The Purpose of Freedom

I. Introduction

Two hundred and forty years ago, our nation was in bondage. Made up of 13 colonies of the British Empire, the colonies were governed by rules from far across the sea. Twelve years prior to that, the British and the French were in a great race to colonize the Americas, leading to a great amount of tension. In 1754, the British, under the command of 22-year old George Washington, ambushed a French patrol and set off a war against the French. There were about 2 million British colonists and only 60,000 French colonists, so the French enlisted the help of the native American Indians. This French and Indian War lasted 9 years before the British finally defeated the French, and the French ceded control of all of land east of the Mississippi River to the British.

This was an expensive war, and the British felt the American colonies should pay the brunt of the expenses. The British levied higher taxes against the 13 colonies to pay off the war debt, and also imposed other rules that were very inconvenient, such as if the British felt the need to guard your town, you were required to house British troops in your home at your own expense.

The colonies had no say in these taxes. But of particular irritation was the monopoly given to the East Indian Tea Company. No tea could be imported to the colonies directly; instead, The British imported tea to Britain, marked it up 25% to pay for war debts, then sold it to the Americas. In 1773, the Sons of Liberty raided a shipment of tea and threw it all into the Boston Harbor with the rallying cry of “No taxation without representation.”

Three years later, in 1776, the Thirteen American colonies declared their independence from Britain.

II. Independence

What does it mean to be independent? The dictionary defines independence as “freedom from the control, influence, support, or aid of others.” When the young American Colonies rebelled against the British, they wanted representation, they wanted a say in their own fate. They wanted to govern themselves. Others were not going to dictate their day-to-day lives; the colonists were going to choose their own way.

From a historical perspective of developing countries, this was unique. It had never been tried. No country had ever attempted self-governing rules. No country had ever tried a system where the governed were also the governors.

But in the history of mankind, this attitude is hardly unique. The ultimate authority is the God who created us, and we (the creation) have always wanted to govern ourselves.

It seems like every time I teach a lesson, I go back to Genesis 1:1 again. But today, in a fantastic improvement over that record, we’re only going back to Genesis 2. Verses 16 & 17,

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

And man joyfully obeyed and enjoyed a sinless and holy relationship with God the Father. And that lasted maybe a day. After that, we decided we wanted to govern ourselves, and we ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We said to God, “You are not the boss of me.”

III. Bondage

When we ate, we rebelled. We looked to our rebellion and said, “See? We are free to do what we want. We don’t allow anyone – including God – to tell us what to do.” We believed that this rebellion was the same as independence which was also the same as freedom.

But these three words are not the same. Yes, we rebelled and declared our independence from God. But were we then free? What did we gain by rebelling from God?

In our rebellion, we decided to go our own way. In our rebellion, we decided on our own not to follow God’s plan. Since God is holy, and God’s plan is holy, our rebellion is… unholy. It is a sin. Our sin separates us from God. In the Old Testament, Isaiah laments this rebellion in Isaiah 63:10 –

Yet they rebelled
and grieved his Holy Spirit.
So he turned and became their enemy
and he himself fought against them.

In other words, our sin nature, passed along from the first rebellion of Adam all the way to us, vexes the Holy Spirit and makes us enemies of God. We saw this rejection of God in 1 Samuel 8:6-9 when the people of Israel – people supposedly free since they had rejected God – demanded somebody to rule over them. It seems they recognized they needed somebody to lead and guide them, but they just didn’t want that somebody to be God –

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

In 1 Samuel 15:23, our rebellion is described like this –

For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.

Our rebellion against the Lord doesn’t lead to freedom. Our rebellion makes us enemies of the Lord. Rebellion aligns us with forces that oppose God. As enemies of the Lord, we become family with a relative we don’t really want, but we share a common goal with him. John 8:44, Jesus tells us who we are when we are in a state of rebellion –

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

Yuck. I don’t like this family. So my rebellion against the Lord didn’t lead to freedom, it led to sin. To oppose God’s plan, I have to align myself with the devil, and I am in bondage to this sin because I am rebellion. I cannot escape sin because I am in rebellion which is sin. Instead of freedom, I am in bondage. I am in bondage to sin. In John 8:34,

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.

And in Romans 7:14-15, Paul recognizes this bondage –

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

We all sin. We are in bondage to that sin. We’re going to look at 2 verses that describe just how awful the rebellious bondage to sin looks to our Lord. First, let’s look at 2 Timothy 3:1-7 –

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

In that description, I see my own bondage to sin, and I see that our great United States of America has rushed from independence into bondage to sin. From “loving ourselves” on social media like Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, to “loving money” and our fascination with pop culture and the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Allowing men to use women’s restrooms if they “identify” as a woman and then brutally verbally bashing those who are trying to promote a chaste and safe public restroom experience. Over a half-million abortions every year because having a baby is inconvenient. In my lifetime I’ve seen this nation go from prayer in schools to prosecuting people who pray in schools.

