If you have a Bible with you this morning we're turning to the Old Testament, to Numbers and chapter 16 and verse 41: "But on the morrow all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the Lord. And it came to pass, when the congregation was gathered against Moses and against Aaron, that they looked toward the tabernacle of the congregation: and, behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared. And Moses and Aaron came before the tabernacle of the congregation. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment. And they fell upon their faces. And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly unto the congregation, and make an atonement for them: for there is wrath gone out from the Lord; the plague is begun. And Aaron took as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the congregation; and, behold, the plague was begun among the people: and he put on incense, and made an atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed. Now they that died in the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred, beside them that died about the matter of Korah. And Aaron returned unto Moses unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and the plague was stayed".
Let me say, it's brilliant to be back with you here. We've really been looking forward to it and we miss you all very very much. We've had a hard few weeks being away from you all, and living down the road but not being able to come here. But now we're moved - we moved on Friday and we had a hectic week; but if you want to know our new address - maybe you don't want to know it! - but if you do want to know it, Barbara and myself will have a few wee cards with it written on it. So you'll be very welcome to keep in touch, and we hope that we will keep in touch with one another. We want to thank you again publicly for all your kindness to both Barbara and myself, for the farewell service and for your gift of kindness to us - we really appreciated it. We will never ever forget Portadown Baptist Church, we have a special place in our heart for you all, and we'll always have that.
Numbers chapter 16. Let's read this passage again. It's quite a difficult passage, and really I'm going to be talking about some things that are in the start of the chapter as well, but we wouldn't have time to wade through it all. But we'll read the second part, verses 41 to 50: "But on the morrow all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the Lord. And it came to pass, when the congregation was gathered against Moses and against Aaron, that they looked toward the tabernacle of the congregation: and, behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared. And Moses and Aaron came before the tabernacle of the congregation. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment. And they fell upon their faces. And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly unto the congregation, and make an atonement for them: for there is wrath gone out from the Lord; the plague is begun. And Aaron took as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the congregation; and, behold, the plague was begun among the people: and he put on incense, and made an atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed. Now they that died in the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred, beside them that died about the matter of Korah. And Aaron returned unto Moses unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and the plague was stayed".
I want us this morning, right from the outset, from this passage of scripture, to see the Lord Jesus Christ. Within this story here in Numbers chapter 16 we have a very vivid picture of the Saviour, the sufferings of the Saviour, the work of atonement that was accomplished by Him at the cross of Calvary. But the story at the start of this chapter is necessary for us to realise what happened, for in verses 1 to 40 we find within the chapter the account of the rebellion of Korah. This man, Korah, was a Jew who challenged the authority of Moses and Aaron. He disputed their authority over the children of Israel simply because they said that they were an older branch of the family of Levi. You remember that the family of Levi was given charge of the priesthood. But because Korah said that he was older in the family, older than Aaron, older than Moses; because he was more senior, he should be the one who was the high priest of the nation of Israel. He ganged up with two men called Dathan and Abiram, and they were from the tribe of Rueben. If you remember, Rueben was the oldest son - the oldest son of Israel. They also claimed because they were from the oldest tribe, they sought to attain power by their superiority. They wanted to be in charge.
This passage of scripture shows to us how God judged their rebellion. We find within the chapter what we read in the book of 1 Samuel 15 and verse 23 that 'rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft' and God saw it as such. No matter what rebellion we have in our lives, or what we have in our country, or within any of our churches: rebellion, in the eyes of God, no matter how small, no matter if it's in the depths of our heart and no one else can see it but ourselves, God says that rebellion is equal to witchcraft. I believe that God will judge it as such. In the first part of this chapter we read that, because of the sin of Korah, because of the sin of Dathan, because of the sin of Abiram and all those Israelites that followed him, God came in His almighty judgement, and the Bible says that He opened up the ground from under him. All of those rebellious Israelites were swallowed alive into the earth. That's why we read in 1 Corinthians 10 and verse 10, Paul says to that church: 'Do not complain as some of them also who complained and were destroyed by the destroyer'.
