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Mosaic Spokane

God at the Center

Keeping God @ the Center

June 13, 2010

Numbers 2-10

 

Morning Quiz:  Identify the following slogans with the right branch of the military:

Top of Form

#1   Which military branch uses "An army of one" as their slogan?

ArmyBottom of Form

#2   Which military branch uses "Cross into the blue" as their slogan?
Air Force

#3   Which military branch uses "The few, the proud" as their slogan?
Marines

#4   Which military branch uses "Accelerate your life" as their slogan?
Navy

#5   Which military branch uses "Be part of the action" as their slogan?
Coast Guard

#6   Which military branch uses "Aim high" as their slogan?

Air Force

#7   Which military branch uses "It's not just a job, it's an adventure" as their slogan?
Navy

#8   Which military branch uses "Be all you can be" as their slogan?

Army

#9   Which military branch uses "Get an edge on life" as their slogan?
Army

#10   Which military branch uses "We're looking for a few good men" as their slogan?

Marines

 

In the age of the all-voluntary military, each branch of the service must be both creative and memorable in their branding and advertising. 

REVIEW:  As we saw last week, when God recruited His people for war, it wasn’t voluntary.  Every man over 20 years of age was conscripted for service.  Some 603,550 men were “called up” for duty during that roughly 14 months between leaving slavery in Egypt and facing the giants in the Promised Land of Canaan. 

 

Sometimes it’s a lot easier to recruit people for physical warfare than it is for spiritual battle. 

ILL:  In researching some of the marketing slogans of our military this week, I found a blog article by a self-proclaimed atheist named Tommy Key, an article entitled “It’s Not Just a Job; It’s An Adventure.” [See http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com /2008/04/its-not-just-job-its-adventure.html]

      The Catholic Church in America is apparently facing a severe shortage of priests. The New York Times featured an article in 2008 about the steep decline in men entering the priesthood. For instance, half a century ago, at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, a city just north of the Bronx, the paper notes that "several hundred men at a time studied to be ordained as priests for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York…”  Now, "only 22 are enrolled."

      The article quotes a Rev. Luke Sweeney, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of New York, who asks rhetorically, “How do we get the ‘cool’ factor back into the priesthood?

      One of the ways the Diocese is trying to market the priesthood is through its recruitment web site, nypriest.com. “Out of curiosity,” says this atheist, “I decided to give the site a quick perusal.  I started my inquiry by checking out the section appropriately titled "For Starters". From thence I clicked on the link for "What Is the Priesthood?" Well, maybe I am a little biased as an atheist, but I hardly think a picture of a bunch of guys doing this (see slide) is the right way to stir up interest in a vocation as a priest.” 

I think he may have a point! J  On the other hand, I think these Catholic priests in the making are probably the ones whom our culture needs more desperately than another cynical atheist. 

 

Getting closer to God is never something atheists have been real good at.  J  And falling prostrate before an Awesome God isn’t their forte either.  And, I’m guessing, they don’t put a whole lot of stock in the relationship between military victory and spiritual vitality.  But God did in the book of Numbers.

 

Last week we talked quite a bit about the spiritual battle we’re in and how we need to look at it, life and the church through the lens of warfare.  Chapter 1 was consumed primarily with the counting of all possible male military recruits among God’s people there in the Desert of Sinai.  But that chapter ended with an important distinction God made between the 12 tribes of Israel and the tribe of Levi.  The tribe of Levi wasn’t supposed to be counted among the fighting men. 

Numbers 1:47-53

47 The families of the tribe of Levi, however, were not counted along with the others. 48 The LORD had said to Moses: 49 "You must not count the tribe of Levi or include them in the census of the other Israelites. 50 Instead, appoint the Levites to be in charge of the tabernacle of the Testimony—over all its furnishings and everything belonging to it. They are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings; they are to take care of it and encamp around it. 51 Whenever the tabernacle is to move, the Levites are to take it down, and whenever the tabernacle is to be set up, the Levites shall do it. Anyone else who goes near it shall be put to death. 52 The Israelites are to set up their tents by divisions, each man in his own camp under his own standard. 53 The Levites, however, are to set up their tents around the tabernacle of the Testimony so that wrath will not fall on the Israelite community. The Levites are to be responsible for the care of the tabernacle of the Testimony."

 

The men of this one tribe descended from Levi had a special military deferment.  Rather than doing military drills, they were assigned to handle both the mundane routines of the Tabernacle maintenance as well as a number of the very important matters concerning the nation’s worship of God. 