And our national fascination with sex. How much of the internet is related to porn? A study from Columbia University estimates Psychology today estimates as much as 20% of all web traffic and web searches are related to porn.

Our nation is in bondage to sin, and we celebrate it and put it on the internet for everybody to see.

Romans 6:16 also points out that ultimately we only have 2 choices –

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?

Our rebellious sin nature is a trap. We are stuck in our sin nature and we cannot free ourselves. Romans 1:24 says that God eventually gives us over to the sinful desires of the heart. There is no middle ground. There is no “mostly obedient” state. Giving to the Red Cross or the Salvation Army or the Star of Hope or tithing to the church cannot save us if there is one little speckle of disobedience in us. And this verse tells us that we are either trying our very best to find God’s will in our lives, or we are not.

We’d like to believe there is a middle ground, where we can be good people and go to heaven. We’d like to have compassion on good people that aren’t Christians. Surely good people go to heaven? Isn’t that fair? Isn’t that nice? Since God is such a nice guy, surely He’d see it my way?
But that misunderstands God’s purpose in our lives. God loves all His children, and He wants what is best for us. And that means voluntarily giving up our own independent rebellion and agree with the Lord that His will is the best way, and ultimately is the only way. And God tells us that there is one way to gain the promised land, and everything else belongs to sin. Galatians 3:22,

But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

IV. True Freedom

So our rebellion gives us the illusion of independence, but in reality we are trading our allegiance. I pledge allegiance to God and His ways, or I pledge allegiance to our father the devil. There is no third option.

So here’s an interesting quandary. Can we be in bondage, and yet be free?

In the story of the Exodus, we start to get a glimpse of God’s purpose. What was the exodus? It’s the miracle of God leading His people out of bondage, out of slavery. And once the people were free, what did God do? He gave them the Ten Commandments. He set rules for that freedom.

We make a mistake when we confuse our independence with what we truly desire. We desire freedom. Freedom to follow our God-given passions and desires, to seek for God in all the wonderful places He designs for us, to seek His will and find that His plan for us is far, far better than our own independent plans.

Why should we trust this freedom to God? How many hairs do you have on your head? Is it 1000? 100,000? I have no idea. But this is how well God knows me: Not only does He know how many hairs are on my head, but he’s numbered them. 1, 2, 3, 4…. Luke 12:6-7,

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

A very good reason for trusting the Lord is that He knows me far better than I know myself. Should I continue to maintain my independence of God? I certainly have that choice; I can choose to be independent of my creator. But it turns out that is the same as the sin of rebellion, which means independence from God is bondage to the devil. Or I can be independent of Satan, and choose to be in bondage to God. I am in bondage either way.

What does this look like, being in bondage to God? Do I just follow the Ten Commandments? Do I just avoid the Seven Deadly Sins? Do I follow all 613 mitzvots?

Let’s go back for a moment to 2 Timothy 3:1-7 and look at what bondage to sin looks like.

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

These things that bind us to sin are lovers of ourselves, lovers of money, proud and boastful and abusive and disobedient and ungrateful and unforgiving… and if I am honest with myself, I can see my own sinful nature in this description. These are the descriptions of the last days. It’s what the Father of Lies would call love. It’s a perversion of what God calls love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 –

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

I don’t know how to do this. Not on my own. At least, not at the level necessary to meet the standards of a Holy and Perfect Lord of All. I’m going to fail.

So the answer to whether I have to follow the Ten Commandments or avoid the Seven Deadly Sins is… yes. All of them. And none of them.

You see, since God knows how many hairs I have on my head, He knows me better than I know myself. And even when I try to run, He knows me. Jeremiah 23:24,

Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.

God is everywhere I am. I cannot hide. Even in my rebellion and my so-called independence, I cannot escape. The Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins judge me and my shortcomings. They show me how I fail, they show that despite my own efforts, I’m going to fail at being holy. And that’s ok, because God loves me and has given me a solution. God has given me His Son.

We don’t just “stop sinning” by trying to stop committing the Seven Deadly Sins. Obeying the Ten Commandments doesn’t stop us from sinning. That is is “legalism,” that is trying to save ourselves by “works.” We stop sinning by recognizing that we are in rebellion, that our entire lives have been devoted to bondage in sin, remembering that there is no halfway decision, and then choosing to be bondservants of Christ. We choose to cease our rebellion against the Lord.

What about the Ten Commandments? The Seven Deadly Sins? These give us insight and direction as to what pleases the Lord. For those who have had children, if your child takes a cookie before dinner after you expressly told him not to, do you say, that’s it, I’m done. You’re on your own. Go outside and never come back. From God’s perspective, is our identity as His child dependent on whether we ate the forbidden cookie?

