And now, O Lord, shine within our hearts with the true light of Your divine knowledge. Open the eyes of our minds that we might comprehend the message of Your Word. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Throughout this Lenten season we’ve been talking about how we can know for certain whether we’re saved. And for the past couple of weeks we’ve been talking about the doctrine of election: the idea that God chooses some people over others before they’re ever even born. We’ve already seen that God chose a man named Abraham to be the father of a people whom God has chosen to be used “to be a blessing to all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:2). And we see right here the purpose of God’s election—it’s never about loving this person over that person, it’s always about a particular person or people that God intends to use to bless others.
Now Abraham and Sarah are old and when they get tired of waiting for God to give them a child, they take matters into their own hands and Abraham has a son by Sarah’s servant, Hagar. A son that they name Ishmael and Abraham thinks that now he has his heir. But he has neglected to understand that God chose not only Abraham but also Sarah to be the parents of the one through whom God’s chosen people will be descended. We don’t know why God chooses Isaac, the only son of Sarah, over Ishmael—and over the six other sons that Abraham will father after Sarah dies. We only know that He does. And then when Isaac and his wife Rebekah have twin boys, God chooses Jacob over his brother Esau. Jacob has twelve sons, all of whom are a part of God’s people. But of them, God elects Judah, son number four, to be the one from whom Jesus will be descended.
Jacob has known about the God of his father and grandfather all his life. But it is only when he learns that his brother Esau, who had threatened to kill Jacob the last time they saw one another, is now coming with 400 men, that Jacob, afraid not only for his life, but also for that of his wives and his children, wrestles with God all night long and finally comes to know God personally. And God tells gives Jacob a new name—Israel.
Eventually God uses Israel’s son Joseph and a drought to move Israel and all of his sons their families to Egypt—because God wants to use His chosen people to show the world the glory of their great God. Joseph moves everyone in the family to Egypt—seventy people plus the wives of Joseph’s brothers (Genesis 46:26-27). Israel dies in Egypt and that’s where the book of Genesis ends.
We turn the page in our Bibles to the book of Exodus and discover that 400 years have passed. Joseph is long dead and nobody in Egypt remembers him anymore or cares about how he saved the nation. But the Israelite people are still there; we’re told that “they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7). But now they’re in bondage. Bondage to Pharaoh, who’s made them his slaves, forcing them to work long hours under the hot Egyptian sun, making bricks with ever increasing quotas.
Now there’s nothing really special about these descendants of Israel—they’re just another Middle Eastern people, common laborers. Except, of course, for the fact that they were chosen by God for a purpose. Chosen to “be a blessing to the nations.” Chosen for reasons that have nothing to do with the merits of the Israelites themselves.
God had a plan, as we talked about last week—a plan that He purposed before He created this world and the universe in which it exists. A plan, that from the very beginning, included sending His Son into the world to live among us and then to die on a cross and rise from the dead.
And God’s rescue of these ordinary Israelite people from slavery in Egypt was part of that plan. Moses, the plagues, the Passover—all were part of God’s great salvation plan.
2000 years before the infant Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem, God sent a sign—a sign like a huge, bright, blazing billboard of a sign—foreshadowing and pointing to the mission of the Christ Child.
I want you to think about this for a minute. If we were somehow able to travel back in time 4000 years and talk to one of these Israelites, after they had been rescued from slavery, crossed the Red Sea and were on their wilderness journey to the Promised Land of Canaan, and we were able to ask them what had happened to them, they might have replied this way: “I was in bondage in a foreign land, under sentence of death, but I took shelter under the blood of the lamb and was set free from bondage and death. Then we crossed over, and now we’re on our way to the Promised Land. We’re not there yet, but God’s given us His law to make us a community. And He’s given us the Tabernacle because you have to live by grace and forgiveness. His presence is in our midst, and He’s promised to stay with us until we finally make it home.”
4000 years ago—Jesus has not yet been born, but already He’s at work in the world setting His people free. Because aren’t these pretty much the same words that we would use to describe what Jesus has done for us?
Salvation is all about getting us out of bondage. That’s what the word redemption means.
