Sun. a.m. AGCC 4/30/2000
"STAFF IN HAND"
TEXT: Ex. 12:11; 17:5-7 Num. 17:10; 20:8-12
INTRO:The emphasis to the Israelites to have a staff in hand when they left Egypt had two great significant elements to it:
(1. The staff was the symbol of the pilgrim who traveled
(2. It was the visible symbol of God's power during the exodus and wilderness journey.
What was the point? God wanted them to learn the identity and lessons of the pilgrim. Can you name qualities of pilgrims? (interview a few people in congregation for responses - some good responses below:)
(1. toughness - must learn to live with unpredictable environment
(2. keep life uncomplicated - simple and honorable
(3. sacrificial - put self behind the need of others
(4. maximize use of elements - frugal and creative
(5. must trust God completely - faith or confidence in God
(6. need to work together - cooperative efforts
As pilgrims they would learn important skills, and to focus only on what is really important.
As for the staff becoming the symbol of God's power, they learned that God's authority is simple faith acted out. So often those things which are simple are the most powerful!
ILLUS:Number of pages of the U.S. Constitution, the operating manual for a nation of 258 million people: 21 The number of pages of the operating manual of a Toyota Camry, which seats only five: 228 -- Hope Health Letter (10/95). "To Verify" (and think of the greatest document given man, just 10 commandments on two stone tablets!)
PROP. SENT: The Bible teaches us that we are to develop the tough skills of a pilgrim in our walk with God as we trust in the power of God to work in our lives.
I. PILGRIMS ON A JOURNEY Ex. 12:11; 17:5-7
A. Symbol of Simplicity Ex. 12:11
1. Every Israelite that night was to keep a staff in hand as they ate Passover, and to take it with them when they left.
a. The staff was the symbol of a pilgrim.
b. Even while eating in Egypt they were to be reminded that they are not residents of Egypt, they are now pilgrims set for a journey of faith!
2. As they held that staff they were realizing that they were going on a journey.
3. As pilgrims they would not be bogged down with unessential things, only the basics.
a. Pilgrims learn quickly what is really important!
b. Think of the pilgrims in our own history, they learned quickly what priorities to live by, and what to let go of.
4. As a pilgrim they would have little choice but to believe that God is sufficient!
ILLUS:God often puts us in situations that are too much for us so that we will learn that no situation is too much for him. Erwin W. Lutzer (1941- ) - Edythe Draper, Draper's Book of Quotations for the Christian World (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992). Entry 168.
5. As pilgrims they would learn the strength that comes from trusting God even in hardships.
a. Such hardships would prepare them to be kind and compassionate toward others who suffer … or they would become hard like the cruel Canaanites that lived in the promise land.
ILLUS:The story goes that Harry the Eighth, wandering one night in the streets of London in disguise, was met at the foot of a bridge by some of the night watchmen; and, not giving a good account of himself, he was carried off to the Poultry Compter and shut up for the night without fire or candle. On his liberation he made a grant of thirty chaldrons of coals and a quantity of bread for the solace of night prisoners in the Compter. Experience brings sympathy. Those who have felt sharp afflictions, terrible convictions, racking doubts, and violent temptations, will be zealous in consoling those in a similar condition. It would be good if the great Head of the church would put unsympathizing pastors into the Compter of trouble for a season until they could weep with those who weep. -- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Quotable Spurgeon, (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, Inc, 1990)
b. Such a journey as pilgrims would build the kind of character needed to become a great nation later … a principle seen even in our nation's greatness.
6. God was more concerned about their proper character development than He was of how quick they could get to the promise land.
a. They needed a transition from slaves to masters, hence the pilgrim stage!
b. The staff was their constant reminder of their pilgrimage.
B. Symbol of Supply Ex. 17:5-7
1. The staff took on another important symbol as they traveled, it became the visible sign of God's supply for them.
a. When they had no escape, God had Moses use the staff to part the Red Sea thus providing them an escape route where none had ever existed before!
b. Here in this text God has Moses take the staff and strike a rock to bring forth adequate supplies of water for all of Israel at a time when they thirsted.
c. When in Battle against the Amalekites (Ex. 17:9) Moses held up his hands WITH THE STAFF in them in order for Israel to stay victorious against their enemy.
2. The staff was but a small thing, but it stood for a huge principle!
a. No doubt the Egyptians learned quickly not to view Moses staff as a such a tiny insignificant item … Moses used the staff in nearly every plague to bring each plague into existence.
b. Who would ever have thought such a simple, small, useless implement could become the symbol of supply to two great nations!
(1. To Egypt is was a symbol of the supply of plagues or curses!
(2. To Israel it was the symbol of the supply of blessings!
ILLUS:If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito. -- Betty Reese. Leadership, Vol. 16, no. 2.
3. God has always used small things to go great things!
a. We must never underestimate God's use of small and insignificant things.
b. Zec 4:10 "Who despises the day of small things?"
c. God used a baby in manger to change human history - Jesus came in a small way, in a small town!
4. Israel never lacked for any supply in their pilgrimage, Moses' staff served as the constant reminder and symbol of God's supply. Once in the Promise land with Joshua leading Israel the staff was replaced with a sword … the symbol of victory!
