Two Times Twelve
“When Moses sent [the twelve men] to explore Canaan, he said, “Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land.” (It was the season for the first ripe grapes. They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large” (from Numbers 13).
“Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear” (Matthew 14:22-26).
In the readings above there are two groups of people, oddly both numbering twelve, and both facing serious problems with things they can see with their natural eyes.
Looking at the Giants
In Numbers 13, we watch as the Israelites stand on the edge of the Promised Land. Not really knowing what to expect, Moses sends out 12 spies to explore the land of Canaan and see what the land is like, what grows there, and who lives there. So they go out and explore the land.
Numbers 23-25 says:
“When they reached the Valley of Eshcol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. That place was called the Valley of Eshcol (bunch of grapes) because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut there. At the end of the forty days, they returned from exploring the land.”
Moses asked the twelve men for a report, and they showed him the fruit but they told him, “Oh Moses, that land sure does flow with milk and honey, but the people! You should see them! They are huge and powerful, and their cities are so big, and they have weapons to defend them! Moses, we are just like grasshoppers compared to them, and we’re not talking about the kung fu kind (wow! I think I just gave away my age) !”
Looking at the Grapes
But Caleb told the people: “Come-on! We can do this! We can conquer the land!” And Joshua backed him up.
The other ten persisted: “Oh noooooo, that would be just like Belmont College on the football field against Ohio State!” And the negative report spread, as negative reports do.
But Joshua and Caleb pressed on: “If the Lord is pleased with us, He will lead us into that land flowing with milk and honey, and He will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord, and do not be afraid!”
Caleb and Joshua made the difference and it was because of what they were looking at. All twelve spies saw the same thing. Ten of them focused on the giants; Caleb and Joshua focused on the grapes. Ten of them believed the scary negatives; Caleb and Joshua believed in the miraculous positives.
We know the end of this story–the people of Israel wandered around for forty years until all of the original group were dead, all except Joshua and Caleb. Then those two and the younger crowd victoriously entered the land of Canaan.
Fast forward to the New Testament:
In Matthew 14, we find Jesus and the twelve disciples, amazed and physically exhausted from a long day of serving and teaching a crowd of 5,000 (not counting women and children). They saw five loaves and two fish miraculously increase to feed the whole crowd.
Looking at the Wind and Waves, and a Ghost
Beginning at verse 22: “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side while He dismissed the crowd. After He had dismissed them, He went up to a mountainside by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, and it was buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
“During the fourth watch of the night, Jesus went out to them walking on water. When the disciples saw Him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost! they said and cried out in fear.”
Twelve young men who were acquainted with traveling by boat were afraid in those waves and wind. To top it off, they saw a “ghost.”
Then Jesus called out, “Don’t be afraid! It’s me!”
Looking at Jesus
One of the twelve, Peter, looked at the form on the water and thought, “That looks just like Jesus,” and had a little faith. He shouted over the wind, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come out to you on the water.”
And Jesus said one word–”Come.”
And the one guy who was looking at Jesus instead of the storm stepped out of the boat and walked toward Jesus on the water. He was doing great until he looked away. When Peter looked at the waves rising and splashing in the wind, he got scared, and he began to sink.
“Save me!” he cried, and Jesus reached out and took him by the hand, and they stepped into the boat together, and the wind stopped.
What was Peter looking at? What did he focus on? When it was the storm and the waves, he was afraid and sinking. When it was Jesus, he walked on water.
What Were You Looking At?
Can you imagine the conversation that might have followed once they got back on land?
Andrew: Peter, what was it like to walk out there?
Peter: Oh man! You should have tried it!
James: But it was so frightening!
Peter: Yes, it was when I looked at the waves, but not when I looked at Jesus. He took my fear away.
John: I sure wish I would have done it. Jesus, could I have walked on water, too?
Jesus: You can do that and much greater things, if you just keep your eyes on me.
Well, that’s the gospel according to Bev, but can’t you just imagine it?
All twelve disciples saw the same thing. Eleven disciples focused on the fear and the danger. One disciple focused on Jesus.
A Personal Experience
When my son was in the second grade, I went with him and his class on a field trip to the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville (we lived in Alabama). There was a ride there called the Moonshot. On the ride they would strap you into a chair facing outward from the center–facing out into the whole, wide world–and launch you 140 feet straight up in 2.5 seconds, then drop you back down in free fall. It caused about 2-3 seconds of weightlessness that made you rise out of that chair and briefly hover in your seat.
My son was afraid to ride it, but some of his friends were riding and I wanted to ride it. I kept trying to convince him: “Joey, I’ll sit right next to you and hold your hand the whole way.” He finally gave in.
We boarded the Moonshot and they strapped us in. I grabbed Joey’s little hand and squeezed it tight and assured him it was going to be amazing … then the ride began! Up we shot and I was terrified! I let go of his hand and grabbed the bar and shut my eyes. “Joey, you’re on your own!” When the ride was over, I guiltily peeked at him, and he was grinning from ear to ear! He loved it!
What Were We Looking At?
We both took the same ride. I looked at the scary world sinking below me; he looked at the wide, open spaces and the whole city. I focused on my fear; he focused on the adventure.
What Am I Looking At?
One more story: I grow flowers and have a few rose bushes of which I am very proud, because, for the most part, they don’t grow well around our house. They produce tons of beautiful blooms, but they are riddled with thorns. I have often picked flowers from those bushes to bring inside, and I have often been pricked and scratched in the process. Do I avoid the roses? Not at all–I desire the blossoms more than I fret over the thorns.
So what are you looking at today?
We all have giants, and waves, and thorns in our lives. Sometimes they’re health-related; sometimes they’re financial, sometimes they are time-related, and sometimes they are even other people.
We also have breath in our lungs, the beauty of the season, food to eat, and (if you’re reading this) a phone or computer of some sort. We can choose to be like Joshua and Caleb, and look at the grapes; we can choose to be like Peter, and look at the Lord; we can choose to be like Joey, and look at the adventure, or like a gardener, and look at the blossoms.
Most of all, when we’re feeling down-and-out for any reason, we have an open invitation to focus on Jesus Christ, who came from the perfection of heaven into this world to live, and to hurt, and to work, and to get dirty, and to get hungry, and to die. The Word tells us that “For the joy set before Him, Christ endured the cross.” Here’s the thing, “the joy set before Him” was not the resurrection. It was you. It was me. It was everyone in all the ages of time who would look at Him.
The Lord, God of heaven and earth passionately, enthusiastically, relentlessly loves you! No matter what is happening in your life right now, take your eyes off your giants, and look at Him!
God bless you, and may all you’re looking at today lead you to Him.