Sunday, July 16, 2017

See the Salvation of the Lord (Exodus 13:17-14:30)


From the very first verse of Exodus we have been moving toward this climactic event from which the book derives its title. This is the Exodus! The word “Exodus” means literally, “the road out.” And the road out of Egypt for the Israelites leads right through the middle of the sea.

Imagine what it must have been like for the Israelites. Egypt was a place of suffering and slavery, but it was all they had ever known. All of these Israelites were born there, and they’d never been anywhere else. Their ancestors had come to Egypt some 430 years before. To put that into perspective, that’s about the same amount of time since European settlers first came to America. Now God has announced through Moses and demonstrated by His judgment of ten plagues that the time has come for them to be delivered and taken to a land about which they have heard, but to which they have never been. It belonged to them by promise from the Lord to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all their descendants. And so they set out by faith to the promised land.

The Israelites soon discovered that the way out would not be easy. It would be fraught with difficulties. They took the long way around rather than the shortcut, and found themselves hemmed in by the sea in front and the Egyptian army in back. Many began to murmur and complain, asking Moses why he didn’t just leave them to die in Egypt rather than bringing them out into the desert to perish. But Moses’ response is profound. In 14:13-14, Moses said to them: “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.”

Like the Israelites, we too were born in slavery, but our slavery is to the power of sin, under the tyranny of Satan. But God has come down in the person of Jesus Christ to lead us out of this bondage and into the freedom of life with Him as we make our pilgrimage to an everlasting home in heaven that has been promised to us. The journey is fraught with many hardships. As Acts 14:22 says, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus promised His followers, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). And so along life’s journey, we are able to sing, “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come. ‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” That same amazing grace that saved a wretch like me through faith in Christ leads us through our earthly pilgrimage until we reach the promised land. Where there seems to be no way, our God will make a way! If we can trust Him to break the chains of sin that bind us, then we can trust Him to complete the journey.

In the Exodus, the Israelites were to see the salvation of the Lord. And as we look at this passage, we are able to see for ourselves the salvation which the Lord has provided for us in Jesus Christ. So, how do we see this great salvation?

We see the salvation of the Lord as we …
I. Trust His saving promises

Our God is a promise maker, and because He is God, He is a promise keeper. He has never made a promise that has not kept or will not keep. God began making promises to mankind at creation. One of the first was this: In the day that you eat the fruit from the forbidden tree, you shall surely die. Eve was unwittingly deceived, and Adam willfully disobeyed, and they ate the fruit. But immediately God made a saving promise. He said that there would come a Redeemer from the seed of woman who would crush the head of the serpent by His own suffering. Generation after generation, God continued to reiterate His saving promises. He promised to give Abraham many descendants, and to those descendants a land that would be theirs forever, and through those descendants His blessing would flow to all nations. It was by faith in God’s promises that Abraham was reckoned as righteous before God. Isaac and Jacob, likewise, placed their faith in God’s saving promises. So confident was Joseph as He trusted these promises that, as he lay dying in Egypt, he made his kinsmen swear an oath that when the day came that God would lead them out of Egypt, they would take his bones with them. Joseph knew that God’s promises about the land, the nation, and the Redeemer who was to come would not fall to the ground but would come to fruition. So when Israel emerged from Egypt carrying only the bare essentials for their journey, they saw to it that Joseph’s faith in God’s promises was honored and they brought his bones out with them.

Joseph’s faith would be an example for the Israelites as they embarked on the exodus journey. They had become heirs of the same saving promises, and they had to trust them. Just as Joseph died believing that God’s promises would not fail to come to pass, they had to believe that God’s promise to deliver them would be fulfilled, no matter how things looked. God did not lead His people out of Egypt and into the promised land by the well-traveled, shorter path. He led them the long way around. And He did not take them out of harm’s way. He led them right to the very place where they would have nowhere to look but upward to Him by faith. But they didn’t. They murmured against God and against Moses, insisting that it would have been better for them to remain in slavery in Egypt. This is when Moses told them, “Do not fear!” The antidote to fear is faith. When we believe that God’s promises will always come to pass, there is no room for fear, no matter how bad things look.

Friends, as we journey through our own exodus pilgrimage, we do so trusting in God’s saving promises. He has promised us that if we are in Christ, we have life abundant and everlasting. There will be days when we feel that God must have forsaken or abandoned us. There will be moments when we question if He really knows what He is doing. There will be times when we think that if God really loved us, He would not be bringing us to the edge of disaster and destruction, and we will fear. But the Word of the Lord admonishes us to not be afraid, but rather to trust in the promises of God – His saving promises – which will always come to pass. As we trust in His saving promises, we will see the salvation of the Lord.

Secondly, we see the salvation of the Lord as we …

II. Experience His Saving Power

An ocean in the front, and an army behind – it appeared that Israel had two options: be drowned or be decimated. But Moses said to them, “Stand by!” What? Stand by! That’s the last thing we can afford to do at a time like this. The sea isn’t going anywhere and the army is fast approaching. There must be something we can DO! No, Moses says, “Stand by.” He says, “The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.” So two pieces of advice: “Stand by” and “Shut up.” And as the Israelites did this, the Lord would save them by fighting their battle for them.

After saying this, Moses must have cried out to the Lord for help. The Bible doesn’t say that he did, but 14:15 says that the Lord told him, “Why are you crying out to Me?” Did you know that there comes a time when we need to stop praying! Sometimes we continue crying out to God about things He has already done, and things we need to just believe and trust. So God tells Moses that He has heard enough from him and the Israelites, and He says, “Tell the sons of Israel to go forward.” But “Forward” is toward the sea! That can’t be right. Even Moses does not yet know what God is about to do. Just tell them to go forward. And then the Lord said, “Lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land.” And it happened just as the Lord said! The Bible says that the waters became like a wall on their right and left as they passed through on dry land. This is something only God could do!

Meanwhile God began to fight their battle with the Egyptians for them. He had been leading them by a pillar of fire at night and a pillar of cloud by day. When Moses stretched his staff over the water, the pillar of cloud circled around to the backside of the Israelites and stood between them and the Egyptians holding them back from advancing while the Israelites began to march through the path God made in the middle of the sea. And when the Israelites emerged on the far side of the sea, the Lord removed the barrier between them and the Egyptians. The Egyptians began to follow the Israelites into the sea, but God threw them into confusion. They suddenly confessed, “the Lord is fighting for them!” That is exactly what He said He would do, and He was doing it. As they tried to flee, they became mired up in the mud, and God gave the order for Moses to stretch out his hand again over the sea, so that the waters came back in and swallowed the Egyptians and destroyed them. When God fights for us, He always wins.

Now you have probably heard the various theories espoused by some critics of the Bible. They will say that there was no miracle here of the parting of the sea, but rather that the Israelites passed through a shallow swamp, maybe about six inches deep. If the power of God was seen only in the passing through of the Israelites, I suppose theories like that could cause us to stumble in our faith. But, these critics of Scripture seem to remain oblivious to the fact that the same water through which the Israelites passed also swept over the entire Egyptian army and killed them. So, while I do not believe that the Red Sea crossing was a trek through six inches of swamp water, even if it were, there is still a miracle here, for God caused the most powerful army in the world to drown in that six inch swamp. All such naturalistic attempts to explain away the miraculous in this text fall flat. No matter where we place the crossing on the map, or what the conditions of that crossing were, we are seeing here the salvation of the Lord as the Israelites experienced His saving power. This was something only God could do, and He did it by fighting for His people to save them.

Friends, you and I were at one time in an even worse predicament than that of Israel on the banks of the Red Sea. We were separated from God by an impassible gulf of sin. And the holy wrath of eternal judgment was advancing in on us quickly. But hallelujah, the Lord Jesus stepped in to fight for us and save us! He placed Himself between us and the wrath that our sins deserve and stretched out His hands over the sea of our iniquity as He was nailed to the cross. He took the penalty for us, parted the flood of judgment that we might walk through on the dry ground of His mercy to forgiveness and righteousness on the other side. And just as the very same waters both saved the Israelites and destroyed the Egyptians, so the cross of Jesus Christ accomplished deliverance for the elect of God and defeat for the enemy of God. There at the cross, the seed of woman delivered the crushing blow to the head of the serpent forever. Colossians 2:15 puts it this way: “When he had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them.” Sin is washed away, Satan is defeated, not because anything we can do or say. Our job is like that of the Israelites: Stand by and shut up! Cease striving, and cease boasting, and see the salvation of the Lord as He fights for you by His saving power in the bloody cross of Jesus Christ!

Now then finally we see the salvation of the Lord as we …

III. Celebrate His saving purpose

The Westminster Catechism, a nearly 400 year old theological document, begins with the famous question: “What is the chief end of man?” And the answer given is that the chief end of man “is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” John Piper took that question and put a different spin on it: “What is the chief end of God?” And the answer: “The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy His glory forever.”[1] That sounds somewhat abrasive to our sensitivities. It makes God sound like some kind of megalomaniac. But, consider it from this vantage point. Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him because to glorify or ultimately enjoy anyone or anything other than God would be idolatry. There is nothing or no one who is more worthy of such unrivaled devotion. So, if God were to exist to glorify or ultimately enjoy anything other than Himself, I think the universe would explode. God would Himself become an idolater. If we pursue our own glory it is vanity. For God to pursue His own glory is fundamental to His being, for there is no higher person or thing to glorify than Himself. Piper says that he first began to think along these lines after reading the great Jonathan Edwards. Edwards said that God is “infinitely the greatest and best of beings. All things else, with regard to worthiness, importance, and excellence, are perfectly as nothing in comparison of Him. … All that is ever spoken of in the Scripture as an ultimate end of God’s works is included in that one phrase, the glory of God.”[2]
We need look no further than this passage – though we could look to almost any and every passage – to see it demonstrated. In 14:4, God says, “I will be honored through Pharaoh and his army, and all the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” He says it again in verse 17: “I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. Then all the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord, when I am honored through Pharaoh, through his chariots and his horsemen.” So, get this … God is working to bring honor and glory to His own name, and He is using Pharaoh and his army to do it. He is using the very ones who are determined to defy Him and oppress His people to bring glory to Himself! And the way He brings glory to Himself through them is by devastating them in judgment. The same flood that destroys the Egyptian army is the one that stepped aside at God’s command to allow His people to pass through it on dry land. And on the other side, ransomed from slavery, saved from destruction, delivered from the judgment that swallowed up the Egyptians, they gave glory to God! Verse 31 – “When Israel saw the great power which the Lord had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in His servant Moses.”

