Sunday 12th September 2021
Evangelist, author and pastor Donald Bridge, tells the story of a liberal preacher visiting an African-American church.
As the minister talked about the crossing of the Red Sea, someone shouted, “Praise the Lord. Takin’ all them children through the deep waters. What a mighty miracle!”
The minister, who did not believe in miracles, was annoyed at this intervention.
So rather condescendingly, he told the congregation that the Israelites were probably in marshland with an ebbing tide, so they were simply wading through six inches of water.
In response to this, the same voice as before shouted, “Praise the Lord. Drownin’ all them Egyptians in six inches of water. What a mighty miracle!”
Perspective is everything - don’t you think!
Well, as we take up our sermon series today, we continue to build on our understanding about the Mission of God that we might develop a right perspective and understanding of the God we worship.
This week we explore the theme of Salvation.
How do you respond when you hear about the God who rescues?
What difference does it make in your day to day life?
I don’t mean are you thinking about going to heaven.
I don’t even mean are you living in expectation that Jesus will return. Of course, both of these things are good things to occupy our thoughts and shape our lives.
No, what I mean is - what difference does God’s rescue, God’s Salvation, make when we feel anxious, depressed, resentful, angry…when we don’t feel God’s presence acutely, when we are struggling in our relationships with others,
when faced with an opportunity to share our faith…
What difference does it make to how we see our membership of Christ’s Church?
I wonder if we have accepted or developed over time, a very one dimensional understanding of Salvation. I wonder if Salvation for you is …well, about you?
God has rescued ME, saved ME, I am OK with God, I can pray to God, I will be with God eternally.
Is your life any different from the people you know who are not yet Christians?
Hopefully, as we reflect on God’s rescue of Israel from Egypt, we might come to see Salvation from God’s perspective.
Are we ready? Let’s dive in...
I am assuming we all know the key movements of the account - God’s passion for His people meant he not only heard but was attentive to their cries.
Severely oppressed as slaves, His people were being mistreated, to the point of being snuffed out through official orders that involved killing male boys born to Israelite families.
Oh and on that - we often forget the historical context. We get a bit squimish thinking that God would act the way he does in the Old Testament.
It’s good to remember that this account happens in the late Bronze Age - the Egyptians were brutal - unspeakable things were being done to God’s people - think Nazi Germany, persecution, discrimination, concentration camps and times that by 10.
When you take everything into consideration Pharaoh probably didn’t deserve any chances - and yet,
God gives him a series of opportunities to change his mind. God’s mercy is such that he isn’t indiscriminate in passing judgement. The Prophet Exekiel speaking as God’s mouthpiece writes:
23 Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?
No, God wanted to free His people from oppression,
but He also wanted to free Pharaoh of all the hate and evil that drove Him to treat people the way He did. Freedom from sin and death has always been a motivating factor for our Lord.
Friends, it is essential that we see the Exodus of God’s people as one of the key moments in history.
The Passover and Exodus from Egypt that follows is, along with God’s covenant, one of the most significant events that takes place in the formation of Israel’s identity and in the unfolding history of God’s people - then and now.
As I said at the beginning, I think perspective is everything.
Do we have the right perspective as those who are saved, those who have been rescued from the effects of sin and death?
How does God’s salvation shape our lives and how might it motivate us to share the good news with others.
Tim Chester writes of the ‘twist’ - we often miss it or perhaps in fairness the church doesn’t teach it...
Rather than presenting the Exodus as a movement from slavery to freedom - it is more correctly a movement from slavery to slavery...
From Slavery to Slavery
From Slavery to Slavery
Let me explain…because that doesn’t sound very appealing!
You see, in our western world, we love a good rescue - much is rightly made in the press when an oppressed group benefits from liberation. But there is more going on here...
Remember back in chapter 4, God tells Pharaoh via Moses:
Exodus 4:22–23 (NIVUK84)
22 Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I told you, “Let my son go, so that he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.’ ”
There’s unfinished business here between God and the Israelites - there is a covenant that God made with their forefather Abraham. One that will be renewed and developed when the Israelite’s eventuially reach Mount Sinai.
Do you know the word for worship here in Exodus 4 is the exact same word that is used to describe the slavery of Israel under the Egyptians in chapter 2…
It will appear again and again in relation to the Israelites service of God particularly in relation to their worship in the tabernacle in chapters 12, 13, 27, 30, 35, 36 and 39.
In 4:23, God literally asks Pharaoh to let His people go so they can ‘serve’ Him, rather than Pharaoh and the Egyptians.
The issue is - to whom do the Israelites belong?
Do they serve Pharaoh - a service that leads to death?
Or do they serve God and find life?
Yes, the Israelites are
Saved from slavery to Egypt
but they are also
Saved for obedience (or slavery) to God
The freedom that Israel received was not a freedom for a life of self-indulgence.
The account of the Exodus sees God’s people move from the forced construction of buildings for Pharaoh, to a freely given building of a nation for God’s purposes.
They were saved for the fulfilment of a promise.
Our freedom, our Salvation is not simply a freedom from slavery to sin - we are freed from sin, so we can become slaves to righteousness -
18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
a service that in Christ, leads to life in all its fullness. A freedom to become the people we were meant to be.
