40 is one of those numbers that keeps appearing throughout the Bible.
Whether it be 40 days:
– that it rained in the great flood (Genesis 7:12)
– that it took to embalm Joseph (Genesis 50:3)
– that Moses was on the mountain (Exodus 24:18)
– that the spies were in the promised land (Numbers 13:25)
– that Goliath taunted the Israelites (1 Samuel 17:16)
– that Elijah fasted on his way to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:8)
– that Ezekiel lay on his right side enacting a seige on Jerusalem (Ezekiel 4:6)
– that Jonah declared would bring the destruction of Ninevah (Jonah 3:4)
– that Jesus fasted and was tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:2; Mark 1:14; Luke 4:2)
– that Jesus appeared to his disciples after the resurrection (Acts 1:3)
Or whether it be 40 years:
– as Isaac was when he married Rebekah (Genesis 25:20)
– as Esau was when he married Judith and Basemath (Genesis 26:34)
– as Moses was when he fled Egypt (Acts 7:23)
– that Moses was in exile until called by God at the burning bush (Acts 7:30)
– that Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and in the wilderness (Acts 7:36)
– as Joshua was when sent out as a spy (Joshua 14:7)
– that Israel wandered in the wilderness (Numbers 32:13; Deuteronomy 8:2)
– of peace in Israel at various times during the judges (Judges 3:11; 5:31; 8:38)
– that the Philistines ruled Israel (Judges 13:1)
– that Eli judged Israel (1 Samuel 4:18)
– that David ruled over Israel (2 Samuel 5:4)
– that Solomon ruled over Israel (1 Kings 11:42)
– that Joash ruled over Judah (2 Kings 12:1)
– that Egypt would lie in waste (Ezekiel 29:11-12)
Typically we think of 40 years as being a time of testing. Yet many of the references are positive and speak of times of blessing.
I was reflecting on the number 40 this week because it was 40 years ago this week that Billy Graham was speaking in Sydney at Randwick Racecourse (20-28 April 1979).
I was in year 9 at school and far from any interest in God. Although invited, I didn’t attend the crusade. However, I chalk myself up in the unrecorded statistics of those who came to faith as a result of the impact of the crusade.
I witnessed the changes in my Christian school friends who had attended. They began making tough decisions in order to live for Jesus. This included breaking up with boyfriends who didn’t share their faith.
That troubled me because I liked one of the Christian girls quite a lot. So, I decided to take an interest in what they were on about. I attended the Christian lunchtime ISCF group at school and even went so far as pretending to become a Christian. I then went along to the confirmation class at the same church as the girl I liked.
I remember the minister asking me if I was a Christian. I lied and said “Yes”. He then said “Well, why would you want to be confirmed?” That stumped me. I couldn’t remember what the others had told me about making a public declaration of my faith. Somehow though my mouth opened and before I knew it the words came out “I want to know God better”. The minister smiled and said that was one of the better answers he’d heard. So, I was allowed to join the class that had already been meeting for a number of weeks.
Part of the confirmation preparation including reading either Luke or John, then Acts and then Romans. I went for John because it was shorter than Luke and meant I could impress the girl by putting my hand up the next week when the group was asked if they had completed the various readings.
I can’t recall much about what I read in the first few weeks because I was going so fast in order to look good. However, I slowed down quite a bit as I came to Romans and started paying attention to what I was reading. The opening chapters were pretty demoralising . It was as if God had been talking to my year 8 Geography teacher – she had said in my report that I was “impudent”.
Now it was like reading a report card from God and I realized I couldn’t hide anything from him. My life experience of exposed guilt was that punishment always followed. So, you can imagine my confusion as I read on to discover that Jesus knowingly took on himself the punishment I deserved for my wrong. I had no life experience that equated with that. Yet there it was in Romans 5:8 “But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” Incredible!
I stopped reading and I prayed what I could remember of the prayer I had pretended to pray a few weeks previously, submitting myself to Jesus as my Saviour and Lord. About a month later I stood before the church and with complete honesty declared “I turn to Christ”.
That was 40 years ago.
As I look back over the time since 1979, I realise that the 40 years has been a mixture of both testing and blessing. My faith has been stretched as I’ve journeyed through “wilderness periods” and yet I have also been richly provided for along the way as God has sustained me and given me peace.
So, this year I turn 40. There won’t be a cake, a party or presents. Just thankfulness for a God who loves me despite my sins and for his promises of salvation in the verses that I read on the day of my spiritual birth.
“9 Much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by His blood, we will be saved through Him from wrath. 10 For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life!”
– Romans 5:9-10