Summary: God goes before us so that we can overcome in situations that are impossible, however, what we think is success, may not be what God desires for our lives. What God desires most is a strong relationship above all else.
Bill was a retired pastor who helped out now and then in our church in San Antonio. He was a huge man, the image of what you think of as a lean tall Texan, and he was man with a huge heart. Everyone talked about Bill and what a wonderful pastor he was. Bill died a couple of months before I started working at the church so I only got to know his wife Mary. I heard so many things about Bill, what a generous man he was, how funny he was, how gentle he was – but I never heard much about Mary.
But it soon came to my attention that Mary seemed to be everywhere. I would visit folks in the hospital and whoever I was visiting would inevitably say, “Oh, Mary says hello, she was just here a few minutes ago.” It was amazing. Even if I received a call on my cell phone and drove directly to the ER – almost without fail, Mary had already been there. It got to the point where I would speed and take short cuts to see if I could get to the hospital first. One day to my surprise I arrived ten minutes ahead of Mary. Victory!
So I asked around and found out that Mary and her visiting was not new, Mary had always been quietly visiting people. I figured she had started this visiting after her husband Bill died, but no, she had always visited people – she even arrived at to the hospital before her pastor husband when he was alive.
What was Mary doing in all of these visits? Mary just didn’t say hello to those she visited, she spent most of the time praying….and she was quietly praying for those who would come next – she was preparing the way for the pastors, praying that their visit would be effective and that those in the hospital room would be open to the Holy Spirit.
I often wondered: Was Pastor Bill so successful because he was such a great guy, or was Pastor Bill successful because Mary went before him in ministry?
Here in our passage today, this is the first thing we see God telling the Hebrews: He will go before them in the land, and prepare the way before them. For us here today, we need to know that God will go before us like He went before the Hebrews and He will prepare the way ahead of us.
The second thing we see in this passage, and I think the more powerful concept, is that God has a drawn out plan for our spiritual growth. We don’t become spiritually mature overnight, maturity takes a long time – but is supposed too. Many times we get discouraged or frustrated in our spiritual walk – but God has created a long term plan for our spiritual growth, it is a life of discipleship not a brief correspondent course. Bottom line, there are no short cuts to spiritual maturity.
These two ideas go hand in hand so that we may have a successful Christian life: Going before us – Long term plan.
The people of Israel have been taken out of captivity and brought out into the desert. There God established relationship with them and has established this relationship through the giving of the Ten Commandments. Remember, last week we saw that the Ten Commandments are relational in nature and not just a list of do’s and don’ts. Now, God, having established a relationship with the people, prepares them for entrance into the land he has promised them.
Just facing the facts, the Hebrews are a people who in no way are able to move into the land that they are headed for. The Egyptians had for years tried to gain this land with varied success, and only after extensive efforts. The Egyptian Military was one of the greatest at the time and they could not take the land – what chance did the Hebrews have? Honestly not much.
But all these facts are irrelevant. Why? Because God is going before them. If you have you bible open take a look at verse 20. (By the way, have you been catching on that I mention every week for you to open your bible? It is kind of an overt hint…about bringing your own bible on Sunday) So in verse 20 we see that it doesn’t matter who stands before the Hebrews, because God is sending an angel before them.
Looking at verse 20 what is the purpose of the angel? To guard you and to bring you to the place I have prepared. What is this angel guarding them from? First, I think all kinds of physical danger. He is guarding them from all kinds of calamity. But second, the people are entering an area where evil has reigned supreme. Not only were the societies that inhabited the land ahead of them pagan through and through, their pagan practices, especially when connected to local religions, tolerated and encouraged extreme physical and sexual abuse of people. Mark spoke about the Baal gods a bit a couple of weeks ago, it is almost impossible to describe their abusive worship in polite company. Let me just say that common everyday rituals in their society would be considered crimes in our society deserving a life sentence of even a sentence of death. See, there is an evil that permeates the land before them, and it is more than physical danger that lays ahead.