Pastors have a lot of different jobs. They preach. They teach. They counsel. They can be a youth group leader, a maintenance guy, a musician, even an administrator.
The other day I was performing one of the jobs that I am especially skilled at…
I was holding the door for parents as they came to pick up their kids at Precious Lambs. As I greet them, I try be friendly, make connections and ask, “If anything cool had happened lately.”
One friend did not have anything cool happen lately.
Life is hard, Pastor. Finances have been stressful. My work has been busy. Virtual learning is difficult. And my dad is in the hospital. Honestly, I don’t know if I can do this.
I listened and applied God’s Word, “That is difficult. Thankfully you aren’t alone. Your God is with you. He lived for you, died for you, and rose for you. With him by your side, you will get through this. Because nothing is too difficult for God”
They smiled. “Thank you.”
I said, “I’m glad you found it encouraging. There’s more where that came from. In fact, this weekend our church is gathering for worship, we’re examining some uplifting promises from God’s Word. Do you want to come?
Their smile turned to amusement.
Church? Pastor, I don’t need church.
I believe in God.
That’s good enough, right?
Maybe you’ve heard that sentiment before.
Maybe you’ve said that sentiment before.
Maybe you’ve been a long-time church person, but the pandemic has made you wonder…
Why do I need Church?
Our goal over the next month is to discover reasons behind church given from the inventor of church himself --
Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Because We Get to Meet with God
The first section of God’s Word we will look at to find the importance of church is found in the book of Hebrews.
A bit of background. Hebrews is a book written with an unknown author. It is one of only a handful of books with an unknown author. Some think it was written by the apostle Paul. Some think it was written by Paul’s comrade Apollos. Some think it was Barnabas or Timothy.
One thing that isn’t unclear is who inspired the book.
God is the author.
God is the one teaching us.
It also isn’t unclear to whom the book was written. It was written to recent converts to Christianity from Judaism. Those who read the book would have had a good understanding of Old Testament and the work of Jesus.
It also written at a time when persecution was at an all-time high for the Early Christian church.
Some Jews hated Christians.
Groups like the Pharisees wanted to kill believers. Especially those who used to be of their faith.
The Romans had a growing hatred for Christianity.
If you were a believer, it was very scary to meet up in person.
You could be thrown in prison.
You could have rocks thrown at you.
You could have a group of Roman soldiers interrupt your meeting, arrest you, and making you fight a pack of lions.
In short, if you went to a church, you could die.
Considering COVID-19, maybe you get it.
It seemed like the wise choice was to stay home.
It seemed like the wise choice was to disconnect from the church.
It seemed like the wise choice was to just do faith on your own.
But is it?
Brothers and sisters, we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place through the blood of Jesus. It is a new and living way he opened for us through the curtain, that is, his flesh. (v.19-20)
It makes a reference to the Most Holy Place. That was something from Old Testament Jewish worship. (Remember – the recipients were converts from Judaism. They would have understood the reference).
The Most Holy Place was a part of Old Testament temple. It contained the Ark of the Covenant. Inside the Ark was the original stone copy of the ten commandments, a jar of divine bread that had fallen from sky, and Aaron’s wooden staff. (It had once been a dead piece of wood, but had come to life with flowers blooming upon it.
It was a special place.
It was a place of God.
It was a place where God dwelt.
Not just anyone could go in there.
The temple courtyard was for commoners. That means that lay people who had Jewish blood could enter. But if you weren’t Jewish, you couldn’t.
Inside the temple was the Holy Place. It was sealed off by thick doors. Only the priests (kinda like pastors) could enter to offer animal sacrifices. Common people were not allowed.
Then, there was the Most Holy Place. It had a 4 inch thick curtain that separated it from the simple Holy Place. Only the high priest (think lead pastor) could enter one time per year and only to offer sacrifices.
All of this was to get across a point to God’s people.
God is holy.
Because of your sin, you can’t get anywhere near him.
Reread the passage from Hebrews, “We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place through the blood of Jesus. It is a new and living way he opened for us through the curtain, that is, his flesh."
If we did worship like the Old Testament Jews…
It’d be as if our Hospitality team stood at the entrance to the parking lot.
They make you show your Gethsemane membership card to park in the parking lot.
Then, an usher would come to your car and ask what kind of prayers you had for God.
He’d deliver them to the usher who would enter the church.
That usher would put some money in an offering plate and give the request to me.
I would take a special key to open up the double doors to the worship space, deposit lots of money in an offering place and prayer your prayer to God.
God would feel so very distant.
Because of our sin, he would be.
Maybe you get that feeling.
Maybe you’ve even felt that.
Like church cannot be for you, because you are too sinful.
Because you’ve been away for too long.
Because you are too ungodly.
But you’re wrong.
Because of Jesus, the temple is open.
Because of Jesus, we can enter.
Because of Jesus, we can enter the Holy Place.
Because of Jesus, we can enter the Most Holy Place.
Because of Jesus, we have access to God.
Friends, why be a part of a church? Why gather in the presence of God?
Because we GET TO meet with GOD!
The barrier of sin has been removed.
The curtain of guilt has been torn down.
We have access to our Lord and Savior.
You get to talk to the one who created you.
You get to hear from the one who created you.
You get to commune with the One who loved you so much that he died to save you.
You get to rub shoulders with the One so powerful, he conquered death itself.
And it really is true.
Even if you can’t see him.
Can I show you something Jesus told his disciples? Jesus said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Mt. 18:19)
Jesus told them this before he physically left his disciples for heaven.
I imagine they went back to this promise.
When things got tough…
When they suffered…
When they felt guilt…
When they felt attacked…
When they felt persecuted…
When they felt like they were all alone…
They could gather together.
There would be 1, 2, 3 of them…
Plus 1 more.