Friends, if you are a follower of the Lord Jesus, consider where you came from. Consider the great lengths to which the Lord Jesus went to save you, chasing your sin to Calvary and throwing Himself in front of the bullet of wrath that was intended for you. Consider what would have become of you without His divine intervention – here and now and for all eternity. Consider how intricately and meticulously He choreographed the circumstances of your life, down twisting, turning, broken roads that led you to the cross where you found grace and new life. And consider how he has laid low the enemy of your soul by the death and resurrection of Christ. There should not be a moment of our existence in which there is NOT a proclamation of praise on our lips. We have been saved by His grace, and we have been saved for His glory. 1 Peter 2:9 admonishes us to proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. He saved us that we might glorify Him. And He will bring glory to Himself even through the worst of your circumstances and the most vehement opposition so that His glory may be manifested and magnified in all the earth.

Of course, there is a word here for those who, like Pharaoh, seek to defy the Lord in hard-hearted opposition. Romans 1 says that God has made Himself known to all men sufficiently in creation and conscience to prevent anyone from having a valid excuse for not turning to Him in faith. But Paul says there that “they did not honor Him as God or give thanks.” You must consider Pharaoh here, who refused to give God the glory He is due. Nevertheless, God got glory through him anyway. He was glorified through bringing judgment upon Pharaoh. So the lesson for us all is this. God will be glorified through you. He will either get the glory from your life by redeeming, or by breaking you. But know this, He is a warrior who fights for the purpose of His own glory. And when God fights, He always wins. So, in this season of grace, while God is affording you the opportunity to turn to Him in faith and repentance, bow the knee to Him and confess Christ as Lord of your life. Let Him be glorified in your redemption rather than in your destruction. But be certain … He will be glorified.

See the salvation of the Lord! Stand by. Cease your efforts to earn His favor by your own deeds and doings. Remain silent. Be done with any and all boasting of your own goodness and your own spiritual opinions and theories. God has come into the world in Jesus Christ to fight on your behalf that you might be saved, and that He might be glorified.

[1] John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2013), 6.
[2] Jonathan Edwards, The End for Which God Created the World, cited Ibid. 

Announcement of My "Resignation"

Following is the announcement I made on Sunday, July 16, 2017 at Immanuel Baptist Church. I used quotation marks around the word "Resignation" in the title of this post, because I prefer to think of this as a "Reassignment," for reasons I explain below ... 


On Wednesday night (July 12), I announced that I have accepted an offer to serve as the missions strategy coordinator for the Baptist State Convention here in the Triad. It is my intention to conclude my ministry at Immanuel on Sunday, August 6, 12 years to the day from the Sunday on which you called me to serve as your pastor. Officially, my resignation will be effective August 31, but practically, because of unused vacation time, the 6th will be my last Sunday and I will be around the office tying up loose ends during that week.

It is no secret that missions has been my priority in ministry for nearly twenty years. It is what brought us together on day one. It is what has kept us together for these twelve years. In my new role, I will be serving on a team of statewide strategy coordinators, in each urban center of North Carolina, to mobilize churches to engage the ethnic and geographic concentrations of lostness. Let me say clearly that this decision to leave Immanuel is not because of any problem, crisis, or conflict. I have stayed here for twelve years because I love you. And I am leaving because I love you. I am convinced that God is calling me to this role, and that means that it is time for you to have a new voice and new vision here. It would be selfish for me to stand in the way of that. I am also convinced that I have reached the end of my effectiveness here. Because we love Immanuel, it would break our hearts to see Immanuel suffer under ineffective leadership. A change of pastor is but one of many changes that will be necessary if Immanuel is to move boldly and aggressively into a bright future. Our prayer is that you will embrace this opportunity for change, and that your goal will not merely be survival, but revival, renewal, and even greater impact in ministry and mission. That will require all of you to pull together and determine to do whatever it takes to glorify God through this church.

In my new role with the Convention, I will be considered “deployed staff.” That means that my home and my car will be my office, and we are not planning to move. My responsibilities will include advising you and every other Southern Baptist Church in the Triad about ways to be involved in reaching these priority pockets of lostness in the city. I hope that your support of these efforts will continue and increase. I assure you that I will do everything I can to make this transition as smooth as possible for you, including stepping away from this fellowship which we love so much, so that a new pastor might have full freedom to lead in the direction he senses God calling.

In our business meeting on Wednesday night, you graciously approved sending us out as your missionaries to the Triad. This warms our hearts, because it means that we will always be able to consider Immanuel our spiritual family and home. More years of our lives have been spent here than at any other church. And by commissioning us as your missionaries, you are not accepting a resignation, but you are affirming a reassignment and deploying me into a new assignment for Kingdom Ministry. So, Lord willing, it is my intention for August 6 to be a celebratory service of commissioning, in which you can send us out prayerfully and with your blessings.

And let me say once more how grateful we are for all of you and how much we love every one of you.  

Sunday, July 09, 2017

The Blood of the Lamb (Exodus 12)

Some years ago, I struck up a conversation with the gentleman seated beside of me in the lab where I was having some blood-work done. It was just the kind of small-talk that one does to break the tension of an awkward moment, nothing serious or substantial. We exchanged words about the weather, about the news, whatever, as the nurses prepared their materials to begin drawing blood. Just after I heard those infamous words, “You’re going to feel a little stick,” I said something to the fellow beside of me, but this time there was no response. When I looked over in his direction, the color had gone out of his face, and he was kind of slumped over. Within seconds, the nurses were all over him, shouting into his ear and waving smelling salts under his nose. Turns out, this guy had passed out when he saw the blood begin to flow from his arm. After he stabilized and was escorted out of the room, a nurse told me that it happens on a daily basis. I’d never given much thought to it before, but ever since that day, whenever I have blood drawn, I always find something to concentrate on besides the blood coming out of my arm. I’ve never felt like I was going to pass out, but after seeing that guy and hearing how common it is, I want to keep it that way. So, I just make it a point to not see the blood.

Somewhere along the way, someone got the notion that because people are squeamish about blood, Christians need to be careful how we talk about it in church and daily conversation. The most generous proponents of this view speak of being “seeker-friendly,” and the most critical accuse the Bible and the Christian message of being a “slaughterhouse” religion. And Christian leaders have responded by heavily censoring our message, refraining from emphasizing subjects like blood and sacrifice, and avoiding songs like, “Are You Washed in the Blood?,” “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” and “Power in the Blood.” And so we are left with a message that sounds much like that bemoaned by Richard Niebuhr almost a century ago: “A God without wrath brought man without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”[1]

Here is the great irony of this paradigm shift. The message of Jesus Christ, which is a blood-saturated message from beginning to end, is sanitized and sterilized to protect the sensitivities of a blood-squeamish culture – and yet this very same culture flocks to movie theaters and binges on Netflix to see graphic and gratuitous scenes of violence, and bloodshed in films and shows about cops, soldiers, killers, vampires, zombies, and monsters real and imaginary. So, it seems that we are somewhat hypocritical about the kind of blood we want to see. We find it all rather entertaining, until it comes to the sobering, inescapable reality that it took the shedding of innocent blood to save us from our sins and the wrath of God. So, as Russell Moore has said so well, “let us never be embarrassed by our emphasis—in song, in public prayer, in evangelism, in discipleship, and in preaching—on the blood of Jesus. There is power—wonder-working power—in the blood. Our culture already sees that. They’re simply looking in the wrong veins.”[2]
The passage we have read today is bloody. But the blood shed here in these verses of the Old Testament is preparatory, pointing us forward to a greater reality that would come later in the pages of the New Testament. It is this passage to which the Lord Jesus and His apostles pointed to make sense of His own suffering and death. The blood of the lamb slain in Exodus 12 spared the nation of Israel from the judgment of God and delivered them from their bondage. But when God stepped into time and space in the person of Jesus Christ, He was identified as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). Through the shedding of His blood, all who trust in Him are saved from the ultimate and eternal wrath and judgment of God, and delivered from the bondage, not of slavery to a foreign power, but of slavery to the universal power of sin. As the hope of Israel was founded upon the shedding of the blood of the Passover lamb, so the hope of all humanity – in a far greater way – is founded upon the shedding of the blood of Jesus, who has redeemed us by His precious blood. So we look to this passage, not as students of ancient Hebrew history, but as those who need the shedding of this blood that we might be saved.

God said, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you” (12:13; cf. v.23). So, in view of a God who looks upon the sacred, sacrificial shedding of blood as the means of saving sinners from destruction, let us not hide behind some artificial sensitivity to the sight of blood. God is looking upon the blood of the Lamb, and we must look at this blood as well, and consider how should respond, since Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed for us (1 Cor 5:7).

