“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
Jesus in Every Story : Numbers 16:41-17:13 : Dr Ben Stubblefield
Coming into contact with “big” things has a way of changing us permanently. Like seeing your own child born. Some visions are overwhelming, compelling, and make you want to be a better man, better husband, better soldier, better worker, etc. and all without telling you to be one. Experiencing transcendence changes you. One of my hopes today is to help you to see Jesus, the Majesty of Majesties (2 Cor 4). Luke 24 tells us that all of Scripture points to Jesus. So I want to show you a Bible passage that will help give you a vision of Jesus that will change you. Ordering it by three headings: bad news, good news, greatest news.
→The Bad News: God is Angry with Sinners.
Why does God get angry with the Israelites in Numbers 16? Pride. We get a glimpse in 16:41 but key verses to understand this are 16:3 and 16:10. The priest was essential to life in Israel. You didn’t go to God around the Priest; the only way they could come to God and have life in Him was through the priest. This group decided that they didn’t need God’s plan or God’s man (Aaron) anymore (16:3-they came to ‘oppose’ them). And what they wanted was to come to God by themselves, without any other kind of intercessor (maybe even tried to murder Aaron and Moses). They have the attitude: “We can do it ourselves.” Now, what is that called? That’s called “Pride.”
Now does that sound familiar? People rejecting God’s way, God’s man, and looking for life somewhere else? This is a picture of Jesus and our treatment of him. Like Aaron for Israel in the Old Covenant, Jesus is mankind’s ultimate and final go-between, our intercessor, Priest, the only way we get to God (life) is through Him. “I am the way the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father except through me.” As Jesus is imaged by Aaron, too many of us are imaged by these Israelites. Because some of you don’t think you need God’s way or God’s man. “I can manage my own life. No need for Jesus or his church. I can handle my problems on my own. I’m doing fine. So thank you Jesus, but no.” That’s called Pride. And what does pride do?
Pride makes you look foolish. What will you show for yourself on the final day when you’ve spent a lifetime trying to get around Jesus? Look at my: Bass. Money. Coozie collection. Cars. Respectable. Job. Duck stamps. Grandkids. I’m fine. That’s right. I’m fine. What kind of lunacy and hard-hearted arrogance turns their back to God on the precipice of hell. This is not a movie, a game, or a country song. This is your everlasting soul. Don’t be a fool.
Church bells ring, Jesus calls, and you are frittering your life away with things that can not and will not save or give you life. That same kind of pride justified God’s wrath in Numbers 16 and resulted in the plague in 16:33. Listen to me Southerners, you are bound for hell, and you will be swallowed in terrible judgment, because you are saying “No” to Jesus, who died for you and because of you. Your sins put him there. Your rebellion sent him to the cross. Your pride cost Him everything.
And that’s the bad news. Because of that, God is angry.
→ The Good News: God Atones for Sinners
Notice what Aaron does (46-47). He falls down to pray for the people that want him gone. Then rushes out to make an atoning sacrifice to stop the plague that God sends on the Israelites for their sins (46, 49). Atonement happens between two people in conflict, a way of fixing the conflict by paying the guilt of the offending party. Aaron does this (16:48, standing between the dead and the living) to end the plague.
Now, the people (prideful, murderous, rebellious) have somebody (who, even though, they wanted him dead and gone) is atoning for their sins to bring God’s judgment to a halt…does that sound familiar?
What’s the cross about? Jesus pays (atones) for our sins, even after being slapped, mocked, lashed, and crucified, and takes one of his dying breaths to utter, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Even though I deserve the wrath of God, I get an intercessor. He has every right to see me sent to Hell, but instead, in his unearned kindness, Jesus suffers for me.
Man and wife caught in a hailstorm – the man gets scarred protecting his wife. And she says, “Every time I see the scar, I love him more because he sacrificed himself for me.”
Has Jesus atoned for sin? Do you love him? Or are you still holding out? Look at Jesus, suspended between heaven and hell: forgotten, forgiving, broken, blessing, destroyed, delivering.
→ The Greatest News: what was dead is now alive (17:1-8)
God wanted to do something here to demonstrate before all of Israel that Aaron was once and for all God’s man. And so what does he do? He does this kind of odd, dead wood comes to life visual illustration which seals the deal once and for all that for Israel at this time, God’s man (Aaron) is all Israel will ever need.
How does this point us to Jesus? Does God do anything with something that is dead and bring it to life?
From now on, the almond blossoms confirmed that Aaron is your way forward, your hope. Jesus, from now on (Rom 1:4), is your ever-living, ever-ruling, ever-reigning way forward. What was dead is now alive. When death defeated everybody, there was somebody who defeated death. Nobody went to the tomb expecting to find no body, but there was, in fact, nobody home.
There is no hope in this world with a Savior in the ground. If that staff doesn’t blossom, then there is nothing special about Aaron. If that tomb doesn’t open, there is nothing special about Jesus. Just another peasant Nazarene who got caught up in an angry mob.
But in his resurrection, the power of death is undone. Much more than almonds. This is a first taste of life beyond life. His rising proves he pays for sin and that all the promises of Jesus…”kingdom coming, sin-abolishing, life-giving, 2nd coming, peace-making, war-ending, pain-ending, new-earth-making, final judging” are true.
Now this news of Aaron’s staff terrifies the Israelites because they realized: They’re boogered. We’re sinners. No better than those who perished. And so “We’re all going to perish” (17:12-13). That’s exactly what you should sense right now. I’m prideful and guilty of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. We are all bound to perish.
All they had to do was recognize that God provided a way and then come to God, God’s way, on God’s terms, through God’s man. All you have to do is the same; Come to God His way, on His terms, through His man, Jesus Christ.
“Will we all perish?” Yes. Unless right now you give your life to the only one who can forgive, atone, and raise you to new life. Do you see him?
Alive, Crucified, Risen, and Reigning in glory. Do you see Him? The praying priest, the plague-ending atonement, and the blossoming almond blossom? Do you see him? Worthy of your life? Then like Mary at the tomb, will you bow your head in silence and consider the question: Will I perish?
Dr. Ben Stubblefield is the Pastor of of FBC Jackson in Jackson, AL, and graduate of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Auburn University.