There would be 10, 11, 12 of them…
Plus 1 more.
There would be 55, 56, 57 of them.
Plus 1 more.
That 1 more?
And…the same is true with us.
When we get together…
Whether it’s in worship on a Sunday.
At a coffee shop with a few others.
Even at VBS yesterday!
Jesus is with you.
II. To Keep our Faith Unwavering
But that’s not the only reason to stay connected to church.
Let us approach with a sincere heart, in the full confidence of faith, because our hearts have been sprinkled to take away a bad conscience, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. Let us hold on firmly to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful. (v.22-23)
Do you know what a front delt fly is? It is a type of weightlifting exercise where you grab two dumbbells and lift them to shoulder level without bending your elbows. You keep your arms straight and hold at the top.
When I first started doing them, I wasn’t so great at them. When I held them for a moment at the top…
…my arms would waver.
…my weight would shake.
…my grip would loosen.
And I’d be seconds away from letting them drop.
But after lots of training, my grip strengthened, and my hold became unwavering.
To Keep our Faith UNWAVERING
Because when it comes to keeping our faith strong, we aren’t just talking about holding onto a 5-pound dumbbell. We are talking about holding onto the eternal life-giving promises of the One and Only Savior.
You need him for heaven.
Don’t drop him.
And just like weight training, you lift more with a trainer.
You lift more with a buddy.
You lift more with a friend saying, “You got this.”
Because if you wanted to push me theologically on the last point, you might say, “Jesus is always with us pastor. Even when we aren’t in church.”
Fair enough. Jesus is absolutely with us even when we’re alone. He promised, “Surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.” (Mt. 28:21)
Jesus is always with you.
But it doesn’t always feel like it.
And when you don’t feel like it, it is hard to convince yourself of it.
That’s when you need someone else.
Someone to look you in the eye.
Someone to tell you, “Jesus is real.”
Someone to have coffee, listen to your confession, and say to your heart, “You are forgiven.”
A pastor to remind you that you have been sprinkled with the waters of baptism and you are his child.
A group to meet you on ZOOM, hear your doubts, and encourage you.
A large group to fill your ears with the joyful melodies of a risen Savior.
III. To Encourage
But church isn’t just about keeping you…
Let us also consider carefully how to spur each other on to love and good works. Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have the habit of doing. Rather, let us encourage each other… (v.24-25)
In a 2015, pew research poll Americans from all walks of life were asked what they looked for in a church.
80% said they wanted sermons to uplift them
77% said they wanted to feel welcomed.
75% said they wanted a worship style they liked.
70% said they wanted a location convenient to them.
Do you know what was way at the bottom of the list?
Most were interested in how the church could serve them.
Few were interested in how they could serve the church.
But that just shows a misunderstanding of church.
To ENCOURAGE others
This isn’t just about you! You need to be an active part of this to encourage others.
To look them in the eye.
To tell them, “Jesus is real.”
To have coffee, listen to their confession, and say to their heart, “You are forgiven.”
To remind you that you have been sprinkled with the waters of baptism and you are His child.
To meet them on ZOOM, hear their doubts, and encourage them.
To join this large group to fill their ears with the joyful melodies of a risen Savior.
I get it…
Some of you might still say…
I am one of the few, pastor.
I know that I have access to God.
I am one of the small percentage who can keep their faith unwavering on their own.
I don’t need church.
I got this.
If that’s you…
After this point…
You’d better be getting on Google right now to get connected with a local church because you understand from your careful study of scripture that the local church needs you and your encouragement.
IV. Because the Day is Approaching
One more reason from this section.
Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have the habit of doing. Rather, let us encourage each other, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (v.25)
What does the writer mean by “the Day?”
The start of school?
Back to Church Sunday?
The Day that Amazon package arrives?
“The Day” is a phrase that is used throughout the book of Hebrews to refer to a day that hasn’t happened yet.
The Last Day.
The Final Day.
The Day you die.
What God is saying is that if you’re reading this, you are alive.
If you are alive, then you haven’t made it to heaven yet.
If you haven’t made it to heaven yet, do all you can to keep your faith in your Savior.
Because the DAY is Approaching
During the pandemic, death has been a real possibility.
We’ve told to stay home to keep people physically.
Fair enough. I don’t debate that. Science is good.
But… could one unintended consequence of keeping our space physically…
Be that we separated ourselves spiritually.
And a very real consequence of separating ourselves spiritually,
Be that we put ourselves in danger spiritually?
Rather than the pandemic being a reason to disconnect from church.
Hasn’t the pandemic been a reason that we desperately need church.
Be safe. But, be safe.
Be physically safe. But spiritually safe too.
Stay connected to your Savior.
Stay connected to other.
Stay connected to church. Amen
In last week’s sermon text, something amazing happened.
God saved the Israelites slaves from their Egyptian overlords. When they were trapped between the Red Sea and the pursuing Egyptian army, God delivered them. He caused the water to form two walls for the one million plus Israelites to safely escape to the other side. When they had made it through, he collapsed the sea onto the Egyptians so that they would never be a threat to his people again.
The Israelites were safe.
But what next?
They were in the desert.
They were in a land they had never been to before.
They were free for the first time in their lives.
Maybe, set up some tents?
Build a fire?
Elect someone to watch out for cougars?
Maybe look for the local Food Lion to buy some trail mix?
Before the Israelites could do anything to make this desert destination into a residence, they do something else…
I. Reason for Celebration!
Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord. They said: I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has thrown into the sea. (15:1)
I love how impromptu this is. The word “then” indicates that this singing occurred right after the Red Sea covered the Israelite’s tracks. “Then,” they immediately broke into an impromptu musical number about God.
It’s like the musical Oklahoma! (Have you seen it?) At the end, Jed, the bad guy, is defeated by Curly, the good guy. He is slain in a gunfight. How does the crowd respond?
