This is the inspiration for today’s message! Does anyone know what it is? A tent-peg. [P] What with it being holiday season and people off camping; I thought that today I would talk about the deeply spiritual and theologically significant subject of tent-pegs. . I was reading in Zechariah [P] a few weeks back in: [Zechariah 10:1–5 Ask rain from יהוה at the time of the spring rain (a picture of the Holy Spirit, isn’t it?)— יהוה who makes the storm clouds; and He will give them showers of rain, vegetation in the field to each man. For the teraphim (that is house-hold idols) speak iniquity, and the diviners see lying visions and tell false dreams; they comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep, they are afflicted, because there is no shepherd. My anger is kindled against the shepherds, and I will punish the male goats; for יהוה of armies has visited His flock, the house of Judah, and will make them like His majestic horse in battle. From them will come the cornerstone, from them the tent peg, from them the bow of battle, from them every ruler, all of them together. They will be as mighty men, treading down the enemy in the mire of the streets in battle; and they will fight, for יהוה will be with them; and the riders on horses will be put to shame.] It was particularly verse 4 that drew my attention: [P] [Zechariah 10:4 From them will come the cornerstone, from them the tent peg, from them the bow of battle, from them every ruler, all of them together.] But I read the surrounding verse for context. The prophecy is about asking God for rain, spiritual refreshing, the work of the Holy Spirit. Evidently things were not good, the fields were not producing because of the rampant idolatry. The problem was LEADERSHIP! The people had been led astray. Notice the emphasis on “leaders”: the “people wander like sheep” because there is “no shepherd” (v.2) – no one to lead them. יהוה is angry with the “shepherds” in (v.3). He talks about “mighty men” in (v.5). In verse 4 there is the “cornerstone” – that is the stone on which a building is founded – Jesus is the chief corner-stone of God’s temple made up of us living stones. There is also the “bow of battle” every “ruler”. It is all about leadership, mighty men who lead and prevail in battle. In their desperate situation, they call upon יהוה, who does something in their midst! Hallelujah! That is the context: [Zechariah 10:4 “From them will come the cornerstone …., from them the bow of battle, from them every ruler, all of them together.] There are these leaders, the foundational ones, the mighty in battle coming from them; but right in the middle it says: [P] “from them will come the tent-peg”! I have never considered a tent-peg as a symbol of a leader. I don’t think it is! There are some pretty fancy tents available for camping today, not like leaky heavy canvas monstrosities we had when I was a kid. People may show off their fancy new tent with its multiple rooms, and features; but, never are they boasting about the tent-pegs! Tent-pegs are utterly insignificant! I mean, you don’t even see them! They are hammered into the ground. Nobody notices them! They are insignificant! Or are they?! There you are camping; it’s mid-summer, but it’s no guarantee of good weather. The wind whips up, the southerly strikes. Suddenly the importance of those tent-pegs is revealed! [P] They are holding everything in place! They may be hidden, just bits of bent wire, but the whole security of the tent is dependent upon them! In fact, older-style tents with straight poles wouldn’t even stand up without tent-pegs. [P] In a storm – security depends upon the tent pegs. This tent has fancy fibre-glass poles, modern materials, ventilation, doors, floor, weather-proof; but it is limp and without structure because there are not tent-pegs holding it in place. I couldn’t hammer them into the church floor. Here is something, common, unseen, unspectacular, ordinary, there are loads of them. This is not a tent-pole, prominent, a leader. This is just the ordinary people – but the whole integrity and stability of the structure of the dwelling depends upon them – on us! The temple, before it was a building, was a tabernacle, a tent. It was held in place by tent-pegs – that is where you first find this word in Scripture; they are listed in the equipment of the tabernacle – designed by יהוה Himself; specified and listed in His Holy Word. Ordinary believers, tent-pegs; we revere the apostles Paul and Peter, and we are indebted to their legacy, they were key in establishing the early church; but the vast and rapid spread of the early church was predominately due to ordinary believers simply gossiping the Gospel. Michael Green in his book “Evangelism in the Early Church”, said: “It was an unselfconscious effort. They were scattered from their base in Jerusalem and they went everywhere spreading the good news which had brought joy, release and a new life to themselves. This must often have been, not formal preaching, but the informal chattering to friends and chance acquaintances, in homes and wine shops, on walks, and around market stalls. They went everywhere gossiping the Gospel; they did it naturally, enthusiastically, and with the conviction of those who are not paid to say that sort of thing. Consequently, they were taken seriously, and the movement spread.” Not the big-names, but ordinary