In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Christians walk by faith and not by sight. (2 Cor. 5:7) The world says seeing is believing. But it’s not. Seeing is a way of knowing, and “knowing” is not believing. Our eyes and our five senses show us all sorts of things. In the kingdom of the Left Hand (of God), which is ruled by law, by government (Rom. 13:1-7), we ought to trust our eyes. We need to see the facts on the ground. We need to make sensible choices. But in the kingdom of the Right Hand—God’s kingdom ruled by the Man who sits on His right hand, Jesus Christ our ascended saviour—we walk by faith and not by sight. For faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Heb. 11:1) How can you have assurance about what you can’t see? Well, faith comes by hearing, hearing the word about Christ. (Rom. 10:17) So faith does come from the eyes, by seeing. But from the ear, by hearing. Which is why St. Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel—that good news I’ve heard about Jesus—for it is the power of God unto salvation.” (Rom. 1:16) Remember that Paul before believing in Jesus persecuted believers in Jesus. He forcibly entered their homes. He threw them in prison. (Acts 8:3; 9:1-2) He stood by smiling after inciting a mob to stone to death Stephen (Acts 7:58-8:1), one of the first seven pastors of the Church. (Acts 6:1-6) And then Paul was converted by what He heard. (Acts 9:4-6, 17-18) He couldn’t even see it. (Acts 9:8) But the Holy Spirit called him by the Gospel (Acts 9:15-16), enlightened with His gifts (Acts 9:16-17), sanctified and kept him in the true faith. When this happened Paul was literally blind. It was hearing the Gospel that converted him. That opened his eyes. (Acts 9:17-18)
But like the Egyptians they tested the Lord. The Lord spoke by Moses to Egypt. He said, “Israel is my first born son. Let my people Israel go, my son whom you are enslaving and killing. If you won’t I’ll kill your first born son.” (Exod. 4:22-23) Pharaoh wouldn’t believe. So the Lord gave nine more chances to let Israel go. (Exod. 7-10) Nine great signs to prove His power, might and intention to carry out His Word of freedom for His people. But faith comes by hearing, not by sight. So the signs didn’t create faith in Pharaoh, just as signs don’t produce lasting faith in you either. When you are called by the Gospel there is no explaining it. It seems to defy your common sense, your experience, what your eyes tell you. For your faith clings to the word of Jesus, the God-man, who saved you by His death. It clings to His forgiveness flowing from His cross to you through His Baptism and Supper.
So the Lord judged Pharaoh. He made good on His promise. He killed His firstborn son. (Exod. 11; 12:29-32) Finally Pharaoh let God’s people go. Then the Lord led people out doing mighty works all along way. And yet, having seen miracle upon miracle, having been saved time and again, having been preserved miraculously from mighty armies, from starvation and dehydration in the desert, a year into their freedom, being fed daily, and miraculously by the Lord, they’ve grumbled against Him not once, but 10 times. (Num. 14:22) Ten. Just like the plagues of Egypt. Just like the commandments of the Lord. Ten times. A full number. And it brings judgement.
And yet, now just over a year into the wilderness, having celebrated their 1st Passover as free people (Num. 9:1-3), they’ve already complained against Lord—disbelieved Him—10 times. (Num. 14:22) This from the people who have seen some the mightiest acts the Lord has ever shown on the face of the earth. All within a period of less than two years. Clearly, faith does not come by seeing. And so, because they would not believe Lord, or listen to His word, this 10th time the Lord says, “Fine. You get what you want. You don’t want to listen to Me? You don’t want to receive My good gifts? You don’t want to get the land I am about to give you? Fine. You won’t. You get to die out here in the wilderness. You won’t become slaves in Egypt again, but you won’t be My blessed people established in the wonderful land I promised you either. Instead, I will raise up your children. You know, those who weren’t counted who are under 20. Every single one of you who was numbered will die—all except Joshua and Caleb who trusted My promise (Num. 14:20-24), who said, ‘What an awesome amazing land. Not only do honeycombs gush with honey, and cows’ udders drip with creamy milk, but look at these grapes! A bunch as big as a man, it needs Caleb and I to carry it. Imagine the wine! God said it. God promised it to us. Because of His promise to our father Abraham He delights in us. Let’s go take the land! (Num. 13:30; 14:6-9) Moreover, we know that Noah cursed the inhabitants of the land (Num. 13:29; Gen. 9:20-25; 10:15-19) and their religions are full of unbelievable wickedness. The Lord will drive them out before us. (Exod. 33:2) So let’s go up. Remember how we didn’t have to lift finger at the Red Sea? How the Lord crushed Pharaoh and his army? (Exod. 14:13-14, 21-29) How much easier is this going to be?’”
But the other 10 spies walked by sight, not by faith. Their eyes told them that the cities of land were huge fortresses. The people of the land were giants. How could they fight that? For that matter, how can we an aging, tiring congregation possibly be able to keep going? Our eyes tell us it is impossible. But what does faith say? All things are possible for God. (Mark 10:27) Even the saving of those who can’t see past themselves to ever believe that there is more than they can see.
But the poor, poor Israelites won’t believe. They want to listen to the gossip. They want to listen to the 10 not the 2. So the Lord says, “Fine. You get what you want. Only those 2 of all this generation who were counted will go into the land. 40 years for 40 days of spying and unbelieving.” (Num. 14:22-24, 29-34) So over next the 40 years one generation perished while a new generation was being raised up to believe in the Lord and follow Him. (Num. 14:31, 33)
And you’ve gotta wonder these days if that’s not what is going on now. Have you noticed that problems of Church in North America are linked to a generation? The biggest gen that ever born. The majority of them were raised in the Church so that churches being planted and growing and popping up everywhere till that generation grew up, got out of mom and dad’s house and turned their backs almost enmasse on the faith of their fathers. So that like Caleb and Joshua only a tiny fraction of that generation stayed in church. Now their kids and grandkids have hardly had any contact with the Church so it’s no wonder they aren’t here. They’ve never really heard about Jesus. And faith comes by hearing.
So this section of Numbers teaches us two things: faith comes by hearing. So like faithful Joshua and Caleb keep speaking of Jesus, your saviour, to your kids and grandkids. And like faithful Moses keep praying, keep interceding (Num. 14:13-19) for your kids and grandkids that their names not be blotted out of Lambs book of life. For the Lord Himself baptized them. He called them by name. He granted them His gifts. So pray that He stir up in them the gift of the Holy Spirit. That He call them to renewed faith, to increased zeal for their Lord and His salvation. That they might find in Him a refuge from their weary, heavy laden worldly ways. (Matt. 11:28-30) Rest for their souls. And that enmasse a whole gen might not go to hell. For the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it. (Ps. 24:1) Jesus knows what He’s up to. He is working to save His people. He did it in the wilderness. He did it for you and me at the cross. Though the Church seems to be walking through a wilderness right now, He will sustain us. And He will bring us home, across the river to our heavenly home. But let’s not shut doors of our church and abandon our town and community to be buried in the wilderness quite yet. Let’s keep praying that the Lord will call them unto faith and save them by the words of our mouths.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON