Followers become leaders
Numbers 11:24-30

Today we’re continuing our series called “Great People in God’s Story.” Before we go any further, I’d like to share two observations that have struck me as I’ve been working through this series. First, consider just how remarkable it is that God’s story includes so many people who have had so much influence in God’s continuing work. It’s really pretty stunning to think that the God who spoke creation into being would choose to work through people. You’ve probably heard the old saying, “If you want a job done right, do it yourself.” If anyone has a right to use that phrase, it’s God! But God doesn’t choose to work that way. God chooses to work through people.

And that leads me to a second observation. God seems to have a preference for working through really flawed people. The apostle Paul jailed Christians and approved of their execution, and yet God powerfully used Paul to spread the Gospel and plant churches. Mary Magdalene was once possessed by seven unclean spirits, and yet God used her to support Jesus’ mission and ministry.

Today we continue our series with a familiar figure in the story, Moses.  Much has been written and is indeed known about Moses, but given that today is the festival of Pentecost we’ll also spend a few moments looking at the role of the Spirit in his life and work.

From the time of his birth, we can see God’s hand in Moses’ life. Moses was born in Egypt at a time when the Pharaoh was feeling threatened by the number of Hebrews living in the land. So Pharaoh decided to have all the newborn boys killed. But through a series of events that only God could manage, Moses wound up being raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, under Pharaoh’s own roof.

One of the defining moments of Moses’ life happened when he was a young man. Moses knew that he was a Hebrew despite his Egyptian upbringing. He also knew that the family that loved him was the very same family that brutally oppressed the Hebrews as slaves. Can you imagine Moses’ inner conflict? One day Moses saw an Egyptian taskmaster brutally beating a Hebrew slave, and Moses murdered the taskmaster and buried his body to hide the evidence. He was recognised and forced to flee from Egypt and ended up in a land called Midian where he married, settled down and raised his children and looked after a flock for 40 years.

If Moses’ story ended right there, it would be quite a story. But Moses’ story was just beginning.  He was called by God through a burning bush, and became God’s unlikely choice to set free the Hebrew slaves from Pharaoh, the leader of the world’s superpower. The story that unfolds is nothing short of spectacular. It includes plagues, a journey through the sea on dry ground, pillars of cloud and fire, bread from heaven, water from a rock, Ten Commandments from a mountain, a golden calf and poisonous snakes, a lot of whining, the building of a tabernacle and God’s incredible patience.

For 40 years Moses led the Israelites through the wilderness. While the journey could have gone much quicker, the Israelites needed time to learn some important lessons from the Lord along the way.

For Moses, the journey ended on the banks of the Jordan River. He could see the Promised Land, but God would not allow him to enter it. You see, Moses failed numerous times as a leader during those 40 years of wilderness wandering, and at one point he failed to trust the Lord and to follow the Lord’s clear command. So God passed the leadership to Joshua, and HE led the Israelites into the Promised Land. Moses died in the land of Moab, but his influence didn’t end with his life. He is remembered as one of God’s greatest prophets.

That’s a brief overview of the life of Moses, but today’s reading gives an insight into the spirit working through him.  None of this was his own doing; it was all guided by God through the spirit.  Moses didn’t think he could do any of this and tried to weasel his way out of it right at the beginning, but God had other plans and gave him everything he needed throughout his life, including during the years in the wilderness.

Today’s Old Testament reading describes a time when the Israelites were grumbling as they wandered through the desert, and Moses came to share what the Lord had asked him to pass on to them.  The Lord took some of the spirit from Moses and gave it to the seventy elders and they prophesied, but just the once, it didn’t last for them the way it had for Moses.  Then two others, Eldad and Medad had the spirit come and rest on them and they weren’t even there with the seventy elders, and they began to prophecy and continued to do so, but Moses wasn’t jealous or upset, he went so far as to wish that all of the Lord’s people would receive the spirit .

And that is precisely what happened on the day of Pentecost that we heard about in our second reading today.  Jesus had promised that he would send the Spirit to his people and that “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”  As the crowds were gathered in Jerusalem for this Pentecost festival the Spirit descended on the people and they were able to see and hear the power of the Spirit through the tongues of fire that were on them and good news being proclaimed in their own language.

No longer was the Spirit reserved for the chosen few who were able to prophecy, it was given to all of us who are children of God to enable us to know God, and have him dwell within us, to call us to be his children, to help us trust in Jesus as our saviour.

Each of us has the spirit whether we recognise it or not, we sometimes go searching for signs, we might become jealous of other people’s gifts of the spirit, but the truth is there is nothing to be jealous of.  Moses was one of the greatest leaders in the history of God’s people, and he was fine with another couple of ordinary blokes having that gift.  It takes all of the gifts to make up the church of God, so we should give thanks to God for the gifts he gives each of us.  Accept them and put them to good use for the building up of God’s kingdom.

Give thanks to the Lord for all his goodness to us, and may his steadfast love endure forever, as he continues to use the most unlikely of characters for the building of his church.

Amen.