Pastor Joel Leyrer - The Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost - Sunday, September 26, 2021

Text: Numbers 12:1-15

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Dear Friends in Christ, What were your immediate impressions when you heard this lesson read from the lectern a few minutes ago? If you thought to yourself “there is a lot going on here,” you’d be right. There are a number of story lines that could be pursued.

On the surface we see evidence of what might be considered sibling rivalry, professional jealousy, and/or simmering resentment on the part of Aaron and Miriam – and what it all led to.

We learn about the single characteristic that best describes Moses as a man and a leader, and how it played into his response after he was essentially betrayed by those closest to him.

We see both the just nature of God when it comes to sin as well as the forgiving nature of God when it comes to the repentant sinner. We’ll touch on all of this over the next few minutes.

However, what we really want to spend our time on and apply to our lives as Christians today is the root cause that triggered all this drama in the first place. This incident reminds us that times and circumstances change, but human nature does not. Our text took place approximately 3500 years ago, but the lessons within it are as relevant today as they were back then.

What we will learn, mostly through the negative example of two people who should have known better, might best be summarized in this statement the Apostle Paul made in his first letter to his young colleague in the ministry, Timothy:

GODLINESS WITH CONTENTMENT IS GREAT GAIN

That’s what we want to take away from this story – which we will now briefly work through:

Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this.

To say Moses had a big job is an understatement of epic proportions. God had chosen him to lead his people out of a four-century long period of slavery in Egypt to a Promised Land where they would live as a free and prosperous nation. But getting from point A to point B would prove to be a long, tiresome, and messy trip – both physically and spiritually. In the end, it took forty years.

It wasn’t long into the journey before the people began to voice their unhappiness with Moses’ leadership. Despite repeated miraculous evidence of God’s providence and protection, complaining became chronic, and rebellions and mutinies broke out like brushfires.

Sadly, our text indicates that on this occasion the perpetrators were Moses’ very own older sister and brother. Under the pretext of calling Moses’ judgment into question because he had a wife who didn’t share their Hebrew bloodline, the real reason for their resentment quickly surfaces. They were jealous.

Although both of them held high positions – Aaron was the high priest, which made him the supreme religious leader among the people; Miriam was a prophetess and, as such, head of what today we might call “women’s ministry” – it apparently wasn’t enough. They wanted more. They wanted to be seen and recognized as Moses’ equal. They were envious of him.

Which is interesting because it’s not as if Moses was somehow flaunting his position or carrying on in a condescending manner. Note how he is described in our text: (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)

Maybe you’ve heard this quote from C.S. Lewis classic work, Mere Christianity: “True humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” That would be Moses. He was certainly no shrinking violet or timid soul. Recall how he boldly took on Pharaoh and led Israel with authority for four decades…

Yet he was humble in the sense that he fully understood who he was and, in contrast to his personal flaws and weakness, he also fully understood who God is. While he conscientiously used the gifts God had given him to the best of his ability, he relied completely on God for the strength to carry out his calling.

Years later, the prophet Micah would ask God’s people then and now a question and then provide the answer: “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” That would describe Moses. And in that way, Moses is an example for us all.

Returning to the story, God, who chose Moses, did not approve of the disloyalty exhibited by his siblings. At once the Lord said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Come out to the tent of meeting, all three of you.” So the three of them went out. Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When the two of them stepped forward, he said, “Listen to my words:

We’ll condense the remainder of this text. What follows is a very pointed speech where God calls them out for their sinful pride and sacrilegious talk. Having exposed their guilt, a sentence is imposed. Aaron and Miriam recognize and confess their sin, Moses intervenes on their behalf, and the Lord forgives them. Then, after a period of time to reflect on the impact the actions of these prominent leaders had on the nation, the people of God continued their journey to the Promised Land.

All of which could have been avoided had Miriam and Aaron kept this in mind: “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” Let’s pivot to this passage now, because there is much trouble and difficulty and sadness in our lives that can be avoided when we understand and live by these words as well. Let’s talk about this.

Its exact location is 1 Timothy 6:6. By way of context, we should note that in the verses just before this Paul has some harsh words to say about those who use “godliness” (today we would say “religion”) purely for financial gain. Although they may appear respectable and pious, Paul describes such men as being in reality ungodly and “corrupt” and “robbed of the truth.”

Nevertheless, Paul recognizes and wishes to address the fact that even among those who truly are “godly” (that is, believers), there are those who are not content with their lot in life. That’s why he says “Godliness (meaning: true godliness, living for God out of love for what he has done for us in Jesus Christ) with contentment (meaning: being satisfied with our earthly situation, whatever it might be) is great gain.” In other words, this is a good combination.

It’s also a very interesting observation. Because Paul clearly implies these two things (godliness and contentment) may not always coexist. They obviously didn’t for Aaron and Miriam.

What Paul is telling us and what Aaron and Miriam demonstrated, then, is that finding contentment in life may be a struggle even for the believer. And if we are honest, who among us could disagree? Contentment, meaning “the state of being content or satisfied or at peace with what we’ve got or where we’re at in life” is often a hard state to be in.

Why is this? One reason is the world we live in. The message we constantly hear is that we should not be content with what we have and that we should not be satisfied with where we are in comparison to others who have or achieved more in life, but to always be striving for bigger and better things. The world works tirelessly at creating a spirit of discontentedness within us. And we’re not immune to its influence.

Another reason is this. Although we are new creatures in Christ who understand the Gospel and desire to live for our Lord, we still have within us a sinful nature. And as far as our sinful nature is concerned, anything that panders to our innate selfishness or the prideful desire to elevate our status by what we have or what we are or what we think we should be is not a hard sell.

But what Paul wants us to know is that true contentment has nothing to do with how much we have or don’t have. What Paul wants us to focus on is not what we have, but who we are. Not what we possess, but Who possesses us.

What Paul wants us to know is that those who look for happiness or satisfaction solely in outside things or ambitions will be disappointed, because they cannot provide us with real inner peace.

That comes only in a close, humble relationship with God like Moses had. Closeness to God is the ultimate and only source of true contentment. It is the close connection between the soul and his or her God that results in the contentment so many want, but so few find.

Because at the base of that relationship is what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. And what God has provided for us in Jesus Christ is the full and free forgiveness of all our sins. All our sins of discontentedness as well as our sins of every other stripe and hue were nailed to the cross with Jesus on Good Friday.

Then, on Easter Sunday Jesus rose as the undeniable proof that his mission of salvation was successfully accomplished, but our sins remained dead and buried in that tomb. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” declares the Apostle Paul.

And with that declaration of “no condemnation” and the realization of our restored connection with God thanks to Jesus, and the confidence that all this translates into the promise of a watched over life now that will continue forever in heaven, something special comes into our hearts and minds; something that cannot be duplicated by anything we can buy, achieve, or experience on this earth.

Namely, “the peace of God that passes all understanding.”

In other words, “Godliness (faith in Christ) with contentment (inner peace).” Moses exemplified it in our text. Aaron and Miriam temporarily lost it, but with God’s fatherly and forgiving intervention found it once again.

And, thanks be to Jesus, it is ours today. May we never lose sight of it and cherish it always.

Yes, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” – and it is all wrapped up in the Jesus who loves us and the Jesus we can’t help loving in return. How blessed we are. Amen.