The Lord Will Go before Us
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, January 4, 2004
Copyright © 2004, P. G. Mathew
Depart, depart, go out from there! Touch no unclean thing! Come out from it and be pure, you who carry the vessels of the Lord. But you will not leave in haste or go in flight; for the Lord will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard.
Free In Christ
Chapter 52 of Isaiah begins: "Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourself with strength. Put on your garments of splendor, O Jerusalem, the holy city. The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again. Shake off your dust; up, sit enthroned, O Jerusalem. Free yourself from the chains on your neck, O captive Daughter of Zion." The reasons for such optimism are given in verses 7 and 9: "Your God reigns! . . . the Lord has comforted his people."
Through his incarnation, Jesus Christ accomplished our redemption and freed us from all bondage to sin. He made us alive and forgave all our sins, and, having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them by the cross. Therefore, God now commands us to depart from the place of bondage: "Depart, depart, go out from there! Touch no unclean thing! Come out from it and be pure, you who carry the vessels of the Lord" (v. 11).
Even now he sets us free from our own self-evaluation that we are hopeless failures and tells us we must believe the divine declarations of the gospel, that though in ourselves we are nothing, in Christ we are more than conquerors; that in Christ we are dear children of God; that in Christ we are his glorious bride; that in Christ we are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that we may declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light; that once we were not a people, but now we are the people of God; that once we had not received mercy, now we have received mercy; and that having been justified by faith, we have peace with God.
We are in Christ; therefore, there is no condemnation for us because Christ was condemned and punished in our place. He fulfilled completely God's perfect law, keeping the demands of the law in our stead. So in Christ we died to sin and the law, and in Christ we now live to serve God alone forever and ever.
Led in Triumph
Isaiah 52:11-12 speaks about the life of those who are redeemed from the bondage of sin. Life in Christ is a journey. We are going from Egypt to Canaan, from the City of Destruction to the City of God. But we are not making this journey alone; we are being led by our triumphant King, Jesus Christ. So Isaiah says, "But you will not leave in haste or go in flight; for the Lord will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard" (v. 12). We can therefore say, with Paul, "Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ" (2 Corinthians 2:14). Always! In life or in death, in trials, persecutions and temptations, in plenty or in want, in sickness or in health, our God always leads us in triumph. As the psalmist declares, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want" (Psalm 23:1).
Just think of how much we have to be thankful for! God woke us from the slumber of our death in sin and enabled us to break the chains of guilt and condemnation so that we could rise from the dirt and shake off the dust of doubt, fear, misery and gloom. He freely gave us garments of strength and splendor, garments of divine righteousness, and called us to sit enthroned with Christ as royal priests. How could we not shout for joy and burst forth into singing in celebration of this great salvation!
Now, then, having been awakened from death, we must live the Christian life.
Led By the Spirit
When God commanded Moses to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land, Moses told God, "If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?" We are a distinguished people, but this distinction comes, not from ourselves, but from the One who goes with us, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. "The Lord replied to Moses, 'My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest'" (Exodus 33:14-16).
It is the Holy Spirit of God who dwells in us that distinguishes Christians from all other people of the earth. We must never forget this great reality-the Holy Spirit of God has taken up residence in us to direct us in every aspect of our Christian lives. That is why Paul says in Romans 8:12-14 that only those who are being led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.
In Exodus 13:21-22 we see the Lord leading Moses and the Israelites to the Promised Land: "By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night." The cloud is the symbol of the presence of God.
The Holy Spirit regenerates and indwells every true Christian. The moment we are redeemed, he takes charge. He tells us what to think, what to speak, and what to do. No detail of our life is beyond his sovereign control, including how we spend our money, what job we should have, and whom we should marry. He guides us every moment into truth and gives us strength to do what is pleasing to God.
If we are not listening to the Holy Spirit speaking to us through God's word, then we must question whether or not we are redeemed. The redeemed of the Lord will delight in the law of the Lord.
The Lord Goes Before Us
Countless scriptures attest to God's leading and protecting his people. In accordance with his covenant with Abraham, God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt. Exodus 13:18 tells us, "So God led the people around the desert road toward the Red Sea." Once we are redeemed, God determines the entire direction of our lives. He will tell us which way to go, and if we are redeemed, we will follow him.
In Isaiah 42:16 the Lord promises, "I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them." This world has many rough places-problems, pressures and trials of every sort. But do not worry. God takes care of his people.
Isaiah 49:10 is another promise to us from God: "They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat upon them. He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water." This verse is speaking of our spiritual as well as our physical needs. Man is body and spirit, and God promises to take care of the totality of our being.
Finally, let us consider the promise of Isaiah 43: "But now, this is what the Lord says-he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: 'Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.'" This is the effectual call of God. He summoned us, we came, and we were redeemed. "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze" (vv. 1-2).
