By Simon ManchesterSunday 1 Nov 2015Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes
Gracious God, thank you for this day. Thank you for bringing us together. We thank you that you are a God who communicates plainly, lovingly and helpfully. And we pray that as we think on the Scriptures for these few minutes, you would help me to speak profitably and that you would enable us to hear and benefit, to be clear, keen and grateful.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.
Now friends, if you are a visitor today we are travelling in the mornings through the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament. Today we come to the section of the” Plagues”. I did not plan this but this is where God unleashed 10 major afflictions on the people of Egypt. They are pretty famous plagues and I’ve noticed that when in Sydney or across the country, when we have a huge hailstorm or a huge locust plague, the journalists or the forecasters will often talk about “hail or locusts of biblical proportions”. So these plagues are well known.
We cannot pretend they are irrelevant as if it’s all just in the past because the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation talks about God, the God of justice, judging people and uses the language of plagues all over again. So there are plagues behind us and there are plagues ahead of us.
But I want to ask you this morning, why should this particular section be helpful to you, especially if you have come with your brain full of so many details and your heart is weighed down by so many concerns and you discover that the preacher is going to talk on the 9 plagues of Egypt? So I want to give you some good reasons for being grateful.
The first is in the very middle of these plagues we are going to discover that God is revealing himself to be the true and living God. So all of Egypt and even nations around know who to trust and know who to turn to in the very middle of the plagues God is going to make himself known to be trusted. So the title of the talk this morning is The Evangelism of God’s Enemies.
And then in the very middle of these plagues, we are not just going to see God’s strength and control over the world, but we are also going to see his love and protection over his people. So the hail may fall on the Egyptians but it doesn’t fall on the Israelites. The darkness may come to the Egyptians but it doesn’t come to the Israelites. God is powerful but he is also protective.
And the other thing is that you and I need perspective when we come to church. We need to turn from what we are looking at down the microscope to what God is doing through the telescope.
During the week we met with an elderly couple and we were trying to work out with them whether they should move from their house into a Nursing Home. Many of you will know this experience. And the challenge of course is ‘are they ready to move from a place which has got an outlook and a view and perspective and go and live in a Nursing Home where they will be effectively staring at walls – are they ready for that?’
What we need when we come to church is to have the walls removed and to look out on the great purposes of God. Perhaps the most important thing to say this morning is ‘what have you personally done with God’s communication to you?’ If God has displayed enough of himself through the creation, in your conscience, in the coming of Christ – if he has displayed lots of himself, what have you done with that? That is crucial. The real shock in the chapters of the plagues is that God reveals himself very clearly and very powerfully but the Pharaoh, the Egyptian king hardens his heart, steals himself, refuses to acknowledge God and things get worse and worse. And the question we must ask is: Given that God has given to us a heart which can respond to him or refuse him, which direction are we moving?
I don’t know if you notice that last month a man died called Hiru Anoda and I have been interested in this man for a long time. He died I think at the age of 92 or something like that. And Hiru Anoda was a Japanese soldier sent to the jungles of the Philippines in World War II as a young man and he was given the job of fighting on one of the islands. And this Japanese solider when World War II finished in 1945 refused to believe it. And so he stayed on his island in his uniform with his rifle, cleaning his rifle, continuing to fight World War II until 1974. The leaflets that were dropped on the island to say that the war was over – he ignored them as propaganda.
When a student bumped into him in 1974 and said “the war is long long over” he refused to believe it and said “I’m not going to lay down my rifle until my commanding officer comes and tells me to do so”. So they went looking for him and they found him. He was not a book seller and they flew him to the island and he stood in front of Hiru Anoda and told him to lay down his rifle which he did.
What a parable of turning your back on the evidence and carrying on as though nothing has happened. What a parable of the world when God has made himself so wonderfully clear to us and yet people continue their fight as if nothing has really happened.
So as we turn to Exodus this morning and the 9 plagues, I want to say 3 quick things and the children will be back in a few minutes.
The first is God displays himself with a reason. The Israelites are in Egypt. They are in their thousands. God’s plan is to take them out of Egypt to the Promised Land. He has raised up Moses to do the leading. Why should the Egyptians let the Israelites go? Well this is what it says in chapter 7 verses 14 – 18.
