#6 (THE "DIFFICULTIES ON THE JOURNEY" SERIES)
"DIFFICULTIES OF TAKING TOO LONG!"
TEXT: Numbers 21:4-9 John 3:14-15 II Kings 18:4
INTRO: One of the more difficult things for us as Christians to do is to trust God's timing on answers to prayers. So often it seems to us that God does not answer our prayers on time, or He is so late in coming to our aid. We often feel confused and sometimes even bitter that it took so long. We even come to believe the idea that God is always late, even too late at times.
God's sense of timing however is not like ours, He is often working on other things in our lives when there is “apparent” delay, in actual terms, "TOO LATE" is not even in God's vocabulary ... it can't be! He can never be too late! He is outside of time, so He can't be late at anything, it is just that He has other reasons we don't always see when it appears to us to be too late.
ILLUS: FRANKLIN Roosevelt WAS SHAPED INTO BEING A GREAT MAN TO A LARGE EXTENT BY THE CRIPPLING DISEASE OF POLIO. HE WAS A VERY PATIENT MAN, NOT QUICK TO QUIT AT ANYTHING, AND ABLE TO ENDURE GREAT TRIALS WITH AN UNUSUAL PEACE. SOMEONE ONCE ASKED HIM HOW HE COULD REMAIN SO PATIENT THROUGH THE BITTER AND VICIOUS ATTACKS TO WHICH HE WAS SUBJECTED TO CONSTANTLY FROM THE PRESS AND RADIO. HE SIMPLY RESPONDED WITH, "BROTHER, IF YOU HAD SPENT TWO YEARS RELEARNING H0W TO WIGGLE YOUR BIG TOE YOU WOULD LEARN WHAT PATIENCE IS TOO!" -- Source Unknown
What may be a delay to us may be a teaching time for us in God's plan. They are often character building plans of God, and preparations for our future that God has. In God's plans, delays have meaning. What we must fight at such times is the bitter and grumbling heart that can develop if we lose sight of this great truth.
PROP. SENT: God's Word teaches us that the Lord will never leave nor forsake us, in His plans there are no delays, such times are designed by Him for other purposes. "All things work to our good who love the Lord and are called according to His purposes." ... "ALL things!" God is never late!
I. POSTPONEMENT! 21:4-5
A. Delays! 21:4
1. 4O years had come and gone, the promise land was almost in sight! All they had to do was cross over by going through the land of the Edomites.
a. The Edomites were related to Israel, they were the descendants of Esau.
b. Moses did not wish to have a confrontation with distant relatives so he first asks them if Israel could have safe passage through their land, but this is denied!
c. Moses' plan was thus to take a little longer and go around the long way so as to avoid a major fight! This would mean a delay in entering the promise land but it would avoid a war with relatives!
d. Israel had just finished a fight with the Canaanites, and they were flush with victory!
2. This delay didn't sit well with Israel, they were flush with victory and a bit arrogant and tired of the long trip, and they wanted their reward and they wanted it now!
a. It was still God's plan to give them the Promise land but God wanted them to enter without fighting their own brothers the Edomites!
b. They could only see what they wanted, and "RIGHT NOW!"
c. They were tired of waiting! They would not stand for any further delay in getting what they wanted; after all, they wanted the right thing!
3. The way Moses was going to take them was a route that led back to Egypt!!!
a. To Israel it was like the 3rd time heading away from the Promise land!
b. They became seriously “discouraged” (KJV) or “impatient” (NIV) with God!
