August 6, 2017
Numbers 21:4-9, John 3:14-17
This week, I read a story from 2009. It was a true story of two siblings, Steven and Kathryn. When Steven was 23 and Kathryn was 20, they sued their mother for $50,000 claiming that she was negligent and caused them emotional distress.
As the details began to unfold, it turned out that they were suing their mother for bad parenting because she didn’t send her son care packages while he was at college, she refused to buy her daughter a homecoming dress, and she didn’t send money in a birthday card to the son. In fact, the son presented the card, which he called inappropriate, in court as evidence. The card contained a personal note from his mom that said, “Have a great day! Love and hugs, Mom xoxoxo.” If all this wasn’t bad enough, Steven and Kathryn lived with their father in his $1.5 million home.
You hear that story and you can’t help but think that these two are just entitled brats. They truly believe they that they deserve these things simply because they exist. Now, this is an extreme case. But I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of stories where people have this sense of entitlement.
I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve actually experienced someone expressing their entitlement. Actually witness it. I think we can all agree that it’s not really all that attractive. But it might surprise you that you and I struggle with this as well. You see the scary thing about entitlement is that as we see the extreme cases, we shudder and think, “Good thing I don’t struggle with that.” Yet, silently and subtly the chains of entitlement wrap itself around us. Today, we are going to look at a group of people who were entitled. We are Numbers 21.
Before we look at this section, let me fill you in on some background information. In 2000 BC. God called Abraham and told him that he’d make Abraham into a great nation and all nations on the earth would be blessed through him. God brought him to the land of Canaan and told him that his ancestors would own this land one day. Abraham had Isaac, Isaac had Jacob whom God nicknamed Israel. His family lived in the land of Canaan until around 1900 BC when there was a severe draught. So they moved to Egypt where one of Jacob’s 12 sons, Joseph, was second in command. After Joseph died, the new king took the descendants of Israel and made them slaves; treating them horribly. They cried out to God, and in 1500 BC Moses led them out of Egypt. God promised that they were going back to the land of Canaan to take it over.
When they got there, they sent spies in to check out the land. They came back and said, “We can’t take it over. They are too big for us.” So God said, “Fine. You don’t want to go in, you won’t get in. The next generation will instead.” So they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years until the older generation died. In Numbers 21, we are picking up with the new generation. They are on their way into the promise land, and here’s what happened.
4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
Entitlement comes from thinking you deserve something.
That’s really what we see here isn’t it? They are complaining about their circumstances because they think they deserve better. They didn’t deserve this. They weren’t the ones who said they couldn’t take over the Canaanites. In fact, they just took over Arad, a Canaanite town right before this. They were ready to keep going and attacking. They trusted the Lord. They didn’t deserve to be driven south back into the wilderness.
Not just that, but they had done their time with eating the manna. It was time to get into Canaan where they could eat something other than manna and quail that God had been providing for 40 years. They deserved it. They trusted the Lord, they hadn’t screwed up like their parents did, they had done their time. It was now time for them to enter and have their good things.
What happens when you’re entitled? You get frustrated, angry, and start complaining about what you have or don’t have. And that’s what they do here. They even take a cheap shot at him. “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” They knew God had been providing for them this whole time. They hadn’t gone hungry; they hadn’t died of thirst. And yet, they thought they deserved better than what they were getting.
Entitlement doesn’t have be over the top like that brother and sister who sued their mom. It can be a lot smaller than that. The husband and wife, who’ve been trying to have a baby, can get angry at God when he’s not giving them a baby, but all the people sleeping around outside of marriage seem to have no problem getting pregnant. They get angry because they can think they deserve a baby because they are doing it right. The family that is trying to get their finances in order because they know that’s what God wants, but they keep experiencing road block after road block until they finally get upset with God. And they say, “I’m doing what you want. I deserve a little break here, God!” The man who is trying to get a new job because it’ll be better for his family, applies and applies and applies, but doesn’t get the position. Even though he feels he deserves it. He ends up frustrated with God because why isn’t he just allowing him to get these jobs?
Despite following God and listening to his Word, the wife lies there at night crying because her marriage is falling apart. She lies there in her heartbreak crying out to God saying, “I don’t deserve this! I’ve been a good Christian.”
The young man who has seen nothing but hardship after hardship in his life, but has followed God through it finally breaks down and cries out, “Lord, what do I have to do? I deserve to be happy.”
