Twelve Followers

June 13, 2021
Book: Numbers

Speaker: Dan Werthman

Audio Download

Bible Passage: Numbers 13 and 14

What does it mean to follow Christ well? How are others affected by the way we choose to follow Him?

Good morning. I don’t know what this will reveal about my musical tastes, but I remember a few years back a popular rock group, Bon Jovi, had a hit. And the name of the hit was You Weren’t Born to Follow. Now, why was that a hit? It wasn’t just the music, it was that sentiment reflected where our culture is at. We are a culture that believes it’s weak to follow. I was listening to a Nigerian pastor recently and he now pastors here in Chicago, but much of his upbringing was in Nigeria. So he comes and he brings a different perspective, a different set of eyes to see American culture with. And he says this: US culture primes us to be disdainful of being followers. He recounts how many people he hears say things like following is for sheep. I’m a leader. I don’t follow. I lead. I wonder if some of us experience that even on a subtle basis. You know, we think of ourselves, I’m educated, I have accomplished a lot in my profession, in my vocation. People listen to me and I give direction. I’m not really one who follows. I’m one who leads. And I wonder how much of that spirit we bring into our Christian faith and into the church and yet the very definition of being a Christian is being a follower. That’s what Jesus says of us in John 10:27. My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me.

When we hear the voice of Jesus in the darkness, the spiritual darkness of our lives. And we’re called into the light, the very definition of what it means to be a Christian is to follow him. And out of that, to follow those that he raises up as his under shepherds over us in the church that he created. Why is this pertinent? I have been thinking about a lot about this, a lot about followership recently, because as most of you know, we are in the midst of the search for Calvary’s next lead pastor. And as I reflected on Calvary’s history, most of it I’ve learned just by reading it or hearing it, it does raise the question to me, are we prepared to follow as God raises up the next lead Pastor, God’s under Shepherd, under the Great Shepherd. Are we prepared to follow? I think of the very definition of a pastor. Ephesians 4:12 is to equip God’s people for the work of service, for the building up of the body of Christ, for the expansion of God’s kingdom, and if that’s really what we’re calling a lead pastor to do. Here are some questions that I would put out to you rhetorically to think about. Are you open to being equipped? Are you really open and ready to be equipped to do the work of ministry? Are you ready to join the mission? Calvary has a new mission to make disciples of Jesus who live out passion for Christ and compassion for people.

And if we call a lead pastor to lead us in fulfillment of that mission, are you ready? Are you prepared to follow? Are you prepared to be led as we call the next lead pastor? And this all reminds me of a story, the story I will just call the story of the 12 followers, and it’s in numbers 13 and 14 if you want to follow along. I’ll kind of loosely hit the high points of the story. If you have your Bible, the story actually takes place at a location in Palestine called Kadesh Barnea. We’re not exactly sure where we are, where we think this is, but this picture is the likely site or Kadesh Barnea is. Kadesh Barnea is an area somewhere near the wilderness of Peran in the Sinai Peninsula and the wilderness of Zin in the high country that’s known as the Negev. And if it’s this area that you see in the picture there, there is at least four springs. So it’s an oasis area. It’s the area where, as God led the nation of Israel out of Egypt and across the Red Sea and then to Mount Sinai, where he gave them the law. Then just before he was going to take them into the land, the promised land, he had them camp at Kadesh Barnea.

And it was there at Kadesh Barnea that God first spoke to Moses, the leader that he appointed, and he says to Moses, send men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each tribe, send one of its leaders. Send 12 men. Send 12 men up into the land of Canaan to spy out the land, to check out the land. And so Moses, the leader of the nation of Israel, hearing from God, takes that command, that mission, and he speaks it to the people. He sends them on a mission. And the mission is this. Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country, see what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, many or few. So think about that mission for a moment. Moses sends these 12 men on a mission and it’s really a two part mission. The first part of the mission is check out the desirability of the land. See what the land is like. Is it good or bad? Is the soil fertile or poor? Are there trees growing on the land? He even commissions them. Bring back some of the fruit of the land, some evidence that this is a good a desirable land. So the first part of the mission is check out the land’s desirability. The second part of the mission is check out the land’s defenses, see whether the people are weak or strong, see whether there’s just a few people or are there many people. Are there cities? Are there towns? Are they unwalled? In other words, easy to to enter or are they fortified? Do they have walls and thick defenses around them? See how defended the land is.

