This Is Impossible
I cannot do this. One of the great strengths of playing sports is that we very quickly see that there are people out there who have skills and abilities that are impossible for us to have. Years ago I remember watching a football with a guy. And that guy was angry at the quarterback. For the quarterback was having a bad day. And, in a moment of anger, the guy said, “Give me that football; put me on that field. I could do better than that.” So picture a guy with a beer in one hand and a bowl of popcorn in the other who hadn’t exercised in years. he said the words. But he wasn’t convincing anyone in that room that he could have done better than that professional quarterback. But that’s the difference between watching sports and playing them. When you play sports, you have to acknowledge that there are some abilities you do not have. You have to say, “This is impossible for me.” And that truth can be useful. This morning we see the importance of admitting the impossible. In Mark 10, we read: “17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; do not defraud; honor your father and mother.” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these from my youth.”” (Mark 10:17–20 CSB17)
It’s hard to hear these words without laughing, isn’t it? So, here you have to picture an earnest, sincere rich young man. He runs up to Jesus. He falls at Jesus’ feet. He asks Jesus what he can do to earn his way into heaven. So Jesus repeats for him part of the ten commandments so that he could remind this young man how impossible it was to keep these commandments. But, instead of admitting his failure, the young man parades his pride. Without a hint of doubt or sarcasm he tells Jesus that he has zealously kept all these commandments all the way from when he was a little boy.
It’s hard to read this and not laugh, is it? But don’t be too quick to laugh. For we too fall to the same sin. Our sin is to underestimate the depth of our sin and how unable and incapable it makes so many parts of our lives. We, just like this young man, might think to ourselves that we have kept the 5th commandment because we haven’t beat up our neighbor with a 2 x 4. But Jesus says, “whoever hates his brother is a murderer.” We might conclude that we have kept the 6th commandment. But then Jesus comes along and says, “I tell you the truth, whoever looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her.” Don’t laugh too quickly. For just as it was impossible for this man to see the depth of his own sin, it is impossible for us to see the depth of our own sin too. And if we want to see the depth of our sin, all we have to do is read these words and see where this sin leads to: “21 Looking at him, Jesus loved him and said to him, “You lack one thing: Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 But he was dismayed by this demand, and he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.” (Mark 10:21–22 CSB17)
Because this man lost sight of the depth of his sin he lost sight of important and necessary wisdom about money. He lost sight of where money came from. He did not have money because he was better than other people. His money did not come from himself. It came from God above. He also lost sight of what you can do with money and what you cannot do with money. You can buy food, shelter, and clothing with it. But that’s about all it’s good for. It was impossible for this man to not trust in money. And in so many ways, we see the same fault and sin in our own hearts. From here, these words take a fascinating turn: “23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were astonished at his words. Again Jesus said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were even more astonished, saying to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Looking at them, Jesus said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God, because all things are possible with God.”” (Mark 10:23–27 CSB17)
Jesus looks at the man and loves him1 This word for love is a very beautiful word in the bible. It’s the sort of love which shows itself by doing what is best for the person you love. And so, because he loves this rich young man, he destroys this man’s love for and trust in money. He tells him, “you’re only missing one little detail. Sell all your stuff, give it to the poor, and follow me.” And with this, he shows this man that his trust in and love for money is far greater than his love for God above.
After that, then notice what happens. The man goes away sad. And then what does Jesus do? He destroys his disciples’ trust in and love of money. In Jesus’ day there was this common opinion that those who were rich were specially chosen to have money and that they were somehow better than the rest. If anyone had a fast-track into heaven, it was the rich people. And Jesus destroys this opinion.
But Jesus isn’t done there. He also destroys our own trust in and love of money. Money cannot buy you true friends. Money cannot buy you true love. Money cannot buy you health now. And money cannot buy heaven later. It is impossible for money to do this. And yet, like this rich young man and like these disciples, we fall into the same trap.
But notice how these words close. What is impossible for us, is possible for God. And it’s not just possible, it’s provided in Christ. Where was Jesus’ mansion here on this earth? He slept most night under the open sky. Where was Jesus 401k for his “golden years?” Where was his “Cadillac insurance policy?” As you read God’s word what do you find as you read about Jesus? You see our substitute and Savior who trusted not in money, but instead in his Father to provide for him. And he did this perfectly in our place.
What was impossible for us, was possible for God and provided in Christ. This is true when it came to his obedience in our place. But it’s also true when it comes to his punishment in our place. On the cross Jesus did what was impossible for sinful humans like us. Jesus predicted that he would die and then pick up his body on the third day, proving that he paid for our sins. And he did it. Not just his obedience was provided for us; his punishment in our place was impossible too, but it was provided for us, in our place.
