Monday, September 30, 2013

"The Great Story - The Exodus and the Deliverer"

Preached on Sunday, September 19, 2013

Scripture readings: Exodus 3:1-15 & 4:10-16; Exodus 12:1-13

June 2013: Bee Balm in My Yard
Surely everyone here has heard this saying, “You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.” I didn’t move to the country till I was twelve but, by the time I was in college and being evaluated for the ministry, the psychologist who completed my evaluation wrote, “Dennis is something of a country bumpkin.”
I think the saying is a good one, but there are things that we really need to get taken out of us. Parents know this about their children, as well as the importance of putting certain things in. And there are places and circumstances that we need to be taken out of.
One word for this is “deliverance”. The Bible has lots and lots of different words to describe the action of deliverance: salvation, redemption, rescue, ransom, healing, forgiveness, grace, and more. The great story of the Bible is a story of deliverance almost from the beginning.
God turned the story of the creation into the story of deliverance from the very moment when human ambition took our very nature as humans and our whole world in the wrong direction. Deliverance is the story of God taking us back and retracing our steps from the wrong direction to the right.
God gave Moses the basic plan that goes all through the story of the Bible: “I have come down to rescue them.” (Exodus 3:8) This is the heart of the whole story from the Exodus, to the Gospels, to the Book of Revelation. God came into our world in Jesus, so that he could say this in the most radical and complete way possible: “I have come down to rescue them.”
God’s story of deliverance is the story of how he will take the ruin of the old creation and make a whole new creation in its place. He will take our own ruins and make us into new creations as well.
What has gone wrong with us, and with the world, affects everything, and so the story of God’s deliverance is huge, and it has to work on many levels. It is a plan that will take everything into account; the universe and each one of us.
Deliverance began on the level of an individual and his family (as their lives were changed by grace and faith). These people were Abraham, and Sarah, and the rest of their family. Eventually the family grew into a tribe. The plan was for the tribe to grow into a nation, and for the nation to become a kingdom based on grace and faith.
At first it became the kingdom of Israel, but the plan has always been for the kingdom of Israel to reach out to all people and become the kingdom of God.
The king of the kingdom of God is God, himself, in Jesus, and that kingdom is a living thing, built upon the work of God, coming down to rescue us from our slavery to sin and death, and leading us to a promised land through the cross and the resurrection.
The kingdom of the cross and the resurrection is the grace of God taking the form of deliverance that makes our faith possible. Faith in who God is and what God has done (and will do) is what opens our lives to the deliverance that he has provided. It is by faith that we die to ourselves and live a new life as a gift from God every day.
In the Book of Exodus we see the story of deliverance working on more than one level. One level is simply God working through geography, taking his people on a journey across many miles from point “A” to point “B”; from Egypt to Canaan.
On the most visible level God used Moses to lead his people out of the land where they were slaves for generations. God used Moses to lead his people on a journey of many miles to a place where they would no longer be under the power of their former owners. They would be able to live as free people in the land that God promised to Abraham and his family.
The biggest problem with this is that the people of Israel really didn’t want to go. They were not only owned by the Egyptians. They were owned by a state of mind, or a state of heart and spirit. They were owned by a cycle of dependence, fear, and blame. They were owned by not knowing how to be free and how to take responsibility for themselves under God’s care.
As slaves, they had a kind of freedom in their not having to plan for themselves, or to take risks. So they had the freedom of not needing to live by faith. Since they were slaves, their owners owed it to them to take care of them. Since everything they got in life was owed to them, they also had the freedom of not needing to be thankful. This is a terrible freedom.
As slaves they were owned by a cycle of dependence and expectations. Until they learned how to be free, their lives would play out as a continual crisis of fear and blame.
In the story of the Exodus God’s people were always afraid, and always complaining, and always blaming Moses and God himself. In this story there seems to be a problem that goes like this: “You can take God’s people out of slavery, but how can you take the slavery out of God’s people?”
