Strength for the Journey: “Shooting Blanks” – Numbers 18

pregnant_womenMany Christian mothers – real followers of Jesus in the US today, admit to having a sinking feeling when they watch the news regarding the family. When the leader of our nation stood to proclaim “God bless Planned Parenthood!” many of them turned our heads, and across the nation – mom’s mouths dropped open. One of the most desperate injustices in our nation since the enslaving of the black man was just enshrined in a “Christian blessing” – and the sense of outrage for many was nearly unbearable. “What are we to do?” they asked across the web. No… this isn’t a partisan tirade about the President, nor a speech at a political fundraiser. Yet, the church, once the conscience of the nation, seems muddled in its response to truth on this Mother’s Day.

We celebrate motherhood in America – but we no longer revere it. We see child-bearing as an issue of convenience, not a privileged act. How dare we stand back in horror when women who were instructed that the life within is not sacred if not convenient, decide to have the baby but not raise the child well! Casey Anthony partied while her baby was not cared for – so said a public that largely condones that young women’s abortive rights. Yet it stands to perfect reason – if the very birth is subject to convenience, why not relegate the child as it is raised to the precinct of convenience? Why set aside time from a career to nurture a child if that little one is for my benefit, and should fit into my plan? Why give up prestige, position, influence and even fun – for the sake of a child – if they are supposed to be an extension of that which is convenient? With the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of unborn, we are training a generation how to think about their offspring – whether or not we intend to. We are taking the holy and blessed act of procreation and making it into an optional activity set to the whims of style and convenience.

Again, we look at a moral issue, and we are tempted to feel lost and powerless… and we are NOT. There IS an answer more powerful than protest, and more proactive than painful muttering. We can prayerfully, powerfully and purposefully engage our world with Jesus – and we MUST. As we study together, I hope it will become clear exactly what I mean by that – as it oozes from the Word’s lesson today.

Believers don’t want to back up further – we want to make an impact on our culture that is sliding over the moral edge. At the same time, we may feel like it isn’t working well. Can you identify with this story?

The leadership guru John Maxwell shared a story about a man at Pearl Harbor. According to John, the man went to a Bible study the night before Japan attacked. At the study, the man was unable to respond to a simple question: “Is there a specific verse or truth from the Bible that you are learning?” He was a Christian, but he was stagnant – and there was nothing coming to mind. Early the next morning, December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked. Strikingly, the guns on the ship he was aboard were all filled with blanks. The man aimed and fired for some fifteen minutes at the attacking force with fake ammunition. He gave his best aim, but had nothing to shoot that would help the situation.

In some ways, that is much of the body of Christ in America at this moment. There are reasons, and there are remedies. Why are we in the slide without power?

Our nation is filled with prayer-less churches. The smallest gathering in any church – even the best ones – is a prayer meeting. It is boring to many. It isn’t immediately fulfilling to some. “It takes too much time”, others say. We seek to do battle with the attacks of our enemy by placing on our armor, but abandoning the last part of Paul’s teaching to the Ephesians, when he said: “Praying always”.

Our nation is filled with needy churches. People who have been trained to hear self-improvement rather than self-discipline fill our pews. “What is in it for me?” worship has largely unseated “What does my Master desire?” services. We comes seeking a miracle, not the Miracle-worker. We come looking for a healing, but not truly desiring the Healer. Many of us, if we truly admit it, are here – year after year – in the church of need, and the church of self. If we felt no particular need, our attendance would be optional.

Our nation is filled with distracted churches. We are too often focused on joy in the wrong life. We are so active in bringing Heaven and its delight into the present world, we have lost the sense that fairness and free-flowing constant blessing is the promise of the world AFTER this one. We speak of Heaven at funerals, but swiftly turn back to earth for almost every other occasion. Prosperity has pulled our eyes from ABOVE to the earthly horizon beneath.

Consequently, our nation is filled with CLOSING and SHRINKING churches. It is not that the Devil has been found to offer something better. Our streets are not safer without the message of the Gospel. Our universities and schools do not produce more generous, more selfless, more gentle students without Christ. There is a brutishness and hardening to the effects of Darwinist philosophy.

Yet, our time is NOT DOOMED. We are not without remedies.