So 4000 years ago in ancient Egypt, after a series of plagues that pretty much destroyed the nation, there came that final awful Passover night when the angel of death traveled through the entire nation killing the eldest son in every single Egyptian household—and not a single Israelite son was killed. And finally, Pharaoh told the Israelites to go. To get out of Egypt—now. We’re told later in Numbers 1:46 that there were 604,550 Israelite men plus women and children, so there were likely at least a million people who quickly gathered up their belongings and marched out of Egypt. But instead of heading North, which might have seemed the more logical route, God tells them to go south and they end up in the wilderness.
This wasn’t because they’d somehow gotten God’s directions wrong, but because they’d gotten them exactly right.
Now we’re told by the author of Hebrews that Moses somehow was special even as an infant. Pharaoh had ordered all the Israelite baby boys to be killed at birth, but when his daughter found the baby Moses in a basket on the Nile, she took him home and adopted him. So Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s palace as a member of the royal family. Apparently, however, he didn’t forget His Jewish roots because one day, when he was 40 years old, Moses saw an Egyptian beating a Israelite and he intervened, killing the Egyptian. When Pharaoh heard about it, he wanted to kill Moses, so Moses fled to the land of Midian, where he spent the next 40 years. Living the life of a simple shepherd, “enduring as seeing him who is invisible,” according to Hebrews 11:27.
Moses endured—did he know that God had bigger things in mind for him? The author of Hebrews seems to think so. He could have used the Egyptian’s attack on the Hebrew as an opportunity to stir up a revolt among the Israelite people; with his leadership and their huge numbers, the Israelite slaves would have had a good chance of success. But unlike Abraham and Sarah, who got tired of waiting for God to act and took matters into their own hands to get the son that God had promised them, Moses simply waited; he went to Midian and waited—for forty years. When God finally called Him, Moses was 80 years old. Then he waited through nine plagues—waited and allowed God to work.
And finally, the final plague, the Passover. The Passover, where we see the angel of death pass by every house where he saw the blood of a lamb over the doorpost. Strange as it must have seemed to him, Moses believed God’s promise that this protection would work, and it did. Even Pharaoh’s firstborn son lay dead the next morning, along with thousands of others. But among the Israelites, not a single soul perished, exactly as Moses had predicted. The Egyptians begged the Israelites to leave, even heaping treasure upon them to speed them on their way.
Pharaoh and the Egyptians had repeatedly refused to obey God’s commands, but that night every single Israelite obeyed God’s command to mark the entrance to their house with the blood of the Passover lamb. The instructions were strange, the demand was difficult (a lamb without blemish), and the ritual was unlike any they’d ever seen or heard—nevertheless, they did exactly as they were told.
It wasn’t that the Israelite people were somehow better than the Egyptians—it’s simply that they were obedient. At least in this instance. Pharaoh had repeatedly—ten times—refused to obey God’s command to let the people go.
So the Israelites headed out—but then the Egyptians changed their minds and decided that they’d made a huge mistake. So Pharaoh called out “600 chosen chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt” (Exodus 14:7) and his entire army and they headed out to either bring back the Israelites or kill them.
Now we’re told in Exodus 13:18 that “the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle,” but when they saw the Egyptian army pursuing them they were terrified. They had reached the shores of the Red Sea and now they were trapped with the sea in front of them and Pharaoh’s army closing in behind them.
What were they to do? What could they do? “The people of Israel cried out to the Lord” (Exodus 14:10)
Then they complained to Moses: “Didn’t we tell you that this was a big mistake? Didn’t we tell you to leave us alone and let us serve the Egyptians?” Now of course they hadn’t actually said any of those things—they were all for getting out of Egypt. Until things got difficult.
“And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord. … The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent’” (Exodus 14:13-14).
And God told Moses, “Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water.” Now again, this must have seemed impossible, but by faith Moses obeyed, and we’re told that the waters were driven back all night by a powerful east wind. And Hebrews 11:29 says that “by faith the people crossed the Red Sea on dry land.”
By faith—what does that mean? A million people are crossing over—and they’re crossing the Red Sea. There are differing views on just how long this took, but pretty much everyone who’s studied this agrees that the crossing took a least several hours and probably longer. So men and women and children are walking between these rolled back walls of water for hours. And as they walked, surely some of them were thinking, “Wow! God is great! When God said He’d fight for us, we never imagined anything like this!” (Those are the people who today would spend their vacations bungee jumping and whitewater rafting and engaging in other extreme sports.) At the same time, there were other people walking between those two walls of water, thinking, “I’m going to die. We’re all going to die. We’re never going to make it.”
