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What in the World is God Up to

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[43]

What in the World is God Up To?

Exodus 5:22-6:8

September 28th, 2008, Pastor Jeff Germo

[44]

 “The Cat only grinned when it saw Alice. It looked good- natured, she thought: still it had very long claws and a great many teeth, so she felt that it ought to be treated with respect.

‘Cheshire Puss,’ she began, rather timidly, as she did not at all know whether it would like the name: however, it only grinned a little wider. ‘Come, it’s pleased so far,’ thought Alice, and she went on. ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

‘I don’t much care where—’ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

‘—so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.

‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’”

Anyone recognize this scenario?  Alice in Wonderland.

Alice is lost and she happens upon this strange looking cat whom she asks for directions to no place in particular and the cat tells her that if she doesn’t care where she is going than it doesn’t matter what direction she goes.

[45]

Sometimes that’s how we live our lives as Christians, and how we organize the church, isn’t it. 

We don’t always understand why we are doing what we’re doing so we just pick a direction and go.

And sometimes we do it simply because we’ve always done it that way.  We have no idea why.

Here’s a story that someone tells about a tradition in their church.

“Coffee was always served at our church after the sermon. One Sunday our minister asked one of the smaller members of the congregation if he knew why we had coffee hour. Without hesitating, the youngster replied, ‘To wake people up before they have to drive home.’"

I can remember when I was growing up we would go to church every single Sunday without fail, and my parents would say that we were going to worship God in our worship service.

And I always wondered what that meant.  What about what we did was worship?  Nobody could explain it to me.

But we would do it over and over again.  We’d get up early on Sunday mornings, all nine of us, scramble to get ready to go to Sunday school and church in our best Sunday go to meetin’ clothes.

And we’d go to our mid-week bible study, and I would go to the youth meetings on Fridays, and my parents would go to other committee meetings to make sure the church was running well.

And I didn’t understand what it was all about.  For all I could tell we did these things because we had always done them.

It was tradition.

[46]

I found some old civic laws related to church, on the internet, that are apparently still on the books, and nobody knows why they are there.

[46a]

Young girls are never allowed to walk a tightrope in Wheeler, Mississippi, unless it's in a church.

[46b]

In Blackwater, Kentucky, tickling a woman under her chin with a feather duster while she’s in church service carries a penalty of $10.00 and one day in jail.

[47a]

No one can eat unshelled, roasted peanuts while attending church in Idanha, Oregon.

[47b]

In Honey Creek, Iowa, no one is permitted to carry a slingshot to church except a policeman.

[47c]

No citizen in Leecreek, Arkansas, is allowed to attend church in any red-colored garment.

[48a]

Swinging a yo-yo in church or anywhere in public on the Sabbath is prohibited in Studley, Virginia.

[48b]

Turtle races are not permitted within 100 yards of a local church at any time in Slaughter, Louisiana.

These rules probably made sense to those people at that time, a hundred or two hundred years ago, or whenever they were put in place, but to us in the 21st century they sound quite silly and unnecessary.

[49]

So, all that to say that it is so important for us to know why we do the things we do.

What is the church about?  Is it simply a safe place, or a sanctuary for Christians to feel protected from the outside world? 

Why do we do what we do week in and week out?

This morning I want to lay the foundation for what we will be doing from this point on, not only in the Sunday morning services, but also for what I believe God’s desire is for everything that we do as His people, both individually and corporately.

The last three weeks we looked at God’s mission for us, and we are going to continue on with that theme this morning.

Today we’re going to take a look at the call that Moses received from God.  And then beginning next week we will go back to Genesis where we’ll stay until the first Sunday of Advent.

And everything that is said from the pulpit and everything that we do as a church will be for the purpose of the mission that God has given us, which is to teach people how to love God and love people.

My job as your pastor is not simply to give you more information about the Bible.  My job is not just to teach you more theology or doctrine.

My job as pastor is the same job that the apostle Paul was passionate about.

[50]

Colossians 1:28-29

 

28 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29 To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. [1]

 

Paul was passionate about moving the hearts of God’s people on to God’s program.

Like we said last week, it’s about a transformation of the heart.

We’re going to look at Exodus 5:22-6:8, but before we do that I want to remind you of what preceded this.

[51]

Remember God met Moses at the burning bush and told him that he had been duly chosen to lead Israel out of captivity in Egypt where they had been slaves for 400 years.

Moses doesn’t think this is a very good idea.  He says, “God, you have chosen the wrong guy.  Why would Israel listen to me?  Why would Pharaoh listen to me?

I’m a nobody.  I can’t even speak well and I have a speech impediment.  They will just laugh.”

Anyway, all of Moses’ whining and complaining come to naught, but God does acquiesce a bit and allows Moses to partner with Aaron, his brother who would be his mouthpiece.

And God tells them that He is going to do such great miracles through them that Pharaoh will be brought to his knees so that he will gladly send Israel packing.

So, with this information straight from God, Aaron and Moses gather the elders of Israel and tell them the great news that Yahweh had showed up and told Moses that He has heard the cry of the Israelites and He is going to use Moses to deliver the Israelites from the oppressive hand of the Egyptians.

So, all Israel is thrilled and they celebrate and bow down and worship God because finally after 400 years of being brutally oppressed by Egypt, He has heard their cries and is going to rescue them.

Moses is a hero in their eyes.  They put him on their shoulders and sing, “For he’s the jolly good fellow.”

[52]

And so, feeling good about themselves, Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh and tell him the news that Yahweh, the God of the Israelites has said that he is supposed to let the people go.

Pharaoh laughed at them and said, “I don’t know this Yahweh.  Who is He to me?  There is no way in the world that I am going to let the Israelites go.  Our economy depends on their slave labour.  I would be crazy to do that.

As a matter of fact, I am going to make your work harder.  We used to supply the straw for you to make bricks.  We aren’t going to do that any more. 

Now, you have to make the same amount of bricks, but you also have to gather your own straw, and if you don’t meet your quota your workers will be beaten.”

Well, the Israelites found it impossible to keep up, so they were beaten and oppressed even further.

And, so they go to the Pharaoh and tell him that he is being unreasonable and begged him to treat them more fairly.

[53]

Exodus 5 (NLT)

 

17 But Pharaoh shouted, “You’re just lazy! Lazy! That’s why you’re saying, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifices to the Lord.’

 

In other words, if you want to blame someone, blame your leader Moses.  He’s the one who got you into this mess.

[54]

/ 18 Now get back to work! No straw will be given to you, but you must still produce the full quota of bricks.”[2] /

So they leave Pharaoh’s court very dejected and they immediately confront Moses and Aaron.

[55]

21 The foremen said to them, “May the Lord judge and punish you for making us stink before Pharaoh and his officials. You have put a sword into their hands, an excuse to kill us!”

Now, I would imagine that Moses is feeling pretty dejected.  He simply did what God had told him to do, and now everyone is mad at him and accusing him of having ulterior motives.

“You weren’t planning on delivering us.  You just wanted an excuse to get us killed.  You’re nothing but a scam artist and a charlatan.”

Well, this leads us to verse 22 where Moses cries out to God.  He is feeling betrayed by Yahweh.

 

 

[56]

22 Then Moses went back to the Lord and protested, “Why have you brought all this trouble on your own people, Lord? Why did you send me? 23 Ever since I came to Pharaoh as your spokesman, he has been even more brutal to your people. And you have done nothing to rescue them!”

 

Amazing isn’t it?  Moses actually accuses God of doing evil.  This doesn’t come out very clearly in the NLT but in the ESV and the KJV it is quite poignant.

In the ESV it reads, “O LORD, why have you done evil to this people?”

Can you imagine?  He actually accuses God of doing evil.  If I was God I would have put Moses out of his misery right then and there and squashed like a bug for his insubordination.

Listen to what Moses says.  After accusing God of doing evil he questions God;

“Why did you send me? 23 Ever since I came to Pharaoh as your spokesman, he has been even more brutal to your people. And you have done nothing to rescue them!”

 

What’s Moses doing here?  What is the essence of his plea?  What does Moses really want to know from God here?

He’s asking God, “What are you up to? What in the world are you doing, God?”

He wants to know, “God do you actually have a plan, or are you just playing some sort of cosmic game with me?”

Do you ever feel like that?  You get some serious illness.  God, what are you doing?  You loose your job.

God, do you have a plan, or is this some kind of joke? – Because it’s not very funny.

The problem with Moses here is that he does not yet really know God.

[57]

Hebrews 11:6 says, 6And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

Now, Moses believes God exists.  He has had an encounter with Him that leaves him no doubt about that.

But what he doesn’t believe is that God rewards those who sincerely seek Him.

