SERMON TITLE: Finding Jesus
TEXT: Numbers 16 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s great being with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know is that God loves you and I love you too.
And we’re in week 4 of our Finding Jesus series — where I’m covering an entire book of the Bible in one sermon. Last year, we looked at the Old Testament Major Prophets and — this year — we’re looking at the first five books of the Bible — the books written by Moses.
And my goal — in doing this series — is to help you be familiar with all of the Bible.
I want you to see how the whole Bible tells one story.
And I want you to know how to find Jesus — no matter where you are in the Bible.
And the idea of Finding Jesus, comes from a story found near the end of the gospel of Luke. After Jesus died on the cross, he appears to two men on a road. And though they’re talking to him — they don’t know it’s Jesus — somehow — Jesus hides who he is from them. And in this conversation Jesus gives them — and us — a clue as to how we’re to read and understand the whole Bible.
“And he (Jesus) said to them, "What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?" And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" 19 And he said to them, "What things?" And they said to him, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see." 25 And he (Jesus) said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" 27 And (watch what Jesus does here...and...) beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:17-27 ESV)
That’s why we’re doing this series — where I help you find Jesus in all of the Bible. Jesus tells us that the whole Bible is about him. He even began with the writings of Moses — the books we’re looking at in this series.
And here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to introduce you to a book of the Bible that may or may not be familiar to you. I’ll give you an overview of the book — and then we’ll focus in on one section which I’ll use to show you how to find Jesus.
So let’s turn to our book for today.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
If you have your Bible please turn with me to Number chapter 16. We’ll be looking at the entire chapter today.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions that we answer on our podcast. So if you have a question, you can text it in to the number printed on the bottom of the sermon notes sheet or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
OVERVIEW OF NUMBERS
So let’s talk about the book of Numbers. First, what’s up with the title? It’s kind of weird. Well the book is called Numbers because — twice in the book — there’s a census taken of the people. Twice they do a headcount of how many people they have. Now something you may or may not know — is that in Hebrew — the book doesn’t have such a boring name. In Hebrew the book’s title is “In the Wilderness” because it’s the story of God’s people wandering in the wilderness. And their journey — from Mt. Sinai to the Promised Land — should’ve taken two weeks — but it ends up taking them 40 years.
Now the book is divided into 5 sections. There are three main locations where they set up camp and then two travel sections. So the layout of the book is a location — then they travel — another location — then they travel some more — and then a final location.
The first location is Mt. Sinai — this is where the people went to after they left Egypt. This is where God gave Moses the 10 Commandments — it’s where they built the Tabernacle — the Tent of God’s presence. And they end up spending a year here — at Mt. Sinai — and this is where they take the first census.
And one of the final instructions that God gives them in this location — is how they’re to be organized — both while camped — and — while they travel. The Tabernacle — the place of God’s presence — was to be in the center of their camp. The Levites and priests were to surround the Tabernacle. Then the rest of the tribes were to surround the Levites — in what was basically a North, South, East, and West formation — their camp looked like a big plus sign with the Tabernacle in the center.
Now that’s an important detail — the location of the Tabernacle — because it was the place of God’s holy presence — and the Tabernacle was in the center of their camp because God was to be the center of their existence as a people. And though this could easily be the way we find Jesus in the book of Numbers — how Jesus is to be the center of our lives — that’s not how we’re going to find him today.
Finally, it’s here — at Mt. Sinai — that the people are told, “When God moves — you move.” When the cloud by day — or the fire at night — move — you follow. Which leads to the first travel story.
As they begin to travel — the Levites are out in the front — carrying the Ark of the Covenant. When they’re camped — God’s presence is to be in the center but — as they travel — God’s presence is to be out front because God is their leader — he is their guide in the wilderness. God leads — they follow. And though this is a way we could find Jesus in the book of Numbers — Jesus being the One who leads us — the One we’re to follow — that’s not how we’re going to find him either.
Now it doesn’t take long — for the people to complain — which you’re probably sick of hearing about if you’ve been with us during this series. “Josh all they’ve done is complain.” Well they complain about not having food and water. Aaron and Miriam — Moses’ brother and sister — question Moses’ leadership in front of everyone — talk about division among the troops — and suffer a consequence for their rebellion.
And — finally — their traveling comes to an end and they arrive at their next campsite — Paran. And it’s from this location that 12 spies — one from each tribe — are sent into the Promised Land to scout it out. You may be familiar with this story. Two of the spies — Joshua and Caleb — come back with a great report — “This land is awesome — our God is so good to us — let’s go!” But the other 10 spies come back and spread bad news — “This isn’t the kind of place you want to live in.”