First, we see that …

I. We must apply the blood!

Having suffered from arthritis most of my life, my medicine cabinet is full of pills. So, you can imagine my confusion recently when I found myself in a significant amount of pain. Why, all of a sudden, was I experiencing this? I have medicine to keep this from happening! But when I stopped to think about it for a moment, I realized that it had been a long time since I actually took the pills. It seems that they are completely ineffective on the shelf of my medicine cabinet. It is only as I take the pills that they have their intended effect. In a far more important way, the blood of the Lamb is of no benefit to us if it remains the subject of historical or academic discussion. It must be personally applied and appropriated if it is to have its saving effect on our lives. And that personal application is made by faith.

The Israelites had been suffering under the hardships of slavery in Egypt for a long time, and God was now in the process of acting on their behalf to rescue and deliver them. Nine plagues had already passed, and in each of them, God made a distinction between His people and the Egyptians. They were spared by God’s gracious providence from the horrors experienced by the Egyptians. But now the tenth and final plague was coming. It was the most intense yet – God would go through the land striking down the firstborn of both man and beast throughout the nation. Unlike in the previous nine plagues, Israel’s protection from this one was not automatic. They had to respond in faith to the redemption God was offering them.

The instruction was given for each household to carefully select a lamb. If a family was too small to consume a whole lamb, they could join with their neighbors. The point was that every person was to eat of the lamb, but without waste and without gluttony. And the lamb was meet very specific criteria: a one-year old, unblemished male. Typically when choosing a lamb for meat, a one-year old male would be a standard selection, being already fully mature and with females being spared for breeding and nursing. But what is unusual is the criteria that it be “unblemished.” “Lame, spotted, off-colored animals are just as tasty as perfect ones. The meat of an animal with a split ear or a blind eye is not affected by the defect.”[3] So the criterion must carry some spiritual, symbolic significance. It is a picture of a perfect sacrifice being offered as a substitute on behalf of the imperfect. It is a demonstration that “a perfect God perfectly provided for His people as part of the process of making them holy like Himself.”[4]

Once selected, this lamb was to remain with the family for four days, then killed and roasted over fire. Nothing unusual about those instructions at all, but there was something unusual about the command regarding the blood. The blood was to be collected in a basin, and then a hyssop stalk was to be dipped into the blood and used to apply the blood to the doorframe of the home. This blood was the indicator of faith. It signified that the occupants of this home had put their faith in the Lord and trusted His promise to save. They had responded in faith to His promise to save them if they were covered by the blood of the lamb. They had acted upon their confident belief that this blood was sufficient to spare them from the judgment that was to fall on Egypt that night. It was not that they were better than the Egyptians, that they were more worthy of God’s favor or less deserving of His judgment. It was simply that they had placed their faith in the God who saves and responded to Him in faith according to His promise to save them by the blood of the lamb. In a faith-fueled act of obedience, they applied the blood, and when God saw the blood, they were spared.

Now, it must be asked here, if God is all-knowing, why does He need to see the blood in order to know who has trusted in Him and who has not? The simple answer is that He does not need to see this. He sees the condition of every heart perfectly well. “The Lord knows those who are His” (2 Tim 2:19). But by acting in faith and applying the blood to the outer doorframe of their homes, the believing Israelites were testifying publicly to all who passed by their homes that they had put their trust in the Lord alone to save them.

In a far more significant way, Jesus Christ has become for us our Passover Lamb. He is the unblemished and spotless Lamb, whose precious blood has been shed for our redemption (1 Pet 1:19). But this blood must be personally applied by faith if we are to be saved by it. Upon hearing the announcement of the good news of Christ’s Gospel, that He will save from eternal judgment all those who trust in Him, it falls to us to apply the blood to our lives – to act in faith trusting in the shed blood of Jesus, and that alone, to save us and grant us a right standing before God. He is the perfect Lamb, slain as a substitute on behalf of imperfect sinners who trust in Him. We do not plead our own goodness before the Lord, but we stand covered in the blood of Jesus which is able to cleanse us from our sin and cover us in the righteousness of Christ. When the Lord marches forward in judgment against the sins of humanity, He sees the blood and passes over those who trust in that blood to save them according to His promise. But this blood will only save those who have personally applied it, who have appropriated its saving benefits by faith in the Lord Jesus, the true Passover Lamb.

Applying the blood marks a new beginning. The Lord told the Israelites, that henceforth all the reckoning of their calendars would begin with the date of the Passover. It is the first day of the first month of a brand new year for them. No longer would they mark the passage of time by the agricultural cycle that the rest of the world used for marking time. Their lives were beginning afresh under the blood of the lamb. And the same is true for us when we apply the blood of the Lamb to our lives. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” It is no accident that all human history is measured in relation to the life and death of Jesus. It is no longer fashionable to speak of BC and AD, “Before Christ” and “Anno Domini”, or “The Year of our Lord.” Nowadays, in secular and academic circles the abbreviations BCE and CE are used – “Before the Common Era,” and “Common Era.” But the turning point between the two remains unchanged. Jesus Christ stands at the center of it all, and His atoning death marks a new beginning for the human race. And personally this is experienced by each one of us as we come to know Him by faith.  Jesus speaks of us being “born again,” and that means that the day we place our faith and trust in Him to save us by His shed blood is Day One of a new life. Our personal calendars are reset and time begins to be marked by God from that day forward. New life begins when the blood is applied.

Next, we observe that …

II. We must abide in the blood!

Prior to taking up running a couple of years ago, I had always assumed that the goal of running a race was to win. I have discovered that for a vast majority of people, myself included, the object is to finish. It doesn’t really matter what place you finish, or how fast you finish; what matters is that you finish. And the same is true in the life of faith. In this race, endurance is required, and not everyone who crosses the starting line endures to the finish. This is not to say that any genuine born again believer in Christ can ever be severed or fall away from that saving relationship. But it is to say that not all who profess to believe in Christ genuinely do. And over the course of this marathon of faith, it becomes evident who is and who is not abiding by faith in Christ. Many will speak of their past profession of saving faith. That is good. That is where the race begins. But if there is no present possession of saving faith, then it was a false start. In running, we call them “bandits.” Bandits are people who show up on race day having not paid or registered to run, but who hope to blend in with the crowd, maybe using a fake bib number, sneaking onto the race course. And there are many spiritual bandits who have not begun the race by faith, and therefore they will not be found faithful at the finish line. We begin this life of faith by applying the blood. We continue, endure, and persevere by abiding in the blood.

We see this depicted in the Passover account in two important ways. One is rest and the other is readiness. Abiding in the blood means resting in the calm and quiet confidence that the blood of the lamb is enough to save, and will accomplish what God intends. The blood does not need our help. Our role, once we have applied the blood, is to abide in it, and rest, trusting that the blood will never lose its saving power. Notice that after commanding the Israelites to apply the blood to their doorframes, Moses says in verse 22, “none of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning.” What this means is that, once the blood is applied, those protected by it need not wonder, question or doubt. They don’t need to peek outside to see if the blood is still there. They don’t need to wonder if they need to apply some more. They don’t need to worry about what’s going on out in the street, or if and when the judgment begins. They simply need to rest, trusting the blood to do what the blood does – and that is to save them.

The same is true for us today once we have applied the blood of Christ to our lives by faith. We can rest in the quiet confidence that the blood is sufficient to save, and it never loses its power. First John 5:13 says that we can know that we have eternal life, if we have believed in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no need to doubt, question or wonder. We simply need to examine ourselves in light of one simple question: In what or whom does your ultimate and eternal hope rest? If the answer to that question is in Christ and Him alone, then we can have the assurance that the blood still stains the door and the Lord sees it covering us. As the hymnwriter says: “This is all my hope and peace, nothing but the blood of Jesus; this is all my righteousness, nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Trust the blood to do what it does! It doesn’t need your help or your constant worrying or monitoring. Rest under the covering of the blood. That is part of what it means to abide in Christ.

In addition to the idea of resting, there is also the emphasis of readiness. In fact, the bulk of this passage has to do with readiness. Everything from the way the lamb was to be cooked, to the instructions on how to eat it, how to dress, and how to go about preparing bread without yeast all has to do with being ready to respond to the Lord’s instructions at a moment’s notice. Roasting would be the fastest way to cook the entire animal, and they were to eat it fully dressed and ready to travel. Not only were bitter herbs the fastest to harvest and prepare, they also represented the bitterness of the bondage from which the Lord was delivering by the blood of the Lamb. And unleavened bread could be prepared quickly as well, without having to wait for the yeast to rise. Of course, there was symbolism in the unleavened bread as well. In later Hebrew tradition, yeast would become a symbol of the corruption of sin, but this is not mentioned here. Here, the emphasis is on faith. So the presence of yeast could symbolize unbelief which spreads through and brings corruption, for all sin is rooted in unbelief. But the primary emphasis of all these instructions is readiness. The Lord said, “you shall eat it in haste.” When the Lord said it was time to go, there would be no time for doing the dishes or clearing the table. It was time to go whenever He said go.

So it is for all of us who abide in the blood of Christ, the Lamb. Our lives are to be marked by readiness. Like the Israelites preparing for the exodus, we too must live in a perpetual state of readiness to move at the prompting of His Spirit to carry the good news of Jesus wherever He leads us. This is why when Paul lists the armor of God with which we are to be outfitted in Ephesians 6, he says that we must have on our feet the shoes of the preparation of the gospel of peace (6:15). That means we are to live in a state of readiness to go wherever the Lord leads, whenever He leads. Of course, this is but one example of an overarching readiness to obey the Lord in all matters. There should be no reason for delay when it comes to obeying the Lord and His Word. Abiding in the blood means always being at rest in Him, and always being ready to move with Him and for Him as He beckons.