believers, tent-pegs are vital to the integrity of the structure where God dwelt. We are the temple where God dwells! We are just ordinary people. Abraham Lincoln said: “The Lord prefers common-looking people. That is why he made so many of them.” I have a concern, well many actually, about education today. They are forever training people to be leaders: leadership courses, looking for leadership qualities. They never seem to be training people to be followers! Let’s face it, most of us are not going to be leaders. The leader has to have someone to lead! There are just a few leaders, most people are followers. You know the saying about there being “too many chiefs and not enough Indians”. I work in a lab, we produce blood test results. That is what the doctors want from us, our raison d’etre. But the managers, no matter how important they may be, do not produce a single one of them! Everything depends upon the tent-pegs! Jesus did not command us to make leaders but in [Matthew 28:19–20 “Go therefore and make disciples (that is followers) of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”] The main verb in the verse, the command, is to make disciples, to make followers. It is the ordinary, that are the essential. It seems that God loves ordinary people – that is why He made so many of them! Tent-pegs are the stability and security of the whole structure. What keeps the tent immovable in the storm? The tent-pegs! And there is a storm out there! The church is being assaulted by it on every side! Tent-pegs speak of firmness, stability: [Ezra 9:8 “But now for a brief moment grace has been shown from יהוה our God, to leave us an escaped remnant and to give us a tent-peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage.] Having been in exile, they now had a secure place now in Jerusalem. [Isaiah 22:23 I will drive him like a tent-peg in a firm place, and he will become a throne of glory to his father’s house.] Fixed, established firmly in position. [Isaiah 33:20 Look upon Zion, the city of our appointed feasts; your eyes will see Jerusalem, an undisturbed habitation, a tent which will not be folded; its tent-pegs will never be pulled up, nor any of its cords be torn apart.] The picture is of firmness, being established, not being moved, secure. And it is the tent-pegs that do it! There is a very well-known verse, a memory verse from way back: [P] [1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.] There is a “therefore” a “reason”: why are we to be steadfast and immovable? The reason is in the previous verse: [1 Corinthians 15:57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.] We are immovable steadfast because God gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. That is why we are not blown away. As ordinary people, tent-pegs; may I encourage us to: “, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” That word “steadfast” is found in: [Colossians 1:22–23 He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach (how wonderful is that, but there is a condition)— if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the Gospel that you have heard.] Immovable tent-pegs, firm in the faith and hope of the Gospel. We live in times when our faith is being assaulted in every direction – a storm of ridicule, Christianity dismissed as irrelevant, old-fashioned and ignorant. We need to hold firm – to be faithful to the end. [Mark 13:13 “You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.] The faith is being attacked, not so much in persecution and in an overt way but in snide remarks, mockery, looking down on you as if “how can you be so ignorant to hold to such primitive, unenlightened ideas?”; “We have progressed, we know better, we have moved on.” Jude said: [Jude 3 Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.] It doesn’t change. It remains the same, that which was once and for all delivered to us. We have to fight just to maintain our position. Hold firm, be immovable. The assault even comes from within the church: [Ephesians 4:12–14 equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; (the temple/tabernacle where God dwell) until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;] Instead of being blown about by false teaching we hold firm to the faith once and for all delivered to us. There is no other message, no other way of salvation: only through Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection. Paul prayed for the believers in Colossae: [Colossians 1:9–11 we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, (wow! Strengthened with all power! All the power of God, with Divine power! According to His glorious might! What do we need this power for? What is the purpose?) for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience.] We need Divine power to remain steadfast, unmoved. We hold to the faith. We read that God gives us the victory though our Lord Jesus Christ, and that is why we remain steadfast; but John says: [P] [1 John 5:4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world (the world who attacks and ridicules us and our belief)—our faith.] The word “faith” also means [P] “faithfulness” – in both Greek and Hebrew the word means both. We hold faithfully to our faith – we are not shifted from it. We remain steadfast, immovable, no matter what gets thrown at us by those around us. By standing firm, faithful in our