I was sitting down for a delicious lunch of homemade Lunchables in the PreK 4 classroom this past week. After discussing how delicious the ham and cheese combination was and whether or not it was an acceptable use of food to wear the deli ham as a necklace, the conversation turned to Halloween costumes.
One little girl was excited to tell me that she was going to be a unicorn.
Another little girl was excited to tell me that she was going to be a princess.
One more said that she would be a unicorn.
And a fourth said that was would be a princess.
Finally, the little girl, who had been waiting and shaking with excitement to tell me her costume got her chance.
And she told me she would be something different:
An Elsa Unicorn.
I was curious. “What did that look like? Cause that might be hard to be both.”
She said, “I wear a crown and a horn on my head. Princess unicorn.”
Today we are continuing our series called Dear Church. It’s a series based on letters from Jesus to his church. Today’s letter is to a church that was compromising. But not in a good way. Compromising in a way that made them look about as silly as an Elsa Unicorn compromise. Our goal today is to identify why Jesus was reprimanding their compromise, when compromise is bad in our Christian lives, and what to do about fixing it.
Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Good
This letter starts in Revelation 2:12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.
Pergamum was an ancient city located on a lofty hill. It was also a key state in Roman control of their empire and home to the Red Basilica of the Greek god, Isis.
To put it simply, everywhere that the people of Pergamum looked there was symbols of authority:
The high impressive hills showing the authority of nature.
The Basilica reminded them of the authority Greek gods had in their culture.
The large amount of soldiers representing the authority of the Roman government.
No wonder Jesus starts his address by reminding the Pergamum church of where true authority resides: Himself. He says that his words are a sharp double-edged sword.
Not just sharp on the left.
Not just sharp on the right.
Sharp on both sides.
That means his words don’t just take out everything on the left.
Nor do they take out everything on the right.
But both sides. He has all authority.
Briefly, I don’t think this is a direct reference to American politics, but still… It might be worth saying:
The right isn’t the ultimate authority.
The left isn’t the ultimate authority.
Jesus is the ultimate authority.
Next, Jesus gives the congregation a compliment: “I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.” (v. 13)
Pergamum was home to a large library of over 200,000 books. It was called The Library at Pergamum and is second in renown only to the Library at Alexandria.
Of course, this wasn’t Lifeway Christian Bookstore -- not all of these books were commentaries on the Bible. In fact, they often proposed ideologies and moralities in opposition to the Bible. These ideas from the books came influential in shaping Pergamum thought. Books that might have had titles like:
Greek Mythology – It’s not a Myth Anymore
101 Ways to a Good Relationship with the god, Isis
Temple Prostitution and You – a Beginners Guide
Food Sacrificed to Idols – 15 Minute Recipes for the Idol Worshiper on the Go
Pergamum was also home to a large theater. (Again, aptly named The Theater of Pergamum). It held over 10,000 people. By the way, its ruins are still there today.
At the time, attending the theater was a common way to spend the weekend. And common plays glorified things that weren’t so godly: worship of idols, pursuing money at all costs, adultery being okay as long as you sleep with the one you truly love, and generally bucking traditional morality and doing whatever you feel like doing.
In essence, this theater was doing what Hollywood does today.
That’s why Jesus calls this place Satan’s home.
There’s temptation everywhere.
There’s false teaching everywhere.
There’s evil everywhere.
In fact, it had gotten so bad that a believer named Antipas is killed.
Put to death because he witnessed to the truth of Jesus.
Pergamum was hard place to plant a church.
Yet… The church survived.
The church held onto FAITH in a city surrounded by VIOLENCE against it.
That word “held onto” means to “grasp firmly.”
It’s like playing tug of war with a dog. You are holding one end of the rope until your dog grabs onto the other end. Then…
It bares its teeth.
It shakes its head back and forth.
It growls as it tries to wrestle that rope way.
That’s what was happening in Pergamum – the culture was like a dog trying to wrestle faith away from the Pergamum church.
They didn’t let them.
They held on tightly to their faith.
That was good.
II. The Bad
But that’s also not the end of the letter. Look at what Jesus says next: “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans." (v.14-15)
Notice the word that Jesus uses.
He says, “Some of you hold to” these teachings.
That’s the same Greek word.
The one that involves holding tightly as if you’re in a canine tug of way.
The church at Pergamum was holding onto the teachings of Jesus.