It's true, isn't it, that a successful leader of God's people is often accused of exalting himself by those who are jealous of him? Of course, that is what we have here. It's true of all God's children, as in His service as we serve Him, so often people can throw things at us. People can pull the carpet from under us because of what we are doing for God, or perhaps because we are succeeding - succeeding for God. Of course, we all know that if God's people do not have leaders - God's leaders - there would be absolute chaos and God knew that. That is why God judged these people's rebellion.
I want you to picture the scene for a moment: these Israelites had seen their fellow Israelites swallowed up alive under the ground. Yet the Bible says, in verse 41: 'But on the morrow' - on the very next day, the day after they had seen this awful sight that no one has ever perhaps seen or will see again - the very next day, those who remained were rebelling again in exactly the same way. You would have thought, wouldn't you, that they had learned their lesson, that they had seen the consequences, the judgement of God upon all those people who rebel against Him? You would have thought that because they saw it with the naked eye itself, that they would have taken heed. But they didn't!
The story is that the next day the people - all of the people who remained - surrounded Moses and Aaron, and what did they do? It says in verse 41 that they charged them with putting to death, with murdering, the people of the Lord. That's a strange phrase, isn't it: 'the people of the Lord'? Sure, these people were rebels; they were rebelling against God, and God's leadership. But isn't it interesting, the amount of people in the world and even in the churches, whether it be factions or parties, or this schism or the other sect, so many think of themselves as the people of the Lord - the chosen of the Lord. 'We're more scriptural than the other ones. We're more chosen or elect. We've got all our i's dotted and t's crossed - everything right. We're the people of the Lord'. But so often when that is the case, as in this case, it was the exact opposite. For these who were christened by their brothers and sisters in Judaism, these were the enemies of the Lord.
Now, I don't know about this, but perhaps these people accused Moses of murdering the people of God because they knew what Moses could do when he prayed. They had seen Moses pray to God with his hands lifted high and with the sweat of his brow. They had seen God, as it were, from heaven reaching down visibly and answering Moses' prayers. So maybe they looked on at this scene as they saw their brothers and sisters swallowed into the earth, and they said: 'Well, what's wrong now Moses? Why can't you get on your knees now? Where's the magic formula now? Where's the prayers that God answers now? You! You have let them die! You have killed the people of the Lord!'.
Now, I want you to picture this scene in your mind's eye: two men, Moses and Aaron, and perhaps 10,000 times the congregation that we have here this morning, people around them - 10,000 times this congregation all around these two men! I believe that if they had got their hands on them they would have pulled them to death. Watch and look, and see as these two men stand there with those men around them with their sleeves rolled up, perhaps with weapons to kill them and to bludgeon them to death. What happens, what we see is the cloud - the pillar of cloud that was over the tabernacle of God, it says in the passage that it came down and it protected the whole of God's tent, God's tabernacle, from them. It may well even have protected Moses and Aaron themselves. Then it says that as a blaze, like an atomic bomb, out of the middle of that great cloud, there was a marvellous light that shot out. The word of God indicates that that beautiful, marvellous, majestic light, was the Shekinah glory of God that symbolised the presence of Him who cannot be seen but whose glory may be manifest.
Can you see the people stand back a little? Can you see the shock upon their faces? Can you see Moses and Aaron, as the passage says, falling on their faces because they heard the voice of God, in verse 45, saying: 'Get you up from among this congregation that I may consume them as in a moment'? What did they do? What did they do? They fell upon their faces! The word of God says that God blew forth the destroying angel. Row by row of that million-strong people, He mowed them down right from the outer ranks of the congregation one by one, right into the very centre. That vast host was being destroyed.