Right from the outset of God’s intervention His salvation, His rescue, would also be a revelation. When Moses first appears to Pharaoh, Pharaoh’s response was:
2 Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.”
For several chapters the narrative sets up this dialogue between the Lord and Israel and between the Lord and Pharaoh - all with the express intent that no matter what they may or may not know before God is finished with them, they will know who He is by the end.
7 I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.
5 And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.”
It would take 10 plagues for Pharaoh to relent. 10 plagues - all witnessed by the Israelites. The 10th plague a sign of God’s judgement - the death of the firstborn.
Do you find it interesting that Israel had to protect themselves from the 10th plague, why God didn’t just ensure that their households weren’t protected from the outpouring of this judgement?
He is teaching them an important lesson that will set them up for all that is to come...
With God’s salvation, comes God’s justice and judgement over sin - after the 10th plague every house experienced a death. For the Egyptians it was the firstborn son - for the Israelites a lamb in its place.
All humanity falls under judgement because of sin, but God continues to be faithful and provides salvation for His people.
Of course, it doesn’t take long for the Israelites to forget what they have witnessed, what they now know about the God who saves.
Let’s just give the Israelites a bit of our compassion - we are told that 600 of ‘the best’ chariots, along with ALL the other chariots - so quite an army by all accounts.
In the account we read:
10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.
Again, the English translation doesn’t quite catch the enormity of the situation.
The original is better rendered …they looked up and saw EGYPT setting out.
To the Israellites it seemed the entire nation had pursued them.
I’m sure there’s a part of us that would forgive them for feeling a bit tense...
But listen again to what the Israelites are saying:
11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
Quite ironic that they mention graves, given their servitude was probably a means for building some of the most elaborate tombs known at the time.
Really, what they are saying is that they would rather go back to the life they had before, a life under the hand of tyranny, to a place that was basically a cult to death, than trust in the God that had already been faithful to His word.
13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
Sorry - one more quick Hebrew clarification...
Verse 14 is not a call for us to let go and let God.
Be still is better rendered Be quiet.
14 The Lord will fight for you; you must be quiet.”
This is not license to abdicate responsibility - but a call for the Israelites to take responsibility for what is your responsibility.
So, in this instance, step back, stop whining and let God do what God has said He will do.
Let’s just pause at verses 11-14 for a moment.
We might never speak out loud that we wish we weren’t saved and how better it might be if we just went back to life before God, but I wonder if there are attitudes or actions in our life that basically communicate the same thing?
And I don’t know about you, but it’s hard sometimes to give control to God and NOT to then try and take it back!
Do you find that?
This dialogue here between Israel and Moses, Moses and God, Moses and the Israelites is kind of a reminder to be careful that through our action or inaction we aren’t saying:
Lord, you aren’t really doing a great job here, so I’m going to take matters into my own hands, I’m going to try and sort this out
- or as is often the case - when we don’t believe we can sort it out - to despair and lose all sense of perspective - to lose our sense of purpose and the reason for our hope.
If we had included the end of chapter 14 in our reading this morning we would have heard these words:
29 But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. 30 That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. 31 And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.
On the other side of the water, the Israelites see with their own eyes the defeat and destruction of the enemy that had oppressed them and exploited them. There was no going back.
This was Salvation in its fullest and most dramatic moment.
The greatest act of redemption, deliverance, rescue in the whole bible
- that is, until you get to the cross of Christ.
The act of Salvation we will celebrate and participate in when we gather around the Lord’s table in a short while.
The cross through which the Lord in the person of Jesus, takes upon Himself the judgement that humanity deserves, as the price of sin and sheds His blood as a sacrificial covering and payment.
And in so doing, wins freedom, rescue - salvation, for those who put their trust in him.
The Israelites didn’t need to fight or lift a finger in bringing about their freedom - they simply had to obey what the Lord asked them to do.
And in doing so - their fear of Egypt in verse 10 is turned to fear (or faith) in the Lord in verse 31.
Of course, we know don’t we, that their fear of the Lord, their faith and trust in Him, doesn’t last very long.
Israel is soon grumbling and groaning again.
12 He did miracles in the sight of their fathers in the land of Egypt, in the region of Zoan. 13 He divided the sea and led them through; he made the water stand firm like a wall. 14 He guided them with the cloud by day and with light from the fire all night.
32 In spite of all this, they kept on sinning; in spite of his wonders, they did not believe. 33 So he ended their days in futility and their years in terror.
Paul seeks to present the same reminders to those he is writing to in Corinth.
In Chapter 10 he writes:
1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.
To Jews and Gentiles, Paul seeks to join together all of God’s peple through this relationship to Moses and the events of Israel’s rescue.
He goes on:
6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.
11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfilment of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
Like the Israelites before us, we have been rescued - for us, through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
If that is us, if we have put our faith in Christ on that basis - the Apostle Peter reminds us in his first letter that
19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
we have been bought with the precious blood of Christ
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
we have been called out of darkness into his marvellous light
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
because we have been called by God out of and into...therefore, live in obedient response to God.