By Simon ManchesterSunday 27 May 2018Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 19 minutes
Imagine in your mind a distant relative of yours, perhaps not a believer, and this relative of yours has resolved to support a friend who is starting a business. This relative of yours decides they will sell everything they have to support this business and to get it underway but quite quickly the business collapses, the person, the relative of yours, begins to suffer as a result of the cost and the stress and the strain. Their health is affected, the marriage is affected, and perhaps they are even jailed for bankruptcy. And in the very middle of this, they fall to their knees in their cell, and they call out to the Lord Jesus that he would have mercy and help and forgive and welcome and adopt and they receive in the very midst of that absolute crisis, eternal life. Has the process been worth it?
Or think about the Communist takeover in China in the 1940’s where Missionaries are thrown out of the country, Christians are hunted, some of them are persecuted and jailed, some even killed and it looks as though the church is going to be completely eliminated, and all the privileges and opportunities are taken away, and a few decades around the track, the doors are opened and people can go back and find that the Chinese Church is flourishing and that the very deprivations have actually caused people to turn in humility for mercy from God and the church is thriving. Has the process been worth it?
How far can we take this principle of causing trouble and stress and trial to bring blessing? Think of the eternal Son of God who in his substance, greatness and value outweighs the creation. Is it possible that he could die? And if he was to die and some billions of people would be brought to everlasting life – would the process be worth it? It’s very holy ground question, and I certainly don’t want to be simplistic when I ask this particular question because in the short term, the suffering may seem to some to be unbearable and to be illogical and even to be sadistic and to be wrong but in the long term is it possible that the whole universe will turn around and in the worlds of Romans chapter 11 will say ‘how can we describe the genius of God? His paths are beyond our understanding. To him be glory forever and ever Amen.’
And suddenly the people of the world who had been criticising or despising God will turn and say ‘what fools we have been, what babies we have been, God has been loving, compassionate all along and he has endured our insults and he has endured our distrust all day every day and he knew exactly what he was doing and he knew exactly where he was going and he was exactly right.
Now I ask all this to set the scene for Exodus 5-7 which is the third of our series in this book.
But it’s probably good because the word waits to be preached and I am being paid to preach so I ought to preach! We are going to look at these three chapters together, and you can read them again properly afterwards this afternoon, more profitable than Sunday papers!
Here are three chapters where God’s people experience things getting worse before they get better and then remarkably and by sheer grace and kindness, God in Chapter 7 opens a little window or a roof and says ‘I’m going to explain what I am doing. I’m going to tell you why things get worse before they get better because if they get worse before they get better, this will happen’ and we get a little window and an insight into his purposes.
The background to our sermon series is that God’s people at this stage are enslaved in Egypt not the Promised Land and God has prepared and called a man called Moses, and he has told Moses that he is to go and speak to Pharaoh for him and Moses, of course, is completely inadequate, he doesn’t even know Pharaoh and Pharaoh doesn’t know him and nevertheless God is adequate and sufficient.
So if you are reading your Bible from start to finish and you read the Book of Genesis, you’ll discover that God is our Creator. When you get to Exodus, you discover that God is our Saviour. And not only he is our Saviour, but he is our Father because it says in chapter 4 verse 22 “Israel is my firstborn son” I have plans for my son, says God, plans for Israel. Nobody controls my son but me, certainly not Pharaoh and Moses I want you to go and tell Pharaoh – you don’t own my son, you don’t control my son, I do, let my son go.
And of course, God could have arranged things so that Pharaoh just immediately said ‘OK’. But what God does is he arranges things so that Pharaoh immediately says ‘No’.
We read in chapter 3 verse 19; “the king of Egypt will not let you go” says God. Chapter 4 verse 21 “I will harden his heart”. And so Moses heads off to speak to Pharaoh and I wonder friends if he grasps that this is going to be much tougher than he thinks. Does he realise that things are going to get worse?
