7 billion people on earth. Out of those 7 billion people, 1.6 billion are Muslim, approximately 1.1 billion are unaffiliated, agnostic, or atheist, 1 billion are Hindu, some 376 million are Buddhist, and many more millions are part of various ethnic and regional religions. Out of the 7 billion people on earth, 2.2 million are some variety of Christian. About 229 million of those Christians live in America, out of a total population of 318 million. Out of those 229 million Christians, 3.5 million are some form of Lutheran. And out of those 3.5 million Lutherans, the WELS has a little over 380,000 baptized members. So when you look at the numbers, 380,000 WELS members are supposed to fill Jesus’ Great Commission to go and preach and baptize the nations.
How are we supposed to do that? It’s been 2000 years since Jesus ascended back into heaven and we only have 380,000 members to show for it; what about in our own church? There are shut-in calls to do, Bible classes to schedule, canvassing to be done, the list never ends. We’re supposed to go tell the entire world about how Jesus came to save them, but how in the world are we ever going to do that when we have a hard enough time spreading the gospel in our own community.
When you look at the numbers like this, with this attitude, it’s easy to throw your hands up in the air in frustration. It’s easy to get discouraged, and wonder what Jesus thought he was even asking us to do.
But this problem isn’t new. Moses faced this same dilemma in the First Lesson for today. And just like God showed Moses how he was going to help him, God shows us the same thing today. In our lesson for today we learn that
God Gives Us Help to Serve Him
1. He sends us helpers from within
2. He sends us helpers from outside
When you come to work on Monday and see papers and reports and assignments piled up on your desk higher than your coffee maker, how do you feel? Probably pretty overwhelmed, right? That’s how Moses was feeling in our reading for today: overwhelmed. Moses didn’t just have to deal with a stack of reports though; Moses had to deal with 2 million Israelites. These Israelites were hungry, and they were complaining hard about it. They’d been in the desert for almost a year now, and they were starting to remember fondly all the things they had in Egypt. Things like houses and homes, and actual meat to eat. They started complaining to Moses, and Moses didn’t know how to handle 2 million complaining Israelites.
Exposition Part 1
And Moses, just like the Israelites, started complaining too, complaining to God. Moses says to God, “Why me? Why do I have to care for all these people? I didn’t ask for this. How am I supposed to feed all these people?” It’s like when you’re on a long road trip and your kids start complaining about how hungry they are, or how they don’t like the food you prepared for them. Only instead of dealing with 3 or 4 kids, Moses was dealing with about 2 million kids.
God had an answer for Moses’ complaining. He was going to feed the people. He’d already given them manna that miraculously came down every morning, 6 days a week. Now God was going to help the Israelites by giving them meat to eat too. And he wasn’t going to just give them a little bit, enough to get by. God was going to give them so much meat it would come out their ears.
Moses had to tell the people about this, and it takes quite a long time to speak to 2 million people, especially in the days before radio, television, or the internet. God tells Moses, ” Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you. 17 I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.”
And so, Moses and the 70 elders headed for the tent of meeting in the middle of the camp. They circled up, and Moses began telling the people what God told him; God was going to send them meat and fill their hungry stomachs.
What happens next is truly miraculous. God actually came down from heaven, in a cloud, and speaks to Moses. God had a plan. He was actually going to take some of the Spirit that was on Moses and put it on the elders. It was like God used Moses as a candle to light the 70 elders. Then, 70 elders prophesied in a very ecstatic, miraculous way. It probably looked similar to what happened on Pentecost Sunday when the Holy Spirit came on the disciples.
In the end, Moses really had nothing to worry about. He’d gotten so shook up and frustrated by the Israelites’ complaints that he forgot to rely on God to help him out. God had already helped bring him and the Israelites out of Egypt. Why wouldn’t God also help provide for Moses in the desert? And not only did God provide the Israelites with food, he also provided Moses with the help needed to minister to the people.
