Eyes of Faith

Opening Prayer: Lord, my eyes have been distracted by many problems and temptations. Help me to see my circumstances as you see them.

Today, we will talk about the Eyes of Faith. We'll see what it means to see with the eyes of faith, and we'll see the results of NOT seeing with the eyes of faith. We'll also look at the question: "Is it possible to lie by telling the apparent truth?"

Open your Bible to Numbers 13, verses 27-28:

And they told him, and said, We came unto the land where you sent us; and surely it flows with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it. 28 However the people that dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified, [and] very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there. 29 Amalek dwelleth in the land of the South: and the Hittite, and the Jebusite, and the Amorite, dwell in the hill-country; and the Canaanite dwelleth by the sea, and along by the side of the Jordan.

This is a familiar story to many of us: Moses sent 12 spies into Canaan to check out the land and report back. The majority report starts here. Let's see if these spies are telling the truth so far:

At this point in the story, the assembled multitude -- with the collective IQ of a typical mob -- started whining and whimpering. Somehow they'd already forgotten their deliverance on Passover, their passage through the Red Sea and their miraculous morning cafeteria -- the tons of manna that were on the ground outside the camp each morning. All they could SEE were the giants and other heathen tribes.

But not everyone was a whiner. Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, had a different perspective, as we see in verse 30:

And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.

Unwilling to be outdone, and sensing the opportunity to make a huge mistake, the other 10 spies began to embellish their report, as we see in verses 31-33:

But the men that went up with him said, We are not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we. 32 And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had spied out unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that eats up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of great stature. 33 And there we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, who come of the Nephilim: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.

Were the Canaanites stronger than the Israelites? We don't know from the Biblical record, but there were several powerful nations in the region. So their report wasn't a complete lie, but after awhile, it starts losing the ring of truth:

Were there giants there?

Yes--a few, but not a majority of the inhabitants. And surely "...all the people we saw..." were not giants.

Did the 10 spies see themselves as grasshoppers compared to the Canaanites?

Most assuredly.

Did the Canaanites see the Israelites as grasshoppers?

We don't have any independent record, but the Canaanites probably did not see the Israelites as grasshoppers. It's hard to imagine anybody taking an invading nation of 2 or 3 million people lightly.

The real issues:

Which one of the physical senses dominated the minds and hearts of the 10 spies?

Sight.

Did they accurately report what they saw?

Some would say so.

Did Joshua and Caleb physically see the same things the 10 saw?

They did not argue with the data.

So why didn't Joshua and Caleb agree with the conclusion of the other men?

The other 10 left out the most important element in the entire picture: God.

Remember: the issue had never been military strength:

What was the real issue?

The real issue was the faithfulness of God. For more than four centuries, God had been making extravagant promises to Abraham and his descendants. For example, Genesis 12 verse 2:

I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great

Note also Genesis 14 verse 14 through 17:

And the LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: "Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are; northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you."

And Genesis 15, verses 13-14:

Then He said to Abram: "Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. "And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions."

The promises to Abraham were not only extravagant, they were outrageous. Those promises must have seemed really strange to Abraham, but the issue never was strangeness or normalness. The issue was whether God could be trusted to keep His promises.

So what did Abraham choose to do, believe his senses and past experience or believe in the Lord?

Abraham made the right choice: "And (Abraham) believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him as righteousness." (Genesis 15:6)

The point: The 10 accurately reported what they saw, but they weren't looking in the right place. The net effect is that they accurately reported a lie.

Why did Caleb and Joshua give a different report? What did they see?

God's promises had been consistently trustworthy: the land was good, and it was cultivated, and there were people already living there. God had previously said all those things. God had also said that HIS power would conquer the Canaanites. Caleb and Joshua saw God's promises and believed them.

Let's continue: Numbers 14, verses 6-9:

But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; 7 and they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: "The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, 'a land which flows with milk and honey.' 9 Only do not rebel against the LORD, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the LORD is with us. Do not fear them."

I want you to notice the BASIS for the faith that Joshua and Caleb had:

How much emphasis did Caleb and Joshua place on the military strength of their own people? On their weapons? On the relative numbers of fighting men that each side could field? They didn't bother to mention these things.

And the visual imagery in Hebrew is interesting: literally, "they are like our bread (manna); their shadow has turned aside from over them." In those days, the manna fell like dew every night, and the Israelites gathered it at sunrise. But as the sun got higher in the sky, any manna left on the ground melted away. That's the true status of any situation -- that God is in charge. God's enemies may look tough initially, but they'll melt away if we move in faith in obedience to the Lord.

One thing keeps grabbing me as I review these passages: In verse 9, they said "Don't rebel against the Lord." Did the Israelites think they were rebelling? No. They just thought they were being sensible: "Surely God wouldn't want us to do something hasty or rash. Surely we don't want to embarass God by tackling something we can't handle."

Hey! Think about their point of view: In order to act on God's promises, they would have to jump in there and expect miracles from God to keep them alive. None of this plugging-along stuff: if God doesn't keep His promises, and if God doesn't work miracles to protect them, these Israelites are not just embarrassed or uncomfortable -- they're dead. And yet the clear message of this passage is that for them to NOT expect God to do miracles was to be a rebel against God!