We are not alone in the fight. We have the power of the Savior, the union-producing bond of the Spirit, and the sharpened blade of the Word of God. We have an Intercessor, and we are servants of the Creator of all things. We are NOT VICTIMS of a world gone haywire in sin! We are ambassadors in a foreign land – a world that is NOT OUR HOME, and never WILL BE OUR HOME. If we will but heed the voice of the Master clearly recorded in His Word – the sharpened blade of truth will be our guardian as we move forward. He has chosen us to bear fruit, and He has empowered us to accomplish the task of delighting the Father.

To show where God taught this lesson, we want to go back in time to family fight of the tribes of Israel in a place where there was a challenge against the legitimacy of God’s rule over His people.

The smaller issue was the selection of the Aaronic priesthood, the larger issue was clear: Can God make the rules when they are not popular and don’t make complete sense to everyone under them? God responded with a sign of life and new growth for those who would yield. To those who would not, He showed a sign of terrible sickness:

Numbers 17:8 Now on the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds. … 10 …the LORD said to Moses, “Put back the rod of Aaron before the testimony to be kept as a sign against the rebels, that you may put an end to their grumblings against Me, so that they will not die.” … 12 Then the sons of Israel spoke to Moses, saying, “Behold, we perish, we are dying, we are all dying!

There issue was WHO GOD CHOSE TO LEAD THEM, our issues are something else. Yet it all comes down to the same basic issue. Is God in charge? The people snubbed God’s Word concerning leaders – and tried to redraw the lines of standards – much like the moral line re-drawing going on in our day with the definition marriage, the right of God to predefine the sexual identity of each person, and the sacredness of human life in every form. The laws of our nation are moving from the familiar base of the Bible to the unchallengeable and brutish worship of the god of science.

God’s response was to reiterate the priesthood, and tell others to pick up a bucket and start helping. He made clear who would care for sin, who would help them in practical service, and who was ineligible to assist in any of the issue. In eternal principles, He is doing the same thing today.

Key Principle: God called US out of our community to act on His behalf and serve Him. We are the hands and feet of Jesus to our neighbors and our nation – and that is where our impact will be most acutely felt – when we do it HIS WAY.

Tucked in a story of Israel in the desert, God offered six important principles about making an impact for God in our generation:

Six Principles to Impact a Generation

Before God did anything else, He showed the people how SIN would be cared for in His system. We have no impact without the message of salvation placed right out front.

1: We will not make an impact until we make clear how sin is dealt with. God appointed interceding priests to interceded and bear guilt for sin, (in the case of the High Priest) directly handling the message of forgiveness (18:1,5,8).

Numbers 18:1 So the LORD said to Aaron, “You and your sons and your father’s household with you shall bear the guilt in connection with the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear the guilt in connection with your priesthood…5 “So you shall attend to the obligations of the sanctuary and the obligations of the altar, so that there will no longer be wrath on the sons of Israel…8 Then the LORD spoke to Aaron, “Now behold, I Myself have given you charge of My offerings, even all the holy gifts of the sons of Israel I have given them to you as a portion and to your sons as a perpetual allotment.

Clearly, under the Law of God – a Priest was to intercede for a man in matters of sin. A sacrifice was offered to abate God’s wrath – or nothing else mattered. If God is against you – who can be FOR you? That was true them, and is true today. It is important that we understand how SIN is cared for before we try to offer any help to the world. It is the greatest feature of our message – the good news that we can be freed from bondage to selfish service and sinful practice.

Instead of an Aaronic priesthood, we have the Priest who handled the sacrifice at Calvary. Hebrews 5:6 names Jesus as the priest for the believer of the church age. Hebrews 7 clearly argued that He offered a fully effective and complete offering for our sin, and He did it by offering HIMSELF! Hebrews 9:12 (ESV) says: “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”

Let me be very clear: you must choose to accept God’s priest, or you will suffer – just as those long ago suffered because of their rejection of the priests chosen by God.