Can you imagine what Moses would have seen as he looked with his undimmed vision over all the heads of that million-strong congregation and, all of a sudden, one by one, he saw them fall down like dominoes? What it must have been like to stand there! Perhaps you were in row 100, and all you could see behind you was the rows falling down, coming nearer and nearer to you, ready to slay your life. As those people were coming under the scythe of death, Moses and Aaron fell upon their knees and they cried unto God for that people. Then Moses turned to his brother Aaron, as it says in verse 46, and he says: 'Get up! Get off your knees! Take your censer in your hand, snatch fire from off the altar and run among the people for the plague has begun!'.
The censer was simply like a torch in his hand that they brought into the tabernacle. He took that incense and fire from off the altar and he put it into that. Aaron who, remember now, is 100 years of age; he runs with the censer like a young man and he takes the fire from off the altar, he puts it in the censer and, with all his clerical priestly garb upon him, he runs like a wee fellow into the middle of the plague. The Bible says that as soon as that incense was accepted in heaven, the death stopped upon the earth.
Picture the scene: a man standing, 100 years of age, and on one side of him there is death and on the other there is life. Bodies lying, corpses rotting on one side; and on the other, life more than ever. I want us to see, this morning, three things concerning our Lord Jesus Christ from this passage of scripture and from this story that we read. The first is this: the sinner's corruption. The sinner's corruption! Verses 41 to 43, straight after the first rebellion of Korah - straight after these people had been swallowed into the ground - the very next day a new rebellion had taken place. Matthew Henry says this: 'Be astonished, oh heavens, and wonder, oh earth! Was there ever such an intense and incurable corruption of sinners as this? To see not only sin of the gravest kind one day, but to see that sin of the gravest kind come under the gravest judgement and, the very next day, to consciously, rationally sin in the same way'. Who can understand that?
That speaks to me of the exceeding sinfulness of sinners. The sinner's corruption! Picture it: they had just been terrified. They had been scared out of their wits at the shrieks of the sinking sinners that they knew that they had lived with, by the very smell of fire from that pit as they fell in. Yet these human beings remained watching, gaping into that great gap where those people had fallen. They stand there and watch as it closes over into a living grave - but the very next day they re-enact their sin without a thought. I believe this with all my heart because the Bible says it: 'the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked'. I believe, this morning, that a sinner who spends an eternity in hell - even give him 100 years in hell - but God the Holy Spirit and the grace of God does not work upon that man's heart, if you took him out of hell this morning and placed him upon the earth he would run to his old sin as great as ever. Maybe that's you here this morning. Maybe you're just like these Israelites. General Booth said that he would love to take all his workers down into hell for 24 hours to show them what it was like, so that they could rescue the perishing; but do you know what the reality of it is, this morning? That if you took the sinner down to hell and showed him it - I believe that without God working in his heart a work of grace, that he would remain unrepentant.
These Israelites had seen it and you're here this morning, and you've seen it. You've seen hell! I don't mean literally, but you've heard it preached over and over again. Some of you, and I say this lovingly and you've got to believe this today; some of you here this morning have been nearer to hell than any of us, yet you've run back to your own sin. Is that you?
The second thing they experienced was this: they experienced the measure of grace, because they hadn't been swallowed up the first time. God didn't take them under the ground, but they were enabled to look upon it as a warning to them. They were given a second chance, and they had some of God's grace but it was wasted on them. They hadn't been punished. They had remained with their families. They had remained with their children. They still had their homes. They still were being fed, but all those things served as nothing - and God, whether you think it or not this morning, shows His grace toward you. You have a family. You have friends. You have a home. Many of us have money, enough to do and maybe more. God has been so good. Let me say this morning, upon the authority of the word of God, if God hadn't shown grace to any of us none of us would have been born. We would have simply been sent to hell! But God is gracious and God wanted us to live a life, even if it means a life of misery to realise that there is nothing, no satisfaction, no peace, no lasting pleasure in anything but the salvation and the Saviour, Jesus Christ.
