Refugee: When the Faith of a Nation Falters

[buzzsprout episode=’532211′ player=’true’]

July 2, 2017
Pastor Jeff Struecker

Sermon Notes

We’re studying through the life of Moses. He was a refugee out in the desert leading a million refugees. Today, we’ll be talking about faith. Since it’s Independence Day weekend, we’re going to talk about the faith of a nation. We’re also going to talk about our personal faith. I want you to start to think about what happens when the faith of a nation falter and also what it looks like for you personally when you exercise faith.

[Watched video of football player, Demario Davis]

The thing I like about Demario Davis’ story is that he is a guy who tries to clean his act up, and on paper, it looks like in high school, when he stopped drinking and stopped getting in trouble, that his faith.

So the question I asked you just a second ago is: when did that man’s faith become real? You tell me, when was it sincere? It’s when he prayed, “God, I need a new heart.” It’s when God gave him a heart of flesh that his faith became real. You see, going to church, cleaning your act up… All of those things don’t mean your faith is real. Faith is when you take a step, where you exercise belief in something that you can’t see, and then when you take that step, God meets you there. In Demario’s case, God turned him around and changed his life.

Today, we’re going to talk about faith, and we’re going to look at ancient Israel as an example of faith.

I. The courage of faith

We’re going to spend most of our time in Numbers 14 today, but in order for you to really understand what’s going on in Numbers 14, we’ve got to look at the end of Numbers 13.

This is the nation of Israel. The entire nation is a bunch of refugees wandering through the desert. God has delivered them miraculously from slavery in Egypt, and he has promised them the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. For 400 years, God has been making this promise.

Well today, Israel is right at the edge of the Promised Land. God has brought them to the very point that for 400 years, Israel has been longing for and looking forward to. Before they go into the Promised Land, Moses, the leader of the country, like a good general, decides to send 12 men to check out the land. He says to go see if the land is good and to tell him about the military in the land.

At the end of Numbers, chapter 13, starting in verse 25, these 12 guys come back across the river, and they give a report, not just to Moses, but to all of Israel. Here is their report after a 40-day recognizance mission in the Promised Land, starting in verse 25 of Numbers 13:

Numbers 13:25-28
After exploring the land for forty days, the men returned 26 to Moses, Aaron, and the whole community of Israel at Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran. They reported to the whole community what they had seen and showed them the fruit they had taken from the land. 27 This was their report to Moses: “We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. 28 But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak!

At verse 27, Moses has sent these people across the river, and basically, God is making some pretty awesome claims about this land. God has been using terminology like, “This is a land that flows with milk and honey,” and this is a nation of farmers and shepherds. So Moses sends them over there to check it out. He asks, “Did God exaggerate? Is the land really as awesome as he claims that it is?” These 12 guys come back and say, “We can’t even use words to tell him how great this land is. In fact, you wouldn’t believe us if we told you, so we brought back some fruit to show you. This land is beyond your wildest dreams.”

I like to put it this way, “For a nation of farmers and shepherds, any moron can make money when we go across the river. Anybody can make a living in that land.

Then Moses asks the question, “Yeah, but what about the military that’s in that land?” And when this issue comes up, Israel is now in a crisis. Israel is now facing a challenge, because now Israel is going to have to show some real courage.

At verse 28, here’s what’s going on: They go across the river; They look at the land; They see if they can raise sheep and if they can raise crops there. It’s beyond their wildest dreams. Then, Moses asks them, “Tell us about our military, and here’s the report that these guys give, “We are totally outnumbered. There’s no way our nation can be successful if we go to war against the military on the other side of that river. And their cities are huge and built like fortresses, like castles. This is what we’re up against. And on top of all of that, they have a race of super-soldiers over there. If we go across that river, we are going to get annihilated.”

You see, Israel is being asked to do something that is totally over their heads, and everyone realizes it. What God is asking Israel to do is to show some real courage and to take a step of faith. For 10 of these 12 men, when they were across the river, the only thing that they could see was obstacles. The only thing that they could see was this overwhelming problem. They thought, “We can’t be successful if we go to war against that nation.” However, two of the 12 men see something different. They see the power of God. And they see that as long as God is on their side, they’ll be okay, and if God is not on their side, they are in deep trouble.

You see, Israel only has one mission when they go across that river. –to trust God and to show some faith, to show some courage, and believe that God will meet them over on the other side of that river if they do that. What you’re going to see from Numbers 14 today is that Israel fails miserably here. Israel doesn’t have the courage to cross that river.

I want to ask you personally, in your own heart, when you’re facing these terrifying circumstances, when you’re in over your head, when your fears are real and serious, and there’s this war going on inside your chest between fear and faith, which one of the two wins in your life? Showing an act of faith doesn’t mean that you are not afraid. It means that in the midst of the fear, I step out and trust God.