4. They acted as though they were the only godly people to have had to face a “delay” before!
5. There have been many other godly people who have faced delays before without becoming angry with God.
a. Abraham & Sarah – it took decades for God's promises to be fulfilled for a son; delay after delay had sent in, but this only intensified the miraculous nature of Issac's birth! He finally comes when Abraham is 100, Sarah is 90!
b. Israel herself had spent 430 years in Egyptian bondage before their delivery, what's another few days after 40 in the wilderness!? It was the 430 years in a prosperous nation like Egypt that had allowed the original family of Joseph's 70 members to increase to 3 million! It had not been wasted time!
c. Ruth had waited years for God to provide a kinsman redeemer after her first husband had died, but what she got was greater than she could have ever dreamed of!
d. Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego must have assumed God was too late when they were shoved into the fiery furnace ... but the lateness of their delivery brought the king's attention to the figure of the son of God in the fire!
e. Daniel must have wondered if God was too late as they shoved him into the den of lions, but it made the power of God real to an entire heathen nation the next morning and gave Daniel an even greater standing to witness after he came out alive.
f. Even the Father according to Gal 4:4 understood that there was a proper time to send the Messiah, He didn't come too late although it was thousands of years after Adam and Eve sin: “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights as sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba Father.’”
6. Therefore we need to learn not to scoff at delays! “Knowing this, that the testing of your faith worketh patience … and patience must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything!” James 1:3-4
a. Don't settle for any substitute when tried, stay true and allow God the time necessary to do what it is He is doing!
b. Don't rush to settle for some other substitute answer just to have a quick answer! Nothing good comes to those who lose patience with God!
ILLUS: DURING THE SIEGE OF LENINGRAD, THE PEOPLE BECAME SO DESPERATE FOR BREAD THAT THEY BEGAN USING ANYTHING AS A SUBSTITUTE ... INCLUDING SUCH THINGS AS WALL PAPER PASTE, AND SAWDUST. WHILE THIS "BREAD" SATISFIED THE IMMEDIATE HUNGER, IT OFFERED NO REAL NUTRITION, AND THUS PEOPLE STARVED TO DEATH BY THE THOUSANDS! IT FILLED THE NEED, BUT WAS NOT THE ANSWER! -- Source Unknown
B. Disillusionment! 21:5
1. In one of their stronger complaints recorded they lash out once again at God and His servant Moses!
a. They are disillusioned with the walk of faith; it has been hard and long, too long in their minds! They will not wait on God for an answer; they will take matters into their own hands! -- Always a formula for a disaster!
b. This delay was designed to give them their strength back, they had just finished a military campaign against the Canaanites and with God's help had won a wonderful victory!
c. This delay would have allowed them time to get refreshed, and to avoid making an enemy out of their brothers the Edomites. God had reasons for the delay!
2. Rather than see God’s plan or mercy they express their bitterness with a 3 fold complaint:
a. “There is no bread” (they had manna, just not other bread!)
b. “There is no water” (they had just gotten water from the rock earlier!)
c. “We hate this detestable heavenly bread” ... the word here for “hate” is unusually strong in Hebrew, it literally meant, "WORTHLESS" or "DESPISE."
d. This is tantamount to spurning God's grace, a most serious complaint of bitter proportions!
3. It was like slapping God across the face! This level of bitterness would require a quick and serious response from God lest they learn to take God's grace for granted!
4. They had failed to see that all these provisions from God were promises of better things to come, they should have seen the water from the rock, the manna from heaven, the shoes that never wore out, all these things should have been signs to them of God's promises coming true, all to inspire them to believe for the greater promise of the “land flowing with milk and honey!”
ILLUS: LIKE THOSE WHO TRAVELED WITH CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS WHEN HE SET SAIL FOR THE FAR EAST BY GOING WEST ACROSS THE OCEAN. THEY TRAVELED AND TRAVELED WITH NO HOPE THAT COLUMBUS WAS RIGHT ABOUT THE WORLD BEING ROUND AND BEING ABLE TO REACH THE EAST BY TRAVELING WEST! WITHOUT SIGHT OF LAND FOR SO LONG THEY BEGAN TO BECOME DISILLUSIONED! THEY WERE ALMOST MUTINOUS WHEN A SMALL BRANCH OF TWIGS WITH LEAVES ON THEM FLOATED NEAR THEIR BOAT, THIS SMALL SIGN RANG OUT THAT SOMETHING GREATER WAS AHEAD THOUGH THEY COULD SEE NOTHING ... BUT HOPE SPRANG UP IN THEIR HEARTS AND SURE ENOUGH, THE SMALL SIGN POINTED TO THE BIGGER REALITY OF LAND; VICTORY WAS THEIRS BY JUST WAITING A LITTLE LONGER! -- Source Unknown
