“Whether it were two days, or a month, or a year, that the cloud tarried upon the tabernacle, remaining thereon, the children of Israel abode in their tents, and journeyed not: but when it was taken up, they journeyed. At the commandment of the Lord they rested in the tents, and at the commandment of the Lord they journeyed: they kept the charge of the Lord” (Numbers 9:22–23).
The cloud that guided the children of Israel through the wilderness was eventually lifted up to heaven. But another cloud descended from heaven centuries later, at the Upper Room in Jerusalem. The Holy Ghost—the same Spirit who had hovered over the wilderness tabernacle—came down and hovered over 120 worshipers who had gathered in the Upper Room after Jesus’ death. This cloud came farther down, into the very room where the people sat, and it dwelled upon the people’s heads as cloven tongues of fire.
The Greek word for cloven means “thoroughly distributed.” In short, this cloud of fire had split up and sat on each person in the Upper Room. Then the flames possessed the people’s bodies.
At that point, Jesus’ followers were “in the Spirit,” with the Holy Ghost living in them. Yet it is one thing to have the Spirit abiding in you, and something else entirely to live in total submission to the Spirit. You can be filled with the Holy Ghost, but that doesn’t mean you’re walking in obedience to His leading and allowing yourself to be governed by Him.
We who love Jesus today also have a cloud to follow. We may be filled with the Holy Spirit—praying and singing in the Spirit, or experiencing manifestations of the Spirit—but we still have to commit to taking orders from Him. If we don’t wait for His direction in all things, we simply aren’t walking in the Spirit. Paul’s instruction makes this distinction clear: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).
We are to walk in total submission to the Holy Spirit, just as Christ walked in absolute submission to the Father. Jesus testified, “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise” (John 5:19).
“I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me” (5:30).
How can we possibly think we don’t have to depend on the Father for all things, when Christ Himself said He did? As lovers and followers of Jesus, do we dare think we can do what our Savior and Lord couldn’t do? Jesus waited on the Father, always seeking to have the mind of God.
If we are honest, we’ll admit that heaven is often the last place we turn when we need direction. Most often, we run to counselors, or spend hours on the phone with friends, seeking advice: “What do you think? Is it a good idea for me to go in this direction? Do you think I should do that?” Sadly, we go to the Holy Spirit as our last option, if we go to Him at all.
In Numbers 9, we read of a cloud that came down and covered the tabernacle in the wilderness. This cloud represented God’s constant presence with His people. And for us today, the cloud serves as a type of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.
At night, the cloud over the tabernacle in the wilderness became a pillar of fire, a warm glow in a dark place: “So it was alway: the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night” (Numbers 9:16).
The children of Israel always followed this supernatural cloud, however it directed them. When it rose above the tabernacle, the people pulled up stakes and followed it. And wherever the cloud stopped, the people also stopped and pitched their tents. They moved or stayed according to its clear direction.
The Israelites were careful to move only as the cloud moved, because they knew it was God’s provision of guidance. It might move every day, or every week, and then not again for months at a time. Yet, day or night, the people always moved as it directed them (see Numbers 9:18-19).
To remind ourselves of the radical results of the resurrection, my wife Kelly and I have learned to repeat a certain phrase to each other: “Jesus paid it all.” He finished the work, He rose again, and He has blessed us with newness of life. We are to claim His resurrection power, putting it on like a suit of clothes. “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’” (1 Corinthians 15:54, NIV).
Paul says boldly that without Christ’s resurrection there would be no reason at all to be a Christian. There are voices in the church that say it doesn’t matter whether there was a resurrection. Some have famously written, “I would be a Christian even if it were proved that there was no resurrection. Christianity has made me a better person and it has made the world better.” Some scholars hold that Jesus’ encounters after the crucifixion were just mythical stories meant to encourage the early church.
Paul rejects all of this in the strongest possible terms. He says that if Christ wasn’t resurrected, the consequences are dire: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised” (1 Corinthians 15:14-15, ESV).
Paul is saying, in effect, “If you don’t believe Christ was resurrected, then stop believing in God at all. Everyone stop preaching, evangelizing and doing good works in Jesus’ name. We’ll all be better off. You would do better to get wisdom from Dr. Phil or Oprah or a pop psychologist. They have more to say than someone whose every action is based on something that never happened.”