Now thirdly, we notice here …

III. We must celebrate the blood!

Donia and I are rapidly approaching a milestone in our lives. On October 4 this year, we will have been married 20 years! That day in 1997 was one of the greatest days of my life, and in order to keep that memory fresh and alive in our memories, we celebrate it every year, as I am sure most married couples do. You see, a lot of couples spend a lot of time, energy and money planning for that one day of their wedding. But what is equally important, if not moreso, than that single day is every day that follows as the husband and wife grow together in the intimacy of oneness that is Christian marriage. Celebrating an anniversary is a way of saying, “I still do,” and commemorating the vows made to one another and to God on the wedding day. And we also celebrate throughout the year with birthdays, national and religious holidays. It was so important for God’s people to continue celebrating what He did for them in the Passover, that in the midst of giving them instructions on how it was to be observed on that night, He also gave them instructions on how to celebrate it perpetually in the future. They must never forget what God did for them in delivering them from Egypt, thus the Passover was to be an annual celebration of remembrance for this mighty act of redemption. Thus, when all had been said on that evening, the Bible says that the Israelites “bowed low and worshiped” (v27). They were celebrating what God was doing in their midst through the shedding of this sacrificial blood.

After giving the initial instructions, the Lord says in verse 14 that it is to be a memorial, celebrated as a feast to the Lord, throughout all generations as a permanent ordinance. Every year, each Hebrew family was to have a reenactment in their homes of that night of salvation. They were to eat the same foods, and carry on for a week remembering what their ancestors experienced under the strong hand of God. And to this day, Passover is observed by faithful Jews all around the world in much the same way as it was on that evening in Egypt.

The Lord Jesus, being a faithful Jew Himself, partook in the Passover. In fact, John’s Gospel can be neatly divided into sections which begin and end with each Passover of Jesus’ public ministry. And in the providence and foreknowledge of God, it was in His predetermined plan that His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, would be slain at Passover. So, on the night before the crucifixion, Jesus gathered with His disciples in an upper room to observe a Passover meal. It was then and there when He gave Passover its full and final interpretation, indicating that for all these centuries, Passover had served to prepare the way and point God’s people to what He was about to do on the cross. As He took the unleavened bread, He said, “This is My body.” And He broke it and gave it to His disciples, indicating that the suffering that He was about to endure was for their benefit. He took the cup, and said, “This is My blood.” And as He shared that cup with them He was signifying that His blood would do for them what the blood of the Passover lamb in Egypt did for the Hebrews long ago – only in a far greater way.

Passover was by all considerations a night of death. Death took place in every house in Egypt, Egyptian and Hebrew alike. But in the Egyptian homes, it was the firstborn son who died. In the Hebrew homes, it was the substitutionary lamb which died. And Jesus was indicating to His people that He was that Lamb being slain for them. By the shedding of His blood, our sins are forgiven. God made atonement in the sacrifice of His Son, that He might bear the judgment that we deserve. His sinless righteousness can be reckoned to our account, that the judgment which we deserve might pass over us and come to rest upon Him as He died on the cross. And so He said, henceforth, when you eat this bread and drink this cup, you must do it “in remembrance of Me,” that is, in remembrance of Christ the Lamb.

And so He instituted on that evening a new Passover, one that is celebrated to this day by His people in churches the world over. Some do it every Sunday, some once a month, some several times a year. But the point is not how often we observe it, but that when we do, we celebrate what the blood of the Lamb has accomplished for us. Moreover, every Sunday as we gather together, and even every morning as we rise to live another day, we have the opportunity to do so as a celebration of the life that God has given us, the salvation by which He has rescued us, which is secured for us by the blood. We bow low to worship the Lord in celebration of the blood! We celebrate this blood in song, we celebrate this blood in our praises and prayers, and we celebrate this blood by keeping the cross of Jesus in the forefront of our minds in our meditation, and on the tips of our tongues in our conversation.

And this brings us to our final response to the blood of the Lamb …

IV. We must proclaim the blood!

There is some news that is just too good to keep to ourselves! We have got to tell someone! And the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the message of what He has done for us in His life, death and resurrection – is the best news of all. It is meant to be shared far and wide. God told the Hebrews to do the same thing regarding the good news of the Passover.

He said that in the future, when they bring their family around the table to celebrate the Passover, they must share with their children all that this day means to them. He says in verse 26, “When your children say to you, ‘What does this rite mean to you?’,” they must be prepared to explain it. Children are naturally inquisitive. They observe what is going on around them. Many of our beliefs and traditions can be passed along to them by a sort of osmosis. There are probably things you do on a regular basis that you have no real reason for doing, other than it is what you saw your parents do. And inherited beliefs traditions can be powerful in our lives, but if they are not understood, they stand a strong likelihood of being discarded as they are challenged throughout life. That is why the Lord did not want the faith of the children left to osmosis or chance. He said you must explain it to them. In verse 27, He says, “you shall say, ‘It is a Passover sacrifice to the Lord who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians but spared our homes.” 

Listen to the question of the children again: “What does this rite mean to you?” Friends, it is all well and good to bring your children to Sunday School, and to teach them early to sit and listen to the teaching of God’s Word in church. But what your children and grandchildren want to know, and what they need to know, is what does it mean to you? They want to observe the difference that this blood of Jesus has made in your life, and why these things are personally important to you! Explain to them the hardship of bondage to sin in which you lived before you were set free by the blood of Jesus. Explain to them how you came to know and believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. Explain to them how your life is different now – the hope that you have in Christ, the joy that you have in Him, the love which flows in and through you from Him. They must know that this means something to you if it is ever to mean anything to them!

But the proclamation of the blood does not stop inside of our homes. It must take place there, surely, but it must proceed from there to the ends of the earth. Remember that when God chose Abraham as the head of a nation He would use for Himself, He said, “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen 12:3). This was God’s great commission of Abraham and all His descendants to be His missionaries in the world. The world would know the power and purpose of God as the Israelites lived in faith and obedience, proclaiming Him to the world around them. And we find in our text that this very thing occurred. Did you realize that the Jews were not the only ones who left Egypt on the night of the Passover? Verse 38 tells us, “A mixed multitude also went up with them.” Who were this mixed multitude? They were Egyptians and those of many other ethnicities who had heard of the mighty deeds of the Lord through the testimony of the Israelites, and they had come to believe upon Him as well. They participated in the slaying of the lamb; they smeared the blood on their doorposts as well; they walked out of Egypt with the Israelites on that night, spared from judgment just as the Hebrews were, by the power of the blood of the lamb.

Friends, the Lord Jesus could not have made it any clearer that the church which is founded upon faith in Him is His missionary movement in the world. The need to proclaim the blood transcends these four walls, and the walls of our homes. The need surpasses the borders of our nations. Around the world today there are millions of people who have never heard that Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away their sin! And they will only know that if we proclaim it to them. Starting at home, and then going to the ends of the earth, we must proclaim the blood that a mixed multitude may join us under the saving blood of Jesus and be saved. This is God’s grand agenda. We are given a glimpse of heaven in the book of Revelation, and when John describes the first scene he beholds there, listen to what he says. He says that he saw a Lamb standing, as is slain, between the multitude and the throne of God. And when this Lamb was revealed, all of heaven fell down in worship of this Lamb, singing a new song: “Worthy are You … for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation!” We will be singing about the blood with those from every corner of the world, who are present alongside of us because we have proclaimed the blood far and wide.

God says, “When I see the blood I will pass over you.” What will you do when you behold the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, shed for you? We can do no better than to apply the blood, abide in the blood, celebrate the blood, and proclaim the blood!

[1] H. Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America (New York: Harper & Row, 1937), 193.
[2] Russell Moore, “Is Your Preaching Stained With Blood?” Online: Accessed July 6, 2017.
[3] Douglas Stuart, Exodus (New American Commentary, vol. 2; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2006), 275.
[4] Ibid. 

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Who is the Lord? (Exodus 5-11)


For many of you, maybe for most, as you were growing up, when you heard the word “God,” you knew exactly what that word – that name – meant. In the American South, until the later part of the 20th Century, as in many Christianized societies, the name “God” only and always represented the all-powerful deity who speaks and acts in the pages of the Bible. In fact, even when I was an atheist, no one ever asked me, “Which God do you not believe in?” No one assumed that I meant that I did not believe in Vishnu or Shiva. It was the God of the Bible whose existence I rejected, and everyone understood that without qualification. Today things are a bit different in America. Today, when someone says the word “God,” we have to be more specific. We live in a society filled with devotees of every known, and a few unknown, deities … just like those who live in many of the world’s cultures today and throughout history.

The Egyptian pantheon was crowded, like the more familiar hierarchies of gods and goddesses in later Greek and Roman cultures. There were deities governing every imaginable facet of life. Even the Pharaoh himself was venerated as the incarnation of one of  the gods, and the son of the most high. So, had Moses come into Pharaoh’s presence and said, “God says, ‘Let My people go’,” Pharaoh may have responded, “Which one? I never said that. Did Horus say that? Osiris? Isis? Which God said this?” And that is why when God gave Moses the message to deliver, it was specific. Our English Bibles do us a disservice here. In Exodus 5:1, when you read, “the Lord,” notice the capital letters there. Don’t ignore that anomaly in the text. Pay attention. Those capital letters are the conventional way that the primary English translations render the divine name of God, YHWH. And to be more specific, He is identified as “the God of Israel.” So, the message Moses has for the one who asserts himself as the incarnation of Horus, the son of Hathor and Amon-Re, is that another deity, YHWH – the one worshiped by the Israelites – has decreed that His people must be set free. And Pharaoh’s response sets the tone for the remainder of the book of Exodus. “Who is YHWH that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know YHWH, and besides, I will not let Israel go.”

