Sermons are meant to be heard. There is something that gets lost in just reading one. The following sermon was written to be spoken aloud which explains why the writing is not always perfect and the punctuation is at times nonexistent. Nevertheless, I pray that it speaks to you.
WHEN THE HOLY SPIRIT COMES
June 4, 2017
Before we look at the passage from Numbers, I want to remind us of basics about the Holy Spirit. You will remember two weeks ago we talked about how God is love and love is expressed in relationship. Therefore, for God to exist – God has to exist in relationship. God exists as a relationship of three – God the Creator – God the Son – and God the Holy Spirit.
Now, we talk a lot about God the Creator – or God the Father. And we also talk a lot about God the Son. And this is good and right. But there are three legs to this stool and I think sometimes we ignore the third person of the trinity. This third relationship of God is what balances out the whole relationship and makes it complete. You need the third in order for the relationship between two to work. You need the Spirit to be in relationship with the Creator AND with the Son – a relationship that then creates a circle of love. A circle, by the way, that we are invited to join!
We have to be careful of course or we can get caught in a trap here. We can start thinking of God as three people or three gods. That is not what scripture teaches. Instead, God is whole – a unity. There is ONE God- but we experience God as three in one. So when we talk about the Spirit, we are talking about God The Spirit is God. God is the Spirit.
And yet, this aspect of God – this Spirit – is often ignored. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe we are too scared that we will raise our hands in worship. Maybe we just have not had much experience in identifying when the Spirit is working. Maybe deep down we are scared by the power and unpredictability of the Spirit – we do like to keep things under control. Whatever the reason, when we ignore the Spirit, our life as a disciple is diminished.
Let’s look at this fascinating story from the book of Numbers.
Some background: we are in that point of Biblical history where the children of Israel have escaped slavery in Egypt and are now in the wilderness. Moses is leading them and things are not going well.
God has been providing manna for them to eat but some people are just plain tired of it. Now, I could eat the same thing every day and not care a bit. But maybe you understand how the Israelites were feeling. They were sick of manna. They wanted some meat.
Listen to the scripture from Numbers 11:4
The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”
This makes God slightly angry. Well, not slightly. It makes God very angry. And God decides to give them meat. In fact he says “I’ll give you so much meat that it will be running our your nostrils.”
But in the process of making this meat thing happen, God instructs Moses to select 70 elders who will receive God’s Spirit so that Moses does not have to deal with the rabble all by himself.
And that’s where our scripture for tonight begins. Numbers 11:24. We are going to go through this passage and ask ourselves the question “What can we learn about the Holy Spirit?” You can follow along in your Bible or on your device or on the back of your worship guide.
Let’s start with verse 24: So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent.
So Moses picks out the 70 and brings them outside of the camp to the tent of meeting and arranges them all around the tent. And they wait. Not really sure what’s going to happen. But here they are. Ready for what God is going to do.
Sometimes we have to wait. We get ourselves in position. We do the right things. We place ourselves around the tent – ready to do God’s work. And then we have to wait.
I remember the summer after Robin and I graduated from Seminary. We both had our newly minted Masters Degree’s. We were both ready to be used by God in whatever way we could be. We were putting resumes out and were willing to go anywhere. But then, nothing. We waited. And waited. It was a long hot summer. We knew God was going to come. We knew that something was going to happen. But we still had to wait for the Spirit to move. I kinda feel like that was what was happening as Moses set up the 70 around the tent. “We’re here God. We’re ready. What is it you want to do?”
I think we should notice a couple of other things here. First, we see that Moses listened to God and obeyed God. The first step in becoming connected to the Spirit is to listen – the second step is to obey. Moses heard God’s voice – knew it was God’s voice – and then acted. Do we do that? Do we know God’s voice well enough to identify it? And then if we do hear God’s voice do we act on it?
Secondly, I see here a characteristic of God that is important and that is: cooperation. God tells Moses to pick the 70. Yes, sometimes God says – pick the ones I will show you – but in this instance God said “you pick”. I think God works this way a lot of times – especially when we are close enough to his heart to understand his desires. I think that God gives us creativity and imagination to work in concert with God – to be co-creators with God – to use our own skills and abilities to advance the purpose of God. And that’s what Moses does. He picks the 70 and brings them to the tent – ready to see what God is going to do.
Verse 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.
So we see here almost the same thing that happened to Jesus’ disciples on that first Pentecost. The Holy Spirit comes and rests upon each of them. The Spirit is a presence – a reality that is felt. When the spirit comes it feels like something is settling upon us. And in our text the Spirit rested upon the 70.
And immediately they began prophesizing. If you are like me, when I think of someone prophesizing I think of the Old Testament prophets or someone who is telling us what is going to happen. But I found a better definition of what the word actually means in this context. The commentator I read says that Prophesy is “The power of instructing and admonishing the people with an authority that was recognized as having its source in God.”
