Skilled Workers

Exodus 35:30-36:1

In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Earlier, in Matthew 24:14, Jesus had already said, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”

 

This, then, is the task of each of us and collectively all of us who have called on the Name of Jesus Christ for our hope, our salvation, and our eternal lives. It is our responsibility to make sure that the knowledge of the Truth is not only spoken on the earth, but to also make sure that it has been clearly heard throughout the earth. Every where, in every place, among every people, in every language, without exceptions for any kind of separation such as class, social status, gender, ethnicity, economic power, genealogy, or personal history, every one is to hear. And as Paul said to the Romans, “How will they hear without a preacher?”[1]

It is left to us to see it through. I am responsible. You are responsible. We, as Monte Vista Baptist Church, are responsible. Everyone who bears the name of Christ, whose name has been written in the Book of Life, whose sins have been forgiven and stains washed away by His blood, we are all and each responsible for making sure it happens. And as we saw last week, retirement from discipleship is not an option.

Have you ever felt intimidated by anything? Whether you have or you have not, this should intimidate you. It’s a phenomenal task. To go into and make disciples in places like Hurt and Altavista, Lynchburg and Roanoke, Washington, DC, and London. But also in places like Changchun and Shanghai, Constantinople and Gaza. Perth and Tokyo, Johannesburg and Nairobi, and the remotest, most closed-off places in the world (at least to most Christian Americans) like Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and Pyongyang, North Korea. We are even responsible for making sure that the remotest tribe on the furthest Indonesian island has heard. As well as the foragers who eke out a living in the deepest parts of the Amazon jungle.

As of this past Wednesday, September 1, the population clock on the United States Census web site estimated the world population at nearly 6.9 billion people. While 2.1 billion world citizens are classified as Christians, perhaps only ¼ of that number are evangelical Christians. So that leaves approximately 6.5 billion people that need to hear who Christ is and what He expects of us.

With about 70 of us here today, that’s only about 93 million apiece for each of us here. We might as well get started. Which two of you want the United States? We will need fourteen of you to go to the pretty hostile environment of China and take care of its 1.5 billion. Twelve of you to India, which has parts that are open, but other parts that are very hostile to Christians. South Korea is home to the world’s largest church, but we can still spare one of you for the peninsula. Of course, you’ll need to figure out how to infiltrate the Hermit Kingdom of North Korea, as well, and make disciples there. Wish we could send you in with a partner, but we won’t have anyone to spare with all of the other locations we have to go to. Sixteen of you can divide and conquer such friendly-to-Christian places like Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Libya, and Morocco – home to many of the 25% of the people of the world who are Muslim.

If you have not felt it yet, the task of evangelizing the world is an overwhelming one. How in the world should be accomplish it? Maybe the answer is to look out of the world.

Fortunately, the Bible gives an example of how God’s people can rise to the occasion and accomplish an exacting, demanding, and difficult task with His help. The story I want us to look at is found in the second book of the Bible, Exodus.

Having left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea, with all of the mighty deeds that allowed that to happen, the second half of Exodus is mostly about a singular task. The responsibility thrust on the Israelites was the construction of the Tabernacle. This is the place where God would be with His people. The one place in all the earth where a human could go and encounter the Living God. The “I Am” who spoke the world into being. After it was constructed, Exodus 40:34 says, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” However, God was not to be satisfied with just a token tent, with everyone agreeing that one certain tent at a certain spot in the encampment would be devoted to God for His use. Instead, God had exacting descriptions of what He desired for His place of worship, sacrifice, and communion.

Exodus 25-30 recounts the exact specifications the people of Israel were to use. The instructions included the precise materials, the amounts, the dimensions, the way the threads were to be woven together, every article of cloth, every utensil, every bowl or basin, the candlesticks, the inner and outer coverings, the curtain, the holy place, the altar…all of them were described precisely as they needed to be made. So accurate and detailed are the instructions, that replicas or scale copies of the tabernacle are readily produced. We know exactly what it was to look like, where everything was to be placed, how much it was to weigh, and on and on.

