This week has been a frightening week for the nation financially – unless you’re Wayne Rooney. Or his agent. But for the rest of us it seems like tightening the belt is the order of the day. So you might have thought that this Sunday was a bad week to have chosen for our church Gift Day. Well we chose it months ago, but I think, in the providence of God, Gift Day has fallen in just the right week.
Because, in the bible, financial giving is never spoken about in the context of plenty. In the bible the giving that’s highlighted is almost always in the context of scarcity. (cf 2 Cor 8!)
And nowhere is that more clear than in Exodus. In Exodus you wouldn’t reckon they had ideal conditions for fundraising.
First they’re in the desert. They’re not in wealthy Egypt and they’re not in the land of milk and honey– they’re in the desert. Secondly, they have been saved out of Egypt and for that they can be grateful. But it does mean that each and every one of these 2 million Israelites is a slave, and they have been for generations. They have no transferable skills, no social security, no family wealth, no connections. They are the biggest refugee crisis in human history. Can you imagine fundraising in a Haitian refugee camp? Or in Darfur? Moses is fundraising in the midst of a humanitarian crisis – 2 million slaves who are only ever a day away from starvation.
It puts a double-dip recession into a bit of perspective doesn’t it?!
And yet the Israelites overflowed in generosity until they had to be restrained from giving more!
How did they do it?
Read more below.
Turn to Exodus 12 verse 35 and let’s see where the money first came from...
35 The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. 36 The LORD had made the Egyptians favourably disposed towards the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.
You might have thought – where did the Israelites get the money from? Well here’s the answer. Virtually everything the Israelites had to give, they got from the Egyptians.
Verse 36: The LORD was able to make even the Egyptians generous. And He ensures that the resources of Egypt get into the hands of His people – and then through the willing generosity of the Israelites, the resources of Egypt will end up building the tabernacle. That’s what plundering the Egyptians is all about! We take Egypt’s stuff and press it into the LORD’s service.
This week I finally got around to sorting out my phone and broadband. Are you like me and you’re pretty sure you could save some money on your utilities somewhere, but you haven’t done all the comparisons. Well finally I made a few investigations and within a couple of phone calls I switched providers and saved myself ten pounds a month. I was triumphant! 10 pounds a month that can stop going to a multinational and can start funding gospel ministry. Glory! I had to restrain myself from phoning back my old provider and saying “Ha! I have plundered you. Consider yourself plundered!”
Plunder the world – plunder it for all it’s worth. Who are the Egyptians you can ask? Earn all you can. Barter and bargain and haggle all you can. Take the world for all it’s worth, bleed it dry and and then – Ha! – press that wealth into Christ’s service. That is plundering the Egyptians and it’s glorious.
But then how did the Israelites use that plunder? To make their wilderness wanderings a little more cushy? No that plunder got willingly and joyfully pressed into the LORD’s service.
And we, if we’ve done well out of life – and compared to the rest of the world, everyone in this room has done incredibly well in life – it’s not for our own comfort. It’s not just to cushion the next few decades of our wilderness wanderings until we see Jesus. The LORD has purposes for that plunder.
What are they?
Let’s move on to Exodus 25 and see how this wealth is to be used.
Exodus 25:1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 "Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from each man whose heart prompts him to give. 3 These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; 4 blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; 5 ram skins dyed red and hides of sea cows; acacia wood; 6 olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; 7 and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece. 8 "Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. 9 Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.
So here’s what the Israelites are giving towards: the tabernacle. A tent. You might think that’s not a charity that’s particularly inspiring. But this is a tent built, v9, according to the LORD’s own pattern. The LORD has a heavenly blueprint for this tent. Because this tent will be the LORD’s sanctuary – the place where He dwells among the people.