II. POWER IN THE JOURNEY Num. 17:10; 20:8-12
A. Symbol of Supernatural Num. 17:10
1. Aaron's staff also became important, it was the symbol of God's supernatural power.
a. When authority became an issue and who could speak for God, Moses was instructed to take Aaron's staff along with others and place them in front of the Ark … and the staff that miraculously budded was God's chosen leader.
b. Aaron's of course supernaturally budded.
2. This was to be a sign to the rebellious that God's supernatural actions are not determined by man's best logic!
a. So important was this symbol of the supernatural that it is preserved in the Ark of the covenant permanently with its fresh buds intact!
b. This supernatural act profoundly impacted everyone in Israel, it scared the rebellious but probably comforted the godly. 17:12
3. God's work is done best by God's power, not ours!
a. The supernatural is just as important today as it has always been!
b. Those who argue that God doesn't do the supernatural anymore are simply ignorant, even salvation is a supernatural act, and if there is at least one supernatural act still taking place why not others?
4. The power of God to change lives, to heal the sick, to provide in ways not ever dreamed of … all these things come from a supernatural God!
a. God asks us to do the NATURAL
b. But, God alone does the SUPER!
5. It is not our skills as a speaker that gives us power to witness, it is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that will change people's lives!
ILLUS:Rochester, New York, was dramatically transformed by [Charles Finney's] work there in 1830-31 in what has been called the greatest year of spiritual awakening in American history. Shops were closed so people could attend his meetings, and as a result of the changed hearts, the town taverns went out of business. -- "Charles Grandison Finney--19th Century Giant of American Revivalism," Christian History, Issue 20.
6. Every use of Moses' staff or Aaron's showed God's supernatural power at work among God's people.
a. It was a symbol of God's power as well as the people's pilgrimage.
b. If God's power can flow through a stick, why not a human?
B. Symbol of Sacredness Num. 20:8-12
1. As a symbol of God's power the staff was not to be treated lightly or in a common manner.
a. In this passage (which occurs at the end of their journey, unlike the staff being used to strike the rock at the beginning of their journey in Ex. 17:5-7) Moses is NOT asked to strike the rock, but to speak to it.
b. However, Moses' anger and tiredness of the long journey and his frustration with the people caused him to forget the importance of God's sacredness and instead of speaking to the rock he lashes out at it TWICE!
c. Moses was out of control … and he MISUSES GOD'S AUTHORITY as symbolized in the staff.
2. Such a display of abuse of God's authority in a public fashion cannot be ignored … though Moses had been faithful for 40 years as a leader this can not be tolerated or Israel would learn to abuse God's authority or take if lightly or for granted.
a. So Moses is punished by not being allowed to enter the promise land!
b. This seems so harsh, but the price of just letting it go was too great!
c. Israel already had too often taken God for granted or His power, this was no time to let them think they could abuse sacred things without a price tag.
3. Though a simple thing like this staff was normally unimportant, it now represented great truths that cannot be mocked.
a. So often people forget that it is really the simple truths of Christianity that make us powerful and strong.
b. It is not the deep theologian that has more power, it is the one who has mastered the simple dynamics of childlike faith in God!
ILLUS:Robert Fulghum wrote in the Kansas City Times, "Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do, and how to be, I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandbox at nursery school. "These are the things I learned: Share everything. Play fair. Don't hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don't take things that aren't yours. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody. ... When you go out into the world watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together." This writer has captured part of what Jesus meant when he said, "Unless you become like little children you won't enter the kingdom of heaven." -- Hugh Duncan, Moses Lake, Washington. Leadership, Vol. 9, no. 2.
4. In what ways do we show others that we abuse God's authority?
a. If we live one way on Sundays and another way during the week as a hypocrite we mock God's authority.
b. If we tell the world we live by God's standards and then copy the world in ways that are clearly against the teaching of the Bible we mock God's authority.
c. By withholding what we should be giving to God we mock His authority!
d. When we lash out at others and refuse to forgive we abuse God's authority.
5. What penalties are there today when we abuse God's sacred authority and His sacred Word?
a. People can be lost for eternity - failure to enter the promise land!
b. We can suffer broken relationships and hurt and pain.
c. As in Malachi's day, God's blessings can be withheld when we fail to be givers. (and this relates to much more than just money!)
d. People can mock the Bible when they see it abused by Christians who are suppose to hold it up as the standard of righteousness but then fail to live by it themselves.
6. God does not take lightly our abuse of sacred things, too much is at stake in this world.
a. Though at the end of the journey Moses' failure to honor the symbol of sacredness in the staff cost him dearly the privilege of entering the promise land.
b. Let's be careful not to take lightly sacred things.
TRANS. SENT: How about us, is God's staff in our hands? Has His staff reminded us that we are pilgrims, but pilgrims with power? Do you keep sacred the symbols of God's power by the way you speak and the way you live?
CONCLUSION: God had Moses command the men of Israel to take their staff in hand the night they left Egypt, why? To remind them in their journey that they are pilgrims and no longer slaves, thus to trust God the entire journey; AND to remind them that they have God's authority or power to succeed in the journey. Do you trust God in the journey, do you exercise His authority? Do you have His staff in your hand?