Tuesday, November 26, 2013
"Exodus" Sermon: Hebrews 11:29
November 24, 2013 Second Reformed Church
The Destroyer came and killed the first borns of Egypt, both human and animal, of all those who did not have the mark of the blood on the door posts and the lintel of their doors, but the people of God, the Hebrews, Israel, marked their doors, and the Destroyer passed over them and did not kill the first borns as they celebrated the first Passover.
In the morning, when the Egyptians found all the first borns dead, Pharaoh told the Hebrews to leave, and the people of Egypt also urged them to leave, giving them their jewels and gold as an added incentive – fulfilling the promise God made to Abraham that the people would leave after four hundred years and take the treasure of Egypt with them.
God led the people by a pillar of cloud, and they walked towards the Red Sea, believing the promise that had been made to them through Moses that they would be delivered from captivity in Egypt and make their way to the Promised Land.
These people were following God – and Moses – by faith. They had never seen the Promised Land – they had only heard of the promises and the stories of the sons of Jacob who had come to Egypt in the days of the great famine. Yet, they were assured of the things they hoped for and they had a conviction about the things that they had not seen. That is what faith is – the means by which we receive the Word of God and believe it with absolute assurance and conviction, based on what God has said and revealed about Himself – the promises He has made and the things He has said were and are and will be.
The author of Hebrews turns to the Exodus as the next example of faith for the first century Christians to whom he was writing:
“By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.”
We see in this historical example the rage-filled pursuit of the Hebrews – the believers – by the Egyptians – the unbelievers, the victory of the believers and the ruin of the unbelievers. As we remember that the Church was being persecuted by Nero and the Romans in the first century, it is not hard to see why this example is included. Nor is it difficult to apply this example to the Church in general and to see it as a type of the end of the Church and the world.
And, so, we can find four doctrines here:
First, the world will attack the Church with increasing rage as we near the end of the age.
Second, the Church ought not to be surprised by the world’s attack, but stand strong in faith.
Third, God will deliver the Church from the world.
And fourth, God will bring the world to ruin in the Judgment.
Let us look at the account:
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, “They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.” And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.’ And they did so.
“When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the mind of Pharaoh and his servants was changed toward the people, and they said, ‘What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?’ So he made ready his chariot and took his army with him, and took six hundred chosen chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the people of Israel while the people of Israel were going out defiantly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh's horses and chariots and his horsemen and his army, and overtook them encamped at the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.”
Moses and the two million or so Hebrew slaves made their way from Egypt towards the Red Sea, following God’s instructions, not knowing how they would get across the Red Sea. And God told Moses to tell the people that when they got to the Red Sea, they should stop and wait.
Meanwhile, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and Pharaoh once again changed his mind and gathered together all of his troops – their chariots and their foot soldiers – with Pharaoh, himself, in the lead, and set off after the Hebrews with great rage.
Just as Pharaoh and his army raged against the believing Hebrews, the first readers of the book of Hebrews would understand that Nero and the army of Rome was raging against the believing Christians. And we see today, around the world – the unbelievers – are raging against believing Christians. Yet, we ought to take heart and not be surprised, as Jesus said:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’ (John 15:18-25, ESV).
David wrote of this rage of unbelievers over a thousand years before Jesus: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us’” (Psalm 2:1-3, ESV).
So, we see that it has always been that the nonbeliever will ragefully attack the believer – and all the more so, now that the Savior has come. The world will attack the Church with increasing rage as we near the end of the age.
“When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: “Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians”? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’ And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.’”
All of a sudden, the people of God saw the Egyptians in the distance – raging towards them, barreling down on them, and the people were afraid. They even sarcastically asked Moses if he had brought them out in the desert because there were not enough graves in Egypt. They were moaning and ready to give up and go back into slavery under the Egyptians, and Moses told them to have faith – to believe in the promises of God they had received and to be confident that they would be delivered through the Red Sea and into the Promised Land, just as God had promised. This was God’s will; this was God’s fight. So, shut up.
Notice, Moses was not denying that the Egyptians were a great force, and they probably could have taken the people back into slavery, if they had merely escaped of their own design. But this was the promise of the Almighty God Who cannot lie. God promised that He would bring His people back into the Promised Land – so it would happen. Now, as we know from the rest of the history, God did not promise to bring everyone into the Promised Land – we must not put words in God’s mouth that He did not say.
But Moses was telling the people to remember what they had believed – the promises that had received through faith – the miracles they had seen in Egypt – to stop moaning and worrying, but to stand strong in their faith and be quiet unless they had something constructive to say.
Nero and Rome were frightening, we are frightened by events and people that come up against Christ and His Church, but we are called not to turn back in fear and moaning, but to take the promises that we have been given, to look at the history of what God has done and believe, and stand strong -- trusting – in faith, based on all that we know from God and about Him.
Jesus, God in the flesh, came to earth as the fulfillment of the promise God made to provide a Savior – One Who would make a way for sinners to be right with God. And we know what they did: they raged against Him, and tortured Him, and put Him to death.
Jesus explained that if they did that to Him, they will also do the same to His followers. Why? Jesus said, “Whoever believes in [the Son] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:18-20, ESV).
