The Lord spoke to Moses, saying,“Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.” Numbers 13:1-2
Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.”So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height.And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night.And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness!Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?”And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” Numbers 13:31-14:4
It is bad enough when God’s people make decisions for themselves out of a spirit of fear; it is a whole different level of bad when we spread that fear like an infectious disease in accord with some ungodly agenda to scare people into agreeing with us. …
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.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. Numbers 14:30-32
Once it becomes clear that God is calling your church to join Him in a particular adventure, it is always troubling when those few naysayers vote “no”. The struggle is only compounded by the realization that this is the very same group of people who voted “no” on the last big initiative as well…and the one before that, and the one before that. You know the ones I mean. They are the pot-stirrers in your church who have the spiritual gift of voting “no”.
They may be a minority, even a tiny minority in terms of numbers, but they can be vocal. They can also be influential. Like the 10 naysaying spies, these individuals can spread their negativity like a wildfire through the congregation. And before you know it, your people’s fears can seem insurmountable, faith is out the window, and a vision is well on the way to dying a slow and painful death.
You know how Caleb’s story ended. In what may be one of the greatest “I told you so” moments in all of God’s story, Caleb ends up receiving God’s reward because he was courageous enough to speak the truth and because he stayed with all those people who voted against him for another 40 long years. We don’t know …
And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Luke 20:8
He said to them,“Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Luke 20:25
Luke 20 brings us two encounters between Jesus and his culture which centered around his authority. By this time, of course (late in Jesus’ ministry on earth), the tension was mounting and the danger building…not unlike some of the “culture wars” in which the church finds itself today. There are plenty of opportunities for us to speak into those divisions. Of course we want to speak truth. But we can speak truth with hearts at war or we can speak truth with hearts set on healing.
Our words can be “fitly spoken, like apples of gold…” or they can “curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” The choice is ours. And the model is Jesus.
In the first passage (Luke 20:1-8), the chief priests, scribes and elders questioned Jesus about the authority with which he was acting. They were baiting him into what they presumed would be blasphemy, but Jesus would not bite. He would not lower himself to engage in a war of words. Oh, he could have…He knew the truth. He could have justified hammering them with that truth. He could have convinced himself that he was not afraid of the gospel and that it was time to take a stand for truth. He could have used pretty much any of the excuses we use today to blast our culture with “the truth”. But he sidestepped the entire engagement. He modeled restraint and held his tongue, even on a hot topic such as his spiritual authority in this world. Sometimes, we are much better …
So Moses went back to the LORD and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” Exodus 32:31-32
Of the men who went to explore the land, only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh survived. Numbers 14:38
Thinking today about the twelve spies in Numbers who explored and investigated the promised land and reported back to the people. Ten of the spies brought a discouraging report and two (Joshua and Caleb) brought a faith-filled report. The people went with the majority report and cowered from the task to which God had called them. All of them were cursed and sent to wander in the wilderness another forty years. Caleb and Joshua had to go with them.
I’m wondering if Joshua and Caleb had a regular Tuesday night support group for each other during those forty years of living under the consequences of everyone else’s mistakes. Can you even imagine the frustration…the pain of giving up forty of their best years to pay the price for other people’s sin? Can you imagine the temptation of gathering the entire assembly of Israel together on the annual anniversary of their collective cowardice and, together, Joshua and Caleb yelling out “We told you so!” But as far as we know, they did no such thing. As far as we know, Joshua and Caleb bit their tongues and continued to lead well throughout those forty years in the wilderness. That is what leadership sometimes calls us to do in the church…to suffer the consequences of other people’s mistakes.
But not only is it a call to suffer consequences, it is a call …