II. The challenge of faith

That’s what God is asking Israel to do in Numbers 13. Look at how they respond in Numbers 14, starting in verse 1. God is placing a challenge in front of Israel, and the challenge is to trust Him and to trust only Him. But I just want you to hear from me that every act of faith is a challenge. If you’re not challenged, I don’t believe it really is an act of faith. I like to say it this way, “There is no such thing as safe faith.” If you want safe, it’s not faith. And if you’re going to exercise faith, by its very definition, it can’t be safe. God is placing this challenge before Israel, and he’s asking Israel to trust Him. And this is Israel’s response: Numbers chapter 14, starting in verse 1:

Numbers 14:1-4
Then the whole community began weeping aloud, and they cried all night. 2 Their voices rose in a great chorus of protest against Moses and Aaron. “If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!” they complained. 3 “Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” 4 Then they plotted among themselves, “Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!”

Your faith shines the brightest when your fears are darkest!

The story is tragic that you’re hearing in the Bible. They have this opportunity to show their faith, but instead of showing their faith, they start to weep at the circumstances that they’re in saying, “God, we don’t want to be here right now. We don’t want to have to go across that river and to face that military.

Then they go from weeping to wrath. Look at the rest of Numbers, chapter 14. They’re so angry with Moses that they’re ready to kill him for getting them in this situation. I guess that they conveniently forgot that God is literally leading them every day through a visible sign of his presence by the pillar of cloud during the day and the pillar of fire by night. It’s not like Moses came up with this plan. This is exactly where God wants them. And they’re so upset, that they would rather kill Moses. But, here’s what is tragic about what you see: They would not only rather kill Moses, they’re saying, “I would rather be a slave in Egypt than a free man in the Promised Land if it takes us going across that river and battling that enemy. Forget it. We’re not going to do it.” And the nation of Israel has this challenge in front of them, and they miss it completely.

This challenge is in front of you every time you’re scared, every time you’re facing a crisis, and every time you’re in over your head. You face the same challenge that ancient Israel faced: Is God big enough to handle your circumstances? -Or are you going to have to go through it all on your own? That’s really the challenge.

Last week, I was walking through the airport in Dallas/Ft. Worth, and everybody in the airport was paying attention to what was on the screens. I couldn’t really hear it, but I could see it, and I could see that everybody in the terminal was freaking out about this video on the screens of the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport. You see, they were showing a video of an Air Asia flight that left Australia on the way to Malaysia, and in the middle of the Indian Ocean with nowhere to turn around and no way to get out of the airplane, there was a massive maintenance emergency. In fact, a guy with his phone shot a video, and here’s what everyone was watching at the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport:  [Video]

You probably saw this on the news. This maintenance emergency was an engine that had a huge malfunction. The malfunction was so severe, that it caused the entire plane to shake like a washing machine on the spin cycle. And to make matters a little bit worse, if you are in that situation, it’s totally out of your control. There’s nothing you can do at this point as a passenger on that plane to fix it, and here’s what the pilot does: he gets on the intercom and says, “This would be a good time for you to start praying.

Now, I’m certain that when that announcement comes across the intercom from the pilot over the Indian Ocean, you’re going to start to freak out, and you’re going to start to wonder, “Is God big enough to handle these circumstances that I’m going through right now?” And I would love to know what’s happening in the hearts of the people in that plane when it’s shaking violently, and they’re looking at the Indian Ocean thinking, “I’m never going to see my family again.”

You see, it’s not the fear that means you have no faith, it’s what you do when you are afraid that shows what your faith is really made of.

Here’s what I want you to know. Here’s the whole sermon for today in one sentence: Your faith shines brightest when your fears are darkest.

It’s in that moment when you’re terrified that you really show people what you believe. You can say it ‘til you’re blue in the face, but it’s when you’re terrified that people really get a chance to see what you really believe.

You see, what you behave is really what you believe. It’s not what you say, it’s what you behave that tells people what you believe, and your faith shines brightest when your fears are darkest, and right now is a dark moment for Israel, and Israel lacks the faith to follow God.

III. The choice of faith

So now, Israel has a choice to make, and Israel fails God miserably at this choice. Here’s the choice of faith that you and I have to make when we’re scared too, and it’s found in Numbers, chapter 14, starting in verse 5.

Numbers 14:5-9
Then Moses and Aaron fell face down on the ground before the whole community of Israel. 6 Two of the men who had explored the land, Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, tore their clothing. 7 They said to all the people of Israel, “The land we traveled through and explored is a wonderful land! 8 And if the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey. 9 Do not rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!”

