Teaching Through Testing

Obstacle

Exodus 15:25-26 “There the Lord made a decree and a law for them, and there he tested them. He said, ‘If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.’”

What kind of a God do you and I worship? People are naturally inclined to take extremist positions in their view of him. Before his gospel breakthrough, Martin Luther was raised to see God only as a merciless judge making impossible demands on his people. He was a God who inspired only terror, fear, and trembling in them. There are still those today who believe that a scowl, a frown, and a general spirit of gloominess are the normal uniform a Christian ought to wear. Following the Lord Jesus is the joyless, humorless burden we must bear if we don’t want to go to hell.

Perhaps the other extreme is more popular today. God is such an easy-going, mild-mannered, friendly sort of guy that you don’t have to take him too seriously. One TV preacher with his permanently painted on smile says that you can’t tell people that they are bad. God wants them to hear good news. A woman once sat across the table in my office and argued that Jesus wouldn’t try to make a person feel guilty. He didn’t deal with people that way. I have run into any number of arm-chair theologians while doing evangelism work who are convinced that they don’t need to change. God loves them just the way they are.

It is tempting to say that the truth lies somewhere in the middle, but that’s not quite right, either. The God who was dealing with Israel here, the Lord we follow today, does take some seemingly extreme positions. But he is more than a flat, one-dimensional character.

Do you think that he takes his demands seriously? What does he say? “If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians…” When God is bringing his word to you, you had better sit up and pay attention. We ignore his voice at our peril. And he expects that we not only hear what he has to say, but that we earnestly put it into practice. “…if you keep all his decrees…” he warns. This is no toothless set of general guidelines or suggestions. Our very lives are at stake. How many thousands of Egyptians died in the 10 plagues for failing to follow his commands? How many sinners does death fail to overcome today?

To say that this is a challenge for us, even in the best of times, is a vast understatement. When the Lord is leading us through times of testing, every inclination is to abandon him and his commands. Did you ever have a teacher that you felt wasn’t treating you fairly? The teacher made unreasonable demands on your time and didn’t give you full credit for your work, and then it got really hard to listen to him in class, and to put your whole self into the class work. In a bigger way the same temptation comes to us when the Lord is leading us through life’s tests.

In fact, if it seems that this is simply too much for us, it should. As much as the Lord is leading us to know him when he preaches us his law and then leads us through life’s tests, he is leading us to know ourselves. He is leading us to see that we are weak, helpless, and needy.

Then we are ready to see that knowing the Lord is more than knowing how seriously he takes his demands: “…for I am the Lord, who heals you.” He is the LORD. When we hear that name, we may be inclined to think of more demands from our ruler. But this is “LORD” in all capital letters. This is God’s Old Testament salvation name. This is the name which reminds us that he has freely chosen to make us the objects of his love. This is the name that assures he is faithful. Even when we wander away, he comes looking for us, and he will not stop until he finds us and reclaims us. He will always come for us. Even when we have angered him he wants nothing more than to forgive us and reaffirm his love.

It is this Lord who heals us. That’s not physical healing only. It’s not limited to spiritual healing, either. It is completely comprehensive. His invisible hand is involved in every problem that has ever been resolved in our lives: physical, spiritual, emotional, relational or any other. Our God is the faithful Lord who heals us, and he leads us through life’s tests so that we might know him better.

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