THE STORY – Week 6 “Wandering” – Sunday 22nd May
Pastor Robert Voigt
Forty years of wandering in the desert. Mount Horeb, Mount Sinai where the Children of Israel received the ten commandments, then they moved up to Kadesh Barnea. That’s where they sent 12 spies into the promised land. The spies went in, spent 40 days there and they came back. Two of the 12 were Joshua and Caleb who gave a good report about the land. The other 10 gave a bad report about the land they had explored. They said that it was a land flowing with milk and honey and they brought back a bunch of grapes that required two men to carry it but they still gave a bad report – it is well fortified, a lot of soldiers, we can’t possibly take this land.
And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. Numbers 13:12.
“If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” Numbers 14:2-3
Do we think like that – If only I could just go back and re-do it? Wish I could go back and change it. Wish I could go back and make a different choice. So they complained … as they always did.
God got mad and said “I am going to wipe this miserable lot off the face of the earth”. “I have had it”. “I have finished with them”. “Look at what I have just done – rescued them from Egypt. Took them through the Red Sea, saved them from Pharoah. I have looked after them every single day. I have promised them this land and now I am saying ‘Go in and take it!’” All they could respond with was fear.
Fear is at the base of failing to trust in God. That is what is at the very crux of not wanting to obey God and follow him – it is fear. Fear is at the back of most of our sins. The Israelites had fear and I can understand that fear. Imagine wandering for forty years. Not one tree, or blade of grass. The desert land they wandered in for forty years.
Moses said to the people “Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” Numbers 14:9
But they didn’t change and Moses had to say to God:
“In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.”
The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked … but not one of them will ever see the land …” Numbers 14:19-23
Every person twenty years of age or over would not be able to enter the promised land. So the wandering for forty years in the wilderness was to ensure that every person over twenty – except Joshua and Caleb – died in the wilderness and never crossed over the River Jordan into the promised land. A harsh consequence of sin! Fear.
What is the face of fear? We are not talking about horror movie or thriller fear. The fear we are talking about is the fear that eats away within us. There is a fear which stops us from making decisions which we know are right but we don’t do them. There is a fear of hurting somebody. A fear of being rejected by somebody. A whole range of fears.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a sermon 15/01/1933. He is thinking about the disciples on the boat in the storm when Jesus was asleep. Let’s say there is a ship on the high sea having a fierce struggle with the waves. The storm wind is blowing harder by the minute. The boat is small, tossed about like a toy, the sky is dark, the sailors’ strength is failing. One of them is gripped by whom, what? He can’t actually tell – someone is there in the boat who wasn’t there before. Suddenly he can no longer see or hear anything, he can’t row, a wave overwhelms him and in final desperation he shrieks “Stranger in this boat, who are you?” The other answers “I am fear”. All hope is lost, fear is in the boat.
Fifteen days later, Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany. Bonhoeffer was an amazing prophet.
I can’t imagine what it must be like to be parents of children from Syria – the fear. War that has been there for six years now. Has killed nearly 200,000 people. Every day people are being bombed. In Iraq we are hearing almost every week that there is one, two or three suicide bombers killing men and especially women and children. There is a fear there that I can’t even begin to imagine. A fear of what the next few hours is going to hold, a fear for life? A fear of where the next meal will come from? Where am I going to sleep? When will I ever feel safe again?