5. Their failure to see manna, water, and the non-wearing shoes on their feet were caused by impatience and bitterness!
6. Nothing good can come to those who are bitter and impatient!
II. POISON! 21:6-7
A. Death! 21:6
1. Since they are already poisoned in their hearts God sends them poison in the way of "fiery snakes!"
a. There is irony at work here since the snake was the symbol in Egypt of power and life, or virility. The crown of Pharaoh was fashioned with a cobra snake on it!
b. They had longed for Egypt and its symbols, now they get it, snakes come to them!
2. These serpents however do not give life but bring death!
a. The poison they inject must have given a sensation of fire, thus they are called "fiery serpents" to describe the sensation of their bite.
b. God wants them to know that such bitterness is like a poison, and boy this is still true!
c. You ever try to minister to someone who is bitter? No matter what you say it doesn't help, their whole attitude is poison!
3. Satan is likened to a snake and it is still his job to make us bitter toward God, and if you accept his bite and take his poison you too will die spiritually.
a. It was evidently a slow painful death, not immediate.
b. That is exactly the way sin works in our lives!
4. Their unwillingness to accept a short delay now brought tragic results!
5. When we become bitter against God because He doesn't answer our prayers when we think He should the poison of bitterness will destroy our soul!
B. Desperation! 21:7
1. Unlike their fathers however they quickly understood the nature of their sin and immediately they confess it!
a. This was their first step in the right direction!
b. They not only confess their sin against God but against Moses too!
2. They seek God out through prayer with confession!
a. God will always respond to this kind of prayer from us!
b. In desperation they cry out to God!
ILLUS: THEY WERE A LITTLE LIKE ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON WHEN HE WAS A BOY. HE WANTED TO GET AWAY FROM HIS FATHER, SO HE HID IN A TRUNK IN A CLOSET. WHEN HE CLOSED THE LID HE LOCKED HIMSELF IN THE TRUNK! AFTER A WHILE THE DARKNESS AND LONELINESS BEGAN TO CLOSE IN ON HIM AND HE FOUND HIMSELF YELLING FOR HIS FATHER AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS AND POUNDING TO GET OUT! IT WAS A LONG TIME BEFORE HIS FATHER CAME, AND A LOCKSMITH HAD TO BE CALLED TO COME AND OPEN THE TRUNK UP. HE WAS A VERY CHASTENED AND GRATEFUL BOY TO JUMP INTO HIS FATHER'S ARMS WHEN HE GOT OUT! HE DISCOVERED THAT GETTING AWAY FROM HIS FATHER WASN'T ALL THAT HE THOUGHT IT WOULD BE! HOW THANKFUL HE WAS FOR A MERCIFUL FATHER TO HELP HIM IN HIS REBELLION! – Source Unknown
3. Moses too loves them, and he prays for them!
III. PERSPECTIVE! 21:8-9; Jn. 3:14-15
A. Deliverance! 21:8
1. In one of the stranger stories in the Bible God instructs Moses to build a “bronze snake” (really copper!) on a staff and lift it up in the camp for the people to see, all who look upon it will be healed!
a. At first glance this seems mighty strange for God to command this! However, the image that Moses is to make is a reddish color (copper), and probably the snake was impaled on the pole signifying it as having been slain!
b. This makes this request more sensible now, to have an impaled snake on a pole showed God's power to destroy the snake, thus those who looked toward it were accepting God's power to destroy the enemy!