Moses has not walked long with God.  He has not yet experienced God’s faithful provision, and so His faith waivers.

He has not developed his faith to the point where he can believe that God has good intentions for him.

He doesn’t understand yet that in order to have a real, vibrant, and healthy relationship with God he must believe that God has good things in store for Him.

And that’s the same for you and me too. 

Our faith is limited down here on earth, but as we walk with God and learn to surrender to His will, little by little, as we experience God’s faithfulness and goodness we begin to believe that His intentions for us are good.

He’s not leading us down the garden path or into destruction. 

Well, things don’t work out the way Moses thinks they should, so he complains to God.  He accuses Him.

And the utterly amazing thing is that God doesn’t squash Moses.  He understands his consternation and confusion and instead of exterminating him, God enters into a very patient dialogue with him and He reveals to Moses His plan.

Now, Elmer Martens, who is an Old Testament theologian, sees this passage as the central passage of the Old Testament, and perhaps the whole Bible.

He sees it as a filter through which all the Bible can be viewed.

In this passage God reveals Himself to Moses in a way that He had not revealed Himself to any other human being before – Yahweh.

And not only that, it is in this passage where God reveals to Moses what His plans are.

[58]

Martens wrote: /God has addressed the basic question of purpose which Moses raised, first by establishing his identity in the name Yahweh, and then by explicating a fourfold purpose.  The purpose is not something arbitrary or artificial but grows out of the person of Yahweh as signified by his name.[3]/

And so here we have Moses being privy to a new knowledge of God and His plan for all of mankind, including us, and to the end of time.

[59]

So, God has a plan and you and I, as His people, are a part of it.

God is not making this stuff up as He goes a long.  He’s up to something and He invites us to partner with Him in what He is doing.

We’re going to walk through the passage and I want you to notice this fourfold plan that God gives Moses because this plan is not just meant for Israel, it is meant for you and me today, as His beloved church.

[60]

The fourfold plan is as follows. 1. Deliverance/Salvation

                                                            2. A New Relationship with God

3. A Gift of Land (which represents the good life, or the abundant life, as Jesus called it)

4. A New People

Let’s work through this passage now and discover God’s plan for us.

[61]

6 1Then the Lord told Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh. When he feels the force of my strong hand, he will let the people go. In fact, he will force them to leave his land!”

So, God reiterates what He has already told Moses.  His original call on Moses still stands.  Pharaoh will let God’s people go.

That’s the first part of God’s plan – deliverance.  Above all else, God is a saving God.  All through Scripture He is described as such.

And if you have confessed your sinfulness to God and received His forgiveness through Christ’s death and resurrection on the cross 2000 years ago then you have experienced His deliverance.

That’s a one time event, but we also experience God’s deliverance in an ongoing way throughout our lives from various circumstances in our lives.  God is a delivering God.  That is His nature.

[62]

In the OT, the action of God is always determined by God’s desire to save his people – God using people to do his work.

[63]

2 And God said to Moses, “I am Yahweh—‘the Lord.’ 3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty’—but I did not reveal my name, Yahweh, to them.

So, Moses is offered a new kind of personal relationship with God Almighty.

[64]

Brevard Childs, another Old Testament scholar, wrote, /“To know God’s name is to know his purpose for all mankind from the beginning to the end.”[4]/

Yahweh invites His people to know Him in a very intimate way, so intimate in fact that He lets them in on His plan.

Now, this would have been a huge paradigm shift for the Israelites.  They had just spent 400 years in captivity as slaves to the Egyptian people.

They would have essentially lost their Jewish ways of living and adopted the ways of the Egyptians.

Egyptian, Babylonian, and Mesopotamian cultures believed in a plurality of gods and a worldview that said that individuals have absolutely no control over their own future.

Their so called gods were not like Yahweh, the God of the Bible.

They believed in a plethora of gods that, unlike Yahweh, they could not know personally.

In Egypt they had a high walled temple that only the priests had access to, and only they could be involved in the temple worship of the higher gods.

These higher gods, made from human hands out of stone or other materials, had schedules much like kings. 

The priests served them at various times throughout the day.  They slept at night.  Each morning they would be awakened with a hymn. 

The priests would wash and dress them and give them an offering of breakfast and then midday and evening offerings of meals, and then they would retire them for the night.

To us in western cultures it’s quite bazaar, but I would imagine to the Eastern world, even today, this would seem quite normal.

Here are some of the beliefs about the gods from the worldview that the Israelites would have bought into.

