Numbers 5:11-31 – Ross, Rachel, The Trail…And Perry Noble

Posted: July 11, 2016 in Book of Numbers
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Numbers 5:11-31 (Part 1)

Protecting Marital Faithfulness

 

Your sins will find you out. It is a saying based on biblical evidence and our own human experiences regardless of whether we are believers or not. We all know it. We all have experienced it. We may keep our sins hidden and spend great energy in keeping them hidden but they will eventually find us out. Have you ever told a lie? Do you remember how hard it is to maintain? The untenable nature of lies reminds me of that episode of Friends where Ross and Rachel break up and he ends up having a one-night stand with “the girl from the copy place.” The next day, he realizes that he has a message on his answering machine that Rachel wanted to work on their problems rather than break up. That’s what Ross wants also, but now there’s this infidelity while “they were on a break!” When discussing his dilemma with Chandler and Joey, Joey reminds him not to forget “the trail”. Ross, puzzled, asks, “what’s the trail?” Joey explains that “trail” is the connection between the girl you slept with and the girl that you don’t want to find out that you slept with her. Chandler, within 30 seconds, figures out the trail between “the girl from the copy place” and Rachel. It was the trail of people from the girl at the copy place, her brother who worked there, to a co-worker of Phoebe, to the co-worker’s roommate, Gunther, to Rachel. Chandler prided himself on figuring out the trail. But, then, there is the sudden realization of the three of them that if Chandler can figure out the trail that easily that Rachel will find out rather quickly. Ross spends half the episode chasing down every person in the trail, but when he gets to Gunther, it is too late. Gunther, who was secretly in love with Rachel during the whole series of the show, had already shared the news with Rachel. The remainder of the episode, with no laugh track, was probably one of the serious and heart wrenching episodes in the whole series. Ultimately, the one night stand is the undoing of Ross and Rachel’s relationship. They spend the rest of the series floating around each other but never dating again. It takes seven seasons to resolve their relationship. That one-night stand provided the necessary tension for the show but it is evidence how our sins will find us out and really screw things up. That one-night stand sent us on a seven-year adventure where it is not resolved when “she got off the plane” in the final episode of the series.

 

No more is this evident in today’s world as we sit one-day removed from revelations of the leadership team at NewSpring Church, headquartered about an hour from me in Anderson, SC. It is the third fastest growing church in America. It is one of the ten largest churches in American with about 30,000 regular attendees across 17 campuses in South Carolina. Perry Noble, who started the church in his living room some 15-16 years ago, who has become one of the celebrities of the “new church” movement that has taken hold in America here in the last 20 years. Because of the phenomenal growth of NewSpring in a relatively short period of time and the way that the church’s church plants have all taken off, survived, and thrived, NewSpring and Perry had become somewhat of the darlings of the new evangelical movement. At the same time, Perry has come under criticism in recent years for his sometimes straying from generally accepted biblical theology in his sermons. He has also come up criticism because NewSpring seems to offer a watered down version of the gospel that attracts many but develops the spiritual maturity of few. Yesterday, though, was a watershed moment not only for Perry Noble and NewSpring but for the “new church” movement as well. Perry is not the first megachurch senior pastor to fall from grace. On the west coast, just a year or two years ago, another star of the new church movement, Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, was removed from the senior pastorship of the megachurch he founded by the leadership team there.

 

Many have criticized the new church movement with its prevalence of megachurches, particularly those in traditional churches with their boards of trustees and myriads of committees, because it does tend to make celebrities of these founding pastors. The criticism is also that there is often very little accountability or threat of censure for these megachurch celebrity pastors because it is their church and they founded it. Who is going to question the founder? In the traditional church, sure, they are often mired in inaction and failure to reach outside their own walls, but there is accountability. The pastor is always held accountable by the powerful trustees and could lose his job if he pisses enough of them off. Where is the balance in this I do not know. One thing is certain though, there does need to be greater accountability for the moral conduct of pastors in the megachurches. Sure, the lack of committees and power struggles of traditional church allows these new churches to reach more people more quickly and allows them to react to needs of the community more quickly. The model must shift to somewhere in the middle I assume.

 

But the thing that did work in NewSpring and did work in Mars Hill was that the leadership team did eventually recognize that something had to be done. Sins can be hidden for a certain amount of time. However, our sins are found out because sin consumes and expands. We dabble in sin at first. We stick our toes in the water and it seems ok. So, we get ankle deep. Then that seems fine and we wade a little deeper and little deeper. Then all of a sudden we are over our heads in our little pet sin that we at one time could keep hidden. We are consumed by it. I am sure that is what happen with Perry Noble and alcohol. We dabble. We wade. We swim. We drown. Sin in consuming. Keeping our sins hidden is Ross following the trail difficult. Keeping our sins hidden becomes a full-time all consuming job that pulls us away from God and from the tasks that He has assigned us. I am certain that this was happening to Perry Noble to the point that it became obvious. His sins could no longer be hidden and they were consuming the leader of one the ten largest churches in America.

