Faithlife Sermons

Cloud of Fire

Wanderers  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  27:39
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Steven Stokes leads us through Numbers chapter 9, talking about how God lead the Isrealites through the desert via a cloud at day and a pillar of fire in the night.

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Introduction Good morning, Church. If you’re a guest with us here this morning, I’m so glad that you’re here. My name is Steven. I’m the associate minister here at Mt. Hope. I want to start off this morning a question. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Maybe a police officer, teacher, astronaut, I want you to take a second to remember what you wanted to be as a little kid. Now how many of you grew up to live your childhood dream? How many of you actually adopted the career you had hoped as a kid? Go ahead and raise your hand. How many of you did not? You took on a totally different career. You see when I was about 8 to 10 years old, somewhere in there, I was having a conversation about my dad about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I remember telling him I wasn’t exactly sure, but I knew for certain that I absolutely did not want to be a preacher or minister or work for the Church at all. I had considered it for a while and I decided that ministry was a good job for people a lot nicer and not quite as good at math as I was. Really, that was my attitude for quite some time. When Curtis offered me the student minister position, I told him it was going to have to be a temporary thing. I’m pretty sure I said “look, I can get you though the summer, but you might want to have someone new by August, because I don’t want to do this long term.” Bridge Have you ever had a really good, well-thought-out life plan and then found out that God disagreed? I’ll be honest church, I’m someone who values control. I want to be the person who drives the car, I want to chair the committee, I want to be the one who decided the itinerary because I like to know what’s happening and change it if I don’t like it. Can any of you maybe relate a little bit? But that’s not always how it works out, is it? Body Last week Matt kicked off our new series “Wanderers.” Over the next five weeks we’ll continue to look through the book of Numbers. The nation of Israel has left Egypt and is now traveling through the wilderness, making their way to the promised land. This morning we’re going to be working out of chapter 9, verses 15 to 23. As we work through the text this morning, we’re going to notice three reactions of Israel to God’s leading. Let’s begin in verse 15. [Numbers 9:15-16] This wasn’t just any ordinary cloud. It would cover the tabernacle as a permanent fixture. It wasn’t way up in the sky and moving but was covering the tabernacle at all times. Now if you’re a bit of a skeptic like me, you might acknowledge this is a weird cloud, but how do we know that this weird cloud is the presence of God? Notice that it says the cloud appeared as fire at night. So, just in case the ever-present, low cloud didn’t seem supernatural enough to you, God makes it look like fire at night. When God wants to get people’s attention, He gets it. God make His presence known. This exact event is also described in Exodus 40. In that account it says: [Exodus 40:35] Not only was this cloud covering the Tabernacle, but at first Moses could not enter it. Keep in mind, Moses was the one who God spoke to directly, whom God allowed to see His back and yet not even Moses could enter this place, because God’s presence was so concentrated. God made it pretty clear that He was among them. In turn, the Israelites acknowledged His presence. That will be the first of the three reactions of Israel. They acknowledged God’s presence. Do you ever get jealous of the Israelites? I know I’ve had times where I’m asking God for direction. It might’ve been nice if He would have just put a big-fire cloud in the sky just to make things clearer. I think there are two things we need to understand. First, we shouldn’t make the experience of the extreme minority our expectation. You see, God doesn’t generally manifest himself in the form of a giant fire cloud. That was weird. That’s why it was sort of a “big deal.” That’s why we’re still talking about it thousands of years later, because this was an abnormal experience. It shouldn’t be our expectation. Secondly, we should understand that what we have is better. You see, the Israelites got to see the glory of the Lord manifested, but it was still something distant. It was over there, you couldn’t touch it, you couldn’t be with it, but you could only follow it. For them, God’s presence was a temporary event. For the Christian, for us, God’s presence is not a temporary event, but a permanent state of being. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 3:16: [1 Corinthians 3:16] That same presence of God which could only be followed at a distance by Israel, lives inside of you and me. Maybe it’s less conspicuous, maybe it’s less clear, but Church it’s so much better. Let’s continue in Numbers 9. [Numbers 9:17-19] Everywhere they went, God led them, step by step. Interestingly, this wasn’t the first time God had led them in this way, immediately after crossing the Red Sea, well before the Tabernacle was built, God also led them using these signs. [Exodus 13:21-22] On the one hand, it seems like we should commend Israel for their faithfulness here. Both in the Numbers 9 and Exodus 13 accounts we see that the Israelites did follow the cloud and fire. They didn’t depart from it. They walked as God commanded. That will be the second reaction of Israel this morning. They were obedient to His leading. They were obedient to His leading. So, we should congratulate them for their faithfulness. They did good. But on the other hand, God made it fairly obvious that they should follow His signs. Like, I wouldn’t disobey a giant pillar of supernatural fire. Would anyone? Following God here seems like a no-brainer. So we go back to this idea of jealousy we talked about earlier. Because God made His will super clear for them, but isn’t it a bummer he doesn’t do that for us? Like if only He would just... spell it out for us. [*Hold up Bible*] Ya, know if He just put into plain English exactly how we ought to conduct our lives as Christians. [*Kinda wave Bible*] I don’t know if you all read the Babylon Bee, but