When Things Get Worse
Chapter 5 verse 1 “Afterwards Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, ‘this is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: “Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert”. And down in verse 3 “The God of the Hebrews has met with us; let us take a three-day journey”.
It’s hard to know where these ideas of three-day journey or festival have come from but I think it is right that what Moses and Aaron are probably doing is putting out a feeler or a test. It’s a bargaining process to see whether Pharaoh will begin small. Will you do 3, what about 6, what about 12, what about 365? And on would go the bargaining.
Now Pharaoh’s reply in verse 2 is very significant. He says “Who is Yahweh? I don’t know him and the answer to your question, your request is No”.
This is not just an academic issue; this is not just Pharaoh saying ‘look I am a little unfamiliar with this Yahweh; you’ll need to inform me. Do you have a Christianity Explored course? Do you have a YE course that I could do and find out about Yahweh? No Pharaoh is committed to other gods. He is dismissive of Yahweh. Who is Yahweh? I serve other gods, we are committed to other gods, and I rule a nation who are committed to other gods, and we do not acknowledge Yahweh”.
Now holding that chapter 5, I want you to turn to chapter 7 verse 5 over the page which is climax of our sermon. It’s a little bit of a pity to spoil the climax, but I think it’s helpful that in chapter 7 verse 5 God says “The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it”.
When God has finished his genius plan, all Egypt will know that he is Yahweh – All Egypt. Is it possible that believers will one day be in heaven and find hundreds of Egyptians who have come to recognise that Yahweh is God, that God is Yahweh because of the process which God carefully, painstakingly, painfully planned? If Pharaoh you see had been asked for an exit and said ‘yes’ and the Israelites had walked out very easily, they would have left Egypt in the dark but going the path that God has planned, though a costly one, all Egypt will know that Yahweh is the Lord.
You see some of the short-term cost in chapter 5 verse 4 because the King immediately says to Moses and Aaron ‘not only am I not listening to you, and I despise your God and the answer is “no”, go back to work”. Then in verse 8 the foremen come down heavily on the Israelites, and they work them harder as a punishment and verse 14 there are beatings and verse 18 there is no relief, and they are expected to produce the same quantity provided with fewer materials. And in verse 21 the Israelites utterly exhausted and burdened by this they go and find Moses and Aaron, and they curse him.
I think it’s somewhere in Numbers that you have that lovely verse “May the Lord bless you and keep you, May his face shine upon you”, and the people say almost the opposite in verse 21 “May Yahweh look upon you and just you – we hate you”.
And the pathos (verses 22 & 23) is Moses goes back to God, impressive isn’t it, that he went back to God when he’s so depressed. Some people go almost any direction but God when they are depressed, and he goes back to God, and he respectively but honestly says “Why, why do you do this, why have you created trouble? Now everybody hates us, and everybody hates me and there is no rescue, why have you done this?
I don’t want to miss over this section without facing the realism of this part of the Bible. We need this realism don’t we; we need this in our scriptures. The dishonest Evangelist stands up and says “if you come to Jesus, everything will be great. I have somebody who is going to give their testimony now, and she’s going to tell you that she was once sad, and now she’s endlessly HAPPY” And so you sit there and think ‘oh it sounds easy’.
- what do we say to the missionary who goes overseas and in some tough circumstance, some groundbreaking mission, loses his wife, children to disease?
- what do we say to the Christian who stands up for Christ at work and then he is demoted or removed from the business?
- the faithful Christian who witnesses to friends or neighbours in the street and who is subsequently ignored, not spoken to, mocked?
- the Christian girl or the Christian guy who refuses to settle for a non-Christian spouse and then stays single and childless?
- the parents who do everything right for their children and watch one or two or three walk away from Christ?
- the Pastor who preaches the truth Sunday by Sunday and the church gets smaller?
- the Christian who prays again and again and again that something would improve and change and it just gets worse and goes backwards?
What do we say about this situation?