We do not want to go through fire and water, but it is inevitable. God ordains trials and problems in our Christian life. But because God goes before us, we will pass through them without experiencing destruction. What is the reason for this? "For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior" (v.3). As Romans 8:28 tells us, "[W]e know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."
The Lord Goes Behind Us
Not only does God go before us, but, according to the text, he is also our rear guard. Exodus 14 provides a striking illustration. After the Israelites left Egypt, Pharaoh pursued them with a great army of chariots. In fear, the redeemed began to complain and murmur. This is exactly what we tend to do when we face problems. We murmur and complain, questioning God's competence to take care of us.
But God is true to his promises. Exodus 14:19 tells us, "Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel's army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel." Isn't that wonderful? God will protect us from all our enemies. In fact, he never lets them come into contact with us to harm us.
The Lord Surrounds Us
Psalm 34:7 says, "The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them." God deals with our enemies on all sides, defeating them for us. Psalm 125:2 uses this language: "As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, both now and forevermore."
The context of Zechariah 2 is that, in the Kingdom Age, Jerusalem is going to be filled with people and there will be no point in building walls because of all the people coming in. But how can the people of God be protected against their enemies? Zechariah 2:5 tells us, "'And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,' declares the Lord, 'and I will be its glory within.'" Not only does God surround his people, but he is also at their center; God is within and without. The purpose of it all is complete security for the people of God.
We are living in a frightening, unpredictable world of global terrorism, war, and uncertain economic conditions. But we need not fear, for we are the people of God. The Lord goes before us, he is behind us, he is around us, and underneath us are his everlasting arms. That is complete protection!
Psalm 91 says "Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence" (v. 3). This world has many hidden snares that we do not notice as we go about our lives. But the Holy Spirit guides us in the safe way, saying, "Do not go that way, but go this way." In verse 4 we read, "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart." Just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings to protect them, so the Lord promises complete security to all his people. This is the heritage of those who trust in him.
In John 10:27-30 Christ promises such perfect security to his sheep: "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I am the Father are one."
No power in all creation is able to separate us from the grip of God. He purposed to redeem us and has done so in Christ. Now the One who redeemed us will also keep us from falling. No matter where the problem is-in front of us, behind us, on our right or on our left-no one can take eternal life away from us.
God Is the Victor
In 2 Kings 6 we find another illustration of this protective care of God. Elisha's servant was afraid because the army of Aram had surrounded Dothan, hoping to capture Elisha. The situation appeared hopeless; complete destruction seemed certain. But Elisha saw the reality that was hidden from his servant. "'Don't be afraid,' the prophet answered. 'Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.' And Elisha prayed, 'O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.' Then the Lord opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha" (vv. 16-17).
This is a picture of what can happen even to people of God. Some by faith see and believe what God has spoken, while others refuse to see because of unbelief and panic. (PGM) When we do not believe in the gospel, we become anxious, fearful, and confused. We murmur and complain, questioning the potency of the Almighty.
Brothers and sisters, I hope you will believe in the declaration of the gospel, no matter what your subjectivity tells you. Let your motto be, "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it." Do not believe what Satan says or the false ideas you concoct in your head. Believe what God says in his word, for he alone is truth.
First John 4:4 tells us, "You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." At present, the whole world lies in the control of the evil one. But though Satan and his minions are superhuman, they are not almighty, omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent. They are only creatures.
If we are Christians, the infinite, personal God is dwelling in us; therefore, victory is ours. Yes, the whole world is under Satan's control, but he is a defeated enemy. The Son of God came into the world to destroy the devil's work and he did it. Jesus Christ is our Immanuel, God with us, the victor, and we who are saved will live in union and fellowship with him forevermore.
The Redeemed Will Follow
If the Lord is going before us, what is our responsibility? To follow him. If we are redeemed, we will be led and governed by God. We do not determine our life's direction; God does. We have not received Jesus Christ as Lord, only to drag him in the direction we want to go. It shall never happen! Jesus says, "Deny yourselves, take up the cross, and follow me." The redeemed will follow him; they will never negotiate the terms.
We see this reality in the Old Testament in the book of Deuteronomy: "Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. . . . He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock" (8:2,15).
Deuteronomy 29:5 also tells us, "During the forty years that I led you through the desert, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet. You ate no bread and drank no wine or other fermented drink. I did this so that you might know that I am the Lord your God." That is an amazing thing. These people did not buy clothes or shoes for forty years! God took care of all their needs.