And that is exactly what the 70 were supposed to be used for. They were to help Moses in instructing and admonishing the children of Israel. And when the Spirit came upon them they did just that.
When the Holy Spirit comes we are filled with the power of God. We have authority that has its source in God. And we speak as God would speak.
That’s a scary place to be - but we have to realize the immense power we have in the Spirit. And we have to realize that God will help us use that power in productive and healthy ways.
Now, notice what happens at the end of verse 25. “They prophesied – But they did not do so again.”
What happened? They were chosen to work with Moses. The Spirit came upon them. They prophesied. And then it ended. Why?
I’m not really sure what happened. But I will tell you this: As much as I hate to admit it – I believe that the Spirit can be squelched. The Spirit does not exert itself on us. It comes when invited and then can come is strange and unpredictable ways. But I believe that there are things we can do to suppress the Spirit – to tamp it down – to not allow it to move in our lives. We may not do these things on purpose. It may just be from neglect or sin or living our lives in the world instead of connecting with the Spirit. But there may also be times when we just refuse to see the spirit – we refuse to listen to the spirit – and we act in ways that squelch the spirit.
I don’t know what happened with the 70. But something stopped in them.
Has that happened to you? I know it’s happened to me. There were times in my life when I felt the power of the spirit and felt connected to the spirit and then it left. And I had to do some real soul searching. Was there something I did or was doing that was tamping down the spirit’s work in my life?
The story continues in Verse 26: Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp.
Ok now this is just weird. There were these two guys who were not part of the 70. They were not even out by the tent. And the Spirit rested on them too? How could this be? Didn’t God say to bring OUT 70 and now the Spirit comes IN to the camp and does this?
A couple of things we learn about the Spirit here. First, the Spirit was the one that moved. It was the Spirit that decided to leave the area around the tent and also rest on Eldad and Medad. It was the Spirit that moved like the wind in a direction that no one saw and no on anticipated. The Spirit will go where it wants to go and do what it wants to do. We cannot control it or contain it or predict it. Early Celtic Christians called the Holy Spirit a Wild Goose – running around wherever it wants.
And just as the children of Israel could not control the Spirit - neither can we. As much as we would like to! The Spirit moves when and where it wants – we just have to be ready – we have to be aware – and we have to listen so that we can act when the Spirit DOES move.
Also, notice that Eldad and Medad prophesized IN the camp. You see the Spirit works where we are.
Now, of course the Spirit will at times tell us to move on – to go to another place of service. We call this a “call” where God says “I want you to go and do this.” And yes, it may be in Africa or in Macon. The Spirit Calls and we move.
But in my experience – more often than not – the Spirit works in the camp. The Spirit calls us to obey where we are. It may be a small prompting to speak to someone or send them a text. It may be a feeling to develop a new friendship at work. It may even be an admonishment to the people we work with or serve with. Or it may be a word of encouragement to someone we did not know needed it. The Spirit might be prompting us to do something new – yes. But it will usually be something new right where we are. Don’t ignore the Spirit just because you’re afraid it will call you outside of the camp. Usually the Spirit will be asking you to do something INSIDE the camp.
But then something happens in verse 27: And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”
Here we have the tattletale. Whenever the Spirit moves in an unusual way – we are going to get the tattletale. The person who is shocked at what is happening and just has to spread the word – not in a good way – not to celebrate what the Spirit is doing. But rather, in a gossipy way – a “can you believe them” way.
If you are wondering if the Spirit might be moving – look for a tattletale. That just might be your sign.
But tattletales always find a home. And in verse 28 this tattletale found one:
And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!”
This is the same Joshua that will take Moses’ place! But at this point in time he’s a man all about the rules. “Moses – they aren’t following the rules! Moses, stop them! Moses – they can’t do that – you did not choose them!”
When the Spirit moves rules may get broken. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say when the Spirit moves rules WILL get broken.
But there will always be Joshua’s to remind us of that fact.
The Spirit does not respect the rules that you and I create. The Spirit will do what the Spirit wants to do. Period. We can either be sensitive to what the Spirit is doing – discerning if it really is from the Spirit – following what the Spirit is doing even though it does not fit. OR, we can be Joshua – trying to stop the Spirit because it didn’t do it the right way.
But Moses was on to what God was doing. Verse 29: But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.
Moses gets it. He puts Joshua in his place. And then declares what we all should declare – would that the Spirit be on all of us!
But here’s the deal. Here’s what we remember this Pentecost. The Spirit IS on all of us. What Moses was desiring with Joshua did come true! It happened at Pentecost. And it is still true to this very day.
WE are the descendants of Eldad and Medad. WE are the ones who the Spirit rests upon. WE are the ones that the Spirit will use to change the world. WE are the ones. Are you ready?