By Simon ManchesterSunday 8 Nov 2015Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes
We pray now that the words which we read and think through would be good food for us and that we would have hungry and obedient lives.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.
Well friends we are studying the Book of Exodus in 6 big chunks and today we come to the 5th. Last week if you were here we looked at the rescue out of Egypt, the blood of the Lamb on the door posts, crossing of the sea and the singing of God’s praise. And today we come to the travel in the Wilderness from the Sea to Sinai. It’s the wilderness sections. And there are 4 or 5 little cameo sections and it’s hard to know which one to pick and which to leave. But basically this is a time of testing because the people of Israel face first of all hunger and then thirst and then an army and then overload.
And just as the Old Testament believers were pilgrims, New Testament believers are pilgrims. Their journey, I hope you know this, was a small scale embryonic journey. So the blood on the door posts was from a lamb, an animal. The sea that they crossed was relatively small compared with life over to glory. And every single part of that particular journey for them was small scale – even the trip from Egypt to Canaan was a relatively small distance. But the journey that the Christian is on is a full scale everlasting journey and the blood which sets us free is Christ’s blood, the Sea that we cross is the sea of death and the resurrection before the resurrection body before us is a massive and wonderful thing. So it is a very big scale journey that we are on.
And the New Testament wants us as Christians to remember our rescue and be grateful for it – Christ died for us – to focus on the future which is solid and tremendous and to keep going and not give up and to keep growing and to help one another to keep growing.
Now the question is why was the Old Testament journey such a rocky journey? And why is the New Testament journey such a rocky journey? And part of the answer to that is because we are so naïve. We foolishly think that the journey should be a small one because we are sort of like a good painting and what God really just needs to do is just courier us safely because we are fine, we are ready to hang on the wall.
Sometimes our songs can be overly triumphalistic. Sometimes we sing songs about how God is in charge and therefore his job is to make sure that we don’t have a rocky road. Jesus is Lord and so his job is to make sure that I don’t have any troubles – that’s his job.
Some years ago when I was at the Men’s Convention one of the speakers was asked the question – Why don’t we sing more of the songs that are triumphalistic that come from a certain stable in our city? And he very bravely said: hold onto your seats here! – he very bravely said “because we don’t want more athiests in our churches”. And what he meant was if we keep singing things which are totally victorious and don’t face the reality of the Christian pilgrimage, we are going to fall either into complete dishonesty about how things are going or we will fall into secret despair.
So I wonder whether you think about what you sing about? I wonder whether you ever notice? I wonder if we stuck in “Mary had a little lamb” into one of the hymns – whether anybody would register?
If you look back to chapter 15 – one page (Page 69) and you look at verse 13 you will see that part of the song the Israelites sang when they went through the Red Sea is very triumphalistic. They sang (verse 13 of chapter 15) “in your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed”. “In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling”. And then down to verse 14 and 15 “the nations will hear and tremble, the people of Canaan will melt away” and it sounds as though according to the song it’s going to be just effortlessly fantastic.
So the song says ‘God your love is never going to fail as you lead us and your strength is going to mean that we go straight to our destination and the nations around us are going to be amazed and impressed and the enemies that we have to face in the land of Canaan – well they are just going to melt away – it’s great. And then they suddenly (chapter 16, 17 and 18) face hunger and thirst and enemies and overload.
So my friends, I am asking you the question this morning, was their song true? Did they sing accurately? And the answer is – of course it’s true, it’s just not the whole picture.
Here is another song for you – I won’t sing it but the words go like this:
Parents raise their children (I am making this song up!
Parents raise their children with love and wisdom
So they can face life?
Is that true? It is true – it’s just not the whole picture. And if you have raised children you know that’s not just the whole picture.
So we may be naïve about the process of travelling from A to B but thankfully the Lord is not. And he is going to teach his people something quite revolutionary which is taking me a whole lifetime to learn and I suspect it’s taking you a whole lifetime to learn as well and that is that he does not exist for our plans. But we exist for his plans and his plans are infinitely better than our plans.