Everything that follows this question and statement of Pharaoh is a direct answer to him from heaven. YHWH wants there to be no mistake about His identity, His authority, and His exclusivity. He makes it clear in no uncertain terms that His purpose in all that He does in bringing judgment upon Egypt and deliverance for Israel through these plagues is to make sure that Israel, Egypt, and Pharaoh know exactly Who He is! Let’s just do a quick run down:
·         7:5 – The Egyptians shall know that I am YHWH when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.
·         7:17 – By this you shall know that I am YHWH.
·         8:10 – That you may know that there is no one like YHWH our God.
·         8:22 – In order that you may know that I, YHWH, am in the midst of the land.
·         9:14 – So that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth.
·         9:16 – In order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth.
·         10:2 – That you may know that I am YHWH.

So, as we survey quickly the account of the plagues unleashed on Egypt preceding the Exodus of the Israelites, we want to observe how God showed Himself to His people, to Egypt and to Pharaoh. What was it that He wanted them to know about Him? Because around the world today there are many who will say to us, “Who is YHWH? Who is Jesus? Why should we care what He says or what He wants us to do?” And we must be prepared to give them an answer, even as we ourselves are drawn into deeper intimacy and experience with this very same God.

I. The Lord is the God Who Acts on Behalf of His People.

Who are God’s people? There are some of course who would suggest that every person is a child of God, and in some sense, that is true. We are all God’s children by creation in the sense that He made us all. But, as even human family relationships illustrate, there is more to a parent-child relationship than just biology and genetics. There is relationship. And so it is spiritually. When the Bible speaks of God’s people, it seldom if ever does so in terms of creation. That’s too broad. The overwhelming emphasis is on relationship – a relationship between God and those people whom He has chosen as His own and redeemed by His grace. But there’s another view which is too narrow. It would suggest that ethnic Israel is God’s people. There are plenty of Bible verses that can be understood that way, and certainly God chose Israel in a unique sense to be His own covenant people. But that covenant always included some who were not ethnic Jews, and never included all who are. And by faith in Jesus Christ, we have been adopted into this family of God’s people (John 1:12). As God’s people, we need to know that our God acts on our behalf in the same ways today. And when He does, the world comes to know who He is as well.  

He acts according to promise for His people. Chapter 6, verse 2, God takes Moses back into Hebrew history and reminds him that He is the one who revealed Himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He established His covenant with them, promising them possession of the land in which He had chosen for them to dwell. That is not where they were now. Conditions were not consistent with those God had promised in His covenant, and were much harsher. But God says to His people, “I have not forgotten what I have promised.” Chapter 6, verse 5: “I have heard the groaning of the sons of Israel, because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant.” So, as He delivers on the promise made in the past, notice the promises that He makes for the future. How many times does He say, “I will,” in verses 6 through 9? “I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the LORD.” When you read the Bible and see all that God has promised to you in Christ, you know that you can trust what He says and be certain that He will never forget what He has promised. He will always come through, no matter how things look now. If He has spoken it, He will do it.

He acts for the protection of His people. As the plagues begin to be unleashed on Egypt, God declares to Pharaoh that He will make a distinction between His people and the Egyptians, so that His people will be protected from the destruction that ensues. For example, during the plague of flies in 8:22, God says, “I will set apart the land of Goshen, where My people are living, so that no swarms of flies will be there.” In the plague of cattle death in Chapter 9, again the distinction is made: “nothing will die that belongs to the sons of Israel” (9:4). In 9:26 we see that the plague of hail did not touch the land of Goshen where the Israelites lived. And in Chapter 11, when God announces the coming of the ultimate plague of the death of the firstborn, He says on that horrific night, “against the sons of Israel a dog will not even bark … that you may understand how the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel” (11:7).

In all these events, God’s people enjoyed a protection that that those who are not His did not have. Now, this should not be understood to mean that God will always protect His people from bad things happening. That’s not true. But the plagues about which we are reading are not merely “bad things” that happen in the course of life in this fallen world. They are acts of divine judgment. These aren’t “bad things,” these are the “worst things.” Hebrews 10:31 says “it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” And that is exactly what Pharaoh and the Egyptians have done. But this is the very thing that God’s people are protected against. Romans 8:1 says that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. This means that no matter what you might have to face in this world, if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus, you will not face the eternal judgment of God because He has rescued you from that by His grace.

God acts according to promise for His people, and for the protection for His people, and He acts in response to the prayers of His people. In Chapter 8, we find the plague of frogs, which might be comical if it were not so horrific. God brought frogs up from the Nile and they filled the land, filled the houses, including the bedrooms and kitchens, of the Egyptians. And, as if to show that this was no big deal or something, Pharaoh’s magicians duplicated the feat. But this merely made matters worse. The last thing Pharaoh needed was more frogs! So Pharaoh says to Moses, “Entreat the Lord that He remove the frogs” (8:8). Pharaoh didn’t deserve that, but Moses prayed for him anyway, and God answered. We read in 8:13 that “the Lord did according to the word of Moses.” That’s remarkable. Throughout the Bible, we are accustomed to reading that a person did according to the word of the Lord. We find it repeatedly in Exodus concerning Moses and Aaron. But here, it is the Lord who acts in accordance to what Moses says. And this is not the only time. In fact the entire Exodus is brought on by the Lord saying, “I have heard the groaning of the sons of Israel” (6:5). When Pharaoh pleaded for relief from the plague of flies, Moses prayed, and “the Lord did as Moses asked” (8:31). In Chapter 9, Moses prayed for a reprieve of the plague of hail, and God granted it (9:33), and the same happened in Chapter 10 regarding the plague of locusts.

How much more assurance do we need to know that God answers the prayers of His people? He is willing to act in response to the prayers of Moses for the most undeserving person on earth that time, the Pharaoh of Egypt. How dare we believe that He will not answer us when we call upon Him to carry out His purposes in our lives and in the world?

And we must also mention that when God acts on behalf of His people, He acts to make provision for them. Chapter 11 – the Lord tells Moses to instruct the Israelites to ask their Egyptian neighbors for articles of silver and gold. Now just imagine that. Imagine going to your neighbor and saying, “Hiya. Umm, God says to give me all your silver and gold.” How do you think your neighbor would respond? How would you respond if your neighbor asked this of you? But Exodus 11:3 says that the Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Their entire 40 year pilgrimage through the wilderness to the Promised Land, and the construction of the Tabernacle and all of its furnishings was paid for by the divine provision of silver and gold for the Israelites from their neighbors.

Please understand me, God is not saying that you should expect others to give you whatever you ask for. The Israelites could have never thought of the idea of asking their neighbors for silver and gold. They didn’t even know why it would be needed. But what God is making known to us about Himself here is that He knows our needs long before we know of them, and He will act to meet those needs in ways that we could not expect or imagine. You can trust that because, He is the God who acts on behalf of His people.

II. The Lord is the God who is sovereign over all creation.

I am not a handyman in any sense of the word, but there are times that I see a job that needs doing at the house, and think to myself, “I bet I could fix that.” And then I start thinking it through. I don’t have the tools, I don’t have the skills or know-how, I don’t have the materials. But, when God has a job to do in the universe, He does not have this problem. He does not have any problems. And that is because He is sovereign. He is the unaided maker and unrivaled ruler of all creation, and therefore has the unlimited authority to marshal every element of the universe for the furtherance of His purposes. Nowhere is that more evident than in the Exodus and the plagues that preceded it.

We observe in the biblical account how God is sovereign over time. Past, present, and future are all ever present before Him and all march to the beat of His will. Therefore, He alone is able to foretell the end from the beginning of any matter. In Isaiah 46:10, He will say of Himself, “I am God and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning.” In Exodus 6:1, He says authoritatively concerning Pharaoh, “he will let them go, and under compulsion he will drive them out of his land.” This is not an educated guess or speculation. This is certain knowledge of a future unknown to everyone but God. But His sovereignty over time also means that He operates by His own timetable, which He sets for His own purposes. Chapter 9, verse 5 – “The Lord set a definite time, saying, ‘Tomorrow the Lord will do this thing in the land,” speaking of the plague of cattle death. Prior to the final plague, He says, “About midnight I am going out into the midst of Egypt, and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt will die” (11:4-5).

We find Him not only sovereign over time, but sovereign over nature. With the possible exception of the first and last plagues, the other eight all involve His use of natural phenomena for supernatural purposes. Frogs, gnats, flies, cattle, dust, bacteria, hail, locusts, and even the light of the sun all operate according to His command and purpose.

Now, how could one possibly think of defying or outmaneuvering one who can call upon every living thing and every element of the universe to do His bidding? And yet we have all tried, therefore we must not be surprised that Pharaoh did as well. Notice God’s message to Pharaoh in 9:13-17. “Let My people go, that they may serve Me. For this time I will send all My plagues on you and your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth. For if by now I had put forth My hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, you would then have been cut off from the earth. But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth. Still you exalt yourself against My people by not letting them go.” The unsettling reality that Pharaoh will discover is that God is sovereign even over every human being, including himself. Though Pharaoh may believe that he is a god with matchless authority, he will learn that there is a King above all kings who raises men up and brings them down, who moves upon their hearts according to His will, and who uses those who worship Him and those who rebel against Him alike to accomplish His purpose and show forth His glory.