At verse 6, let me tell you what you’re seeing in the Bible today. When Moses and Aaron fall face down, this is an extreme display of begging the people of Israel, “Don’t do this! Don’t make this choice! This is a huge mistake!” Tearing your clothes in the Old Testament is the greatest demonstration of grief that you can do. This is Joshua and Caleb’s way of mourning the loss of something very dear to them. And if you want to know what just died in Israel, it’s faith. That’s what just died in Israel. In fact, a dream that Israel has had for 400 years is dying right in front of their eyes, and these 4 men are begging Israel, “Don’t do this. Don’t make this choice.”

In verse 9, you can reverse that sentence and say, “If you act out of fear, it is an act of rebellion, because you’re not trusting God.”

Here’s the national argument that’s going on. Four men (Moses, Aaron, Caleb, and Joshua) are saying the exact same thing that the rest of Israel is saying. “We’re not big enough, and we’re certainly not strong enough to go across that river and to defeat that enemy.” That’s what the rest of the men are saying and what all of Israel is saying. “We can’t win this battle.” But these 4 men are saying that there is still another factor in the equation. “If God goes across that river with us, we can’t lose. If God doesn’t go across that river with us, we can’t win. So the only question before us is, “Is God going across that river with us or not?”

The rest of the nation of Israel, like a cancer spreading through the ranks, starts to act out of their fear. They want nothing to do with a battle across that river, and in fact, they decide, “You know what? We’re not going, and Moses, you can’t make us go across that river.” And as a result, they make the choice to act out of fear instead of out of faith, and it cost them…It cost them severely.

For our regulars, you know that we are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the men who handed our faith to us and shaped our faith. We call it the Luther 500, and we’re looking a little bit into who these great leaders are who helped hand the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints to us. Today, I want you to look at a guy named John Wycliffe.

Wycliffe was born outside of London educated at Oxford, and was a brilliant leader of the Church. Wycliffe started to step away from the authority and the control of the Church, and in fact, Wycliffe believed that you didn’t need to go through the Church to have access to God. This was extremely controversial in Wycliffe’s day, and in fact, he was criticized for it. He believed you have access to God through the blood of Jesus Christ, and anybody who knows Jesus had the ability to speak to God directly. Here’s how Wycliffe put it in one of his letters, “Trust wholly in Christ; Rely altogether on his sufferings; Beware of seeking to be justified in any other way than by his righteousness.”

The Church controlled people in Wycliffe’s day, because the Church controlled the Bible, and the people couldn’t read the Bible in their own language. So John Wycliffe set out to translate the Bible into the language of the people, and he was hated for this. In fact, he was ostracized and excommunicated, because he believed the people should be able to read the Bible for themselves and have access directly to God.

He was so hated for this, that they referred to Wycliffe’s Bible as the “vulgar Bible”. It was vulgar in the eyes of the Church to give people a Bible that they can read in their own language. And the Church hated him so much, that after his death, 43 years later, they dug up his body, desecrated his remains, and then sprinkled his ashes in the Swift River. That’s how much they hated this man. But Church leaders forgot that the river flows into the sea, and the sea flows into the ocean, and what Wycliffe started became a world-wide phenomenon. In fact, Wycliffe Bible translators exist today to give people the Bible in their very own language, so that they can have access to God one-on-one, just like John Wycliffe started many centuries ago.

John Wycliffe is one of those great leaders of the faith that you and I should look back on and thank God for men that had that kind of courage. –that he was willing to step up and act on his beliefs.

When you believe enough, you’re willing to bet it all. You’re willing to risk it all on what you believe. Wycliffe was. And God asks his people to risk it all on what you believe. There’s a high cost to exercising faith, but you know what? There’s an even greater cost of unbelief. And at the end of Numbers 14, you see the cost of unbelief.

IV. The cost of unbelief

Here’s what’s happened: The people have said, “Moses, we refuse to go across that river, and in fact, we are going to go back to Egypt, and we would rather be slaves in Egypt than free people in the Promised Land.” So Moses goes back up the mountain to beg God on behalf of the people. This is an act of rebellion, Moses knows it, and Moses goes to ask God, “God, will you please be merciful? Will you please spare this people for what they just did to you?” And at the end of Numbers 14, God speaks for the first time in verse 20. Here’s what God says to Moses:

Numbers 14:20-25
Then the Lord said, “I will pardon them as you have requested. 21 But as surely as I live, and as surely as the earth is filled with the Lord’s glory, 22 not one of these people will ever enter that land. They have all seen my glorious presence and the miraculous signs I performed both in Egypt and in the wilderness, but again and again they have tested me by refusing to listen to my voice. 23 They will never even see the land I swore to give their ancestors. None of those who have treated me with contempt will ever see it. 24 But my servant Caleb has a different attitude than the others have. He has remained loyal to me, so I will bring him into the land he explored. His descendants will possess their full share of that land. 25 Now turn around, and don’t go on toward the land where the Amalekites and Canaanites live. Tomorrow you must set out for the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea.”