But I want you to see, secondly, the Saviour's compassion. First of all the sinner's corruption but in verses 44 and 45 we see the Saviour's compassion. Now, these men - don't forget - these men were ready to strangle Moses and Aaron, yet what did Moses and Aaron do? They fell upon their faces in prayer. Why? Because Aaron was the lover of Israel. I want to say to all of us here this morning, whether saved or unsaved - often we need to be reminded of this, especially as we come to the Lord's table today: Jesus Christ is the lover of the world. Jesus Christ - He, like Aaron, for those who despised Him, those who rejected Him, those who turned away their faces from Him, those who called Him every name in the book - Jesus Christ loved them, for Jesus Christ loved you! This amazes me, how Aaron and Moses - they were the offended ones yet they were the saving ones. They were the ones who had wrong done to them. They were the just, they were the righteous, yet they wanted to save. They had compassion. They had love for the unjust.
There's two things that Aaron could have done. When that cloud came over the tabernacle, when the light of God's glory came out, when the plague started hitting those rows of people, do you know what Aaron could have done? He could have stood there and said to himself in disgust: 'Let them have it! Let them die! They deserve it! They deserve everything they get!'. Believe you me, God knew and they knew that they did deserve it. But is that what he did? No! The word of God says that he forgot their sin and he ran in compassion to them. Like the Lord Jesus Christ, in wrath he remembered mercy, in the anger for this sin he ran in for the love of the sinner, and he ran to save them!
The second thing he could have done was he could have feared for his own life. He could have thought to himself: 'Well, if I run into the middle of this plague I'll end up getting it myself! I'll die for them!' But no, he didn't say that - he ran, whatever the cost was, he put aside self, he put aside fear and he ran into the midst of the plague - into the very middle of it - to save their souls!
I don't know whether you can see it this morning, but I can see it as clear as day and I think it's beautiful: how the Lord Jesus Christ, in Luke chapter 12 and verse 50, said this - listen: 'I have a baptism to be baptised with and how I am straitened till I accomplish it'. My friends today, whether you're saved or unsaved, listen to this glorious message: the Lord Jesus Christ did not stand by and watch idle rebellious sinners go to hell. He did not stand for fear of His own life and say: 'I can't go. The cost is too great. The burden is too great. The hell is too hot' - but He went! It says that He straitened His face - He set His face as a flint to go to Jerusalem. The hymn says:
'Down from the shining seats above
With joyful haste He fled,
Entered the grave in mortal flesh
And dwelt among the dead'.
I wonder, do all of you realise this morning that the Lord Jesus Christ had no rest until He was dead in the grave? Until He knew that it was finished! Until He knew that the plague was stayed! Until He knew that hell-deserving sinners were saved! He had no peace until His blood was shed. Oh, how you can see the Saviour's compassion!
But look thirdly and finally at the Saviour's mediation in verses 46 and 47. Because as Moses looks on at the people - think of it, think of the awful scene as he watches them falling, falling down one after another - he turns to his brother and he tells him: 'Take a censer, put incense in it, put fire upon it and run into the midst of the people'. Effectively what he was saying was not just 'Run into the midst of the people', but 'Run into the middle of the plague itself!'. Into the gap where death was! Into the place where no man could stand! Into the place where no one was willing to go! Why? Because verse 46 said that wrath had gone out from the Lord. In order to fill his ministry as the great high priest of Israel, Aaron had to count his life as nothing. He had to run right into that gap where death was. He had to take the people's place. He had to propitiate for God's anger. What does propitiate mean? Simply this: a wrath-averting sacrifice. Aaron, on the spur of the moment, had to run into the centre of that great plague and he had to make a wrath-averting sacrifice - no matter what it cost him, no matter whether it cost him his very life - he had to do it.