[65 – click for each bullet]

1.  The gods are evil, capricious, violent, unpredictable, inconsistent, untrustworthy.

            The Mesopotamian had the feeling that there was no one in the universe that cared for them.

2.  Humans beings have the status of slaves: it is their only identity

3.  Human beings have no friends in the universe

4.  Human beings have no hope of a better future

5.  Human existence is characterized by uncertainty

6.  Humans live in fear

7.  Humans live in doubt and ignorance of the will of the gods.

 

The gods never revealed their will to mere humans because they always wanted to keep humans off balance.  They never showed their cards. 

One time they might demand some fruit to appease their anger and another time for the same sin the death of their child.

8.  Humans have no control over their fate –

Their future was determined capricious gods who cared only about their own gratification.

And so here, in Exodus, God is offering them a new kind of relationship that includes partnering with Him in His plan for their future, and for the good of the human race.

They could actually have a future. 

Remember in Jeremiah where God reiterated this promise several hundred years later as the Jews were being carried away into captivity by the Babylonians.

[66]

Jeremiah 29:11-14

 

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 In those days when you pray, I will listen. 13 If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. 14 I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”

 

This is God’s plan for us as well.  He is a God that can be trusted.  He is not capricious. 

He actually wants to be intimately involved with us in a personal relationship, and partner with us and has told us explicitly how He wants to do that.

That should give us a huge amount of confidence about our future.

[67]

Exodus 6

 

 4 And I reaffirmed my covenant with them. Under its terms, I promised to give them the land of Canaan, where they were living as foreigners.

Now, this promise of land was huge for the Israelites.  For four hundred years they had been held captive by the Egyptians without the possibility of owning anything.

It all belonged to Egypt.  They had no life except for what Egypt and the so-called gods would allow.

God is offering them the good life.  A land flowing with milk and honey as He said later on.

They would have everything that they needed to live a full and satisfying life, partnering with Yahweh.

This is exactly the same thing that God offers us.  We can look to the future and see hopelessness and stay enslaved to old ideas that God does not have our best in mind.

Or, we can believe, as we have already noted from Hebrews 11 that God rewards those who seek Him.

We can walk confidently into the future and know that God has good things for us.

[68]

5 You can be sure that I have heard the groans of the people of Israel, who are now slaves to the Egyptians. And I am well aware of my covenant with them.

6 “Therefore, say to the people of Israel: ‘I am the Lord. I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment.

Again God is a saving God.  He says it several different ways here.  “I will free you from your oppression.”  “I will rescue you from slavery.”  “I will redeem you with a powerful arm.”

Let me repeat what I said earlier.

[69]

In the OT, the action of God is always determined by God’s desire to save his people – God using people to do his work.

Lastly, God promises that they will be His people.

[70]

Exodus 6

 7 I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God who has freed you from your oppression in Egypt. 8 I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your very own possession. I am the Lord!’ ”

God’s plan was to take His people and transplant them into a new place where they could live a full and successful life, and where they could be a blessing carrying His grace, hope, love and peace to those around them.

This is the same plan that He has for you and me. 

He wants us to become contagious Christians, infecting those around us with God’s shalom, with His love, joy, peace, patience etc.

God’s ways are higher than our ways and He wants to use each of us as we walk into the future to partner with Him in His plan to bring His peace to the world.

Remember what the Cheshire cat said, “It doesn’t much matter which way you go if you don’t care where you are going”.

But God does have a plan, and His plan is to use us as His church to be a blessing to those who we live among.

One of the things that we are going to do in the New Year is to run a class called Christianity Explored for those who want to find out more about the Christian faith.

But, in the mean time so that you know what this class is about we are going to run the class in Sunday school as one of the electives for adults.

The Sunday School class is not just for those who are exploring the Christian faith. 

It’s for anyone who would like to find out what the class is like so you can invite friends in the new year, or if you want to learn how to share your faith.

Or, if you are a new believer and you want to gain a better understanding of your faith.

So, before the worship team comes up I have a five minute clip that explains the class a little further.

[71 – video clip]


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[1]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Col 1:28-29). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2]Tyndale House Publishers. (2004). Holy Bible : New Living Translation. "Text edition"--Spine. (2nd ed.) (Ex 5:17-18). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.

[3] Elmer Martens, God’s Design.  Baker Book House, ©1991 pg. 20

[4] As quoted in Martens, pg. 20

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