In Numbers 13, Moses sent 12 spies into the land of Canaan, the Promised Land. It has been called the Promised Land because God promised the Israelites He would give it to them. They weren’t simply looking for a land and trying to decide which one they wanted or which one they could take. God was sending them to a land He had promised to give them. This was the same God who had delivered them from Egypt by a series of plagues and then by parting the Red Sea. Seems to me, if this God wanted to give them a land, He knew how to do it.
However, in Numbers 13:27-29, 10 of the spies reported that the land was indeed amazing. It was everything they had been promised. It was a land flowing with milk and honey. It was the land they really wanted. Only one problem. “We can’t do it,” reported the spies. “The people are too big, too strong, too powerful. We’ll never overcome. We should pack up and go home.”
In Numbers 14:7-9, Joshua and Caleb tried to change the minds of the people. “If the Lord wants to give us the land, He’ll do it. Trust in the Lord.” But the people wanted to stone them, appoint new leaders, and return to Egypt.
You know how the story turned out. God punished the Israelites. They wandered in the wilderness until that generation died—except Joshua and Caleb. God rewarded these two men in the Promised Land when He finally gave it to the next generation.
This story makes me think about our present day. The scripture has told us that the harvest is plentiful, but laborers are few (Matthew 9:37). The scripture has told us to go out and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). We read the book of Acts and see the great success those early Christians had spreading the gospel.
However, I am tempted to look around today and start making excuses. Too few people care about spiritual things. Too many people are too worldly and liberal. Everyone is prejudiced against Christ’s church. Nobody wants to listen. People won’t like us. Nothing will work. On and on and on the list can go.
Is this kind of excuse-making anything more than, “Yes, the land is all God promised, however, it is filled with giants. We better just go back to our building and quit worrying about victory in the land”? It is just so easy to forget that we aren’t doing all this on our own. God is with us. God wants us to have victory in the land. Will everyone listen? Of course not. But God is with us. We will be victorious. We will have success. We will spread the gospel and God’s kingdom, if we trust in the Lord and simply do His will.
That means we just need to start doing something. Instead of waiting until we are sure we have come up with some fool-proof plan that everyone will listen to, let’s just start doing something. Invite people to the assemblies. Offer to pray for people. Have a study in your home. Ask if your co-worker would be interested in reading the Bible together. Do something. Not everyone will listen, but God is with us. And He is the one responsible for giving the increase (I Corinthians 3:5-7).
We will do it, not because of us, but because God is with us.
Genesis 1:6-9 begins the story. At first, God created light. Then He separated the waters. Then he gathered the waters below the expanse together and from their midst He caused the dry land to come forth. In a very real sense, the world was born through water.
Then in Genesis 6-9, God decided to remake the world. How did He do it? He sent forth water, immersed the world in water, and then let the waters subside. The world was born again, if you will, through water. At the same time, Noah and his family were also born again through water. They were saved from the perverse generation that surrounded them by water. Their new lives began after they came through the water.
Moses followed this pattern with his life. He was born and then hidden in the water in Exodus 2:3 in an ark made of bulrushes. Yes, the word for “basket” in Exodus is the same as for Noah’s boat in Genesis. Moses’ infancy at once reaches back and calls to mind the reborn world, but also looks forward to the birth of national Israel.
The Israelites left Egypt following the death of the firstborn in Exodus 12. In Exodus 14, they came to the shore of the Red Sea. Pharaoh’s army brought up the rear and the people were trapped. However, God divided the waters and Israel walked on the dry land that appeared (reminiscent of the dry land appearing in the birth of the world). The nation of Israel left their slavery and were reborn a nation as they walked between those waters. I Corinthians 10:2 even calls it a baptism.
This whole scenario was replayed when Joshua led the people across the Jordan in Joshua 3:14-17. The waters backed up and the people crossed on dry land, reminding and replaying their birth as a nation through water.
Is it any surprise then that when John the Baptist came on the scene folks had to travel out to the Jordan to hear him and heard the message of baptism in water (Matthew 3:6)? I don’t think it surprised the Jews at all. Birth and rebirth through water had been part of their stories since the beginning.
We should not be surprised either. When Jesus told Nicodemus that we had to be born again by water and the Spirit in John 3:5, the concept was not new. When Peter said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” in Acts 2:38, the Jews never thought, “Oh no, this is works salvation.” Rather, they simply saw a parallel to all that had gone before. Birth, rebirth, regeneration, new creation takes place through water. It had always been so and God’s use of it again made perfect sense.
When we read the whole story of the Bible, we see that baptism is not just some arbitrary command once John came on the scene and then taken up by Jesus. Rather, it is the fulfillment of all that has gone on before. We shouldn’t be surprised. We should simply obey and pass the message on to others.