Numbers 9:15-23 also demonstrates how the people of God must completely obey the leading of their Lord. Beginning with verse 15 we read, "On the day the tabernacle, the Tent of the Testimony, was set up, the cloud covered it." As we noted previously, the cloud is the symbol of the presence of God; today it represents the Holy Spirit in us. The passage continues, "From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire. Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped." Following the leading of the Spirit means strict, complete, and absolute obedience to God.
Verse 18 continues, "At the Lord's command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord's order and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lord's command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out." These people did not say, "Wait a minute. I am sleeping," or "I have washed my clothes and just want a little more time." No! When the cloud lifted, they went. They recognized the absolute sovereignty of God; therefore, they rendered absolute submission and obedience to his commands.
The passage concludes, "Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. At the Lord's command they encamped, and at the Lord's command they set out. They obeyed the Lord's order, in accordance with his command through Moses."
Trials on the Way
God's people faced hardship as they traveled from Egypt to Canaan. These trials usually resulted in their complaining and murmuring against God, yet God always took care of them.
When they were trapped by the Red Sea, they cried out in fear, and God led them through on dry land (Exodus 14:10-12). When they came to Marah after three days, they were tired and thirsty. But the water they found was bitter, so they complained again (Exodus 15:22-25). But God gave an answer, and the water became sweet to drink. Then they came to Elim, where there was water. But when they left Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, they grumbled again because they had no bread. So God rained down manna upon them (Exodus 16:1-5), and a daily provision of manna was given for the next forty years (v. 35). When the Israelites reached Rephidim, they had no water once again. Again they grumbled, but God told Moses to strike the rock, and water came out (Exodus 17:1-6).
Then the Israelites began to face enemies and other obstacles in their journey. When the Amalekites came out against them, God enabled his people to defeat them (Exodus 17:8-15). When Sihon, king of Heshbon, and Og, king of Bashan, opposed them, the Lord gave victory to his people (Numbers 21:21-35). When at last they came to the mighty Jordan, it was overflowing, blocking their way into the Promised Land. But the Lord went before them, and suddenly the flooding river became dry land (Joshua 3:15-17).
Finally, the people of God came to Jericho, a walled and gated city. How could they defeat it? A man with a drawn sword appeared to Joshua and said, "As commander of the army of the Lord I have now come" (Joshua 5:14). God goes before us with a drawn sword, and that sword is not going to be put back until all his purposes are accomplished. He will deliver us that he may bring us into his kingdom.
What a mighty God we serve! There is no king, no enemy, no obstacle that can defeat the Lord who goes before us. I hope we will embrace this truth and change the way we look at hardships. I hope we will learn to praise God in times of trouble, saying, "I know God has a good purpose for me in this trial. He wants me to pray to him, and I know he will help me." When God is going before us, everything is all right. Therefore, do not murmur and complain, but trust in God, pray to him, and believe in him.
Finally, I would like to list some guidelines, some of which are also mentioned by Bishop J. C. Ryle in his book Practical Religion. If we heed them, we will experience great victory as we follow Jesus Christ.
Reject the world's standard of right and wrong. What is popular with the world is an abomination to God.
Always ask this question: What does the Scripture say? The Scripture is our only authority for faith and practice. When the answer comes to us, we must be satisfied by it.
Do what the Scripture commands in spite of our subjective feelings. Modern existential philosophy says subjectivity is truth: "I feel this way; therefore, it must be true." That is nonsense! We must always do what the Bible tells us, despite any feelings to the contrary.
Use leisure time wisely. Leisure time can be most dangerous to a Christian, especially evenings, as Bishop Ryle said. Remember David? In the spring, when kings went out to war, he did not go. What did he do instead? He committed a terrible sin, and suffered terrible consequences for it (2 Samuel 11).
Control your work instead of allowing your work to control you. More money does not guarantee a better life. That is a lie of the world. Remember the example of Daniel. A law was made that no one should pray to anyone except King Darius for thirty days. Daniel heard it, but went and prayed every day, as his custom was. And though he was thrown into the lions' den, God took care of him and vindicated him.
Abstain from all amusements and recreations which are liable to lead you to sin. Do not presume that you can easily resist temptation. Many people have tried and failed.
Do not engage in intimate fellowship with worldly people. "Bad company corrupts good character." Health is not infectious, but disease is.
Never marry anyone who is not a thorough Christian. Do not believe that a person is a thorough Christian without some evidence. Many people today say, "Lord, Lord."
Confess Christ boldly to outsiders. Let others know who you are. It will keep you from trouble.
Cultivate fellowship with the people of God in an earnest and serious manner.
Most importantly, love the Trinity. Why is this so important? Because you are going to heaven. If you do not love the triune God here, you will be disappointed there. Love the triune God-the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost-who loved you and redeemed you.
May God go before you and may you follow him this year and all the years of your life. Amen.
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Copyright © 2004, P. G. Mathew
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