Monday, March 15, 2021

March 15 - Numbers 14, Luke 5

Key verse: Numbers 14:8

Big idea: We can move forward when we trust that God is with us.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus observed that you could never step in the same river twice. Every moment, some water is leaving the river (flowing into the sea, evaporating, or being swallowed by some animal) and other water is coming into it (from snowmelt, rain, or a tributary feeding into it). I can never step into the Jordan River like it was this morning because I was in Texas today, not in Galilee. If I go tomorrow, it will be a different river in some sense, and will never be exactly the same river again. That is a trivial example (who cares if I stepped in that exact river), but the visual of opportunities flowing by and draining away forever is powerful to me. Life is like that. The person you had a chance to encourage or help today will never exist in that situation again, the opportunity to minister to them in that crisis is gone. Opportunity rarely knocks twice. 

Israel learned that painful lesson in today's chapter. The book of Numbers picks up where Exodus left off, at Mount Sinai receiving the Law, on their way from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. It should have been a relatively quick trip, and by today's reading, they have crossed the desert (wilderness and desert mean the same thing in the Bible) to arrive. They sent forty spies into the land to see what they would be facing, and all of them agreed that the land was bountiful and beautiful ("flowing with milk and honey" should make us think of something like the chocolate river in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). But all but two of them also agreed that it couldn't be done. The enemies were too great; it would be better for them to just die in the desert than to be slaughtered in Canaan. Only Joshua and Caleb stood on the obvious truth that if God had given this land to them, He was certainly strong enough to secure it. The nation as a whole rejected their counsel and lost the opportunity to enjoy the land God had promised them. He condemned them to wander in the wilderness for forty years - until every adult of military age who could have invaded Canaan and refused to had died. They would get their wish to die in the desert, and their children would be the transformed nation that would enter the land. 

How often do we miss opportunities because, like the Israelites, we do not have the faith to trust that God will empower us to do what He calls us to do? Dr. Charles Stanley is famous for saying, "Obey God and leave all the consequences to Him." The idea was not original to Him; it is the lesson the Israelites should have learned a long time ago.

Discussion idea: What would you do for God if you were not worried about whether you could?

Prayer focus: Lord, teach me to trust You.

Key Verse: Luke 5:10

Big Idea: The Son of Man calls us out to bring people in.

Jesus' public ministry was not one that He would accomplish alone. He knew that His time was short because a cross loomed in the distance and He would need to gather a group of people to carry on His ministry. He built an institution that persists to this day -- the church -- and laid the groundwork for everything else which would come on the seashores of Galilee. Simon, one of John's disciples, loaned Jesus His boat to use as a platform to preach to a crowd; Jesus then miraculously gave Him a massive catch of fish. Peter, who had heard of Jesus from John, had heard Him teach, and seen His power was now faced with a choice. It was time to leave fishing for fish to start fishing for people. 

Later in the chapter, Jesus continues His ministry of healing and preaching, until He came across a tax collector, named Levi (to us, he is better known as Matthew). Tax collectors were a despised group of people. Considered religious and political traitors for their alignment with the Roman Empire, they were so hated that the Pharisees and scribes would not eat with them. Jesus invited Levi to follow Him, and Levi did what Jesus had told the fishermen to do earlier: he threw a party to introduce people to Jesus. The Pharisees challenged Jesus, asking why He would eat with these tax collectors and sinners. Jesus described His ministry simply as a doctor, who needed to be among the sick to do His work (Matthew 5:31-32).

Peter, his brother Andrew, the brothers James and John, and Matthew would be the first apostles, the ones that Jesus sent out to preach the good news that He brought. Jesus does not use perfect angels to bring His message but calls ordinary people out of ordinary life to do extraordinary work. Peter and the others were just like any other sinners, they were fishermen, not rabbis or scribes, and James and John's nickname was "the sons of thunder," for their riotous tempers. But God used these imperfect people to reach other imperfect people: the men who had been caught will now do the catching. They left everything behind, boat, fish, and family, and followed Jesus (Luke 5:11).

Discussion Idea: Who is someone that you can talk to about Jesus this week? How does knowing that we have been pulled out of sin motivate us to try and rescue others?

Prayer Focus: Thank God that, although we are not any better than anyone else, we have been saved by His grace. Ask Him for eyes that are open to others we can reach for Him. 

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