So as you go from Egypt to Canaan in the Old Testament or as you go from grace to glory in your own life, we are not on a kind of a Disney ride that we are entitled to – no we are on a divine ride that we are not entitled to and we are going to learn to be astonished at grace. God is going to teach us to be astonished at grace and he is going to teach us to live for his glory. And that, my friends is a lifelong lesson. It just does not come naturally to us.
So when we sing songs of God’s unfailing love and his unstoppable strength, we can sing them and we won’t get rocked when we go home on Sunday mornings and we get into the car and for some reason we are overwhelmingly sad. And the family starts to fight or we are depressed – we will not be rocked because the love and the strength is true – it’s just not the whole picture.
And we may be facing something which is really scary this week. We may have a relationship which is getting poisonous and we don’t know what to do with it. We may feel that our Christianity is actually becoming quite meaningless and desperate. It may be that our emotions are totally dominating. Whatever we say – it’s actually our feelings which are running things and the fact of the matter is that God’s love and God’s truth remain true.
So let’s not laugh at the Israelites as we read this because they sang and they grumbled. We sing and we grumbled – we sing and then fear – we sing and then fall apart. Let’s learn to hold on to this morning the truth and testing. If you only remember one thing this morning, I hope you will remember those two little words – truth and testing because they can go together and they do go together but we need to look at the text to see what we are talking about because if you don’t look at the text you really will be in a mess.
So Richard, James and I went to see “Noah” this week – what a mess! What a mess! If you want a movie about Noah who is a violet, psychotic weirdo and the story is all distorted and it’s designed to keep you happy if you are a cy-fi nut and a greeny and an atheist and a humanist – what a mess of a movie – what a mess – have I commended it to you? It’s a complete waste of time. And if they had read the text then they might have put a good movie together.
Well let’s turn ourselves to the text of Exodus (Page 70) and we are going to look – if you don’t remember the truth and the testing, you may also remember the 4 truths. So I have talked about Truth and Testing – well I have 4 truths. The first truth is that God is a Provider chapter 16:1-3. They are in the desert – no food. Why is there no food? Because God is testing them. Why is he testing them? Because that’s how you develop the muscles of faith. God is working out whether they can live on a promise. Can you live on a promise for a day, two days, three days? Even if the food doesn’t come fast, can you live on a promise? But they can’t and in verse 4 he acts quickly and he says –
OK you are going to get bread for breakfast (verse 4)
And you are going to get meat for dinner (verse 12).
Now we could say a lot about Exodus chapter 16 – it’s a wonderful wonderful chapter but I just want to point out two things from the chapter because we are running over these 4 truths quite quickly. The first is this food is for their convictions and for their faith as much as it is for their bellies. If you look at chapter 16 verse 6 the Lord says “You will know it was the Lord when the food comes”. Verse 8 “you will know it was the Lord when the food comes”. Verse 12 “you will know that I am the Lord” when the food comes.
You wouldn’t think would you that the Israelites would need some evidence of God having just been through the Red Sea. But the fact of the matter is that God’s people are natural unbelievers. I am a natural unbeliever, you are a natural unbeliever – God works for our belief. And that’s so that we will give him the glory. When you think about the New Testament, think about the ways Jesus piled up miracles so that people would believe his words. And when you think about God’s daily mercies to your – looking after you in a thousand ways – it’s so that we will know that he is the Lord.
So first thing is that this food is for their faith as much as for their bellies and the second thing is therefore the food is miraculous.
Everything about the food is miraculous.
It arrives the day after God said it would arrive.
It lasts for the whole of the travel until the day they enter into the Land.
Whatever people collect is just the perfect amount.
You collect a little – it will be enough.
You collect too much – it will be enough.
If however they disobey on the storage principle which is you are not to store food for two days – what they try to store will go rotten.
On the 6th day of course you can collect for two days because you are going to rest on the 7th – that will be fine.
It is miraculous and miraculous food. The food that arrives, the bread in the morning and the quail in the evening – it’s a miracle – it’s a work of God. He’s big and he knows how to do this.
So that is the provision for God’s people and we know it and we love it. What is the abiding lesson for you today? I suggest these quick thoughts.