Aw, Jed is dead.
But at least we are living in O-ooo-oooo-kla-homa!
Pharaoh and his chariots are slain. But the Israelites don’t see it as a time to hold a memorial.
They don’t go in search of food.
They don’t set up camp.
They don’t spend the first minutes trying to figure out how to make life work as a nomadic desert community.
There’s always reason to CELEBRATE God.
Because maybe you don’t feel like celebrating.
I’m not gonna lie.
I wasn’t sure I was.
You see – I did something foolish.
When I scheduled this sermon series with this date as the final Sunday in our series.
I thought to myself – I’m sure COVID will be basically done by then.
COVID numbers are rising again.
The variant is on the loose.
The economy is still floundering.
People are without jobs.
Companies are without employees.
Maybe you’re battling depression.
Struggling in your marriage.
Still single and can’t get a date.
Weighed down by a guilty conscience.
It might not seem like there’s reason to celebrate.
But there is always is reason to celebrate.
There are always reasons to celebrate. Moses’ song shares a few…
(1) Celebrate because of who God IS
In popular love songs, it is common to hear the artist describe who their love is as a reasons for their joyful singing:
Frank Sinatra sang that his love was, “all I long for, all I worship and adore.”
Van Morrison sang, “Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-tee-dah”, because of his “brown eyed girl.”
The Temptations sang and danced and snapped their fingers to their beat… “And I guess you say what could make them feel this way? Their girl.”
Moses had reason to sing because of whom God was.
And we have reason to sing because of who God still is.
The Lord is my strength and song. He has become my salvation.
This is my God, and I will praise him; my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a warrior. The Lord is his name. (v.2-3)
Friends, God is a lot of things. But check out a specific few in Moses’ lyrics.
He calls God his Strength. That means he is the reason that Moses was able to keep going despite all of Pharaoh’s harsh stubbornness.
God is your strength.
He is the reason you are standing.
He is the reason you are breathing.
He is the reason you made it this far in the pandemic.
He is the reason you can keep searching for jobs.
He is the reason you are here worshiping right now.
Which seems like a reason to worship.
He calls God a Warrior. This ties into something Moses had said to the Israelites when they were trapped between the Red Sea and the approaching Egyptian army. Moses had said, “God will fight for you.”
And God did fight. He defeated the Egyptian army.
But the lyrics are present tense. They describe God as still fighting.
He is a warrior.
One who is fighting.
Fighting at the time Moses sang the song.
Fighting by the time Moses finished the song.
Fighting thousands of years later when we read the song.
God is fighting for you.
Finally, Moses calls God, My God.
Moses had grown up in the Egyptian polytheistic environment. It was common in that environment for these pagan cultures to buy or create statues in the market.
One might look like a frog.
One might look like the sun.
One might look like a cat.
You could buy these gods and bring them home. They were your household god - meant to protect you.
The closer you were in vicinity to the gods, the better their protection would be.
Everybody had their own god.
At the age of eighty Moses did too.
It’s just that his household God cannot be contained to one measly house.
You have that same God.
It’s the God over your household.
It’s the God over all households.
Moses does more in his song than simply praise God for who he is. Look at what he does next:
He has cast Pharaoh’s chariots and his army into the sea.
…Lord, your right hand has shattered the enemy.
In your great majesty you overthrew those who opposed you.
You sent out your burning anger. It consumed them like stubble.
At the blast from your nostrils the waters piled up...
You blew with your breath, and the sea covered the Egyptians.
…You stretched out your right hand, and the earth swallowed them. (v.4-12)
Did you catch that?
Eight times over the span of eight verses, God is described as doing an action.
I suppose that makes sense…
In a song about God, the content should be God and what God has done.
(2) Celebrate because of what God HAS DONE
We don’t always get this.
I recently said someone, “Isn’t God great?”
They responded, “Yes. That’s why I’ve been worshiping for so many years. I gave my life to him. I received him into my heart. I sing to him. I give money to him. I have all kinds of devotion for him.”
And I said, “Yes, but…isn’t God great?”
Watch out for this trick. The devil would love for our talk about God and what God has done to be focused on what we have done.
Which is far less impressive.
The results will be that you feel like there isn’t a lot of reason for celebration.
Instead, focus on what God has done!
And what has God done for you?
He thought you up.
He loved you.
He created you.
He gave you life.
He helped you grow.
He kept you alive.
He lived perfectly for you.
He died innocently for you.
He rose triumphantly for you.
He defeated sin for you.
He conquered guilt for you.
He fought death and won for you.
He redeemed you.
He rescued you.
He saved you.
He put you into his family.
He gave you a church family.
He has given you his Word.
God has certainly done a lot for us.
But he isn’t done yet either…
It’s probably why Moses wasn’t done with his song:
In your mercy you will lead the people that you have redeemed.
In your strength you will guide them to your holy pastureland. (v.13-14)
This is a shift in Moses’ song.
All the verbs prior to this have been past tense They have been actions that God has done in the past to get the people of Israel to the free side of the Red Sea.
But at verse 13 it switches to the future tense…
He will lead them. (v.13)
He will guide them. (v.14)
He will cause the surrounding nations to be terrified (v.14-15)
He will bring Israel onto his mountain. (v.17)
He will reign forever and ever. (v.18)
TRUTH: Celebrate what God WILL DO
I know that earlier I alluded to the fact that I cannot and dare not predict the complete end of COVID.
It may not happen.
But it will end.
God will end it.
If not on earth, in heaven.
There’s no COVID in heaven.
There’s no vaccines in heaven.
There’s no masks.
There’s no sanitizer.
There’s no overdue rent.
There’s no joblessness.
There’s no need for a stimulus check.
There’s no sin.
There’s no temptation.
