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. 

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