Things we fear – A story from my life I would like to share about a great fear that I experienced. After been a pastor for nearly thirty years, I became President, and then I knew fear, true honest fear. Within six months of becoming President I developed a huge ulcer. I went home every night with this incredible pain in my stomach and an incredible sense of doom and gloom. As a Pastor, I had always been treated with great respect in my congregations and now as President everyone felt they could tell me what they thought of me. I couldn’t get over how Pastors and people could talk such terrible things and fight with each other and also with me. I was in fear. I was sued within 4 months of starting this job – going to court. I said “Lord, what is going on?” I was ashamed of myself and that only added to the fear. Where was my trust in God. How can I feel such incredible fear? Where is my faith? I worried about this for a long time until I discovered something. It matches the truth in Nelson Mandela’s quote:
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
That’s when I learnt that I was not being sinful and bad to be afraid. Only if that fear stopped me from being and doing what I had believed God had called me to do and be. When I understood that difference and understood that fear itself is natural. Fear is something that we experience almost every day in one form or another. We can fear losing a relationship, or a job. We can fear offending someone. We can fear the results of a test. We can fear a million, zillion things and none of them in themselves is necessarily a bad thing because we are human. But they become bad when, like the Israelites, we take our eyes off God and look down and focus only on the problems. That’s when the issue gets tough. Though it seems a pretty harsh consequence that God set for the Children of Israel – not to get into the promised land.
We also need to make decisions. There is a story of a guy driving down the South Eastern freeway – he has his hands free phone connected and his wife rings him. She says “Dear, I have just heard on the news that on the South Eastern Freeway there is someone driving on it the wrong way”. He said “only someone – the whole jolly lot are!”.
We can make wrong choices and we do. While God can and does forgive them, we realize there are also consequences, consequences to our actions and words, consequences to how we treat other people. Sometimes there is no U-turn. When Sadie and I were on holiday in northern NSW we got onto a freeway and it was the wrong one. We had to travel about fifteen kms before we could do a u-turn.
Sometimes you can’t turn around quickly and there is a consequence to the direction you are going – that’s why we need to keep our eyes on Jesus and know the word of God because then we have signposts and directions in which we can go. We can choose to go the way of anger and hate or resentment. We can choose to not forgive. Many choices. God can forgive them and we can turn around. If we can stop and look at signposts and see that I need to go this way, then maybe we can stop ourselves some of the pain and the suffering.
When we are fearful and when are finding it hard to trust God and take him at his word, that is when God has given us the church. Pastors, teachers, leaders, people so that when the future is looking furry, or even the present is looking furry because of our fear. It’s because we are taking our eyes off of the road – that’s when the church says, take a quick look in the rear vision mirror and see how God has very clearly shown you the path. When we look back we can see that God was at work, God blessed me, God kept me safe, God looked after me there. When the church is going through a tough time – remember that God is faithful, remember how he has looked after you. Remember how he has never ever let you down. Remember that even in your toughest time God was right there giving you courage and strength that you didn’t even know you had. He was there giving you love and the capacity to forgive and ask for forgiveness, giving you the courage to do what you never thought you would be able to do.
The church is the one that says “Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus” keep your eyes up, keep them on the upper story – God’s story that never changes. Our story changes but God’s story never changes it stays the same. So, keep your eyes on Jesus and you will experience less of that horrible, gut wrenching fear that can change your life forever.
When you experience difficulties in the boat of life and you scream out “who’s in the boat?” You hear the word “fear”. With your eyes on Jesus you will suddenly hear the voice “Do not be afraid – because I am in this boat too!”
Jesus says “I calm the storms”. I will help you get through what you are going through. I promise that I will bless you and work for good with everything that happens in your life. I have promised that out of the darkness there always comes the light. I have promised you that always out of this pain and suffering comes the overcoming and victory that we have in Jesus.
We look back in the rear vision mirror and see that Jesus has done it all. He suffered for us and he obeyed perfectly for us. He died on the cross for us. He rose from the dead. Jesus raised from the dead so that you and I would know God’s upper story – His story is that we too will come to the promised land. We will learn like the Israelites that the real promised land was not land but heaven. While the Jews still talk about their promised land of where they live, God changed the story so that the real promised land is the land in heaven where you will receive your crown of life.
You and I are sojourners, aliens, we are refugees passing through this life on our way to the promised land.
Apparently, in the Bible there are 365 “do not fear’s” in the Bible – one for every day of the year. Every day hear the words of Jesus “Do not be afraid – just believe”.