they’re a Christian news satire site and they put out this article titled “Man Sitting Literally Three Feet Away From Bible Asks God To Speak To Him.” Now I understand, while the Bible helps us to know God’s will in the general sense, the Bible wasn’t written to you individually and God does sometimes give individual commands. I understand that. But like we established earlier, we have the Holy Spirit who lives in us. Look at what Jesus said of the Holy Spirit in John 16. [John 16:13-15] We, as Christians post-Pentecost, have the Holy Spirit in us and Jesus makes it clear that what the Holy Spirit does is make God’s will known to us. Now, while I’ve read this verse and I understand that I have the Holy Spirit, I understand that I have scripture, I still sometimes feel like I don’t understand God’s will for my life. If that’s you this morning, I want to suggest two things. First, have you asked Him? Have you asked Him to interrupt your plans and redirect you to wherever He wants you to go? Now, I’m not saying praying that magic prayer is going to give you some super cool Jesus moment each time, but I notice that people I know who regularly ask the Holy Spirit to interrupt their lives have a lot more interesting stories than people who don’t. So, maybe just give it a shot. I also want to suggest something else. Following God in the way the Israelites did didn’t leave a lot of room for personality. It was rigid. You were to move exactly where and when God commanded. Not a lot of room for individual freedom. Ephesians 3:12 says: [Ephesians 3:12 NIV] Additionally, it says in Galatians 5:1: [Galatians 5:1] The New Testament speaks a lot about freedom in Christ. Of course, this generally refers to freedom from sin, but there is also idea of being free from the law. While our freedom in Christ doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want, surely it means we get some ability to make some of our own decisions. Because, well, that’s what the word freedom means. So, this morning I want to suggest that maybe God hasn’t told you exactly how and where to step, he hasn’t told you which job to take, or he hasn’t told you want girl to ask out, because those are some of the decisions you get to make for yourself. Maybe you have the freedom to decide what you want to do. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says: [1 Corinthians 10:31] I think following Jesus isn’t so much about asking His permission for every decision but seeking His glory in every decision. It’s not so much about taking this road or that one but glorifying Him as you travel down either. Let’s return to our text in Numbers. [Numbers 9:20-23] We notice here our final of the Israelites’ three reactions; they were patient to His timing. Do you have a least favorite fruit of the Spirit? I don’t know if I’m allowed to have one of those, so y’all should probably pray for me, but I do. Yeah, Church, I struggle with patience. Christina and Seth both work at Tropical Smoothie. Actually, they both primarily work now at the Webb City location which recently opened. Each time Tropical Smoothie opens a new location they give a coupon for 52 free smoothies to the first 100 people who show up. Well, four years ago when the first location opened, a couple of my friends and I decided we were going to try to get that. I knew the store opened at 7, so we thought we’d get there at 6:30, just be sure we made it in time. Which, incase you didn’t know, 6:30 am on a Saturday during the school for college freshmen is not a time that you’re supposed to be awake. But I was committed, so by golly I woke up at something ridiculous like 5 and made it there. But when we arrived, at 6:30 am, there were already about 200 people in line. Needless to say, I received zero free smoothies. So this year, when they were doing to same thing for the Webb City location, I did not try my luck, but Ashley’s best friend Audrey did show up to get her free smoothies. Of course, Audrey was far more prepared than my friends and I, so she got a friend and camping tent, arrived at 2 in the morning, and slept in the parking lot outside Tropical Smoothie. When I was told her plan, I thought it was ridiculous. I laughed. I questioned what kind of an insane person would sleep in a parking lot to get free smoothies. But you know what? Now, she gets a free smoothie every week for the rest of the year. Ya know, those things are expensive. After tax, they’re like $4.50. Those are the cheap ones. The superfood smoothies are about $5.50 after tax. (If you don’t know what “superfood smoothie” is, it’s a term used by deeply troubled individuals to justify doing ungodly things like putting kale and spinach in their smoothie). Assuming she gets all 52 smoothies and she gets the superfood ones, she’ll receive $286 worth of smoothies for $0. She’s a genius. She’s so lucky. I wish I had gotten that. I haven’t asked her about it, but I imagine there were moments of the night spent in the parking lot that were rather unpleasant. I think, therefore, that it might be appropriate to read from the most unpleasant book of the Bible. If you could turn with me to the book of Lamentation, chapter 3, verse 26. [Lamentations 3:26] I don’t know if you realize this, but the promises of God are quite a better than free smoothies. But the wait can be a bit longer, too. And sometimes the wait is more unpleasant. But even still, it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. Conclusion For those of us who need to be in control, it can be hard to wait on God. It can be hard to go exactly where God wants us, instead of where we want. Sometimes we even forget to watch for God’s leading. I know I’m not the only control freak here. Can you relate? But as Christians, as people who want to be of and for Christ, we should be concerned with where God wants us to go. Just as Israel followed the cloud, so we must follow the Holy Spirit. Just as Israel followed the cloud, so we must follow the Holy Spirit. I think we all could pray for the Holy Spirit’s intervention in our lives. I think we all could pray for the obedient heart to follow where He leads. But if you feel like you need some extra prayer this morning, I invite you to come up the front and find myself, Karl, or one of our elders. We’d love to pray with you this morning. Would you pray with me now? [Prayer] *** All scripture references are ESV, unless otherwise noted.
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