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January 3, 2016

Sermon  Numbers 17:8 . . . “It’s a Miracle:  Aaron’s rod”

 

“It’s a Miracle:  Aaron’s rod”

Numbers 17:8

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

If you were to ask why little Brandon Connor’s tumor suddenly disappeared on the night before his surgery, his doctors would try their best to explain.  Maybe it was a glitch in the equipment or a faulty diagnosis.  But ask his mother, and she’ll tell you it was a miracle.

Even while little Brandon was still living inside his mother’s womb, his doctors discovered a strange lump growing near his spine.  Five weeks after his birth, the Connors received bad news:  little Brandon had neuroblastoma, one of the deadliest forms of childhood cancer.  Surgery was risky because it could paralyze him.  So doctors decided instead to watch and wait, because sometimes mysterious growths disappear before the child turns one.

But it didn’t disappear.  First one year passed, and then two.  Finally, his parents decided to take action.  They took him to the University of California at San Francisco where a neurosurgeon agreed to operate.  

But on the night before his surgery, one last scan showed no sign of the mass, only fatty tissue.  To everyone’s surprise, the tumor had vanished.

Why?  His doctors said his neuroblastoma must have committed cellular suicide.  But his mother, Kristin Connor, had another point of view.  She said, “It was surreal to us that this could have possibly happened.  It was a miracle.”

Back in 2001, fourteen-year-old Stacey Perrotta discovered a mysterious lump in her stomach that stuck out like a golf ball.  It didn’t bother her or hurt her, but when she pushed it in, she could hear it pop back out again.

She tried to ignore it for four months, hoping it would go away.  Finally, a week before a routine doctor’s checkup, she told her mother.

So Stacey was sent to the Children’s Hospital at the University of Rochester where a scan revealed a large tumor.  Then, when surgeons removed the softball-sized mass, the diagnosis was devastating.  Stacey had a desmoplastic small round cell tumor, a rare cancer normally found only in teenage boys.  Only twenty percent survived.  Even worse, the doctors there had never treated anyone with this cancer before.  So after poring through medical literature and consulting other cancer specialists, they decided on a course of action--high doses of chemotherapy followed by radiation.

Even her doctor, a pediatric oncologist, said, “When I started looking at how kids with this disease did, I thought, ‘This is not good.  This is going to be tough.’”

During her six months of treatment, Stacey felt nauseous and feverish and needed several transfusions because of her dangerously low blood count.  Doctors stopped her last round of chemo because she was too sick.

But what they did worked, for two years later, Stacey was cancer-free.  She was even named one of the hospital’s five “Miracle Kids” of 2003.

She said, “I think about where I am now compared to where I was then and it’s a good feeling.  I’ve come a long way.”

We love miracles.  We believe in miracles.  

So what’s a miracle?  A miracle is a “surprising and welcome event that cannot be explained by natural or scientific laws.”  It’s a “divine intervention in human affairs.”

As one person put it:  “The simple and grand truth that the universe is not under the exclusive control of physical forces, but that everywhere and always there is above, separate from and superior to all else, an infinite personal will, directing and controlling all physical causes, acting with or without them.”

Miracles are wonders, marvels, works of God.  Where miracles are, God is.

So it was here in the words of Number chapter 17.  Listen to what it says:  “On the next day, Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds.”

Aaron’s rod--a dry stick, a dead stick--suddenly produced buds and blossoms and almonds?  That’s a miracle.

So where did all this begin?  It began a chapter before in Numbers 16, as the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.  They said, “What have you, Moses and Aaron, done for us by leading us out of the land of Egypt?  Have you given us vineyards?  Have you led us to an oasis?  Have you not brought us to the wilderness only to die on the desert sand?”

And they said, “How dare you call yourselves servants of God!  Who said God can only work through you?”

So what happened next?  The Lord’s judgment was severe.  God told three of them—Korah, Dathan and Abiram—to all stand together in one place, with their families and everything that belonged to them.  Then the earth rumbled and grumbled, then swallowed them up.  In a moment, they were gone.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the Lord wasn’t done.  Next, He sent a plague that, in a matter of moments, took the lives of 14,700 more.  And only when Aaron stood between the living and the dead did the Lord turn from His fierce anger.