The Lord said to Moses – Pharaoh’s heart is unyielding. He refuses to let the people go. Here is the first plague. Go to Pharaoh in the morning as he goes out to the water – wait on the bank of the Nile to meet him and take in your hand the staff that was changed into a snake and say to him ‘the Lord, the God of the Hebrews has sent me to say Let my people go so they may worship me in the desert. But until now you have not listened. Well this is what the Lord says. By this you will know that I am the Lord. With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile and it will be changed into blood. The fish in the Nile will die, the river will stink, and the Egyptians will not be able to drink its water’.
People with an anti-supernatural bent will say – well of course what really happened was that there was a bit of sort of red dirt in the Nile and it sort of just started to spread and eventually the Nile got a big reddish and looked like blood but of course nothing seriously has changed. Don’t believe it. The God who makes the galaxies knows how to work his world. The God who runs the universe knows how to make sure that a river can turn into blood and this is a supernatural event.
And you will notice the words in verse 17 “By this you will know that I am the Lord”
And again in chapter 8 verse 10 “You will know there is no one like the Lord”.
And in chapter 8 verse 22 God says “You will know that I the Lord am in this land”.
And in chapter 9 verse 14 “so you may know there is no one like me”.
And in chapter 9 verse 16 “I have raised you Pharaoh to show my power to proclaim my name”.
And in chapter 9 verse 29 “so you may know the earth is the Lord’s”.
In the middle of the plagues, God is going to display himself. This is his great purpose. He is going to show what he is like – good and great – so people know who to turn to and who to trust.
So friends these are plagues, they are not random raids. When I was a small boy on Cracker Night I would go out with my friends and we would put penny bungers in people’s letter boxes like some of you may have done as well – Random raids in the neighbourhood. This is not random raids in the neighbour. What God is doing is he is exposing and putting down the gods of Egypt.
Have they put their confidence in the Nile River? Our life support system – God will show that it’s powerless.
Have they put their trust in the Sun god? God will bring darkness and the people of Egypt will see that he is nothing.
God is bringing down the idolatry so that the people will know to ditch their idols and turn to him and have hope and he is putting up his own name so people will know how wonderful he is. Not only punishing but protecting and as we will see next week, protecting his own people from death.
So this is such a comprehensive display. I just imagine if these 10 plagues, these 9 or 10 plagues could happen to Sydney this week – we lose our Water supply, flies come and are basically comprehensive, the gnats, the locusts, the hail, the death of the livestock and we get to the end of the week – what is Sydney’s reaction to this? Well I imagine that it will be (if I know Sydney well) it will be BIG NUISANCE but let’s keep trusting in ourselves – we can do anything.
But the aim of the plagues is that Egypt might put away any confidence in themselves and their idols and put their trust in the living God. The Israelites are protected and the Egyptians are going to see that God controls the earth, the sea and the sky and the small details and the big details and there is nobody like him.
Just to make sure nobody thought these were coincidences and so the Egyptians would say ‘O we’ve had a bad run lately, we’ve had a run of bad luck’ – Moses would actually occasionally announce the time of the plague and then announce the time of the relief. And on one occasion he gave Pharaoh the opportunity of naming the hour when the plague would stop so that Pharaoh would know that it was not a coincidence.
Now friends, God has thousands of ways of reminding people that he is real. I was reading recently that the Beckhams (David and Victoria Beckham) went with their family to the Maldives for their Christmas holidays and as you can imagine they found a place on the beach which was $113,000 for the fortnight. And there they were sitting on the beach playing with their sandcastles and on to the beach washed up a corpse. What a shock of a reminder that you just cannot even with your money and your power and your status and your fame create heaven on earth – it’s just beyond us. God has ways of reminding us that he is great and gracious and that turning our back on him is a mistake.
Now the most striking display that God has given us is that he has come in person and you cannot beat that. That Jesus would appear – I mean the plagues get your attention but when Jesus came, he didn’t do plagues he did blessings – feeding, healing, raising and restoring to show how wonderful God is. To show how kind he is and then took himself voluntarily to the cross in order that our sin which is real would be dealt with and forgiveness which is God’s desire would be offered to us. This is the display of Christ which almost everybody in Australia knows about which should cause us to be grateful and devoted.
And I know this is a very classic thing to say in church but it is a tragedy, isn’t it, that somebody would come, the Lord Jesus Christ into the world, lived, die and rise – open the gate to glory and the world would turn its back and say ‘let’s go in a completely different direction for Easter. Let’s turn our back on the door that leads into eternal life and devote ourselves to something that is completely perishable’. God has given a wonderful display.
The second point this morning is that God gives a display and there is a response. The shock of these chapters as I say is that Pharaoh hardens himself or steals himself again and again and again.
Now friends this morning we could go through the 9 plagues – in fact a friend of mine had an Assistant Minister who preached a series of 10 sermons on the 10 plagues and after 3 of these sermons, the congregation numbers had dropped significantly. So I thought well the best thing is not to preach these 10 but just to say as a lump of plagues how do we learn the great lesson – it’s a display of God’s glory. The amazing thing is that Pharaoh, the Egyptian king, hardens himself.
We read in chapter 8 verse 15 that when the first plague of blood stops and Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart. What a common thing that is. How often in Ministry have I dealt with people who come to me and say we are in absolute despair, relationship has broken down, health has hit the absolute pits and work has gone – can you help me? You start to speak about Christ. And then of course when things get back to together all is well – Christ is pushed away in their mind and completely forgotten. This is what Pharaoh is doing.
20 times we read of “hardening” taking place
10 times we read of Pharaoh hardening his heart or his heart hardening itself
10 times (this is the scary thing) it’s the Lord hardening him.
So the Bible tells us that the Lord hardened Pharaoh, Pharaoh hardened Pharaoh and his heart hardened itself.
In chapter 7 verse 3 the Lord says “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart even though I multiply my wonders”. And somewhere in this hardening process, friends we need to face up to a number of things. The first is that hardening the heart is a reality. When Jesus was walking this earth and raised Lazarus from the grave the enemies of Jesus resolved in John chapter 12 to not only kill Jesus but to kill Lazarus because people were coming to faith in Jesus through Jesus. And we have this remarkable ability to harden ourselves.
So the second thing about this “hardening” is to recognise in yourself the ability to harden your heart. We have the ability to close our eyes to the truth. We can press on knowing that we will lose perhaps our soul, but whatever it takes we are going to do what we want.
Someone has said “the hardest substance in the universe is the human heart – and the softest substance in the universe is the divine heart”. And we are told in Revelation 16 a picture of God using suffering to bring people back to himself. They won’t come the easy way – he’s trying to bring them the hard way and it says in Revelation 16 “men bit their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains but they refused to repent of what they had done”. Again how true that is. I know what my heart is like. The human heart has the ability to steal itself.
And thirdly we need to know that in this hardening process when we think we are completely in charge and we can soften our hardened heart exactly as we want – actually the Lord is at work hardening some people’s hearts. And we just don’t know where his hardening and our hardening crosses which should make us fear him. He doesn’t owe us anything. But if we find that we are hardening our heart – it should make us fearful and if we find that he is hardening our heart – it should terrify us, it should make us run to him and say ‘please give me a soft heart, a sane heart’ and Jesus says ‘the one who comes to me I will never turn away’.
Listen to this little conversation which I was reading in a book called “Tactics” which is between a Christian and a waitress in a cafeteria in America. I think this is a good demonstration of the way people evade Christ. Christian in a café in United States is having a conversation with a waitress about religion.
The Christian says “some religious ideas must be wrong”
The waitress says “that’s an oppressive opinion”
The Christian says “am I wrong to say that?”
The waitress says “no, but all religions are basically the same”
The Christian says “in what way?”
The waitress says “well you know – don’t kill etc.”
The Christian says “now hold on, Jesus is the Messiah – true or false?” – Some people say true and some people say false – they can’t all be right.
The waitress says “well no one can really know”
The Christian says “do you believe that?”
The waitress says “well the Bible has changed such a lot”
The Christian says “do you know that?” My study shows that 99%+ is precision across the centuries.
The waitress says “I feel like I am being pushed into a corner”
The Christian says “is it a corner with a nice door?”
Now I would love to have those conversations! That’s a kind of perfect conversation really isn’t it? That you can see that evasive, fancy footwork that we are all familiar with as a person tries to escape the claims of Christ.
Exodus chapter 6-11 – the sections on the plagues is a wonderful bit of the Bible where God displays himself but he has gone further, he has displayed himself by coming in person and not performing plagues but performing blessings and he has showed himself to be powerful and loving and wise and welcoming and wonderful. Now the question is – what do people do with that? Why walk away?
