Posts Tagged ‘undeserved honor’

Numbers 18:1-7 (Part 2 of 2)

Duties of the Priest & The Levites

When I was six years old back in the day, my family was living in a small farming community in between Sumter, SC and Camden, SC. Sumter’s claim to fame is that it is home to Shaw Air Force Base and is named after the revolutionary war hero, Thomas “The Fighting Gamecock” Sumter and probably not much else. Camden has a bit richer history in that it is the oldest inland town in South Carolina and there was a major revolutionary war battle fought there for which there is a historical preserve just outside of town that commemorates those events. Both though are small southern towns that are not of any particular import these days. And, we lived in an even smaller town in between the two, Rembert, SC.

 

In that small area, it was so small population wise, we had to be bussed to our school over near Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter. Back in those days, the elementary school, the junior high and the high school were all on the same property. This point has a lot to do with my illustration this morning. That year, my 1st grade year, it was time for the homecoming football game, and apparently the homecoming committee (some of the high school kids) came down to the elementary school part of the campus on a Monday and was looking for a first grade boy and girl to be the crown bearer and the flower bearer for the homecoming game to held the following Friday. They looked in each classroom of first graders and were going to select some boy and some girl at random to become part of the homecoming court that Friday. By some twist of fate, I was selected. It may have had something to do with my innate cuteness at that age! LOL! However, it was not because of something I had done or something I had qualified for. It was simply that I was chosen by the girls of the homecoming committee because for whatever reason they just liked me.

 

It got me and the young girl whose name I cannot remember these 48 years later out of class twice that week to practice with the homecoming court. I was to carry the crown, which was attached, to this white satin pillow and my fellow cute first grader girl was to carry the roses that were to be bestowed upon the 1968 Homecoming Queen of Hillcrest High School. We just did what we were told. We were guided into our positions in practice. Then on Friday, during halftime of the homecoming game, we did it all again for real. Although we practiced it twice during the week, being there during the game under the lights with at least two thousand spectators there, I was a bit nervous. Must not drop the crown. Must not drop the crown. Must not walk faster than the girl I am with. Must not walk faster than the girl I am with. It was a great honor. Even though we were only first graders, if you find a 1969 Hillcrest yearbook, you will see two little first graders in the homecoming court picture. Why I was chosen for this honor still eludes me a half a century later. No one knows in my family why I was chosen. It was just that the homecoming committee’s teenagers just thought I fit the look or whatever. It was not that I was from a power family in the region. My dad had just been transferred to be the pastor of a couple of rural Methodist churches just a few months before so it wasn’t that I was like the child of this longtime preacher in the region. My mom was a working mom so she was not one of those 1960’s stay at home moms that was heavily involved in the school. None of those reasons that you might think in this situation was an explanation here. I was simply chosen at the whim of a few teenagers who peaked into Mrs. Lipsey’s first grade classroom that day. No pedigree. No history. No who ya know. Just chosen.

 

It is that idea of unmerited choice that I thought of when I read Numbers 18:1-7 for our second and final pass at this Scripture this morning. Let us read through it together now:

 

 

18 The Lord said to Aaron, “You, your sons and your family are to bear the responsibility for offenses connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons alone are to bear the responsibility for offenses connected with the priesthood. 2 Bring your fellow Levites from your ancestral tribe to join you and assist you when you and your sons minister before the tent of the covenant law. 3 They are to be responsible to you and are to perform all the duties of the tent, but they must not go near the furnishings of the sanctuary or the altar. Otherwise both they and you will die. 4 They are to join you and be responsible for the care of the tent of meeting—all the work at the tent—and no one else may come near where you are.

 

5 “You are to be responsible for the care of the sanctuary and the altar, so that my wrath will not fall on the Israelites again. 6 I myself have selected your fellow Levites from among the Israelites as a gift to you, dedicated to the Lord to do the work at the tent of meeting. 7 But only you and your sons may serve as priests in connection with everything at the altar and inside the curtain. I am giving you the service of the priesthood as a gift. Anyone else who comes near the sanctuary is to be put to death.”

 

Here you see that the Levites were chosen by God to serve, not because they were anything special, not that there was a competition among the clans to see which clan got to be the priestly clan and they won out. There was no competition as to which clan was most holy all the time. None of the clans would have qualified under those circumstances. Yet, they were called out by God. They were chosen by Him to carry out the honorable duties of the Tabernacle (and later the Temple). This unmerited choice emphasized the fact that these priests, and these people had done nothing to merit the provision. It was wholly one of grace, a gift from God. Therefore, it was not less, but more, important that they should recognize its sanctity. Whatever service is ours as a result of the giving of grace, is the most holy and sacred service, and therefore to be rendered with the utmost devotion.

 

When we accept Christ as our Savior, we are given an unmerited gift than cancels out the penalty of our sins for which we deserve eternity in hell, separated from God, where there is burning of flesh and the gnashing of teeth eternally. That is what we deserve. That is what we have earned. We cannot do enough good deeds to undo the effect and the penalty of our sins in the absence of the grace, the unmerited gift of salvation, of Jesus Christ. Why then are we so often seen as a sorrowful people, the people of the church. We should be the most joyous people on the planet. We actually know what we deserve and where we were headed in the absence of the gift that we did not deserve. We know that hell exists and that were pulled back from its precipice. Not because we deserved it, no! We know that we rightfully by our own merits should be eternal residents of hell. But when we throw ourselves on the mercy of the Lord, He released us from our sentence through salvation in Jesus Christ. Through grace by faith, we have been set free. We don’t deserve it by any means. There should be such great joy, tempered with great humility. There should be this outpouring of “this is what Jesus has done for me” that we cannot hide it or help it from pouring out of us. We are like prisoners who are granted a reprieve from the electric chair. We are murders, rapers, liars, whores, prostitutes, thieves, prideful, arrogant, greedy, needful, all of us. None deserve being chosen through grace by faith. But we are chosen and set on the high, dry rock above hell’s flames. We are placed on the rock of Jesus Christ through faith and extended grace that we do not deserve. How’s your joy? How well do you serve the Lord just to pay him back just a .000000000001 of what we should do for our Savior?

