Story, Wk. 6 10/16/16–Highland—Meute
The Story: “Wandering”
The Story, Chapter 6
Pearl: Trust God to go and do as he leads.
Function: To persuade worshipers to follow after the Lord’s kingdom priorities living as missionaries in a needy world.
For Moses leading God’s people through the wilderness after the great exodus from Egypt was a task much like trying to herd cats. It was a difficult proposition! It was even somewhat like driving on a family vacation with the children in the back seat asking repeatedly, “How much longer?” and complaining “I’m hungry” and children fighting and bickering.
How about when you are traveling and all of a sudden you realize that you missed an exit and you have to drive several miles out of your way to get back to where you need to be? Several years ago before our daughter was born we were traveling to Richmond, VA from Pittsburgh, PA. We got on the highway and very shortly an ominous warning light appeared on the dashboard. I decided to exit the highway and drive around to see if anything would happen. I circled back near home and stopped into my mechanic’s shop to ask him about it. We were “Okayed” to drive and exactly two hours later we were entering the highway at the same point from which we started. It was frustrating. I declared to Nancy that I was going to push it since we were so delayed. Within 5 miles I was pulled over and issued a speeding ticket! Family trips can be challenging for many reasons! Complaints, emergencies, bad decisions, and on and on.
Previously in The Story (remember that you can read the sermons from any week of this journey since they are being posted on our church website usually on Tuesday after they were shared in worship) we learned that God took up residence among his people in the wilderness. He did not bring them out of Egypt only to abandon them. He fully intended to be “with them.” For God to “be with” his people they had to observe his law (the Ten Commandments); they had to make a Tabernacle; and they had to deal with sin by observing the sacrificial guidelines given by God to cover their sin. They had clear guidelines and directions from the Lord. The Lord was with them visibly in the cloud by day and in the pillar of fire by night…yet they lost their bearings, they strayed, and they complained.
Basically the people of God were made to wander around in the wilderness because they were stubborn and stiff-necked and for their lack of faith.
1. That is, they did not trust that the Lord would provide for them or do as he said that he would.
2. They had very short memories of God’s mighty acts of deliverance and help in the past.
a. So they complained. They even told Moses, and therefore the Lord that they preferred their previous Egyptian bondage where they at least had more to eat. Their complaints had to do with:
i. The general hardships of the trip.
ii. They complained about food (every day it’s ‘manna’).
iii. Miriam and Aaron complained about Moses being in the driver’s seat.
3. Let me repeat: the people of God longed for their previous bondage instead of the uncertainty, riskiness, and hardships of their current existence in the wilderness.
a. It is no surprise but we can relate so well! Don’t we often prefer the “safety” of our current way of life rather than going out of our “comfort zones” to enter into the adventure of life that has risks of failure and let down? Don’t we prefer things as we know them rather than going into something that is very different from what we now know? Even if it might mean greater blessings through new life, new hope, new vision?
4. God’s people failed to trust that the Lord was doing a new thing, bringing them to a good land of inheritance.
a. We may have a tendency to look condescendingly upon these ancient people. We sometimes wonder how our ancient ancestors could be so lacking in faith. We are not as highly evolved as we think!
i. In the area of our relationships we fail to offer the “olive branch” of peace, exercising forgiveness as God’s way and we hold onto past hurts. Part of or neuroses is that we prefer the familiar pain of grudges rather than to go into the risky, perhaps messy territory of making peace. We prefer the familiar dysfunction rather than to move through the wilderness of risk to possibly much greater blessing.
When God’s people were nearing their Promised Land, knowing that their God was with them, they dispatched 12 spies to go into the Promised Land and scout it out.
1. They went into the land and saw that it was indeed beautiful and as good as and better than they had imagined. It was as God said, a land “flowing with milk and honey.”
2. Indeed it was a very good land but it contained some challenges for the people. They would have to contend with the people of the land already there and those people were a “big and strong, mighty people.”
3. The twelve scouts returned to give their report. Ten of the scouts said, “Don’t go!” Two of the scouts, Joshua and Caleb, said, “The Lord is with us, let’s go!”
a. The minority report of Joshua and Caleb reminded me of one of my favorite lines in “The Lord of the Ring’s” trilogy. Gimli, leader of the Dwarf mountain people said when they were about to enter into battle as clear underdogs: “Small chance of success, certainty of death; what are we waiting for?!” The Israelites looked like underdogs…with God they had the advantage…but they had to trust in God. Joshua and Caleb had the bold and confident spirit of Gimli! Joshua’s and Caleb’s confidence was not in themselves, however, but fully in God.
4. “Beware of the majority, popular opinion!” Through the history of the church, and today as well, among God’s people the “majority” often wants to do what is safe; they often want to do what causes the least ripples; we often want to do what is most comfortable. The majority does not usually choose the risky road which requires trust in the Lord. The church usually moves too slowly.
a. How long did it take the church, God’s people, to embrace the just cause of equal rights for blacks? How long? Usually it takes God’s people much too long to embrace just causes!
So the people decided that they wanted to return to Egypt! They went with the majority report and insisted to Moses that they turn around and head for their most recent home (of bondage and oppression). They gave in to fear and they failed to trust God. So scripture, applying human characteristics to God, read that God became enraged and wanted to blot them out. Moses intervened as a mediator, reminding God of his “Upper Story” plan to win the nations to himself through his people, so God relented and declared that they would stay in the wilderness, wandering around until the entire generation of adults would die out. That generation of adults was forbidden to enter the Land of Promise, except for Joshua and Caleb.
Amazingly, God even prevented Moses and Aaron from entering! And this perplexes us that God would do this to Moses. Moses was the one solitary individual who God met with face to face. Moses enjoyed an intimacy with God which until the time of Christ was unmatched. And God prevented Moses from entering the Promised Land because of his one instance of disobedience.
1. We can thank the Lord that he no longer operates this way.
a. Because of God’s grace and the gift of His Son, our Savior and Lord, Jesus, we can continually receive new life. We can continually receive forgiveness when we seek it.
2. God no longer forces us to “wander in the wilderness.” We are the ones who choose to wander. Today there is always the opportunity to return to God’s ways. There is the constant opportunity to enter into the Promised Land of hope, and life, and new days. It may not always seem safe. It may not always seem wise.
a. The odds may look to be stacked against us. Evil seems to be prevail. Selfishness seems to be the rule of the day. Meanness and violence proliferate.
b. Choosing God’s ways of life and health and blessing may seem foolish. They are often the opposite from what we think; they are often counter-intuitive. “Giving your coat to someone who is trying to steal your shirt” seems foolish. Returning good for evil may be a losing proposition.
3. But it is because God is up to something in our world. He is building his reign even on earth. His ancient people looked forward to entering into a Promised Land. Today we look forward to his making a new earth and a new heaven in the resurrection when Christ comes again.
Right before the people entered into the Promised Land Moses addressed the people.
(Read Deuteronomy 30: 11-20)
“Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”
Today the Lord asks you to choose in the same way. He bids you to choose to be his agents of new life and hope as missionaries living at a mission outpost in a world of great need. Highland Presbyterian Church is a “mission outpost.” All ministry team leaders, all boards, indeed everyone is asked to sign this covenant saying that you will “drive everyone in your car” in obedience to God’s lead. No more meandering around aimlessly, drifting and wandering without purpose. The church has a mission!
Please fill out the enclosed slip and determine to obediently follow God in his great gospel mission which goes on and on to seek and to save the lost and to realize God’s just order.