God helped us out in a big way too, with some help that came from within. Jesus, God’s own Son came down and died for your sins and my sins. Jesus is the real help that you and I need; the help that frees us from the huge, unbearable burden of our own sins.
God went through all the effort to send Jesus down to earth. Doesn’t it make sense that God would want people to hear about this? God didn’t send Jesus down so just a few people could hear about it; he sent Jesus down to earth so the whole world could hear about it!
The way God gave us to learn about this is his Word. His Word and Sacraments are the ways we learn about God’s plan to save us, and the way that we tell it to others.
But what good are tools if there’s nobody to use them? God has also given us ministers to help spread his word and sacraments. And God gives us all sorts of people, from pastors, to teachers, all the way to lay members like you who help spread God’s Word among your family and at your jobs.
But even with all this, what do we do? Do we see all these gift and tools and people God has given to us, and give him our worship and thanks? Sadly, the answer is often no. Our sinful nature makes us focus on the numbers. We get so caught up in how much work there is to do, that we fail to appreciate all the help God gives us.
But remember, God does send us help. On top of all the pastors, teachers, and faithful lay members we have here in the WELS, we also have God’s own powerful, inspired Word. Contained in that word is the greatest message of all, the message of Christ crucified. This gospel has continued to spread since Adam and Eve first sinned, and God is going to help keep it spreading around the world as long as the world exists.
It’s really great to see all this help that God sends us. But God doesn’t just stop there. Sometimes help comes from unexpected people. Moses also got some unexpected help in the First Lesson for today. We read that, “However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. 27 A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”
Exposition Part 2
It seems that Eldad and Medad were part of the original group of 70 elders, and for whatever reason they hadn’t gone out to prophesy at the tent of meeting, but instead stayed behind and prophesied in the camp.
Joshua took offense at this and said to Moses, ““Moses, my lord, stop them!”Joshua was jealous for Moses’ honor, but he was also jealous for the purity of God’s Word that God used Moses to preach. Eldad and Medad had not followed Moses’ command; they hadn’t gathered at the tabernacle. Joshua objected to the idea that these sinful outsiders were proclaiming God’s Word.
Moses calms Joshua’s worries and says, “I wish that all the Lord people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” Moses saw that the LORD was indeed providing him with help, and he welcomed all the help he could get, even if it came from an unexpected place—and even if the unexpected proclaimers hadn’t obeyed him completely. Joshua was right to be jealous for Moses’ sake and for the sake of God’s Word, but Joshua also needed to see that it was the Holy Spirit who really did the work.
It can be a hard thing to recognize, but the gospel is indeed working in other church bodies besides ours. God says that his Word will not return to him empty. Anywhere God’s Word is preached and the sacraments are administered according to Jesus’ command, there the Holy Spirit is working faith in people’s hearts.
This doesn’t mean that we approve of what those other church bodies preach in their sermons and what they confess. Just like Joshua, God wants us to guard his Word jealously. God wants his Word to be taught in its full truth and purity, and he wants us to honor that Word by not adding or subtracting to it.
But it’s important to realize that even among all the false doctrine that happens in other church bodies, the gospel may still be proclaimed and is still working miracles in people’s heart. We need to remember that the Holy Spirit works where and when he will. Don’t think that the gospel isn’t being preached all over the world. The Lord doesn’t just work through the WELS; he works through his holy and inspired Word. This is the help that God gives us that comes from outside our church; the gospel is powerful enough though it sometime works through false teachers.
If you we just focus on numbers, our position can start to look a little desperate. It’s easy to get discouraged when you focus on 380,000 members versus a world of 7 billion. But when you look at the message God has given us to preach and how much he’s poured out his Spirit on our own church and on people in other denominations, too, things look much better. So don’t get discouraged or frustrated. Remember that God is in control of his own Word and his own Spirit. The world may have 7 billion people in it, but we have one God, his one son Jesus Christ, and his one Holy Spirit, who help us to do all this work.