 

Do you see serving the Lord as an imposition? Do you think that other things are higher priorities? Are all these other things that we involve ourselves in more important than showing God honor for what He has done for us through Jesus Christ? Whatever we do, it will never be enough for the grace He has extended us? No way no how. There is not enough we can do to serve our Lord! We must do it with passion and fervor because of what He has done for us. We cannot boast because we do not deserve anything other than the fiery flames of hell. Grace is a gift. We should be like kids on Christmas morning with our gift of grace that we do not deserve.

 

Amen and Amen.

Luke 1:46-56 — This passage has come to be called the Magnificat because in the Latin translation of the Bible, Mary’s opening words are “Magnificat anima mea Dominum” (or in English, “My soul magnifies the Lord”). Of course, Mary spoke neither Latin nor English, but that’s beside the point. It is a song of praise in any language. There are two things to notice here in Mary’s beautiful song of praise.

Mary was not being proud, as some might suggest. Mary is not being a political revolutionary, as some have suggested. She is simply praising the Lord. She is in awe of what God has chosen to do through her. Instead of thinking of her words as pride, “and from now on all generations will call me blessed,” it should be seen as the voice of a young teenager who knows she doesn’t deserve the honor that she has been given. She admits right before this statement that the Lord has recognized his lowly servant girl. She knows that she is an unusual choice, probably an undeserving choice by human standards, for this honor. My soul, my soul magnifies the Lord. She is overcome by joy at being chosen for this deed that is now known through the generations. Certainly, Mary in the humility of this statement would be the first to disagree with how some in our faith grant her status equivalent with Jesus. This passage is evidence that she is blown away by the honor. I imagine Mary felt just as we do when we realize that Christ died for our sins and we have been given a new lease on eternity when we accept Him as our Savior. We are so undeserving of this favor shown by God. Though we are undeserving of any merit from God, we rejoice in that we have received favor. Think about it. On our own, we do not deserve to be in the presence of God, but through Christ we have been given a honor that we do not deserve. This is how Mary feels. If she wasn’t pregnant, she would be doing cartwheels. She would be a flyer in a cheerleading stunt. She would be doing that victory dance that we do when our favorite college team wins an important game. Mary had no special talents that we know of. Mary was not a self-aware, mature beyond her years political revolutionary. She was a 12-14 year old girl who was trying to figure out this crazy, mixed up world. She was just a kid. It was not that she had accomplished any great thing to deserve this. She had not earned it. She was just a girl in love with the Lord. Her song of praise is simply a recognition that God grants us gifts that we don’t deserve in so many ways. In thanksgiving, our souls should magnify the Lord for the undeserved gifts He grants us daily. He grants them. We do not deserve them. We should be thankful and joyful and singing praises at what God has done for us and in us through our faith in His Son.

The second thing that Mary’s Song of Praise is shows us is that Mary recognizes that God is faithful to His promises. Kingdoms may come and go. Princes may raise and fall. The rich cannot sustain their wealth in eternity. All of humanities promises are temporary. All of our accomplishments are temporary. There has yet to be a man-made kingdom that has lasted more than a millenium. All of man’s deeds, promises, and actions are temporary. The one thing that remains is the eternal promises of God. Mary praises God for this. There were those who doubted God would ever fulfill His promise to Abraham. Mary is stating emphatically here that God’s promises are eternal and they have now been fulfilled in the child she carries. She praises God in faith and in trust that He never fails. He does keep His promises. He may not answer them when we as temporary, fleeting humans want them answered but He does keep His promises. What joy Mary has in this. Her faith is vindicated. He is bringing forth the Messiah that He promised. Mary’s praise should be our praise. God is faithful. He is faithful always. When all the things of this temporary human life have disappointed or failed to keep promises over the long haul, we have God’s promises. He never fails. His love never fails. Take hold of that my friends. Even when we are in the depths of despair, God is working. He will keep His promises to those who are faithfull in His due time. When we are down and out and think we have nothing to cling to, cling to the Eternal King. He is faithful. He keeps His promises. We must have faith in this. Satan wants you to distrust and turn away from God. God will keep His promises. He always has. He always will. Mary is doing metaphorical cartwheels over this. She is doing the cabbage patch dance over this fact. She is doing the moon walk over this. She is doing the electric slide over this. Sorry, for the digression into various dance moves, but you get the picture. Mary is magnifying the Lord in her soul. She is shouting from the mountaintops for the promise kept! This lowly teenage girl we can learn much from! We whine and complain about what we don’t have, about the fact that God seemingly doesn’t hear us. Mary says, you fool, God is God. He is eternal. He does what He says—according to His Sovereign timetable not ours!

Father, help me to remember to have some Mary joy about the fact that though I did not deserve salvation you gave me this great gift, this great honor. To be among your chosen ones because of grace through faith in Jesus Christ. That was all it took. No deserving acts. No deeds. Just faith. Help to remember like Mary that she did not deserve the honor bestowed upon her. May my soul continue and always leap for joy for my salvation, for my undeserved honor. Also, help me to remember the promises that you make are kept. Your answers to my prayers that are alignment with yours will come when You decide. You will keep your promises to your faithful ones. You always have. You always will. You are eternal. Our promises as humans are only temporary. You are eternal. You keep your word. Let me rejoice in that trust! Amen.