But also…other teachings.
We talked about the Nicolaitans in the letter to Ephesus. Not much is known about them other than that Jesus hated their practices. (Revelation 2:6) It isn’t surprising he wasn’t impressed by the fact that some of the Pergamum church was holding onto practices that he hated.
Balaam was a false prophet in the Old Testament. He dabbled in occult type stuff. (Appropriate for Halloween, right?) He used spells, secret chants, and the power of the devil to see the future and cast curses onto people.
He was good at it.
In fact, he was so good at it that a guy named Balak who was king of the Moabites, hired Balaam to cast a curse on the people of Israel. If you remember, the people of Israel were God’s people in the Old Testament. He guided and blessed them, because one day the Savior Jesus would come from their race. But this was back at the time when the Israelites didn’t own any land, but were simply desert nomads.
Still, at over one million people in camp, the nation was impressive. It’s why Balak was concerned that they might come into Moab and destroy his nation. So, he hired Balaam to curse Israel.
Balaam was a big fan of money, so he agreed.
He shook out his hands.
He began cursing:
Hocus, Pocus…Hocus Crocus…Hocus…How can I curse those whom God has not cursed? (Numbers 23:8)
Sorry, King. Let me try again:
Bibbiddiy, boddiy, bless….God has blessed Israel and I cannot change it. (Numbers 23:20)
Just a second. Maybe we need to change up the curse location. Let’s try over on that hill there:
Eye of newt and ointment of Gibraltar – God’s kingdom will be exalted. (Numbers 24:7)
Balaam couldn’t curse Israel.
God wouldn’t let him.
But Balaam was sly. He still wanted money. So, he offered some advice to Balak.
If you can’t curse them, maybe you can tempt them.
Send out some women.
Get their men, to…you know.
And you’ll become a part of their kingdom.
And lead them away from their God that way.
It worked. Numbers 31:16 says this: Some followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord.
Thousands of years later, the same problem was happening in the Pergamum church.
Sure, they were believers in Jesus. But some wanted to cover their bases:
I believe in Jesus, but I also believe that Isis might be able to help me with my crops. So, I’ll bring some offering to him and while I’m there I’ll sleep with the temple prostitutes. I’ll just have to remember to set my alarm so that I can get up for worship tomorrow. I’m ushering.
Some held onto a TEACHING violently opposed to JESUS’ TEACHING.
And I do mean violently opposed.
Balaam said, “Worship false gods.”
Jesus said, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him 0nly.” (Mt. 4:10)
Balaam said, “Do anything to store up treasure on earth.”
Jesus said, “Do anything to store up treasure in heaven.” (Mt. 6:19)
Balaam said, “Sexuality is yours. Do with it whatever you want.
Jesus said, “Sexuality is God’s gift. Use it within marriage as He tells us.” (Mt. 19:4-5)
Do you see the problem?
The Pergamum church held onto Jesus’ teaching.
But they also held onto things that were the exact opposite of Jesus’ teaching.
They were compromising.
III. The Compromise
Now usually compromising is a good thing.
Kids on the playground compromise and they both get to be Spider-man.
Teens in school compromise and they both work on parts of the school project.
Adults at work compromise and they go the meeting for half an hour today and half an hour tomorrow.
Spouses compromise and they have asparagus (like mom wanted) with Doritos sprinkled on top (like dad wanted).
Compromise can be good.
But not always.
I was listening to a podcast called the Liturgists the other day. (Sounds Christian right?) And the topic was pornography. I thought – That’d be good to hear. Some good tips on how to continually teach people the extreme danger of this destructive thing.
But as I was listening. One of the speakers said this:
I’ve had some experiences with porn. And I found it to be helpful. I think it allows the opportunity to learn about sex and explore one’s sexuality. It’s just the lusts of the flesh, so whom does it harm?
And I started thinking in my head:
Your wife: who will feel like she can’t live up to it.
The actress: who will continue to feel like her worth is defined by how many watch her.
The industry: as you continue to give dollars to greedy jerks who don’t care how they treat women.
Me: because society will still see it as monetarily valuable and pump out pop-up ads and sultry material on the most tame websites.
And Jesus…who said – “I tell you if you look at a woman lustfully, you are guilty of adultery.”
But the people on the podcast?
You’re right. Porn is good.
