On the day the tabernacle, the Tent of the Testimony, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire… Whenever the the cloud lifted.. the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped… Whether by day or 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.
But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.
But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favour as with a shield.
Depart, depart, go out from there; touch no unclean thing; go out from the midst of her; purify yourselves, you who bear the vessels of the Lord. For you shall not go out in haste, and you shall not go in flight, for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.
One of the most powerful images to describe our lives as believers in Jesus, is that of pilgrimage – a journey towards a goal, sometimes in company with like-minded travellers and sometimes alone but always with purpose. The famous book “Pilgrim’s Progress”, written by John Bunyan, is an exposition of our lives as we travel from unbelief to faith and finally to glory, exploring the various trials and challenges we may face along the way. Although the style may seem dated, the subject matter and the truth it describes remain relevant for us today.
We are travellers – either towards home with God in glory; or towards some God-less existence in an eternal self-determined exile. We are travellers going with different speeds, facing different challenges and succumbing to different weaknesses, sometimes we even stop moving, but the path remains, and the call to keep walking along it.
The words quoted from Isaiah are a call to respond to the saving work of God’s great anointed Servant, our Lord Jesus, in repentance (a coming ‘out’ from the world’s way of doing things) and in obedient pilgrimage to our eternal home and heritage as God’s people. The language is a deliberate echoing of the Exodus experience of the people of Israel, reminding Isaiah’s hearers of that journey by faith through troubles and trials, when God was ever present with them to lead and provide. However it also echoes the language of priesthood, calling us to let God’s word purify us as we go, continually letting go of those things which remain of sinfulness in thought, word and deed. An additional motivation to become purer as we travel, comes in the reminder that we now bear the holy things of God as his priests – his voice in the world, those who live for him before other people. We carry the Holy Spirit, we are the bearers of the good news of Jesus, it is for us to live in ways that honour God’s name since it is now our name too.
It is a lot to remember each day as we get out of bed, and it is a huge challenge as we are well aware of our own weakness, and the hostility of the world to the gospel that we bear. But, as we go, we are also assured of God’s presence with and protection of us – those who bear his name and who love him with true sincerity of heart are also under his special care. We are not running in terror of our lives, but walking calmly, committed to holiness and obedience and at peace because God – the Creator, the Sovereign God Almighty is our leader and our guard.
These words were given to me this week by a good friend, and I share them with you as the basis for prayer:-
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me.
Almighty God, thank you for calling us into pilgrimage from darkness to light, from grief to glory in your house. Let us live as pilgrims in fellowship, in service, in faith and in readiness to move or stay as you direct.
Thank you for your protection over us, your presence with us and the confidence we can have in you as we look to you each day for what we must do.
As we travel let us go in faith, leaving those we love in Christ’s hands, putting our own hand into His as our guide; and looking to find the work He has prepared for us to do by the strength we receive from His indwelling spirit. In the name and for the sake of Jesus our Lord, Amen.