In short, the Christian faith is not some moral code to be kept. We don’t gather on Sundays just to get solace about eternity. Christ is either risen or He is not—and if He isn’t, then our sins were never forgiven.
“Amalek came to war with Israel. Moses stood on the top of the hill. The people were fighting in the valley. When Moses lifted his hands to God in prayer, the people of God won and overcame the enemy. Then the hands of Moses became heavy, weary. As Moses’ hands went down, God’s people were defeated and the enemy gained ground. God’s people were defeated and in great danger. Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ hands, standing on each side of him. Then Moses’ hands became steady again and God’s people were victorious against their enemy” (see Exodus 17:8-13).
When Moses stood on the mountain with his arms extended toward heaven, it symbolized his dependence, reliance and faith in God for victory over his enemies. “The battle is the Lord’s” (1 Samuel 17:47). “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but they are mighty through God, supernatural for the pulling down of strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). And the victory is acquired “not by might or human capacity, but by My Spirit, says the Lord” (Zechariah 4:6).
In the life of Moses, as in ours, the battles and conquests are the same. I can’t do anything in and of myself and I will fail miserably if I ultimately trust in my ideas, experiences, resources or efforts. In these moments of invisible and eternal warfare, when combat is fierce and our lives, families, ministries or futures are on the line, we find victory as we stand on God’s mountain in prayer, lifting our hands to Him in trust and surrender.
Something fascinating takes place on the mountain. Moses’ arms are getting tired and as they slowly lower, the wind turns on the battlefield and the enemy gains ground. Blood is shed, soldiers are wounded and killed, screams of pain and tears fill the valley, the enemy is galvanized and spine-shuddering, bestial war cries are heard. What’s happening?
The same army that was triumphant a moment before now is being massacred. Aaron and Hur grasp the far-reaching significance of what is taking place. They stand next to Moses, one on each side, and hold up his arms in a gesture and spiritual picture of unity, loyalty and support. It is as if they are saying, “We are with you, Moses. We recognize that God has placed you as our leader and we stand with you. We acknowledge the importance of this principle and we want to practice faith; we want to protect and empower God’s people battling in the valley.”
The enemy’s violent and devastating surge, impossible to stop just a short time ago, is now reversed. God’s people have no additional weaponry, but they are now invincible and their army is mighty. They win the battle!
Claude Houde is the lead pastor of Eglise Nouvelle Vie (New Life Church) in Montreal, Canada. Under his leadership New Life Church has grown from a handful of people to more than 3500 in a part of Canada with few successful Protestant churches.
If we love the world and the things of the world, we can’t be God's: “"If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). If we covet, wanting more and more things, we are not one of His sheep: “Nor thieves, nor covetous . . . shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:10).
These believers will be goats, but not just because they lust for things or they didn’t help the needy. The Lord will tell them, “You misrepresented Me to the world. You caused the ungodly to identify Me with prosperity, money, success. You deceived the poor by telling them I wanted to make them rich. And you told the sick they were suffering because they lacked faith.
“I blessed you. I poured out My resources on you, because I loved you. But you didn't open your ears to the needy cries around you. Instead, you choked on your own goods. If you were Mine—if you loved Me—you would have obeyed My commands.”
You may say, “Brother Dave, this is too hard. Surely God isn’t like that.” Read the words of Ezekiel: “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness . . . neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49, italics mine). When God judged Sodom, He didn’t mention their homosexuality or idolatry. It was all about pride, ease and neglect of the needy. They had no concern for the poor.
How can you get involved with the needy? That’s the work of the Holy Spirit. If you are convicted by this message, go to Him. He will lead you directly to the needs He wants you to meet, in one of these areas of hands-on love ministry. This is not meant to put you under guilt or condemnation, but to help you search your heart in light of Jesus’ words.
The Lord doesn’t expect any of us to do it all. But I know He expects us to be personally committed to hands-on involvement in at least one of these areas of need. Can you say you’re ready to stand before Christ on that day, knowing you’re helping feed or clothe the poor, visiting prisoners, blessing or visiting widows and the fatherless?