We don’t have time to look into it this morning, but the tabernacle with all it’s dimensions and materials and furnishings and priests and sacrifices would dramatize to the world the deepest issues of life. It would show in technicolour detail who the LORD is, how He created, what’s gone wrong with the world, how to get from earth to heaven, how the LORD would come and die as a Sacrifice to forgive the sin of the people, how the LORD would rise again and as Priest go into heaven to represent us before the throne and how He’d return at the end to cleanse the whole earth. The tabernacle was, in short, a giant multi-media gospel presentation. If you want to study more on this read Hebrews later on – especially chapters 8-10.
But let me just give one little way the tabernacle would preach to you. Imagine you’re an Israelite and you sin. You feel cut off from God, so you go to the tabernacle to visit your priest and you bring a lamb. You are full of sin and blemish and defect – the lamb is without blemish or defect. And you lay your hands on the lamb’s head and confess your sin and transfer it to the lamb. Then the innocent lamb dies for guilty you. Its blood is shed on the altar, and on the basis of the blood, the priest blesses you and you walk away forgiven.
Of course it didn’t really deal with your sin – not on a deep level. But it was preaching to you about you really get forgiven.
Because the tabernacle was teaching the Israelites about the LORD Jesus. Jesus is the true Lamb who dies for our sin. He is the true Priest who represents us to God. And Jesus even calls Himself the true Temple – He is the meeting place of God and humanity. The tabernacle preaches Christ.
And friends – if you’re here this morning and you’ve never given your sin to Jesus, we certainly don’t want you to give us your money. Forget giving money, have you given your sin to Jesus? Have you, symbolically, laid your hands on His head and confessed your sins over Him? Have you seen Him on that cross shedding His own blood for you – He the innocent dying for you the guilty so that you can know peace and forgiveness. That’s what Jesus has to offer. For free. It’s absolutely free! You cannot pay for it. Forgiveness and peace with God is paid for by the blood of Jesus, the Lamb slain for us.
If you don’t know this gift from Him – please don’t give any gift to us. Instead receive blood-bought forgiveness this morning – turn to Jesus. In your mind’s eye even now lay your hands on His head, confess your sins, see Him dying for you on that cross and know that His blood purifies from every sin. That’s the message of the cross. The message of the whole bible. And it’s the message of the tabernacle.
Do you see how the tabernacle preaches Jesus? This fundraising that’s going on in Exodus is not just some weird building project. The tabernacle preaches Christ. And the equivalent of the tabernacle in the New Testament is the church.
The church is the LORD’s sanctuary in the New Testament – the people of God is where God dwells by His Spirit. And just like the tabernacle, WE PREACH CHRIST and Him crucified.
So: Tabernacle in the Old Testament and Church in the New Testament – both point to the true Temple: Jesus – He is the ultimate meeting place of God and man.
So in all this, please don’t think that Exodus is about fundraising for a building project. This is giving towards gospel proclamation.
And so Moses, from v2, makes the Israelites aware of these financial needs.
That’s important to say, because often Christians are embarrassed about making financial needs known. But in the bible everyone does it all the time. There’s nothing shameful about that. We make known our prayer needs and we make known our financial needs. And our financial needs are not sub-spiritual are they? It’s not grubby and unspiritual to ask for money in church is it?
Or is it? You see, I reckon that basically we think it is. I think if we’re honest, we think money should be kept out of church and religion and spiritual things.
Can I confess to how I usually think? I usually think of life like it’s a two-story house. And on the top floor is all the spiritual stuff, prayer and going to church, and attending to the needs of my soul. And on a Sunday we ascend to the top floor and do spiritual things safe in the knowledge that actually we live our real lives on the ground floor, where we attend to the needs of the body.
On the top floor it’s all about prayer and religion and looking holy and on the ground floor it’s about getting on with real, bodily, physical stuff, day to day. Now in this two story house – where does the question of money belong? We naturally think, Money belongs on the ground floor of practical, day to day life and it does not belong to the top floor of spiritual things. That’s how I naturally think – does it sound familiar?