 

That is one of the clear messages of this passage is that our sins will come to light. Our sins will be revealed. Maybe, we can be successful in hiding our sins throughout our lives on this side of eternity but God will judge us at our physical death. In the absence of repentance and the grace of Jesus Christ who took our bitter cup for us, we are condemned. It is only through repentance that we can see our need of Jesus Christ. When our sins are working for us (while we keep them hidden), we fail to see our need for Jesus Christ. It is only through encountering the Holy Spirit that we are convicted of our sins that brings us to our knees and points us to repentance at the cross. Even after we accept Christ as our Savior, the Holy Spirit has a lot of work to do pointing out that which is unholy in us and revealing it to us. That is the lifelong process called sanctification. Some sins we do not think of sins early in our Christian walk, but as time goes by the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to how desperately sinful we are and how much we need Jesus Christ and desperately we need to turn away from our sins so as to please our Savior.

 

Let us read this passage this morning with the idea that sin is untenable and we can never maintain its secrecy and how sins shrivel us up inside and get in the way of what God has in store for us:

 

 

11 Then the Lord said to Moses, 12 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him 13 so that another man has sexual relations with her, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), 14 and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure—or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure— 15 then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah[a] of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour olive oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder-offering to draw attention to wrongdoing.

 

16 “‘The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the Lord. 17 Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. 18 After the priest has had the woman stand before the Lord, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder-offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse. 19 Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. 20 But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”— 21 here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the Lord cause you to become a curse[b] among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. 22 May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.”

 

“‘Then the woman is to say, “Amen. So be it.”

 

23 “‘The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. 24 He shall make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering will enter her. 25 The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the Lord and bring it to the altar. 26 The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial[c] offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water. 27 If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse. 28 If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children.

 

29 “‘This, then, is the law of jealousy when a woman goes astray and makes herself impure while married to her husband, 30 or when feelings of jealousy come over a man because he suspects his wife. The priest is to have her stand before the Lord and is to apply this entire law to her. 31 The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin.’”

 

There are so many other things to talk about here. Let summarize the days ahead:

 

  • Today, we are talking about how our hidden sins will be revealed by God.
  • Tomorrow, we will talk about how our text differs from all others in the Bible is that this is the only case in biblical law where a judicial decision depended upon a miracle. Only here do we have a procedure in which the Lord intervenes directly and supernaturally in the outcome of what is in effect a case at bar.
  • After that, we will talk about One thing that is very important for modern readers to notice is the protection that this ritual provided for women. It was not enough for a husband to suspect his wife. Only the Lord could reveal her guilt and if he did not she was vindicated.
  • Finally, we will talk about how this passage is warning to us about sexual infidelity and how our generation is the first to not really take this warning seriously.

 

But the takeaway for today is that God will reveal our sin. It may take years, but it will be revealed. Unchecked, unrepentant sin destroys. It shrivels us up inside. It makes maintaining the sin more important than God. It gets in the way. And there is always destruction that comes from unrepentant sin. That’s the lesson for us all.

 

Maybe the lesson for NewSpring is that Perry Noble was taken down by an all-consuming attempt to keep his sins hidden. Maybe that will lead him to a deeper understanding of Scripture and a deeper understanding of judgment for sin. Maybe that spiritual truth that there is judgment for sin, which he will be suffering mightily in the coming weeks and maybe even years, will invade his preaching and he will begin preaching the whole Bible. Maybe, his preaching will now reveal our desperate need for Jesus to be our King and Lord and not just our buddy who accepts all of our behaviors no matter what. We pay the price for sin. Sometimes it is a steep price. Maybe, through this valley, Perry Noble will emerge a stronger preacher who preaches the whole gospel, the whole Bible. Maybe, just maybe, as a result of this episode, NewSpring will become a church where 30,000 people grow deeper in their relationship with Christ. May that be result of all this for Jesus’ church as a whole.

 

Let us examine, each one of us, our lives for unrepentant sin. Let us be honest. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to us what we are covering up. Ask Him to reveal to us our sins that are shriveling up our witness for Jesus Christ. Help us to confess those sins. Help us to repent of them. Help us to seek forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Help us Lord to be more and more like you each day. Help us oh Lord! Help us!

 

Amen and Amen.

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