Sunday, July 23, 2017

Encountering the God Who Speaks (Exodus 19-20)


Why are you here? I suppose that there are a variety of reasons that people come to church on Sunday morning, so what is your reason? Have you come out of a sense of duty or tradition? Have you come to socialize with your friends? Have you come because you had nothing better to do? Or have you come because you realize that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God? You see, when we gather for worship, we come to celebrate together the glory and power of our God, and we come to hear this God speak. Now, it would be arrogant presumption for me or anyone else to say that, when we speak, God is speaking. But as we proclaim the Word which He has inspired for us – inerrantly, infallibly, and authoritatively in the Bible – we have the confident assurance that we are hearing God speak. As I have traveled the world, I have had the opportunity to visit many temples and shrines of other belief systems. In many of them, there are gods on visible display. Some are made of gold and silver, some of wood and stone. Some are beautifully decorated with precious stones, others are nondescript and unadorned. But all of those gods have one thing in common. They are silent. They are seen but not heard. They cannot speak. The God whom we serve, however, is entirely different. He is not seen. He is not visible. His presence is not represented by any tangible object. But His voice is clearly heard as He speaks through His Word.

In our text today, the nation of Israel comes to the wilderness of Sinai, the base of a great mountain. Seven weeks have elapsed since they left Egypt. And here at this mountain, God is going to do something for them that He has done for no other people of the world to that point in history. He is going to speak to them. From atop the mountain, covered with smoke from the fire of His presence and surrounded by darkness and flashes of lightning, God revealed Himself and His will to Israel. The book of Deuteronomy records for us Moses’ farewell speech to the nation of Israel before his death. In it, we are not surprised that he takes them back in their memories to this very event. He said to them in Deuteronomy 4:33, “Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived?” In his commentary on that verse, Eugene Merrill points out that “there are not even any other peoples that heard the voice of the Lord speak out of the fire and didn’t live to tell about it.”[1] Carl Henry noted that in God’s merciful act of revealing Himself and His will to His people, “He forfeits His own personal privacy that His creatures might know Him.”[2]

We must never lose sight of or take for granted the unprecedented and unparalleled mercy that God has shown us in revealing Himself to us by His word. Therefore, what we are coming to do every Sunday morning as we gather with the church, and even what we do every time we open our Bibles, is not altogether different from the experience that Israel had at Sinai. So, as we look at our text today, let us observe three realities about encountering the God who speaks.

I. If we would encounter the God who speaks, there must be careful preparation (19:1-25).

Think about how you prepare for Sunday worship. Maybe it starts for you when your alarm goes off, then there is a cup of coffee, a shower, a clean shave, the selection of your clothing, and so on. Those are all good things. But preparation for the encounter with the speaking God begins long before the alarm clock rings on Sunday morning. We see how important preparation for encountering the God who speaks is here in the text, as a full chapter is devoted to the subject.

Notice that first and foremost, there must be a relationship with God. Notice in verse 3 that God’s first words to Moses, which he is to deliver to the people to prepare them for this encounter, reminds them of the relationship that they have with Him. He speaks in verse 4 of how He has brought judgment on the Egyptians and carried Israel along “on eagles’ wings” to bring them to Himself. He speaks to them in terms of a covenant relationship – He will be their God and they will be His unique people in all the earth. So, they are able to be the recipients of His Word because they have entered by faith into this personal relationship with Him. And the same is true for us. Apart from a personal relationship with God by faith in Jesus Christ, we may read the Bible, but it will strike us no differently than reading the phone book or the Declaration of Independence. But when we know this God in the context of a covenant relationship, resting on what He has done for us through the saving work of Jesus Christ, we perceive in His Word a clear voice of love and grace. The Bible comes alive in our reading of it when we have that relationship with God.

