Introduction: Welcome to Expound our weekly worship and verse by verse study of the Bible. Our goal is to expand your knowledge of the truth of God as we explore the Word of God in a way that is interactive, enjoyable, and congregational.
Skip Heitzig: So, turn in your Bibles to the book of Numbers, chapters 2 and 3. We have two chapters before us tonight, by the grace of God, and only by the grace of God [laughter], but we will see. Let's pray together.
Lord, one of the hardest things we discover to do in our culture is to concentrate on one thing for any period of time. We are so distracted with texts and e-mails and tweets and Instagram pictures and the like, it is hard for us to get passed addiction to our own technology, and to sit and study the Bible, especially an Old Testament book like the book of Numbers, seems like a daunting thing. But the hunger that is represented by all of us here, and those joining online, those hearing us by radio live, we're humbled by it.
And we ask for your Holy Spirit to ultimately be our director, our teacher, and to fill our hearts with hope as well as instruction. We seek to learn and to know what is meant by every verse of Scripture, line upon line, precept upon precept, verse by verse, chapter by chapter. Thank you that you afford us a country like this where we have the freedom to assemble and the freedom to worship. We pray that it would be pleasing to you, and we pray that you would speak to us, in Jesus' name, amen.
In chapter 2 it's all about management, in chapter 3 it's all about ministry, and so much of ministry is management. God is going to arrange and manage the tribes, the millions of people that are out there in the wilderness, and then he is going to speak to those who are in the ministry; so, management, chapter 2 and ministry, chapter 3. Allow me to introduce you to three million people who are out in the desert at Mount Sinai, three million of your new best friends. How's that?
And we're going to look at them sort of from an aerial view beginning eastward and then moving south and then west and then north, clockwise. It might be helpful to you, those of us who live here in Albuquerque, to just sort of visualize like we're dealing with, first, the northeast heights. And you can picture people that are gathered there in the northeast heights. And then we're going to move down to the south valley in our study and see the tribes that are gathered in the south valley.
Then we're going to cross the Rio Grande river and deal with the west side, out in the west side, Paradise Hills, and even on over into Rio Rancho, and, finally, north, where we'll deal with Bernalillo, and the people who are in camp there, and even at Sandia Reservation. And so, to sort of picture it that way, and we'll see what's going on here. The children of Israel were encamped in the Wilderness of Sinai, before they marched, now for about twelve and a half months since they left Egypt in the Exodus.
They have been there camped at Mount Sinai, and it's all about, it has been about, and it is about now preparation. God is preparing them though move forward and march, to go on a hike from Mount Sinai to the border of the Promised Land, Kadesh Barnea, and on into the land where they will settle in. And they will have tribal allotments, property that will be given to each individual tribe. According to the book of Deuteronomy, it's less than a two-week walk from Kadesh Barnea or from Mount Sinai to Kadesh Barnea.
But it's going to take them about forty years because of the wandering, going around in circles for a number of reasons that we will see. But all during this time before they walk, before they march, before they go in, God wants them to sit still and get prepared for it. So often we don't like to prepare. We're good about moving. We're not slow to go, and we hate to wait. "But those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength." And before God sends you he will often prepare you.
And part of the key is learning to love the process. Paul said, "I have learned in whatever state I am in to be content." I can tell that some of you, just by your body language, have a problem with contentment, a problem with waiting. Some people can't wait to get married. They say, "I'm getting so old; I've gotta get married soon. I'm gonna turn into an old maid. I'm already eighteen." [laughter] They're single and they can't wait to get married.
Unfortunately, I meet people who are married and they wish they were single. That's why I advocate single people mingling with married people and vice versa, because they need to read that in the other segment of the population. "Oh, yeah, I remember wanting to get married so bad I could hardly stand it." And the single person seeing the married people, "Boy, they don't seem too excited about being married this week, do they? This is a big daunting commitment, isn't it?"
The Lord wants us to find him in that period of waiting and to enjoy---if you're single, enjoy being single; if your married, enjoy being married; if you're waiting on the Lord for something, enjoy the process of whatever he's teaching you. Let him prepare you and you'll march soon enough. So, we have the tabernacle. Okay, you're in a helicopter right now, and you're above the city, you're above the encampment, you're above Mount Sinai, or, if you will, Mount Sandia, [laughter] and you're looking out over that large valley.
And right in the middle of the encampment, the center part of town is the tabernacle. Around the tabernacle there are four distinct encampments. First of all, closest to the perimeter of the tabernacle are the Levitical families. On the eastern side you've got Moses and Aaron. On the south you have a particular family of the Levites called the sons of Kohath or the Kohathites. They're down south right next to the tabernacle.
