Good morning First Baptist. We welcome you to worship this morning. Be sure to remember your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the week as you pray for them, and as the Holy Spirit brings their faces to your mind. Be sure to also connect with them in the ways that are possible. And if you have any questions or would like to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate to contact the church or the pastor through the church telephone and leave a message. (519-733-4144)
When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers;
the moon and the stars set in place.
What are mere mortals that you should think about them?
O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!
We come into your presence this morning carrying with us all the baggage of our lives. As we worship here today with our brothers and sisters, and in our homes, may you draw us together and help us to fix our eyes on only You. Open our eyes Lord, that we may see You! Amen.
There is an old saying; “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Those of us who have children know the truth of that all too well. It isn’t 100%, but it is common for our children to, in many ways, mimic our lives; no matter how hard they may try not to, or how hard we might try to discourage it! Some are born with similar aptitudes and skills; make similar mistakes; display similar personalities. Again, this doesn’t happen with every child, but when it does, it can be uncanny.
Both genetics and environment play into this. It shouldn’t be a surprise when we see ourselves in the faces of our children; after all, we both share genetics and raised them! What disturbs us is when we see the not so positive, unintended similarities.
This tendency is on clear display in the two passages we will be reading this morning. Listen carefully to them, because even though they are remarkably similar, they are not describing the same event. In fact, they are describing events that happened almost 4o years apart from each other; separated by a whole generation.
Exodus 17:1-7 New International Version
1 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”
Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”
3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
4 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
5 The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So, Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
This is an account of the Hebrew nation in the early days of their 40 years of wandering the Egyptian wilderness; most likely within the very first year. In this passage, you can hear the fear and doubts being expressed by the people; wondering why they let themselves become so vulnerable in such a hostile environment. They even wondered if God was truly with them at all. They were thirsty, and they were afraid.
What is interesting here, is that God had already provided miraculously for them not so long ago. Quail and manna had been sent as sources of nutrition. Still, food without a source of water isn’t enough, and they were afraid they had done the wrong thing in leaving Egypt in the first place.
God’s answer to them, after Moses spoke to Him on behalf of the people, was to provide water by having Moses strike the rock with a stick. And so, God did provide them with water, leaving us to fast forward 40 years ahead for our next passage. As I read it, listen for the similarities.
Numbers 20:1-13 New International Version
1 In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.
2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! 4 Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”
6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. 7 The Lord said to Moses, 8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”
9 So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.
12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honour me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
13 These were the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarreled with the Lord and where he was proved holy among them.
It is hard to miss the similarities here. In fact, it takes a close reading of Numbers 20 to pick out the differences. After 40 years, not much had changed, even though almost everything had changed. They had been sustained for a whole generation solely by the provision of God. Their lives were far from luxurious, but they had survived against all odds. As well, they had faced enemies and were on the way to becoming a formidable military force. Most significantly, they were not even the same people who had faced that same rock all those years ago.
A Hebrew boy becomes a man at age 13, and so the youngest of those who were considered men at the time of the Exodus from Egypt were now at least 53. In those times, 53 was an old man. Imagine living in those difficult conditions with virtually no health care. So, the majority of the earlier generation were well passed “fighting age,” if they were alive at all.
Yet still, it is here we see that, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Once again, they complained about their conditions, fretted over their provisions, and looked back to the ‘good old days’ when they were slaves.
If Moses had been frustrated 40 years ago with this scene, the deja-vu event here threatened to put him over the edge. Instead of speaking to the rock, as God had asked him to, Moses once again hit it with his staff, and once again the water flowed out.
This turned out to be the last straw for God, but surprisingly, not with respect to the Israelites. God’s plan had been to point the people directly to Him with this miracle, but Moses took matters into his own hands. In his impulsiveness, Moses initiated the miracle out of frustration, obscuring the fact that it was a gift from God.
