In a previous post, we discussed the wilderness journey of the Israelites. When comparing their story to ours, it becomes evident that we are in our own wilderness. 1 Peter 2:11, among other passages, refers to Christians living in the world as “sojourners and pilgrims,” while Philippians 3:20 reminds us that “our citizenship is in Heaven.” While the Israelites crossed a literal Jordan into the Promised Land, when we leave this world we will cross our own Jordan and enter Heaven. Volumes could be written about the significance of these parallels, but we previously focused on how the incessant whining in the wilderness led to a lack of faith that destroyed an entire generation.
There is an element to this narrative, though, that needs to be explored specifically by church leaders. Moses is a great example of faith, and his conviction is recounted in Hebrews 11:23-29. Yet in Numbers 20, it seems that in the middle of all the wilderness chaos he neglected to be obedient to God’s instructions. Each Christian is commanded to be obedient, but there is a special emphasis placed on those who aspire to lead God’s people. James 3:1 mentions that those who teach will receive a stricter judgment, and elders have been charged with shepherding those under their care.
There are a variety of examples of false teachers and preachers who have exploited and abused religion for personal gain. In Moses, though, we see a well-intentioned man of faith carried away by the madness of the wilderness. Unfortunately, the world that we live in has a way of swallowing up godly leaders and making them feel at home in the wilderness. The example of Moses should be a warning that there are consequences for disobeying God. The beginning of Deuteronomy 34 is among the most heartbreaking passages in all of scripture:
“Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is across from Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land of Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the South, and the plain of the Valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to give Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have caused you to see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.”
So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. And He buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth Peor; but no one knows his grave to this day. Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died. His eyes were not dim nor his natural vigor diminished. And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days. So the days of weeping and mourning for Moses ended.”
Moses was able to see the Promised Land and know its beauty and glory, but he was not allowed to enter. Today we stand on Jordan’s stormy banks just trying to survive our wilderness. If we are swept away, we can see Heaven and still not be allowed to enter. Hebrews 6:4-6 discusses the Christian who has fallen away completely, but it gives some vivid explanations of what it is like to BE a Christian. Specifically, a Christian:
1) Becomes Enlightened
2) Tastes the Heavenly Gift
3) Partakes of the Holy Spirit
4) Tastes the Good Word of God
5) Tastes the Powers of the Age to Come
To be a Christian and not enter the Promised Land is a frightening prospect, and as leaders, we should be guarding our hearts every day! As 2 Peter 2:21 says, “it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.”
We are in the wilderness, just like Moses was, but we still have the hope of entering Heaven as an anchor of the soul. My prayer for each of us is that we can be in the position of Joshua and enter by God’s grace into the land of promise!