On the west side of the tabernacle, opposite the opening, are the sons of Gershon or the Gershonites, all part of the Levitical family still. And then to the north on your way toward Santa Fe, next to that tabernacle is the family of Merari. So, Kohath, Gershon, and Merari, all families of the Levites, camped around the tabernacle. Then after that you have the tribes of Israel divided into four camps. There are twelve tribes; there are four camps. Each camp is how many tribes? Three tribes.
So, on the Sandia Mountain side, up in the northeast heights, on the east side of the tabernacle---again, the east side of the tabernacle is where you go in, it's the opening, it's the doorway---you have three tribes: Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. Then you move south. Now you're in the south valley, and you have the tribe of Reuben and Simeon and Gad, those three tribes. And then you go out to the west side now, and there on the west side there are three more tribes, the third camp, the tribe of Ephraim and Manasseh and Benjamin.
And finally you move north on the road toward Santa Fe, and there camped around the tabernacle, around the Levites, the fourth and final encampment with three more tribes: the tribe of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali; making a total of twelve tribes. Now just keep that in mind, and you have a map---yes, you do. You have a map that sort of shows that to you, and we'll make reference to that again.
So in chapter 2 we notice this: "The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: 'Everyone of the children of Israel shall camp by his own standard,' " or logo or insignia, some representation of that tribe, "'of his father's house; they shall camp some distance from the tabernacle of meeting.' "Remember, it's the Levitical families and Moses and Aaron that will be right around there, and the camps will be out from there.
Now we have the eastern encampment. " 'On the east side, toward the rising of the sun, those of the standard of the forces with Judah shall camp according to their armies; and Nahshon the son of Amminadab shall be the leader of the children of Judah.' " The east side was the place of honor; the place of honor, because it is the opening of the tabernacle. It's the only way you get into the courtyard is from the east side. You can't enter it from the west, the north, or the south.
You can only come in one way, and that is where Moses and Aaron are camped, and three tribes: Judah, Issachar, Zebulun; under the banner, the mask of Judah, which is the kingpin tribe, the head tribe, the anchor tribe. I find this so beautiful because Judah is not the largest tribe by itself. However, it is in the place of honor, and I believe it to be prophetic because we know that the Lord Jesus Christ, Israel's Messiah, will be born from the tribe of Judah. He is the "Lion of the tribe of Judah." That's the lineage that he comes through.
Now here's something to keep in your mind: the emblem, we believe, the standard, we believe, the insignia, the logo, if you will, of the tribe of Judah we believe to be a lion. And we believe the flag was the green color with a lion embroidered on a green flag. Now, we say that because Bible commentators by the name of Keil and Delitzsch who have done extensive research with the rabbinical traditions, according to the rabbinical traditions say that the insignia of Judah was the lion on a green flag. So, just keep that in mind.
That's what you would see as you would look toward the east, three tribes, but one insignia that you would see closest to the tabernacle, and that is, the flag of the tribe of Judah, because that's the anchor tribe. Beginning in verse 10 we move south. We're in the south valley now. " 'On the south side shall be the standard of the forces with Reuben.' " So it will be Reuben's standard that will anchor the other tribes that are with Reuben, Simeon, and Gad.
Again, according to Keil and Delitzsch, the flag on the south side was a red flag with the insignia or the logo of a man. So we have a lion, and we have a picture of a man on a flag. That's the southern encampment. And the numbers are given in verse 16, then beginning in verse 18---see, we're moving pretty quickly through this because I'm giving you the summation of it. In verse 18, now we're on west side, the west side of the Rio Grande.
You're looking now over Paradise Hills. And what else is out there? Well, Rio Rancho is a little bit farther north, but what else is out there? Ventana Ranch, is that---anything else? Taylor Ranch, there you go. All those places you're looking at now in your mind's eye, it's the west side of the tabernacle. " 'And on the west side shall be the standard of the forces with Ephraim according to their armies.' "
So, you're going to look and see the flag of Ephraim, next to him will be Manasseh and Benjamin. Again, according to Keil and Delitzsch, the flag on the west side of the tribe of Ephraim was a gold flag with the logo, the insignia, the picture of a man. A lion---no, not a man, an ox, a calf. I just said a man, that's south. That's the red flag. So, you have a lion, you have a man, you have an ox or a calf; a calf of an ox. That's on the west side.
Now we move to the northern encampment. Verse 25, " 'The standard of the forces with Dan.' " So, Dan, that's the kingpin tribe, that's the anchor tribe, along with Asher and Naphtali on that side. " 'Shall be on the north side according to their armies, and the leader of the children of Dan shall be Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai.' " Again, according to those two commentators that I mentioned, and some taters are just more common than others. But these two commentators Keil and Delitzsch say that flag on the north was a white flag with the standard of an eagle.