We are introduced to a somewhat troubling expression in 7:3. God says, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart.” It seems to indicate that God will make it so that Pharaoh is actually unable to repent, believe, or obey the Lord. This causes many to object, because it flies in the face of the cherished notion of so-called “free will.” If God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, does Pharaoh no longer have the freedom to choose to respond to the Lord as he pleases? And if he does not have freedom, can he be morally culpable and accountable for his actions and attitude? After all, would it not then be God’s fault that Pharaoh responds as he does? These are all important questions, but a careful reading of the text helps to ease the tension. The phrase in 7:3 does not indicate that God had hardened Pharaoh’s heart; only that He would do it eventually. So what takes place between this statement and the actual divine hardening of Pharaoh’s heart?

In 7:13, we read that “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen.” This does not say whether Pharaoh hardened his own heart, or if the Lord hardened it. It just describes his spiritual condition at that moment. In fact in verse 14, the Lord attributes his hardness to Pharaoh’s own stubbornness. Again in 7:22, we read that “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened,” and again no cause is stated. But we find Pharaoh in a state of spiritual indifference at this point. He “did not listen” and “he went into his house with no concern.” In Chapter 8, we see what appears to be the beginning of a softening of Pharaoh’s heart. In the midst of the plague of frogs, he asks Moses to pray for relief, and promises to let the people go. Verse 15 says, however, “But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not listen to them.” So who hardened Pharaoh’s heart? Pharaoh did.

Again in 8:19, there is the simple statement that his heart was hardened, with no reference to cause, but in verse 32, we find again that Pharaoh hardened his own heart once more. In 9:7, again there is the statement that his heart was hardened with no cause, but in verse 12, for the first time we read, “the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” But this hardening was not permanent or final, for we see him soften once more, pleading with Moses to pray for relief from the hail. But once more, 9:34, “when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned again and hardened his heart.” And it is from this point forward, in 10:1, 10:20, 10:27, and 11:10, that the condition is permanent – the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

So, is it God’s fault that Pharaoh’s heart was hard? Did God overpower Pharaoh’s will and force him to do things he would have otherwise not done? By no means. What this cycle of repetition indicates to us is that by his own sinful attitudes and actions, Pharaoh repeatedly hardened his own heart, until the Lord closed the window of opportunity for repentance to him, and made his hardened condition permanent. At any point prior to the final time when Pharaoh hardened his own heart, he could have turned to the Lord in repentance and faith. He could have been saved from the worst of the judgments. But the Lord knew the end from the beginning, and knew that no matter how many plagues Pharaoh experienced, he would never turn to the Lord in sincere repentance and faith. Therefore, the Lord sovereignly determined that Pharaoh’s opportunities for repentance had come to an end. This is why we are repeatedly warned in Scripture, “If today you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Psa 95:7-8; Heb 3:7-8, 15; 4:7). You never know when that moment will come when the Lord will cause the concrete you pour into your own spiritual heart to set and harden irreversibly. You never know when you may have turned away from Him for the last time and forever forsaken your window of grace to return to Him in faith and repentance.

He is sovereign over all creation. Pharaoh, Egypt, and Israel alike all had to learn that and so must we! Time moves according to His marching orders. All nature is sustained in existence that it might do His bidding at the speaking of His Word. And even every human life is held in the palm of His all-powerful hand, that He might accomplish His purposes with or without our cooperation. The Sovereign God of the universe has the authority to act as He pleases in the midst of all that He has created; and all that He does is good, furthering His purpose and His glory in the world.

So the Lord is showing Himself by these plagues as the God who acts on behalf of His people and the God who is sovereign over all creation. Now finally, He shows us that …

III. The Lord is the God who alone is God.

The existence of YHWH, or any other deity for that matter, is not contingent upon our belief, the sincerity of our belief, or the vehemence of our denial. If Osiris or Amon-Re do not exist, then all the belief that Pharaoh and the Egyptians can muster will not summon them into existence. And on the flip side, if YHWH exists, then no one can deny Him out of existence. This was one of the alarming realities with which I had to grapple as I came to faith in Christ. I had the sudden realization that my denial of God’s existence had not made Him go away! And YHWH sets out to demonstrate to Israel that He is the living God in whom they can trust, all the while demonstrating to Pharaoh and Egypt that their multitude of deities are nothing more than figments of their depraved and idolatrous imaginations. When He finishes His work, there will be no doubt that He alone is God.

Prior to the first plague there is a spiritual showdown in the court of Pharaoh, as Aaron’s staff is miraculously transformed into a serpent. The serpent was a symbol of Pharaoh’s power. Look at the headpiece of any Egyptian sarcophagus and you will likely find a symbol of a cobra or other snake emblazoned upon it. And to demonstrate the power of Egypt’s deities, Pharaoh’s magicians were able to duplicate the feat, causing their own staffs to turn into serpents as well. There are various explanations for this – perhaps it was a parlor trick, as some Eastern snake charmers today can still dazzle a crowd by pinching the neck of a snake in just the right spot to cause its body to become as rigid as a staff. We cannot rule out the possibility that Satan, the great deceiver, enabled these staffs to be transformed into serpents. All idolatry is fueled at some level and to some degree by demonic power. But in order to demonstrate that YHWH alone is God, the Bible says simply and without explanation or commentary, “But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs.” The power of God Almighty devoured the impotent idols of Egypt.

In every plague that followed this serpentine spectacle, God was swallowing up the idols of Egypt, proving His unique authority over all of these false gods. When the Nile was turned to blood, God was pronouncing the defeat of Hapi, Isis, and Khnum, the gods of the Nile. They bled out under the judgment of God. When frogs overcame the land, YHWH showed Himself as victorious over Heqet, the frog-headed goddess of Egypt. When the dust became gnats (or some other flying, biting insect), God was pronouncing the death of Set, the Egyptian god of the desert. In the plague of flies, rendered in Hebrew simply as swarms, God showed Himself the victor over Khepri, the Egyptian god depicted as a scarab beetle. When the livestock were killed (perhaps by a plague of anthrax), God rendered Hathor, Apis, and Mnevis (all of whom were depicted as cows or bulls) defeated and impotent. When the people broke out in boils, God was showing that their faith in Sekhmet and Isis, the healing goddesses, was futile. When the hail and locusts came and destroyed the crops, YHWH showed Himself to be all-powerful over the nonexistent deities, Osiris and Seth, protectors of the crops. When “a darkness that can be felt” swept over the land, the great sun-god Horus, of whom Pharaoh was deemed an incarnation, was pronounced dead and defeated. And when the plague of the firstborn came, killing even the son of Pharaoh, God was proving that no human being may lay claim to the glory that belongs only to Him, and all the deities of fertility, reproduction and childbirth, could not be rallied against the power of the One True God.

Because YHWH is alone God, He is therefore worthy of complete obedience from all humanity. Moses and Aaron were not to be excused from obedience because of their advancing ages – 80 and 83 respectively. Israel was not to be excused from obedience because of the harshness of their circumstances. They had to comply with all the words of the Lord as were spoken to them through Moses. The Egyptians were not immune to the command of obedience because of their ignorance of YHWH, nor was Pharaoh exempt as though he could abide in his own authority and power. At various points, Pharaoh attempted to render partial obedience to the Lord. He made four attempts to compromise with Moses. He offered them the opportunity to stay in the land and worship their God (8:25). He offered them a chance to leave the land, but not very far (8:28). He offered the men the freedom to go if they would leave the women and children behind (10:8-11). And he offered them the freedom to go without their livestock (10:24). But God was not in the business of bargaining with Pharaoh. The command was clear: Let My people go! And anything other than complete and uncompromising obedience was subject to judgment. Partial obedience is total disobedience, and God does not accept plea-bargains.

And because the Lord alone is God, He is the one to whom every person must ultimately give account. Because we are all sinners, every single one of us is as morally guilty before the Lord as Pharaoh was. But in His grace, God has made available to us the offer of repentance and redemption. If we will but turn to Him by faith in the sincerity of our hearts, we can be saved! Pharaoh attempted at various points to render unto God an artificial repentance, but the Lord could see through it and would not accept it. Ultimately Pharaoh’s hardened heart was divinely fixed and his opportunity for repentance expired. And he had no further consequence but to face the unmitigated wrath and judgment of a holy God. He experienced the full force of all these plagues, and then some. And when he died, a hell of eternal torment awaited him.

When we consider this in light of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, the picture of our redemption becomes all the more clear. Each of us, like Pharaoh, is guilty of idolatry, and stubborn, hard-hearted, sinfulness. We stand deserving of the full outpouring of the inescapable plague of God’s wrathful judgment. But this sovereign God has acted on behalf of the people of His own gracious choosing, and stepped into time in the person of Jesus Christ. He has received in Himself all the plague of judgment that we deserve. When the death of the firstborn occurred, God spared Israel’s firstborn sons from the judgment. But on the day when Jesus was nailed to the cross of Calvary, God did not spare His only Son, but delivered Him over for us all (Rom 8:32). Christ died for our sins, once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor 5:21). Christ bore the plague of judgment for us, that our redemption and deliverance could be fully accomplished in Him, that we may have our Exodus from this sin-enslaved world. If today you hear His voice beckoning you to repentance, to faith, to obedience, do not harden your hearts.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Power of God's Word (2 Timothy 3:1-5, 14-4:5)


If this were a creative writing class, and I were to ask you to write the most ludicrous news headline you could imagine, what would you write? If I were to let my imagination run completely wild and come up with the strangest possible notion, it would pale in comparison to this actual headline which I read a few weeks ago: “Lesbian bishop in Sweden calls for church to remove crosses and install Muslim prayer space.”[1] This headline encapsulates the changing religious landscape of our day and time better than anything else I have read recently. Though it represents what we might call “the lunatic fringe” of political correctness, we could provide ample evidence from our own daily news of seismic shifts in cultural ideologies affecting us all for better and for worse. To hear some people talk, these developments seem to have come as a shocking surprise. But in reality, they should not be surprising at all. We have had it on good authority that difficult days were coming.