Firstly, you won’t work out that God is loving and truthful just by your circumstances. You will need your Bible. If you say ‘he loves me if he heals me’ then you are going to get into terrible trouble. He is loving, he is truthful and he may heal you. He is loving, he is truthful and he may not heal you. He remains truthful and he remains loving.
How do we know this? Because he anchors his love and his truth in a rescue. He has rescued them and he loves them, he is truthful, he makes promises, he anchors his love and truth in rescue and promises. He anchors his love and truth for you and me in rescue and promises. That’s why Paul says in Romans chapter 5 “this is how God demonstrated his love for us – Christ died for us – he rescued us”. And that’s where God stuck the flag of his love in the ground and that’s where you and I must go if we want to know whether he loves us – because we are not going to work it out all the time by the circumstances.
Second thing about provision is that God provides the essentials. I hope you have noticed that on the lower North Shore. He provided the bread and the water and the meat for the Israelites but we get daily bread plus. And if he does allow us to get much more than daily bread, be careful because if you fall into the trap of thinking that you are now worthy of it, independent, self-sufficient you are on more dangerous ground than if you had no food and you need to be re-educated. But he gives us sufficient and more. Let’s not stop thanking him for sufficient and more.
But the real provision which God gives us (I hope you understand this) – the real provision which God gives us which is essential and is crucial and vital for eternal life – the real provision is not perishable bread but Jesus. Jesus said “I am the Bread who has come down from heaven; the one who receives me will never really die but will live”.
I was visiting one of our parishioners, Brian Eagleton, he is on the very edge of going across the river and the Lord is sustaining him and he has the living bread, eternal life and he is looking forward to the final call. I tell you it’s an education to go and visit him. You receive more from him than you ever take to him because he has the essential person of Christ – that’s how God provides.
Now the second truth is God’s Presence chapter 17:1-7. The first is God’s Provision and the second is God’s Presence. And you will see in verse 7 that the Israelites say “Is the Lord among us or not?” The reason they say that is because there is no water. And there is no water for the second time.
The first time in chapter 15 there was no water, it was undrinkable. And now there is no water – full stop. And so the Israelites say “Well, come on – is the Lord among us or not?” The implication if he was – why would there be a problem? And if you ever land in a church that tells you that if you belong to the Lord you will never have a problem – QUICKLY LEAVE! Because it won’t help you.
And we see in chapter 17 verse 4 that the grumbling has escalated and they are now taking their unbelief out on Moses and it reminds you on the side that it may well be that for some of you – you are experiencing strange hostility from people but their real problem is with God but you are the focus. And Moses is the focus for the Israelites who are not doing business with God and so they are taking it out on Moses.
And the Lord decides in his kindness and patience to show that he is among the people even though they stopped believing it. And he is going to show that he is among the people (verse 6) by standing before Moses at the rock. Obviously he doesn’t do this with some kind of cheap light show but he stands with Moses at the rock so that when Moses strikes the rock with his staff an amazing amount of quantity of water emerges.
Now we know this incident pretty well but my question is – who is testing who? Is the Lord testing the people? Or is the people testing the Lord? The answer I hope you know is both. The Lord is testing the people because he loves the people and he wants to increase their spiritual muscles. When the Lord tests, it’s to increase. But the people test the Lord because they want to take over his power base and they want him to fit in with them and when people test the Lord (you know this from your own Christian life) when you decide that you are going to sin because it’s safe, what you are doing is you are decreasing your understand or your attitude to him. You are asking him to become little and co-operative and blind and deaf. And I know this because I know what my own heart is like. But there is the principle – that when God tests us, when he stretches us, it’s because he loves us and he wants to increase our spiritual muscles. When we test him it’s because we are wanting to decrease him and ask him to co-operate with us.
Well now what do we mean when we say that God’s presence is with us? Please don’t fall into the trap of just going on your feelings. If you say “God is with me” because I feel it, what will you do on the day your feelings have gone? The non-Christian says “God is with me – he tags along – he’s sort of like an angel”. The Christian says “God is with me because he has promised to be with me and I have a remarkable experience, a profound experience of his presence which is his Holy Spirit within my very being”. As soon as you put your faith in Jesus he puts his Spirit into the headquarters of your heart. And the presence of God with us is not just that he is above (which he is) nor that he at one stage came and walked beside in Jesus (which he did) but by his Spirit his presence is within – the immeasurably wonderful privilege of God’s Spirit within us.