In verse 20 and 21, God is saying, “I will bet my life on what I say next. In fact, if what I say next doesn’t come to pass, then I am not God. Here’s what’s going to happen next, Moses. Here’s the cost for their unbelief.”

In verse 22, God is saying, “Moses, I showed them power that nobody on earth has ever seen in Egypt. I am with them -literally, visibly in their presence. Every day, I give them food to eat; they’ve heard my voice on the mountain, and still, they don’t believe me? Moses, not one of these people will set foot in the Promised Land. Moses, I’m going to annihilate the entire nation of Israel; a whole generation is going to die in the desert for what just happened at the edge of the Promised Land. But 2 men, and only 2 men, will set foot in the Promised Land. Joshua will ultimately lead Israel across the river, and Caleb will go with them. They will never see the land I swore to give to their ancestors. None of those who have treated me with contempt will ever see it. But, my servant Caleb is different. He has a different attitude than the others. He has remained loyal to me, so I will bring him into the land that he explored. His descendants will possess their full share of that land.”

God is making a distinction. “Israel, you didn’t believe that I was big enough or strong enough to give the land to you, so you are going to die in the desert. Two men had the courage to follow me across that river. Two men believed that I was big enough to deliver them against that enemy. Those men, and only those 2 men, will inherit the Promised Land.”

That’s not the full cost. The full cost is in verse 25. This is what happens as a result of their lack of faith. God said, “Moses, go right back where you came from. Spend the rest of your life walking in the desert, wandering around as refugees, lost in the desert, because you didn’t believe. This nation didn’t believe that I was big enough to hand them the land (and this is a small thing for me) or big enough to deliver them from the enemies in that foreign land, and because of that, I’m going to give you a 40-year stay of execution, but Moses, every single one of these people will die in the desert. And their children, maybe their children, are courageous enough to follow me across the river and believe that I am big enough and strong enough to give them the land that I have been promising all the way back to Abraham.”

The truth is, you spell the word, faith, S-T-E-P. You have to take a step. It’s a step into the unknown, and it’s scary, but God says, “If you’ll take that first step, I’ll meet you there. And when you take that first step, I’ll give you the courage. My Holy Spirit will be with you give you the ability to take the second step. And when you take the second step, you can look back with some confidence and have the courage to take the third step…but it all starts with the first step. If you’ll just trust me enough to take that first step, I’ll meet you there, and I’ll give you a reward for your faith. But you’ve got to put your faith into action.”

Here’s how the New Testament says this: Faith that doesn’t have action is dead faith, and dead faith is no faith at all.

So, I want to ask you, tomorrow and this week, when you are facing some big crisis, you’re in over your head, and you don’t know how this thing is going to turn out, is God big enough to meet you in the middle of that crisis? Is God big enough that He can give you the strength to handle whatever you’re facing?

Whether it’s health, marriage, finance…whatever it is that’s waiting around the corner that you don’t even know is coming…is God strong enough and big enough to meet those needs? You see, it’s going to take a step of faith, and if you’ll take that first step, he’ll meet you there, and he’ll give you the ability to take that second and third step. And the whole journey of faith, to walk with Jesus Christ, begins with a step of faith. It’s simply saying, “God I can’t do this on my own. My sins are too big. I have a heart of stone, and I need a heart of flesh.”

Next Steps

• I want to start the journey of faith today. I surrender my soul and future to Jesus for the first time.
– I have been walking in fear lately. Pray for me to live by faith in the love of God this week.
+ I will show others how big my God is when confronted by fears this week.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the most terrifying situation you’ve ever faced?
  2. Who do you look to or lean on when facing fear?
  3. Why do you think that God allows “his people” to face problems?
  4. Why do you think only four men believed that God was big enough to defeat the military in Canaan?
  5. God is serious about his glory. What did it say about God when the rest of Israel lacked the faith to enter the promised land?
  6. What is the greatest challenge you’re facing right now?
  7. Spend a few minutes lifting up each other’s problems in prayer.


Further reading

Acts 8:1-4

May 5, 2019Pastor Jeff Struecker Sermon Notes I. The Gospel has always been under attack Acts 8:1Saul agreed with putting him to death. On that day a...

Acts 7

April 14, 2019Pastor Jeff Struecker Sermon Notes I. God calls a people Acts 7:1-8 “Are these things true?” the high priest asked. 2...