Have you ever shared a weakness, mistake, or vulnerability with someone only to find yourself on the receiving end of criticism? It that doesn’t hurt enough, how much worse might it be if you know the other person shares the same struggles?
- Have you ever been mad at Adam and Eve wishing they’d resisted the temptation of the tree and the serpent?
- Have you ever shaken your head at the Israelites refusal to enter the Promised Land?
- Have you ever critiqued David’s behaviour in the chain of events leading up to his affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite?
- Have you ever marveled that so many people could harbour enough anger towards Jesus that they demanded his crucifixion?
As I grew up in a Christian family I had all these thoughts.Today, I find myself living out each of these circumstance more than I’d care to admit. I cave to temptation just as Adam, Eve and David did. I find my self paralyzed by fear at times I shouldn’t. I have no confidence that I would have stood up for Jesus in the face of the Jewish leaders teaching. To be honest, I find my story told much more often in the failures of Scripture than the heroes.
One of the traits I admire about Biblical history is it’s willingness to admit failures. That’s not to say that some accounts aren’t biased in favour of God’s people, but the Bible also shares tales of significant failure.
This brings us to my sermon text for this week: The Wilderness Wanderings of Israel.
How could the Israelites complain so continuously during their time in the wilderness? How could people who had walked through the watery walls of the Red Sea despair that God would provide food and water for them? How could the nation that so enthusiastically submitted to covenant with Yahweh prefer to return to Egypt rather than enter the Promised Land? How could people who saw God’s presence regularly meet with Moses at the ‘tent of meeting’ so often rebel against his leadership?
Where does this negativity come from?
All my life I’ve been trained to read these stories and criticise the complaining Hebrews.
- I see complaints about nominal Christians.
- I see complaints about the way some churches address the LGBT community.
- I see complaints that worship services are too entertainment based.
- I see complaints that worship services need more pizazz to reach millennials.
- I see complaints because churches invest too much money in buildings.
- I see complaints that churches aren’t evangelistic enough.
- I see complaints that church don’t concentrate enough on discipleship.
- I see complaint, after complaint, after complaint…
It’s not as though God’s people stopped complaining when Israel entered the Promised Land.
And just like that, I’m complaining about complaining!
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got my list of things I’d like to see churches do better. I’m sure if you searched my blog you’d find plenty of instances where I’ve complained. It comes so easily.
As I spent time over the last couple of weeks reading in Exodus and Numbers I noticed the importance of Yahweh’s reputation to the surrounding nations. Here are some passages,
God says, “The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.” (Ex. 14:18)
In Moses’ song: “In your strength you will guide them
to your holy dwelling.
14 The nations will hear and tremble;
anguish will grip the people of Philistia.
15 The chiefs of Edom will be terrified,
the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling,
the people of Canaan will melt away;
16 terror and dread will fall on them.” (Ex. 15:13-16)
Moses pleaded to God, “Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.” (Ex. 32:12)
Moses again pleads, “If you put all these people to death, leaving none alive, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, 16 ‘The Lord was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath, so he slaughtered them in the wilderness.’ 17 “Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared.” (Num. 14:15-17)
It mattered to Moses what others thought about God.
Shouldn’t it matter to God’s people today how surrounding peoples think about God? Shouldn’t we consider how our words and actions will reflect upon God and His kingdom? Shouldn’t we care whether or not we present God and His church as attractive to those needing Him?
I fear that sometimes as Christians seek to “purify” the church we accomplish little more than smearing the name of Christ. Maybe we win a battle of a particular interpretation or custom, but in the way we conduct ourselves we lose the war.
A Closing Prayer
May we, as Children of God, present our Father to the world in way that honors and glorifies Him. May we dwell upon the riches of His grace. And may we live as people for whom this prayer from Colossians 1:9-14 is a reality.
We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.