Here’s the TRUTH:
Compromise is wrong when it treats BAD as GOOD.
Jesus loves good.
Jesus hates bad.
And he doesn’t compromise.
Which means there is no compromise in the Christian faith.
You can’t love Jesus and love watching porn.
You can’t fill your spirit with Jesus and fill your stomach with moonshine.
You can’t be faithful to Jesus and be faithful to your spouse.
You can’t worship Jesus and worship your bank account.
You can’t say the Gospel is most important, but them make your traditions most important.
You can’t claim to follow Jesus and then, do whatever you want.
You can’t claim to have the truth and then hold to teachings opposed to the truth!
If you want to hold onto Jesus, you can’t hold onto things that are opposed to Jesus.
Look at what Jesus says:
Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. (v.16)
And my words are sharp.
They will cut your soul.
Because if you want to keep compromising your faith,
And keep doing the things opposed to my kingdom.
Then, I’ve got compromise for you:
You get to keep doing all that sinful stuff.
And I get to kick you out of my kingdom.
IV. What Now?
Jesus says, “Repent.”
Look at your life.
See where you’re compromising your faith.
Drop anything that’s against your Savior.
Put your faith in your Savior.
Faith in Jesus isn’t about compromises:
Faith in Jesus is about promises:
To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” (2:17)
Did you follow that section? It’s symbolic and yet rich with very real promises from Jesus:
(1) Hidden Manna
I had mentioned earlier that the people of Israel used to be nomads in the desert. Deserts don’t normally have a lot of food. There aren’t fast food places on every corner. Uber Eatz couldn’t bring you fried chicken. It wasn’t even a good place for growing your own crops.
So here what God did.
Early in the morning God send little pieces of bread, raining down from the clouds and landing softly on the ground next to their tents. These little wafer-like things tasted a bit like a honey, but not quite. A bit like bread, but not quite.
The food was so strange that the people simply called it: Manna.
In Hebrew, that means, “What is it?”
Manna was unexplainable. Its mystery was hidden. Yet God provided nourishment through it.
The same is true with the Gospel.
The message is mysterious.
Yet, God provides nourishment for souls filled with guilt.
In fact, Jesus said this: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry.” (Jn. 6:35)
Because in his Word, he gives us nourishment.
For all the times we’ve compromised.
For all the times we’ve done what we shouldn’t.
For all the times we’ve loved evil more than Jesus, God’s Word tells you:
Jesus loved you.
Jesus died for you.
Jesus rose for you.
And through faith in him, you will be given a:
(2) A White Stone
In the ancient courtroom, a judge would lead the trial and give the verdict. But around the time of this letter, the Greek world began to introduce trial by jury. A jury would listen to the case. They would listen to the prosecution. They would listen to the defense. Then, they would vote.
If a juror found the person to be guilty, he would take a black stone and drop it into the official vote casting bag.
But if the juror found the person to be not guilty…?
Jesus says to the repentant: “I am giving you a white stone.”
You are innocent.
You are not guilty.
You are forgiven.
In fact, to illustrate the farther.
It says that on that stone will be…
(3) A New Name
Because if you are someone who has been compromising your faith, you might not have the greatest name.
You might call yourself:
A porn addict.
An easy woman.
A bad Christian.
He has a new name for you.
It isn’t based on you.
God calls you:
And there’s no compromise on that.
You are God’s.
Don’t compromise on him. Amen.
WORTHY OF JUDGMENT.
They were right. She felt the shame. She had been feeling it for months now. Secret rendezvous. Hidden moments. Lies. To her husband. To his wife. To her own children.
Now it was at the forefront. She’d been caught. The secret she had worked to protect was now public knowledge. What would everyone think of her? What would her husband think? What would his wife think? What would her own children think? She wanted to die.
Then, there was a commotion. The men were distracted. Someone was joining the mob.
It was Jesus.
The mob was excited, “Join us! This woman is guilty of adultery. Join us! Let’s give her what the Law deserves. Let’s rid the earth of her.”
The woman shed another tear.
Jesus responded calmly. “OK – why doesn’t the person without any sin, throw the first stone.”
It was quiet. The men looked at one another. They looked at the woman. They looked at Jesus. Then someone threw the first stone…on the ground.
Today we’re going to continue our series on Counter Culture by talking about Purity. The heart of purity is found in the Sixth Commandment. Anyone? “You shall not commit adultery.” Some might call it a no fun commandment. Or that God is a prude.