There’s no falling to the same temptation for the 47th time.
There’s no guilt.
There’s no more thinking about that wrong thing you did in college.
There’s no more waking up and being overwhelmed by what you said last night.
There’s no depression.
There’s no sadness.
There’s no racism.
There’s no pain.
There’s nothing bad at all in The Promised Land.
Which is something that God will do for you.
By faith in Jesus, he will bring you to the Promised Land of heaven.
II. How to Celebrate
We have plenty of reasons to celebrate. How do we celebrate? Two ideas from Moses.
(1) Make God YOUR Song
Back in the “Who God is” section of his song, Moses called “God” his song.
That is, in his song about God he said that his song is God.
This is more than just lyrics.
Do you know what a musical theme is? In musicals and movies, the theme will often be heard in the background at the beginning of the movie. Then, it will reappear throughout the movie.
Take Jaws for example.
At the beginning credits, “Da-nah.”
At the first sighting of the shark, “Da-nah.”
Over and over again for the rest of the movie, “Da-nah.”
Eventually the theme of Jaws has become so iconic that I can sing to you two notes, “Da-nuh,” and you are immediately looking for the nearest life raft.
God was Moses’ theme.
If you took a look at Moses’ life, you would repeatedly hear God.
The raising of his staff for God to do miracles…the Lord.
Speaking the Lord’s name to Pharaoh…the Lord.
Redirecting the Israelites back to God’s promises…the Lord.
Writing down the book of Exodus…the Lord, the Lord, the Lord!
Moses’ song was God.
Is God YOUR song?
When people look at your life is God the theme they hear?
Or do they hear a song of selfishness?
A refrain of racism?
A melody of malice?
A hymn of hatred?
A tune of terror?
Make God your song.
Sing his praises in church.
Sing his praises online.
Sing his praises on social media.
Sing his praises to your kids.
Sing his praises to your spouse.
Sing his praises to your family.
Sing his praises to your friends.
Sing his praises to your coworkers.
Sing his praises to your neighbors.
Sing his praises to the dental hygienist who is asking if you remembered to floss since your last visit.
Sing God’s praises. Make HIM your song.
(2) Raise a Righteous Ruckus
When Moses and the Israelites complete their song, that’s not the end of the celebration.
Scripture says, “Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine, and all the women followed her with drums and dancing.” (v.20)
This was not quiet.
This was loud.
It wasn’t piano.
They raised a ruckus about their Redeemer.
And they did it…
Let’s raise a righteous ruckus together too.
God has put us together to bring the message of who he is, what he has done, and what he will do into our community.
It is so much louder when people do it together.
For example, what happens when I say, “Alleluia!” It’s ok. You can hear it.
But now what if we add in the front row and say, “Alleluia.” It’s a bit louder. More can hear it.
Now what if we add in everybody sitting in the front section. Notice it’s getting pretty loud.
What if the whole church shouts it together – even the people sitting at home. “Alleluia!” It’s loud here and it was heard in the vicinity of the community it is where you, the online worshipers are worshiping.
It is so much louder when we do it together.
It is so much louder when you join us in doing it together.
COVID is still happening.
But God is still happening too.
Let’s keep his celebration happening.
Last we left the Israelites; they had been set free from 430 years of slavery. To accomplish this, God had performed ten incredible miracles:
The Nile River turned to blood.
Boils on all the Egyptians.
Locusts eating all the Egyptian crops.
Hail destroying whatever the locusts didn’t.
Darkness – all day long – for three straight days.
Then, the Passover.
God sent the angel of death to take the life of the firstborn son of every Egyptian family.
Including Pharaoh’s family.
Finally, Pharaoh let the Israelites go.
Over one million slaves set out from Egypt. As they left, they followed God. He appeared to them in a gigantic, visible pillar of cloud by day and a floating, visible pillar of fire by night.
It’s like some kind of divine, GPS. Only unlike my GPS….
…God always knows where he’s going.
I. The Trap
Where does God go? “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon.’ ” (Exodus 14:1-2)
This was not the fastest route. That would have taken to the northwest while hugging the shore of the Great Sea. It also would have taken them through the land of the Philistines.
God didn’t want to lead the Israelites directly into the warring country of the Philistines, God had the Israelites head to the south. Most experts believe Migdol to have been on a southern inlet of the Red Sea.
Initially this must not have seemed so bad.
They were by a giant lake.
They had plenty of water.
It was a great campsite.
They could take a dip in the water.
Build a sandcastle.
Take turns burying each other in the sand.
But then, something happened.
When Pharaoh was told that the people had fled, he changed his mind about them and said, “ ‘What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!’ So he had a chariot made ready and took his army with him – six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers all over them.” (v.5-7)
Chariots were the tanks of the ancient world. They were excellent defense because of the metal spoke wheeled buckets. They were fast because they were drawn by stallions. The standing area would be large enough for archest to draw their bow. This made them long distance threats. And the raised bed made it easy to swing down your sword on opponents, which made it a great close-range weapon.
The chariot was one of the reasons that the Egyptian army was the deadliest and strongest army in the ancient world. They had been successfully winning territory and defended their country for centuries.
The leader of their army?
It wasn’t a pillar of cloud.
Nor a pillar of fire.
It was Pharaoh himself.
We’ve talked a lot against Pharaoh in this series, but here is something positive. The Pharaoh was a brilliant war tactician. He usually took to the front lines of the army and directly his soldiers against his enemies.
And that’s what this Pharaoh did.
He had taken the reigns of this attack.
He had strapped on his battle gear.
He put on his war makeup.
He picked up his sharpest blade and his deadliest spear.
He was hell-bent on destroying Moses, Aaron, the Israelites…
They pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea. (v.9)
Suddenly, the resort area had become a death trap.
They had cattle, livestock, and luggage.