When I read this passage, I often wonder why God was so hard on Moses. After all, it isn’t difficult to understand his frustration; his disappointment that after 40 years in the desert and with a whole new generation who had grown up in complete dependence on God, nothing had changed.
And yet, I don’t think we need to see this as God punishing Moses. Instead, we could view it as God relieving Moses of his duties; God allowing Moses to finally rest in His presence. Moses had done his job, and had done it well. Now was the time for a younger man to bring the nation forward into their future. You see, we view the promised land as Moses’ reward that God took away from him. We have a hard time understanding why God would pull Moses out of the game right when they seemed to need him to pull off the victory. But Moses’ reward wasn’t the promised land at all! Instead, it was the privilege to serve God in the first place.
God Himself is the reward! It’s easy for us to forget that. Easy for us to focus on the task and take our eyes off of the One who assigned it to us. Easy to want to focus on our accomplishments over our obedience.
Can Change Really Happen?
The Israelites were stuck there at Meribah; stuck in a pattern of wrong thinking; stuck in an attitude of entitlement; stuck in the narrative that the past was better than the future.
And just like them, we can find ourselves stuck in our own lives. Stuck in destructive patterns in our relationships; in our marriage; in our church; in ourselves.
What are the destructive patterns in your life? Can you name them? It may be easy for some to identify those patterns, but for most of us it will require a great deal of work. Either way, we need to first identify the things that are holding us down; holding us back from God and from the life He has planned for us.
"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will."
Take some time right now to ask God to show you these patterns that are holding you back from receiving Him more fully.
The work of identifying the worldly patterns in our lives is some of the most important work we will ever do. I’m not saying you need to figure everything out in order to receive God’s blessing; I am saying that the process of being changed so you can face those patterns, is the essence of salvation – it’s the new life Jesus came to bring us; it’s what it means to live in His Kingdom!
Moses’ reward was to be taken up to the mountain where he could see the promised land before him, and then be taken up with God to be with Him for eternity; his work on earth, complete.
I’ve heard that scene imaginatively described this way: God and Moses, two old friends sitting on a rock as they take in the view. Looking over the young nation of Israel, Moses knew in that moment that God had used him powerfully, and that it was his great privilege in life to lead God’s people to this point. Then, they got up, and went to heaven.
Please forgive me for taking some license here, but that scene on the mountaintop wasn’t the moment Moses entered into God’s presence. It was certainly a new experience for Moses, but it was also the continuation of a relationship that had been established long ago, and that had grown even closer through the years.
You and I are called to the same kind of relationship with God that Moses experienced. Even though we know that we push back far too much, and that we too fall into old patterns from time to time, we also know that God’s desire for us is so much more! Paul puts it beautifully in Romans 13:11-12:
“The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So, let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.”
Cast it off. Cast it all off, because the night is nearly over, and your salvation is near! So, let us put on the armour of light, and truly live!
We come before you with burdened hearts. We carry with us the cares and uncertainty of our times; the guilt and shame of our sins; the frustration with ourselves and others as we fall short in so many ways.
Forgive us, Lord, and lift our hearts. May we cast those burdens and all of their heaviness on You, just as You call us to do. May we experience the lightness of heart that true forgiveness brings us, and may we become people who forgive others, as we have been forgiven.
I pray this morning for those who are in the midst of trials of many kinds. Trials of health; family relationships; hopelessness; disappointment; transitions; grief; unforgiveness; even trials of faith. Be close to each of us as we struggle. May we be reminded that no matter what we are going through, we are not alone.
And I pray that we will be people who are committed to drawing ever closer to You; growing in our dependence and intimacy with You through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Help us to have the clarity to see these patterns in our lives that keep getting in the way of experiencing our own salvation to the fullest; patterns that may be so ingrained that we think they are a part of us. Give us the faith to believe that there is nothing you cannot do; nothing you are unable to redeem.
As we prepare to leave this place, help us to remember that you are with us always, and that we are your hands and feet in this world. May we be faithful.
In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you;
The Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.