And The Oscar For Best Performance Goes To…

Last night, millions of people around the globe watched as the Academy Awards were presented for outstanding work in the movie industry.

As the celebrities stepped out of their limousines and cameras flashed in the background like twinkling stars in the sky, I couldn’t help thinking about the adoring crowds. We live vicariously through the glamorous personalities we watch on the movie screen.

While acting ability impresses me like any other person, I need to remind myself that the person I see in the movies is just acting. I may think Sandra Bullock is a down-to-earth person, but I really don’t know.

In our culture, performance means everything. It can win a person an Oscar for Best Performance.

But to God, performance means little.

Please join me as we explore this further.

TODAY’S READING

Numbers 10:1-11:23
Mark 14:1-21
Psalm 51:1-19
Proverbs 10:31-32

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Numbers 10:1-10. In battle, the trumpeter blew a series of long and short blasts to communicate messages to the troops. If the trumpeter was killed, the troops were unable to hear instructions from their leader.

Numbers 11. At this point, as the people began complaining, Israel had lived in the wilderness for one year.

In verse 4, the “rabble” complain about not having meat. Nuances in the word “rabble” indicate the complainers were  Gentiles who had joined the Israel (most likely Egyptians). Like a cancer, their complaints soon spread throughout Israel. And actually, they had herds of cattle and sheep in the wilderness—but even in Egypt, they ate meat like this only on occasion. Because they lived by the Nile River, fish was a staple in their diet.

As I read about the complaints, I must ask myself, If I had spent a year in the desert eating only manna, would I complain too? I probably would.

Verses 10-15 are interesting. Previously, Moses had interceded to God on behalf of Israel. This time, God was interceding to Moses on behalf of Israel. But you can tell Moses was pretty worked up.

Here’s an interesting aside: complaining or grumbling are not mentioned very common in Scripture. But we do find it in the book of John for a specific situation. In John 6, Jesus described himself as the bread of life, which came down from heaven and was far superior to manna. So how did his listeners respond? They grumbled. Obviously, John was referring to this account in Numbers.

Mark 14:1-9. The disciples probably stayed in Bethany rather than Jerusalem partly out of concern for their safety and partly because Jerusalem was overcrowded during Passover.

In Jewish tradition, every king was anointed before his coronation. Jesus, however, chose to be anointed by a woman in the home of a leper (presumably one he healed). But his coronation ceremony would take place on a cross and the anointing was also preparation for his burial.

The Bible Background Commentary provides some additional insights into the woman who gave sacrificially to Jesus:

Whatever her economic status, this perfume (an oil from a root probably imported from India or South Arabia) was worth a year of a common laborer’s wages; her family had probably kept it as a status symbol. Its fragrance was preserved by sealing it in alabaster (the favored container for perfume), and once the flask was broken its contents had to be used immediately. Her anointing of Jesus represents a major sacrifice and indicates the depth of her love, but given the great numbers of landless or tenant-farming peasants, some people present think the worth of the perfume could have been put to better use.

Mark 14:12-21. Women normally carried jars of water, so seeing a man carry a jar of water would be quite noticeable (verse 13).

Psalm 51. I used to know a man who made his sons read this psalm whenever they got in trouble.

You can read the context of this psalm in 2 Samuel 11-12, which tells the story of the time when David committed adultery with Bathsheba, and had Bathsheba’s husband killed to cover his tracks.

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

What speaks to me most deeply in Psalm 51 is the way David owns his sin. He acknowledges his tendency toward sin (“Surely I was sinful at birth” verse 5) but he doesn’t use it as an excuse for his actions. He also owns the damage his sin inflicted on his relationship with God. In verse 4, he writes, “Against you, you only, have I sinned.”

The heart of his prayer forms a beautiful song that all of us can join him and sing:

Create in me a pure heart, O God,

and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence

or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation

and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Finally he concludes by honing in on what God is looking for: a “broken and contrite heart” (verse 17).

This is one more example we find in Scripture in the importance of humility.

Yesterday in Psalm 50 we read that God is looking for gratefulness, follow-through in our commitment to him, and he wants us to cry out to him when we’re in trouble. Today we read God wants a broken and contrite heart.

These things have little to do with performance. Essentially, we can’t offer anything to God. God is much more impressed by who we are than what we do.

And that requires real work.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. In what areas of your life do you find it easy to complain? How does God respond to your complaints?
  3. Do you find it easy to apologize? Why or why not? Do you find it easier to apologize to the person you hurt or to God? Why?
  4. Why do you think God is more impressed by who we are than what we do? Which one impresses you more about other people?

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “And The Oscar For Best Performance Goes To…

  1. Evan Roth

    I have to admit that I get confused that God wants us to cry out to him when we are in trouble (yesterday’s passage) and yet He got angry when the Israelites complained. Perhaps the difference is that crying out or asking for help is seen as expecting God to deliver while complaining is not asking for help or distrusting in his ability to help.

  2. I think you’re right, Evan. Crying out is say, “God, I need your help!” while complaining is saying, “God, why aren’t you doing anything?”

  3. Mike and Evan:

    It seems further that the Israelites complained about what God was providing (manna, water, protection, etc.) rather than thanking God for and seeking true provision. Then the complaining moves us further from seeing what God is doing. As parents we have all experienced this, at least I have.

    Mike:

    Thanks for your commitment to this. I know it is a blessing to more than those who respond.

    Again, I saw in Numbers that God is cares deeply about his people as a gathered community. The trumpets are not just a call to war but a call to worship and gathering as a community. It also implies that the trumpets signaled God’s presence and protection.

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