Those people crossed over the Red Sea on dry land with greatly varying qualities of faith. But all of them crossed over—they were all equally saved. Because we’re not saved based on the quality of our faith. We’re saved based on the object of our faith—our Redeemer, our God who is fighting for us.
And then when the Egyptians tried to follow them across, Moses stretched out his staff and the waters returned, drowning the entire Egyptian army. Exodus 14:30 says, “Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.”
Because the Egyptians tried to cross over with zero faith. Their faith was in Pharaoh—and God is making it known who it is that has a right to claim ownership to the Israelite people. Not the enslaving king who had long been their master—but the divine Lord who had come to Egypt for the purpose of claiming, redeeming and delivering them.
Standing on the shore of the Red Sea with the army fast approaching, the future of Israel was at stake—and the people were in no position to settle the matter one way or another. The Lord God had determined, however, that they were His chosen people and so He delivered them with His mighty arm.
Pretty soon, however, if you keep reading the book of Exodus, you’ll find the Israelite people complaining again. They complain about the food, about the lack of water … complain, complain, complain.
“We’re going to die in the wilderness—and it’s all your fault, Moses. You and that God of yours.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Israelite people are a picture of us. They were in bondage—but there was more than one layer to their bondage. They’ve been rescued from one of those layer of bondage, their slavery to the Egyptians. But in their hearts, they were still slaves. You can take the people out of slavery, but it’s harder to take the slavery out of people.
God had delivered the Israelite people through a series of miraculous events—the plagues, the Passover, the parting of the Red Sea, the destruction of the Egyptian army. But still the people complained—complained that God wasn’t doing enough. And their complaining was sin. They had been set free from slavery to the Egyptians, but they were still in bondage to sinful habits.
Like us—because even when we accept Christ—even when Christ accepts us—we’re still in bondage to sinful habits.
Moses climbs Mt. Sinai to meet with God, to receive the Ten Commandments, and the people get tired of waiting for him to come back down. They make a golden calf to worship. You might not have a golden calf that you bow down to, but, like them, we’re still in bondage to idols, too. Because if we love anything more than God—even if that thing is our own sense of security or desire for comfort or significance, that thing is a false god—it’s an idol. It’s a power in our life, a power that, like Pharaoh, is continually saying, “Serve me or die.”
When the Israelites are on the banks of the Red Sea, Pharaoh is no longer their master. He said, “Go,” and they did. But now he says, “I want you back.” This happens to all of us. It can be our career, our children, our spouse, our finances—it can even be worry or anxiety that we’re in bondage to. When the Israelites were on the banks of the Red Sea, God said that He would fight for them—but then He told them to “go forward.” They couldn’t just stand there, paralyzed by fear.
If you believe that your value, your worth, is determined by how good you are at doing your job or being a parent or a spouse or managing your finances, those things have become an idol. And when problems occur, we’re paralyzed with fear because our old master is there saying, “Serve me or die. You need me. You can’t live without me.” And even though we’ve given our life to Christ, even though we’ve been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, we’re still terrified.
We know that we’ve been saved—and at the same time, we’re not sure. We know we should be free. We know in our head that there’s no condemnation in Christ Jesus, that by faith we have been saved. But in our heart we don’t fully believe it. And all too often we let what other people think of us, or our success or failure in marriage or our work or other relationships either build us up or destroy us. We do this because our hearts are still enslaved. God has freed us from the things we remain enslaved to, but we just haven’t yet fully grasped that reality.
Many of you have read the book Same Kind of Different as Me or seen the movie that tells the story of Denver Moore, the homeless black man who become a famous artist and speaker after being befriended by Debbie Hall and her husband Ron. Denver was born in 1937 on a southern plantation, and although the slaves in this country had been emancipated since 1863, Denver and his family worked the cotton fields with little or no pay, living in a way that was no different from generations of slaves before them. Denver was an adult before he realized that he was a free man and didn’t have to stay on the plantation.
And even after he knew that he had rights, when a white person yelled at him, he was still scared. He still acted like a slave.
