Pentecost, 2014, Numbers 11:24-30
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It was one of those days when no one was happy. The people of God were travelling through the wilderness and for them it was a wilderness of grumbling and complaints. Their faith in God was tested and tried – and often found lacking – as they failed to trust in God’s good plans for them. In the previous scene, they had complained about their misfortunes and God disciplined them. His wrath set fire to the outside parts of the camp. Understanding the gravity of their sins, they asked Moses to pray for them. He did and the fire died down. But they had not learned their lesson.
Next they complained about the Manna, the miraculous bread-like food which fell from the sky every night to feed them. They were tired of it and wanted something different. Meat would be nice. Maybe a steak, even a hamburger would be welcome. Again God was angry at their impatience and ingratitude. But this time, Moses, too, had reached his wits’ end in playing intermediary between a Holy God and a petty people. He rants against the Lord, throwing his own little pity party: “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.” (Numbers 11:11-14).
Moses is so miserable that he’d rather die than continue with his present post. The task is too tasking. Yet it is clearly the call of God on His life, so he’s right to go right to God with his problem. Humanly speaking, he just doesn’t feel like he can do it anymore.
Maybe you know that feeling. Situations in life can crop up with such troubles, such burdens that they break you, or at least threaten to do so. And they might be the very things to which God calls you – work on your job which simply demands more and more, parenting your children who with every passing year require from you more and more wisdom in loving, guiding and disciplining them, caring for family members who need more help even as other resources are depleted. We have each stepped into Moses’ shoes, feeling overwhelmed, over-burdened, taxed, tried and found wanting – even in the face of the very thing which God has given us to do. We might feel like a machine that hasn’t been oiled in a long time and we’re grinding to a halt because we’re just getting worn out.
It is said often said that “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.” But there’s no Bible verse for that. What the Bible teaches rather is that “God won’t give you anything that you and He can’t handle together.” It says, “With God all things are possible” and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” With God in the equation, the variables change and the solution comes out right.
Here was God’s solution for Moses. He heard and answered Moses’ plea—“I am not able to carry all this people alone.” He had him assemble 70 of the elders of Israel. They gathered around the Tent of Meeting outside the camp where Moses would meet with God and speak to Him face to face. As it reads, it says, “God took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and put it on them.” This means that God equipped and empowered them in the same way that God had equipped and empowered Moses by His Spirit. He was raising these elders up to do some of what Moses was charged to do, so they would be his helpers and an extension of His ministry among the people. He wouldn’t have to do everything by himself any more. He would have the blessing of help – and not just any help, but help from helpers who were given to him by God and gifted by God to truly be of help.
So, when we’re coming to the end of our ropes and we’re moved to cry out to God for help, we need to consider how the Spirit of God might already be raising up helpers for us in the people we know. Often we’re too proud to ask to for help (though, like Israel of old, we may not be too proud to complain). Yet, God regularly calls us to tasks which we are simply not meant to do all by ourselves. Few people could master all the work of their schooling without the help of teachers and tutors and even study partners. Companies are made up of collections of people put on teams because no one could do everything. Even – and especially – the Church has tasks and callings which require us working together as the Body of Christ with the assistance of the Spirit of God empowering each one of us with His various and diverse gifts.
Consider Peter. He stood up in the crowd at Jerusalem that first Pentecost to give a sermon which led to the conversion of some 3,000 people. But he did not stand alone. The other Apostles were with him, testifying and affirming the truth he told. And when it came to spreading the message throughout the Roman Empire, the Apostles did not do this single-handedly. Faithful Christian laypeople went and shared the Word in the course of their travels and their daily activities and the work of God’s mission was done mostly through them. If Christ had only told Peter, “You will be My witness,” he would have been quickly overwhelmed. Rather, Christ gave His Spirit to His whole church and He told us all, “You will be My witnesses,” and so the work shared means the work gets done.
And here in the church we can count on the work and the activity of the Spirit of God through us all. Did you hear how the 70 elders each received the Spirit? Even the two tardy ones, Eldad and Medad, who had remained in the camp began to prophecy as a sign that they too had been empowered to help Moses, even though they hadn’t followed the instructions to go out to the Tent for the installation ceremony. But they had been enrolled—registered to be recipients of the Spirit and to be elevated to become assistants.
God would give His Spirit according to His Word and promise. The men whom God appointed, whose names were written down, would receive the Spirit, even if they had failed in some way to do their part. God wanted to give His Spirit in an orderly way, just as He does today. All of us who are Baptized have been enrolled, appointed and registered to receive the Holy Spirit. In Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, just past the words we heard from the second lesson, he says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” There’s no doubt about it. It is as sure are God’s promise. Our Lord Jesus, too, in the Gospel lesson promises us: “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” and the next verse explains this to be a reference to the Holy Spirit.
You sit here in the midst of Spirit-filled helpers. This is God’s answer to Moses’ second wish, what he said when he learned that Eldad and Medad had received the Spirit even though they had not come out with the rest of the elders. He said, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets that the Lord would put His Spirit on them!” (Num. 11:29). It took about 14 centuries, but the Day of Pentecost came as a great outpouring of God’s Spirit on all the people of God, so that each one of us would have God’s presence and God’s power for the purposes to which God calls us. We’re not running on empty when we have the Spirit to strengthen us in all we do.
We have been given to each other so that none of us should ever feel like we’re at the end of our rope, worn out, overwhelmed, and with nowhere to turn. We can do like Moses and turn to God in prayer, even if our prayer is so frustrated that is sounds more like a complaint. We can open our eyes and see the Spirit-given, Spirit-empowered helpers around us, people who love us and care for us more than we may know and imagine. As Christians, we don’t have to face the burdens of life on our own. We’re not alone. We have God. We have His people. Like Moses, we may be at our breaking point, but there is help. God has provided for it. It is His gracious love to give it.
The gift of Jesus makes way for the gift of the Spirit in our lives. There is a reason why the Day of Pentecost followed immediately upon the death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord. Jesus’ work of salvation brought about our forgiveness and our reconciliation with the Father so that we could now receive the Holy Spirit. Now, we who have received such great promises from God need to get used to living by His Promises. Our old sinful flesh in its unbelief presumes that we’re in this life all on our own and it’s either make it or break by our own strength and power. We haven’t been saved that way, have we? No. Our salvation is a gift, given us freely and fully by Christ, who came to be our Helper out of our most dire need. So neither do we live this Christian life on our own and by our own power. We need the Spirit whom Jesus gives us. We need the other members of the Body of Christ to whom the Spirit unites us.
Moses has gotten his wish and we have gotten the blessing: all of God’s people have the Spirit of God for the tasks to which God calls us and we have Spirit-filled people to help us in those, even as the Spirit leads us to help others, too, when and where we can. This is to the glory of Christ’s work of salvation. He has delivered us from our sins and He has brought us into a life – not to be overwhelmed and overtaxed – but to be blessed in our doing to the glory of His name.
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