  • They alone were to carry the Ark of the Covenant when the nation was on the move.
  • They were the “set-up & take-down” crew when it came to the entire structure of the Tabernacle.
  • They were tasked with proper shipping and handling of all the Tabernacle implements.
  • They kept the Tabernacle balance sheet and finances. 
  • They were the worship musicians, the secretaries, scribes and gate-keeper.
  • They were also to be the teachers of God’s truth to the people.
  • They were to help the priests perform the priestly duties every day. 
  • It was not a job that you applied for; it was something you were born into. 
  • The priesthood of Aaron was a sub-set of Levites. 
  • This tribe was not given property to farm as the other 11 tribe members were.  Theirs was a “faith-mission” sort of enterprise.  Much of their food and sustenance was to come from the tithes and offerings that the rest of the nation gave.  They comprised about 3% of the total male population of Israel at the time.  They were the sort of “government employees” of the day.  Supporting them was not to be a terrific burden on the nation.  (One in 35 jobs vs. 1 in 5 jobs in the government sector in our country today!)

 

How would you like to have to be a full-time church leader and then you and your family’s income tied to the spiritual state of a nation?  It’s great when people are passionately seeking God, walking in obedience to Him and living under the direction of His word and His Spirit.  But guess what happened when the nation’s spiritual condition took a nose-dive?  Pretty much the same thing that happens when an airplane takes a nose-dive.  Pretty much what is happening to the Roman Catholic church in much of our nation.  Pretty much what is happening to churches and pastors across this country today.  STAT:  We’re losing 1,500 pastors a week from the pastorate and about 4,000 churches a year. 

 

Now, notice how God gave specific instructions about exactly where all the people of Israel were to camp whenever the presence of God stopped in some place.  In chapter 2, God places the 12 Tribes of Israel, 3 on each of the 4 compass coordinates, around the Tabernacle.  And the Tribe of Levi (which included the priesthood of Aaron) were to all camp closest to the Tabernacle, between the Tabernacle and the rest of the tribes.

 

What is God telling his people by this arrangement of the tribes?  First let’s look at how they were grouped.

  • Judah, Issachar and Zebulun were all descendants of Leah.  They all camped on the east.
  • Reuben, Simeon and Gad camped on the south.  They were all either from Leah or her maidservant, Zilpah.  Again, closest family connections.
  • Ephraim and Manasseh, both Joseph’s sons, were on the west, along with Benjamin.  These were all the offspring of Rachel.
  • Dan and Naphtali were Rachel’s maidservant Zilpah’s sons.  They were on the north side of the tabernacle along with the remaining son of Leah’s maidservant, Asher. 

 

APP:  Even among the people of God, there are sometimes strong bonds that make it more natural for some believers to live and work together than with others.  I think this is why we have such a wonderful diversity in the Body of Christ.  We are all called to love one another.  Even when we’re from the same families, there are plenty of challenges to letting love dominate rather than difference. 

      But nowhere does it say that we must all live together, work together or minister together in the same way.  Our unity is to be, not in our views of ministry or styles or unique doctrines, but in the heart and mind of Christ (Ac. 4:32; I Cor. 2:16). The fact that there are different churches and denominations in the universal church is a wonderful thing.  What isn’t so wonderful is when we talk down or look down on others who choose to live out their life in Christ differently or who hold to non-central/core doctrines differently.  Some degree of affinity to a living, breathing church body over others is not wrong.  But arrogance, divisiveness and separation from the larger body of Christ certainly is wrong.

 

Then notice something about the Levites.  (By the way, Levites were the one remaining son/tribe to come from Leah but were not numbered among the 12 tribes in the partitioning of the land later.)  They encircled the Tabernacle all the way around and were the one tribe that was closest to God’s presence in this journey.  Why was that?

      Remember back in Exodus 32 when Moses was long in coming down from the mountain where God was giving him the Law?  The people built a golden calf and worshiped it as their deliverer-god.  When Moses returned from 40 days in the presence of God, face glowing with the glory of God, he saw the people “running wild…and…out of control” (vs. 25).  Listen to what happened next (Ex. 32:26ff)

So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, "Whoever is for the LORD, come to me." And all the Levites rallied to him.

 27 Then he said to them, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.' " 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, "You have been set apart to the LORD today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day."

 

The most terrible of wars are “civil wars.”  This was not a war but it certainly must have felt like it for the Levites.  Some of them killed their own sons.  Some their own brothers.  Some the children or parents or siblings of others in the camp.  What on earth would posses “the God of Israel” to say “Each man strap a sword to his side.  Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor”???  Is that the kind of God we serve, one who calls for the death of people who got a little ‘out of control’ at a party one night? 

 

Chapter 32 of Exodus is not one we spent a lot of time in.  But it’s interesting to notice that God first informed Moses of this cultic bash that was going on while they were still together on the mountain.  God’s anger was aroused by their blatant paganism and immorality taking place while He was so close to them.  That’s when he told Moses he would destroy them and make a new nation from Moses.  But Moses interceded with God for them, God relented, and Moses headed down the mountain to give them the Law of God on tablets written by God’s own finger in stone. 