But God made us sexual beings. God made us to reproduce. God gave us the gift of sex as a special blessing to connect to human beings together in a special way that they won’t connected with anyone else. It’s a lot different than a handshake. It was aimed to seal and connect you intimately to your spouse.
But the greater the blessing, the greater the pain when it is abused. There is pain, hurt feelings, guilt, and shame. (They are a lot worse than when you steal someone’s pencil when they aren’t looking).
And unlike many other sins – this one affects your own body. It changes the chemical reactions in the brain. It reprograms you to have a connection with someone you aren’t married to. It confuses you. It makes you feel icky. It makes you avoid contact with someone else because they make you feel guilty.
God didn’t want you to have any of that. So God made this command for your good. God wanted to protect your purity. I guess you could say, "You shall not cause yourself and your neighbor all kinds of pain, shame, and terrible heartache."
What then does it take to be pure? Let’s discuss definitions.
I. Defining Purity
1) The World’s Definition
When I first started working on this sermon, I thought the best way to define the world’s definition of purity might be: “Do whatever you want.” That’s what we tell each other. It’s what the media preaches. It’s what the Facebook videos with the sappy music teaches us. Just let people feel, love, and do what they want.
Then, a certain Vanity Fair magazine cover came out.
And people had opinions. People like Chris brown. Chris Brown who, in his music, proclaims to have slept with hundreds of women and in his Instagram photos is grinding and twisting against all kinds of scantily clad women, tweeted very negatively about Jenner. In his mind, Jenner was the definition of sexually impure.
Then, Chris went right back to rapping and partying and sleeping around.
Chris Brown embodies the world’s definition of purity. It’s the definition that the Pharisees had. Sexual purity is “not doing the sexual sins that I don’t do.” If that’s the definition of purity, guess what? You’ll always pass! Because you’ll always have not done the sins you have not done.
Be careful that you don’t fall for the world’s definition of purity. It can happen while you watch TV. Suddenly, the TV portrays a homosexual encounter. You look away “That’s sinful! I can’t believe they show that on TV.” Then, you change the channel and settle on the TV show where the nice young detective is falling in love with the burly cop. They aren’t married, but it’s ok...who hasn’t done that?
TIME OUT! Where’s the outrage? That’s a sin too!
But maybe we don’t have the same outrage, because if we did, we’d have to outrage our own sins.
And we don't want to.
So we fall into the trap of defining purity by the world's standards.
2) God’s Definition
Brace yourself for moment. Then, when you're ready take a look at God’s definition of purity in Ephesians 5:3. “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality…”
Listen again and write it down. God’s definition of purity means not even a hint of impurity. Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity, or greed -- because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking which are out of place!”
If purity were food, God wants his wholly organic! He doesn’t want even an ounce of a contaminate in his selections. He doesn’t want anything, not even a modified Food Starch here OR a bug repellant there to have ever touched his tomatoes.
God doesn’t want any kind of sexual immorality to ever touch his children.
When you compare your life to that definition, how does it match up? Can you really tell God that you haven’t ever had an action, a motive, a word, or a thought that is impure?
If you can’t, if even an ounce of impurity has ever touched you then…you are impure! Remember God's a stickler so even a 1 night stand or 1 explicit lyrics rap song or 1 inappropriate website on your browser history ruins the whole shebang!
Maybe you now understand what the woman was feeling a little better.
She was bracing herself with her eyes closed because she knew her punishment was coming. She knew she was about to face her Maker in all of her sin!
She closed her eyes and waited.
Then she opened her eyes. The crowd was gone. The only thing remaining was a pile of stones and Jesus.
“Did no one condemn you?” he said. “No one sir,” she breathed.
“Then, neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.”
If you have left an impure life in the past and are seeking his forgiveness, then hear Jesus’ words to you. God’s Word says to you, “Neither do I condemn you.”
How does that work? All who have hope in Jesus purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 Jn. 3:3) It’s just like that children’s lesson we did. God’s power is like Clorox bleach. It destroys and rids our souls of all impurities from before God. It’s God’s promise in Baptism. In your Baptism. Baptism is like God’s permanent divine Clorox bleach that remains running throughout the soul veins of your body. It purifies you from all sin!
Do you believe this? Then you are pure…Live in purity.