As free people they would need to live by faith and gratitude, instead of living by fear and blame. Deliverance, in this case, required another kind of journey; a much longer and harder journey.
This is the journey we all have to travel. In some ways it is simply the journey of growing up. It is the journey that everyone must take if we want to be truly mature. It is surely the journey we all must take in order to stop being a burden and a source of frustration to others, and to become a blessing to others.
Faith and gratitude, as opposed to fear and blame, are the only way to live. They are the best form of freedom.
The best way to learn faith and gratitude comes from the faithfulness of God in Christ. This faith and gratitude are empowered by the work of the Holy Spirit that makes us new creations through the cross and the resurrection.
There is another story of deliverance, on a personal, individual level, in the life of Moses. Moses was the son of Hebrew slaves, who was found by an Egyptian princess, and raised as a prince in Pharaoh’s palace.
As an Egyptian prince, Moses would have studied all the fields of knowledge possessed by the Egyptians. He would learn about their philosophy, and literature, and engineering, and religion. He would be trained as fighter, a warrior, and a military commander. He would understand the principles of Egyptian government, and know how to exercise authority.
Moses also knew that he was not an Egyptian. He knew he was the son of Hebrew slaves. He never entirely lost his connection to his birth family. He knew the story of his people and what the Egyptians has done to them. He grew more and more concerned about them and he wanted to do them good.
Trained, as he was, to lead armies, Moses knew how to kill and he knew how to lead, so he killed an Egyptian slave driver who was beating a Hebrew slave. This triggered a sudden decision to change his course in life. Moses thought it was time for him to start leading his people.
But he was premature. His crime was reported. He had to escape. He became a renegade, a refugee, and a shepherd in the desert. Moses began his life as a success story (if it is possible to be a success without having done anything) and he became a failure. He became a wasted opportunity.
When God called Moses from the burning bush, Moses was a different kind of slave. Moses was accustomed to power and success, but he had misused his talents and his potential, and he had become a slave to self doubt.
Moses needed his own journey of deliverance. He didn’t need a journey from self-doubt to self-confidence. He needed a journey from self-doubt to faith in the undeserved grace of the power and the ability of God. He needed faith in the faithfulness of God. He needed to know that no failure on our part can disqualify us from the calling of God.
I don’t think that Moses, as a leader of his people, used very much of his Egyptian training. There is no name for what Moses became. He became the servant of God and he became a prophet. (Deuteronomy 34:5-12) There is no job description for such work and you can’t train for it, although you can grow in it; and Moses grew.
A servant is ready to do whatever his master says to do. A prophet has no job description either. The word prophet means nothing more that to tell others whatever God has told you, and to show to others whatever God has shown you.
Moses claimed to be excused from God’s calling on the grounds of inability and disqualification. Moses asked, “Who am I?” (Exodus 3:11) For one thing, Moses said he couldn’t speak. God told Moses that mouths and the words to say were God’s own gifts. God would give Moses what to say and the ability to say it the way God wanted it. Moses had his own journey of faith and gratitude to take; his own journey of deliverance.
Moses had begun and failed at his first attempt at leadership, because it had been based on his idea of what his upbringing deserved, and what others owed him. Directly, Moses had killed the slave driver, so the Hebrew slaves owed him their loyalty.
In the future, Moses would have to learn not to be a leader who was owed something. He would have to learn to be a servant. God would lead his own people through the servanthood of Moses. The role and the job of Moses were grace-given, and they were God’s grace itself.
All our jobs and callings and roles in life are grace. We do not deserve them. Freedom comes from knowing this. Deliverance comes from knowing this.
Deliverance, in the story of the Exodus will be the story of how God delivered his people from slavery, from injustice and oppression, from disappointment and failure, from wasted potential, from hunger and thirst. God loves deliverance and it is his passion, on every level. It is why, in the end, God will say, “Behold I make all things new.” (Revelations 21:5)
It is part of our journey to have a passion for the deliverance of other people in all its many forms. It is our job to pray for and work for the deliverance of other people in any form where it is needed.