      When Moses arrived, the tables were turned.  Now, when he saw what God had all along seen, his anger boiled over.  He smashed the stone tablets in anger at the people and called on people to make a choice.  These had seen all this great power and majesty of God in the past few weeks.  It was just 40 days prior that they had been scared out of their wits about the awesome presence of God that descended on Mt. Sinai with smoke, fire, lightening, earthquakes and trumpet blasts. 

      But 40 days of “the same old thing” had made them indifferent.  In just 40 days, they turned from the living God back to the paganism they knew.  And some of them did it with impudence. 

      When Moses said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me,” they not only didn’t come, they ran in the other direction and kept on engaging in their debauchery and sin.  Moses knew, once he saw the problem, that this was not something that unchecked would end well.  His passion for God’s glory finally caught up with God’s passion for holiness in his people.  Death by sword of some 3,000 of the most stubborn, insolent and rebellious people was the result. And in the end, we are told, “the Lord struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made” (32:35).

      God went on to threaten not to accompany them to the Promised Land but instead to send “an angel”, lest God’s presence with them should lead to their ultimate total destruction with their continued rebellion.  It was only as they cried out in mourning and repentance that God agreed to continue with them. 

 

But look at the instruction God gave them about his ongoing presence with them at the Tabernacle in Numbers 1:53 --The Levites, however, are to set up their tents around the tabernacle of the Testimony so that wrath will not fall on the Israelite community.

 

This is the first use of the word “wrath” here in the Bible.  It is a term that occurs many more times, some 190 from Numbers to Revelation.  Look at just a few of the rather interesting passages where it is used of God’s anger toward the obstinate sinfulness of His people. 

  • Psalm 7:11--God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day.
  • Psalm 76:10--Surely your wrath against men brings you praise, and the survivors of your wrath are restrained.
  • Psalm 78:38--Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath.
  • Habakkuk 3:2--LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.
  • Zephaniah 1:18--Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD's wrath. In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth."

But it isn’t limited to the O.T. either. 

  • John the Baptist talked about God’s “coming wrath” (Mt. 3:7; Lk. 3:7).
  • The Apostle John spoke of how “God’s wrath remains on us” if we reject Jesus Christ, God’s Son, and how he dealt with God’s righteous wrath by taking our place (Jn. 3:36)
  • Paul speaks repeatedly in Romans about how “the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Rm. 1:18).  He talks about how we have been rescued and saved from God’s wrath through Jesus Christ (Rm. 5:8; I Thess 1:10).  He even encourages us not to seek revenge but to “leave room for God’s wrath” (Rm. 12:19). 
  • This passage reminds us that there are evils and injustices that call out, even in our warped and imperfect human condition, for anger.  While our anger often begins and ends in sin, God’s never does.  Anger is not sin…or God would not be angry.  But anger is, in fact, the right and moral response to sin in a holy God.  Just as you should be angry if someone hurts or abuses you or your loved ones, so God should be angry when we hurt and wound and abuse each other and when sinful people seek to suppress truth and follow evil.
  • ILL:  Woman (Mary) in Spokane who was raped as a college student by an off-duty policeman. In trying to deal with how a good God could allow that kind of thing to happen, she decided to “give God one last chance.”  She began reading the Bible from cover to cover.  It was the just wrath of God against sin in the O.T. that prepared her heart for the message of grace in the N.T.
  • St. John’s Revelation several times speaks of the “wrath” of the Lamb (6:16) and of God (14:19 & 15:1) that will one day cause him to stomp out the wickedness of this planet.  The Battle Hymn of the Republic

      “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;

He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:

His truth is marching on.”

 

APP:  Does this kind of God offend you?  Have we grown so used to sin that we have lost the capacity to see how horrible and destructive it is unchecked?  Have we come to such a place that we prefer to defend the guilt of people’s rebellious sin against God while attacking the notion that we have a God whose righteous anger moves him to punish and limit sin in this universe?

      If God does not get angry at sin and move to punish and limit it, then we have no need of a Savior.  We have no need of a redeemer.  No need of Christ Jesus.  No need of the cross where the white-hot acid of God’s pure anger at all sin…our sin…was poured out in judgment upon Jesus. 

      There are only two places we can stand in relationship to God’s wrath—either under the protective covering of Jesus Christ who absorbed God’s wrath against our sin in his body on the cross…OR…out in the open field of God’s right judgment without any protection from what God must do because of his perfect nature to punish sin.  It all comes down to Jesus. 

 

APP:

  • Find refuge from God’s wrath in Jesus.
  • Find room for God’s wrath towards others with forgiveness towards others.  Bitterness of heart, vindictiveness, simmering anger, coldness, indifference—they are all symptoms of a heart that expects God to forgive them but does not see the need to forgive others in the same way.