We also observe that there must be a commitment to obey what God says. Verse 8, the people said to Moses, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do!” Now, what has the Lord told them to do? At this point, He has not told them to do anything! Nonetheless, there is a commitment here to obey whatever He says to do, whenever He says to do it! That is what it means for Him to be “Lord.” It means that we do what He says in obedience to Him. So, when you open your Bibles or come to the moment of teaching and preaching, have you committed in your heart that you will obey whatever it is that God will say? When you call Him Lord, there is no room to say, “Well, tell me what it is first, and then let me think about it.” No, we say, “Speak, Lord, and whatever you say, I will do.”

A third measure of preparation is seen in the respect given to the messenger. Verse 9, the Lord says to Moses, “I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe in you forever.” In other words, God would make it evident to all the people that His word is what they were hearing when Moses delivered the message to them. He was validating the authority of His messenger. Now, I know that it seems very self-serving for me to say this, but I am glad to say that I have enjoyed a great measure of respect in this regard from you over the last 12 years. And I am emboldened to say this today because soon, you will be hearing from someone else on a regular basis. I hope that it has been evident to you in my preaching that I have carefully tried to faithfully deliver the Word of God without alteration or adulteration. And I want you to expect the same from anyone else who ever stands in this pulpit. Aside from issues of moral integrity, the number one criteria by which you must measure a pastor (and I could say the same for Sunday School teachers, or any other kinds of teachers in the church) is this: do they faithfully impart the Word of God. Expect it of them. Require it of them. Hold them accountable to it. You need to know that you can respect the one who stands to deliver the Word of God and trust them to do just that.

Another issue of preparation concerns personal spiritual preparation. In verses 10 through 15, we see God giving the people instructions to cleanse themselves in advance of the encounter with Him. These measures of purification were outward demonstrations of an inward preparation of the heart. It would do them no good to merely wash their clothes without washing their hearts. Clean clothes do not indicate a clean heart, but the Israelites were to symbolize the cleansing of their hearts by the cleansing of their clothes. For us today, we may opt for differing ways of displaying the outward signs, but the inward reality remains the same. Prior to encountering the God who speaks, we must search our hearts and lay them bare before the Lord; examine ourselves in light of His holiness and ask Him to cleanse us afresh and anew that we might be fitted by His purifying grace to become an audience for His word, whether in public or private.

In the remainder of Chapter 19, we see that preparation includes cultivating a heart of reverence for God. We must know that we are not opening our Bibles for an academic exercise. We are not listening to a philosophical lecture. We are engaging in an act of worship as we receive the Word of God and we must tune our hearts accordingly. For the Israelites, this meant acknowledging the holiness and worthiness of God by abiding by the boundary markers and consecrating even the priests, lest “the Lord break out against them” (v22). There is a healthy fear and a holy reverence for God’s glory that must not devolve in contempt by an illegitimate sense of familiarity with Him. There is a danger of cold formality in worship that makes God seem far off and indifferent to us. But today there is an increasing and equivalent danger of viewing God as our buddy, and encountering His as hanging out at a pajama party. If we do not strike a balance between these extremes, we will abandon the reverence for God that is due Him, and our efforts to worship will devolve into the self-centered adoration of a deity we have crafted into our own image and likeness. This is the holy God of the universe! When we come before Him, we are not hanging out in the living room, but we are bowing down in the throne room! The reading and hearing of His Word is an act of worship! This is why I so despise the vocabulary of “worship” referring solely to “music.” I hear people say, “At my church, we have 30 minutes of worship and 30 minutes of preaching!” God forbid! If you do not come before the Word of the Lord with reverence in an act of worship you will not encounter the God who speaks! If you aren’t worshiping Him even in this very moment, then I dare say that you probably have not been truly worshiping Him at any point in this service.

So, chapter 19 teaches us the importance of preparation when we encounter this speaking God, and shows us by Israel’s example how we should do so.