faith, we overcome, we gain the victory. Faithfulness is what is required of servants: [1 Corinthians 4:2 In this case, moreover, it is sought in stewards that one be found faithful.] [P] Years ago, at the Elim church, there was a prophecy, really a word of knowledge, given to me. It was a Pentecostal church, such things were fairly common, I received a number and most were like water off a duck’s back; but this one stuck, rang true, it said: “God’s called you to be a consistent man of God. God has got a mark on your life, my friend, that you will be faithful to God, be consistent in the things of God. God is making you one of those faithful men who hangs in there, almost like – you know – someone who continually plods along faithful in God. And God will meet you there are you just continue to walk faithfully with Him and just expect the good hand of the Lord to be with you wherever you go. Hallelujah! The word of the Lord comes to me right now from the book of Joshua 1:9, you know about meditating on this Book of God day and night, so that whatever you do will prosper, wherever you go you’ll have good success – because the hand of the Lord is upon you. Have not I commanded you? says the Lord, be strong and of a good courage and you shall possess these things that God has ordained for you.” That was over thirty years ago. Called to be faithful. I guess that was personal, but it is all of us; we are all called to be faithful: [Revelation 17:14 “These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.”] Again, it is speaking of victory: Jesus overcomes, and those with Him are “the called, and chosen and faithful”. Those who are with Jesus are chosen by Him, called by Him, faithful to Him. They hold fast even when war is waged. Loyal to their Lord and Commander. Faithfulness is a quality greatly esteemed by יהוה, because it is His very own nature: He is faithful! Hallelujah! [P] [Deuteronomy 32:3–4 “For I proclaim the name of יהוה; (His character, His nature, His essential being) ascribe greatness to our God! “The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.] Loving-kindness, covenant-loyalty, is His very nature: loyal. He is a Rock! Immovable! Secure! Steadfast! And that is what we are called to be – to be like Him! I remember at that Elim church, that I mentioned, that the pastor was diagnosed with cancer. The whole church was called to a week-long fast – I think there was something in the fact that we all doing it together. Come the end of the week God began revealing things, speaking to various ones. It was a spiritually powerful time. Almost incidentally, Steve was healed; that was secondary to the fact that people were hearing from God. And I too, at that time, had a tremendous spiritual revelation! Do you know what it was? “GOD IS FAITHFUL!” [P] A startling, world-shaking, revelation, eh? But it was! I mean, I always knew that God was faithful. I could have told you that fact. I never would have denied it. But I cannot communicate how suddenly the weight and the awesome of the faithfulness of God impressed itself upon me! Previously I knew that fact; now I knew the truth! The vast and awesome greatness of God’s faithfulness was somehow communicated to me, was very real to me. All human faithfulness seemed utterly puny in comparison. I saw so clearly and vividly that any faithfulness that was in me, was only God’s faithfulness! He alone is faithful. All faithfulness comes from Him. Any faithfulness in man is a dim reflection of that GREAT FAITHFULNESS! “Great is Thy faithfulness, Oh God, my Father. There is no shadow of turning with Thee. Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not. As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.” As God is faithful, so we who are chosen by Him and called by Him are to be like the One we follow: [P] faithful. I have told you this corny illustration before. Again, it was at that Elim church, and I was attending a home-group run by an elder of the fellowship. He was old, stuffy and rather pompous. And he used this illustration in the home-group. And if he told it once, he must have told it at least half a dozen times. First time I didn’t pay any attention, the second time I thought “I’ve heard that before”. Come the third time I was getting a bit irritated, “Here he goes again”! Then I thought, he is an elder, perhaps I should respect him a bit more and take notice of what he is saying. Forgive me, for like him, repeating the illustration! The story was set in the depression years and people were wandering the land looking for work. There was a farmer who wanted a worker and all these men would turn up at his door asking for a job. He would take them to a far-off paddock, tell them to stand by the gate and open and shut it. Well, some thought this was a waste of time and walked off, some kept at it for a while, but he wasn’t there looking so they sat down and took it easy. But one guy just kept on opening and shutting the gate. And, of course, the farmer returned and it was to him that he gave the job. Corny, I know. But that is how it is: we are simply to keep on doing what Jesus has told us to and keep on keeping on. Some people want to make an impact, do something spectacular, impressive. There was a guy who did something mighty impressive for His master: he earned 100% profit on what he was given to invest. His master returned and what