What would have happened if Aaron had run right into the middle of that great congregation with nothing in his hands? The answer is the plague would have slew him. But he was told to run in with the wrath-averting sacrifice, with the censer, with the fire, with the incense. He couldn't go without it, because if he went without it he would die. The word of God says this: that Christ - oh, listen to this - Christ is the propitiation for our sins. He is the wrath-averting sacrifice. He is our Saviour. He is our atonement. Instead of incense and fire in His censer He has the beauties of His perfect obedience and His precious blood, His perfect righteousness and His complete atonement - God cannot refuse that sacrifice! God cannot look away! God could not judge the sin because Christ made such a perfect sacrifice.
If you read the rest of the chapter - and I hope you do - you'll find there that 250 of Korah's men out of that rebellion - Korah's men, 250 of them - had a censer in their hand and had incense in it, had fire from off the altar, but all of them were swallowed up in the ground. So if I'm saying, or if the word of God is saying this morning that he couldn't go empty-handed, he had to have his censer, he had to have the incense, he had to have the fire, well then why did these other men - why were they slain with fire from heaven? Simply because Aaron was the chosen of God. Aaron was the chosen of God, and it didn't matter how many sacrifices there were, it didn't matter how many censers or fire or incense there was - Aaron was the chosen of God. Let me say this morning: it doesn't matter how many sacrifices for sin there are, it doesn't matter who died and how good he was, but the word of God says that Christ - our blessed Lord Jesus Christ was the chosen, predestinated, propitiation for our sin. He came into this world, ordained as a Priest of God - 'receiving an ordination not from men, neither by man', the word of God says, 'but, like Melchisedec the priest of the most high God: without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life'. He is a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec.
Oh, I hope this morning you can see the sinner's awful corruption, and I hope it convicts you today. But I hope you see the Saviour's compassion for your soul this morning if you're not saved, but also the Saviour's mediation for you: how, like Aaron, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself took it upon Himself and ran into the middle of the plague of sin, and bore your sin, and bore my sin, no matter what it cost Him, no matter how heavy the burden was. He did it because of His compassion. But can you see the beautiful picture in verse 48? That there that old man, maybe with pain because of the run, maybe in pain because of what he was seeing, maybe members of his family falling at his own feet - but it says within the word of God that 'he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed'. Hallelujah this morning! My Saviour, Jesus Christ is risen and He stands in the power of an everlasting life between the living and the dead! He is the demarcation line. He is the person that makes the difference. I want believers here this morning to appreciate it, and I want unbelievers here this morning to appropriate it!
Which side of the line are you standing on? There's a warning in verse 49, as we finish, and it's this: that 14,700 men, women and perhaps even children died with that plague, but there were thousands of others were saved. On which side are you? Will you be with those who were saved because the plague was stayed by a great, compassionate, mediatory Saviour? Or will you be like, as Peter said, like the dog that goes back to his own vomit? Will you go back to your sin? Will you wallow in the mud? Or will you let Christ, this morning, stay the plague?
Let me say, as we come to the Lord in prayer: maybe the Lord has spoken to you today. Maybe you're a backslider, maybe you're not saved, but let me ask you to get right with God now, and don't leave it a minute more. Those who have appreciated what the Lord has done for them, we will be waiting behind for a few moments just to break bread, to drink from the cup, to appreciate and commemorate what the Lord has done for us.
Our Father, we thank Thee for the Saviour. We can say: 'Hallelujah! What a Saviour!' for His love. But Lord, we know that love was not enough. There had to be willingness. He had to be willing to come, and we thank You that He was willing. He came and He died and He shed His blood, and He rose again for our justification, He ascended to heaven for our mediation - and, Lord, one day He's coming for our glorification. Lord, we pray that until He comes or when He calls, that everyone here in this gathering, that they would be ready. For Christ's sake, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Portadown Baptist Church, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "Which Side Of The Line Are You Standing On?" - Transcribed by Trevor Veale, Preach The Word.
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