“Josh, why wouldn’t the people want to go into a place called the Promised Land?” Well whatever they said — it was convincing — for the people listened to them. In fact, the 10 spies try to elect a new leader — they’ve given up on Moses — again — and they want a new leader who will lead them back to Egypt so they can return to slavery. Talk about some mixed up priorities.
But they refuse to go into the Promised Land — they refuse to trust in God’s faithfulness — and here’s what should frighten us — God gives them exactly what they want. God tells them, “You don’t want to go into the land I’ve promised you? OK — you won’t. You’ll die in the wilderness.” And that’s why a two week journey takes 40 years — the current generation all have to die before their children can go into the Promised Land.
So they travel some more — they begin a long walk in the wilderness. And — if you thought things were bad — if you thought they’ve reached the bottom of the barrel when it comes to their rebellion against God — well — you’d be wrong. During this travel section Moses — Moses! — rebels against God. And he’s told that — because of his rebellion — he won’t enter the Promised Land either.
The people rebel — again — and this time God sends snakes to attack them — and even though all they had to do to survive — because God is faithful to them even as he judges them — all they had to do was look up at a bronze snake — trusting that God will protect them — many don’t and die. And this is another way we could find Jesus — but that’s not how we’ll find him.
So God’s provided them with food and water and protection — and all they do is keep complaining, rebelling, and they refuse to trust the One who’s been nothing but faithful to them the entire time. And — let’s be honest — we would’ve given up on these people a long time ago. Yet notice the patience of God — the mercy of God — the tenderness of God — yes — the justice of God — but don’t overlook his faithfulness.
Finally — they arrive in the land of Moab — they’re directly across from the Promised Land. Now the king of Moab doesn’t like the Israelites being on his turf — so he hires a guy named Balaam — to curse the Israelites. And three times Balaam tries to curse them — but get this — the only words he can speak — are words of blessing. The king of Moab wants him to curse the Israelites but the King of kings has Balaam bless the people instead.
So picture the situation. Balaam is high up — overlooking the Israelites who are down in the lowland — they’re camped — doing what they always do. Complaining! Grumbling! Not trusting God! And they’re completely oblivious to what’s going on around them. They have no idea that Balaam’s been hired to curse them or that God’s being faithful — that he’s protecting them.
And this is amazing when you think about it. God blesses his people through a man hired to curse them. I wonder how often God’s been faithful to me — how often he’s protected me from things I had no idea were going on around me — and all I did was complain and grumble and not trust him — completely unaware of his faithfulness to me?
During his last cursing attempt — Balaam pronounces a blessing on the people that’s connected to the promise God made to Abraham in the book of Genesis. Balaam says that one day a king will rise up from the Israelites — a king who will conquer the enemies of God’s people — a king who will be a bright shining star — who will be a blessing not only to God’s people — but will be a king and a blessing to all nations. And though that’s an easy way to find Jesus in the book of Numbers — that’s not how we’re going to do it.
And then the book of Numbers ends with another census — the first generation has died off — their children are now adults — and are about to enter the Promised Land.
So let’s turn to our passage — and I promise that I am going to show you how to find Jesus in this book — in addition to all of the other hints that I’ve given you thus far.
RE-ANNOUNCE AND READ THE TEXT
Here are the words found in Numbers chapter 16. Beginning in verse 1.
“Now Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men. 2 And they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men. 3 They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, "You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?"
So authority issues isn’t just a 21st century phenomenon. We’ve got two groups rebelling — Korah — and his 250 followers — and another group led by Dathan and Abiram. But notice their angle in questioning Moses. “All of us are God’s people — all of us are holy — you’re no better than the rest of us — Moses — so why do you get to be our leader?” And look at Moses’ response.
4 When Moses heard it, he fell on his face, 5 and he said to Korah and all his company, "In the morning the Lord will show who is his, and who is holy, and will bring him near to him. The one whom he chooses he will bring near to him. 6 Do this: take censers, Korah and all his company; 7 put fire in them and put incense on them before the Lord tomorrow, and the man whom the Lord chooses shall be the holy one. You have gone too far, sons of Levi!"
Even some of the Levites — some of the priests — take part in the rebellion. But look at how Moses leaves everything up to God.
8 And Moses said to Korah, "Hear now, you sons of Levi: 9 is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, 10 and that he has brought you near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also? 11 Therefore it is against the Lord that you and all your company have gathered together. What is Aaron that you grumble against him?"