So, you have four flags, and wherever you were with those millions of people, because of the organization and the arrangement of the tribes, you could tell where you are. Because on one side you had the flag of a lion; on the other side you had the flag of a man; on the other side you had the flag of a calf or an ox; on the other side you had that of an eagle. And the numbers are given in verse 31.
Now in verse 32, as we sum this up in this chapter, "These are the ones who were numbered of the children of Israel by their fathers' houses. All who were numbered according to their armies of the forces were six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty." Now, remember these are the men in the census from twenty years old and upwards to fifty who were fighting men. They could all engage in warfare.
So, you add this number of fighting men to other men, to aged people, to children, and to women, and you have a pretty sizable group out there in the wilderness. Notice this though, because it'll be important for the next chapter, the ministry chapter: "But the Levites were not numbered among the children of Israel." They will be numbered in the very next chapter, but not in this census that is taken.
"Just as the Lord commanded Moses. Thus the children of Israel did according to all that the Lord commanded Moses; so they camped by their standards and so they broke camp, each one by his family, according to their fathers' house." Judah, a lion; on the west side, an ox; on the south side, a man; on the north side, an eagle. Now, I keep bringing this up, because what I think what we have here with the tabernacle is a picture of the throne of God.
Follow me here. Do you remember in Ezekiel, chapter 1, the prophet sees this wild vision of a portable, a mobile throne? God speaking from this vaulted throne, but these creatures that have wheels, this contraption that has wheels and that can move, and there are four living creatures, four angelic creatures with wings and eyes and hands---weird vision. But there were four faces on each one. Interesting what those faces are: a lion, a man, an ox, and an eagle.
We fast-forward to the book of Revelation where John in chapter 4 is caught up to the throne of God, and he sees this glassy sea, twenty-four elders who throw their crowns down upon the glassy sea, and four living creatures with interesting faces: face of a lion, face of an ox, the face of a man, and the face of an eagle---like Ezekiel and like the tabernacle setup in the book of Numbers.
If you have ever wondered, "Why are there four gospels? Why not three or two or eight? Why four?" Well, what is interesting is that Matthew, writing for the Jewish people, quoting Old Testament Scripture, portrays Jesus Christ as the fulfilling Prophet, the King of the Jews. This is the King Messiah fulfilling the Old Testament prophets, he's the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the one who would fulfill all of the kingly, messianic prophecies.
Mark portrays Jesus a bit differently as we saw in our last study. It's a very fast-moving book, words like "immediately," "immediately," "and," "but," "then." And as you read the book of Mark, at least when I read it through, I sort of feel like I'm panting every chapter, because it moves so quickly. Because Mark is portraying Jesus as a servant, like the animal of servitude, the calf, the ox, beast of burden moving quickly, carrying the load.
You come to the gospel of Luke, and Luke portrays Jesus in his perfect humanity, using over and over again the term "the Son of Man," "the Son of Man," "the Son of Man." And then, finally, you get to the gospel of John, which is Jesus soaring as the Son of God like the eagle. John says, "Many things did Jesus in this book that are not written, but these are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that by believing you would have life in his name." The deity of Christ is hailed in the gospel of John like none of the other gospels.
And so you have it again---the lion, the ox, the man, and the eagle---laid out foursquare around the tabernacle, a picture of the throne, a picture of Jesus Christ, a beautiful, emblematic picture. Also, something else as you look at the graph we're going to put up again: the tribe of Judah. along with the other two tribes that kept toward the east---okay, so you've been on Sandia Mountain.
And you're taking a helicopter over it. And you see Judah and the tribes Issachar and Zebulun. On those three tribes have a conglomerate of one hundred eighty-six thousand of those fighting men. It is proportionately a larger tribe than the others. And so, if you just divide it by population, it would look like this. And it's interesting what you're looking at---a cross.
Now, I don't want to get too beneath the surface here, but all I can say is I see when I read things like this, I can just picture the Holy Spirit smiling as he drops all of these fingerprints, these clues that we piece together. And we go, "Either that is the craziest coincidence, or this is God's providence as he weaves it together---a picture of the throne, a picture of God's majesty, a picture of Jesus Christ." Now we come to chapter 3.
If chapter 2 was management, chapter 3 is ministry, and it's about the priesthood. The priests were representatives. They represented the people to God. Later on the role of the prophet will arise in Israel, and the prophet will be different. The prophet will represent God to the people. "Thus saith the Lord," the prophet will say. He'll be God's mouthpiece, God's spokesperson representing God before the people, before kings.