Now, we move into Chapter 20 and discover …

II. When we encounter the God who speaks, there is divine declaration (20:1-17).

I landed myself in a bit of trouble here many years ago on a Sunday morning. I was preaching from the Gospel of Mark, and the passage dealt with a sensitive subject. I tried to be balanced in my presentation, indicating the severity of the sin, but also ensuring the availability of God’s grace to forgive us if we have committed that sin. After the service, I was approached by someone who was extremely offended by the message. In fact, I don’t think they ever returned after that Sunday. But I asked them, “What did I say that has you so upset?” They told me what it was, and I said, “I did not say that.” They said, “Yes you did.” I said, “No I didn’t.” They continued to protest and said that they were mad at me for saying it. Very tenderly, pastorally, I took my Bible and opened it to the passage and put my finger on the verse, and said, “Are these the words that have upset you?” They said, “Yes!” I said, “Then you are not angry with me, because these are not my words. I didn’t say this. I merely read and repeated it. These are Jesus’ words. He said this. So are you mad at Him?” There was no answer.

Friends, when we come before God and encounter Him in His Word, we must recognize that it is Him who is speaking! We saw that in Chapter 19, when the Lord told Moses that He wanted the people to hear that it was Him doing the talking (v9). Now, as chapter 20 begins, lest there be any confusion, we are told plainly, “Then God spoke all these words.” Now, from what we come to learn in the rest of the Bible, we have the assurance that what we read on every page is the very Word of God. When we read the Bible, God is speaking. Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God,” or as the NIV says, “is God-breathed.” The Bible does not merely contain some words of God, but it IS, as a whole, the Word of God. So, when He speaks to us from His Word, we can expect the same kind of divine declaration that the Israelites received at Sinai. And what kind of divine declaration was that?

Notice first of all that it is a revelation of Himself. One of my favorite Seinfeld episodes was the one about the celebration of the made up holiday, Festivus. As the friends gather for the meal, Mr. Constanza says, “The tradition of Festivus begins with the airing of grievances. I got a lot of problems with you people, and now you’re gonna hear about ‘em!” Now, surely, God would have every right to begin speaking to any segment of humanity in a similar way, but He does not. Almost invariably in Scripture, when God speaks, He begins by disclosing something about who He is! He does it here. He says in verse 2, “I am the Lord (or I am YHWH) your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Lest anyone question His authority to tell them how He wants them to live, He makes it plain that He has proven that authority by His nature – He is the one true God, YHWH – and by His past act of redemption on their behalf. Walt Kaiser notes, “All that Yahweh is, says, and does is embodied in this one affirmation: ‘I am Yahweh.’” The remainder of this statement, about delivering them from their bondage in Egypt, is quoted nearly verbatim 125 times in the Bible to describe His righteous and gracious nature.[3]

It is almost always the case that the imperatives of Scripture (what we must do) flow out of the indicatives in Scripture – that is, propositional truths about who God is and what He has done for us. So, having just revealed the indicative of who He is and what He done, He begins to reveal His will in a series of imperatives. This is how He wants His people to live. In short, because He is holy, He wills that His people would live holy lives before Him and the watching the world that His nature may be reflected in His people. He says repeatedly, in the Old and New Testament alike, “Be holy, for I am holy” (e.g., Lev 11:44, 19:2; 1 Pet 1:16; et al.). Therefore our lives are to be marked by the singular characteristic of obedience to His will, as expressed in His practical commands for mankind.

If we were to number all of the commands and prohibitions of the Bible, it would take a very long time. Even this would not be exhaustive, for as Jesus demonstrates in the Sermon on the Mount, there are implications to be drawn beyond what is stated in each command of the Lord. Nevertheless, by God’s matchless divine wisdom, His perfect will for humanity is concisely represented in ten rather simple statements. We call them the Ten Commandments, and they are found here in verses 3 through 17. Herein, we find perfect moral and theological guidance for how God intends our lives to be lived as we walk by faith in Him. Here we see how He deserves for us to relate to Him, and how He desires for us to relate to one another. When Jesus was asked which of the commandments was the greatest, the questioner may have had in mind for Jesus to pick one of these ten which was most important. But, Jesus did not respond by quoting any of these ten. Rather, He quoted commandments which encompass these, saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37, quoting Deut 6:5). And then He said, “This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt 22:38-39, quoting Lev 19:18). He said, “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and Prophets” (Matt 22:40). And we see how that is so as we examine the ten commandments.