Then comes the words of Numbers 17, where the Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them staffs, one for each fathers’ house.  Then write each man’s name on his staff and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi.  Then put them in the tent of meeting before the testimony where I meet you.”

And the very next morning, when Moses went back inside the tabernacle, what did he see?  Among that bunch of dry, dead sticks, there was one, and only one, that not only sprouted and flowered.  It bore almonds!  It was a strange miracle and an amazing miracle.  But it was a miracle just the same.

Now with a miracle as strange as that, we can’t help but ask a few questions.  First, why?  Why did God make Aaron’s rod, and only Aaron’s rod, sprout and grow?

The reason was simple.  God didn’t choose Korah or Dathan or Abiram or anyone else to lead His people in worship.  He chose Aaron.  And by choosing Aaron, He wanted everyone to know that there weren’t many different ways to God.  There was one.  Only one.

Doesn’t that remind you of Jesus?  It should, for that’s what He said on Maundy Thursday night:  “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father but by Me.”  And that’s what Paul wrote in his first letter to Timothy:  “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.”

But what about Mohammed or Buddha or Zoroaster or Confucius or Mahavira?  After all, millions around the world believe they were good men, righteous men, who laid out a path of enlightenment, and taught a way of peace.  Can’t they too be ways to God?

Aaron’s rod, and only Aaron’s rod, with it’s buds and flowers and almonds tells us there’s only one way, and that’s Jesus Christ.  There is no other way.

And why did the Lord make his rod sprout almonds?  Why not pecans or peaches or grapes?  Why almonds?

Because the almond was the very first to break into flower after the long, cold, hard days of winter.  They even had a name for it.  They called it, “the watcher,” for it was the very first flower of spring.

And doesn’t that remind you of Jesus?  For Paul wrote to the Corinthians:  “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you’re still in your sins…and we, of all people, are most to be pitied.”

And he wrote:  “But Christ has been raised…the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Just as Aaron’s rod lay overnight in that cold, dark, holy place, so Jesus lay in a cold, stone tomb.  But in three days, Easter Day, He stood risen from the dead, the Just for the unjust, that we might be redeemed.

And maybe just one more question—why did Aaron’s rod sprout buds, flowers and almonds?  Why all three?  After all, God could have simply produced buds on Aaron’s rod or flowers or a crop of almonds.  Any of them would have been more than enough to show the miracle of His hand.  So why all three?

Because buds show life.  The blossoms show fruit is on the way.  And the almonds, mature and ready to eat, show that hope is fulfilled.  The promise has come.

And doesn’t that remind you of Jesus?  

The prophet Isaiah wrote.  He was the “rod from the stem of Jesse.”  “He grew up like a young plant, like a root out of dry ground.  He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him and no beauty that we should desire Him.  He was despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”

He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.  By His stripes, we are healed.

And now, not only has His work budded and flowered, it’s produced abundant fruit—fruit that nourishes, fruit that provides, fruit that abides.

One more thing.  If you think about it, Aaron’s rod must have been quite a stick.

Now Moses’ rod was pretty good.  His rod parted the Red Sea and led the people of Israel through the wilderness to the promised land.

But Aaron’s rod—let me tell you.  His rod became a snake and ate Pharaoh’s magicians’ snakes.  It turned the Nile into blood and even made water pour from a rock.  No wonder they laid it, with a bowl of manna and the Ten Commandments written on two tablets of stone, in the ark of the covenant, the very presence of God.

But as beautiful and wonderful as Aaron’s rod must have been, there’s no one like Jesus.  He’s the way, the truth and the life.  He’s the Author and Finisher of faith, the Captain of our Salvation, the Great I Am.  He’s the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.  

As a song puts it so well:  “Who, but Jesus, loves the sinner, enough to give His life?  Love too pure for men to merit, praise too glorious to deny.  Praise Him now with joy in living, as in death my comfort rests.  Who but Jesus loves this sinner?  He alone is my righteousness.”

We thank You, dear Father, for the miracle of Aaron’s rod.  We pray that You would help even us to bud and flower and flourish, that the Savior may be known and Your kingdom may grow.  This we ask in His name.  Amen

 

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