Moses questions why they’re doing this. “Don’t you recognize your role — you’re priests appointed by God?” You see — part of the problem here — is that some people weren’t willing to accept the role God had for them. They didn’t want to fulfill God’s calling — they wanted to fulfill their own calling. “Why be a priest — they thought — even if that’s what God wants you to do — when this other guy gets to be a leader?” The point is that until we each fulfill the role God’s appointed us to and stop comparing ourselves to others — only then — only when we’re each doing our God given role will we be the church that Jesus gave his life for.
12 And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and they said, "We will not come up. 13 Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us? 14 Moreover, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards. Will you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up."
Now Moses is addressing the other group — not Korah’s group. And essentially this group says, “Moses — you’re the reason why we’re not in the Promised Land. You’re not going to trick us into following your leadership anymore.” Look at how they’ve convinced themselves that they’re predicament is someone else’s fault — not theirs. Remember — these are the people who listened to the 10 spies and decided to not go into the Promised Land — but now — they’re blaming Moses. Sometimes the easiest person to lie to is ourselves. And here I’m reminded about two truths of leadership: The leader always get more credit than they deserve and more blame.
15 And Moses was very angry and said to the Lord, "Do not respect their offering. I have not taken one donkey from them, and I have not harmed one of them." 16 And Moses said to Korah, (so Moses is addressing Korah’s group...) "Be present, you and all your company, before the Lord, you and they, and Aaron, tomorrow. 17 And let every one of you take his censer and put incense on it, and every one of you bring before the Lord his censer, 250 censers; you also, and Aaron, each his censer." 18 So every man took his censer and put fire in them and laid incense on them and stood at the entrance of the tent of meeting with Moses and Aaron. 19 Then Korah assembled all the congregation against them at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And the glory of the Lord appeared to all the congregation. 20 And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 21 "Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment." 22 And they (Moses and Aaron) fell on their faces and said, "O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and will you be angry with all the congregation?"
After all of the grumbling — all of the complaining — all of the rebellion — and all of the second guessing of his leadership — Moses intercedes for the people. “God you’re not going to punish everyone for the sins of one man, will you?” I mean, Moses is safe. God tells him to get away from the people because justice is coming — and yet Moses intercedes — he pleads with God for reconciliation — that the relationship between God and the people — would be restored.
23 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 24 "Say to the congregation, Get away from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram." 25 Then Moses rose and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him. 26 And he spoke to the congregation, saying, "Depart, please, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you be swept away with all their sins." 27 So they got away from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. And Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the door of their tents, together with their wives, their sons, and their little ones.
The people are told to separate themselves from Korah, Dathan, and Abiram — “if you don’t want to participate in their punishment — you must stop participating in their rebellion and get away from them.”
28 And Moses said, "Hereby you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. 29 If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me. 30 But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord."
Moses says, “If these men die of natural causes then God’s with them — not me — but — if the ground swallows them up — well — how about we call them guilty?”
31 And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. 32 And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. 33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol (the place of the dead), and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. 34 And all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, "Lest the earth swallow us up!" 35 And fire came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men offering the incense.
So the earth opens up and swallows Dathan and Abiram and fire comes down from Heaven and consumes Korah and his followers.
36 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 37 "Tell Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest to take up the censers out of the blaze. Then scatter the fire far and wide, for they have become holy. 38 As for the censers of these men who have sinned at the cost of their lives, let them be made into hammered plates as a covering for the altar, for they offered them before the Lord, and they became holy. Thus they shall be a sign to the people of Israel." 39 So Eleazar the priest took the bronze censers, which those who were burned had offered, and they were hammered out as a covering for the altar, 40 to be a reminder to the people of Israel, so that no outsider, who is not of the descendants of Aaron, should draw near to burn incense before the Lord, lest he become like Korah and his company — as the Lord said to him through Moses.
So the fire has destroyed the rebels — but not the censers. And God tells them to take the censers and hammer them into sheets and overlay the altar with them as a visual reminder of what happens when you rebel against God’s plan — what happens to people who don’t want to fulfill the role God has for them — what happens to those who oppose God’s appointed leaders.
And so this — I mean — if anything’s ever going to get their attention and straighten them up and cause them to become obedient “good little followers of God” — this is it, right? I mean the earth just swallowed people whole — fire just consumed others who rebelled — surely the people are now going to get in line and follow.
41 But on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, "You have killed the people of the Lord."
You have got — to be kidding me.
42 And when the congregation had assembled against Moses and against Aaron, they turned toward the tent of meeting. And behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared. 43 And Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, 44 and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 45 "Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment."