Well it’s very convenient for me to think that way isn’t it? Because I don’t want to bring my money and my budgeting and my spending upstairs and examine it in a spiritual light. And I don’t want the spiritual light of upstairs coming down to shine on my use of money downstairs do I? No, and that’s why I’m deeply committed to split-level thinking. I’d much rather talk about prayer on a Sunday and I’d rather not talk about money thank you very much.
Well, Moses is going to shock us all. Moses is going to demolish our split-level thinking. For him, we’re all in a bungalow. There’s only one level – and it’s physical and spiritual, body and soul, money and prayer all in together.
So he asks them, v3 – have you got any silver, or maybe, v4 blue yarn, or maybe v5 some ram skins? Or perhaps v6 some olive oil or v7 a gem stones or two?
And perhaps the Israelites are thinking – ‘Well yes, but what’s that got to do with the LORD. That’s just worldly stuff, we got it as plunder. It’s not spiritual, it’s straight out of Egypt.’ ‘Well,’ says Moses, ‘I want to take that stuff and weave it into the house of God.’
It used to be Egyptian stuff, now it’s Israelite stuff and soon it will be woven together to make a sanctuary for the LORD of glory. And it’s the ordinary stuff of their lives. A bronze pot, some purple yarn, your spice rack – your ordinary stuff will be taken up into the purposes of God. Do you see how Moses has demolished our split-level thinking?
Spiritual things are ordinary things like goat hair. And ordinary things like a jar of olive oil is a spiritual thing – because when it’s given freely to the LORD’s service, it contributes to the proclamation of Christ in the world.
Money is not grubby. And the kingdom doesn’t run on air. Money is deeply spiritual. And the kingdom involves financial needs. We must demolish that split-level thinking in our minds. Money is incredibly spiritual. Our money can send a missionary to India or to the kids of this parish.
That’s exciting isn’t it? And can you imagine how exciting it would be for those Israelites who’d come to the tabernacle for a Festival and they could say – that was my blue yarn woven into those curtains. That was my bronze pots melted down into that altar.
And so just as Moses set before the Israelites the gospel opportunities they were giving towards, let me spend a minute painting a little picture of the gospel ministry going on here at All Souls...
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re growing. Numerically & in other ways
For Sundays in October, we have averaged an attendance of 200
New people joining us all the time – enthusiastic, servant hearted new people
We’ve just raised up and sent out two overseas workers who we’re supporting
Sunday Gang is growing: A dozen or more children coming
Little Souls is bursting at the seams: regularly over 50 people on a Thursday
Women on Wednesdays getting off the ground with 12 women coming
We have 6 Growth groups with between 8 and 14 members each
On top, we have an International Students group: 17 came last Tuesday!
On top, we have CE – very low key, but 11 guests on Thursday nights!
Wednesday concerts – 1000 people through the doors over the summer
We’ve averaged 25 to our last 2 prayer meetings: men &women, young & old.
A new and enthusiastic vicar coming with a vision to see us grow in every way
Our ward (Devonshire) is in the top 20% most deprived wards in the country
Mosque, Synagogue, Spiritualist Church!
Sex shop, Gay pub, New age centre!
Job centre, Shopping centre, railway station!
Pubs, clubs and drugs!
Many students and international students in parish (comparatively very open)
Schools in our area who love coming to us and love to have us come to them
And through the ministry of this church we are seeking to reach this place with the good news of Jesus. And just like the scarlet yarn and bronze pots and spices and olive oil – our money can contribute to Christ being made known, and lives and eternities being transformed.
Between here and heaven is very much like between Egypt and the promised land. We thought about this last week. We have been saved through Jesus our Passover Lamb and we’re headed for glory but, like the Israelites, we’re in an inbetween wilderness time. It’s a time of hardship, testing and trial. But what are we going to do with the plunder we took from the Egyptians? What about the spice rack? What about the yarn? What about that gold and silver jewellery they gave us? Are they just going to make our desert time a bit more luxurious? Or do we want to see them pressed into the LORD’s service?