So he sends them with this two part mission on this forty day journey. And they go up through through the Hill country. They go through Zin they go to Hebron. They end up finally at what’s called the Valley of Eskol. And then we pick up the story of their return. At the end of forty days, they return from exploring the land. They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh, and they reported to the whole assembly and they showed them the fruit of the land; and apparently the fruit was huge there. They brought back a cluster of grapes that had to be carried on a pole between two men. So just these few evidences of fruit were were enormous, showed that the land was incredibly bountiful, that the land was incredibly desirable. Now, here is the report that all twelve of the followers, all twelve of – you may think of them as the spies. This is what all twelve had to say. We went into the land. We went into the land that to which you sent us.

And it does flow with milk and honey. It is bountiful. It is desirable. Here is its fruit and they show them the abundant fruit. But then they continue on with some reality. And here is the reality in verse twenty. But the people who live there are powerful and their cities are fortified and very large, and we even saw descendants of Anak there. That was a race of people that that that were large in stature and powerful. So we might think of them as giants. So this is, at this point, this is still objective observation that all 12 of them are giving. And really, I point this out to say that all 12 of these men, these followers, they understood the magnitude of the task. This is going to be a big deal to go up and to take this land, even though it’s a highly desirable land that God is providing to us. At this point the 12 followers divide and two followers say one thing and the other 10 say something else. Here is what two of the followers say. Joshua and Caleb. We should go up. We should take possession of the land for we can certainly do it. So they understand the magnitude of the task. And and what is their counsel to the nation of Israel? Let’s go do it. Let’s trust and obey and let’s go take the land that God has given to us.

But the other 10 respond in a very different way. And they basically say this, we can’t attack these people. Didn’t you just hear us? Did you hear us that there are giants in the land. Didn’t you hear us, that the cities are fortified, they are stronger than we are. They are all of great size. I think a little exaggeration is going on there. And we’re just grasshoppers and their eyes. Two see one thing, 10 see something very, very different. And what happens? Well over, I’m guessing, the next several hours after this public report is given these 10 filter into the crowd. So they go back into the tribes that they were leaders from. And we pick this up in verse thirty two that the ten spread among the Israelites, a bad report about the land that they had explored after giving this public report they’re back with their tribes and that same spirit in which they they said, you know, they’re giants, that were grasshoppers compared to them. That begins to filter in their conversations with the different people and their tribe and the effect, the impact of that bad report we see at the beginning of Chapter 14. That night, all the people of the community, they raise their voices. They wept aloud. They grumbled against Moses and Aaron. Those 10 filtering into their tribes and giving that bad report has now created this mass movement, this grumbling.

And what is it that now all the community is saying? Here are some of the things they are saying. If only we had died in Egypt, if only we had died even in this wilderness, why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt? And they said to each other, we should choose a leader and we should go back to Egypt. There they are on the verge of a mutiny at this point. The ten had filtered into the crowds. Their spirit has spread among the tribes. And now that attitude has just infected the whole community. And now the community is ready to rebel against the very leaders that God has raised up to lead them on and to his blessing and to what he has promised to them. Now, Joshua and Caleb, they are still faithful. They’re basically saying, wait, the land that we traveled through and explored is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into the land, a land flowing with milk and honey. He will give it to us only do not rebel against the Lord and do not be afraid of the people of the land. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.

Two voices against ten voices against what is already spread among the community. Does it make a difference? Not noticeably. We read the whole community began to talk about stoning. Now Joshua and Caleb, let’s let’s silence these voices. But then something happens. Then, in the midst of what is becoming maybe a mutiny, God makes his presence known, then the glorious presence of the Lord. Maybe that’s the pillar of cloud or the pillar of fire in which God has manifested himself over his tabernacle before. The glorious presence of the Lord appeared to all of the Israelites over the Tabernacle. And now the Lord speaks. And the Lord says to Moses, How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me? In spite of all the miraculous signs that I have performed among them? They have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness. And they have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed me. And here’s where we really have to go back and we have to read the first thirteen chapters of Numbers, because this is not the first time this has happened. This is by God’s counting, the tenth time. Israel’s grumbling, Israel’s complaining, Israel’s doubting began shortly after God led them through the Red Sea. And this is produce this rebellious spirit. And so this event is is not a one off.