Of course not. We set rules for good behavior for our children. We discipline them when they are disobedient. We raise them, we forgive them, and love them. God does the same for us, and all our sins are forgiven when Jesus took them to the cross. We just have to choose to be in God’s family. Then if we are imperfect, if we only follow eight-and-a-half commandments, our Father still loves us.

In fact, that’s where our freedom comes from – being within the will of God, being a slave to His love, and recognizing His word protects us. Psalm 119:44-45 puts in this way –

I will keep on obeying your instructions forever and ever. I will walk in freedom, for I have devoted myself to your commandments.

So our goal then, is to recognize our rebellion against God did not lead to freedom. It just led to a different sort of bondage. This is where we once were, from 2 Peter 2:17-19 –

These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity – for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”

 

When we accept Jesus, then this is who we become from 1 John 1:12 –

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.

And when we are children of God, then there is no condemnation for falling short of God’s perfect will. Romans 8:1,

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

V. Conclusion

When mistake rebellion and independence with freedom, we wallow in a lifetime of sin. The rebellion against God results in death and misery and frustration. Or we can attempt to save ourselves by doing good, but the rules we set for ourselves are burdensome and joyless. Worse, we try to set rules for others so we can demonstrate how superior we are.

God’s way is to accept that we are powerless on our own and full of sin, but His Son will take the punishment for our rebellion so we can be slaves to righteousness and serve one another in love. It’s not rules imposed from the outside, but the power of the Holy Spirit from the inside that brings glory to God, peace and joy to us, and blessings to others.

There is a song by Watermark that I love, called “Captivate Us.” During the chorus, she sings, “Let every chain be broken from me as I’m bound by your grace.” Choosing to be a bondservant of Christ Jesus doesn’t restrict our freedom, but gives us freedom to be who God created us to be.

It’s like a train, a locomotive, intent on going its own way. And it jumps the track in search of independence. These train tracks are too restrictive, the train says. And when the train has fallen off the tracks, it’s powerless, it’s useless, it’s stalled. When the train is put back on the track, then the train is free to do what it was created to do.

This is the truth that brings glory to our Father in Heaven. John 8:32,

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

That is true freedom.

To God be the glory.

People of Unbelief and Rebellion

I. Introduction

Today’s bible trivia question:  Why is our study book called the Book of Numbers? Slide3.JPG

The Book of Numbers is of great historical significance because the Lord ordered the first census of the Israelites.  Numbers chapters 1-10 have an awful lot of “begats” – that’s when most people, reading the bible in traditional sequence, get bogged down, or should I say begatted down – but the book of Numbers also gives us historical and genealogical record of the Israelites.

As the book of Numbers opens, the Israelites have been camped near Mount Sinai for more than a year.  Moses has brought all the laws and regulations recorded in the book of Leviticus, the tabernacle has been built, priests are busy doing priestly things.  The Israelites are well-equipped to be a new nation of God’s chosen people.  It is now time to move into Canaan and take the land.

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To prepare for Canaan, Moses and Aaron were told by God to take a census, number the men who were able to serve in the army, get the people organized by tribe.   This book is named for this census, or numbering of the people.  But the book of Numbers could just as well been named the Book of Grumpiness.  From the beginning of Numbers to the end, it tells the story of rebellion, unbelief, and grumblings.

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As the Israelite set out from the wilderness of Sinai on their journey to the Promised Land, silver trumpets were used to coordinate their stopping and going. God’s presence was always with them – a cloud of shade by day and a pillar of fire as their night light. They were literally guided one step at a time. Each time the cloud or pillar signaled a move, Moses prayed to God for guidance and victory, each time they were signaled to stop, he asked for God’s presence to rest with His people. No matter how many times they started or stopped, Moses would repeat these prayers. Let’s look at the end of Chapter 10:

Numbers 10:33-36, (Chronological Bible page 227, March 1)
So they departed from the mountain of the LORD on a journey of three days; and the ark of the covenant of the LORD went before them for the three days’ journey, to search out a resting place for them.  And the cloud of the LORD was above them by day when they went out from the camp.  So it was, whenever the ark set out, that Moses said: Rise up, O LORD! Let your enemies be scattered, And let those who hate You flee before You.”  And when it rested, he said: “Return, O LORD, To the many thousands of Israel.”

Moses feared and worshipped the Lord above everything else and put Him first in the life of the people.  The people of Israel?  Not so much.

Since the Fall in the Garden of Eden, man has struggled to live by faith in the goodness of God and by the Word of God.  Instead, we continue to live by sight, trapped in our fleshly existence, blind to spiritual truth and spiritual reality.  In the book of Numbers, Israel has the promises of God regarding their existence and their land, plus the very presence of God in their midst.  But still they walk in rebellion and unbelief.  Today’s lesson will focus on four scenes from Numbers 11-16 that illustrate the depravity of the human heart.