They had kids, elders, and those unable to swim.
They could either drown in the water.
Or in blood.
Was it because there were no graves is in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?
What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?
Didn’t we say to you…, “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! (v.11-12)
Because Moses, we are TRAPPED!
Moses heard their complaints.
He listened to their concerns.
He considered their nervousness.
And responded, “Do not be afraid…The LORD will fight for you; you need only be still.” (v.14)
When things look SCARY, God calls us to be STILL.
Take note, because I feel like we sometimes read this wrong.
God doesn’t call us to run.
Not to fight.
Not to complain loudly.
To be still.
This seems so counter-intuitive!
It’s like a hornet’s nest that just fell off a tree. When it hits the ground, the hornets are hopping mad. They fly around looking for someone to inject their poison into. If you don’t immediately turn and run, people think you’re crazy! You must have a high level of confidence in the bug spray you have on.
God calls you to have confidence in him.
Because maybe you feel trapped.
On the one side, job loss.
On the other, eviction.
On the one side, a fatal diagnosis.
On the other, side effects from treatment.
On the one side, COVID variants.
On the other side, severe depression from continued isolation.
If you’re trapped, the temptation is to panic!
To blame God!
To wish that you were back as a slave in Egypt, because it was so much better before you following him!
Don’t you trust me?
I lived for you.
I died for you.
I rose for you.
I love you.
I care for you.
I will fight for you.
II. The Way
The Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that they will go in after them. I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.” (v.15-18)
The pillar of cloud moved.
It no longer was in front of the Israelite caravan.
But behind it.
God was between the people and the army.
At night, the cloud segued again into the roaring pillar of divine fire.
It was impenetrable.
Even the arrows from a well-trained Egyptian charioteer wouldn’t make it through.
Moses positioned himself on the banks of the sea.
He picked up the staff.
He closed his eyes.
And stretched out his hand.
At first, he felt it on his chin.
His whiskers began to flap in the wind.
He opened his eyes and saw a tree branch break off.
The wind was strong.
It had to be.
The wind was driving itself across the lake.
Like some kind of invisible speedboat, there was a noticeable dip in the water.
Waves shooting up on both sides.
It grew deeper.
Lots of ground.
Enough ground for millions of people to pass safely through.
When there isn’t a WAY, God CREATES one.
He literally moved thousands of hundreds of thousands of gallons of water out of the way. He made it stand on its side. A wall on both flanks.
Do you know how impossible this is? Go ahead and try it. Next time you are at the neighborhood pool…
Grab a stick.
Walk to the five-foot end.
Lift your stick up.
And see if you can split the water.
With the exception of a massive cannonball (which would only last for a second), it’s impossible!
And that cannonball only removes the water in one area for one tenth of a second.
God moved the water over the entire red sea long enough for his people to cross!
Amazing. When there isn’t a way, God creates one!
He did the same for our route to heaven! There wasn’t a way.
Not trying hard.
Not doing your best.
Not getting as close to perfect as you can.
None of that worked.
None of that worked to make a path through the big, old vast, dark, deadly sea of guilt.
Our path to heaven was unpassable.
Death had us cornered.
It was going to slaughter us.
So…God pushed back our sins.
He removed our guilt.
He eliminated our shame.
He provided a way when there wasn’t one.
More than providing the way…
He WAS the way.
He is the Way to eternal life.
If he did that for the impossible sea of your sin,
He’ll provide a way through whatever you’re going through.
When there isn’t a WAY, God creates ONE.
But that’s not all…
III. The Battle
The Israelites began to pass through.
Horses, donkey, camels, sheep and whatever else they had.
While they passed, they were treated to a private aquarium tour of the Red Sea.
Check out that school of lionfish.
There’s a giant moray eel at under the rock.
And is that the bluefin? I had one of those at a seafood restaurant once.
As the Israelites were well on their way.
God removed the fire barrier.
The Egyptians took in a moment of shock.
They were in chariots.
The chariots could move faster.
They began to close in on the Israelites.
Pharaoh at the helm.
A grin of evil.
He was about to get his revenge.
His chariot hit something.
The wheels began to wobble.
Had his axle bent?
His chariot crashed into another officers.
He looked around to see the other chariots suffering the same fate.
One of the soldiers shouted, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them!” (V.25)
But before they could leave, Moses took up his position on the opposite side of the sea.
All the Israelites were behind.
All of the God’s people were safe.
Moses raised his staff.
Terror hit the face of Pharaoh.
The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived. (v.28)
God BATTLES for his people.
This is still true.
God battled for his people.
God battles for his people.
God is battling for you.
But he rose.
And He hasn’t left you alone.
He is there.
Fighting for you
Even if it’s in unexpected ways…
We mentioned earlier that Pharaoh thought he had trapped the Israelites.
He noticed that they went down in the Red Sea basin and set themselves up for destruction.
The brilliant tactician that he was Pharoah’s army descended for an easy victory.
Pharaoh thought this was such a good trap.
And it was!
Just not his trap.
Back track with me.
The Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion…And he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army.” (v.3-4)
God had set the trap.
This was always his plan.
Despite what Pharaoh thought, he could not trap God.
Because no one can trap God.
No one can trap God.
And no one can trap God’s people.
Because God is fighting for his people.
And you are his people.
And God is fighting for you.
And you aren’t trapped.
You’ve are never trapped
Because you’ve always got God.
It was the kind of spectacle you or I are not likely to see in our lifetimes. For 430 years, the Israelite people had lived in Egypt, grown into a nation and gone from being welcome saviors of the land to oppressed slaves. For reference, that’s longer than the United States has existed by almost 200 years.
And now, God had decided it was time to leave. He had promised, long ago, that Abraham’s children would receive the land of Canaan, and the time was right to begin that process. As we’ve seen, Pharaoh was unwilling to lose his labor force, and so God sent plague after plague of devastating impact to strong arm Pharaoh into changing his mind.