The priests take a different role. They represent the people before God. And so the high priest would wear on his shoulder two stones, a stone on each shoulder: six names on one stone; six names on the other stone; the names of the tribes of Israel; bearing them on his shoulder, bearing the weight, the concerns, the issues of the people before God. That's the role of a priest. The high priest will also wear over his heart a breastplate with twelve stones, each stone representing one of the tribes of Israel.
So, over his heart, praying for the people, loving the people; being of service to the people, the stone on the shoulders; loving on the people, the stones on the heart---that's the role of the priest. He's a representative of the people before God. Now he has a couple of other roles too. Let's just piece them together. According to Leviticus, chapter 10, one of the roles of the priest is to teach people the Law of God. So they will have a role of the teacher, mentoring people, explaining to them God and his laws, his requirements.
According to Deuteronomy, chapter 17, they will have another role, and that is of a judge. They will adjudicate cases in the community. So, they have a very diverse role and a very important role among the children of Israel. What's interesting about the priests, and the whole family, the tribe of the Levites, is when they get into the land, they won't have a portion of the land. There is no land allotment for the tribe of Levi. Instead they will be given cities, Levitical cities that will be interspersed between all of the other tribes of Israel.
They'll live in cities, but they won't have their own land, because their inheritance, their portion is the Lord himself. They will be full-time in ministry in the things of God, in the articles of the tabernacle. Something else about the priests is what they wear. They wear holy garments. They're holy men wearing holy garments. There's linen trousers, and there's a certain getup that they wear, the priests, and then the high priest has his own deal going. So they have clergy clothes.
Now let me just say that it is my belief that there is no need for clergy clothes today, because there is no priesthood as such today. I know that there are some churches that believe in priests. I came from that background. But because of what Jesus did on the cross as our great High Priest, he is the only mediator between God and man, Paul says. There's no need for me to go to another human being to represent me before God.
"There's only one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ," that's Scripture. So there's no hierarchy. I know that some clergymen like to wear certain garments, collars, robes. When I first moved to Albuquerque, I had a well-meaning clergyman know that I was starting a church, and he had pity on me, because he saw me, he saw how I was dressed.
And I haven't really changed my style of clothing all that much. And he looked at what I was wearing and he just thought, "This poor kid needs a robe." [laughter] So he came to me and he said, "I'd like to buy you a minister's robe." And I was very polite, but I declined. You know, I'm thinking about this. I said, "I just can't get into wearing a dress, man. It's just not---it's just not my deal." [laughter]
When I was growing up in the tradition that I came from, the Roman Catholic tradition, my mom was hoping that one of her four boys would become a priest. My two oldest brothers went to seminary, Catholic seminary, got their education, and wore the clergy gowns as seminarians and a collar. And they just looked---we used to see them, they were down in San Diego, and they just looked so holy on the weekends when we saw them. It's like, "Wow! I know those are my brothers. They're not holy, but, boy, do they look good." [laughter]
But they never finished and they never got ordained as priests. And my brother Bob joined the Hell's Angels. [laughter] He was the third one. And so I was the last hope that my mom had of becoming a priest. And then her hopes were dashed when I---well, what she called "became a Protestant." And I got saved when I watched Dr. Billy Graham, and I joined a Bible study, and a Christian commune, and then a very different kind of a church than what she was used to seeing.
And she just thought, "Oh my goodness, he was my last hope. I wanted him to be a priest and he's become a Protestant. [laughter] So one day after I read the book of First Peter, which we're studying on Sunday, I came to her and said, "Mom, I just want you to know that your dream has been fulfilled. I'm a priest." And she looked at me strange. And I quoted what it said, " 'You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, God's own special people set apart to proclaim his praises who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.' Mom, I'm a priest!" Didn't go over that well. [laughter]
"Now these are the records of Aaron and Moses when the Lord spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai. And these are the names of the sons of Aaron: Nadab, the firstborn, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar." They had four boys as well. I would have been Ithamar, I was the fourth on the list. "These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the anointed priests, whom he consecrated to minister as priests. Nadab and Abihu," the first two, number one and number two, the two oldest, "had died before the Lord." Remember when we studied that?
"When they offered profane [or strange] fire," or another translation, "unauthorized fire," "before the Lord in the Wilderness of Sinai and they had no children. So, Eleazar and Ithamar ministered as priests in the presence of Aaron their father." One of the things I love about the Bible is that it never seeks to conceal the flaws of those that it writes about, its heroes, its stars, its ministers.
Here in the ministry there were two men that if a modern biographer were making a book about his family, he may not even want to even mention the two guys that sinned and God killed. He might just say, "You know, we have a family and we've been priests for a long time, and let me just tell you about the two priests that made it big." But the Bible never conceals the flaws even of its heroes, which helps authenticate the veracity and the validity of Scripture. It tells you who they really were.