Why do we study the Old Testament?  Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10 that specifically this Book of Numbers is a warning to believers.  In 1 Corinthians 10:6, 10-11 Paul says:

Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted… nor complain and were destroyed by the destroyer.  Now all these things happened to them as examples and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.

We are to note what God’s people did in the past and how their decisions affected their relationship with Him, in order to move forward with our own faith in the present. So, in looking at our passages for today, we are going to look at what NOT to do as God’s chosen people.  I’m reminded of some sage advice my grandfather gave to me.  He’d say, “Son, if you can’t be a good example, then do your best to be a horrible warning.”

II. #1 on the List of Things Not to Do: Grumble and Complain about God’s Blessings

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Let’s look at Numbers 11:1-2 (Chronological Bible page 228, March 2) –

Now when the people complained, it displeased the Lord; for the LORD heard it, and His anger was aroused. So the fire of the LORD burned among them, and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.  Then the people cried out to Moses, and when Moses prayed to the LORD, the fire was quenched.

Did your parents ever same something like, “quit whining or I’ll give you something to whine about.”  That is exactly what the Lord did.  Whatever they were complaining about was so insignificant that it wasn’t even recorded.  The Lord send a warning of fire, and the people cried out to Moses and Moses interceded on their behalf.

What did the Israelite do in response?  The continued to complain. Numbers 11:4-6:

Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: Who will give us meat to eat?  We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and then garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!

Whaaaah.  All we have is this stupid manna.  When we are discontented with our current situation, we have troubles remembering how blessed we are.  The Israelites “forgot” they were in bondage and slavery in Egypt and only remembered the “flesh pleasing” things.

Though manna was miraculously provided and was healthy nourishment, they tired of this provision from the Lord and lusted for other things.

Numbers 11:10-11,13-15, page 228:

Then Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families; everyone at the door of his tent; and the anger of the LORD was greatly aroused; Moses also was displeased.  So Moses said to the LORD, “Why have you afflicted Your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you have laid the burden of these people on me? … Where am I to get meat to give all these people? For they weep all over me, saying “Give us meat that we may eat.” I am not able to bear all these people alone, because the burden is too heavy for me.  If you treat me like this, please kill me here and now- if I have found favor in your sight- and do not let me see my wretchedness!

The people were complaining and Moses was complaining about their complaining! “Just kill me now,” he tells the Lord. “This job is too hard!”  And yet Moses is humble and realizes that he is no better than they are!

It takes faith to accept God’s guidance and Israel’s faith wasn’t very strong. Among other things, mixed in among them during their journey were unbelievers that God had warned them about.  The Israelites listed to these unbelievers who convinced the Israelites that maybe God wasn’t all good, maybe God was withholding something good from them.  The people stopped appreciating their blessings and instead focused on what they didn’t have.

Even God’s people too easily forget what God has done and we grumble and complain about what we don’t have.  Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:14-16:

Do some things…. No wait, do a few things… no, Paul says…

Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.

Complaining is contagious. Discontentment is at the top of the slippery slope of sin. When we rebel against Him, God often gives us our own way, which can lead to our destruction.

Let’s continue in Numbers 11:31-33, page 229

Now a wind went out from the LORD, and it brought quail from the sea and left them fluttering near the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and about a day’s journey on the other side, all around the camp, and about two cubits above the surface of the ground.  And the people stayed up all that day, all night, and all the next day, and gathered the quail (he who gathered least gathered ten homers), and they spread them out for themselves all around the camp.  But while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the wrath of the LORD was aroused against the people, and the LORD struck the people with a very great plague.

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The Lord gave them what they wanted, and it killed them.  Moses called the place “the graves of lust.”  It served as a reminder to the danger of asking for “my will be done” over “Thy will be done.”  In both Exodus and Deuteronomy, the Lord warned Israel that the way they treated the daily manna would be a test of their obedience to His Word.  By rejecting the manna, by rejecting the blessings, Israel really rejected the Lord and it was this rebellious attitude that invited the judgment of God.

III. #2 on the List of Things Not to Do: Tell God He’s Not the Boss of You

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Everyone in Israel knew that Moses, Aaron, and  Moses’ sister Miriam were God’s chosen servants, but that Moses was designated by God as the leader. This had been evident from before they were brought out of Egypt.  God had used Miriam to save Moses’ life and to lead women in worship.  Aaron was the older brother chosen to help Moses with Pharaoh and to serve as the first High Priest.  But Moses was the one to whom God spoke to and spoke through as the leader of Israel.   But even among spiritual leaders, the sin of envy is ever present.  “Envy” says, “that’s not fair! Why not me?” and it can affect anyone at any time

Numbers 12: 1-10 (Chronological Bible page 229, March 2).

Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman.  So they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?” And the LORD heard it.  (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.)

Suddenly the LORD said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tabernacle of meeting!” So the three came out.  Then the LORD came down in the pillar of cloud and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam. And they both went forward.  Then He said,

“Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream.  Not so with My servant Moses; He is faithful in all My house.

I speak with him face to face, Even plainly, and not in dark sayings; And he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid To speak against My servant Moses?”

So the anger of the LORD was aroused against them, and He departed.  And when the cloud departed from above the tabernacle, suddenly Miriam became leprous, as white as snow. Then Aaron turned toward Miriam, and there she was, a leper.

Slide18.JPGDespite the Lord clearly talking to Moses, Miriam attempts to be the boss, and convinces Aaron to join her in this rebellion.  The Lord was angry and deals swiftly with her.  At this point Aaron begs Moses to intercede, and Moses cries out to the LORD, saying, “Please heal her, O God!”  So the LORD tells Moses to basically lock her outside the camp for a week and then the Lord will heal her.
God made it very clear that He was in control, God selects the leaders and the people were to respect their authority.  Rebelling against His appointed leaders is the same as rebelling against the Lord.

When you review the history of Israel and their journey from Egypt to Canaan, you see that every time they resisted the Lord’s selected authority, it caused them great trouble.  As the Lord sought to bring them through difficult situations and build their faith, they rebelled against His authority, blamed those He put in charge and made plans to return to Egypt.  No society can function without authority and submission.  God’s plan wasn’t just to free them from slavery but to establish Israel as a nation.

IV. #3 on the List of Things Not to Do: Doubt God’s Plan

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Israel had journeyed from Mount Sinai on their way to Canaan.  Just before they get to the Promised Land, Israel sent out spies to look over the land which they were to possess.

Numbers 13:1-3 (page 230, March 2):

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel; from each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a leader among them.  So Moses sent them from the Wilderness of Paran according to the command of the LORD, all of them men who were heads of the children of Israel.

Notice that the Lord’s promise: I am giving this land to the Israelites.  No conditions attached, it’s yours.  Moses selects twelve men to travel to Canaan to survey the land in Numbers 13:4-16, way too many names to read, but this is where we first meet Caleb.  Joshua we met earlier in Exodus 17 as one of Moses’s generals and Joshua also went up Mount Sinai with Moses in Exodus 24.

Moses sends the twelve spies to the land of Canaan on a reconnaissance mission.  You know, check out the schools, the cost of living, local museums, that sort of thing.  The spies are told to bring back evidence that this is indeed the land of milk and honey.  In Numbers 13:21-25,

So they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin […]  When they reached the Valley of Eshcol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs.  […]  At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.

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Can you imagine a single cluster of grapes so large that two men have to carry it on a pole between them?  At the end of 40 days, the spies return to Moses and say in Numbers 13:26-29,

They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit.

But…. You knew there was a “but,” didn’t you?

But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.

Caleb demonstrates his faith in God’s promises by saying in verse 30,

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

It’s ours.  What are we waiting for?

The other 10 spies begin to spread a false report out of fear.  The land isn’t good anyway and we can’t move in.  They’re asking for 1st and last month’s rent in advance.  The people doubt God’s plan out of fear.

Which brings us to a question.  Where is your faith?  Is it in God’s promises, or is it your own eyes?  Let’s same your name is John Ruiz, you’re a boxer from the USA, and your opponent on December 7, 2005 is Nikolai Valuev, nicknamed “the Beast from the East.”

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Nikolai is 7’ 2” and weighs 323 pounds.  You look at him like one of the giants from Canaan and you feel like you have zero chance.  You are like a grasshopper in his eyes, and worse, you look like a grasshopper in your own eyes, too.

John Ruiz wasn’t afraid to take the fight to Nikolai.  In that way, he was like Caleb.  I love what John Ruiz said the night before the fight, “I plan on taking the fight to him.  His head is the size of a Volkswagen.  I can’t miss.”

Twelve spies went into the Promised Land. Ten saw obstacles, and two saw opportunities.  It’s a matter of perspective, and it’s the difference between fear and faith. Ten spies looked up and saw giants, Joshua and Caleb looked up and saw God.  And what did the people do?

They freaked out.

In chapter 14 it says they wept all night, then complained against Moses and Aaron. They cried out, “We are going to die!  It would have been better if we had died in Egypt, or in the wilderness.”  And then they started planning to select a new leader and go back to Egypt.

Fortunately, God’s selected leaders stood up to speak in verse 5:

Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel.

But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; and they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: “The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land.  If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, ‘a land which flows with milk and honey.’  Only do not rebel against the LORD, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the LORD is with us. Do not fear them.”