You or I might have been convinced at the start. Even before the plagues when Moses did the miracles of the staff to snake and his leprous hand, we might’ve been, “Okay you’re clearly sent by a higher power, you can go.” But not the Pharaoh. Signs and wonders and nine plagues of him and his people suffering, and he still would not relent. It may seem excessive, but if you look throughout scripture this is exactly how God operates. Sometimes God is subtle in orchestrating our lives. But when God wants to make a point, he makes sure that he does something in a way that the only possible explanation is that God did it.
And so last week we looked at the tenth and final plague. So utterly specific that it could have been nothing other than God’s power. The firstborn of every human and animal, only the firstborn, was struck dead. Except the houses that carried out God’s instructions and sacrificed the lamb for the house and painted the doorframe with the blood. In those households, the firstborn lived. There is no natural explanation for what happened that night. It could only be God.
And it was both God’s judgment against the Egyptians, against Pharaoh himself and it was God’s mercy on the Israelites who believed his directions. The end result: Pharaoh said, go. So a nation of people packed up their stuff and left. Now, leaving turned out to not be quite as easy as that, which we’ll see in weeks to come, but for right now, in the midst of this life-changing event, God has a message for the people that he speaks through Moses:
Remember this day when you came out of Egypt, where you were slaves. For by the strength of his hand the LORD brought you out from there. Nothing with leaven may be eaten. 4Today, in the month of Abib, you are leaving. 5So when the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites—the land he swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey—you are to perform this ceremony during this month: 6Seven days you must eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there is to be a festival to the LORD. 7Unleavened bread must be eaten throughout the seven days. No leavened bread is to be seen among you. No yeast is to be seen among you, anywhere in your entire territory. 8On that day you are to explain this to your son, “It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.” 9This will serve as a sign for you on your wrist and a reminder on your forehead so that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth. For with a mighty hand the LORD brought you out of Egypt. 10You must keep this regulation at its appointed time from year to year.
This is the first of two major commands we’re going to look at today, and the first of many that God would give the Israelites in the days ahead. They were to remember this day by celebrating it for a week every year. For one week they were to make bread without leaven in it to remind them of this time, and then at the end of the week they were to have a special feast that would re-enact what had taken place this past night. If God had not explained we might pause to ask, “Why?” Surely what they’d just been through was something so impressive they’d remember it all their lives, right? Well, we’ll get to that.
But God says, this is to be a sign, a reminder, a remembrance for you, something that reminds you with more than just your memories, it works in your hands and in your mind, it’s a physical thing you do that drives remembrance so that even if you do forget for a while what this was like, when you go to do these things out of tradition you are reminded of what they mean. And not only you but someday your children who weren’t there so you can impress upon them just how powerful the Lord your God truly is and how important it is to remember that he alone saved us.
In a similar way, God commands another remembrance in the next section:
11When the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites—just as he swore to you and to your fathers—and gives it to you, 12then you must dedicate the firstborn of every mother to the LORD. Every firstborn of your livestock, the ones that are males, will belong to the LORD. 13Every firstborn donkey you are to redeem with a lamb. But if you do not want to redeem it, then you are to break its neck. However, you must redeem all the firstborn among your sons.
14In the future, when your son asks you, “What is this about?” you will say to him, “By the strength of his hand the LORD brought us out from Egypt, where we were slaves. 15When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, the firstborn of people and animals. That is why I sacrifice to the LORD the firstborn of every mother, the males, but I redeem every firstborn of my sons.” 16It will serve as a sign on your wrist and a symbol on your forehead. For by the strength of his hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.
In a very real way that evening, God spared the life of every one of their firstborns. And so, God said that in the future all the firstborns must be dedicated to the Lord. For some this meant a sacrifice. For some, it meant a sacrifice on their behalf. Either way, it was another, constant reminder just like the yearly festival. When it was done it sparked memory of that fateful night. It was a sign by doing and remembering of what the Lord did for them. And when it was done and the children asked why, it again became a moment of teaching to impress upon them the power of the Lord God who saved them.
So while we’re here then, let’s circle back to the question of why. Wouldn’t you think something so life-defining as what they’d been through that night would stick with them? That there could never again be a question of who was God and that they needed to absolutely obey him? That they would be forever grateful for his grace and mercy in freeing them and saving them from the angel of death that night?
Yeah. You’d think so.
But perhaps more than anything, the story of the nation of Israel as a whole exists as a cautionary tale for us of how quickly and easily God can be forgotten, or ignored, or misshapen by poor teaching and bad memory. As the story of Exodus continues, we’ll see how quickly these people lose their gratitude and forget their faith in God or forget their fear of God.
And that’s to say nothing of their children after them.
All this was WITH the benefit of the remembrances God established. And it wasn’t just these, he had more to come later. But so many forgot so quickly. So many lost faith so quickly. How? Why?
Perhaps before we dive into the how and why we should first ask ourselves: do we really have any cause to look down on these people for forgetting? Do we do any better remembering what God has done for us?
Look back and ask yourself: Who is it who has gotten you through all the troubles in your life so far? Who is it that bled and died in your place so that you could be spared eternal suffering? Who rose from the dead to show you that your sins are truly forgiven forever? Who took a heart that hated God and turned it into a heart that loves him, that wants to serve him? And so who is it that you owe your life to?
It’s all the Lord. It’s all God. He’s saved you in a way far more profound than leading you out of a nation that used you as a slave. He has watched over you, cared for you, loved you and in his power brought you to this day in faith.