In the first verse of 2 Timothy, chapter 3, Paul tells his young protégé that difficult times are coming. He tells Timothy in the first five verses of this chapter that men are going to become lovers of self and lovers of money; that they will be boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. Yet in spite of all this, he says that somehow they are going to hold on “to a form of godliness.” We find ourselves living today in a world that can be characterized by all of these ills and evils, and yet never before in our lifetimes have people claimed to be more religious and more spiritual. Walk into any bookstore and browse the “Bestsellers,” and you will find numerous titles that deal with spirituality, many of which are written by those with nominal affiliation to Christianity. Our culture is holding on to a form of godliness, a kind of spirituality that is in fact spiritually and morally bankrupt. Our culture has ceased trying to be good, and begun looking for ways to feel good about being bad. Paul said it like this: people are “holding on to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power.”

Today people are trying to build their lives and their society on some semblance of pseudo-godliness, pseudo-religiousity, and pseudo-spirituality which is completely void of power. But what is this power that has been denied so widely? The power to build a life, the power to build a church, the power to build a society is the power of God’s Word. We are living in the midst of a famine like the one spoken of by the prophet Amos, through whom God said, “Behold the days are coming when I will send a famine on the land, not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the Lord.” What is most tragic about the famine of our day is that it is entirely self-inflicted. God has not become silent. His Word is more readily available to people today than ever before. But more and more people are choosing to build their lives apart from it, thereby denying the power of His Word.

The Bible is the Word of God. Paul tells us in 3:16 here that “all Scripture is inspired by God.” That phrase “inspired by God” translates one Greek word – theopneustas. The NIV captures it with precision here: “All Scripture is God-breathed.” This book is not like any other book. This book is the written revelation of God that He has given us to be our infallible authority and guide for all of life. And by and large it is ignored by many. The terrible irony is that it is not just the people “out there” who are ignoring it. This sacred treasure is being ignored by many inside the church today – in both the pew and the pulpit. And so what is true of the culture at large is also true of many churches today – they hold to a form of godliness, but by neglecting the Bible, they deny the power.

What is needed today in our culture is an awareness of the power of God’s Word. But the culture is never going to understand that until the church returns to that awareness. We live in difficult days, yes. But the days in which Timothy was living were difficult as well. And in the midst of those days, the apostle Paul declared with great force and authority that the only help and the only hope for that culture was the power of the God’s Word. And the same is true for us today. Why is that? Why, in the midst of our times, is the Bible our only source of help and hope? Three points jump off the page of this passage to inform us.

I. The Bible has the power to save our souls. (3:15&)

We first meet Timothy in Acts 16, where he is described as the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer in Jesus. In the first chapter of 2 Timothy, Paul refers to Timothy’s mother and his grandmother by name. His mother is Eunice and his grandmother is Lois. And Paul says that the faith Timothy has in Christ was first found in Lois and Eunice. We do not know when these ladies came to faith in Jesus, but it is not hard to imagine that they had been well taught in the Hebrew Scriptures, and when they heard the Gospel message proclaimed, they recognized it as biblical truth. They could see that Jesus was the fulfillment of all the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament and accepted Christ as Lord and Savior of their lives. Now, from early in his childhood, these two precious ladies had taught Timothy the things of God from the pages of Scripture, and upon coming to faith in Christ, they shared that message with him as well. The sacred writings had given him wisdom into God’s purposes and plans, and when he heard the message of Jesus Christ, he responded by turning to Christ in faith and was gloriously saved.

The Bible is very clear that there is only one way for a person to be saved, and that is through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; NO ONE comes to the Father but through Me.” But one does not arrive at a personal decision to receive Christ by his or her own human reasoning. In fact, often the wisdom of this world stands in the way of one coming to faith in Christ. Humans have never had more access to information and education than they do today. A couple of college courses, a few good books, and a few hours on the internet can provide someone today with an education that our ancestors never imagined possible. But all the wisdom accumulated is really foolishness if it does not point us to Christ. In 1 Corinthians, Paul says that the world did not come to know God through its wisdom, but rather, God determined to destroy the wisdom of the wise and rather save humanity through a message that the world around us by and large thinks is foolish. The message is Christ and Him crucified, and it is, according to Paul, foolish and offensive to those who hear it. But this is the message of the Bible. When Paul summarized the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15, he said that it consists of the facts that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. Notice the repetition there: According to the Scriptures!!! The power to make men right with God was not found in Plato’s Academy or in Alexandria’s Library. It is not found by accumulating academic degrees or traveling the world. One could read every book ever printed and not find this power, this wisdom, in any of them except one. This power to save was and is only found in the Bible. Only therein do we find the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

God spoke through the prophet Isaiah saying, “My word … will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it out.” When the truth of the Bible goes forth, the Spirit of God works powerfully through the Word of God to turn lost sinners into saved saints. Satan is fully aware of this truth, and it seems in recent days he has been hard at work to lure Christians and churches into a snare of trusting other things to save the souls of human beings. As we witness the exponential growth of sister churches, Satan capitalizes on our sense of envy and tries to convince us that we will see great numbers of people come into our church if only we change our music style, employ a more savvy marketing strategy, or offer the latest programs. We may draw a crowd with those things, but unless the Spirit works through the Word to move upon the hearts of these individuals, that crowd will remain lost in their sins, eternally hopeless apart from Christ. Recent surveys and statistics have shown that many inside the church today live no different from those who never darken the doors of a church. John Piper commented on these statistics by saying that they do not indicate “that born-again people are permeated with worldiness," but rather "that the church is permeated by people who are not born again."[2] This should come as no surprise to us when, one-by-one, churches have abandoned the soul saving power of the Word of God and resorted to unbiblical means of marketing and salesmanship with a view only toward growing their crowds, their buildings, their budgets and their staffs. If we have a view toward seeing souls saved as people come to know Christ as Lord and Savior, then we will cling to the powerful Word of God and trust God to work through it to accomplish His purposes. 

Most of you know that before I became a Christian, I was an atheist. You may also know that my Masters Degree concentration was in Christian Apologetics. So, often I am asked, “What did the trick for you? What argument did someone share with you to win you over? What can I say to my lost friend to get them to believe?” And most are dumbfounded by the simplicity of my answer. Two words: “The Bible.” I came to faith in Christ as I simply read the Bible. I didn’t make a decision to start believing in God or trusting in Christ. Rather, faith began to arise within me. I discovered myself believing what I was reading. Suddenly God and the Lord Jesus Christ became living beings in my awareness. Faith “happened” within me as I read the pages of God’s Word.

I don’t know of any other way for a person to be saved than to confront them with the Word of God about Christ and let the Holy Spirit do His work of regeneration in their hearts. Do you have a lost friend, loved one, neighbor, coworker that you have been trying to reach? How many times have you lovingly shared with them the Word of God? Have you given them a Bible? Have you challenged them to spend time reading the Bible or offered to study it with them? True saving faith, Paul says in Romans 10:17, comes by hearing; and hearing by the Word of Christ. We read in 1 Peter 1:23, “You have been born again, not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.” Or as Paul tells Timothy here, “the sacred writings … are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

II. The Bible has the power to sanctify our lives. (3:16-17)

Graduation services are joyous occasions that mark the completion of some level of a person’s educational journey. At the end of the ceremony, often students will hurl their caps into the air in celebration of the fact that it is OVER! However, I have always found it interesting that graduation ceremonies are called “Commencements.” To commence is not to end something, but to begin something. The end of one’s educational pursuits marks the beginning point of the rest of his or her life when they must put into practice the things they have learned. We are mistaken if we think graduation is the end; it is actually a new beginning. We often make a similar mistake when it comes to thinking of our Christian lives. When a person finally comes to faith in Christ, often we lead them to believe that they have reached the end of the road. Many people in many churches have been saved, but never taken one step toward spiritual maturity. They think they have come to an end, failing to recognize that they have embarked on the beginning of a brand-new life. 2 Peter 3:18 commands us to “Grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.” The Great Commission, as you well know, is not a call to simply make converts, but rather to “make disciples.” Therefore, the church of Jesus Christ must take this task of becoming and making disciples with all seriousness.

A disciple is a “learner,” a person who begins to actively follow Christ in the way he or she lives and thinks and speaks. The theological term for this is “sanctification.” At its root, it carries the idea of being set apart. Sanctification is a work that the Holy Spirit begins to perform in our lives at the moment we come to faith in Christ. He graciously and gradually shapes us into Christ-likeness, so that as we live for Him and serve Him others see Christ in us. And how does this take place in our lives? It happens as we immerse ourselves in the Word of God. Jesus prayed in John 17 that the Father would sanctify the followers of Jesus in the truth, and He said, “Thy Word is truth.” The Bible is the truth which sanctifies us. Paul says here not only that the Scriptures are able to make a person wise unto salvation, but they are also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

As we use the Bible in our lives and in our church, we are using God’s chosen means of teaching. The Bible teaches us the right way to think, the right way to believe, the right way to worship and live. As we are taught by the Scriptures, a foundation is laid in our lives to build upon for Christ. Paul also says that the Bible is God’s chosen means of reproof. All of us will fall short and sin as we go through life, and we need to be shown where we are in error. The Bible does this for us. As we read it, it reproves us, showing us our sin. When we read it, it is like looking in a mirror. We see ourselves as God sees us, and we see those areas where we need to change. Next, Paul says that the Bible is profitable for correction. It isn’t enough just to know where we are wrong – we need to discover how to make those wrongs right. We need correcting. As we study God’s Word, we find the way to do just that. And then Paul says that the Bible is God’s chosen means of training in righteousness. It does not merely show us our errors and how to correct them, but it trains us to live in such a way as to avoid those errors in our lives as we live for Christ. As we study it, we are trained in righteousness, equipped to live in the way God intends for us to.