You think that Abraham had a huge, humungous halo? Are you kidding? Abraham was somebody who lapsed in his faith. Isaac was somebody who lied and deceived. Moses was a guy who complained and disbelieved. David was a dude who committed adultery and killed people, and yet he was called "a man after God's own heart." Heroes, but all of the warts, all of the flaws that are mentioned. These two men died in their ministry before the Lord because of their sin.
I love photography and I've done photography, an amateur level, for many years. And there's one particular photographer I was always drawn to who took pictures many, many years ago called Yousuf Karsh. He used large-format camera. And he would position his subjects, most of them very famous, like Winston Churchill, with a harsh light, high contrast, and position their faces often times where it wouldn't hide their flaws, like if they had a mole or a wart, but actually accentuate it.
One of the reasons he did this is to bring these famous people down to a normal level for people who would view his photographs. And you look at them close and you study the definition and the detail of those large eight-by-ten negatives, and you go, "That dude looked like that? Man." And it makes you feel really good about yourself. [laughter] I love those kind of pictures. It's honest photography. There's no Photoshopping back then, no concealing of the flaws. So, I love that the Bible does this.
On the other hand, we have in the death of these two priests that we have already studied, and we just see the mention of it here, we see the importance of something that is often neglected in ministry. It's called the fear of the Lord, the fear of the Lord. "The fear of the Lord," the Bible says, "is the beginning of wisdom." It's "the beginning of knowledge." There is often times in ministry a sad lack of the fear of the Lord. And after a while people in the ministry are full of themselves. They believe their own press. They start getting a celebrity kind of a status. They start losing accountability, and they forget the fear of the Lord, as these two here did. They forgot about it.
"Nadab and Abihu had died," verse 4," before the Lord when they offered profane fire." What is that? Well, we can't be certain, but the NIV calls it "unauthorized fire." We don't know exactly what they did, but the guess is God had prescribed, if you remember, that the priest had to follow a very rigid, detailed set of commands to light incense. They couldn't just pull out a match or a cigarette lighter and light the incense.
They had to take a coal, a special coal from off of the brass altar in the courtyard where animals were sacrificed, a live coal that was perpetually kept burning while the children of Israel were camped. They took a coal and they brought the coal from off the altar of sacrifice, and they brought it near before the Lord, and they put incense on that coal. It is believed that these two guys wanted to take a shortcut.
"Why should I go all the way out there and get a coal, there's a coal right here? Let's just use this, or let's make up our own and get a different source of fire," to make it easier, to make it more manageable, and sort of a shortcut to get the job done, to light the incense. So, it is believed that they took fire, unauthorized fire from another source rather than the source God specified, the altar of sacrifice. And God struck them dead---taking shortcuts, being lazy.
My dad was big on a work ethic---get up early, work hard---and he instilled that in us. And he could tell if we were slacking off. And I really honestly to this day appreciate that kind of work ethic. But I don't like to see laziness, especially in the ministry. I remember something by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and it's a quote I have almost memorized, but it's just stuck in my mind.
He said, "If you plan to be lazy, there are plenty of avocations in which you will not be wanted; but, above all, you are not wanted in the Christian ministry. For he who finds the ministry an easy life will discover it will bring a hard death." Air force pilots have a little saying: "There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots." Get the meaning? If you're a bold pilot, you take shortcuts, you take risks, and often because you do that your life expectancy is cut short.
You can get into an accident much quicker by being too bold. You won't become old. Same with the priesthood; there are old priests and there are bold priests, but there are no old, bold priests. These two priests were a little too brash, a little too bold, taking a shortcut, getting too close to the edge, and God killed them. Which brings up a very important question: Does God still to this today?
Well, no, not in the same way. And aren't we glad? I am. I'm so glad for God's mercy. I love the Scripture that says, "His mercies are new every morning." Awesome! Tomorrow morning I got a whole new boat load. I'm gonna need it. However, as I look through the Scriptures, it would seem that there were special times in which the Lord acted in this kind of a judgment at the beginning of certain times. Here was the beginning of a theocracy, God dwelling among his people in the tabernacle.
Later on will be the beginning of a monarchy under King David. And as the ark is being brought up to Jerusalem, one of the fellows, to keep the ark steady, named Uzza, puts out his hand to steady the ark, so that it won't fall over. But he's not supposed to touch the ark, the Levites, the priests are to guard it. But this dude just being practical, being pragmatic, so the thing won't spill out on the ground, touches it with his hand---God strikes him dead.