So… why do we forget him so quickly? Why when the next trouble strikes do we panic? Do we tremble? Do we do like we’ll see the Israelites next week and cry out in fear? Or if you’re like me freeze in anxiety? Or do we hold fast to God’s saving love, knowing that we are built on a rock that can weather any storm? And when those around us, especially our children, struggle… what do we use to comfort, support and build them up? Is it world wisdom and platitudes… or the same certain truths of God’s love?
I’m going to guess you don’t bat 1000 on this one. In fact, I’m going to guess that our reaction in the moment of troubles is to forget God more often than not. This brings us back to the most important question. After everything God has done for us: why? Why do we forget?
My friends, because faith in God is not like any other fact you learned in school or knowledge about a book you read long ago. I still remember basic math skills, and I still remember my brother’s birthday, and I still remember the plot of Hamlet, even without using those things day to day. But faith in God is different.
Your faith, your trust in God to save you is something special that God gives you through the Holy Spirit. It is a new creation planted in your heart. But it exists in a hostile environment. The old you, that hated God, is still there. And every day it’s there clawing away at that faith trying to destroy it. That new self, that trust, faith, and knowledge of God needs daily support to stay strong and it doesn’t need it from you, it needs support from the same place it came from: from God.
It is God’s promise that in his Word and in his sacraments we are fed, we are nourished and we are connected to his power in a way that keeps our faith alive and strong. And the sacraments are another kind of remembrance God has given us, one directly connected to his power that also engages the senses in ways scripture does not. But staying connected to God’s Word doesn’t HAVE to mean that we are only reading and studying our Bibles. We absolutely SHOULD, don’t think I’m saying otherwise, but it doesn’t have to be limited to JUST that. God’s word is anything that conveys to us the saving truth that we are sinners who need a savior, and that God provided that savior in Jesus Christ.
A song can remind you of that. A painting can remind you of that. A cross on the wall can remind you of that. Lights on a Christmas tree, lilies at Easter, anything you choose can remind you of that and bring those truths back to the forefront of your mind. And at the same time, can provide moments to teach the next generation why.
Our own worship space is filled with them. There are reasons behind almost everything in our setup, from the altar, to the pulpit, to the symbols, the banners, to the way the Pastor doesn’t step up to the altar at the start of the service. It’s all carefully designed remembrances so we remember our God, remember Jesus and have the opportunity to teach when someone says, “Why do we do this?”
Friends, my simple truth, my simple call to action this week is this: Remember the Lord in many ways. Look around your life and ask yourself: What have I put in place in my life to remind myself regularly of my God’s love for me? Of what he has done for me? Of what he continues to do for me daily? Do I use the remembrances I have? And more importantly: what more remembrances can I establish so I never forget, and so my children never forget exactly what God and his salvation mean for us all?
Ultimately, let those remembrances drive you back to his Word, to study, learn, and grow your faith. God has done and continues to do amazing things for you. There is an enemy within that wants you to forget these things. Give yourself every advantage every day to remember, to connect to the Word, to build your faith constantly so that you never forget.
Hezekiah dipped another cloth into the water bowl.
As he swished it around, he watched as the clear liquid dissipated into a deep red.
A dark red.
A shiver went down his spine.
Let’s hope this is this only blood spilt at this house tonight.
Two weeks ago, they had gotten the news. God would be performing one final plague in Egypt. This plague would be worse than all the other plagues.
Worse than the bloody river.
Worse than the frogs and the bugs.
Worse than the dead cows, the painful boils, and the powerful hailstorm.
Worse than the three days of darkness.
Someone wants to say goodnight to you!
It was his wife. In her arms, their son.
“Papa!” He said with a big grin on his face.
Hezekiah smiled back as he gave him a big, bear hug.
Wow, buddy. You’re squeezing me so tight. Have you been working out?
Yes. I can’t wait to get my muscles big enough to move bricks like you do.
This was the reason that he was cleaning the bloody rag.
God had said, “About midnight I will go throughout Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt will die.” (Exodus 11:4)
It was hard to fathom.
Nahum was his pride.
He had his mother’s eyes and Hezekiah’s nose.
His mother’s smile and Hezekiah’s chin.
His mother’s gentleness and Hezekiah’s stubbornness.
He loved playing peekaboo.
He loved playing outside.
He loved making messes and refusing to clean them up.
Each day, Hezekiah slaved all day, in the hot sun, making bricks without pay for Pharaoh…
But when he came home…
And Nahum showed him strip of papyrus with an unrecognizable figure on it that Nahum pointed to and proudly proclaimed, “Daddy!”
It was worth it.
Hezekiah loved his son.
He was willing to do anything to save him.
No matter HOW crazy.
God had said, “Take a lamb…an unblemished year old male lamb…slaughter it…take some of the blood and put it on the doorposts.” (Exodus 12)
It hadn’t been easy.
The lamb was a good lamb.
A perfect lamb.
Hezekiah hated to slaughter it.
It was a mess.
Then, to take the blood and paint it on the door frames of the house.
As if some kind of horrific event had occurred within…
But it hadn’t.
And it wouldn’t.
God had said, “The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are. When I see the blood, I will pass over you.” (12:13)
It was as if the lamb had always had this purpose.
Since the time that bought it down at the marketplace a year earlier.
This lamb was never to be a meal.
But a substitute.
Tears streamed down his wife’s cheeks.
Do you think everything will be ok?
Do you think he’ll be ok?
Hezekiah gave her a kiss on the cheek. It took all he could muster to sound confident:
We’ve done all that we can.
We obeyed God.
Now it is in God’s hands.
I. God’s Judgment in Passover
The Passover is the climax of the plague. It is both a firm reminder of God’s seriousness against sin and an His incredible mercy. Before we finish the account, three lessons to take home.
God’s JUDGMENT is inclusive.
Inclusive is a nice thing.
It’s good to be inclusive of your friends to your BBQ.
It’s good for a workplace to be inclusive in hiring practices.
It’s good for a school place to be inclusive in teaching kids from a variety of social backgrounds.
It’s good for the playground when every kid gets recruited to play on a kick ball team.
God is ALSO inclusive…
With his judgments.
God said, “I will go out in Egypt and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first born of Pharaoh who sits on the throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill.” (11:4-5)
Again God said, “I will strike all the firstborn it the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments; I am the LORD.” (12:12)
Then, God did, “The LORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon…” (12:29)
God brought judgment on Pharaoh.
And the officials.
And the assistants to the officials.
And the assistants to the assistants to the officials.
And the assistants to the assistants to the assistants to the officials.
God brought judgment on all the people.
And God will bring judgment on all people.
Psalm 96:13a says this, “God will judge the world in righteousness.”
Please don’t be foolish enough to think that you aren’t included in “the world.” Because it is so easy to think that way.
That the “world” means that Middle Eastern country over there.
That God will judge those atrocities in Asia.
That God will judge massacres south of the border.
But not you.
That God will judge that immoral celebrity.
That God will judge that phony politician.
That God will judge everyone in that other political party.
But not you.
That God will judge that guy on your Facebook feed.
That God will judge that gal at work.
That God will bring judgment to 101 Pine Street and 105 Pine Street, but skip 103 Pine street.
Because you live there.
No, God’s judgment is inclusive.
He will judge all.
That includes YOU.
Disobedience is DEADLY.
The word God uses here to describe his reaction to disobedience is STRIKE DOWN
That is a violent word, isn’t it?
It invokes anger.
It invokes cruelty.
It invokes decisive, destructive action.
For example, there was a mosquito who landed on my arm this past week.
He lifted up his blood sucking nose.
He inserted it into my skin.
So... STRIKE DOWN.
Pharaoh had been disobeying God for months.
The other Egyptians had joined them in his disobedience.
And anyone who disobeyed God and didn’t paint the lamb’s blood on the door would find out…
Disobedience is deadly.
It still is.
If you disobey God and speak harshly to your wife, it will kill your romance.
If you disobey God and send flirty text messages to the guy you aren’t married to, it will kill your marriage.
If you disobey God and continue in pornography, it will kill your ability to be intimate.
If you disobey God and continue your racism, it will kill community.
If you disobey God and drink too much, you’ll kill your friendships.
If you disobey God and pass on gossip, you’ll kill your reputation.
If you disobey God and hold onto pride, you’ll kill other’s desire for church.
If you disobey God and avoid time in God’s Word, you’ll kill your faith.
If you disobey God long enough…
God’s judgment will come.
And your relationship with God will be dead.
II. God’s Mercy in Passover
If disobedience brings death, then obedience must bring life… Right?
Just not YOUR obedience.
Around 10 pm the boy had fallen asleep.
For the next hour, Hezekiah had comforted his crying wife.
About midnight she passed out, exhausted.
But Hezekiah stayed awake.
4 am – Would God really be merciful to sinful him?
5 am – Would the blood of the lamb really work?
Hezekiah kept running that very thought through his mind.
To be fair, he wasn’t a genocidal Pharaoh, but he wasn’t perfect either.
He drank too much.
He was rough to his wife.
He didn’t worship God like he should.
He was too busy working to be with his son.
He had been disobedient before.
One night of obedience wasn’t going to make up for those sins.
But then again…
This night wasn’t so much about his obedience.
It was about God’s mercy.
He closed his eyes and prayed.
Please LORD, have mercy.
Suddenly, a warmth hit his cheeks.
He opens his eyes to see subtle rays of light coming through the window.
It was morning!
He looked over at his son.
His chest was moving up and down.
His nostrils were flaring.
His cheeks were flush.
He was alive.
God had had mercy on him.
And God has had mercy on you.
Our Passover lamb has been sacrificed, namely, Christ! (1 Corinthians 5:7)
Because what was the Passover?
The blood of an unblemished male lamb on the frame of the door moved God’s wrath to pass over that home.
Jesus was called the Lamb of God.
Jesus was without blemish.
Jesus was a male.
Jesus shed his blood on the frame of a cross.
And…God’s wrath has passed over you!
Jesus is our PASSOVER LAMB.
Jesus obeyed God perfectly.
He obeyed God by going to the cross.
He obeyed by becoming a sacrifice.
And his obedience brings life.
His sacrifice brings life.
Because of Jesus, you will live.
And as it said in that passage, this has already happened!
The sacrifice has already happened.
There’s no longer any kind of sacrifice left for you to make.
Which is freeing.
One of the reasons that guilt can be so difficult for humans to overcome is that sin has a way of imprinting itself onto our history.
Sometimes I can look back at some of my worst sins, I can so clearly see the event.
Maybe you can too?
We can see the faces of those that I hurt.
We can see the aftermath and tension.
We can see myself raising my voice, being lazy, being a jerk…
But…that’s not what God sees.
Because of Jesus, God sees something differently.
Where you see yourself raising your voice, God sees Jesus’ blood.
Where you see your sexual impurity, God sees Jesus’ blood.
Where you see the nasty messages you’ve type on Facebook, God sees Jesus’ blood.
See his blood too.
Trust in Jesus’ blood.
Because the blood of the Lamb means LIFE!
Later on that morning, Hezekiah and the Israelites received news.
Pharaoh was releasing them.
Not just letting them worship for a few days, but releasing them forever!
He hadn’t listened to God.
He hadn’t covered his doorframes with the blood of a lamb.
He hadn’t eaten breakfast with his son that morning.
Because he had died.
But the result was that the Israelites were free.
No longer slaves.
No longer stuck in Egypt.
The same is true for you.
Guilt no longer controls you.
Sin no longer controls you.
Shame no longer controls you.
Your Passover Lamb has been sacrificed.
You are free.