Churches that tell you that they alone can offer you salvation, have not accepted the direct relationship we have with one intercessor – Jesus Christ. When a church attempts to stand between you and God and offer salvation only through their procedings, they deny the truth of the Scripture: 1 Timothy 2:5 says: “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Churches that offer a system of hard work to get to Heaven – some list that you can perform in order to be made right before God, deny the essence of the gift of God in the Gospel: Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [it is] the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

God gave you a way to know Him – accepting the sacrifice of Jesus on your behalf. We need to deal with sin before we deal with any other issue. At the same time, if you try another way – you will find yourself unaccepted. God makes the rules, and God knows what satisfies Him.

The church must powerfully and unashamedly remind people that Jesus came to save sinners – and we are the very sinners He came to save. We cannot shrink into sermonic “self-help sessions” on Sunday and “helping the poor social philanthropy” through the week to interface with our community – without clear pronouncement of the lost-ness of men and the Good News of Jesus. Without the Gospel, the church is a “mute band of do-gooders” that focus merely on the fallen condition of this world. Yet, it was not that way in the early years. Any careful study of the New Testament will yield this observation: the message preached by the Apostles focused on the life after this one, and the need to have sin dealt with before we stand before God.

2: Impact is muted when we – the servants – do not understand our position and purpose. God gave interceding priests some appointed helpers to act practically care for His ministry (18:2-3, 7a).

18:2 “But bring with you also your brothers, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, that they may be joined with you and serve you, while you and your sons with you are before the tent of the testimony. 3 “And they shall thus attend to your obligation and the obligation of all the tent, but they shall not come near to the furnishings of the sanctuary and the altar, or both they and you will die… 7 “But you and your sons with you shall attend to your priesthood for everything concerning the altar and inside the veil, and you are to perform service. …”

In Israel, Levites helped priests. They were born into the service of God and service to the priest. In the church, you were BORN AGAIN into the service of God and His Priest – Jesus the Messiah. He is the sacrificial lamb, but He is also the Priest of the perfect sacrifice – Himself.

Look at the instructions:

• Put the servants close to the priests (18:2). Is it too much of a stretch of the passage to suggest that the servants of the priest are most effective when they are NEAR the priests? It certainly is TRUE. Your close walk with Jesus will make you effective.

• Make sure the servants attend to the needs of the priests (18:3). We are most effective when we are attending to what our Priest has told us to do!

• The purpose of the servant is to bless the priest – to perform service for Him and to Him (18:6).

• The work of the servant on behalf of the priest is a holy work for which he was selected. It is the stewardship of an entrusted and vital work of caring for men and women God is forgiving and growing (18:7).

As long as we believe the focus of the Christian message is really about God serving US – we will miss our role as servants of God. When we grasp that we are His workmanship, created to do the works that please Him, we will begin to make a real difference in our workplace, and our community. Servants of self with theological training and a healthy vocabulary of “God words” help no one. We cannot drive forward safely while focused on ourselves in the mirror.

3: Impact is hampered when servants don’t accept that the Master alone makes the rules. Here is the fact: No servant could be from the outside (18:4, 23).

God was less concerned with seeming democratic and inclusive than many are in the modern church today. He was less worried about a recruiting job, then He was about making sure those who were serving we TRULY THE ONES HE CHOSE to do so. There was a very important and unbendable restriction…

18:4 “They shall be joined with you and attend to the obligations of the tent of meeting, for all the service of the tent; but an outsider may not come near you….23 “Only the Levites shall perform the service of the tent of meeting…”

• Her worship team bands must come from among believers – for one cannot lead in worship if one does not have a relationship with God in Messiah.

• Her operations, services and missions must be staffed solely with those who have been BORN into that service – no outside will do. That may seem to the world bigoted, intolerant and undemocratic… but God’s work is not up for a vote. God is still under the impression that what He created is for Him and He can establish the rules over it.

God said only Levites could serve in the Tabernacle. Period… Now let’s be honest: God seems a bit “out of touch” here, don’t you think? He doesn’t seem to realize that some of the more talented singers may not have been born Levites! A few Asherites could really carry a tune…

Here is the problem: Every attempt to make different rules than the Master is another manifestation of the spirit of mutiny within man. I hear echoes of how women shouldn’t be restricted from the Pastorate because they are so capable and so talented – and so educated. How intolerant to take the clear arguments of the Bible and stand by them when there is such a shift in public understanding!