And what was the people’s response? Were they supportive?  Humbled?  Agreeable?  No, verse 10:

And all the congregation said to stone them with stones.

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After hearing the criticism, the doubts, the fears, Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before the Lord and prayed for them.   Joshua and Caleb try to encourage the multitude and inspire their faith. “The Lord will do it,” they proclaim. “The Lord is with us!”  But no, fear and rebellion ran deep.

Then the Lord spoke, verse 11

… “How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them?  I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.”

Once again Moses prays,

And now, I pray, let the power of my Lord be great, just as You have spoken, saying,  ‘The LORD is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.’  Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.”

Moses appeals to the Lord based on the Lord’s attributes, reputation, and character.  Moses fights his battles from his knees.
And so, the Lord determined that they would wander in the wilderness until all this faithless generation perished, those 20 years and older, except Caleb and Joshua. Only these two would be able to enter the Promised Land. Why? Because Joshua and Caleb followed the Lord with complete faith and trust.

This story tells the story of many of our lives. It was God’s plan that the children of Israel should go straight into the land He had promised them, the land of Canaan, but the people would not. We can put difficulties between ourselves and God like the people of Israel or put God in between ourselves and our difficulties like Joshua and Caleb. The Lord wanted them to enter the Promised Land, but their fear and unbelief kept them out. Their faith failed. They doubted God’s plan.

Is your fear keeping you from all that God has for you? Fear can paralyze even the bravest of hearts. Joshua and Caleb weren’t blind to the giants in their lives.  They just remembered God’s promise, and God was bigger than any giant.

V. Conclusion

God demonstrated His goodness, grace, and mercy by choosing Abraham and His descendants as His own special people, rescuing them from Egypt and leading them to the Promise Land. And yet, Israel’s response to God’s favor reflects the proud, stubborn, rebellious heart of all humanity.  People haven’t changed in thousands of years.  We continually question whether God is good and whether God keeps his promises.

In our lesson today, we have learned that indeed, if one cannot be a good example than one can be a horrible warning.  To stay on the path of the righteous, to walk in the way of the Lord, avoid these horrible warnings:

• Grumble and Complain about God’s Blessings
• Tell God He’s Not the Boss of You
• Doubt God’s Plan

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Or if you want to walk in the way of the Lord, do the opposite –

• Give Thanks and Praise
• Submit to God’s Love
• Trust in the Lord’s Promises

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To God be the Glory.  Amen.

Freedom

  I.      Introduction

Two hundred and forty years ago, our nation was in bondage.  Made up of 13 colonies of the British Empire, the colonies were governed by rules from far across the sea.  Twelve years prior to that, the British and the French were in a great race to colonize the Americas, leading to a great amount of tension.  In 1754, the British, under the command of 22-year old George Washington, ambushed a French patrol and set off a war against the French.  There were about 2 million British colonists and only 60,000 French colonists, so the French enlisted the help of the native American Indians.  This French and Indian War lasted 9 years before the British finally defeated the French, and the French ceded control of all of land east of the Mississippi River to the British. Slide2

This was an expensive war, and the British felt the American colonies should pay the brunt of the expenses.  The British levied higher taxes against the 13 colonies to pay off the war debt, and also imposed other rules that were very inconvenient, such as if the British felt the need to guard your town, you were required to house British troops in your home at your own expense.

The colonies had no say in these taxes.  But of particular irritation was the monopoly given to the East Indian Tea Company.  No tea could be imported to the colonies directly; instead, The British imported tea to Britain, marked it up 25% to pay for war debts, then sold it to the Americas.  In 1773, the Sons of Liberty raided a shipment of tea and threw it all into the Boston Harbor with the rallying cry of “No taxation without representation.”Slide3

Three years later, in 1776, the Thirteen American colonies declared their independence from Britain.

II.      Independence

Slide4What does it mean to be independent?  The dictionary defines independence as “freedom from the control, influence, support, or aid of others.”  When the young American Colonies rebelled against the British, they wanted representation, they wanted a say in their own fate.  They wanted to govern themselves.  Others were not going to dictate their day-to-day lives; the colonists were going to choose their own way.

From a historical perspective of developing countries, this was unique.  It had never been tried.  No country had ever attempted self-governing rules.  No country had ever tried a system where the governed were also the governors.

But in the history of mankind, this attitude is hardly unique.  The ultimate authority is the God who created us, and we (the creation) have always wanted to govern ourselves.