In the first four commandments, God shows us His will for how we are to love Him with the entirety of our being above all else. We must have no other gods. That means there must be no idols in our lives – no matter what they may be – which compete for our allegiance. He deserves first place in our affections and devotion! We must not fashion any visible or tangible representation of Him in order to worship that object. Some have inferred from this that we should not make symbols or artistic representations of God or of the Lord Jesus, and there is probably more merit to this suggest than we would like to acknowledge. The primary point, however, is not that you cannot have a portrait of Jesus, for example, but that you must not worship the portrait as though it were the Lord Himself! We must not mistake the symbol for the reality. He is the reality, and He is not confined within, or represented by, any creation of our flawed imaginations. He says we must have a reverence for His name, and not take it in vain. It means that we must not make reference to God in a meaningless way. Some of us do this habitually when we use God’s name as an exclamation of surprise or shock. Sometimes we are guilty of it when we speak flippantly of the Lord, put words into His mouth that He did not say, or say of Him things which are not true. And the fourth commandment indicates that we are to honor His Lordship over our lives by devoting one day out of every seven to Him. We keep the Sabbath in obedience to His command and example for us to rest our bodies and concentrate our minds on Him alone. We honor Him in our worship as we devote a day of our week to Him, and we acknowledge that our labor is ultimately for Him, therefore, we can rest knowing that it is by His working and not ours that we are made right with Him.

The remaining commandments express the love that God wills for us to show to one another. We recognize in our fellow man the image of God in which he or she was created and treat them accordingly. That means that we honor our parents, knowing that God has placed us within human families so that we can know what it means to live under His love and discipline. We must not murder, for life is not ours to take. It belongs to God and bears His image. We must not commit adultery, for the marriage vows are sacred, reflecting the intimacy of our union with God in covenant relationship. We must not steal because we believe that God provides to every man that which we need. Stealing deprives others of what has God has provided them, and betrays the provision which God has made for us. We are not to bear false witness against another, or to speak things about them which are not true. We are to speak of others in the same way we wish them to speak of us, stating only what is verifiably true, and granting them every benefit of doubt. And we are not to covet, be it our neighbor’s house or spouse, or station in life or possessions – “anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Covetousness is a theft that occurs in the heart, and it indicts God for failing to provide what is good and fitting for each person. The antidote to coveting is contentment, training our hearts to be satisfied with what He has given to us.

It is not difficult to see how, if we would live in this way, loving God wholeheartedly above all else and loving one another selflessly, the world would be a better place. God’s commands are not restrictive and punitive. They promote the common welfare of humanity and serve to secure a peaceable society. It is sometimes said that Israel’s law code, summarized in these commandments, was just a copy of other law codes that came earlier or arose in other civilizations. No, as Bernard Ramm says, “More mature analysis has shown how far superior the law of Israel was and is. There is no parallel to the Ten (Commandments) in Confucianism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Islam, or the ancient religions of Egypt.”[4] This is also why, around the world, these commandments of God have become the basis of law codes in nearly ever civilized nation. This Law is good, fair, just, and right. It says all that needs to be said, and does not include anything that needs not be said. It is God’s will for humanity, revealed by Him for our good and His glory. And the accountability that such a law requires is not found merely in a court of law, but in the High Court of God’s justice. We are not merely answerable to civil authorities, but to the ultimate authority of a holy God who is a righteous judge. And because He loves us, He has revealed to us who He is and how He wills for us to live. He wants us to live lives of love for Him and one another.