Of course what we must say is the path of faithfulness stays the same right path. It never becomes an option for us to walk a path of unfaithfulness. The path of faithfulness stays the right path and it will be vindicated and will be rewarded, but in the short term, it can be excruciating.
I don’t know if you had noticed that when Lazarus came out of the tomb, he was quite soon delivered some death threats as the Pharisees decided he would be a good person to “get rid of’ since he was helping people to become believers.
I don’t know if it’s ever occurred to you that thief on the cross who turned to Jesus and said ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom’ and Jesus said ‘today you’ll be with me in paradise’ and the next thing that thief experienced was having his legs broken in order that he would die quickly.
And of course, James, the fisherman brother of John, followed Jesus. John lived to be an old man, but James had his head cut off.
Paul was converted and wonderfully used by God and yet as we read in our New Testament reading – he despaired of life because the opposition was so difficult and finally was martyred.
Now some suffering we experience does noticeably good. It brings us to Christ. There are some here this morning who have come to Christ because God has brought them very low. There are some who have had their faith wonderfully deepened because of suffering or trouble or trial, but some suffering has no answer at all in this world. We will just never be told. We will have to go week after week after year after year and wait till glory.
No wonder Jesus, who carried his cross before his crown and calls on us to carry our cross before the crown has the right to tell us that it may get more difficult before it gets better. That the path may be a costly one.
Of course, taking up the cross for us only accents in the light of his because he by taking up his cross has lifted away from the danger and the wrath so that we would not experience danger from God and wrath from God.
No wonder the Apostle Paul could say in 1 Corinthians 15 “if for this life only we have put our faith in Jesus, we are to be pitied more than anybody in all the world’. There is nothing more tragic and dreadful than a person who turns their back on what the world can offer you and then discovers that this is all there was. “But,” says Paul “Christ has been raised” – there is an eternity of blessing. The cost of carrying the cross is going to seem like just a needle, a speck, a moment, a flash compared with eternity which is to come.
What God has Promised
The Lord says to Moses in chapter 6 verse 1 “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh”. He doesn’t say “I will do something” like a politician who has broken promises and just quite tragically says “I will do something” or the employee who is always about to do something.
God says to Moses “Now you will see what I will do, now that you’ve seen your inability you’ll see my ability, now you have seen you have no power, you’ll see my power, now you’ve been brought to your knees, I will bring you into some usefulness – I will show you now.
D.L. Moody the preacher of the 19th Century said that Moses lived 40 years thinking he was a somebody and then 40 years learning he was a nobody and then 40 years learning that God uses somebody when they know they are a nobody! It’s quite a clever line.
And you see not only is God at work here, eventually to show all Egypt that he is God, but he is at work to show Moses and Israel that He’s the only Saviour and that they cannot do it.
And that’s why all of chapter 6 is such a wonderful re-focusing on God, and it’s as if God takes them by the scruff of the neck and he forces them to look at him, and as they are forced to look at him, he reminds them of his faithfulness and his ability and his promises until they know exactly where the solution is going to be found.
I need, and you need Exodus 5 & 6. I need, and you need to know what you can’t do, and I can’t do, and I need, and you need chapter 6 so that I know and you know what God can do. We need these two chapters.
Chapter 5 is the one which speaks of our humility, our inability and chapter 6 is the one which speaks of the Word of God and his greatness.
When the Hubble space telescope launched in 1990 at the cost of 5 billion dollars, you may know that it began to produce some blurred, distorted pictures to the great distress of the builders and the providers. The reason that it began to produce these distorted and blurred pictures was that the mirror had been ground wrongly. The lens had been ground wrongly. They discovered that it had been ground wrongly because one bolt in the machine that grounds lenses had been put in the wrong way – one bolt!
And at the cost of $700,000,000 they fixed it in space. And the point that I am making is that the universe continued to be spectacular, but the lens didn’t get it. And God, the Bible tells us, is spectacular but we have faulty lenses. We don’t get it. We see ourselves distortedly, and we see God distortedly, and the Bible has to bring us back to see Him and us correctly.