II. Why Live in Purity
But you might be wondering – what’s the point? Our world is so sexually driven – it’s everywhere. You get very little judgment for sexual escapades. Guys get a high five and women get a giggle from a friend. Why should we strive for this “not even a hint” definition of purity!?! It’s darn near impossible!
Here are 5 reasons to strive for purity from Ephesians 5.
1) You are God’s Child
Check out verse 1. It says, “Be imitators of God, as dearly loved children.”
Did you ever want to be like your parents? I think that’s pretty natural for children. Girls want to wear dresses like their moms. Boys want to throw the baseball like their dads. One of the reasons I became a pastor was to be like my dad.
Spiritually speaking, God is your dad. He’s an awesome role model. He’s holy. He’s good. He’s never evil.
Do you want a good role model? Don’t make it some reality TV star who gets a bunch of girls or that woman from 50 Shades of Grey. Make it your heavenly dad and don’t let even a Hint of Impurity be in your life!
2) Christ Loves You
Verse 2 says this, “Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…”
Did you hear how much Christ loved you? He was willing to give himself up for you. He suffered extreme pain on the cross so that you won’t have to suffer any pain in eternity.
Porn -- doesn’t love you. That steamy romance author? Just wants your money. That television show? Just wants ratings. Your boyfriend…may love you…but not selflessly…in the moment…he may just want to use you.
Jesus always loves you and has your best interest in mind. Follow him and his direction. Don’t let even a hint of impurity be apart of your life.
3) Lust is Idolatry.
Check out verse 5. “An immoral, impure person…such a man is an idolater.”
Idolatry is a first commandment issue. In it’s simplest form, it refers to worshipping a small statue as a god.
But it doesn’t have to be a small statue. If you run to the internet for relief...if you run to the sights of the gym for enjoyment…if you study your romance novel more than God’s Word – who is really your God?
Don’t worship your own sinful desires. Worship God. Don’t let even a hint of impurity be a part of your life.
4) There’s No Impurity in Heaven
This is probably the scariest and most difficult reason for a pastor to relay to his people. But it’s also the most obvious reason and I’d be a pretty terrible interpreter of the God’s Word, if I failed to mention this one. Read verse 5 in its entirety: “Of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”
You’re welcome to object. “No way that’s true.” But verse 6 continues, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such impure things, God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.”
Brothers and sisters, I want you in heaven. God wants you in heaven. Don’t let even a hint of impurity be a part of your life.
5) You are Light.
As scary as verse 6 is, verse 8 is filled with comfort. It says this, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” In other words, you were once surrounded by the darkness of sinful lusts. Your lives were filled with erasing your internet browser, sneaking to hotels, making sure no one saw you looking at that magazine in the magazine aisle, and hoping no one noticed that you slept over at your boyfriend's house last night.
But now you know Jesus. Now you know the light. Now you are surrounded by the light of His presence. Now you are forgiven. Now you live for God.
Don’t let even a hint of impurity be a part of your life….Live as children of the light.
III. How to Live in Purity
So…how do you do it?
In America, we often approach these issues in the same way: “OK God…How far can I go?” How far is too far with my boyfriend? How long is too long for me to stare at the woman on the side of the road? How short is too short for this sexy shirt I’m wearing? How steamy is too steamy for this television scene I’m watching?
Stop asking how far you can go from God, but how far you can go in serving Him.
How can I stay pure as I go about dating? How can I serve my boyfriend with the way I dress? How can I serve my girlfriend with where I spend the night? How can I serve my spouse with the way I look at the internet? How can I serve my husband with my reading choices? How can I serve my children with the televisions shows that I choose to watch in their presence?
In short – Start asking how can I rid my life of impurity? Ephesians gives us three guidelines to keep in mind:
1) Come into the Light.
Look at what Ephesians says next, “Live as children of light…Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness…Expose these dark deeds. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.”
Isn’t it true that these kinds of sins often take place in the dark? Or at least when others are in the dark about that? Behind closed doors, when others are away, when the kids are in bed.
Jesus is saying here – stop hiding your struggle. Share it with a friend.
Yes – it’s a scary thought to ask another Christian for help. It’s humbling. But it’s also freeing. Ask someone for help. Ask an elder here. Ask me! Ask for help and---if someone asks you for help, don’t hold their struggle against them. Don’t be the Pharisee – “Ugh, Ugh, you struggle with that?” Don’t belittle them. They are coming to you for help – so praise God they are struggling and help them!
