Text: Zech 4:1-10
Summary: Do not grumble in the days and years of small things. Instead, be thankful for today and put all of your hope in Jesus for a bright future.
Text: Zech 4:1-10
Summary: Do not grumble in the days and years of small things. Instead, be thankful for today and put all of your hope in Jesus for a bright future.
To recap, grumbling is a sign that you are in a spiritual wilderness. Second, fear is one reason Christians remain in the wilderness. And lastly, sin keeps us in the wilderness.
Let’s read from Deut 1:3-8.
3 In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses proclaimed to the Israelites all that the Lord had commanded him concerning them. 4 This was after he had defeated Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, and at Edrei had defeated Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth. 5 East of the Jordan in the territory of Moab, Moses began to expound this law, saying: 6 The Lord our God said to us at Horeb, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. 7 Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites; go to all the neighboring peoples in the Arabah, in the mountains, in the western foothills, in the Negev and along the coast, to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon, as far as the great river, the Euphrates. 8 See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land that the Lord swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.”
Moses and the Israelites find themselves exactly in the same place where they were 40 years prior. At Kadesh Barnea, where 10 out of the 12 spies gave a bad report and God forbid them to enter the Promised Land. 40 years have passed and they are in the very same place, Kadesh Barnea. There, God tells them basically, you’ve been here long enough. It’s time to get moving. When you are in a wilderness for 40 years, you get used to it. You get used to having lower expectations for your spiritual life. You get comfortable. You stop moving. There is a spiritual inertia that is difficult to overcome the longer we stay in the wilderness.
Grumbling becomes commonplace because it’s drudgery. The same thing–manna, quail, sand for miles and miles. God says, it’s time to enter the Promised Land, which for us, symbolizes the Spirit-filled life of a fruitful believer. v7 – break camp and advance into the HILL country of the Amorites. Another hill. v8 – go in and take possession of the land.
It’s time for Moses to lead his people into the Promised Land. Finally. The day he’s been waiting for. But something tragic happens. In the eleventh hour, Moses sins. Deut 1:37 doesn’t give much details. It just says the Lord was angry with Moses and therefore he was not allowed to enter. We get more details in Num 20. The Israelites entered the desert grumbling. And 40 years later, the Israelites are still grumbling. They are thirsty. And God gives Moses explicit instructions to gather the people and to speak to the rock and then water will gush forth. But instead of speaking, Moses strikes the rock, not once, but twice, in frustration, and water comes forth. And we read in Num 20:12–
12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
This incident is reminiscent of an event that happened in the same exact place 40 years prior. The people were thirsty. At Meribah, which is in Kadesh Barnea, Exodus 17 records how the people were thirsty and the Lord tells Moses to strike the rock and water will gush forth.
Same issue–grumbling over not having enough water. 40 years separate the two similar incidents. In the first one, God tells Moses to strike the rock but in the second incident, God tells Moses to speak to the rock. And because Moses struck the rock out of frustration instead of speaking to it, Moses, the faithful leader for 40 years, is prevented from going into the Promised Land himself. Why is this sin so terrible? Striking a rock instead of speaking to it. What’s the big deal?
We get help in interpreting this from 2 other passages. Psalm 106 and 1 Cor 10.
In Psalm 106:32, it reads,
32 By the waters of Meribah they angered the Lord, and trouble came to Moses because of them; 33 for they rebelled against the Spirit of God, and rash words came from Moses’ lips.
Moses’ sin involved the speaking of rash words.
1 Cor 10
For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.
1 Cor 10:4 says that the rock that Moses struck was Christ. When Moses struck the rock at God’s command, I believe it was to show the people the gravity of their sin. Their grumbling was tantamount to striking Christ directly. It was a visible picture of what sin does to Christ. It was the sins of the people that caused Christ to be struck at Calvary. The first time, Moses was obeying God and teaching a lesson to the people about the consequences of sin. But the second time around, Moses took matters into his own hands. 40 years of being around grumblers had worn out his patience and instead of obeying God and speaking to the rock, he strikes the rock in anger.
Do you realize that you are striking Christ whenever you lack self-control and you speak out in anger? Even when Moses had every right to be angry, he sinned because he let his emotions get the best of him when God clearly told him to speak and allow the Word of God to convict the people of their sin rather than Moses’ visible display of frustration of striking the rock to convict the people of sin. And this sin prevented Moses from entering the Promised Land.
Practically, what can we learn from this passage?
Grumbling is a sign that you are in a spiritual wilderness. We were not meant to be in a wilderness. We were saved so that we can be filled with the Spirit and bear fruit and shine the light of Jesus to the world. Monitor your thanksgiving meter. What does your gratitude or your thereof reveal about your spiritual condition?