We need to say that understanding God’s passion for deliverance helps us to understand the plagues of Egypt. There are many things we can learn about these disasters that came upon Egypt as a way of getting the Egyptians to let God’s people go. The most important point is that God simply cares about delivering people from all bad and enslaving things.
The first plague was when God turned the Nile River to blood. In this plague, no one was hurt and no one died. It was a terrifying inconvenience. There was no punishment in it at all. It was nothing more than a warning. But it was a serious warning, because God cares about the deliverance and salvation of people.
It is a dangerous thing to stand in the way of the love of God. God will not allow his most important work and his deepest desires to be postponed forever. To stand in the way of the deliverance of others is, in some way, deadly.
If someone wants to change, and you make change hard for them, you are hardening your own heart. You are creating something monstrous within yourself. There are families that select their members for different tasks as if to say, “You will be our ne’er-do-well. You will be our good boy or girl. You will be our clown. You will be our dummy.” This is a kind of enslavement. There are teachers who will pigeonhole a student and keep them down. Bullies are always on the lookout for rebels in order to nip in the bud any threat to their status. The alcoholic friends of alcoholics who want to get sober put all kinds of guilt and obstacles in their way.
Those who want to prevent deliverance in others may seem to succeed, but the consequences are always deadly to themselves. They enslave themselves in their own little imitations of hell. They have seen the good thing that the God of love wants, and they have rejected it and, in doing so, they have rejected God.
The oddest thing in the world is that the Hebrew slaves also rejected their own deliverance. They resisted Moses every step of the way.
In the final plague, when the Angel of Death was going to visit every home in Egypt and claim the life of every first born, even the Hebrew slaves had to be protected. They were just as guilty, in their resistance of God, as the Egyptians were and they needed to know that it is a dangerous thing to stand in the way of the deliverance of God.
The only protection from the Angel of Death was for a lamb to be sacrificed for every one, in every home, and the blood of that lamb had to be put as a mark on the door-frame, and the lamb had to be eaten in that home. The blood of the lamb and the meal of the lamb stood for the sacrifice that was made for their deliverance from sin.
June 2013: Pictures from the Vicinity of Hooper, WA
The most important deliverance is our deliverance from sin. It is often the hardest deliverance to face and to accept. I may be perfectly convinced of my own sins until you try to point them out to me.
The mark of the blood saved the people who bore the mark. Not just any mark would do. Paint wouldn’t do. The lamb represented a life that was given for the sake of their life. Even the forgiveness of God is not a matter of mere words, or thoughts, or feelings. The problem of sin is the problem of spiritual death.
We have all tried to be our own gods. We all try to go our own way and be in charge of ourselves. We try to be in control of what we want and what we don’t want. The only way to do this is to try to put at least a part of your life outside the jurisdiction and fellowship of God.
To go outside of God’s fellowship is not only sin. God is life itself, and to try to live outside of him is to go outside of life itself. So we are all the slaves of sin and of the angel of death. To resist deliverance and to look for some way to escape is very much the same thing. It is deadly.
God’s forgiveness is his mission to give us life, and he has no life to give us but his own. To defeat our death meant God coming down to fight death personally. We have plagues of our own making, and God’s mission was to take our plagues on himself. In Jesus, on the cross, God became the first born who died. But, in Jesus, God met death and defeated it, hand to hand.
For us, we have a journey of our own to make. It is an exodus of our own from slavery to freedom, from sin and death to harmony and life in Christ. And Christ is our Passover lamb who has been sacrificed for us. (1 Corinthians 5:7)

His blood has been shed for us, but even that is not enough. We have to receive it. We have to want it and wear it. I mean that we have to live in Christ, in faith and gratitude, every day. The lamb had to be eaten, and Christ must be our food. We need to take Christ in. Then the great story of the God who came to be deliverance, in the flesh, in the Exodus and in Jesus, will be our story. Deliverance will be our story.

1 comment:

  1. Deixe que lhe diga que os seus sermões são muito bem estruturados.Tem princípio, meio e fim.O povo de Deus ou o Deus do povo?
    A ovelha negra do rebanho, o filho pródigo e, todo aquele que se deixa vencer pelo pecado.
    Entendo bem o seu inglês, mas, tenho dificuldade em comentar na sua língua sem dar erros de ortografia.
    Bem haja,