Turn with me to Exodus 35, verse 20:
20 Then the whole Israelite community withdrew from Moses' presence, 21 and everyone who was willing and whose heart moved him came and brought an offering to the LORD for the work on the Tent of Meeting, for all its service, and for the sacred garments. 22 All who were willing, men and women alike, came and brought gold jewellery of all kinds: brooches, ear-rings, rings and ornaments. They all presented their gold as a wave offering to the LORD. 23 Everyone who had blue, purple or scarlet yarn or fine linen, or goat hair, ram skins dyed red or hides of sea cows brought them. 24 Those presenting an offering of silver or bronze brought it as an offering to the LORD, and everyone who had acacia wood for any part of the work brought it. 25 Every skilled woman spun with her hands and brought what she had spun--blue, purple or scarlet yarn or fine linen. 26 And all the women who were willing and had the skill spun the goat hair. 27 The leaders brought onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece. 28 They also brought spices and olive oil for the light and for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense. 29 All the Israelite men and women who were willing brought to the LORD freewill offerings for all the work the LORD through Moses had commanded them to do.
Do you note the constant theme – 8 times it’s repeated in the verses we’re covering this morning – the Israelite giving was freely offered from their own willing hearts. Verse 29 here calls it a freewill offering.
In the OT there were five basic kinds of offering you could make to God. Four of them were all about your sin and guilt and trespasses. But there was one kind of offering which was called a PEACE offering. It was completely voluntary. It had nothing to do with sin or guilt. It was motivated simply by the worshipper’s desire to come and have a meal with God. The freewill offering and the wave offering was a kind of peace offering.
It’s the idea that sin has been dealt with, trespasses covered, guilt cleansed away through the blood of the Lamb – Hallelujah. And with the fellowship offering, now you just come and enjoy friendship with God because you want to. Not because you have to, but because now you get to.
For us, Jesus Christ has been our Lamb slain to take away our sin. Now we are at peace with God. And so, friends, if you want, if you’re willing, if your heart prompts you, you can give. But that’s the word: can. Now you can give. Don’t give because you feel you must. Give because now you can. Now your life has been redeemed from Egypt and you’re heading for the promised land. And, along the way, your ordinary stuff can be converted into gospel ministry. Don’t give because you have to, but give because you get to. You get to see the whole of your life woven into God’s people and God’s purposes.
You might think that sounds all very naive. You might think that unless you lay guilt trips on people, the money won’t come in right? Maybe you think Moses should have been more heavy-handed in his fundraising. Well look what happens...
Exodus 36 from v3:
3 They received from Moses all the offerings the Israelites had brought to carry out the work of constructing the sanctuary. And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning. 4 So all the skilled craftsmen who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left their work 5 and said to Moses, "The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the LORD commanded to be done." 6 Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: "No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary." And so the people were restrained from bringing more, 7 because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work.
Isn’t that incredible? They are a refugee community, they are a humanitarian crisis of biblical proportions, they are slaves wandering the desert. And v5, they gave more than enough. Verse 6, they were restrained from bringing more! And v7, it’s repeated more than enough.
Are you worried that All Souls couldn’t possibly pay its bills in our economic climate? Please it’s not about the economic climate. It’s really about our God.
The bottom line on giving is not what is the economic climate like, it’s: What is our God really like?
I’m so glad our service ends this morning with communion. Because here we’re reminded of our true LORD Jesus Christ. And what is He like? He’s broken like bread, His blood is poured out like wine... FOR YOU, FOR YOU, FOR YOU, FOR YOU. He is SO giving. His body, soul and spirit GIVEN for you.
We don’t give because God is the great Taker and we’d better cough up. We give because God is the most profligate Giver and when we’ve received Jesus, He starts to release us into His way of life.
So again this morning, receive the Gift of Jesus. He has been given for you. And if we’ve been given Jesus, what will God withhold from us?
And if that generosity moves your heart at all, then go home and ask for plunder. Look at what you’ve got. Take that scarlet yarn, that spice rack, even that precious silver and gold, and joyfully press it into gospel work. In these wilderness years, it’s the only thing that lasts forever.