40 Days to Jerusalem
The New Exodus Begins ‚Äì Day 20
Weekly Theme: Through the Wilderness
Today‚Äôs Meditation: The Church ‚Äì Complain, Complain Complain?
Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. 2 And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, ‚ÄúWould that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?‚Äù 4 And they said to one another, ‚ÄúLet us choose a leader and go back to Egypt‚Äù (Numbers 14:1-4).
35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, ‚ÄúTeacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.‚Äù 36 And he said to them, ‚ÄúWhat do you want me to do for you?‚Äù 37 And they said to him, ‚ÄúGrant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.‚Äù 38 Jesus said to them, ‚ÄúYou do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?‚Äù 39 And they said to him, ‚ÄúWe are able.‚Äù And Jesus said to them, ‚ÄúThe cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.‚Äù 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‚ÄúYou know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many‚Äù (Mark 10:35-45).
All through the Exodus, time after time the Children of Israel complained to Moses and to God. From being hungry, to the inadequacy of their food, to not having water, to giants in the land, the grumbling never seemed to stop. Even after God had rescued them from Egypt, and led them to the precipice of entering the Promised Land, they still protested and did not trust God. Moses sent twelve spies, one from each tribe, to check out the new land and bring back a report. When the spies returned from their 40 day inquiry, only Joshua and Caleb gave an optimistic account. All of the other spies gave hair raising news that the inhabitants of the land were gigantic and they gave the impression that these natives were invincible! Panic sets in and the people speak of going back to Egypt!
God responds to the rebellion of the Israelites by saying, ‚ÄúHow long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them‚Äù (Numbers 14:11)? God was about to disinherit the people and judge them harshly when Moses intercedes. He cries out to the Lord, ‚ÄúPlease pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now‚Äù (Numbers 14:19). God relents, but, the Exodus was prolonged to a 40 year pilgrimage because of this blatant display of unfaithfulness (one year for each day of the spy mission). Of those 20 years of age and older, not one of the grumblers survived to enter the Promised Land ‚Äì save Joshua and Caleb.
Before we become too pious in judging our ancient ancestors, let‚Äôs look at how Jesus, as the New Moses, also deals with complainers and grumblers. Just like the selfish disposition of the Israelites led them to downplay God‚Äôs supernatural acts and focus on their own natural appetites, so too, disciples of Jesus throughout the centuries have done the same thing! Rather than give thanks to Lord for His supernatural salving acts on our behalf, it seems irresistible to nitpick and whine about the small stuff.
Consider the Apostles. James and John came to Jesus and asked an amazingly self-centered question. They requested that Jesus allow them to sit on His right and left hands in the Kingdom of God. What were they asking? These brothers wanted ‚Äúthe best seats in the house‚Äù! They wanted the highest places of honor for themselves! Can you imagine being a hand-picked student of the One who is the embodiment of humility, and asking Him a question like that? Paul wrote of Jesus in Philippians 2:5-8, ‚ÄúHave this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.‚Äù Jesus‚Äô example and message to the disciples was complete self-giving and self-sacrifice. Yet, these two Apostles stand before him and boldly pursue their own self-interest. No wonder the other disciples were, ‚Äúindignant at James and John.‚Äù Could it be that this was not righteous indignation? Perhaps the others were simply upset that they had not thought to ask this of Jesus first! How could they get it so wrong?
Jesus takes this ‚Äúteachable moment‚Äù to instruct the disciples on the point that they are missing. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever would be first must be last, instead. According to Jesus, even though He is the Son of God, He did not come to be first or to be served. Jesus came to give Himself in complete sacrifice. As Paul said, ‚Äúto the point of death, even death on a cross.‚Äù Jesus asks the brothers if they are able to ‚Äúdrink the cup‚Äù He is about to drink, and be ‚Äúbaptized‚Äù as He will very soon be baptized? Jesus is referring to His horrific crucifixion. One day, all but one of them would follow Jesus by dying similar deaths. But, this teaching is not just for those Apostles. It is for Jesus‚Äô disciples always and everywhere. All of us are instructed to ‚Äúdeny‚Äù ourselves, to ‚Äútake up our crosses daily,‚Äù and ‚Äúfollow Him.‚ÄùThis is the path to greatness ‚Äì servanthood and self-sacrifice.
How are we doing with that? As a preacher‚Äôs kid and serving as a pastor for 30 years, I have attended enough business meetings to know that we struggle just like the Children of Israel and the Apostles. I have seen many wonderful Christians hurt terribly by the rumor mill. I have witnessed relationships torn asunder by misunderstandings and misinformation. How can this be, given that we are all sinners saved by grace?
Far too often, we downplay the miracle of grace that has led to our salvation. Instead, we major on the minors and allow the pettiest things to divide us. Far too often, we forget to follow Christ, and instead we follow our own desires and agendas. Too often we want the best seats in the house rather than to defer to others. Too often we want our needs met, and we are concerned little about meeting the needs of others. Like James and John, we think we have an exclusive deal worked out with Jesus. In reality, by promoting ourselves, we are actually placing ourselves in the back of the line. ‚ÄúHe who would be first shall be last.‚Äù
If there is any hope for us to be at peace with each other, and not be ‚Äúindignant‚Äù toward one another, we will have to follow the admonition of Paul. He said, ‚ÄúSo if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.‚Äù
Complain, complain, complain! The Children of Israel complained about everything! They had forgotten what God had done for them. Much like the Israelites, the Apostles were fighting over which one of them would get their way. They had forgotten what Jesus had taught them. As followers of Christ, may we never forget what the Lord has done for us, or what Jesus has taught us.I pray that we are known not for our complaining and selfishness, but rather by our close communion and self-sacrifice.
Praise God for His miraculous saving acts on your behalf
Give thanks to Jesus for showing us and teaching us the way of humility and self-sacrifice
Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal your tendencies to be a complainer. Ask Him to change your heart and transform you into an encourager
Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any unconfessed sin
Repent, confess and ask the Lord for forgiveness
Is there a relationship that has been damaged because of ‚Äúcomplaining‚Äù or a negative spirit? Ask the Lord to reveal to you how you might repair it.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)