It seems like every time I teach a lesson, I go back to Genesis 1:1 again.  But today, in a fantastic improvement over that record, we’re only going back to Genesis 2.  Verses 16 & 17,

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

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And man joyfully obeyed and enjoyed a sinless and holy relationship with God the Father.  And that lasted maybe a day.  After that, we decided we wanted to govern ourselves, and we ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

III.      Bondage

When we ate, we rebelled.  We looked to our rebellion and said, “See?  We are free to do what we want.  We don’t allow anyone – including God – to tell us what to do.”  We believed that this rebellion was the same as independence which was also the same as freedom.

But these three words are not the same.  Yes, we rebelled and declared our independence from God.  But were we then free?  What did we gain by rebelling from God?

In our rebellion, we decide to go our own way.  In our rebellion, we decided on our own not to follow God’s plan.  Since God is holy, and God’s plan is holy, our rebellion is… unholy.  It is a sin.  Our sin separates us from God.  In the Old Testament, Isaiah laments this rebellion in Isaiah 63:10 –

Yet they rebelled
and grieved his Holy Spirit.
So he turned and became their enemy
and he himself fought against them.

Slide6In other words, our sin nature, passed along from the first rebellion of Adam all the way to us, vexes the Holy Spirit and makes us enemies of God.  In our study of Samuel this summer, Chris taught us about the rejection of God in 1 Samuel 8:6-9 when the people of Israel – people supposedly free since they had rejected God – demanded somebody to rule over them.  It seems they recognized they needed somebody to lead and guide them, but they just didn’t want that somebody to be God –

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord.  And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.  As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.  Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

Slide7Next week, we will study 1 Samuel 15, and our rebellion is described like this in verse 23 –

For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.

Slide8Our rebellion against the Lord doesn’t lead to freedom.  Our rebellion makes us enemies of the Lord.  We align ourselves with forces that oppose God.  As enemies of the Lord, we become family with a relative we don’t really want, but we share a common goal with him.  John 8:44, Jesus tells us who we are when we are in a state of rebellion –

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

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Yuck.  I don’t like this family.  So my rebellion against the Lord didn’t lead to freedom, it led to sin.  To oppose God’s plan, I have to align myself with the devil, and I am in bondage to this sin because I am rebellion.  I cannot escape sin because I am in rebellion which is sin.  Instead of freedom, I am in bondage.  I am in bondage to sin.  In John 8:34,

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.

And Romans 7:14-15, Paul recognizes this bondage –

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.  I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

We all sin.  We are in bondage to that sin.  We’re going to look at 2 verses that describe just how awful the rebellious bondage to sin looks to our Lord.  First, let’s look at 2 Timothy 3:1-7 –

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.  They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

In that description, I see my own bondage to sin, and I see that our great United States of America has rushed from independence into bondage to sin.  From “loving ourselves” on social media like Instagram and Twitter, to “loving money” and our fascination with pop culture and the lifestyles of the rich and famous.  Allowing men to use women’s restrooms if they “identify” as a woman and then brutally verbally bashing those who are trying to promote a chaste and safe public restroom experience.  Over a half-million abortions in 2016 alone because having a baby is inconvenient.  In my lifetime I’ve seen this nation go from prayer in schools to prosecuting people who pray in schools.  Our national fascination with sex.  Did you know there’s actually a reality show on television called “Love Island” that puts 6 men and 6 women in a house strewn with over 1000 condoms and they compete to see who is the sexiest couple?  And that in order to move up in the rankings, they keep changing partners until they’re considered the winners?  The winners have sex with each other during the show, sometimes being watched by other contestants?  Our nation is in bondage to sin, and we celebrate it and put it on the television for everybody to see.

Romans 6:16 also points out that ultimately we only have 2 choices –

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?

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Our rebellious sin nature is a trap.  We are stuck in our sin nature and we cannot free ourselves.  Romans 1:24 says that God eventually gives us over to the sinful desires of the heart.  There is no middle ground.  There is no “mostly obedient” state.  Giving to the Red Cross or the Salvation Army or the Star of Hope or tithing to the church cannot save us if there is one little speckle of disobedience in us.  And this verse tells us that we are either trying our very best to find God’s will in our lives, or we are not.

We’d like to believe there is a middle ground, where we can be good people and go to heaven.  We’d like to have compassion on good people that aren’t Christians.  Surely good people go to heaven?  Isn’t that fair?  Isn’t that nice?  Since God is such a nice guy, surely He’d see it my way?

But that misunderstands God’s purpose in our lives.  God loves all His children, and He wants what is best for us.  And that means voluntarily giving up our own independent rebellion and agree with the Lord that His will is the best way, and ultimately is the only way.  And God tells us that there is one way to gain the promised land, and everything else belongs to sin.  Galatians 3:22,

But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

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IV.      True Freedom

So our rebellion gives us the illusion of independence, but in reality we are trading our allegiance.  I pledge allegiance to God and His ways, or I pledge allegiance to our father the devil.  There is no third option.