We struggle with a similar kind of bondage. Even though we have been set free from sin by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, the blood of the perfect Lamb of God, we continue to struggle with sin and guilt. Just being told that “If you believe in Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven, there’s no condemnation for you, you are accepted—you have been adopted into the family of God,” isn’t enough. That’s why we go back to trying to earn our salvation, trying to be perfect.
Even though we know in our head that because we have believed in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we’re not in bondage to the law anymore, we’re still in bondage subjectively.
In Christ’s finished work we have already been freed from the penalty of sin. But we’re still in the process of getting free from the power of sin, even though we know that we will eventually be free from the very presence of sin. That’s justification, sanctification and glorification.
Jesus’ salvation is about getting out of bondage. And how do we get there? We get there by crossing over by grace.
In Exodus 14:13-14, Moses tells the Israelites who are crying out, “Fear not. Stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord.” He says, “The Lord will fight for you. The Lord will deliver you.”
This is what grace is: it’s understanding that you can’t do it. You can’t deliver yourself. You can’t even contribute anything to it. But if you stand firm, God will do it for you—He has promised to do it for you.
Romans 4:5 “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness”—sounds a lot like “Stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord which he will work for you today.”
“Be still and know that I am God.” Receive salvation not by anything you do but by the work of Christ Jesus. This is how grace operates. It operates by crossing over.
On one side of the Red Sea, the Israelites are still within the reach of their old false ruler. Pharaoh is coming to kill them. They’re under a sentence of death. But as they crossed over, they crossed over from death to life.
God did all the work and they just had to “go forward”–they had to cross over. Cross over when God told them it was time. This is how Christianity is different from every other religion. Every other religion is trying to build a bridge to get across, trying to work hard enough to make it to the other side.
With Christianity, however, one minute you’re not saved—the next minute you are. One minute you’re not adopted—the next minute you are. Have you ever been adopted or known someone who was adopted? You either are or you aren’t. You’re not partially adopted. You’re either in the kingdom of darkness or you’ve been transferred into the kingdom of God, the kingdom of light.
There is no in between, no middle ground.
Did you understand this? A lot of people don’t. Some of you probably don’t. A lot of people, when asked whether they’re a Christian, will say something like, “Well, I’m trying.”
Nobody’s a Christian from trying. To be a Christian is to receive a change of status. Once you were not a member of the family of God, now you are a member of the family of God. Once you were not born again, now you are. Once you were not justified, now you are.
Not because you deserve it. Not because you’ve earned it. Not because of your goodness. Look at the apostle Paul. Paul was a Pharisee who killed people—until he met Jesus on the road to Damascus.
The salvation that Jesus offers is the same kind of salvation that God’s people experienced when they came out of Egypt. In both the OT and the NT salvation is deliverance. In its most general sense salvation in Christ is a rescue. And in order for us to be rescued, it is necessary for Jesus to destroy our enemies, just as God destroyed the Egyptians in the waters of the Red Sea. Salvation is never complete until the enemy is destroyed, for while the enemy lives, it continues to pose a threat to the safety of those who have been saved.
As we read the entire story of the Exodus, we find that in one man, Moses, we have a man who so identifies with the Israelites that their guilt is upon him even as, as the same time, he is so identified with God that God’s power is coming through him. We have a foreshadowing of Jesus, Son of God. Moses, like Jesus, is the man in the middle.
In Jesus, however, we don’t have a man who is fully man and close to God. We have a mediator who is fully God and fully man. A mediator who is never, even once, rebuked for sin.
When Jonah was in the boat and the storm of God’s wrath was about to sink the boat, Jonah tells the sailors to thrown him in so they can be saved. They threw him in and they were saved.
Jesus said, “someone greater than Jonah is here,” speaking of Himself. It means that Jesus Christ, Son of God, was on the Cross thrown into the ocean of God’s wrath. All the plagues came down on Jesus; darkness came down on Him. Jesus was crossing over so that we too could cross over. So that we, too, could be saved.
When God said, “I brought you out of Egypt so you can be holy,” He’s saying that we’re saved by faith alone, but not by faith that remains alone. We’re called to be His people that we can be a blessing to the whole world. And so in His call to be holy, we’re called to do the works that will cause us to be a blessing. We see this foreshadowed in the Exodus story—this is the amazing gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. We’re called to go forward until we really believe that the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, cleanses us from all our sins.
Let us pray.