2) Be Wise.
In the book of Proverbs, King Solomon talks about a time he looked out his window and saw a young man walking down the street. As he was walking down the street, he saw a prostitute waiting for him. King Solomon thought, “Walk on the other side of the street. Get away from her! You’ll be safer away from the temptation.”
Instead, the young man walked right by her. She seduced him. He went with her.
Ephesians 5:15 says, “Be careful, then, how you live—not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”
If this is a struggle for you, don’t be foolish. Use common sense. If you struggle when you’re alone, make sure you aren’t alone. If you struggle when you go to the gym, don’t go to the gym. If you struggle with a certain kind of book, don’t get that book at the library. If you struggle with a certain kind of television show, don’t watch that. If you struggle with a certain kind of website, don’t go there. In fact, block it! Use internet software to police yourself. If you are more prone to struggle with all of this when you’re drunk, don’t get drunk. Don’t spend the night alone with your girlfriend if you can’t control yourself.
Be wise and God will bless you with victory after victory.
3) Be Filled with the Spirit.
All of this serving God and struggling against sin takes energy. It's like a battle. An athletic context of divine proportions.
That means you're going to need to replenish your spiritual electrolytes. Therefore, you need to keep yourself hydrated with the time tested, proven, spiritually reenergizing Gatorade:
"Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
If you want to live a pure life, you need to be filled with the pure Word of God. You need to be filled with his pure law for guidance. You need to be filled with His pure Gospel for the pure comfort of having a Savior who purified you from all sins.
Come back to our Gospel scene one more time that woman had heard Jesus’ precious words of forgiveness. She was filled with the Spirit as Jesus spoke words of forgiveness. She knew of God’s love when she didn’t deserve it.
Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.”
You are not your sin. You are not an adulteress. You are my child.
Jesus changed her identity with one awesome sentence of Gospel.
Hear the same thing that God is speaking to you: You are not perpetually stuck in sin. You are not a sex addict. You are not disgusting. You are not a pornographer. You are not a homosexual. You are not an adulteress.
You are not your sin.
You are God's child. You are loved. You are forgiven.
You are PURE.
TRUST GOD…When You Feel Trapped
Over our recent wintry weather, a lot of things got stuck. Windshield wipers stuck in their resting position. Car doors stayed stuck shut. Entire cards were stuck in their apartment parking lots.
Did you get stuck? Did you get stuck at work because the roads were to slippery drive home? Did you get stuck at home because your driveway was way too icy? Did you get stuck with the kids because nobody was having any school? Hopefully you didn’t get your tongue stuck to a lamppost.
We are in the middle of a sermon series about Old Testament Faith Tests. In today’s lesson from Exodus 14, the Israelite find themselves stuck between two very scary options. Scary enough that you wouldn’t just called it stuck, but trapped! Pay attention to the account and try to put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel? What would you do? Would you trust? And when similar --- and much less scary ---situations happen to you, how well do you trust God when you’re trapped?
I. The Trap
At the start of Chapter 14, the Israelites are on the run. This is literally the Exodus in progress. They have been freed from slavery in Egypt and are travelling through the desert to get back to the country their forefathers grew up in.
Only travelling isn’t as good of a word as wandering.
Their route was curious. It was similar to getting directions from your GPS that avoid that main route and instead direct your car on back roads and through private communities. Instead of taking a direct route toward the promised land of Canaan, they had travelled south in order to avoid the country of the Philistines. These people were an vengeful country that wouldn’t have taken kindly to the Israelites cutting through their private property. The Israelites went around them to avoid the trouble.
Now they found themselves trapped by some Impassable Geography.
There are a few different opinions and scholarly options as to where the Israelites specifically were. Here’s a map of a very traditional and very likely route near the top of the Suez Gulf. This route is likely because it’s still a part of the Red Sea and it leads to the wilderness of Shur on the other side. (Later mentioned in Exodus 15:22)
Using this as a guideline, we learn that the Red Sea wasn’t just on the Eastern side of their camp. They had bunkered into a little inlet. The Red Sea was surrounding them on the North as well.
And if they went south, they would need to have their mountain climbers packed. The south quickly became mountainous in the region which was not too far away. Could all the kids, animals, and supplies make it through the mountain? Remember this is long before the area of Cabella’s and lightweight, special fibered, thermal enhanced sleeping bags. This wasn't feasible either.