Then in the book of Acts, chapter 5, there's Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the Holy Spirit and they're struck dead. So, at the beginning of a theocracy, at the beginning of the monarchy, and at the beginning of the New Testament economy God showed himself to be holy and to demand holiness. And though that was a one-time deal, and that wasn't repeated except at those special times, later on we read in the book of Frist Corinthians where Paul writes about the Lord's Supper.
And he says, "You know, in your own church," he writes to the Corinthians, "many of your people are sick and have even died because they have not discerned the communion service correctly, the Lord's body." So, the idea is that God was showing in that Gentile territory that God demands holiness, and showing him to be pure and holy and something that---a standard that he demanded. So at special times the Lord showed up and the Lord did this. Well, it happened to these two.
"The Lord spoke," verse 5, "to Moses, saying: 'Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that they may serve him. And they shall attend to his needs and the needs of the whole congregation before the tabernacle of meeting, to do the work of tabernacle. Also they shall attend to the furnishings of the tabernacle of meeting, to the needs of the children of Israel, to do the work of the tabernacle. And you shall give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are given entirely to him from among the children of Israel.' "
The work of the tabernacle was too big and too daunting a task for just the priests, just the family of Aaron or the Kohathites and Merarites and Gershonites to handle. They needed the whole tribe of Levi. All of them had to be given to them for the work to guard the tabernacle from people who just want to come in and go, "I just want to go in and talk to God in the Holy of Holies." "Uh, no. God will kill you if you do that. Stay back."
Also, they were given, the Levites were given to the priesthood for miscellaneous items: to carry, and to manage, and to do work that the priest themselves couldn't do. I find a corollary in the New Testament. Who's our great High Priest? Jesus Christ, it's always the right answer, Jesus Christ the great High Priest. Do you know that the Father gave you to Jesus? And just like the priests were given the Levites to aid them in the ministry, the Father has given all of you, all of us to Jesus Christ.
In John, chapter 17, what's called the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus, he says, "Father," Jesus says, "Father, I have manifested your name to those that you have given me out of the world. For they were yours, but you have given them to me." God the Father gave you to Jesus to work with him in some form of ministry. It's a beautiful thought---we are colaborers with Christ.
" 'And you shall appoint," verse 10, " 'Aaron and his sons, and they shall attend to their priesthood; but the outsider who comes near shall be put to death.' " Now, something I just want to make mention of we saw it in Exodus, but I don't know, that was like fifty-five years ago when were in Exodus. It was a while back. In the book of Exodus, chapter 19, God made a statement I want to just bring you back to in your mind.
He said to the children of Israel, his people, "I want to make you a kingdom of priests," a kingdom of priests. And one of the things we read in the Old Testament is that God's desire was that the children of Israel be a light to the Gentile nations, to bring Gentile, nonbelieving, pagan nations to the light, the glorious light that Israel enjoyed, to bring them to Israel's God---a kingdom of priests, the whole nation a priesthood.
But what happened is they began turning inward, inward, inward, became very closed. So, when you read the New Testament, the scribes, and the Pharisees, and the Sadducees, you see how narrow-minded they were and legalistic they were. They had become so inward, they hated unbelievers. They didn't even want to touch them or walk down the street where they were. That was never God's desire. God's desire is that they turn outward, not turn inward.
I brought a book with me that I mentioned a while back, and I bring it again tonight just to share with you something that reflected my own heart. And I'm just going to read a paragraph. It's a book called What They Didn't Teach You in Seminary by James Emery White. And he talks about in a chapter called "Forever Young: A Tendency of Churches," he said a church that is left to itself will naturally turn inward.
"A church, left to itself, will naturally turn inward, which is why it takes a disproportionate amount of leadership energy to keep it turned outward. I do not have to spend any effort to get people to have their needs met, to take a class they're interested in for spiritual growth, or to worship enthusiastically to great music they like. But it takes an enormous amount of effort to get people to die to themselves in order to reach out the others---not simply to invite others to come, but to sacrifice themselves in ways necessary for growth."
And then he writes, "Another natural descent involves becoming outdated. Left to itself, the church will find itself frozen in time in terms of decor, style of music, technology, message topics, and methodology." Do you know that when I first introduced screens into the sanctuary here at Calvary, I was inundated with letters saying, "You are so worldly allowing technology, movie screens, to be brought into the church." We were putting words to songs up, but they just couldn't get passed the idea of technology and screens in a church.
So, we've always had complaints like that. But then he says this: "But the most overlooked and least discussed natural flow---and perhaps the most deadly---is that if let to itself, the church will grow old. Why is this the most deadly? Because if you grow old, it is almost certain that you have turned inward and become outdated. And that means you have started the death spiral."
