A sermon based on Numbers 13:1-3, 25-33 preached at First Baptist Church Meaford.
Can you remember doing something for the first time and feeling inadequate? There are so many times that I can’t even count them. Getting married. How would Amanda and I blend our personalities to make a healthy family? The birth of Logan. What made me think that I was qualified to be a father? I had no idea about the autism and I was still scared out of my wits. Joining the army was another big one. I really did not know what I was getting into. I didn’t know how to wear the uniform or to speak the language. Who did I salute and who saluted me? Basic training was one of the hardest things I ever did. Then last year I thought I was dying. I thought I was facing a long period of harsh treatments, not to mention the possibility of a painful death. It was not just that it was scary, I was not sure I had the ability to make it through that. I want to be clear, I am not talking about the fear of trying something new. The best example I can think of is something that recently happened. We were driving down the highway and we saw a convertible with the top down in the next lane. The wind was whipping around them. But what was the lady in the passenger seat doing? She was brushing her hair. The wind would blow her hair one way and she would try to brush it the other way. No matter how frantically she brushed her hair, she just could not beat the wind. What I am talking about is looking at the size of the challenge and then looking at your resources and seeing that there is a problem. That is what we are going to look at in this passage.
I want to rewind the tape a bit before we actually look at the story. The Promised Land was actually promised to Abraham. This was the revelation of what God was going to do for his people. However, Abraham’s grandson and his children were forced to leave the land because of a famine. At first they did well in Egypt but soon they were seen as a threat and the Egyptians enslaved them. After many years in bondage, God sent Moses to free them. They escaped Egypt and headed east. Here is the question, what did the Hebrew people think would happen next? What were their options? I am assuming that they believed they were going back to the Promised Land. Where else could they go? Back to Egypt? Sell themselves into slavery to one of the other nations? The plan was always that they would go back to the Promised Land. Indeed they did arrive at the boundaries. As is appropriate, they sent spies into the land to see what they were up to. To make this as fair as possible, they sent one representative from each tribe. That sounds very logical. What we are looking at here is good solid research. Quietly the spies made their way into the Promised Land. They saw the potential. It was a rich and fertile land. The fruit and other produce made their mouths drool, especially after their recent trek in the desert. Unfortunately, there was not just good stuff. This land was fortified. There were well-armed and well-trained armies. There were many of them and they were big. Ten of the twelve only saw the danger and not the opportunity. Only Joshua and Caleb were confident in God’s power and faithfulness. They understood the challenge but they also had a true understanding of the strength of God. The other ten saw themselves as grasshoppers ready to be squished, the two knew that God was perfectly capable of doing the squishing. Before looking at the context, I want to highlight a few principles. 1) There are times when the situation looks overwhelming, 2) there are always people, usually a majority, that see the situation as hopeless, 3) there always a few brave souls who believe that God can make a way, and 4) there are always consequences to giving into fear. In the case of the Israelites, it was wandering in the desert for forty years. But what does that mean for us?
If this church sent a couple of spies into downtown Meaford, what would be seen? You probably would see some really good opportunities. There would be new retired couples moving into the community. There would be military families that come to the base for a few years. There would be families that have lived here for years who have never been to church. When you look at the number of people who live in Meaford and the number of people who attend all the churches, there are many people who need to attend church. Even more importantly, they need to meet Jesus. The opportunity is huge. The challenge is that the days of people just showing up in church are largely over. Yes some people will come through church shopping but it is not going to touch even a small percentage of the people out there. To go out and take the Promised Land, you need to do what the Israelites did. You need to go there. But then you look at your limitations. You are a small church. You are an older church. There is not the money to pay a large pastoral staff to do the work. When you look at the needs and the resources, you could probably echo the feeling of the Israelites that you feel like grasshoppers. However, I want to encourage you with another grasshopper passage. “Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.” (Isaiah 40:21–23 ESV) This was another difficult time for the Israelites. They were about to lose the same land that they were afraid to take in our main passage. In the midst of this hopeless situation, the people are reminded that it is not just the Israelites who are grasshoppers. In comparison to God, everyone and everything is a grasshopper. Translation: God is bigger than any of our challenges or our problems. The message of the Bible, Old and New Testaments, is that our success is not built on our resources but on God’s resources.
The future is always uncertain. For the Israelites, taking that first step into the Promised Land was too much. The opportunities were tempting but the challenges too difficult. Only two people remembered that God was on their side. The lack of faith led to forty years in the wilderness, a price too high. When it was time, the Israelites did take the land it was their opponents that were in fear. Where is this church at? I understand the uncertainty. I understand that there is a lack of resources. I understand that it seems like it takes too much faith. But God is on your side. You may feel like grasshoppers but God is the God of grasshoppers. When God leads, beware the grasshoppers.