How do we get out of the wilderness? First, don’t be afraid. Be courageous. Take risks. We are surrounded by plenty of hill countries. We are surrounded by many things that might make us feel small like grasshoppers. We might stay in the wilderness because we’ve lowered our expectations so much that just coming on Sundays and getting by spiritually has become the new normal.
I want this church to move forward into the Promised Land. To take back lost territories for the Lord. To advance as an army of light. I want each person here to thrive spiritually. To be filled with the Spirit. To be excited that we have been set free by the Savior. And we are overflowing with thanksgiving because for the rest of our lives, we get to love him and serve him and serve our neighbors.
You have to fight for your spiritual fruitfulness. No one will hand it to you. To bear fruit, you have to remove the weeds, you have to water the land, you have to prune things from your life, even good things. Are you fighting for your fruitfulness? Do you prioritize your times with the Lord? You got to fight.
A second way out of the wilderness is confession of sin. When is the last time you repented? Are you careless with your words toward others? For Moses, rash words before the people was a sin because he failed to honor God before the people and he failed to trust him by obeying what God clearly told him to do. Are there things that God has asked you to obey, but you’ve been making excuses, or dragging your feed. Confess your sins.
Let’s not stop in the wilderness where we will grumble all the way to our graves. Let’s cross over to the Promised Land. One thing I can say about a fruitful, Spirit-filled Christian is that they are always thankful. No matter what is happening in their life, trouble, hardship, sickness, losing a job, whatever life throws at them, they are resilient and they can give thanks in all circumstances. Don’t you want to be a person like that?
We got to get to the Promised Land. Let’s live out Deut 1:21 as a church.
21 See, the Lord your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your fathers, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.
That was a long intro. This is our Thanksgiving service. So to get you into the holiday spirit, we are taking a detour from our study of Matthew and today we’ll cover our Devotional Text from last week, Deut 1. And we will tackle the perennial problem of ingratitude.
I love Thanksgiving because it is the most Christian of holidays. I bet you didn’t know that. More than Christmas or Easter. Why? Because it mirrors salvation. I don’t know what your experience of Thanksgiving turkeys has been. As someone who has been eating turkeys for 30+ years, I have tasted many lousy turkeys. Dry, flavorless. And it’s not like these chefs were bad. Like my mom, she’s a great chef. But she can’t cook turkey. That should be clue. Turkeys are not easy to cook. You can’t just sprinkle some salt and pepper and pop it into an oven.
The work that goes into making a turkey taste good is like salvation. You take a dead turkey. And a Master Chef gets his hands dirty and labors for days and pours out his love into this dead turkey. And out of the oven, a mouth watering turkey is born again. Okay, I know the analogy breaks down because the cooked turkey is still a dead turkey. But taking a tasteless turkey and turning into a delicious turkey is at least as miraculous as Jesus turning flavorless water to sparkling wine. Right? Thanksgiving is a very Christian holiday.
Thanksgiving is a holiday when we count our blessings, when we deliberately focus on the myriad of ways that we ought to give thanks. From my experience, it’s really, really rare to find a person who is consistently grateful. Have you noticed that? Just look back at your own heart over this past year? What was your internal gratitude meter? Most days, did you wake up saying, man, I’m thankful. Why am I so blessed? Rather, did ingratitude rule your hearts?
Ingratitude is part of life in this world if you don’t believe in God. Why? Because everything is riding on your shoulders. Your happiness, your security, your success, it all depends on you. And if you don’t believe in God, you feel rushed. Because time is running out. You just have 70-80 years to exist and so every day is one day closer to your death. You don’t have time for setbacks. You don’t have time to mess up. You got one life and you’ve got to make it count. That’s a lot of pressure.
For most of us, life is not smooth sailing. There are waves. There are storms. There are bumps in the road. Dead ends. Circumstances happen to us beyond our control. And we grumble. Why is this happening? Why is this person in my life? Why are things not turning out the way I had hoped?
Even if there are no major problems in your life and you are doing what you always wanted to do, still, there are plenty of reasons to grumble. We grumble, why are we so busy? Why do we have to work so hard? Why am I doing another all nighter? Why am I doing overtime at work? And this is work that you signed up for or you got hired for and yet you are complaining. Even when we have a day off, we grumble, why am I bored? Why am I more tired after my day off than I was before? On good days or bad days, grumbling is who we are. It’s a part of life.
However, ingratitude for a believer, it just doesn’t make sense. Let’s read about a group of grumblers in Deut 1:19-37.