Now, I am sure that the people of Israel were pretty practiced in the arts of construction and craftsmanship from their time serving their Egyptian masters during the period of slavery. However, they had seen what God had done to the Egyptians. Disobedience on that nation’s part led to not a few drastic plagues and the disaster (on the Egyptian’s part) at the Red Sea. Looking at the detailed instructions, it must have been intimidating with the wonder of how to accomplish such a precise and rigorous task considering that it was God’s plans that were being implemented. Surely there was no room for error or lax work.

So I suggest to you that at least in that sense, the task of the construction of the Tabernacle was just as overwhelming as our task of proclaiming the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every nation and people in the entirety of the world, beginning right here in our very own Jerusalem, per Acts 1:8. The task is larger than us as the task of constructing the Tabernacle was larger than any one Israelite – demanding, exacting, rigorous, and difficult. It is impossible for any one person to do. From the commissioning of Bezalel and Oholiab, I see four ways that God helps us to accomplish overwhelming tasks, such as building and being a church, or even evangelizing the world.

First, when there is a task that God needs to have accomplished, we need to remember that He calls someone to do it. He called the pagan, Abram, from Ur of the Chaldees in order to create a nation for Himself. He called Isaiah and Jeremiah and Haggai and Nathan and Micah and Jonah to be prophets and speak His words to a rebellious people. He called John to be the witness preparing the way in the wilderness. He called Peter, James, John, Matthew, and the others to be His first disciples. Exodus 35, records for a second time what was first recorded in Exodus 31, where it says: “Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.’”

At the end of John 1, Nathanael was astounded when Jesus commended him as “an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit.” Nathanael wondered, “How do you know me?” And that’s just it. God knows us. He knows what we’re qualified for. He knows, oftentimes much better than we do, where our passions lay. From when we were being knitted together in our mother’s wombs, God knows us intimately. And He calls us out based on that knowledge of us. He knows our name. And, like Nathanael discovered, He calls us based on who we really are – not just the persona we like to present to the world.

And using that, God gets our attention. Bezalel! I know that you enjoy working with your hands and creating beautiful things. Well, do I have a job for you!

What has God been telling you lately? I spent ten years of my life assuming that I would become a college professor, and here I am thankful that God knew better to bring me here, as your pastor. I wouldn’t have planned it. I couldn’t have imagined it. But God called me here, without a doubt. Likewise, God is calling each of us who are one of His to do something in His Kingdom. He IS calling you. He wants to use you. He designed you for a special purpose, and He knows precisely what that is that will make you the best you can be.

But God doesn’t stop with the calling. Exodus 35:31 says, “And he filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding and in knowledge and in all craftsmanship.” Moses went on for two more verses about the various things that God gifted Bezalel with. He sums it up at the end of verse 33 with, “So as to perform in every inventive work.” In addition to issuing a call, God also fills and gifts us with exactly the things that we need. In Bezalel’s case, he would need wisdom, knowledge and skill of all kinds of different crafts, and understanding to decipher not just God’s plans, but also how to understand all of the requirements of the many people it would take to construct this massive undertaking. But those weren’t the only gifts that Bezalel (and Oholiab) was filled with. He also was granted a filling by the Holy Spirit.

The granting of the Spirit of God was a rare gift indeed prior to the recording of the events of Pentecost in Acts 2. And even those who were granted the gift of the Spirit were not guaranteed to keep the Spirit, as the first King of Israel, Saul, learned the hard way. As post-Pentecost God-followers, we do not fear that the Spirit might leave us. That won’t happen. But we might take for granted this special gift that we expect to receive up on our salvation. We have God right with us! All of the wisdom of the universe and beyond at our heart and mind. All of the power of God ready to help us with our task, immanent, with us – Emmanuel, you might say.

And the filling of the Spirit comes with it enhancements and additions to our natural talents. I imagine Bezalel as someone who grew up with a piece of wood and a whittling instrument always in his hand. I imagine that even with the harsh conditions, even when they had to glean their own straw, Bezalel enjoyed crafting the allotment of bricks Egypt required of him. He enjoyed making sure their shape was consistent. He took pride in making the best brick he could make each time. It simply was not in him to do otherwise. To do less than his best would have been like asking Monet to draw stick-figure Dick and Jane cartoons. Or Shakespeare to write anything as long as it did not involve rhyming of any sort, and definitely not iambic pentameter. These were skills and passions that just came to them. They did them because it was natural to do.

