A number puzzle, the answer, and a question

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Next session: Psalm 127: “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labour in vain ...” coming soon

Transcript of “A number puzzle, the answer, and a question”

On the screen is a table of 18 numbers. Find a combination that adds up to 777. Hit “pause” and try it, or here's an answer.

These 9 numbers add up to 777. We've used 9 of the 18 numbers.

Find another three combinations that each add up to 777, and end up using each number at least once.

These 8 numbers add up to 777. We used numbers that we'd used before, and that's necessary, but we used 4 numbers that we hadn't used before. In this example there are 5 numbers we haven't used.

These 6 numbers add up to 777. Now there are just two numbers we haven't used.

These 5 numbers add up to 777.

You've got the idea. Four different combinations … These add up to 777, these add up to 777, these add up to 777, and these add up to 777. We've used every number at least once.

That's interesting.But, we haven't finished.

Using the same 18 numbers, find four different combinations that each add up to 888. And, use each number at least once. Hit pause, and try it, or here is the solution.

These add up to 888 ... these add up to 888 ... these add up to 888 ... and these add up to 888. And we've used every number at least once.

That's clever. But we haven't finished.

Using the same 18 numbers, find 3 combinations that each add up to 999. And use every number at least once. Hit pause, and try it, or here is the solution.

These add up to 999 ... these add up to 999 ... and these add up to 999.

777, 888 and 999. Different combinations in the same table of 18 numbers. In fact, there are dozens of combinations that add up to 777 or 888 or 999.

Weird! Who came up with this table? Answer: God.

This is a verse from the Hebrew Bible. It's a verse in the Psalms. In case your Hebrew is a little rusty, we'll examine the translation shortly. But, first, where do the numbers come in?

Every letter of the Hebrew alphabet has a numeric value. It means that each of these 18 words has a numeric value, and that's where the table comes from.

So, here we have a meaningful sentence, written 3,000 years ago, and it produces a table of numbers ... a table where all these combinations can be revealed. Why? For one reason ... the numbers prove that there was a genius behind the writing ... a mind beyond the mind of men.

Since we are talking about God, and the Bible ... who thinks that religion, and religious practices, are what God would require for a person to know Him?

Church-going in the West, is in decline. Certain religious institutions have been rocked by scandals. Perhaps it's a good time to ask why religious people do what they do.

Of course, there are churches attended by good people, doing their best, in the only way that they know how. But, it's also true that going to church doesn't make you a Christian, in the same way that going to a circus doesn't make you an acrobat, or a clown, or a lion-tamer. Church, for many, is a social club. Social clubs may be good for society, but is social club attendance what God wants?

What makes a person a Christian ... according to the Bible? It's got nothing to do with rituals, and it's got nothing to do with religious requirements. The Bible says there is a condition for acceptance with God. Meet the condition, and you receive a promise.

The Bible says. God loves you. You. The Bible says God loves you so much He was willing to pay a price for you ... a price that cost Him a great deal.

Think of it like this. A judge has to sentence an old friend for a crime. The judge imposes a heavy fine, because that's what the law requires. But then the judge steps down and pays his friend's penalty.

That's what God did. Jesus paid for everything that has brought offense to God. In other words: It's not what you do. It's what Jesus has done. But, of course, that forgiveness only works for you, if you believe it.

Do you accept that truth? That's the condition. Believe that Jesus died, for you, and that He is alive, to help you. If you do believe that, God accepts you. And He promises ... you will live forever.

So, where does institutionalised religion come in? It doesn't. It shouldn't. But it has.

Religion wasn't there at the beginning. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were the original people (in the Bible) who were called righteous ... not because they were perfect people ... they weren't. But because they trusted God. God promised them certain things, and they never received what was promised, because they'll only receive these promises one day in the future. But, they believed God. They went on trusting God, even though they didn't get what was promised. God likes that.

And Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were a family. One family. There was no religion and there were no priests to conduct religion.

Yet today, we have a vast enterprise of Christian religion. What's behind it? Organisation. It's organised ... by men. It's organised around beautiful buildings and ceremonies and attendance. People, in groups, suffer subtle pressure to conform. And it's easy for groups to get to feel exclusive.

And that's why people are asking: Why should a self-appointed organisation, an institution, have spiritual authority over me? Is that really what God wants?

Now let's go back to our table of numbers ... the numbers where all these combinations of 777 and 888 and 999 were hiding.

The numbers come from this verse in the Hebrew Bible. It's Psalm 123 verse 2. Translation: “Behold, like eyes of servants to the hand of their master, like eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, yes our eyes look to the LORD our God until He will be gracious to us.

Why would this verse be so important? Because it says a great deal about what real faith looks like.

The first matter that's on view is relationship. We are related directly with the LORD. We aren't going through priests or ministers. There are no paid professionals, doing God-stuff on our behalf.

But it is a relationship where one is in charge. Because there is a God. And He is not me.

The second matter is that there is no frenzy of human activity on view. There is no political or social activism. It's not by human might, and it's not by human power ... it's a call for Spiritual help. Whatever strength or skills of persuasion I may have, or even what we, as a group, may have, it's as nothing compared to the power of God.

Third, it's not fatalism. It's not passive. It's actively looking to God. And patiently waiting. And expecting His help.

Fourth, it's not solitary. “Our eyes look to our God ...” It's a united appeal. We are joined together. We need each other. And what so much organised religion has done is create rivalries and division. Denominations and ministries competing for a following or for funds. If a day should come when religious structures collapse, it will be an opportunity for people of faith to step out in a spirit of self-sacrifice.

And, finally, the One who is looked to is the LORD. Note: He, the LORD, is our God.The LORD is in charge. The LORD has the power.

And the Bible declares: It is Jesus who is the LORD.(Romans 10:9)