This event really in God’s eyes, is the last straw as far as he is concerned. And we see this in what he says. I will disown them. I will destroy them with a plague. But you, Moses. I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they are. So God basically says I’m ready to start over. I’m ready to wipe them all out. And out of you, Moses, I’ll fulfill my promises, but I’ll raise up a new nation from your loins, from your descendants. And yet, Moses and all his humility, he pleads on behalf of the people. He prays to the Lord a prayer on behalf of the people, according to your great mercy, according to your great love. Forgive the sins of these people just as you’ll pardon them from the day that they left to Egypt until now. Oh, God. Give them your mercy. Oh, God forgive them. Oh, God. Overlook their sin and forgive them. The Lord hears that prayer from Moses. The Lord replies, I have forgiven them. I have forgiven them, as you asked, nevertheless God truly does forgive them. God determines he’s not going to wipe them out. He’s not going to start over. And yet, even though that forgiveness meant that God would not destroy them all on the spot, it didn’t mean that they would escape all the consequences of their grumbling of the rebellion, of their sin.

And he goes on to speak to them the consequences of this pattern of grumbling and doubting and rebellion, I swear to you that none of you will enter the land that I promised to settle you in except Caleb and Joshua. So all of that generation that had come out of Egypt and across the Red Sea and was now at Kadesh, all of that adult generation, God says you’re not going to live to see going the entrance into the promised land. Your children, they’ll see it, but they’re going to be here. They’re going to be shepherds for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness until you are all buried in the desert. The consequences even go further for those 10 followers, those 10 followers who saw the same thing as Caleb and Joshua, and yet they give a bad report. They produce this mass uprising. 14:36 tells us that the ten men who incited rebellion against the Lord with their bad report, they were struck down with the plague before the Lord. They died as a result of what they did in spreading the bad report. Now the story goes on. But I want to pause here. I want us to dwell here even as we think about how this may speak to us today, individually and corporately as a church body. Let me make a couple observations.

All of the followers, all 12 of the followers saw the same challenge. They all made the same observation. The people who live in that land, they’re powerful, their cities are fortified and very large. There are giants in the land. They all made objective observations that were true. And that was part of God sending them. God wanted them to understand the magnitude of the challenge. This is not going to be easy. In fact, God wanted them to understand that this challenge was humanly impossible, that they could not do it in their own human strength. So all of the followers saw the same challenge. But what was the difference between the two and the ten? The difference among these followers was their perspective. Consider the perspective of Caleb and Joshua. The land is exceedingly good. They are focusing on the blessing that God has before them. They are focusing on God’s goodness. He has set this before us. This is what he wants for us. They’re focusing on God’s goodness. They say he will lead us into the land and he will give it to us. Are you hearing that? There is a trust in God’s goodness. There is a trust even in God’s greatness. Yeah, this is humanly impossible. But he will lead us into the land. He can do it by his greatness and they say we should go up and we should take possession of the land. They’re saying we need to trust and obey.

Yeah, we can’t do this in ourselves, but we can do it if we trust and obey. And that’s why the Lord said of them in 14:24, my servant Caleb has a different spirit. He follows me wholeheartedly, all of his heart, in other words, is given to follow me, I will bring him into the land. But the perspective of the other 10 followers was quite different. And what is it that they were saying? We can’t attack these people, they’re stronger than we; they are focusing on their human limitations. And, yes, they were very humanly limited. They are letting their human limitations stir up their anxieties and their fears. They are saying if only we died in Egypt, if only we died in the wilderness. You know, in essence that’s saying it would just be better if we stayed here. Yeah, even if we die out staying here, this is more comfortable. This is easier. It just would be easier to stay where we are right now, even if we know that leads us nowhere. They’re even saying we should choose a new leader and we should go back to Egypt. They’re saying the past is better, the past that we don’t remember accurately by this point, the past is better, we should try and go back to the past. And they are passive aggressively now beginning to rebel and beginning to say, we don’t want to follow those that God has raised up to lead us.