So here’s an interesting quandary.  Can we be in bondage, and yet be free?

We make a mistake when we confuse our independence with what we truly desire.  We desire freedom.  Freedom to follow our God-given passions and desires, to seek for God in all the wonderful places He designs for us, to seek His will and find that His plan for us is far, far better than our own independent plans.

Why should we trust this freedom to God?  How many hairs do you have on your head?   Is it 1000?  100,000?   I have no idea.  But this is how well God knows me: Not only does He know how many hairs are on my head, but he’s numbered them.  1, 2, 3, 4…. Luke 12:6-7,

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

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A very good reason for trusting the Lord is that He knows me far better than I know myself.  Should I continue to maintain my independence of God?  I certainly have that choice; I can choose to be independent of my creator.  But it turns out that is the same as the sin of rebellion, which means independence from God is bondage to the devil.  Or I can be independent of Satan, and choose to be in bondage to God.  I am in bondage either way.

What does this look like, being in bondage to God?  Do I just follow the Ten Commandments?  Do I just avoid the Seven Deadly Sins?  Do I follow all 613 mitzvots?

Let’s go back for a moment to 2 Timothy 3:1-7 and look at what bondage to sin looks like.

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.  They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

These things that bind us to sin are lovers of ourselves, lovers of money, proud and boastful and abusive and disobedient and ungrateful and unforgiving… and if I am honest with myself, I can see my own sinful nature in this description.  These descriptions of the last days.  It’s what the Father of Lies would call love.  It’s a perversion of what God calls love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 –

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

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I don’t know how to do this.  Not on my own.  At least, not at the level necessary to meet the standards of a Holy and Perfect Lord of All.  I’m going to fail.

So the answer to whether I have to follow the Ten Commandments or avoid the Seven Deadly Sins is… all of them….  And none of them

You see, since God knows how many hairs I have on my head, He knows me better than I know myself.  And even when I try to run, He knows me.  Jeremiah 23:24,

Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.

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God is everywhere I am.  I cannot hide.  Even in my rebellion and my so-called independence, I cannot escape.  The Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins judge me and my shortcomings.  They show me how I fail, they show that despite my own efforts, I’m going to fail at being holy.  And that’s ok, because God has given me a solution.  God has given me His Son.

We don’t just “stop sinning” by trying to stop committing the Seven Deadly Sins.  Obeying the Ten Commandments doesn’t stop us from sinning.  This is “legalism,” this is “works.”  We stop sinning by recognizing that we are in rebellion, that our entire lives have been devoted to bondage in sin, and remembering that there is no halfway decision, we choose to be bondservants of Christ.  We choose to cease our rebellion against the Lord.

What about the Ten Commandments?  The Seven Deadly Sins?  These give us insight and direction as to what pleases the Lord.  For those who have had children, if your child takes a cookie before dinner after you expressly told him not to, do you say, that’s it, I’m done.  You’re on your own.  Go outside and never come back.  Is our own identity dependent on whether there is an extra cookie in the pantry?

Of course not.  We set rules for good behavior for our children, we discipline them when they are disobedient so we raise them well, we forgive and love them.  God does the same for us, and all our sins are forgiven when Jesus took them to the cross.  We just have to choose to be in God’s family.  Then if we are imperfect, if we only follow eight-and-a-half commandments, our Father still loves us.

So our goal then, is to recognize our rebellion against God did not lead to freedom.  It just led to a different sort of bondage.  This is where we once were, from 2 Peter 2:17-19 –

These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them.  For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error.  They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity – for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”

When we accept Jesus, then this is who we become from 1 John 1:12 –

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name

And when we are children of God, then there is no condemnation for falling short of God’s perfect will.  Romans 8:1,

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

 

  V.      Conclusion

When mistake rebellion and independence with freedom, we wallow in a lifetime of sin.  The rebellion against God results in death and misery and frustration.  Or we can attempt to save ourselves by doing good, but the rules we set for ourselves are burdensome and joyless.  Worse, we try to set rules for others so we can be better people.  God’s way is to accept that we are powerless on our own and full of sin, but His Son will take the punishment for our rebellion so we can be slaves to righteousness and serve one another in love.  It’s not rules imposed from the outside, but the power of the Holy Spirit from the inside that brings glory to God, peace and joy to us, and blessings to others.

There is a song by Watermark that I love, called “Captivate Us.”  During the chorus, she sings, “Let every chain be broken from me as I’m bound by your grace.”  Choosing to be a bondservant of Christ Jesus doesn’t restrict our freedom, but quite the opposite.  When a train that has fallen off the tracks, it’s powerless, useless, stalled.  When the train is put back on the track, it is free to do what it was created to do.

This is the truth that brings glory to our Father in Heaven.  John 8:32,

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

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That is true freedom.

To God be the glory.