And then he gives research, LifeWay research, of the Southern Baptist Church. And the "Southern Baptist membership will fall by nearly 50 percent by 2050 unless the aging denomination reverses a fifty-year trend and does more to reach out to young adults. According to the research, 'The difference in the mean age of Southern Baptists versus the United States population shows the Southern Baptist Convention members older, especially since 1993.'
"Some blame this on secular society; some blame traditional approaches to ministry; some blame new forms of individualism that lead Christian adults away from institutions in general; and some blame the lack of evangelism. But here's the truth," he writes, in closing, "the natural flow of the church is to skew old. Left to itself, that is what it will do. It will age. You take your hand off that wheel, and that is what will happen."
Now, I am an aging person. When we started the church, we were in our twenties. And some of you remember, "Oh, those choruses that we used to sing, there's just so---oh I love them and I miss them." Well, when we sang them, we got flak then for singing them. When Calvary as a movement first introduced the kind of "modern worship" in the 1960s and '70s that it did, it got written up and bad-mouthed by every church and every Christian magazine in the country.
Now, you notice that things change a little bit around here. "I don't know if I like those changes with the kind of music and the lights and the volume." Let me just speak something candidly to you: I am assuming that most of you love the Lord, that you are saved, that you know him. And I'm assuming that you have a heart for the lost. Now, I don't know that to be true. If you don't, you're really in trouble. But I'm assuming you know the Lord, you love the Lord, and that you have a heart for the lost.
I believe that some of you also are lamenting the fact that your kids or grandkids are not following Christ maybe like they once did, and you wish that somebody would reach out to the youth. Well, that's one of the things we try to do with events, with certain outreaches we have, and with styles of music is to reach young. Allow me the opportunity to reach the young.
And if that means you'll have to make a sacrifice so that you don't turn inward, and maybe get a pair of earplugs, or put up with something, overlook something. But I'll tell you what, you're kids and grandkids will think it's cool. And by all means, and any means, I want to reach to the next generation and the next generation and the next generation. [applause]
So, just as Israel turned inward and made that mistake, and God said, "Okay, you won't be a nation of priests, here's the priesthood to represent." I'm praying that we will never turn so inward that we're only thinking about "our experience and worship and the songs that I like," rather than turning outward and bringing people to church, and bringing our kids in, and doing evangelism. That will be on our palette front and center. And I got on a soapbox, so I took a little bit of time.
" 'So you shall appoint Aaron,' " verse 10, " 'his sons, they shall attend to their priesthood; but the outsider who comes near shall be put to death.' " Do you think God was serious about this? Oh man, you get into the book of First Samuel and you discover that the Ark of the Covenant was stolen by the Philippines and taken down to Ashdod. Did I say Philippines? [laughter] You didn't read that when they actually took the ark over to the Philippines?
There's some people who believe the Ark of the Covenant is there today, just like they do in Ethiopia---the Philistines. If you're Filipino forgive me. I didn't want to say that your people stole God's ark. [laughter] But the Philistines did take the ark, and they brought it to Ashdod, and they put it in the temple of Dagon their god. And the next morning they saw the statue of Dagon was on its face, as if it were worshiping the ark of God.
So, they stood the statue back up, and the next day it was down again. This time the head and the hands were off. Then God struck the people of that city with tumors. And they got so upset because they were dying off, they decided, "Let's send the ark over to Ekron, another Philistine city. It's like, "Wha---what are you thinking?" They send it to another city. The Ekronites said, "What? What are you doing by sending the ark of God to us? Do you want to kill us?" So they sent it down to Beth Shemesh, another Philistine city. And because those people looked in the ark, they died. God took this seriously. Worship was carefully prescribed.
"Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 'Now, behold, I myself have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of every firstborn that opens the womb among the children of Israel. Therefore the Levites shall be mine, because all the firstborn are mine. On the day that I struck the firstborn of the land of Egypt, I sanctified myself to the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast. They shall be mine: I am the Lord.' "
Let your mind go back to the book of Exodus, the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn. Because of the death of the firstborn of Egypt, God claimed all the firstborn of the children of Israel. "They are mine. I want your kids, the firstborn in your family." There were twenty-two---well, I'll just read it. Verse 14, "The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness, saying: 'Number the children of Levi by their fathers' houses, their families; you shall number every male from a month old and above.'
"So Moses numbered them according to the word of the Lord, as he was commanded. These were the sons of Levi by their names: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari." Now of all of these priestly families there's going to be twenty-two thousand in the tribe of Levi. It's the smallest tribe. If you go down to verse 39, it says that. "All who were numbered of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron numbered at the commandment of the Lord, by their families, all the males from a month old and above, were twenty-two thousand."
