TODAY’S READING: Numbers 3–4
Pastor Rob (lead pastor) and Pastor Justin (missions) have an incredible vision for their church. Their vision is to send 500 missionaries. We were all in Cairo, standing around the grave of William Borden, the young missionary from a wealthy family who died in Egypt as he was preparing to reach Muslims in China. Borden is remembered for walking away from family wealth and for writing the pithy exhortations: “No reserves. No retreats. No regrets.” Right there, our friend Omar challenged Rob to send 500 missionaries, and Rob felt the Holy Spirit awaken that vision within him. A few years later, Rob’s church has mobilized over 100 missionaries and continues to steam ahead towards the goal.
I was recently in a meeting with Rob where he mused out loud: “I wonder if, after we have sent our 500th missionary, we should just shut our doors and send all our people to other churches…because we did our job.” I think we were all a little stunned, and no doubt the Lord will lead and guide at that time, but the very fact that Rob was thinking through his ecclesiology with a missionary lens was invigorating. And that’s how we’re supposed to think through the Bible.
In Numbers 3 and 4, we have the organization and duties of the priests, the sons of Levi. Priests, of course, had the function of representing God to the people and the people to God, and they served as a living reminder that God wants all His people to serve in that role of a mediator to the nations. Israel was to be holy so that the Lord could use her to win the nations to Himself. We can’t read any passage in the Bible about priests without leaping ahead to 1 Peter where we are called a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:5) and a royal priesthood (v. 9): “His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (v. 9). Peter, of course, was writing to followers of Jesus (Jews and Gentiles, v. 10) scattered across Turkey and in persecution. Priests live holy lives so the Holy One lives among them so the unholy nations are attracted to His light and life.
Levitical organization in Numbers then brims with missiological challenge and encouragement. The Levites were one tribe of Israel, one tribe of twelve. Would it not be holy and royal if we sent one missionary for every twelve members of each of our churches? Rob, Justin, and their church are not the only ones to be blessed with the joy of sending. The Levites were organized by task. Kohath, Gershon, and Merari were all divisions of Levites that had different roles. How beautiful that missionary teams have space (and need!) for different roles. Not all have the gifts of Paul. Every missionary team needs someone good at business, someone fervent in prayer, someone gracious in hospitality. How informative that all the priests were expected to be mobile (Num. 4:15, 24, 31). All had to take their holiness on the road. The gospel is made to travel.
Myanmar today is full of priests—the wrong kind. May someone reading these words feel a priestly call. May the Spirit rise up within you and may you yield to His passion for Jesus to be glorified among the Burmese, not clothed in Buddhist orange, but clothed in dazzling righteousness and love.