Well let’s come to the last point this morning – God’s Display and the Results. The big picture of the plagues is that Egypt is going to know who to believe in. I hope you know who to believe in. There is a great smorgasbord of religions and ideas and unbelief out there – that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have immediately and forever everlasting life.
And when the plagues are over all of Egypt will know that Lord is the Lord. And the message of the Exodus goes even beyond Egypt because when the spies eventually go into the Promised Land and they find themselves at the door of a lady who turns out to be a prostitute, she says to them “the whole of our country knows about you, we’ve all heard about your crossing of the Red Sea and the way the Lord has saved you and dealt with the Egyptians. We have all heard this – our hearts have turned to water”.
So the great message of God goes around the world because he is global and he is gracious. But if you oppose his plans, you get the opposite of the blessings and that’s why Pharaoh is given a taste of the opposite of blessings – he sees his kingdom unravelling – he sees chaos – he sees disorder and eventually he drowns.
Now again the question for us is – if God has displayed himself most clearly and kindly to us in the person of Jesus, he has come into the world and we are very hard hearted, they treated him appallingly and the world continues to treat Jesus appallingly and yet he takes himself to the cross, carries what we deserve to offer what he deserves – how could you beat it and how would you respond? Of course if you have no sin, well you don’t need him but you’ve got sin and you will appreciate him. Well how does it work?
During the week a terrible crime took place in the office! – Behind me where one of my best books went missing. Eventually I asked the staff if any of them had taken it and one of them (I won’t say who but let’s just call him Col) confessed to having accidentally taken the book home and put it on his bookshelf at home.
So I began to think of an appropriate punishment and because Col is musical I resolved that I would sit him down and play “Chopsticks” to him for 6 hours nonstop. But then I found the book on my desk and on top of the desk was a chocolate bar! And suddenly the wrath of Manchester was everted, the guilt of Col was washed away and all was well.
Now friends if you are going to be right with the living God –
Do you think a chocolate bar would do it?
Do you think a cheque to a great cause would do it?
Do you think coming to church would do it?
None of that will do it. What will do it is the Person of Christ stepping in between God the judge and you the needy and you the sinner and Christ steps in between the two and he deals with the sin and he turns back the just sentence of God and he washes away the guilt and he makes it possible for you and the living God to be in good fellowship from now into eternity. What could be better?
But it isn’t enough for you to tick the box and say “I’ve heard this before”. You have to bring yourself to him, kneel down before him so to speak and give yourself to him. I don’t know if you realize that the new fill-in Ukrainian President is a Baptist Pastor – highly respected, highly trusted and very able. That’s the guy who is doing the interim leadership in the Ukraine at the moment – a Baptist Pastor. And he has written with the other churches to the Nation to say this:
“We cannot remain spectators. The church calls on the Ukrainian Nation to more than feelings – we call for repentance. Without repentance we remain divided and in conflict. The pre-condition for transformation in the Ukraine is “repentance”. God has given us a message of reconciliation. It must be heard by the whole Nation so pray for the peace and the spiritual renewal of the Ukraine”.
Now that’s a clear and plain message isn’t it? And what he is calling for the nation to do, God calls for the individual to do as well.
I finish up friends, by saying this – Exodus 6-11 is not forgettable material. God has displayed his power in the country of Egypt. He did it on an even bigger scale by coming in person in the person of Jesus who died and rose again. Could God be kinder? Could God be fairer? Pharaoh is a serious warning. He is a mirror, don’t be like him. The most important thing you can do is to put away the hard heart and bring to him a humble heart so that he will transform you, forgive and make you new. Then you will be one of his people. You will be protected. You will be rescued. You will be part of a huge, huge rescue – one that you can tell your children and your grandchildren.
Let’s bow our heads and pray –
We thank you, gracious God for the display of yourself so comprehensively in Egypt. We thank you even more for the great display of yourself so comprehensively in the person of Christ. We pray that you would so work, heavenly Father, that every person listening to this message would be given from you a soft and humble heart – one that repents and one that believes and one that receives and one that rejoices. We pray that you would help us to grasp the great Gospel of Christ and we pray that you would help us to pass this on to the young and the old.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.