And of course, nothing brings out the sense of entitlement like having something taken away from us. Whether it be a car, a house, a job, or even a loved one. I deserve better than this God. Entitlement gets us all. Here’s what happened to them.
6 Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
Venomous snakes were common in that area. You get the picture that up until this point, they really had no problems with snakes. But now, now that they’ve complained, God sends the snakes. Why? Is it because God is saying, “You want to complain, here’s what’s going to happen? Shut your mouth and get in line?” Absolutely not. From Scripture we know that God isn’t like that. So what is going on?
God is saying, “Look, you need to realize that I’m providing for you every single day, Israelites. Every single day I keep these snakes from you. If you want what you deserve, then here you go. This is what you deserve.” Sin deserves death. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.” What did the Israelites earn, what were they entitled too? Death. That’s what they deserved.
Yet, every day, God showed his grace. Every day, God kept the snakes away. Every day he provided them with food and water. Every day he made sure their sandals never wore out and that they always had clothes. If it wasn’t for God’s grace, they would get what they deserved and that was death. And the snakes made them realize this. And so they cried out for help.
8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.
God had Moses make a bronze snake and place it up on a pole. God promised that anyone who looked at it and believed would be saved. Miraculously cured from the venom. Was it the snake on the pole that had power? No. The power came from God’s Word. His promise to cure them if they looked at the snake. Again, they learned about the grace of God. He didn’t need to save them, but out of his love he did. They didn’t deserve it, and yet he reminded them that he is the one who is providing for them. He is giving them what the need. And he is the one saving them.
So what are we to make of all of this? How does this help us with entitlement? Well…
- If God gave us what we deserved, we’d all be dead. Much like the Israelites, if God gave us what we all deserved we’d be dead because just like the Israelites we’ve all sinned. No matter our best efforts, no matter how hard we try, no matter how good of a life we live, we are still sinners. We still do things against God’s law. Our holy and perfect God makes it clear that the only thing sin entitles you too, is death. There’s no middle ground. Either you’re perfect and deserve God’s grace, or you sin and deserve death. The Israelites learned quickly that the only thing they deserved was death. Same is true for us. This really obliterates entitlement. Because the only thing we deserve, the “prize” we are entitled too, we don’t want.
- God gives you what you don’t deserve. These snakes had God’s desired effect, and that was to get them to realize that God was graciously providing for them. Maybe not how they wanted. Maybe not what they thought they deserved, but God was providing. See, when we realize what we deserve, which is death, then God’s grace shines even brighter. At the end of the day, I have no business expecting God to take care of me every single day, but he does. Every single day he provides for my needs, he protects me from Satan and his demons, and he guards and protects me.
But even more than the physical life, he saved us for eternal life. Those snakes came in and bit the people. If they didn’t look at the snake on the pole, they would have died. But God showed them again and again that he loved them and was saving them. We’ve been bitten by something much worse than snakes. We’ve been bitten by sin. And just like those Israelites, we will die unless God saved us. And that’s exactly what he did.
14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Jesus was lifted up to the cross, and when you look at him and believe this promise here in John 3, you will be saved. Did we earn or deserve it? No. But it’s the free gift that God is offering you today. God freely offered the gift of life to the Israelites while they laid on the ground in the wilderness, and he freely offers to you today the free gift of forgiveness.
And on top of that, he gives you the life that was entitled to Jesus. He’s the only one who lived perfectly, and he’s entitled to all of God’s Kingdom. In his grace, he looks at you and says, “Here, let me share with you.” He doesn’t give you treasures that will fade away, get old, gr break. Treasures that are here today and gone tomorrow. Rather, he gives you the eternal treasures of heaven. Peace knowing your sins are forgiven. The sure hope that death is not the end. Joy and comfort knowing that one day you will see Jesus and all your loved ones in Christ again.
In Jesus, we go from entitlement to contentment.
In this life, we may not get what we want all the time. We may not even get the things we feel we deserve. But in Jesus God gives us more than what we want. In fact, he gives us more than we could ever want or imagine.
Even when we don’t get what we think we deserve, God will continue to provide for us. His grace will continue to shower us with blessing after blessing. When we realize that, and we realize that God has provided us with the riches of heaven, we’ve learned the secret to being content. May God be with you and as he continuously reminds you of that day after day.