Over the last three weeks, I drove 2,251 miles in a rental car around California and Arizona and hiked a hundred miles or more in some amazing places. On our visit to Yosemite, we set out on a thirteen mile hike that turned into a twenty mile hike. How did that happen? Well, we began in the visitors center looking at a map of the trail. The map taught us the way to go. But along the way, some portions of the trail were washed out by flooding, and directional signs were nowhere to be found. We found ourselves in one place where a volunteer was manning an information station, and asked where we were and how to get where we wanted to be. The volunteer reproved us – he showed us where we had gotten off the trail and where we were in relation to the trail. By using a GPS map on my phone, I was able to plot a course back to the trail to resume our hike, so I was corrected – set back on the right path. And once we did that, we were able to spot the major landmarks to look for on the trail in order to prevent wandering off again. Those landmarks trained us in right hiking, and helped us to avoid errors in the future. Friends, this is what the Bible does for us as we discipline ourselves in the regular study of it. Just as the Holy Spirit works through the Word to bring us to salvation, so He continues to work through the Word to make us more like Jesus. The Bible teaches us, reproves us, corrects us, and trains us in righteousness.

The end result of this is that we are “adequate, equipped for every good work.” You see, along the way as you grow in Christ, someone is going to come along and say, “Hey, we need someone to teach 3rd Grade Sunday School,” or “We need someone to assist us with snacks in Vacation Bible School,” or they may say, “We’re going to take a mission trip to South Asia and we’d really like you to go along.” They might say, “You know we’d like you to serve on a committee.” Someone may come along and say, “Tomorrow night, I’m going to go visit my lost friend to share Christ with him. Will you go along with me?” For most of us, when we hear those words, all we can think about is how inadequate and ill-equipped we are to do those things. You might think, “I’m not a theologian. I don’t know anything about church administration. I am a picky eater, I can’t go to South Asia. I don’t know what to say to a lost person.” So on and so on, we make excuses for ourselves and try to find a way out. We live in defeat and feel useless and spiritually inferior. But if we would devote ourselves to the understanding of God’s Word, the Bible, Paul says here that we will not be inadequate, but adequate; not ill-equipped, but equipped; and not just for some small menial tasks, but for every good work.

The church is an amazing thing, you know. God has pieced us together according to His sovereign purposes. And He knows what this church has and what this church needs. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul likens the church to a human body. Just as in our bodies, every part has a role to play for the healthy working of the body, so it is in the church. You have a part to play in the service of God. You are growing in discipleship as the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God to perform His work of sanctification in you, and He is equipping you, making you adequate to do your part. And when every member does his or her part in the church, it is a beautiful, God-glorifying thing. And the power to make it all happen is found here in this book – God’s Word, the Bible.

III. The Bible has the power to transform our culture (4:1-5)

Remember the condition of the culture that Paul warns Timothy about in verses 2-5 of Chapter 3. People will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness although they have denied its power. Although Paul says that this will come about “in the last days,” he makes it clear that these days had already begun. It is obvious that he does not have in mind some unknowable time period hundreds or thousands of years in the future, for he tells Timothy in 3:5, “avoid such men as these.” These conditions were already around at that time. And in order for people to cling to this empty form of religion and spirituality, he says in 4:3 that they will “not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” If this is not an appropriate description of our own culture, I don’t know what is. The most popular so-called Christian preachers on television and in some of America’s largest churches today are those who do not address the important subjects of sin and salvation, but rather focus on happiness, purpose, success, health, wealth, and prosperity. This sounds so nice, doesn’t it? But it is not sound doctrine. It is the tickling of people’s ears, telling them what they want to hear. It is mythology, not theology.

So, we see from these descriptions given here in this text, that for all the change that’s taken place in the world in the last 2,000 years, some things haven’t changed all that much. The human depravity that affects our culture is the same that affected that of Paul and Timothy’s day. Yet in the midst of these conditions, what advice does Paul give this young pastor? Does he tell him that the solution is electing proper leaders to government positions? Hold a public demonstration? Get a petition going? Withdraw from society altogether and cluster up in holy huddles to avoid being contaminated by the world? No, rather, Paul gives Timothy one charge. In 4:1-2, he says, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: PREACH THE WORD!” Timothy was admonished by his mentor to confront the ills of his society by boldly proclaiming the inspired and authoritative Word of God.

He tells him in 4:5 to do the work of an evangelist. This doesn’t mean that Paul expects Timothy to get a TV program, or to use a lot of hairspray and ask people for money. NO! This word evangelist has as its root the word evangel, the Greek word for “Gospel.” It is as if Paul is saying, “Brother Timothy, I know the world around you is going to hell in a bucket, but the only hope for changing it is for you to proclaim the message of salvation to everyone you know.” And as Paul has already said, that message of salvation is found where? In the Bible. So he tells him Preach the Word!

Are you concerned about the problems of the culture around you? Immorality, addictions, a breakdown of the family, increasing vulgarity and perversion, the disappearance of any sense of right and wrong, truth and falsehood, the seemingly growing tolerance of evil as good, and the increasing categorization of good as evil – do these things concern you as Christian people? I hope so. They concern God, they should concern us too! So what are we going to do about it? You know, if you walk into a dark room, you can do three things. You can say, “Well, so what? It’s dark. Big deal, I’ll just learn to adapt to the darkness.” Or you can complain about it: “Why is this room so dark? I hate darkness. I wish it weren’t so dark.” Or you can do something else: you can turn on a light. And so in our culture, we can just adapt and go with the flow. Or we can gripe and complain about it. Or we can do something about it. But what? Paul told Timothy what to do, and that advice is just as fitting for us today – Preach the Word. Be an evangelist. The ills of our society are not the core issue; they are symptoms of a disease. And that disease is lostness. People act the way they act because they are what they are. So what can we do? Present God’s word to people and share the Gospel of Christ with them. The culture will only change as individuals are changed, and individuals are only changed by the Gospel. 

Do you believe that the faithful proclamation of God’s word by the people of God can change this city, this county, this state and nation? Consider this: In the early part of the 1500s, the city of Geneva, Switzerland was a wicked place, widely known for rioting, gambling, indecency, drunkenness, adultery, and so on. It was said that every third house in Geneva was a tavern. There was a prominent “red-light district,” and people were known to run drunk and naked through the streets shouting blasphemies against God. No matter how the city council of Geneva tried to curb this activity, it continued and worsened over time. In 1536, a man named John Calvin came to Geneva as the pastor of the reformed church there. And John Calvin began to preach the Bible straight forward; verse-by-verse, chapter-by-chapter, every single day of the week. After a very short while, this began to get on people’s nerves. Eventually, the city council banished him from the city. Over the next three years, the conditions in Geneva got increasingly worse, until the city leaders decided to beg John Calvin to return to his ministry there. In 1541, Calvin came back to his church in Geneva and began preaching again day-by-day, picking up in his preaching at the point he left off three and a half years earlier. And gradually, change began to occur in that city. As people sat under the faithful teaching of God’s word, lives were changed, and as a result the city was changed. There were sweeping moral reforms, regulations were adopted for safety and sanitation, the economic infrastructure was overhauled so radically that Calvin is sometimes called the father of capitalism. That once wicked city was transformed as the Bible was proclaimed every day, and as a result, hundreds of missionaries were sent out from Geneva to the rest of the world, impacting many other cities and nations as well including those earliest settlers of our own nation.  

These are difficult days in which we live. The culture is in need of transformation. And the power to transform it is found in the Word of God. Souls are lost and in need of salvation. And the power to save them is found in the Word of God. Christians are living defeated lives of spiritual immaturity. And the power for their sanctification is found in the Word of God. So today, if you find yourself in one of those categories I would point you to the Bible as God’s solution for your needs. Perhaps you find yourself today lost in sin, being swallowed up by the sinking sand of this godless society. The Bible tells us the wonderful message that Christ died for your sins and rose from the dead so that you could be forgiven and made righteous before God and receive eternal life. I pray that as you have heard this Word today, God’s Spirit may have begun to deal with your heart about your need to be saved. Perhaps you are a Christian, but you know that you have not made much progress in discipleship. You have not spent time in the Word to allow the Holy Spirit to cultivate a Christlike character in your life. Would you allow God’s word to have its full effect in your life by recognizing it as the solid rock on which God wants you to build your life? And then as a church, we need to consider, what would you have this church built upon? Will you have it built upon a style of music, or a slate of programs, or the personality of some leader, or will you rather have the church built on the solid rock of God’s powerful word? Every member of the church must be united in that commitment and must hold one another accountable in keeping the church anchored to the rock of the Bible. And as the church is anchored on the Word of God, and every believer is built up by it, and we begin to proclaim it far and wide, lives will be changed, families will be changed, communities will be changed, societies will be changed, and nations will be changed. This is the power of the Word of God.

[1] Accessed June 22, 2017.
[2] John Piper, Finally Alive (Christian Focus, 2009).