And that’s why some people need chapter 5 of Exodus before they experience chapter 6 of Exodus or to put it another way, there are some people who never get to be very useful because they’ve never got to realise how useless they are. They’ve just been too successful. If your CV is marked by success, success, success and softness and comfort, it’s possible that that will explain why you are not as clear and as dependent on God and as useful in his service as you ought to be. Perhaps, in God’s kindness, he’ll bring you to the point of complete awareness and dependence which is the start of great prayerfulness and perhaps usefulness.
So look at what God says of himself in chapter 6 verse 2. He says, Moses, do you realise I reveal myself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but to you, I’ve revealed myself as Yahweh. This is very special Yahweh. And I’ve established my covenant (chapter 6 verse 4) and the time has come for rescue and part of the reason the time has come for rescue is because I can no longer endure the sadness and the grief of my people. Isn’t that a lovely thing that God says?
Pharaoh, you see, may be an unfeeling, ruthless tyrant but God is the sovereign God who is deeply affected by suffering. He sees it, he feels it, and he solves it. And then he says to Moses ‘I want you to go and tell the Israelites 7 promises (verses 6-8). You notice the word “will” comes seven times. “I will bring you out” “I will free you” “I will redeem you” “I will take you” “I will be your God” “I will bring you to the land” “I will give it to you” – 7 I wills.
Beautiful, perfect, wonderful – what more can God say? When you and I turn around and see one day that God has kept his promises, won’t we be just a little bit ashamed? And God puts it so wonderfully and clearly. He doesn’t keep saying I will because he’s saying the same thing 7 times as if he’s got a very weak point and he needs to say it 7 times, he is describing a perfect plan that goes from Egypt to Canaan and the middle of the 7 (No.4) most meaningful of all, “I will take you to be my own”.
It reminds me of Jesus in the Upper Room trying to minister to his discouraged disciples as he gets ready to leave them for the cross. He says “don’t be distressed, trust me, there is a home for you in my Father’s house. I go to prepare a place for you. I will take you-you will be with me. You know the path that I am about to go on”.
God could not be more reassuring. He hasn’t taken away the difficulties; he hasn’t made Moses popular, he hasn’t suddenly caused the Egyptians to love them. It’s not as though the Israelites now love him. There is no rescue yet, and yet God could not be more reassuring. But in chapter 6 verse 9, they don’t listen as they are too upset; they are too caught up in the problem.
I want to point out to you chapter 6 v13-27 because this is a strange genealogy, a strange family tree. It’s not an average genealogy. It looks as though it’s going to start with the 12 sons of Jacob and it goes No.1, No.2, No.3, and then it stops, and suddenly it expands on Levi. It begins to walk down the genealogical tree of Levi until we get to Aaron and Moses. Why is it there?
I hope when you are reading your Bible, and you come to a genealogy, you don’t just say ‘I’ll skip this’. It’s not the most riveting part of the Bible. It pays a little homework, but I hope you might scratch your head and say ‘why do you do this? We were having an adventure together and then suddenly we got this’!
Now I wonder whether the writer is stuck in the genealogy of this family tree because he wants to show that God has slowly, steadily, perfectly and wonderfully created the family and the plan. He’s worked Moses and Aaron out from the very beginning, down through the centuries.
This is, I think, showing that God works perfectly, may be slow by the way we measure, but it is unfailingly and wonderfully perfect.
I remember that silly story of the man who finds a snail on his step, on his front step, and he picks it up and throws it over the neighbour’s fence, and five years later there is a knock on his door. The snail says ‘why did you do that?’ And here, if I could put it respectfully, it’s as if God is saying 505 years later, I tell you why I did this. I can be patient – you may not be – but this is why I’ve done it.
The third and last section this morning is – Why we should look forward – 6:28 – 7:7. Next week we will look at the plagues.