We want to be our own leaders. And that’s why the Lord said of these 12, they have treated me with contempt. God considers their lack of faith. God considers their grumbling contempt not just towards Caleb and Joshua, not just towards Moses and Aaron, but contempt towards him. They will not trust in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them. They have grumbled against me and he sums it all up in 14:33 as unfaithfulness. Unfaithfulness. That’s his judgment upon these ten. I think you can draw the logical conclusion from this even to us today, the way that you and I follow affects other people. The way that you and I are followers influences other people, we see this in the 10, the ten spread a bad report among their community. And what did that result in? That resulted in the people of the community raising their voices and weeping aloud. In other words, they spread anxiety and fear among the community. And as a result, all of the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron. Do you understand what grumbling is? That word is used throughout scripture, it expresses the sullen dissatisfaction that we feel about our about our circumstances, about the the situation that we’re in when we dwell on what’s unpleasant that God is allowing in our life right now.

And we allow that to embitter our hearts, that causes that grumbling, especially as we express it to others. And not only grumbling, it resulted in rebellion. Rebellion is active opposition to authority, whether that’s done passive aggressively or that’s done is an outright rebellion. The way that we follow affects others. And in the case of the 10, you see, it had a dramatic effect with dire consequences. Now it can go the other way as well. Just as our grumbling and our doubting and our resistance influences others, so similarly our faith and our obedience can encourage others. It can inspire others. Are you facing a Kadesh moment right now, just you individually in your life, whatever you’re facing, maybe it’s in a marriage, maybe it’s in your family, maybe it’s in your work, maybe it’s financially, maybe it’s in your extended family. I don’t know what it may be. Are you facing a Kadesh moment? Where right now, when you think of where you are, you are wandering in the desert, you are Kadesh Barnea. The Lord has blessing ahead for you, the Lord has places that he wants to lead you and bless you. And right now, you’re in the wilderness and you are being tested for how you are going to follow him. You may even know God wants you to lead you into the land.

God wants to lead you into a place of blessing in your marriage or your family or whatever sphere it may be. But your doubts, your fears are causing you to focus on the giants, the obstacles, the things that you look at and you say, I cannot humanly overcome those. It’s easier sometimes when we’re in those Kadesh moments just to say I’m going to stay here in the wilderness. I’m going to stay here in the desert, I know it’s not going to get me anywhere, but it’s just easier. I don’t have to fight it. It’s just easier to stay here even if it means I’m going to die here. Or maybe in your Kadesh moment, you’re even longing to return to Egypt, you’re remembering the past, probably not with a very accurate memory and you’re thinking, if I could just go back there, if I could just go back to that time in my life, if I could just get back to those circumstances before I was married or before I had kids or before I made those educational choices or whatever it may be. Are you facing a Kadesh moment right now individually? Now, let me make it corporate. Calvary is at a Kadesh moment. God is calling Calvary to go up and take possession of the land. We’ve set that out. I know it may seem vague to you, but we’ve set it out in a new mission that we exist to glorify God by making disciples of Jesus who live out passion for Christ and compassion for people.

We are we are sharing this with lead pastor candidates. We are we are asking them, how will you help lead us in fulfillment of that vision? We are sharing with our lead pastor candidates, we have a new value, love the lost and make followers of Jesus. How will you help us do that? How will you help us get out from the walls here, become more outwardly focused and love the lost and lead them to Christ? We’re sharing with them our new core value of make disciples of Jesus who make other disciples of Jesus, and we’re asking our lead pastor candidates, how will you lead us? How will you lead us and help us create a disciple making pathway so that we are more intentional and more focused on making disciples of Jesus who may go on to make other disciples of Jesus themselves? Calvary is at a Kadesh moment. Will we go into the land that God has promised? And we believe and we are praying that God will raise up a leader to lead us into the land, and by making that statement, I don’t mean at all to equate the next lead pastor with Moses. All right. He is only going to be a man, but God uses men. The Great Shepherd uses under shepherds. And we are praising we are praying that God would raise up and under Shepherd to lead us into the land and lead us in fulfillment of that mission and those core values.

But here’s the challenge, the challenge of going into the land, of reaching out into the community, of loving the lost, of making disciples; that challenge, just like the challenge to the spies it looks, and it is humanly impossible. They were seeing the defenses in the land of Canaan, I look out and I see the defenses in our culture. I see the growing cultural hardness to the claims of Christianity. I see the growing hostility to the gospel and the Christian message. You can see it. You can look all around you and you can see that going out into the world is to go out into a world, a culture that is full of growing strong defenses against penetrating it with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It looks, and it is humanly impossible. We cannot do this in our own strength. So here’s the big question, when God raises up the next leader for Calvary, what kind of follower will you be? If God answers our prayers to bring us a man who will help us fulfill our mission, a lead pastor, what kind of follower will you be? Will you trust in God’s promises and his power that this is really what he has for us.