Let me repeat that: For them to NOT expect God to do miracles was the essence of rebelling against God.

For comparison, is there anything that God is calling us to do today that threatens our lives or our personal, physical security quite like the people in the desert were facing? For most of us, not much.

But think of what Jesus has called us to do: to preach the Gospel, to heal the sick, to deliver the captives, and to put all our hopes for eternal security on His sacrifice more than 1900 years ago. Think about it a moment: How many of those projects are going to succeed without supernatural intervention? None of them.

Why pray for healing if we don't believe we'll receive it? And how can we receive it if God doesn't intervene with His power? And just what is it that motivates God to intervene with His power?

Faith -- our soberly recognizing God's promises instead of outward circumstances.

Let me assure you, if we don't expect God to do miracles in keeping His promises, we are being rebels. Remember what Joshua and Caleb told the group: "...if the Lord delights in us..."

The message of Joshua and Caleb is consistent with New Testament Scripture, For example, in Paul's letter to the Hebrews, chapter 11, verse 6 we read:

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

Shift gears. Let's look at some other Scriptures dealing with selective sight. Turn to 2 Corinthians 4, verses 1-6:

Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus' sake. 6 For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Now let's see how many references to both physical and spiritual sight we can find in that passage:

Does this speak to your heart?

Picture, with the eyes of faith, God speaking to darkness and making it a place of light. And if you can't visualize the initial creative miracles in Genesis (yeah, it is tough to imagine), then make it closer to home. Picture your own heart. Maybe you were a "good person" before you were a Christian. But you were dead in God's eyes, and dark on the inside. Can you tell the difference? (Or, if you've been backsliding a bit, can you remember the difference??)

Let's continue with 2 Corinthians 4 verse 7:

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.

What treasure is he talking about?

Light, new life, access to the miracle-working power.

Note the metaphor of an earthen vessel -- an unfired clay pot. Heavy, clunky, unglazed. Often used in the Middle East to seal up important items to protect them. Paul isn't talking about us being sacrificial vessels to protect God. Our bodies are the mud pots, but our new life is the treasure. The treasure is ours, and its a lot more valuable and important than the clay pot.

And note what else verse 7 says. It talks about the excellency of the power.

What power?

The working of God's power, activated by our faith.

But what if all we see is the clay pot? What if there is no power being manifested in our lives? Is that because God is lazy, or powerless, or maybe not interested in us? If we are not walking in the fullness of the power, if all we see and feel is the clay pot, what must be wrong?

If we're not experiencing power, then we're not experiencing faith, which is fed by Scripture and brought to life by prayer-- regular, devoted, FERVENT prayer. Yes, the excellency of the power IS of God, and not of ourselves.

Then why does the working of the mighty power often/usually depend on the quality of our personal (and very private) walk with the Lord?

God set it up that way. He seems to like paradoxes.

Key points:

So we have this treasure in earthen vessels. And let's look and see what happens to our clay pots, in 2 Corinthians 4, verses 8-11:

We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

Yes, problems are part of the trip, but they can't deprive us of our treasure, and through Jesus Christ, we have overcome the world.

Now let's read verses 16-18 of 2 Corinthians 4:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

I used to get irritated at people that tried to make me feel better by quoting that verse about momentary light affliction. I'd keep my mouth shut, but inwardly I'd be grumbling something like: "Hey, man! Who says that what I'm going through is LIGHT affliction? This isn't light. I'm really hurting!" Has anyone else had that reaction?

And now the payoff, in chapter 5 of 2 Corinthians, verses 1-4:

For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, 3 if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. 4 For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.

Notice the fancy wording in verse 1, which is even fancier in the King James Version: "...if our earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved..." Is there a way to say this in plain English? Yes, and the plainest way to say it is: "...if we die..." Notice that our bodies are called tents. What's the difference between a tent and a regular house? The tent is flimsy and strictly temporary. It's not well-suited for living in for a very long time. Most folks prefer to live in something more permanent than a tent. In fact, we're NOT SUPPOSED to feel really comfortable in it; we're SUPPOSED to yearn for the permanent home.

It's really easy to say stuff like that. It's easy to say that this flimsy body is only temporary. But note the flavor of what Paul is saying:

This is no vacation camping trip that we're taking in this tent. It's more like warfare.

Now let's look at verses 5 through 9:

Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. 6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. 9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.

So even though we know it's only temporary, it's no pleasure trip thru this world. Our physical eyes are not lying to us when they say that we're experiencing obstacles, Canaanites, sometimes even giants between ourselves and what God has promised for us. But are our physical eyes qualified to judge the whole picture? Not really.

Let's re-read and remember verse 7:

For we walk by faith and not by sight.

Closing prayer: Father, my eyes have seen trouble, and my tent feels tattered and frail. But I know -- by faith -- that Your promises are true and trustworthy. Guide me by Your Holy Spirit, to understand which of Your promises and commands are to be my vision for this day. Amen.

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