did he say? [Matthew 25:21 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’] He wasn’t commended for his exceptional business acumen, his canny trading; no, he was commended for his faithfulness – simply doing what His master had left him to do. Faithfulness in small things is rewarded by being given greater responsibility. But no, we want to start off doing the spectacular stuff, the “important” stuff – the important stuff is being faithful, reliable. For those Thomas the Tank Engine fans: being: “responsible, reliable and really useful”. Look, I see this at work. We have these newly qualified scientists coming into the lab; they stick it a year or two; then they want to move on, go on to higher things, climb the ladder; go and do something more exciting. They have exalted view of what they should be doing. But my job basically consists of counting to 100. I do that over 100 times a day, 5 days a week – 500 times a week, 48 weeks a year for almost 40 years – work it out! That is over 900,000 times counting to 100! It ain’t sexy, stimulating, fascinating, impressive – it is just what is required by the doctors who are looking after sick people, they want to know how many neutrophils their patient has; so, someone has to count them – it is, in fact, essential. Just a little cog; but little cogs are essential for machinery to run. We face a new year, the Lord’s return is nearer than ever; the Church, the faith, is under assault – we need to stand fast, hold firmly, the stability of the tabernacle of God, His dwelling among men is anchored in our faith, our faithfulness to the faith handed down to us. Let us be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” [2 Peter 3:17–18 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.] Jesus is coming! [P] Paul said to the Thessalonians: [2 Thessalonians 2:1–2 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto Him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled,] Unwavering, holding fast, secure tent-pegs. Standing firm: [P] [1 Peter 5:12 I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it! Philippians 1:27 Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel; Philippians 4:1 Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. 1 Thessalonians 3:8 for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord. 2 Thessalonians 2:15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. 1 Corinthians 16:13 Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Ephesians 6:13–14 take up the full armour of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore,] As tent-pegs we stand firm and hold fast: [P] [Hebrews 3:14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end,] What brought Paul joy was to see the church standing secure and stable amidst the vagaries all around them. Holding firm to their faith in Christ: [Colossians 2:5 For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.] Jesus Himself said to the church in Thyatira where some were being led astray by false teaching: [Revelation 2:25 ‘Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come.] But if I have a scripture for the fellowship for this year (apart from 1 Corinthians 1:58) it is that which Jesus spoke to the church in Philadelphia, this sounds a bit like us: [Revelation 3:7–13 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this: ‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. (that sounds like us – not big powerful and impressive but we have held to God’s Word, not denied His Name) ‘Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you. ‘Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, (there is that steadfastness) I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. [P] ‘I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown. ‘He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, (the stability and support of the place where God dwells) and he will not go out from it anymore; (always in God’s presence) and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name. ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’] And just in case you thought that tent-pegs just sit there doing nothing: it was a tent-peg that was an offensive weapon that was used to defeat the enemy of Israel: [Judges 4:21 But Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and seized a hammer in her hand, and went secretly to him (that is Sisera, the commander of the enemy army) and drove the peg into his temple, and it went through into the ground; for he was sound asleep and exhausted. So he died.] Not a story that we normally tell in Sunday school! But there is a blessing in holding firm in faithfulness. It is not just sitting there doing nothing. Although we stand firm, tent-pegs are not totally fixed. If you remain firm through the time of crisis, you will be brought to a place of abundance, of expansion: [Isaiah 54:2 “Enlarge the place of your tent; stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not; lengthen your cords and strengthen your pegs.] When the time comes for expansion, it is the tent-pegs that hold it together, make the structure secure; us ordinary folks who are: [P] “Steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” Let me encourage you in the LORD that your labour is not in vain: [P] [Galatians 6:9–10 Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.]
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.