 

It was these Levites who understood the grave danger people are in who live near to the grace and presence of God without engaging in ongoing repentance and worship.  They were best suited to camp close to God and live nearest to sinful people.  Far better for people to remember the zeal of these people for God’s glory than to bump into God’s presence directly and indiscreetly. 

Nu. 1:53-- The Levites, however, are to set up their tents around the tabernacle of the Testimony so that wrath will not fall on the Israelite community.   

 

APP:  There is a price for experiencing the presence of God.  For people who are right with God through Jesus Christ and are taking care to walk in humble obedience to Christ, the manifest presence of God is a wonderful thing.  But God’s presence comes with some cautions. 

  • With greater revelation comes greater responsibility.
  • With greater manifestations comes greater accountability. 

APP:  Just as the Israelites grew immune to the demonstrations of God’s glory at Mt. Sinai for 40 days, we can do that in the church today week after week.  We can take his grace for granted.  We can treat his Word like every other.  We can lose reverence and godly fear of our Awesome God.  He is not a “tame Lion,” as C.S. Lewis reminds children in The Chronicles of Narnia.  Let us come near to his throne of grace with boldness, never forgetting that underneath his loving face is divine wrath toward stubborn rebellion.

ILL:  My father’s wonderful balance of gentleness and anger.  Anger rarely came, but when it did, it was almost always appropriate…and it always taught me to love and fear rightful, righteous authority.   

 

APP:   This divine arrangement of the people of God in their camp is also a divine reminder of what must stay CENTRAL when God’s people are living together.  It must be the presence of God himself. 

      All of life was to be oriented around the presence of God among His people.

  • If the pillar of cloud lifted, they packed up their tents and moved. 
  • When the pillar of cloud stopped, they stopped.
  • When it remained in a place, they pitched camp and got about the business of living and worshipping, of coming to the place where God’s presence shown and doing what was needed to stay in right relationship with God—praying, making sacrifices, giving offerings, worshipping, repenting, and being cleansed. 

There are so many good things we can do as the people of God when we put our minds to it.  We can feed the poor, cloth the naked, right wrongs and fight injustice.  We can save lives, help people escape from addictions, heal diseases and education children.

      But NOTHING comes close to THE MOST IMPORTANT thing we must keep central in our life together:  keeping God and his work among us central. 

ILL:  What our small group just finished studying (Christ Is All by David Bryant).  One of the challenges in the book—monitor our conversations as believers together.  How long can we go without talking about Christ?  How much is the work of Jesus in our lives the word of conversation on our lips?  How much are we dominated by other topics and interests—sports, work, family, school, gossip, complaining, whining, etc? 

  • God must be central when we’re on the move and when we’re settling down at night.
  • He must be central when we come to worship and when we go home to cook or watch TV or surf the internet. 
  • As the old proverb goes, “The main thing is that the main thing always remain the main thing.” 

Jesus IS the “main thing” in life, in eternity, in the Bible and in anyone captivated by his presence. 

 

What’s “the main thing” in your life today?  An argument you had with your spouse?  A deal you’re closing this week?  A hobby or TV program or educational goal?  Or is it Jesus? 

      When you come to be the church as God’s people, is your focus on God or other things?

      When you get up in the morning or lie down at night and start to doze off, is Jesus at the center of your thoughts?

      When we sit around the dinner or lunch table or talk about the news and politics, is Jesus really the main thing? 

      When I plan my day…and live it out…is Jesus really at the center of it all? 

 

APP:  Finally, the next 8 chapters go on to talk about various roles and responsibilities everyone had towards maintaining the Tabernacle and the Priesthood.  Everyone had something to bring to the altar. There were musicians and money-handlers.  There were bakers and candle-makers.  There were artisans and weavers and silversmiths and janitors and night watchmen and teachers and judges.  Everyone had their place in the people of God.  Everyone had some role in drawing close to God. 

      Have you discovered yours?

      Are you exercising yours?

      Has your unique contribution to the people of God in their worship and service of God gone dormant?  Been buried?  Atrophied?  

      EVERYBODY who is a believer in Jesus has a role to play in the Kingdom playbook. 

  • We’re all called to grow in our knowledge/experience with God (FILL Groups). 
  • We’re all called to share fellowship, meals, hearts, prayers together (MIX Groups). 
  • We’re all called to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, to serve by pouring out our lives through practical service (POUR Groups). 

Mosaic Fellowship exists to help people gather around the presence of God. 

We exist to help each other experience the power of God working in and through each of us. 

We long to see everyone fruitful in Christ, living out the purposes for which we were created by God, enjoying the relationships with people and God that we’ve been uniquely designed to experience. 

 

If this isn’t your experience yet, what can we do to help? 

What can you do to take the next step in that direction? 

What role has God gifted and made you to experience in God’s family, the church? 

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