2. This might have also been a witness of God's power to destroy Egypt since the serpent was Egypt’s symbol!
a. The symbolism is important here, God destroyed the serpent and those who looked at what God did were healed!
b. It is with this concept in mind later that John refers to Jesus being lifted up like the serpent; and all who look on him are saved!
3. This is still the symbol of healing today, all doctors use the symbol of a snake wrapped around a staff as the symbol of healing!
a. And one must go to the doctors or look to them for healing if they want help!
b. The “looking” was an act of faith and obedience, and faith brings healing!
4. It was not necessary to touch the brass serpent, just look at it! And so, though we weren't alive to touch Jesus when he died for us we can still look upon Him and be saved!
5. All those who refused to look died, they were on their own!
a. They had to take advantage of the moment to respond in obedience, looking away would only bring death.
b. And, if they waited too long death would also come – they couldn’t DELAY!
ILLUS: ALEXANDER THE GREAT HAD AN INTERESTING PRACTICE WHEN HE LAID SIEGE TO A CITY. HE HAD A GREAT LAMP WHICH HE WOULD HAVE LIT AND SET UP FOR THE WHOLE CITY TO SEE. INSTRUCTIONS WOULD BE GIVEN THAT THOSE IN THE CITY WOULD HAVE THE FREEDOM TO SURRENDER UNHARMED AS LONG AS THE LAMP WAS LIT, BUT WHEN THE LAMP WAS EXTINGUISHED IT WOULD BE TOO LATE, ONCE OUT, THEY WOULD TAKE THE CITY AND KILL EVERYONE IT IN WITHOUT MERCY. WHILE THE LIGHT BURNED THEY WOULD FIND MERCY, BUT THEY HAD TO SURRENDER THEN, AFTER IT WAS TOO LATE! THIS IS TRUE WITH CHRIST, THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD, NOW IS THE TIME WHILE THE LIGHT OF THE GOSPEL BURNS TO SURRENDER TO CHRIST, ONCE THE LIGHT IS GONE OUT OF THE WORLD IT WILL BE TOO LATE! – Source Unknown
B. Deliverer! 21:9 John 3:14-15
1. Those that looked upon the bronze snake were looking upon the power of a God who can destroy the serpent!
a. And how true in Christ this is, on the cross Jesus broke the power of that old serpent the devil, and by taking the serpent’s poison for us, all who look to Christ will be saved!
b. This is the meaning of John 3:14-15 “and as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whoever believeth in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
2. And so we still must come to Him, each week we come together and look upon Jesus lifted up on the cross so that we live and can be healed!
a. And so we must trust Him, for He is good!
b. We must come to look upon the light of the World so that we are not blind!
ILLUS: YEARS AGO A MAN DRIVING THROUGH PENNSYLVANIA SAW A LARGE FIELD OF MULES, ON INQUIRING HE WAS TOLD THAT THE MULES WORKED ALL WEEK IN THE COAL MINES BELOW GROUND AND SO THEY MUST BE BROUGHT UP EVERY SUNDAY, AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK TO KEEP THEM FROM GOING BLIND IN THE CONSTANT DARKNESS. THEY MUST BE BROUGHT UP TO THE SUN SO THAT THEY CONTINUE TO SEE. AND SO MUST WE LOOK UPON THE SON OF GOD THAT WE MIGHT BE ABLE TO SEE CLEARLY WHAT GOD IS DOING, AND SO TO TRUST HIM IN ALL THINGS, EVEN WHEN IT SEEMS HE HAS DELAYED ANSWERING US! – Source Unknown
CONCLUSION: The concept of "too late" does not exist with God! What are delays to us is always part of God's perfect timing! God always has perfect timing, so when He doesn’t act in your time frame trust Him! He cannot be "too late!" Delays build character and faith ... "and when patience has finished its work, we will be mature and complete, not lacking anything!" James 1:4