And that’s why Jesus on one occasion in John 7 said this: “If anyone is thirsty (Exodus 17) come to me and drink and streams of water will flow from within” because the Holy Spirit will be given to you and he will rise up in eternal life that will never finish and will never end. So what great presence the Christian has. We read of God’s presence with the Israelites and he proves it but we experience the presence of God as Christians in the promises and in the very presence of his Spirit.
The third truth – God’s Protection chapter 17:8-16. I am sorry we are doing this so quickly – these all deserve their own sermons but this is our chunk.
Now this is the incident where the Amalekites turn up. The Amalekites were descendants of Esau. Esau was the twin brother of Jacob and this Amalekite army came out to fight the Israelites probably because they are threatened by their presence or because they are afraid they will take their property, food or whatever. And we know this – Joshua goes out to fight the battle (chapter 17 verses 8-16). Now what does Moses do? If you were to be asked this question – you know put your hand up and tell me what Moses did? I imagine a lot of people would say “Moses went and prayed”. But it doesn’t actually say that – it just says he went to a high rock and he held the staff, the staff which he had held over the Red Sea and the staff which he used to strike the rock. He held the staff up in two hands.
And I presume this was a symbolic way of saying
‘we are looking to you –
we depend on you –
we trust you –
we cannot do this without you –
this is a battle –
we need you’ –
And when his arms got tired they helped him to keep his arms up.
Now why does God protect his people from the Amalekites? Is it because the Israelites are nicer than the Amalekites? They are not. We know they are grumbling and difficult and sinful. The reason that God protects the Israelites from the Amalekites is because God has pledged himself to the Israelites and gives an invitation to the Amalekites. But he has pledged himself to the Israelites to take them from Egypt to Canaan and that’s what he will do. If the Amalekites think they can oppose the plan of God to take his people from Egypt to Canaan, well they need their heads read! Pharaoh thought he could stop the plan – ridiculous. The Amalekites cannot stop the plan either.
And you will notice if you look at chapter 17 verse 14 that this victory is to be commemorated (chapter 17 verse 14), The Lord said to Moses ‘write this on a scroll, something to be remembered and make sure Joshua hears it because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek’.
Have you noticed friends that God likes his victories to be remembered? Not because he is boastful but because we are forgetful. So they come out of Egypt and are rescued from the angle of death and it’s to be commemorated with the Passover. And here they are rescued from the Amalekites and it’s to be remembered with a memorial.
And we who put our trust in Jesus are rescued from the good, proper judgment of God – we are rescued from it because it fell on Christ and we commemorate this by the Lord’s Supper. We have been given this so that we might not forget.
Now what does it mean when we claim God’s protection?
What will he protect you from?
Will he protect you from cancer?
Will he protect you from an accident?
Will he protect you from depression?
Will he protect you from poverty?
Will he protect you from difficult family?
Christian people love Psalm 91 which says “no arrow will come, no disease will come, and no disaster will come”. What a wonderful thought and what a wonderful thing to say to one another. You want to have God as your refuge? No arrow will come, no disease will come and no disaster will come.
Well what do we do then when we are hit by arrows and disaster and diseases? Do we assume that we have not been good enough or religious enough or that God is becoming sadistic and punishing us?
No we need to remember that Satan himself quoted Psalm 91 telling Jesus to jump off the temple and no harm would come to him because Satan twisted Psalm 91 to mean nothing will ever happen to you. Whereas what the Psalm is say is that nothing random can ever happen to you. Nothing can ever happen to you, says Psalm 91, without the permission and the will of God.
But the fact of the matter is that as Christ was not protected from suffering, the Christian is not protected from suffering. What we are protected from is the danger of judgment, the wrath of God and the reality of hell. We go through the valley of the shadow of death – yes we go through the valley of the shadow of death but we fear no evil, his rod and his staff protect us. We will never drink of the cup of judgment if we have put our faith in Jesus because he drank the cup of judgment for us. What we get to drink is the cup of fellowship.