Let me say it lovingly, but clearly. The church doesn’t belong to us, and we don’t get to write the rules. God already did. The same arguments used to invite women into the Pastorate could be used to invite Asher’s children into Tabernacle service. If we aren’t going to follow clear, concise and pointed argument of the Scriptures as we define our church polity – we aren’t going to follow what God expressly said. When we make up our own rules, people in our culture may be more comfortable, and we may seem more relevant. The fact is, however, our work for God becomes in that moment our work for our community, and our own acceptance. It isn’t HIS WORK unless we do it HIS WAY. Every compromise of God’s Word – even when it is well received by the world – kills the believer’s ultimate impact.

4: Impact is enhanced when servants are fully dependent on their Master for provision. God commanded a means of provision for His servants (18:9-19).

God indicated four precious promises concerning His provisions to the Levites:

God’s provision is holy – it should not be accepted lightly. We should be ever so thankful for the richness of God’s provision for us and our families. We are servants, and our Master has cared for us well: 18:9 “This shall be yours …[it] shall be most holy for you and for your sons. 10 “As the most holy [gifts] you shall eat it; every male shall eat it. It shall be holy to you. We don’t WORSHIP the provision – we use it. At the same time, as we do, we recognize the distinctive importance of using it well.

God’s provision is encouraging because it is one of the many ways we see Him keep His word. 18:11 “This also is yours, the offering of their gift, even all the wave offerings of the sons of Israel; I have given them to you and to your sons and daughters with you as a perpetual allotment. Everyone of your household who is clean may eat it… 19 … It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the LORD to you and your descendants with you.” Believers serve our Priest, our Master. He gives us the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe. He has abundantly blessed us above most any on the earth. We must see it as His way of fulfilling His Word. Remember, salt in the Bible was a symbol of LOYALTY – and it is God’s faithfulness that keeps us supplied!

God’s provision is rich – He has not tossed loose scraps at us but wonderfully blessed us! 18:12 “All the best of the fresh oil and all the best of the fresh wine and of the grain, the first fruits of those which they give to the LORD, I give them to you. … 14 “Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours. How very good God has been to His servants! What a wonder to know His love, His provision, His care!

God’s provision is from His property – it is from God’s own portion – and we should handle it as we would HIS property! We use what He allows. We set aside for Him as He commands. 18:15 “Every first issue of the womb of all flesh, whether man or animal, which they offer to the LORD, shall be yours; nevertheless the firstborn of man you shall surely redeem, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem. 16 “As to their redemption price, from a month old you shall redeem them, by your valuation, five shekels in silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs. 17 “But the firstborn of an ox or the firstborn of a sheep or the firstborn of a goat, you shall not redeem; they are holy. You shall sprinkle their blood on the altar and shall offer up their fat in smoke [as] an offering by fire, for a soothing aroma to the LORD. 18 “Their meat shall be yours; it shall be yours like the breast of a wave offering and like the right thigh.

We are not Levites, but we are still servants of the Great Priest of the Living God. We are not receiving PROMISES in this passage, but PRINCIPLES. As God has dealt in the past with His servants, so He deals now with them – and He has kept a record of these principles to teach us!

Before we lose the illustration provided for us by God, let me mention two more principles that weigh heavily on my heart – when I look at the servants of Jesus today…

5: Impact is lost when servants don’t fully trust – and try to “hedge their bets”. Servants trust in God’s provision – and increasingly learn to have no trust in earthly provision (18:20-21, 23-24).

18:20 Then the LORD said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land nor own any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel…23 … among the sons of Israel they shall have no inheritance. 24 “For the tithe of the sons of Israel, which they offer as an offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance; therefore I have said concerning them, ‘They shall have no inheritance among the sons of Israel.’

The PROVISION of God came at a price – they wouldn’t be able to get what others around them got. They would have an inheritance from His hand – but none from the common system of their day. That is a huge issue for a servant today – just as it was for them! Let’s be clear: servants that put their trust in this world corrupt their trust in their Master. Hedging bets – one foot in trust of God and another is trust of this world’s supply – is not the way to go. Jesus reminded the wealthy and self-satisfied Laodicean Church that they made Him SICK in Revelation 3.