The only topographical option that didn’t present a problem was to the west and that option was quickly disappearing.
Approaching from the west was a Vicious Enemy. The Egyptian army, their former captors, had given chase.
Hundreds of chariots and thousands of soldiers were sprinting in their direction. Angry and embarrassed by the departure of the Israelites, they had been ordered by Pharaoh to bring the Israelite back by any means necessary.
They were no slouches in battle either. Verse 6 says, “Pharaoh had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots Egypt, with officers all over them.”
Chariots were the tanks of the ancient world. They were fast. They were armored. They allowed attacking while being well defended.
How could the Israelites – slaves who left with nothing more than clothing, camels, and kids fight them off?
They couldn’t. That’s where the test came in.
If you were an Israelites camping at night in the desert, there was something very interesting that you couldn’t help but notice. On the outskirts of the camp burned a very large fire. It was large enough to be called a pillar--something that would hold up a coliseum like building.
Were the Israelites pyros? Not so much.
In fact, if you approached the fire you’ find that there wasn’t so much as a few pieces of papyrus paper on fire. There weren’t any sticks. There weren’t any logs. The fire was fuel-less, yet it burned endlessly.
In the day time? The fire went away. But the miracle did not. In the same spot and the same formation as the fire had been moments earlier, there was now a pillar of cloud. Constantly visible against the bright blue sky.
Exodus 13:21 explains what was going on. “By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and in a pillar of fire to give them light, so they could travel by day or night.”
These pillars were pillars of promise. They were pillars of presence. They were reminders to the Israelites that they were not alone. Every time they looked at these miraculous structures, they would be reminded that they had a powerful God on their side. A God who had worked miracle after miracle to get them out of Egypt. A God who turned water into blood, covered the land in frogs, flies, gnats, and locusts. A God who plagued all the Egyptian cows while keeping their cattle safe. A God who crushed all the Egyptian crops with hail, who turned the daytime into darkness, who covered the bodies of Egyptians with painful boils. A God who sent the angel of death to kill the firstborn child of every rebellious, stubborn Egyptian heart.
They didn’t have any reason to worry.
II. The Israelite Response
But they did.
As Pharaoh’s army approached the Israelites didn’t look on with anticipation to see what the Lord would do this time to save them. Instead, they looked on with worry. Verse 11 reports their response, “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? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, “Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians?”
I’d like to take a look at that paragraph again and paraphrase their three main complaints --
1) We’re Gonna die! Notice that there is zero confidence in God with this statement. They only see the approaching army and reason that they didn’t stand a chance at defeating them. Never mind the pillar of fire and its destructiveness. Never mind the pillar of cloud and its etherealism. They saw the vicious enemies on one side and a vast sea on the other and came to the conclusion that they were as good as dead.
2) This is God’s fault! To be fair, they are speaking to Moses in verse 11. But Moses had always spoken for God. Moses had done what God told him to do. It wasn’t Moses who did all those miracles. It wasn’t Moses who changed Pharaoh’s mind and released them. It wasn’t Moses who was keeping the pillars of fire and cloud going.
It was God. They were blaming God for putting them in this situation.
3) We Should Never have Followed you! Do you hear that in the last statement? They start to long for the time when they were slaves. They missed the backbreaking, sun blistering, impossible, bloody work of making bricks in the hot sun with a whip to their back. Really? They were so frightened by the prospect of death that they were now longing to return to the former easier life of a desert slave.
What do you think? How did the Israelites do with this Faith test? A+? B-? Do they even pass?
I’d say they all fail. Miserably.
Poor Moses. He tried to get them to trust. Listen to what he tells them in verse 13, “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. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
What do you think? If you were trapped between a impassable geography and a vicious enemy army, would you be more like Moses or the Israelites?
III. The Deliverance
Then God speaks. The Israelites haven’t trusted in Him, but that isn’t going to stop Him from doing something amazing. Check out his directive to Moses in verse 16:
"16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.” So… “Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.”
Notice how they get across. It wasn’t that the water was real shallow. It wasn’t that there was a thin collection of rocks for them to walk across. They didn’t discover a rickety old bridge down the way.