Chapter 7 verse 1 – Moses is to be like God to Pharaoh. This means that he will speak with the authority of God, but he will also be teaching Pharaoh who the real God is. Pharaoh will come face to face with the real God by meeting Moses.
But we know in the early day’s chapter 7 verse 4 that Pharaoh will not listen, but God will still bring his people out. It doesn’t matter what Pharaoh thinks; it doesn’t matter what Pharaoh says, it doesn’t matter how Pharaoh reacts, God will still bring his people out because (here is the magic verse) chapter 7 verse 5 “all Egypt will know that I am the Lord”.
Here is this window into the plans and purposes of God. He didn’t have to tell us. He could have just said ‘yes, it’s all going wrong and here are my promises, are you big enough?’ but he says ‘it’s all going wrong and here are my promises, and I will do it, and when it is all done, it will look better than you could ever plan’.
So I want to finish this morning by drawing attention to the fact that there isn’t anyone in the Book of Exodus or in all of creation which gets to pin God down and turn him into their little “puppy or puppet”. You don’t get in the Bible to tame God and domesticate God or cage God and hang him up on a little hook.
Sometimes I do think the preacher’s job, especially in churches in Sydney and comfortable countries is distorted so that the preacher’s job is to make sure that comfortable people stay comfortable so that we can all go home and say ‘well, everything including God is all under control. Life is messy but God is safely on the little shelf, and I know where he is if I need him’.
So I want to remind you that this Book of Exodus tells us that God is anything but tameable, domesticatable and cageable.
You remember it a couple of weeks ago where suddenly Moses is just traipsing along, and we discover that because of complete carelessness on his part, indifference, disobedience that God steps in and says ‘you’re not exempt, your disobedience is deadly’. And Moses has to act quickly (chapter 4 – you’ll read it if you look back).
God, you see, is not a comfortable God but he is a comforting God. It’s true that we can be safe with him, unbelievably secure by being in covenant with him through Jesus. Jesus has made it possible for us to be set free from all danger and wrath because he’s taken the danger and wrath himself, but at the same time, God has not promised that there will be such comfort for us and such success that God will go on to our payroll.
God is at work, you see, to make sure that the Egyptians and his people know exactly what he is like and respond to him appropriately, and therefore if there’s just the possibility that we are treating God as somebody who is a distortion of the real God, he will work, he will work. And if any of us fall into the trap of thinking of God as some kind of fire truck who sits safely in a building down the road and when we are in really big trouble, we will call, God will disillusion us.
And so one of the ways he may do that is to tax or to stretch us until we get to the point where things are much worse, and then he will bring us to his promises and his faithful character, and he will place us on secure foundations, and then he will show us that he has plans and outcome which are beyond our imagination.
And there’s no great example of that beyond Exodus of course than the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus. Nothing looked like a worse setback than the death of Jesus. Nothing was undergirded by so many promises as the death of Jesus and nothing has brought such exponential, cosmic, eternal blessing as the death of Jesus.
So Peter says to the believers in his First Letter chapter 4 “Dear Christian friends, don’t be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering as though something strange and out of control were happening to you, but rejoice that you participate in following Christ so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed”.
I think what I am trying to say this morning from Exodus 5, 6 & 7 is not that you must go out and be a hero but that when you put your faith in Christ, you will belong to the hero.
Let’s pray. Our gracious God we thank you for showing to us something in these chapters this morning of your love and your faithfulness and your power and your sovereignty and your goodness. We thank you that in the very midst of set-back, you’ve shown yourself to be still working for the good of those who love you.
We thank you for the promises which undergird our faith and which will be fulfilled and we thank you too that you plan an outcome which is way beyond what we deserve or could organise or perhaps even imagine.
And so we pray that you would help us our gracious God to serve you in this world with trust and obedience and we pray that you would help us to be good signposts to others to do the same and we ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.