These words then invite us not just to ponder what we cannot do with money. They also invite us to ponder what we can do with money. Jesus did what was impossible for us to do. He was perfectly obedient in our place. He was punished in our place. And that leaves us with the question: How can we remind ourselves what it is impossible for our money to give? How can we use our money to remind ourselves what it is good for and not good for? Have you ever wondered why God’s work encourages us to give an offering regularly? Sure, your pastor is paid every couple of weeks and we pay bills every month. But that’s not the biggest and best reason we give offerings every week. Every week and every day our sinful nature lies to us and tells us that money can give us protection that it cannot give and joy that it cannot deliver. And so, as a way of reminding us where deliverance and joy comes from, what do we do? We put a part of our money in the offering plate. And when you put that money in the offering plate, there is that sinful nature saying to you, “You need that money; you can have real and true fun with that money.” And week after week, you prove that sinful voice to be a liar. For God gives you so much joy; so much contentment and every other gift even though you give that money away every week.
This is impossible. That is where we began. It is impossible for us to see the depth of our sin. It is impossible for us to not trust in and love our money. How thankful we are that what is impossible for us is promised and provided in Christ. His trust in his Father was perfect. His payment was impossible for us, but provided by him. Let us, week by week, remind ourselves of this fact in our offerings. Amen.
1 “ⲏⲅⲁⲡⲏⲥⲉⲛ” (Mark 10:21 GNT-ALEX)
What Drives Our Giving?
People are fascinating. When I first started High School, we had to take fine arts classes. So I signed up for drama classes. And one of the first homework assignments I had was to go out somewhere and study someone so that we could act and pretend to be that person for a minute or two. So that’s what I did. I went across the street from our home to the grade school. I took out a notebook and a pen and studied the children. And there was this boy who began to tie his shoes. But half way through he realized that it was work to tie his shoes. So he put on the saddest face—the sort of face that makes mom’s sigh and dads act. And then he said, “Teacher, I need help.” And as the teacher kneeled down and tied his shoe for him, this smug, self-contented smile spread across his face, as if to say, “Life is good. My mom makes me tie my shoes at home. But I just successfully trained my teacher to tie my shoes at school. Life is good.” I walked home after that thinking to myself one thought: people are fascinating. But I was not the only one who thought that people were fascinating. Jesus too thought that people were fascinating too. And they were so fascinating that they were worthy of time to observe and study. And in our gospel for this morning that’s exactly what Jesus does. In Mark 12, we read: “Sitting across from the temple treasury, he watched how the crowd dropped money into the treasury.” (Mark 12:41 CSB17)
As we read these words, it’s important to see the setting. It’s Holy Week. Jesus is in the temple area. He has just answered every tough question brought to him. And now no one is coming forward to test and challenge him. And so, for a rare moment in time, he has spare time. But he doesn’t let it go to waste. He sits down. Then he stares at and studies the people in the temple because they are fascinating to him.1 And as he does this, what is it that he sees? “41 Many rich people were putting in large sums. 42 Then a poor widow came and dropped in two tiny coins worth very little.” (Mark 12:41–42 CSB17)
What Jesus sees first is crowds of people coming up and dropping their offering into the temple treasury. But then, as time goes by, he sees more. He sees how there were many rich people who stopped by and dropped large sums of money into the treasury. This is a reminder for us that in those days there was no such thing as a check or credit card. If you had masses of money you had to carry it. One of the parts of the Old Testament that I thought was funny when I first read it was the description of Abraham. In our english versions it just says that Abraham was “rich” in gold and silver. But in the Hebrew it says that he was weighed down with gold and silver.2(Genesis 13:2 BHS-T)}} If you were rich, it was hard to hide it. Everyone could see the masses of money that these rich people brought because they had to carry them. Or, to be more specific, they had people to carry them. And as all of this happens, Jesus is just sitting there. But then there is this change in Jesus. And we hear about this in the verses which follow: “Summoning his disciples, he said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.” (Mark 12:43 CSB17)
So Jesus is sitting there watching one person after another. But then he sees someone get in line. And what he sees fascinates him. He sees one woman. He does not see teams and groups of people, as with the rich people. And he sees that she is a widow. There is no husband to go with her and support her. And then the final detail we learn about her is that she is poor. There was no trust-fund for her or life insurance. Her income died with her husband. Jesus sees her and studies her. In fact she is so fascinating to him that he calls his disciples over to him. And he tells them all that this one woman gave more than all the others who showed up that day. And then he tells them why this was true: “For they all gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had—all she had to live on.”” (Mark 12:44 CSB17)
Notice the contrast Jesus sees. On the one hand, what drove all these people to give was the fact that they had enough if not even more than enough. And because they had enough, they could give some to the Lord. But just the opposite was true with this poor, lonely widow. What drove her to give was her lack. She did not have a husband. She did not have and income. And with that lack she arrived at a conclusion: “I can do no nothing because I have nothing.” And that was what fascinated Jesus. For from that conclusion she arrived at an even more important conclusion: “Since I can do nothing, the Lord will have to do everything. He will have to be the one who will save me from sin and from starvation.” And from this conclusion she arrived at a final conclusion: “since the Lord will provide for me, I can give freely and joyfully to him.” And so she did.
Joy in Christ—that’s what drove her giving. But for us here today, what is it that drives our giving? Here is where we face two temptations: first, our temptation is to give out of apathy and peer-pressure. After the sermon ends and it’s time for the offering we look around and all the other people are giving. I guess I should. And so, without much thinking and pondering we put our money in the plate. That’s one temptation. But the other temptation is just as bad. The second temptation is to give out of panic and desperation. We publish these numbers in our bulletin every week. And if we don’t understand them properly, we they can lead us to sin. If I see a negative number here in the bulletin, it’s so easy to conclude, “I have to give because if I don’t this church might close down.” And that’s not true at all. I’ve been in many congregations over the years and what causes churches to close down is a lack of love for God’s word, not a lack of money. The lack of money is an effect, not a cause. In one of the churches I served in, there was a guy who bought into a false teaching. And when our congregation refused to give into that false teaching he left. And he left with a strange sort of glee. You see, he was a very generous giver to the church—and everyone knew it. And, with glee, he left the church, expecting it to fold because he was no longer there. But the church didn’t collapse. In fact, it grew. It was a powerful reminder that that church belonged to Jesus. He died for those people. He gave them faith. He gave them their daily bread. And our great trap is to either care too little about our offerings (apathy) or to care too much (panic and desperation).
Those are our temptations. But what is the truth we see in these words? Just look at that widow. Did Jesus rescue her from her sin? And there’s the amazing part: we find no hint that she even knew he was there. But she knew her good and gracious Lord would forgive her sins. And the same is true for us. And did Jesus rescue her from her starvation? Year after year we walk through these words in catechism class. And I ask the kids: “So, do you think that this widow put her coins in the box and then went home and died of starvation.” And, in all my years of asking that question, they all had the same answer: “no.” They knew that the same Savior, Jesus, who died for us will also provide for us.
So where does that leave us this morning? That leaves us in the same place as this one poor widow. What drives us to give is our great joy in Christ. And what this joy in Christ drives us to do is to give freely. So when we get to that part when I say, “We continue with our thank-offering,” care about that money that you put in that offering plate. But do not let your care be driven by pressure or panic. Give freely, out of joy in Christ. Amen.
1 “ⲉⲑⲉⲱⲣⲉⲓ” (Mark 12:41 GNT-ALEX)
2 ”וְאַבְרָ֖ם כָּבֵ֣ד מְאֹ֑ד בַּמִּקְנֶ֕ה בַּכֶּ֖סֶף וּבַזָּהָֽב׃“
Why Should I Come To Class?
Why do we make promises? Our family is in the process of buying a house. And what shocked me was how many promises you have to make. They aren’t verbal promises. Instead, they are written promises that you have to sign your name to. And all that signing got me thinking: why do we make promises? And the conclusion I reached was that we make promises because these are what we want to understand, remember and do. The Christian church makes promises too. This weekend I had the privilege of baptizing a child. And after the child was baptized, the parents made this promise:
Brothers and sisters in Christ, our Lord commands that we teach his precious truths to all who are baptized. Christian love therefore urges all of us, especially parents and sponsors, to assist in whatever manner possible so that [name] may remain a child of God until death. If you are willing to carry out this responsibility, then answer: Yes, as God gives me strength.
And the family agreed to do this. In fact, I’ve had many baptisms of children and for all of them the parents have agreed to this promise. Christians make promises. When I first arrived here, on the night I was installed, I made a promise to preach and teach in line with what God’s word spoke. But I wasn’t the only one who made a promise. You too made a promise. Here are the words that you promised to carry out:
Help [your pastor] by your word and example in teaching the young, remembering how the Scriptures urge you to bring up your children in the training and instruction of the Lord.
And when Pastor Schmiel asked, “are you willing,” you said, “We will, and we ask God to help us.” The problem with promises though, is that it is easy to forget them. And so, the parent who promises to teach the child that was just baptized God’s word then, years later, brings the child to catechism class. And I ask the child the simple question, “Who is Moses?” And the child says nothing. And the child says nothing because that is what the child knows about Moses. The parents broke their promise to teach their children God’s word. And I, the pastor, am left in this strange place where I have to somehow catch up ten years of teaching in two.
But it’s not just parents who fall into this trap. The rest of the congregation can fall into this trap. When the pastor is installed, they promise to teach and to set a good example. But what happens after that is often the opposite of a good example. Put yourselves in the shoes of a child for a moment. A child comes to church and sits in these pews and is surrounded by people. But then what happens? The child goes downstairs for Sunday School. And when the class is done, that child comes back up the stairs and looks into the fireside room. And what does he or she see? The child sees not almost a hundred people as there was for worship, but instead, about ten. That math teaches a lesson and preaches a sermon. It teaches a child that learning, studying and growing in God’s word is only for children.
And so, the grown-ups teach the opposite of what they promised when they installed a pastor.
And my dear friends in Christ, broken promises carry consequences with them. What happens to a child that is taught by your actions that studying God’s word with a teacher is only for children? Instead of learning to hate hypocrisy, they learn to love it. They learn that when they are confirmed they can replace bible study class with whatever they want—because, after all, that’s what the grown-ups do. I’ve heard many grown-ups in our congregation express with such sad words how many people are confirmed here and then grow up and do not stay. And much of the blame for that is on their shoulders. But do realize, part of the blame is on yours too. For what I’ve found is that the vast majority of those who complain that children grow up and do not know God’s word anymore are the same grown-ups who do not come to bible study class to continue to learn about the Lord.
It is wrong to teach our children that hypocrisy is ok. But the other consequence of this is that it makes a pastor’s ministry into misery. I was talking to a guy a couple of weeks ago who got a new job because he thought it would use the gifts he had. But when when he arrived at work, they changed his job description. And now his work is frustrating. From God’s word, your pastor’s job description is simple: preach, teach, and visit. Put yourself in your pastor’s shoes for a moment. What do you think it would be like to come to a new congregation as a pastor, thinking that they want, really want, to study, learn and grow in God’s word, and then, week after week, month after month, what you are shown is that the opposite is true? A pastor’s ministry can quickly become misery.
We make promises. We make them so that we understand them, remember them and do them. But all of us break these promises. So what do we do about this? Do we live in the darkness, pretending it’s ok to act in hypocritical ways, teaching another generation that it’s ok to not learn and grow in God’s word? No, we repent of them. We go to the same place where every other sinner since the fall into sin has gone. We go back to God’s word and there find Jesus. And in our gospel for this morning that’s what Matthew found. And for the rest of this time, I’m going to tell you about Jesus, our Savior from our sin. But I’m going to do it in a different way. I’m going to teach it to you as if you were my catechism class. So, please, this morning, pretend that you are 12-14 years old. And it goes like this: Children, today we get to learn about a man named, Matthew. Open up to Mark, chapter 2. And I want us all to read together verses 13 and 14. And so, this morning, take out your church bulletins and read these words, verses 13 and 14, together with me: “13 Jesus went out again beside the sea. The whole crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 Then, passing by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the toll booth, and he said to him, “Follow me,” and he got up and followed him.” (Mark 2:13–14 CSB17)
Here, in these words, we meet a tax collector. Now, in those days, people hated tax collectors. They hated them for two reasons: First, the tax collectors charged too much money, often far more than what they needed to collect. Second, they exchanged their lives as Christians for lives of sin. There is a word that Mark uses here that describes a professional sinner.1 This is a person who makes a living by doing what is wrong. So today, think of a drug-dealer or an assassin—people who are paid and support themselves by doing what is wicked. This is not good. But what if—what if a person in that situation wants to get out. Picture Matthew there sitting at his both collecting taxes. What if he wanted to get out of that job and return back to his church. The problem with being a professional sinner is that when you go down that road so many of them were stuck in that profession even if they wanted to get out.
When I was a little older than you are, our family moved. And I started high school knowing no one. And, like any high schooler, I tried to make friends by making jokes. And I made a joke with a guy in my gym class. He took my joke in the opposite way I intended it and started arguing against me. And the next thing I knew I had an enemy, rather than a friend. And to make the situation even worse, it was the son of the football coach. And for months after that, I was known as the guy who was mean to that kid for no reason. And I wanted more than anything to have that label and title taken away. But I was stuck. The situation was far worse with Matthew. I lost a friend that day. Mathew lost his church and his salvation by becoming a tax collector.
But one day something happened. One day Matthew was sitting at his tax booth and he saw a man who kept teaching and teaching and teaching as he walked down the road. And what he taught changed him. It moved him so powerfully that he took two bold actions. First, when Jesus spoke to him, Matthew walked away from his money. Picture all the piles of money on that table. Matthew walked away from it all. The second action Matthew took we hear about in verse 15. Let’s all together read that verse: “While he was reclining at the table in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who were following him.” (Mark 2:15 CSB17)
So, my children, not only did Matthew walk away from the money. He also invited all his fellow professional sinners to hear how they could get out. They had sinned. They had chosen a horrible way to make a living. But they were not stuck there. There was a way out. So then, what was that way out? Let’s read together, verses 16-17: “16 When the scribes who were Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 When Jesus heard this, he told them, “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”” (Mark 2:16–17 CSB17)
How was it that Matthew could be sure that he wasn’t stuck forever in a life that made him sin so that he could make enough money to live on? He learned about Jesus. He learned about this man who was more than a man—he was God himself. This Jesus did for him what he could never do for himself. Jesus promised to take away the sickness of his sin. Jesus promised to cover his sin with Jesus’ own righteousness and perfection. And even more than that, when he asked Jesus to sit at his table, Jesus said ‘yes.” Children have you ever gone through that? Have you ever asked someone to sit with you at your table and then they said, ‘no?’ Matthew, by himself, had no right to ask Jesus to sit with him and eat with him. But knowing that this Jesus had forgiven his sins invites him, and Jesus says, ‘Yes.’ Oh, my dear children, this is why we come to catechism class. We come to catechism class to learn about this Savior Jesus. Week after week we learn about this sort of Savior. This concluded our catechism lesson today. Go home and memorize your parts of the catechism.
And so, for all your grown-ups and children here this morning, if you ask the question, “why should I come to class,” there’s your answer. As we read and study God’s word we learn about a Savior who heals our sickening and disgusting sins of tolerating hypocrisy. He forgives them and covers them with his own righteousness and perfection. So, my dear friends in Christ, come to class. Come to class not just because you promised to. Come to class because of the forgiveness that Jesus promises to you. Amen.
1 “ⲁⲙⲁⲣⲧⲱⲗⲱⲛ” (Mark 2:16 GNT-ALEX)
Take Away The Weight
It’s out of my hands. Part of being a doctor—especially an ER doctor, is that it’s your job to save lives. And the situation you can get yourself in if you are that kind of a doctor is that you get good at your job and you begin to conclude that you can save all people. But then there are those times you cannot save them. There are those times where you realize that both the problem and the solution are out of your hands. In Numbers 11, Moses faced the same situation, that both the problem and the solution are out of his hands: “4 The riffraff among them had a strong craving for other food. The Israelites wept again and said, “Who will feed us meat? 5 We remember the free fish we ate in Egypt, along with the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. 6 But now our appetite is gone; there’s nothing to look at but this manna!”” (Numbers 11:4–6 CSB17)
Here we are again in the desert, just as we were several weeks ago. And here we are reminded that there was this “mixed-multitude” coming up out of Egypt along with the Hebrews—or to use the word here, the “riffraff.” These many people who fled from Egypt continually tried to lead the Hebrews astray. But, sad to say, as we look at these words, we see that the Hebrews wanted to be led astray. So what happens next? “10 Moses heard the people, family after family, weeping at the entrance of their tents. The Lord was very angry; Moses was also provoked. 11 So Moses asked the Lord, “Why have you brought such trouble on your servant? Why are you angry with me, and why do you burden me with all these people? 12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth so you should tell me, ‘Carry them at your breast, as a nanny carries a baby,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? 13 Where can I get meat to give all these people? For they are weeping to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I can’t carry all these people by myself. They are too much for me. 15 If you are going to treat me like this, please kill me right now if I have found favor with you, and don’t let me see my misery anymore.”” (Numbers 11:10–15 CSB17)
Week after week, month after month, the people complained about their food. And look at Moses. The Moses here is a different man than the one we saw months earlier. He is worn down. He he demoralized. Moses wasn’t the one who created these people. It wasn’t Moses’ plan to take them out of Egypt. And he wasn’t the one who was providing food for them in the desert—It was the Lord who was doing that. And yet, he felt the weight of a problem that was out of his control. So, in a low and lonely moment, he prays to the Lord that the Lord might murder him.1 And he prays that the Lord would just take the weight away.
Now, before we move on in these words, realize that nothing at all has changed from Moses’ time to our own. Christian congregations often have a habit of blaming a pastor for issues that are out of his control. Years ago there was a pastor who was called to a congregation after a long vacancy. And there were people who had left that church and weren’t coming back. But yet, when he got there, the leaders in the congregation made sure he knew that his job was to get those families who weren’t coming to church back into church. That was an issue that was out of his control. But the congregation was more than happy to pile on the weight. So the ancient Hebrews weren’t the only ones who face this temptation. Today Christians face the same temptation.
Now, if you were in the Lord’s shoes, what would you do with these problems? Notice then what the Lord does: “The Lord answered Moses, “Bring me seventy men from Israel known to you as elders and officers of the people. Take them to the tent of meeting and have them stand there with you.” (Numbers 11:16 CSB17)
Moses cries out, “Take away the weight.” But is this what the Lord does? The answer is “yes” and “no.” He still leaves the weight of caring for souls on Moses’ shoulders. But, notice what he also does. He spreads the weight. He chooses 70 elders to help Moses out in his ministry to the people. And there are some important details to learn about these men. We read: “24 Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. He brought seventy men from the elders of the people and had them stand around the tent. 25 Then the Lord descended in the cloud and spoke to him. He took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and placed the Spirit on the seventy elders. As the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they never did it again. 26 Two men had remained in the camp, one named Eldad and the other Medad; the Spirit rested on them—they were among those listed, but had not gone out to the tent—and they prophesied in the camp. 27 A young man ran and reported to Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 Joshua son of Nun, assistant to Moses since his youth, responded, “Moses, my Lord, stop them!” 29 But Moses asked him, “Are you jealous on my account? If only all the Lord’s people were prophets and the Lord would place his Spirit on them!”” (Numbers 11:24–29 CSB17)
Notice the two points these words teach us: First, elders are called servants of the word. But they only have a part of that ministry. Elders are not pastors. But they carry out pastoral work in a very limited way. Second, Moses says, “If only all the Lord’s people were prophets” (Numbers 11:29 CSB17) Moses says this because only a very small number of men will have the gifts to serve as an elder. I know of congregations of more than 500 members and they have no elders. And the reason for this is very clear: there will be few men who will have the maturity in God’s word to serve in this ministry. Notice what it is to be an elder. An elder is a man who loves God’s word and loves God’s people. And from this fact there arises two temptations. The first temptation comes from the congregation. The call, work and role of an elder is to spend time in God’s word. He needs to be reading God’s word at home. He needs to be sharing that word with his family. He needs to be coming to bible study class at church for one simple reason: Elders are asked pastor-level questions. But they do not have a pastor-level education. So they need to be in bible study class, immersed in God’s word. And the temptation the congregation faces is to take this man whose call has to do with God’s word and then divert him to other service in the church. So, instead of spending time reading God’s word, praying and studying God’s word with the pastor, the congregation has the elder fix door knobs and faucets. That is a real sin. But there is a second temptation. That is the temptation for the elder to divert himself. I have no desire to clean my office. I don’t. But when Saturday morning rolls around, all of a sudden I have this deep yearning to tidy up my office. Why is that? That is the time when I write my sermon. And my sinful nature wants me to do anything rather than get the sermon done. Since the fall into sin in the Garden it has always been this way. And it’s the same for elders in the church. Their work is carrying your weight. Their work is to pray for you. Their work is to grow in God’s word so that they can share that with you. And it is a sad and shameful thing when we divert them from that work.
And what do we do with this shocking realization that our energy and efforts are diverted? We repent of it. We turn to the God we see here in these pages. We turn to this God who has such amazing patience. If God was patient with his people and prophets in the Old Testament, won’t he be the same with us? And hasn’t he already been in Christ? Look at our Savior, Jesus. He was continually and constantly being invited to divert himself from the ministry of the word. But, in every example, he said, “no.” And he did this as our substitute, so that in the times we divert ourselves or others divert us—those sins are forgiven in Christ. And they are paid for on the cross.
With all of this in mind, how should we treat our elders in our congregation? Treat them as tremendous gifts. For there are congregations who do not have any. Thank God for them. But also help them. An elder’s primary role is to be in God’s word. So then, my dear friends in Christ, help him in that. If there is an elder who gets caught up in fixing doorknobs and dishwashers in this church, what should you do? Make sure that he is reading God’s word. Make sure that he is coming to bible class, for again, elders are asked pastor-level questions without a pastor-level training. And so that they can spend time in growing in God’s word, take that work away from them. Fix the doorknobs and dishwashers for them. Do this so that the weight of caring for you can rest on their shoulders once again. For each of us as pastors and elders at some point in time cries out, “take the weight away.” But our Lord, in is mercy toward us spreads the weight out among pastors and elders. Amen.
1 הָרְגֵ֤נִי נָא֙ הָרֹ֔ג Numbers 11:15
Faith Chooses Us
You do not want to leave too, do you? In the words we just read, that was the question that Jesus asked his disciples. And the fascinating part of that question is the word, “too.” They could see multitudes and masses of people walking away from Jesus because, to them, he was speaking above their level of comprehension. And Jesus, no doubt, with sadness in his voice, tells them, “All the rest are walking away? Are you?” Peter lifts up his voice and says those words, ““Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68 NIV) And the question we ask is “how?” How is it that Peter stood with Jesus when all the rest walked away? The answer is that Peter’s confidence came by faith. Peter did not choose to have faith in Jesus. No, instead, God the Father gave Peter faith so that he could choose to stay with Jesus. Or, to put it differently, Peter did not choose faith. Instead, faith chose him. And notice that this amazing gift of faith that God gave to him was not frail and faltering. No, instead, it was fierce and forceful. All of this we look at this morning because we see the same pattern and example 1400 years before Peter. We find the same example in Moses. In the book of Hebrews we read: “24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter 25 and chose to suffer with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasure of sin. 26 For he considered reproach for the sake of Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, since he was looking ahead to the reward.” (Hebrews 11:24–26 CSB17)
Faith chose Moses. But notice that this gift of faith was not frail. It was strong and forceful. And it needed to be. For Moses was caught and ensnared in a powerful web. Moses was a Hebrew baby. And Pharaoh had commanded that all the Hebrew boys be put to death. But Pharaoh’s daughter found a Hebrew baby in the Nile. She adopted the child and made him her own. But this makes Moses’ life weird, strange and dysfunctional. Today, they talk about Stockholm syndrome. It’s this condition where a person is kidnapped and then abused and then, after a while, bonds with the person who kidnapped them. And that’s nothing compared to what Moses grows up in. His adopted grandpa went out of his way to kill all the Hebrew males he could get his hands on. And yet, there in his own household is a grown-up Hebrew male that he calls his own. And what is it that keeps Moses there, living in denial of his family and his faith? All the wealth of Egypt is his.
And this is a warning to us. We are citizens of two kingdoms. The bed where you lay your head at night is your earthly home. But the promise of heaven is where you lay your heart. Worldly wealth is the tool this sinful world and our sinful hearts use to rob us of our earthly promised kingdom. Earthly wealth wants to give us such joy that we forget about the joy promised to us in heaven. Earthly wealth wants us to put our trust in it. And even worse, we can look around us and see so many people being enticed by it.
What was it then that led Moses out of that trap, and us too today? The answer is faith. This gift of faith that our Father in heaven gives to us is forceful. This faith chooses us. And it chooses us to say, “No!” And that’s exactly what Moses did. He had every ability to stay with his mother and have every benefit of worldly wealth. But his soul cried out, “no!” His faith in Christ led him to say, “no” and suffer with his fellow believers because the treasures he was promised in Christ were far bigger and far better. The wealth of Egypt gave him fame and power. But it did not give him forgiveness. It did not give him the truth. And the same is true for us. This gift of faith chooses us to say “no” to worldly wealth. And what moves us to do this is the promise of forgiveness promised to us in Christ. And what a great, amazing promise that is! For all those times we, in such a dysfunctional way loved our worldly wealth more than our Savior—that sin is forgiven in Jesus who loved us enough to lay down his life to pay for our sins.
Faith chooses us. This gift of faith chooses us to say, “no” to the enticement of worldly wealth. But as these words continue, we see that faith chooses us in another way: “27 By faith he left Egypt behind, not being afraid of the king’s anger, for Moses persevered as one who sees him who is invisible. 28 By faith he instituted the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn might not touch the Israelites.” (Hebrews 11:27–28 CSB17)
Here we bump into some of the strangest words you could possibly bump into as you read the bible. God tells us that Moses was not afraid. But that’s the exact opposite of what we read in the book of Exodus. And we know why Moses is so afraid. He’s afraid because he just got done murdering and Egyptian and burying him in the sand. How do we make sense of this? The answer is that in between verse 26 and 27 in these words 40 years has passed. Moses was a different man 40 years later. And in this too we see a huge temptation to sin. Moses’ faith was forceful. It was not frail and faltering. But what was the problem? His faith was not formed and informed by God’s word. Vengeance belongs to the Lord. But Moses took vengeance in his own hands, without a call and without a command from God. We too can fall into the same trap. There are those times we are put on the spot and put to the test. And then, when that time of testing comes, we take our stand with Jesus and shout out, “no!” But then we fall into another trap. We might do so without love and compassion for the person we are speaking to. We might do so like Moses, not just showing sin, but also bringing divine wrath and punishment. And all of this happens, because, just like Moses, instead of having our faith formed and informed by God’s word, we choose to live in ignorance. And so we have a faith that is forceful; but it is also foolish.
The Moses that we see in these closing verses was a different man. He wasn’t different in that, somehow, he stopped sinning or even that he sinned less than before. No, instead, he was a different man in that, for 40 years, he was one who kept continually seeing the One who was Unseen. The Lord hid himself and spoke to him out of that burning bush. But that’s not all he had. He also had God’s word shared with him through his Father in law, Jethro, who was a high priest of Midian. Moses had God’s word and grew in it. And that same invitation is here for you today. The faith that God has given to each and everyone of you is forceful. But what is it that moves us to actually open up our bibles and read them? Just like Moses, there in those pages of the bible, the Jesus that is unseen, we see. We see his great love for us in forgiving the times we have been cowards. We see his great love for us in the times we found how forceful our faith was and then became fools by going in directions God’s word didn’t—how he forgives our foolishness. And if you want an example of that, just look at Moses. Such shame he had for decades at murdering an Egyptian. But why was he so unafraid of Pharaoh and so unafraid to have Pharaoh call him a murderer? In God’s word he saw Christ, the Savior from his sins. That’s why we read God’s word. Our sinful natures have every reason and right to call us, “adulterer, slanderer, lier, and even murderer.” But in God’s word we see the Jesus who is unseen. And he calls us, “forgiven.” And in God’s word, he calls us, “friend.”
And so, my dear friends in Christ, don’t let your bible be this dry and dusty book on your shelf. Open it. Read it. And as you read it you will find your faith grow and be stronger. It will lead you to say “no.” But right along with that, I will also form and inform you as you see Jesus, who is unseen. Amen.
Romans 12:3-21 (There are ‘pops’ in the recording. I apologize for this. I’ll see what I can do to resolve this by next week.)
Wisdom Is Hidden In A Mystery
Betty always hid her bones. When I was growing up, we had a dog named, “Betty.” And she used to find animal carcasses and drag them home. But when you found them she would take the strangest course of action. If you found her treasured bones, she would drag them someplace else and bury them. They were her treasures. And she didn’t want you to have them or even know about them. So what did she do? She hid them from you. I mention that because in God’s word this morning we find the same pattern. In these words we see that this treasure of wisdom is hidden in a mystery. And first of all, it’s hidden in a mystery from the world. We read: “6 We do, however, speak a wisdom among the mature, but not a wisdom of this age, or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 On the contrary, we speak God’s hidden wisdom in a mystery, a wisdom God predestined before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age knew this wisdom, because if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But as it is written, What no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human heart has conceived— God has prepared these things for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:6–9 CSB17)
Betty used to bury her bones. That was her treasure. What does God hide? What is his treasure? Wisdom—true wisdom is what he hides. And he hides it from the world. And if you look around you in the world you see how true this is. The unbelieving world, for as much as it wants to be wise, has no wisdom. The unbelieving world wants love and stability. But they want this without marriage, the foundation of both. The world wants a version of morality—they want right and wrong to exist. But then they deny that there’s any truth out there in the world.
Wisdom, true wisdom is hidden from the world. And Paul proves it here in these words. If you were in a knife-fight with someone else, would you hand them a gun? But that’s exactly what the world did. They crucified the Lord of Glory. In that statement we find an amazing mystery. How is it that God was able to die? And yet, in Christ, we see that God died. These words are so very clear in what they say. They killed God in the person of Jesus. They would have not done that if they had any wisdom at all.
This wisdom is hidden from the world. But it is revealed to us. What an amazing mystery it is for us to ponder that in Christ, God died. If just a human died on the cross then the sins of the entire world could not have been paid for. But since the Lord of Glory died and rose, then the sins of the entire world were paid for. And that means so much to us. For we are sinners too. And one of the ways we sin is by concluding that God has to unveil and reveal all of his mysteries. Why did God allow me to lose my job? Why did he give me cancer or failing eyes? Why did he allow this tragedy to happen in the life of someone I love? So very often these questions remain mysteries. And we should know it is this way. We believe that there’s one God and three persons—a mystery. We believe that there’s one person of Christ, but two different and distinct natures, divine and human. It’s a mystery. We are used to mysteries. But when those mysteries affect us and our lives then we speak out and lash out. But how amazing it is that God reveals this mystery to us: The Lord of Glory was crucified. Since Jesus, both true God and true human died, our sins, even those sins we commit by not tolerating his mysteries, are forgiven.
This wisdom is hidden from the world. But it is revealed to us in a mystery so that we would know our sins are forgiven. But this wisdom is revealed in a mystery also so that we would know who it was who revealed this wisdom to us. Paul tells us: “10 Now God has revealed these things to us by the Spirit, since the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except his spirit within him? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who comes from God, so that we may understand what has been freely given to us by God.” (1 Corinthians 2:10–12 CSB17)
Notice the example Paul gives. Who knows you? Who knows what you think from moment to moment and feel instant by instant? You are the one—and the only one who knows. Who is the only one who knows what God wants and feels? God is the only one. And the only way you can understand what is godly and spiritual is if God explains it to you. And he emphasizes this in the words which follow: “13 We also speak these things, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. 14 But the person without the Spirit does not receive what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually. 15 The spiritual person, however, can evaluate everything, and yet he himself cannot be evaluated by anyone. 16 For who has known the Lord’s mind, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:13–16 CSB17)
Unbelievers cannot understand spiritual issues. Here too is where we face a massive temptation to sin. We know Jesus. We know the Holy Spirit. We know and have the wisdom from God’s word. So what do we do? We go to our unbelieving friends and family members and try to argue them into heaven. With human thoughts and human reasoning we try to wrestle them into choosing Jesus and understanding him. But they don’t get it. And here in these words we hear why that is. The person without the Holy Spirit cannot understand any wisdom from God because they are unable to. They are unable to choose Jesus. Our great temptation to sin is to argue people into heaven. But what is the solution? The solution is simply to share God’s word. For through God’s word he is able to perform miracles. With God’s word the Holy Spirit is able to break down unbelief. He is able to reveal his wisdom. He is able to forgiven sin and strengthen faith. And if you want proof that God’s word is so powerful, just look at yourself. When you came into this world you were an unbeliever. But by his grace, his undeserved love, he chose you. He forgave you. He taught you. And by his Spirit he still does all of these through his word. And he teaches you to embrace and rejoice in all these mysteries in the bible, even though you really don’t understand them completely. And if he can do that with you, he can do the same with others.
And so, my dear friends in Christ, wisdom is hidden in a mystery. It is hidden in a mystery so that we would know that our sins are forgiven. And it is hidden in a mystery so that we would know who it was who revealed this wisdom to us: The Holy Spirit. Amen.