One Pastor commented in a message I heard long ago: “This is not some brash, rude and obnoxious group of sinners… not a group of murderers, a den of thieves, a meeting of town drunks and lushes, or a brothel of prostitutes in a seedy part of town … Jesus was addressing a church – people organized under the banner of being a force for God. What made Jesus sick to His stomach was a group that wanted to do operate church the way the world operated.” They wanted to focus on THIS WORLD. They wanted to seek RICHES in this life. They couldn’t take a profound stand on issues because they NEEDED APPROVAL in this culture.

I want people to want to be a part of our church. I don’t want to get in everyone’s face and make them uncomfortable. I am not trying to make God’s Word hard, or God’s love ineffective. God says we should hurt for people, and so we do:

• Hebrews 13:3 “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.”

• Proverbs 21:13 “Who so stops his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.”

• Luke 6:36 “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.”

Don’t for a moment think that we want to heartlessly and coldly condemn people – that isn’t true. I love the story about the old rabbi:

A rabbi was renowned for his personal piety. One day a devoted disciple was overjoyed meeting him walking on the way to the synagogue. The disciple loudly remarked, “Teacher, I love you!” The old man looked squarely into the face of the student and simply asked, “Do you know what hurts me, my son?” The disciple was puzzled. He stuttered, “I…I don’t understand your question, rabbi. I am trying to tell you how much you mean to me, and you confuse me with your irrelevant question”! “My question is neither confusing nor irrelevant,” retorted the rabbi. “If you do not know what hurts me, how can you truly love me?” 

I love that story because it reminds me that love begins with understanding and ends with help. The mark of a loving Christian is not to feel sorry for those who are in pain—but to help them. Love’s mere speech quickly evaporates but love’s true labor lingers, encouraging even the hurting heart.

I desperately want us to reach people where they are… but it will not be truly spiritually effective if we lose the distinctive voice of the Word – where the power of the Spirit of God is.

6: Finally, real servants have their most lasting impact when they recognize we don’t own even what we use. Even when God provides for the servants, they are to give from that provision (18:25-32).

18:25 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 26 “Moreover, you shall speak to the Levites and say to them, ‘When you take from the sons of Israel the tithe which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present an offering from it to the LORD, a tithe of the tithe. 27 Your offering shall be reckoned to you as the grain from the threshing floor or the full produce from the wine vat. 28 So you shall also present an offering to the LORD from your tithes, which you receive from the sons of Israel; and from it you shall give the LORD’S offering to Aaron the priest. 29 Out of all your gifts you shall present every offering due to the LORD, from all the best of them, the sacred part from them.’ 30 “You shall say to them, ‘When you have offered from it the best of it, then [the rest] shall be reckoned to the Levites as the product of the threshing floor, and as the product of the wine vat. 31 You may eat it anywhere, you and your households, for it is your compensation in return for your service in the tent of meeting. 32 You will bear no sin by reason of it when you have offered the best of it. But you shall not profane the sacred gifts of the sons of Israel, or you will die.'”

The gifts of God are given to us to STEWARD and give back to God. At the end, when all my life’s labors are over… when I stand face to face with my Savior, He will measure all my labors. My minutes will be scrutinized by the maker of time. My works will be judged by the One who gave all of Himself for His Father’s glory. IF…and I mean IF…there is ANY good thing I have done when the fire burns away the dross from my life’s work – the crown I will take is NOT FOR ME. It is to be cast at His feet. Can we not clearly see it? We steward God’s gifts and live for God’s honor and glory. It is our purpose, and it is our JOY!

God called US out of our community to act on His behalf and serve Him. We are the hands and feet of Jesus to our neighbors and our nation – and that is where our impact will be most acutely felt – when we do it HIS WAY.

There is a YouTube of Mercedes Benz automobile commercial that shows their safety test facility, and a car colliding with a cement wall. They invented and patented a uni-body construction that effectively makes a head on collision survivable. Many car companies copied the design to get the safety rating improved in testing. It seems to work very well. Someone asked the company spokesman as the car looped visually in crash after crash… “Why they do not enforce your company patent on the energy-absorbing car body? The man replied: “Because some things in life are too important not to share.” That is true. If it is true in regards to safety in this life, how much more in terms of eternal life?