Read text: Deut 1:19-37
First point – grumbling or ingratitude is a sign that you are in the wilderness.
Why are they in the wilderness in the first place? Prince of Egypt? God used Moses to deliver his people from slavery. You had the miraculous parting of the Red Sea. Imagine walking through the Red Sea on dry land with walls of water on either side. It must have been awesome. And you are following your fearless leader and Pharaoh and his armies are in hot pursuit. And you cross over to the desert and the walls of water collapse and drown the Egyptians. And this symbolizes for the believer our freedom from the bondage of sin and we cross over to the other side. We are born again. We are a new creation.
Now that we are saved, the goal all along was to enter the Promised Land. A fruitful land. A land flowing with milk and honey. God promised it to them. And this Promised Land in the Old Testament symbolizes the Spirit-filled life where believers bear Spirit-generated fruit. Fruit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This is fruit of the Spirit. Only the Spirit can produce this kind of fruit in our lives. All Christians are supposed to get to the Promised Land where we thrive spiritually.
Yet, like the Israelites, many Christians never make it to the Promised Land. In Exodus 16, we read about the Israelites grumbling against Moses and Aaron. As a pastor, I am encouraged by this passage because Moses was such a godly leader. He wasn’t perfect, far from it, but God calls him friend and Moses enjoys a special relationship with God. And still, the people complain against him. I know I will hear my share of grumbling. It comes with the territory.
What were the Israelites grumbling about? They were having revisionist memories about how good they had it in Egypt. They recalled sitting around pots of meat. This is crazy. Did they forget that they were slaves in Egypt? That they were surrounded by harsh masters who whipped them and put them through hard labor every day. They might have been surrounded by pots of meat but it’s because they had to wash the pots and the dishes. If they were lucky, they got to eat the burnt scraps at the bottom of these pots. They were slaves and now they are free. How can they grumble? How can they grumble against Moses? Ultimately, they were grumbling against the God who delivered them from slavery. How could they?
Sadly, isn’t this true of many of us who profess Christ as our Lord and Savior? We’re saved, we’ve been freed, but we long for Egypt? Grumbling is a sign that we are in the desert. They were supposed to march straight into the Promised Land. Yet, they were in the wilderness for 40 years. Why were they in the wilderness so long? Because when they got to Kadesh Barnea in Numbers 14, Moses sent out 12 spies into the Promised Land and 10 of them gave a bad report, saying we can’t take the land even though God had promised it to them. There are people there and they are too powerful. There are too many of them. We are like mere grasshoppers before these giants.
Only Joshua and Caleb gave a good report because they trusted that God would help them defeat the foreigners in the land. And God judges the Israelites and forbids them to enter the Promised Land and they are forced to kick sand for the next 40 years. 40 years was the time period during which everyone from that generation would pass away and then the next generation would have a fresh start to take the land.
Grumbling is a sign that you are in a spiritual wilderness. Point number one. And second, one reason we often stay in the wilderness and keep grumbling is fear.
There are only 2 choices. One choice is going back to Egypt. But if God has spoken to you and you’ve been saved genuinely and you’ve experienced his faithfulness, then going back is not really an option. The only other choice is to go into the Promised Land. But that is not an easy choice either. Because we are moving into enemy territory. Slavery in Egypt or facing the giants in the Promised Land. Neither one sounds good. So people end up not choosing. But not choosing is a choice. It’s a choice to remain in the wilderness.
Fear often keeps us in the wilderness. It paralyzes. It causes indecision. But like it or not, we are indeed making a choice to remain as we are.
Depending on your Bible translation, the command, “do not fear,” or “fear not,” or “do not be afraid,” occurs between 66-137 times, making it one of the most frequent commands in Scripture.
What are we afraid of? We’re afraid of rejection. We’re afraid of being ridiculed. We’re afraid of being singled out. We’re afraid of persecution. On a deeper level, we’re afraid of losing out. What if I give my life to Jesus and the mission to make disciples to the ends of the earth and I end up not making as much money? What if I lose out on the next promotion? What if I sacrifice my time to help someone and my grade suffers on my midterm? What if I end up suffering and I lose some comfort? Our fears are largely a fear of losing out.
34 …“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?
Christianity is all about losing in the short term, but winning in the end. If you save yourself in this life, you will lose it eternally. But if you lose your life for Jesus here and now, you will save it eternally. Don’t be afraid to lose out. Christianity is all about denying ourselves, taking up our cross, losing out. If you are afraid to lose out for Jesus, you might be saved, barely, but you will remain in a spiritual wilderness.