He wants to lead us into this blessing. Will you follow like Caleb wholeheartedly, even when it seems humanly impossible? Or will you focus on your doubts and fears? Will you focus on the defenses in the world? Will you focus on how uncomfortable this may make us? Will you decide it’s easier just to stay here in the desert, yeah, you know, we’re we’re really not going anywhere. But, you know, at least it’s predictable, at least it’s somewhat comfortable. At least I know a few people that I can say hello to every Sunday. Will you even long to return to Egypt thinking something like, you know, the problem is we just really need to get back to where we were 20 years ago or you put the timeline on it whenever it is, we really need to get back to fill in the blank. That’s akin to saying we want to go back to Egypt, let’s find a leader who can take us back to Egypt. Will you begin to grumble. Will you begin to let that that dissatisfaction of the current circumstances of the current situation grow in you, heat up in you till it spews out in grumbling, grumbling to each other, grumbling ultimately against the Lord. Will you passive aggressively resist? And even rebel, when God brings in a leader. What kind of follower will you be? Here is the reality, brothers and sisters, no matter how talented, how gifted, how experienced, how godly the next lead pastor is, Calvary will remain in the desert unless your hearts are prepared to follow.

And here’s the real truth about all of us, we don’t become better followers just by trying hard. In fact, our fallen condition is this. If you’d go to the next slide for me. Our fallen condition is described by the last verse in the book of Judges, everyone did what was right in their own eyes. Everyone does or wants to do what is right in their own eyes. Jon Bon Jovi. We weren’t born to follow. That’s the natural state of our hearts. I don’t want to follow somebody else. How do I know they’re reliable? How do I know they’re a good leader? I don’t want to follow somebody else. At the heart of that is really I want to follow myself. I want to live life my own way, even if that means without God, I want to be the leader of my life. That is the natural fallen condition of every one of us. And so we can’t follow we can’t follow in and of our own strength, but there was one who was the perfect follower. And this is where our hope is, God sent one into the world, the only one who has ever perfectly followed him. The one Jesus Christ who said of his mission, of his whole purpose, I do not seek my own will, I seek the will of the father who sent me.

And that one died on the cross, died in our place, died as a substitute, died as a sacrifice for your and my rebellion for your in my grumbling for your and my unwillingness to follow. He took his perfect followership, his perfect righteousness, and he paid the price, giving up his life in order to forgive us for our rebellion and our grumbling and our lack of of wanting to follow. And as we place our faith in him, as we allow him to be not just savior, but Lord of our life, his spirit fills us and enables us to follow. Enables us to follow Christ, enables us to follow the shepherds that he raises up under him as they follow Christ. Will you follow? We pray that God is raising up the next leader who will lead us in fulfillment of our of our mission, which we believe is leading us into God’s blessing and into the fulfillment of God’s will. Will you follow? You only can follow as you look to the one who perfectly followed, as you put your faith in him, as you follow the leading of the spirit that he has poured into your heart.

Let’s pray. Jesus, we begin by confessing that we are like the 10, we see the reality around us, Lord, and we look at our human limitations, we look at our human desires, and we don’t have faith to go forward.

Lord, it is just too easy to stay where we think it’s comfortable. It’s even easy, Lord, to want to go back to something, some previous time in life that we don’t even accurately remember. And Lord, we are prone like these 10 men to grumbling. We are prone to resisting passive aggressively and actively. We’re prone to rebellion. Lord, we are no better than Adam and Eve, our first father and mother, who were the first ones who turned away from following you, wanting to make their own choices. We need your work in our lives. Lord Jesus, we need you, the perfectly righteous one, the perfect follower. We need what you have done on the cross for us. We need the cleansing power, transforming power of the gospel in our lives. We need that individually, Lord, and we need this corporately. We want to be a church Lord that is on mission for you. We want to be a church that is faithful to you Lord. We are trusting that you raise up under shepherds under you the Great Shepherd Lord. And what we need now is a spirit where we can follow, we can follow in faith, we can follow. Trusting that you are good and that you are great. Give us the spirit Lord. Convict our hearts where they need to be convicted. Transform our hearts as we look to Christ. We pray this all in his name. Amen.

Scroll to Top