ears:

"Fear not, little flock, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."

What comfort there is, what encouragement, in these words! They keep in our minds the beautiful vision of our destination. The cloud has been taken up from the tabernacle. Let us arise! Let us pack our bags and gather our children about us. Let us renew our journey through the wilderness.

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