As my mom tells it, I started picking out the tunes from commercials I heard on the radio on a little two-octave toy piano that we had when I was growing up. I was two years old. Later, a school district I was in would watch and listen to me play the piano, and decided to label me talented in music. It came naturally to me.

The gift and filling of the Spirit takes these natural gifts and adds to them abilities, passions, and skills that are supra-natural. They are spiritual gifts. And they mesh with our natural talents and the needs of our social placement so that God can bring about His glory and work. For Bezalel, the Spirit would enable him to oversee all of the work of crafting and putting together the one place on earth where humanity would be able to meet with the Creator of all things.

So God calls, and God also fills and gifts. Beyond that, He also inspires. He inspired Bezalel and Oholiab to teach their knowledge and skills to others. Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel by himself, but the Tabernacle was not to be a solo project. Evangelizing the world will not happen on the shoulders or feet of one man or one woman. Jesus did not pick one disciple to invest in. He picked twelve. And from the one man, Jesus, twelve were taught. And from those twelve, 2.1 billion people claim to be followers of Christ today.

Those who God calls, those who He gifts to accomplish His task, He also inspires to teach and train and reach out to others and make sure that they know about what God is doing and how to be part of it. I think of a new Christian or someone who has just returned from a mission trip to one place or another…their hearts are in the work. They are passionate about it. They want to get the whole world involved in accomplishing something great. And I wonder, why do we ever let ourselves lose such inspiration and God-given naïveté? He wants us to be excited about our work. He wants us to be excited about what needs to be done for the growth and expansion of His Kingdom. It should occupy our thoughts and minds so that it is always on our lips. It should be part of every conversation, every dream. We should see it in every show we watch, read it in every newspaper article or book we read. Our attention should always be going back to what God has called and gifted us to do in such a way that we are constantly talking to others about joining us in the work.

The truth is that we are not expected to accomplish the whole task for which we are called and gifted by ourselves, no matter what it is. I am called to be the Pastor of this church, but I am not expected to be the church all by myself. I cannot and should not do all of it on my own. It doesn’t work that way. Bezalel was called, gifted, and inspired to construct the Tabernacle, but he wasn’t going to do it all with His own hands. Neither are we going to evangelize the world by ourselves. God expects us to enlist and train others in the work. But he doesn’t just expect us to. Like Bezalel, he inspires us to do it.

God calls, He fills and gifts, He inspires. Finally, as if those things are not enough, he also commands. In Exodus 36:1, God calls on Bezalel, Oholiab, and every skilled person that the Lord has also prepared and gifted for the work of constructing the Tabernacle, to actually perform the work. He commands them: I have done all this preparation within and for you, now do it!

God has called us. He has equipped us with the Spirit and the natural abilities and skills that we have. He has inspired us, whether we recognize it or not. And He is commanding us: do it! Do the work! There is a world that needs to hear. Don’t just COME to church, BE my church. Don’t just hear the Word: Do what it says!

Bezalel, Oholiab, and the whole host of Israel completed the detailed work of weaving the cloths and constructing the Tabernacle. God was satisfied with it, and He filled it with His glory. They rose to the occasion of a daunting task, and they finished it – not in their own strength, but with God’s help.

There is much we need to do here both AT and AS Monte Vista Baptist Church. But we are not alone in the task. God is active in calling, equipping, inspiring, and commanding. He will show us the way, and He will give us everything that we need as we walk in it.

For the next months, I want to talk about what it means to be the church. Theologians call it Ecclesiology – the study of the church. What is it that we should be doing? But more than that, what should it look like in particular for us, here, in Grit, in 2010 and 2011 and beyond? How can we join together to do the particular part of the work that God has left to us? What does it look like for us to be creating our little brick that will contribute to reaching the entire world with the knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that the world will be ready for Him to return?

There is no room for retirement. There is no room for laziness. There is only hard work, for which we are already adequately prepared. It is simply to take up the tools and get started, or to continue in the things that we are doing. It took the entire skilled community of Israel to raise the Tabernacle. It will take no less from us. Will you join me?

Let’s pray.


[1] Romans 10:14.

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