Now, again, that's just the males, but it represents the smallest tribe in Israel. The family of Kohath and the family of Merari and the family of Gershon all had different jobs, tasks in the tabernacle. The Kohathites, the sons of Kohath, they took the articles. They were in charge of the articles of the tabernacle: Ark of the Covenant, altar of incense, golden candlestick, all of those altars, golden altar of incense, etcetera. That was their job, to manage it, maintain it, transport it---that's Kohath.
The Gershonites which camped west of the tabernacle, they were in charge of all of the curtains, and all of the hangings, all of the skins that covered the Holy Place and Holy of Holies. And, finally, the sons of Merari who camped north of the tabernacle, all of the infrastructure they were in charge of: the poles, the sockets, the boards, the pegs. They had to transport that. They're counted; their duties are given.
And then, verse 40, "The Lord says to Moses: 'Number all of firstborn males of the children of Israel a month old and above, and take the number of their names. And you shall take the Levites for me---for I am the Lord---instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel, the livestock of Levites instead of all the firstborn among the livestock of the children of Israel.' And Moses numbered the firstborn among the children of Israel, as the Lord commanded him. And all the firstborn males according to the number of the names a month old and above, of those who were numbered of them, were twenty-two thousand two hundred and seventy-three."
These are the children born in the twelve and a half months that they left Egypt and were at Mount Sinai. Those are the firstborn in that tribe, the number is given: twenty-two thousand two hundred and seventy-three. The tribe of Levi is twenty-two thousand. So, there's two hundred seventy-three more of the firstborn than of the tribe of the Levites. You understand that? So, they have to be redeemed somehow.
So, watch this: verse 46, " 'For the redemption of the two hundred seventy-three of the firstborn of the children of Israel, who are more than the number of Levites, you shall take five shekels for each one individually; you shall take them in the currency of the shekel of the sanctuary, the shekel of twenty gerahs. And you shall give the money, with which the excess number of them is redeemed, to Aaron and his sons.' So Moses took the redemption money."
Verse 50, "From the firstborn of the children of Israel he took the money, one thousand three hundred and sixty-five shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary." So, twenty-two thousand Levites took the place of the twenty-two thousand two hundred seventy-three firstborn who were born in that twelve and a half months. God substituted the tribe of Levi to minister before the Lord in exchange for those that he claimed to be his, because of the tenth plague in Egypt, the death of the firstborn. Follow me?
But there's a difference of two hundred seventy-three. So God let them be redeemed by five shekels apiece, or a total one thousand three hundred sixty-five shekels, which is equivalent of one hundred seventy pounds of silver. That's going to go to the tribe of Levi for the continuation of the tabernacle. And we finish it out, verse 51, "And Moses gave their redemption money to Aaron and his sons, according to the word of the Lord, as the Lord commanded Moses."
The priests, as we close, the priests had different instructions than the rest of the people. Why? Because they were the priests. They were servants of the Lord. They dealt with holy things. They had a certain level of integrity, of accountability, of holiness above the rest. The book of James says, "Be not many teachers, for you will receive the greater condemnation," or in our translation, "a stricter judgment." This is so important.
Later on you're going to read about, in your Old Testament, the sons of Eli the priest Hophni and Phinehas. Not only did they take shortcuts, they took the best of the offerings that should have been sacrificed to the Lord. And they put a meat hook in the pot, and they took the best meat home for themselves, causing the children of Israel to hate church, to hate the sacrifices of the Lord. And Eli the priest stood by and did nothing. So God sets a higher standard, and we'll finish out with these families and tribes next time we meet. Let's pray together.
Father, we are amazed at the idea of holiness. These were to be separated men, set apart for a very, very unique kind of a calling, showing us that the worship of God is never to take a secondary place, but a primary place. To you it was all important. It was prescribed a certain way. It was to be done a certain way. And so, Lord, I pray that for us worship would never be secondary, our mind would never say, "Oh, they're just singing songs, I can come later."
But to come and sit in your presence, and using the vehicle of music and song to pour out our hearts a sacrifice of praise. And through the ministry of the Word, which is part of worship; and the ministry of prayer, which is part of worship; and the ministry of song, which is part of worship, our hearts would be brought into communion with you, and be right with you.
I pray, Father, that we would be kept from turning inward, and look to a world that doesn't know you, and to a generation that we don't want to lose, bringing Jesus to their level. We're fishers of men, Lord, show us to be creative with the bait, to honor you and glorify you with the songs and worship experience that we have, but to reflect the joy that we should have in your presence. And that it would draw men and women to yourself, in Jesus' name, amen.