Now, it should not take long for us, upon reading this revealed will of God, to realize that we have violated God’s will and broken His law. G. Campbell Morgan says,

Men are apt to thing that if there be ten commandments, of which they obey nine, such obedience will be put to their credit, even though they break the tenth. That, however, is to misunderstand God’s purpose of perfection for man, and the consequent perfection of His law. The ten words of Sinai were not ten separate commandments, having no reference to each other. They were ten sides of the one law of God. … These commandments are so inter-related that if a man offended in one point he breaks the unity of the law.”[5]

We are therefore justly condemned as guilty before Him. We have broken the whole law. The Bible says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23) – glory that is revealed and reflected in His perfect law. But, this very bad news prepares us for the next reality of encountering the God who speaks, and that concerns our response to Him.

III. After we encounter the God who speaks, there must be personal reaction (20:18-26).

Last December, I was driving north on I-85 when I noticed the sight of flashing blue lights in my mirror. I glanced down at my speedometer, pulled to the side of the road, rolled down my window and held my license out for the officer. I was guilty and I knew it! There was no way to argue my way out of it or excuse my violation. Less than five minutes later, I drove away slowly with my ticket and my court date.

Israel has just received the Word of God concerning how He wants them to live! And even as He speaks, they are cut to the core of their being with conviction that they are already guilty of violating His Law. Notice, in verse 18, cognizant that they are in the presence of the Lord, with the echo of His voice still reverberating in their ears, “they trembled and stood at a distance.” They said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself, and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die!” (v19). The Holy Spirit convicts us to the core of our being that we are guilty before God, and that there are dire consequences to our actions. To tremble under such conviction is a fitting response to what God has spoken.

But notice that the next reaction after conviction is consolation. Verse 20, Moses says, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” In other words, let that sense of your guilt before God drive you to Him, not away from Him. If you let it drive you away from Him, you will perish and die in your sin. Let it drive you to Him so that He might deal with your sin and deliver you from it, that you might live free of its bondage and have victory over it.

How can such consolation be experienced by guilty sinners condemned before a holy God? There is another reaction here, and it is restoration. In verses 21-25, the Lord instructs the people how they may return to Him. In the very giving of the law that condemns, there is the acknowledgment of human inability to keep that law, and the gracious provision of restoration of fellowship with God when we break it. He reminds them that He alone is God and that they must have no other, and then He tells them that He will welcome them to return to Him. But they cannot decide on their own how they will return. They must come by His prescribed way and no other. He says, “You shall make an altar.” And on this altar, they are to bring offerings to make peace with God. If they will do this, God says, “I will come to you and bless you.” But the altar is not to be the product of their own hands. He says “you will profane it” if you put your tools on it. You build the altar with what I have given you, and you return to Me by that way.

And friends, for centuries, Israel communed with her God in this way, bringing offerings and sacrifices before Him on the altar to make peace for their sin. But in the fullness of time, God would provide even more perfectly for His people. He would come to us and bless us with His presence in the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus. He became for us the altar and the offering by which we are reconciled to God. On Him our sins were placed. He is the only One who ever loved both God and neighbor perfectly, and in His death, He paid the price for all of us who have broken every law God has given and violated His glorious will. He is our offering of peace, for in Him and in Him alone, our sins are forgiven, and God reckons to us the righteousness of Christ’s perfect obedience and vows to treat us as though we were as holy as His only begotten Son. He is a God who speaks, and He has spoken in many portions and in many ways through the passing of time, but in these last days, He has spoken to us in His Son (Heb 1:1-2), the Word of God incarnate, made flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ. Prepare yourself to encounter this speaking, saving God. Listen to the divine declaration of who He is and what He wills for your life, and respond to Him from the conviction of our guilt, in the consolation He offers us through the restoration that is secured through Christ’s atoning death on the cross.

[1] R. Albert Mohler, Words From the Fire (Chicago: Moody, 2009), 15.
[2] Ibid., 18.
[3] Walter C. Kaiser Jr., “Exodus,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 422.
[4] Bernard Ramm, His Way Out (Glendale, Cal.: Regal, 1974), 129.
[5] G. Campbell Morgan, The Ten Commandments in the Light of the Christian Dispensation (Belfast: Ambassador, 1997), 11.

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.