Understand, when we sin, we try to keep our sin hidden – we don’t want the world to know our sins, much less our brothers and sisters. So much more does the world – nonbelievers – who love their sin, because they do not believe in Jesus, the Son of God – want to keep the Light from exposing their sins. So their natural reaction was to kill the Light, so their sin would not be revealed. Though that is foolishness, because God knows everything that is ever done, and the day will come when all will be exposed for all to see.
Since we are followers of the Light, our faith and belief exposes the sin of unbelievers, so they hate us as well – the world continues to try to kill the Light in all the followers of the Light.
John explains – in commenting on the murder of Abel by Cain – “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (I John 3:13-15, ESV).
As we’ve said, that does not mean that we should seek out persecution, only that we should not be surprised when it comes. It also does not mean that every nonbeliever is going to be against us in the same way. We see in the world around us many countries where people are put to death for confessing faith in Christ, but nonbelievers do not usually kill believers in the United States – but they may eventually. Right now, what we see is largely a silent tolerance – so long as we keep silent. We often talk about this being a Christian country – it is not.
Wikipedia currently states that 73 to 80% of people in the United States say they are Christians. But that number is distorted – many people call themselves Christians who have no faith at all, who deny belief in the God of the Bible and the Savior He has sent. Pastor Mark Driscoll said in a recent interview (http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2013/11/22/mark-driscoll-accused-plagiarism-radio-host/) that the number of confessional Christians – people who believe what the Bible says and have received Jesus as Savior – is actually closer to 7 to 8% of the population in the United States. What about the other 72% from Wikipedia? There is such a thing as a cultural Christian – those people who call themselves Christian based on their heritage or belief that being a Christian means you’re a good person – these are nonbelievers. That’s why people who call themselves Christians rage against God and His Word.
That’s why the Church ought not to be surprised by the world’s attacks, but stand strong in faith.
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground. And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.’
“Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.
“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.”
God told Moses He didn’t want to hear the complaints; He wanted to see obedience. And God told Moses to stretch his hands out over the Red Sea, and it would part, so the Hebrews could walk on dry ground to the other side. Meanwhile, God would harden the hearts of the Egyptians all the more that they would follow Israel into the Red Sea as they crossed to the other side.
So Moses stretched out his hands, and God sent the wind to part of the waters, and they became a wall on the right and on the left, and the people of God walked down into the Sea on dry ground and began to walk across to the other side.
God promised to deliver the Hebrews out of Egypt and out of their bondage in slavery, and God did. When the people came up to the Sea, it was not a problem for God, the Creator – God just parted the Sea so they could walk across.
God has promised to bring all of His Plans and Promises to pass. The problem is when we waver in our faith – when we take our eyes off of God, when we begin to doubt all those things that we received by faith from God’s Word. It is then that we start to stumble.
Remember what happened after the feeding of the five thousand:
“Immediately [Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’
“And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (Matthew 14:22-33, ESV).
God tells us not to doubt but to receive His Word by faith and believe. God will do what He said. Will we suffer? Probably. Will we be put to death? Possibly. Will God keep His Word and bring us into the Fullness of the Kingdom? Absolutely.
As God said on several occasions, “’Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?’” (Jeremiah 32:27, ESV).
And God says of those who persecute Him and His Church: “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, ‘As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill’” (Psalm 2:4-6, ESV).
As Jesus said to the church at Thyatira, “Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star” (Revelation 2:25-28, ESV).
Through faith, we can endure whatever the world brings against us. Faith will find a way through any trial that is for the sake of Christ, and God will work that faith out in deliverance. For God will deliver the Church from the world.
“The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, ‘Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.’
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.’ So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
“Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.” (Exodus 14:1-31, ESV).
As God planned, the Egyptians followed the Hebrews into the Sea, and as the last of the Hebrews made it to the other side – twelve hours or so later – the pillar of fire and cloud turned and struck fear in the hearts of the Egyptians, and they said, “Let’s get out of here – the Lord is on their side!” But God gummed up the chariots’ wheels so they couldn’t move – the Egyptians were stuck in the mud. And Moses stretched out his hands again, and the sea closed over the Egyptians and killed them. And the people of God feared Him and believed in Him with great assurance and conviction. God had proved Himself to His people once again, and, for now, their faith was strong and they believed in God and His Word.
Here we have God’s judgment on the nonbeliever – some He will bring to ruin in this lifetime – and all those who never believe, He will bring to ruin in judgment at the end of the age.
John paints a picture of the end of the unbeliever like this:
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15, ESV).
In the end, our hope is that the Church – all those who believe – will be delivered. Sadly, God will bring the world to ruin in the Judgment. We understand it to be sadly, because we ought not to desire anyone to be left out of the Kingdom. We rejoice that our persecution will end and that God will be glorified for our persecution on His behalf, but we ought to seek the salvation of all people and mourn those who die outside of the faith.
This Exodus was an event of hope for those who went through it and for the Christians suffering in the first century, as it should be an event of hope for us. In it we see:
The world will attack the Church with increasing rage as we near the end of the age.
The Church ought not to be surprised by the world’s attack but stand strong in the faith.
God will deliver the Church from the world.
And, God will bring the world to ruin in the Judgment.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, Who loves His people and keeps His promises, we thank You that You will bring Your people – the Church – through history into Your Kingdom as conquerors. Help us to trust in You at all times and not fear what people and kings and nations might do to us, but hold on in hope and with great faith to all You have said and promised, seeking that You be glorified in all things, and looking forward to that day when we will be with You in glory forever. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.