So that’s how God protects us. He doesn’t protect us from every difficulty. He protects us from everything which is going to endanger us. So there’s the Provision of God, the Presence of God, the Protection of God – and can you believe I’ve come up with another “P” !! I can’t myself believe this but I have. The fourth truth is in Exodus 18 and it is God’s Praise.
Now I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed or know Exodus 18 that Moses is a very important person but he cannot solve anything – every noticed that? He is a keen man because he prays but he cannot provide food when they are hungry or water when they are thirsty or protection when they are attacked and he cannot even solve all the problems in Israel. So he is nothing like Jesus who can pray and provide.
And in Exodus chapter 18 we see another weakness which is that Moses can’t deal with the problems of the people because they are too many and too difficult. Chapter 18 verse 13 – his father-in-law Jethro says to him “you cannot cope”. This Exodus 18 has become the classic ‘delegation chapter’ and those who like to speak on teamwork or delegation will often go to Exodus 18 as a good basis for the talk. And I guess there is something that is true about that. But I want to show you two very wonderful things as we come into the last two minutes. I see one or two people yawning but most are with me which is great. We are coming into the last two minutes – and these are the two things.
Firstly, Jethro (Moses father-in-law) seems to come in to God’s people. He has been a complete outsider but he comes over to Moses and Moses tells him the Gospel and it looks as though Jethro becomes a joyful believer (look at verse 8 of chapter 18). It says ‘Moses told his father-in-law about everything the Lord had done and about all the hardships they had met and how the Lord had saved them’.
Verse 9 ‘Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the Lord had done and he said ‘Praise be to the Lord’ – notice LORD capital LORD that means YAHWEH – Jehovah who rescued you. Verse 11 ‘now I know the Lord, Yahweh, Jehovah is greater than all other gods.
Now I wouldn’t stake my life on the fact that Jethro becomes a convert but it certainly looks as though he does and I think the vital thing is that he works out by listening that God is a God with plans for Israel.
Which leads me to the second point – if Jethro comes in he wants the message of God’s people to get out. And as he watches Moses try to deal with all the problems of Israel from morning to night listening to all the problems, he realizes that Moses is a bottle neck – it’s never going to work. If the people are going to live their lives and know how to live their lives, it’s not going to work if Moses is the key.
And so Moses is told –
well you do the teaching and get a whole team of people who will do the helping
and that will help the people of God to live their lives
and that will help the plan of God to go out
and that will help the nations to see the people of God live their lives
and that will bring praise to God.
So Jethro comes in and in a very wonderful way
he helps the people live out their new lives.
So God’s praise is going to be spread because the people are going to spread.
Now friends what this means as I finish this morning, is that when the Israelites got their food and their drink and their rescue from the Amalekites – that was wonderful but it wasn’t the end of the story. They were actually there existing for the praise of God. We do not exist so that God will meet out purposes. We exist for his purposes. If he gives us our food and especially the gift of his Son, if he gives us water and especially the gift of his Spirit, if he gives us protection and especially the gift of no judgment and eternal life, it’s for his praise. That’s the big picture.
Whatever your circumstances and whatever your testing, the truth has got to anchor the testing. If you can remember those two things this morning – the Testing and the Truth that’s great. If you can remember the four truths that God gives you your provision, gives you his presence, that he gives you protection and that he gives you for his praise – and you are driving this week and you are as flat as a tack, and your problems are washing over you impossibly and you preach to yourself again that the God who I belong to gives to me his provision, he gives to me his presence, he gives me his protection and he gives me for his praise – and that doesn’t bless you – see your doctor.
Let’s pray –
Our gracious God we thank you as we remember what you did for your people, especially for what you have done for us in Christ. And we pray that as we travel from grace to glory and we experience your provision, your presence, and your protection and seek to live for your praise, that you would deeply strengthen us to trust you with the truth in all the trials and that we would live as your people for your praise.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen