STORIES OF THE STAFF - JULY 3, 2022
IN PASTOR ROB INRIG'S MESSAGE, WE ARE LEARNING THESE INCREDIBLE STORIES AND HE IS MAKING US REALIZE ONCE MORE IN HOW AWESOME IS OUR GOD.
Hardly impressive is it? A tool fit for ﬁelds and hilltops, doing work only a few would choose. You see it in the hands of a man, strong and independent, guiding creatures that are weak and dependent. He, chiselled and weather-worn; they woolly and oblivious. Cute yet rather mindless. Backdrops are set on Galilean hilltops by night and lush meadows by day. A staff marking the care and protection of a shepherd.
But make no mistake — the staff has a much richer history than guiding sheep. It’s been in the hands of those who’ve guided nations and overthrown kingdoms. Today we represent a nation’s authority with crowns and scepters but compared with this staff, these are poor representations of authority. This staff has accompanied the commissioning of shepherds as kings and farmers as prophets. Most times it is seen in fields or on hillsides where few notice — a working instrument belonging to a working man doing menial tasks that go unnoticed and unappreciated. But God has a unique way of turning the ordinary into the extraordinary.
It hardly seems sensible that this staff would mean anything to us in a fast-moving technological-driven, world. A world of artificial intelligence, 5K, and Ev’s. But let me assure you, it does!
So this morning I want to consider the staff of God in our lives in terms of how God rescues, how God relates, how God leads and how God reigns. And how will we respond to all this?
The psalmist used the image of staff to represent the strength and promise of God’s presence, Thy rod and Thy staff comfort me. To David, the shepherd, the staff had been there when danger lurked. It reached out when correction was needed - held tight when difficulties came and held high when the —scattered were lost. In those times, the value of the staff drawing the sheep closer to the Master. And drawing us close when we find it hard to see when we need rescue.
In the hand of the Master, THE STAFF REPRESENTS GOD’S RESCUE:
Its characteristic crook is the primary thing that differentiates a staff from a walking stick. For most of a shepherd’s tasks, any long branch could suffice as he went before the sheep, checking pasture land to ensure safe grazing. Inspecting holes where predators might lurk – most commonly, venomous snakes. Clearing away harmful vegetation and stubborn sheep, a quick disciplining strike reminds sheep to stay far from danger. However, providing rescue for the fallen, the almost out of reach, the injured without strength – that needed the staff’s crook in the shepherd’s outstretched arm The staff was designed for RESCUE, not duties.
Jesus spoke a lot about the shepherd and in fact, He is described as the Good Shepherd, the True Shepherd and the Great Shepherd. Speaking to His disciples, He warned about many false shepherds who would come in His name. These would wear the appearance of a shepherd calling people to follow, convincing the unguarded that they’d be taken to good places. But if you look closely at what they hold, you’ll see staff having no crook.
The poles they hold may beat down some weeds, poke down some holes, and offer some good principles but they can’t rescue. They were never intended to.
Some of you sit there and are telling yourself, this is SO stupid. What do a Shepherd and some sheep have to do with me in the world I’m dealing with? A world of challenge and stress; a world of hurt. Besides, I am certainly no sheep and I do not need a Shepherd. My life is my own; my destiny is my own. I’ll walk where I choose and I’ll do what I want.
But what if it’s not ‘so stupid’? What happens if what Scripture says is true, that, “All we like sheep have gone astray Is 53:6 and that There is none righteous, no not one. That means even the strongest and best of us need rescue - all of us and we can’t do life without a Shepherd.
What if it’s also true what God continues to say, that the Lord has laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all. This tells us that Jesus is the only answer to make us acceptable before God. False shepherds will try to convince you otherwise - that all shepherds are similar. But don’t be deceived, there is only One Shepherd who has a staff that rescues and only One that has the heart to rescue. That was what the Cross was about. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, dying on a cross so that we might live. The Good Shepherd laying down his life for the sheep.
So, in the hand of the Master, THE STAFF REPRESENTS GOD’S RELATIONSHIP:
This staff tells me that God wants us to know more than rescue - that he doesn’t just save me, fondly rub my head, then send me off as just another nameless part of the flock, indistinguishable from all the other woolly whites. Forgotten. Unknown. Unnamed. But here’s the thing – God tells me that in Christ, He knows me by name. He calls his sheep by name and leads them out. Jn 10:3 Elsewhere He tells me I was designed by Him, crafted by Him and loved by Him.
INTIMATELY. PASSIONATELY. UNIQUELY. He saves us to KNOW us in a:
Relationship of Intimacy and Care – as He pulls us close
- that He knows my markings and characteristics. He knows the junk I get into and the places I’m tempted to graze. Where my wool gets matted and knowing this, He corrects me and cleans me up
- at end of the day as He lowers the staff to inspect the wounds of the day, healing me in the places only He can see. In the hidden places. In my covered-over places. In the places I look so good but in truth, where my insecurities and doubts hide, covering up so much hurt, so much pain
A relationship that Provides - pulls vegetation down when it was beyond their reach
- when He stills the waters so His sheep can drink and be refreshed. When the sounds of rushing water that cause fear and confusion are stilled so peace can come. When He lies me down, calming as anxieties overwhelm me. Providing in places where there seems to be no provision.
Relationship that Protects
- as He gently prods because the grazing places we are continually drawn to have been stripped bare. When He lifts our head to help us see where we are and that it’s time to move on and start feeding in fresh places. Places where life will be restored. Places that will cause us to run again no matter how long it’s been since we last ran.
Sometimes He prods because there’s been too much feeding and not enough moving. Satisfied with what we’ve found, we’ve forgotten to help others find what they need. So the Shepherd reminds again that He wants sheep who will follow where He leads when He leads. And when this is true, others doing what you’ve done – joining in to follow.
Sometimes His strike is stronger because we are wandering into places that will do us harm. We think ourselves strong and sufficient but His strike comes to remind us that despite what we think about ourselves, we are no more than sheep walking in places where serpents wait.
In the hand of the Master, THE STAFF REPRESENTS GOD’S LEADING:
Wherever the shepherd went, the staff rose above all. It was the reference point - visible when the shepherd was obscured from view. The Shepherd has told us that there will be times when His presence will be unseen. When the path is difficult; when the way confuses but the presence of Shepherd’s staff is the ever-present testimony that He is leading even when we do not see. But the part of the staff that’s —always in sight is Shepherd’s crook that saves. An ongoing reminder that His rescuing love gave all that could be given and it will never fail. The crook remains as a testimony of who He has been, who He will be and who He is right now.
LEADING when we do not know and cannot see. God leading so we know His presence. Leading with the staff held high, calling and ensuring that the path ahead can be navigated even where the shale is precarious and the footholds less than sure. Not because the danger isn’t present but because He is present in the place of danger.
All of these are accurate representations of what the staff means in our lives. To reiterate: The staff’s presence first and foremost shouts - RESCUE. He has rescued us from death unto life. Don’t ever forget that without Christ, every one of us was lost, without hope. BUT hear the words of rescue. When you lose your way - look at the crook; when you think God doesn’t love you - look at the crook; when you are hurting and need someone to care - look at the crook. It’s the place He has declared His Salvation.
There is no more important thing you can hear this morning that Jesus Christ died on the cross to rescue you. All you need to do is to accept His rescue for your life - to admit that like all of us, you are a sinner in need of rescue by Jesus Christ who died on the cross for you. To climb into the crook that He extends to you so you may know life and know it abundantly.
But the staff isn’t to pull you up and set you aside, it’s to pull you close into RELATIONSHIP — that you might know the warmth, care and protection that His love provides. Scripture reinforces this theme as it speaks of Christ our Great Shepherd. And the more you enter into this relationship, the more you will discover the conﬁdence you can have in a Shepherd who LEADS. That He will lead you through situations that your enemy intended for your destruction. Where the Shepherd leads in ways often unseen and often misunderstood. But His leading is good.
Those all are crucial understandings as you look at this staff this morning and consider his staff in your life. But first understand, before you can understand the power of the staff, you must first have experienced the rescue of the staff and then before you can understand the leadership of the staff, you must understand that the purpose of the staff is to call you into a relationship.
I met with someone a while back who has a vending machine concept of God – right actions in, right rewards out. ‘Bless my family, help my business succeed, keep problems away from my door’. What he had signed up for was a partnership with a servant God who he’d include in his life as long as God responded to his beck and call. Deliver as expected and he’d extend the partnership but while the staff reminds of the comforting presence of the Shepherd, He is so much more. He is Master, who calls us to yield to His authority.
In the hand of the Master, THE STAFF REPRESENTS GOD’S AUTHORITY:
There are several ways to look at God’s authority. We love His authority when it speaks into the situations that surround us. When the shepherd’s staff makes predators wary about attacking. The staff represents God’s protecting power. But it’s not a power that is to be taken for granted or to think that if we keep it in the general vicinity of our lives that it somehow has a force field that makes everything right. Something we pick up when things get bad. We dare not put God’s staff of authority carelessly aside because as Scripture warns, there are predators on constant watch for a time and place to attack. 1 Pet 5:8 tells us, Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
Those are the times when Shepherd’s protection power is tested and you ﬁnd in more dramatic ways that the authority of the staff is a power that not only has the power to protect, it also has the power to conquer. You and I have no idea how much has been kept from our lives by the presence of God’s staff when we walk, following His authority.
But here’s the thing: God’s authority also tells me that we are like sheep. Now that’s not an image I choose for myself. I’d rather be powerful or stealthy or cunningly smart. But sheep? Sheep just nibble themselves lost - foolishly, fearfully, inattentively lost.
While those characteristics fit us more than we care to admit, for many of us this isn’t where we get lost. We incline to CHOOSE ourselves lost rather than nibble ourselves lost. We want to hold onto the mastery of our own life rather than relinquishing them. And therein lies the challenge, because God will not force His authority upon us. If we want mastery of our lives, He will allow it. But don’t be mistaken, that demand for mastery will take some of us into some very parasitic, very dangerous land.
In truth, most of us aren’t there. There was a time in our lives when we settled the authority question. When we came to Christ, we gave Him control of our lives. We were His because He had the answer to what we needed. But over time, many of us have held back from giving God full authority. Not denying God. Not turning away from Him. Just more in a handshake relationship with Him. Present but not Lord.
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
1 Pet. 5:8
When we think of submitting to God’s Lordship, we often imagine that He is going to call us to Inuvik or call us away from something we love. But when God asks for authority, He brings it closer to home, in the decisions we make, in the work we do, in the relationships we’re in - whether we forgive or hold onto offence. Whether we will obey Him or culture? Whether we live to please Him or what temptingly attracts? Make no mistake sometimes those choices are too hard.
There are few better lessons in God’s authority than those depicted in the life of Moses. You know the story - Israel was held captive in Egypt yet Moses spared the experience. While his people suffered, he prospered. As Pharoah’s adopted son, he lived in the wealth of the palace BUT when it came time to intervene for his people, he abandoned the place of power for the isolation of a desert where it seemed all he could do was tend sheep. What a curious exchange - the power of a scepter for the humility of a shepherd’s crook. But what incredible lessons he was to learn!
God’s staff of authority is seen in God’s commissioning of Moses. In Ex 3:19 God promised Moses that he would deliver Israel and that he would, Stretch out his hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform. When Moses questioned his role in God’s commissioning, God responded by asking Ex 4:2, What’s in your hand? Interesting question. Tough question. Schooled to rule a nation, he now ruled sheep. As Pharoah’s adopted son, he had already made the sacrifice of exchanging a scepter for staff and now he was being asked to lay this down. As if he hadn’t already given up so much?
Ever been there? When what God asks of us doesn’t seem fair or doesn’t make sense. When His authority acts differently than what seems sensible. This isn’t the way we expect a rescuing God to act. It isn’t where we expect a leading God to lead.
But here’s the thing, God’s authority means taking us into places we often won’t understand. In Moses's case, he saw himself as no more than a shepherd of sheep. God’s view was quite different – he was a shepherd in training for a commission God was going to give.
So when God asked Moses to do something counter to the nature of the shepherd, ‘cast down his staff, He was challenging Moses who had authority in his life. Would he rely on all he knew or on God who knew all? Some of you may be facing the same struggle this morning as He is calling you, “What is it that is in your hands?” Lay it down. Let it go. Release your grip. He can’t fill a hand that is already full. The question – your authority or His?
When Moses obeyed, he saw what a staff under God’s power can become - a staff sufficient for all he will face, a staff that swallows every serpent Satan can bring. To be clear, I am NOT suggesting there was anything supernatural about the staff but there is plenty supernatural about the staff God empowers His people to carry.
This is only the beginning of what God will reveal as He repeatedly commands Moses to stretch out his staff. When the Nile is turned to blood, when frogs invade the land, when the dust becomes gnats, when the heavens rained hail, when the land is filled with locusts - it is all at ‘the stretching forth of the staff’.
Probably no image more dramatically illustrates the stretching out of the staff as the parting of the Red Sea. Nothing seemed more impossible than that. What good was a shepherd staff in a situation like this? But the Lord’s power and authority were undeniable as Moses responded to God’s command, “Stretch out your hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them”. Moses’ outstretched staff was the outstretched hand of God.
And as Moses led, he did so with a lifted staff. When Moses’ staff was lifted high, whether he could be seen or not, their leader was present.
This morning what does the staff of God represent in your life? Above all, make certain it represents Rescue - our lives lived inside the salvation of Christ’s love and power of the Cross.
But in that Rescue, know that you were saved for a Relationship. As someone deeply loved. Not in some cosmic, ‘He loved the world way’, but love that speaks your name - intimately, passionately. Even as you limp in at the end of the day — feeling all beat up and bearing scars. Even when the wounding feels like too much and your worth seems too little. Never lose sight that our God is a God of Intimate relationships.
Our God - a God of Authority who we can trust and follow. Because He has shown us a crook that tells us all that our Shepherd loves us enough to lay down His life for the sheep. The hymn writer captured it well, ‘Trust and obey for there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.” When you are called to cross the uncrossable and to achieve the impossible, Never lose sight that our God is a God of all Authority who will always do what is best.
Our question this morning is how will you respond to the staff of God in your life? Will you obey? If you want to know His leading; if you want to know the intimacy of being known and loved by God; if you want to know the power of His authority in your life – follow the leading of His staff because the crook of Rescue tells you everything you need to know.