Christian leaders are servants
Sunday, September 19, 2021
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Why Were You Not Afraid?
Why were you not afraid? Years ago, when I was a child, we had dirt bikes. Dirt bikes and spare time aren’t always the best combination. I remember how we used to ride our bikes down the hillsides through the weeds. It was fun to create our own trails and then ride down them. And, as I look back, that’s the question I ask: Why weren’t you afraid? In the midst of all those weeds were rocks. And when dirt bikes bump up against big rocks, the rocks stay their ground. And the boys that ride them tend to get hurt. Looking back, I should have been awake, aware, and even a little afraid. This morning we hear our Lord ask that question of his people. And through them, he asks the same of us. In Numbers 12, we read: “1 Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses because of the Cushite woman he married (for he had married a Cushite woman). 2 They said, “Does the Lord speak only through Moses? Does he not also speak through us?” And the Lord heard it. 3 Moses was a very humble man, more so than anyone on the face of the earth. 4 Suddenly the Lord said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, “You three come out to the tent of meeting.” So the three of them went out. 5 Then the Lord descended in a pillar of cloud, stood at the entrance to the tent, and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When the two of them came forward, 6 he said: “Listen to what I say: If there is a prophet among you from the Lord, I make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. 7 Not so with my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my household. 8 I speak with him directly, openly, and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord. So why were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?”” (Num. 12:1–8 CSB17)
Moses has a brother and a sister, Aaron and Miriam. And they speak against Moses. And the heart and soul of their complaint is this: Has God only spoken through Moses? And it’s not too difficult to see what was at the heart of their objection: Pride. And this teaches us some very important truths. Each of us, like Aaron and Miriam, have a sinful nature. And with it we have this pride that always is looking for an opportunity to rise up and push others down. And notice here, in these words, how it shows itself. First, Aaron and Miriam exaggerated a role It’s true that the Lord spoke through Aaron. But the whole truth was that Aaron was there to be the spokesperson for Moses. It is true that, after they crossed the Red Sea on dry ground, Miriam prophesied. But she only prophesied to the women and only that one time. They exaggerated their role. And today we have the same temptation. It’s easy for the child who is newly confirmed to show off what he or she has learned to his parents who have not memorized those words in years. It’s easy for the Sunday School teacher to conclude that because he can teach children, it’s the same to teach adults. It’s easy for each of us to exaggerate the roles we have.
But there’s another temptation that pride places in us. We see the flaws and faults our representative has. No parent, not sunday school teacher, and no pastor is perfect. We mess up. And here is where pride shows itself. Instead, of patiently, carefully, and caringly, speaking to the representative that God has given to us, it’s ever-so-easy to speak against him. It’s so easy to not give that representative the opportunity to repent.
So, in response to the words that they spoke against Moses, the Lord takes action. First, he reveals their pride. And how he does this is interesting. He says to them, “why were you not afraid?” Like the boy riding down a hillside of hidden boulders who should have known that they were there, the Lord asks the question. Then he gives them some obvious reasons why they should be afraid to speak against him. The Lord doesn’t treat Moses the same as all the other prophets. For all the other prophets, he reveals himself to them in a vision. But that’s not the case for Moses. The Lord reveals himself to Moses, “mouth to mouth.”1 Then he explains what “mouth to mouth” means. The Lord appears to Moses in a form of himself.2 Moses still doesn’t see the Lord face to face. But he sees him more directly than in visions. That, right there, should have made them pause for a moment. That should have made them afraid to speak against Moses. So the Lord reveals their pride. Then he rebukes it: “9 The Lord’s anger burned against them, and he left. 10 As the cloud moved away from the tent, Miriam’s skin suddenly became diseased, resembling snow. When Aaron turned toward her, he saw that she was diseased” (Num. 12:9–10 CSB17)
The Lord afflicted Miriam with an infectious skin disease. He let her know there were consequences to her sin. And today, he does the same. In catechism class we speak about the curb use of the law. The curb use is that valuable part of the law that connects consequences to sin so that it hurts us—so that we learn how bad something is. This curb use of the law teaches to to be afraid once again. And it is proper and healthy. So the Lord reveals their pride. Then he rebukes it. But what follows next? “11 and said to Moses, “My Lord, please don’t hold against us this sin we have so foolishly committed. 12 Please don’t let her be like a dead baby whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes out of his mother’s womb.” 13 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “God, please heal her!”” (Num. 12:11–13 CSB17)
In amazing display of mercy, Moses immediately prays for his sister who so pridefully spoke against him. We have to think that through for a moment. It would have been tempting to not pray for her, or to wait for a while. Instead, right away, Moses prays for her. Here is a man who sees his own sin. And he sees how, in such a continual and undeserved way, the Lord forgives him. So, he prays for her forgiveness.
This prayer of Moses is heard. And her disease is healed. But her sin was healed too. It was healed because Jesus is the one who paid for her pride—and ours too. So, the Lord asks why they weren’t afraid to speak against Moses. The answer was their pride kept them from proper fear. So the Lord reveals their pride and then rebukes it. He redeems each of them as persons. Then he concludes in this way: “14 The Lord answered Moses, “If her father had merely spit in her face, wouldn’t she remain in disgrace for seven days? Let her be confined outside the camp for seven days; after that she may be brought back in.” 15 So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on until Miriam was brought back in.” (Num. 12:14–15 CSB17)
Finally then, the Lord restores her. And what an amazing example this is to see. There Miriam is, shut out, given a sort of “time out” away from all of her people. And we are told that nobody left without her. They stayed there for her. This speaks to us today. How amazing it is not just that our good and gracious Lord reveals, rebukes, and redeems us. But he moves his people to restore us. None of us deserves that. But the Lord moves us to forgive others and even restore them as they are able.
Finally then, let us all pray for Godly wisdom—wisdom to see our own faults and flaws and repent of them, wisdom to take to heart the fact that we are fully-forgiven, wisdom to not run and rush back to our sins, wisdom to rust to speak to others instead of speaking against them, wisdom to restore to the extent we are able those who have strayed in one area or another. Amen.
1 ”פֶּ֣ה אֶל־פֶּ֞ה“ (Num. 12:8 HMT-W4)
2 ”וּתְמֻנַ֥ת יְהוָ֖ה“ (Num. 12:8 HMT-W4)