Scripture is specific. It was God. A special wind sent from God. A miracle from God. Where there hadn’t been a way before, God had created it. Now they had a quiet aquarium like walkway to leisurely cross through to safety.
But that’s not all God did.
Check out verse 26, God said “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” 27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. …The LORD swept the Egyptians into the sea... Not one of them survived.”
Suddenly the threat was gone. The vicious, unbelieving, unrepentant army was judged by the LORD. The Israelites were left with nothing but a peaceful waterfront scene to their back.
Yet here’s where it gets really amazing. This wasn’t just a reactionary move by God in which he pulled out all the stops to try and save his people against an impressive and violent foe. Check this out from earlier in the chapter.
Verses 1-4 “The LORD said to Moses. “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth between Migdol and the sea…Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them…
…But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and his army and the Egyptian will know that I am the LORD.”
Do you see it? IT was God’s plan the whole time. The impassable Geography? God led them there. The vicious angry army? God sent them there. The miraculous saving? That was what God had been planning to do the whole time.
It’s not fair to say that God trapped the Israelites. The opposite. God trapped the Egyptians.
Understand this: The Israelites never had any reason to doubt. They needed to simply do what Moses suggested to them, “Don’t be afraid. Stand Firm. Watch. Watch…God.”
IV. What Does This Mean for You?
Maybe you’ve never been cornered by angry charioteers and a vast sea. Seagulls, maybe? But not a vicious army.
But have you ever felt trapped?
“I started following you God. I became a Christian….and my family of a different religion disowned me.”
“I handed out a few Easter invitations at work…and my coworkers complained to my boss.’
“I told my girlfriend that I wanted to wait for marriage to sleep together…and she is threatening to break up with me!”
“I have been faithfully gifting the church with my time and money and now I’m barely able to pay the rent.”
“I quit alcohol…and now the pain and suffering that I drank to avoid has come back. It’s overwhelming.”
I’m trapped!!! God there’s no way out. There’s no way I can follow you and have anything good come from it. If only I could go back to my sinful way of life, things would be so much easier! If only you had just left me alone God. If only I hadn’t followed you.
If you’ve ever felt like this/when you feel like this, remember Moses’ directive;
1) Don’t Be Afraid.
The exact same God who was with the Israelites is with you. Now, granted, the Israelites had a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud as constant reminders of what God had done for them in the past.
You don’t. You have something better.
Look at the cross. Understand what God did when he went to the cross. He made a way when there was none. You needed to be perfect. You weren’t. You needed to be at peace with God. You weren’t. You needed to be holy. You weren’t.
But where there wasn’t a way, God made one. In fact, he was one.
Jesus said, “I am the Way.” (Jn. 14:6) He lived perfectly when you couldn’t. He died innocently when you deserved to. He rose triumphantly to prove that you are at peace with God.
Whatever comes your way in life from following God, do not be afraid! Look at what God has already done for you. Look how he provided a way when there wasn’t one.
2) Stand Firm.
Keep following God. It can be tempting to go back, to addiction, to loose sexuality, to unbelief, to pride, to greed…to a way of life apart from God.
But don’t. Stand firm. Those things don’t provide miracles. God does. Those things don’t save you. God Does. Those things don’t care about you. God does.
Keep following Him in every aspect of your life. And then…this is the fun part…
Can you imagine what it would have been like to see that Red Sea split in half? Amazing.
How about when it came crashing down on those vicious soldiers? Amazing again.
Will it really happen that way in your life?
Once I was talking to someone who was feeling trapped. They had just started understanding the truth of what Jesus did for them a few months ago. Through tears and smiles and more study, they had been growing in faith. They were more positive. They were more confident. A job opened up. Things were going well.
Then, they lost that job. A relationship went sour. They felt alone. They felt trapped.
What had God done to them? They said, “What was the point of all this? I’m forever going to be trapped. God didn’t help.”
I smiled. Because they didn’t see what I saw. In the past, this person would have ran to drugs, now she ran to a pastor. In the past, this person might have sought solace in alcohol, now they were looking to find comfort in God’s Word. In the past, this person just felt like giving up. Now…Now they simply wanted to be reminded of why they didn’t need to give up.
It was amazing. God had been doing amazing things. They only needed to open their eyes and look.
Do the same. Keep your eyes open this week and look for how God is working in your life. Don’t fear. Don’t stop following. And Watch. Watch and Trust God…Even when you’re trapped. Amen.