And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.
Throughout the course of your life, have you ever had those things – events – happenstances that you are warned about over and over again but, for one reason or another, you never heeded the warnings? Have you ever had those diabolical situations that you have to learn for yourself? You have to explain the broken window because you were using the real baseball that is never supposed to be used in the back yard. The black eye that you have to live with because you smarted off to a guy who was bigger than you.
Our lives are full of the repercussions of our actions. The child who sneaks a cigarette from his uncle’s pack and gets sick after smoking it. The one who imbibes too much alcohol and pays the awful consequences the next day. The one who crosses to the other side for greener grass only to find that the grass is greener but only because the manure is deeper. We have stories that could fill embarrassing volume after embarrassing volume of “America’s Funniest Fails”. When we are honest with ourselves, however, these things are often not funny. These repercussions… these punishments often wound our pride, affect our attitude, and can even leave us angry and bitter that no one stepped in to bail us out. What hurts even more is that, if we really take a look at the events that fill the volumes of the library of our life, the fateful pages hurt us because the pain and anguish suffered therein are much our own doing. We have been warned. We have been shown the consequences of sin.
In our Old Testament lesson for today, we have a sobering example of the arrogance and stiff-neckedness of God’s people. God had done so much for the people of Israel already and yet they complained. They wanted out of Egypt so God led them out with His mighty arm. They had to get away from Pharaoh so God parted the Red Sea for them. They were thirsty so God gave them water from a rock. They were hungry so God gave them manna to eat. And still in the section before our passage for today, we read that they complained.
“Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”
The people wanted meat. They got meat, and God gave them something more. They also received the Word of God for the betterment of their souls. Instead of giving thanks and treasuring this benevolent act of God, they wanted it stopped. “Moses, stop them!” Joshua cries. “Its not their job! We shouldn’t have to listen to them! We don’t even like listening to you!” The gift of the Spirit is a great gift for God’s people. It is the Spirit that allows them to see God’s providence even in the midst of sin and punishment. It is the Spirit that allows them to understand the will of God and heed His Word, and, yet, they reject it. Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit on them! This was the wish of Moses. That all would understand. In short, Moses is wishing that the Spirit’s work would happen in everyone’s life… that all would be called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified. But they turned it away. They denied the Word and ate their quail and the Lord’s anger was kindled. They rejected their Lord. Israel had ceased to live as His people, and just like He promised on Sinai, God stopped treating them as His people. A plague wiped out a good many of them, as Numbers 11:33 states, “while the meat was still in-between their teeth”. I wonder if Joshua would recall that day in the near future when He would take over for Moses and address the people of Israel.
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”
The people of Israel, even though they saw mighty acts of God after mighty acts of God, still had to be reminded not to reject the same life-giving acts of God. It seems that even the people of God are slow learners.
The same kind of response is given in our reading from Acts for this morning. The Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples with the sound of a rushing wind. The gathered travelers making their pilgrimages to Jerusalem began to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ in their own language. People believed, but many were skeptical. The most cynical of the responses doubted the disciples’ sobriety. However, Peter responds that there was no drunkenness at fault here. This is the work of the Spirit. People believed and were saved. The church began to grow throughout the world from that point forward. Yet there were still people who doubted. There were those who didn’t want to hear the words of the Spirit. They didn’t want to know the Word of the Lord. I guess it seems that the people of God have always been slow learners.
The Lord constantly puts the same thing before us each and every day. The same Spirit that fell upon the Moses, the seventy elders, Eldad, and Medad is the same Spirit that is given us in our Baptisms. The same Word of God that caused the manna to appear, the quail to come, and the providential care of God for His people is the same Word of God that comes to us in Scriptures, in worship, in preaching… it is the same Word of God that is taught in Bible classes, Sunday school, and in our grade school. The same life, forgiveness, and faith-sustaining care is given to us in the safety of our homes in books that are barely opened. It is given to us through the mouths of faithful preachers, teachers, patriarchs and matriarchs of the faith that are ignored, silenced, or pushed to the periphery of our lives. It is given to us in the words of the liturgy, hymns, font, and table as we gather united by the Spirit in this place but only when it is convenient, when it doesn’t cramp our schedule too much, or as long as we have nothing else at all to do because then, I guess, we might as well show up and get some Jesus.
Brothers and sisters, I regret to inform you that this beautiful house of God often reeks of the stench of the death that we often choose instead of choosing life. Our sinful nature distracts us, deceives us, and disillusions us. It decries the Word of God in our midst. It hates the words of the Spirit. Our sinful nature hates the words of the Spirit because they mean death for our sinful nature. The daily drowning of our Old Adam that happens through God’s Word and Spirit. Our sinful nature tries to convince us that this place is not worth our time and effort, because this is the very place where our sinful nature is drowned time and time again this side of eternity. Martin Luther speaks this way in the Small Catechism. When speaking about the baptized life of God’s people, he says,
What does such baptising with water indicate?
It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Where is this written?
St Paul writes in Romans chapter six: “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
We have been raised to new life in Christ. The gift of the Spirit in our lives through Baptism, God’s Word, the Lord’s Supper, the forgiveness of sins, the strengthening of our faith in Christ. These are real gifts. They have real power, and no matter how many times we have forsaken them in the past, Christ is here with them for you again today. All of the forgiveness you need… all of the faith you desire… all of the hope that you long for is here as your God, once again, visits you with life and salvation. Through the wondrous acts of our loving God… every week… every day, the stench of death is taken away. The Holy Spirit continues to make Himself present for us. That is the beauty of God’s providence and care for you. He does not only take care of your physical needs, but He takes care of your soul also. That’s the beauty of Pentecost. God does not just restrict the Spirit to 70 elders or just the disciples. In Pentecost and in every day since, we witness the wish of Moses realized. The people of God are called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified through the work of the same Holy Spirit. You are God’s people called by the Gospel, enlightened with His gifts, sanctified and kept in the true faith. We do not treat God’s Word with the disdain or indifference as the world because God’s Word, spoken, read, and received, is the very gift that gets us past this life to life everlasting. May God who has begun this good work in us, bring it to completion in the day of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.