Uh-oh. This is the second time that God’s said, “I’m done. Take a step back Moses. Don’t want you getting anything on your clothes from what I’m about to do to these people.”
And they (Moses and Aaron — once again — ) fell on their faces. 46 And Moses said to Aaron, "Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord; the plague has begun." (The people will experience God’s judgment for their rebellion and sin.) 47 So Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly. And behold, the plague had already begun among the people. And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. 48 And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped. 49 Now those who died in the plague were 14,700, besides those who died in the affair of Korah. 50 And Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance of the tent of meeting, when the plague was stopped.” (Numbers 16:1-50 ESV)
FINDING JESUS IN NUMBERS
When there's conflict — between two parties — could be two people or two groups — but when there’s conflict — if the goal is reconciliation — the way it happens is by figuring out what can be done to make things right. And that’s a good thing to do — especially if you’re the one responsible for the conflict. Take personal responsibility — take ownership for the conflict when you’re responsible — and do what you can to make things right.
But — the problem — and this touches on something from two weeks ago — the problem is that sometimes we dig ourselves into such a deep hole that we don’t have the resources to make reconciliation happen.
Think about someone who drinks and drives — ends up hitting someone — and that person is paralyzed. Now you know this — but even if the one responsible pays whatever debt our law puts on them — even if they become sober — never drink again — become an advocate against drunk driving — and even if they befriend the person they injured — pay for all of their medical bills — can they ever restore things — reconcile things — as if the accident never happened? Of course not — the person they hit is still paralyzed.
The situation doesn’t even have to be that dramatic to prove the point that our power to bring about reconciliation is limited. And if this is true for our relationships with each other — think about what this means when it comes to reconciling our relationship with God. You see — like the Israelites — we’ve all complained about God’s leadership. We’ve ignored his commands — and — if we’re honest — we’ve flat out acted like a rebellious child. “God, if that’s what you want me to do — watch me do the opposite.”
And twice Moses interceded on behalf of the people. Twice he acted as a mediator. Twice he acted in the role of reconciler between God and the people. And this is one way we find Jesus in the book of Numbers. Because the gospel teaches us — the story that the whole Bible is telling — is this: Jesus is the One who has made reconciliation possible between us and God.
And when we understand what it means for Jesus to be our Mediator — our Intercessor — our Reconciler — we begin to experience a life of peace — not of conflict. A life of joy — not of despair. A life of flourishing — not one of panic and fear — because Jesus has made it possible for people to experience reconciliation — between them and God — and even between one another.
That — just as Moses acted as a reconciler — so to “through him (Christ) God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. 21 This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. 22 Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.” (Colossians 1:20-22 NLT)
“And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21 NLT)
And though we may have to fight the temptation to blame others for conflicts we’re responsible for.
Though we may always struggle with the idea — because of the pain we’ve caused — and the harm we’ve done to others — we may always struggle — because it seems too good to be true — that Jesus has stood in the gap — that he has pleaded to his Father on our behalf — that he has taken the punishment we deserve so we can experience grace in place of judgment.
And though we live in a world that believes no help is needed for reconciliation to take place.
We — if you believe — we Christians have a message the world needs to hear. The message of reconciliation that God has given to us to share with all people. “Come back to God!”
And a great comfort — in this world of pain and sorrow — is knowing that Jesus is interceding for you. That he is standing between you and God and has reconciled your broken relationship. And though you deserve the ground to swallow you up — Jesus took your place — and was put in a tomb — buried in the ground. And through faith in him — you now have no need to fear God’s judgment but are comforted knowing that Jesus has made you right with God.
My prayer is that we would all know and rest in this comfort that Jesus has made possible as our Reconciler. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of reconciliation. We don’t deserve to be reconciled to you, but in his love for us, Jesus has stood in the gap — he refused to step away from us when we deserved judgment — he gave his life so we could be reconciled to you.
Jesus for anyone here who is having stirred in them a desire to be reconciled to God — I ask that you would do the work of reconciliation that you do. Be gracious to them. Comfort them. Give them peace in knowing that you have taken their place of judgment so they can stand with you in a place of peace with your Father.
Finally, Holy Spirit help us all to share the message of reconciliation that we’ve been given. That we would show others — through how we live — and tell them — with our words — of the hope that’s found in Jesus. That we would plead with them to “Come back to God.” It’s in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
BENEDICTION (PRAY FOR: want the comfort of reconciliation)
May you go comforted in knowing that Jesus has reconciled you to God. Amen.
God loves you. I love you. You are sent.