søndag 30. november 2014

Exodus 12:1-20 All dressed up and nowhere to go?

Exodus 12:1-20

You smell smoke. Fire! And then the fire alarm starts ringing. And someone runs in: Fire!

How do you respond? Ikke så farlig. Doesn’t matter. Or do you get up and run?

See, you belive that fire is dangerous, you believe that you can escape by getting outside and so your belief, your faith, translates in to action: run!

2 “From now on, this month will be the first month of the year for you.” It’s a bit of hint that what’s about to come next is a Very Important Thing. This is a Big Event. This is so big that in the future the whole year will be structured around this event. Kind of like fellesferie in Norway! Or Christmas even. It is the high point of the year.

Why? Because this is what everything has been heading towards. This is why Moses was saved as a little baby in a reed boat. This is why he grew up in Pharaoh’s palace. This is why God called him out of the desert from the burning bush and made him the saviour of the people. This is why there has been plague and rebellion. This moment, when God will act to rescue his people, to judge the rebellious, and to pass over his people. This is also the moment when Israel has to take action. They need to respond in faith, acting as if God’s word is true.

1. God remembers his promises

While the Israelites were still in the land of Egypt, the LORD gave the following instructions to Moses and Aaron: - yes, yes seen it all before – go and tell Pharaoah… but no look at v3 Announce to the whole community of Israel

This is the first time the Israelites have been in the story since way back in chapter 6. The first time God has spoken to them. Like I said last week, they were bedraggled, beaten, given up. Not exactly people of faith!
But now they had SEEN God’s power at work. Here was the Living God, speaking and then what he said would happen, happened! There will be blood – and there was blood. He said “frogs” and there were frogs everywhere. “Gnats”, and gnats were everywhere. And you can imagine the longsuffering Israelites just being stoic about it. You know, “here we go, more to suffer through”. Things are worse than ever.

And then God says “I will show you that I make a distinction between the Egyptians and my people”. And suddenly they are protected! The land is filled with flies – but no flies surround them. Animals die – but not theirs. Hail falls – but not on their fields. Darkness falls, but they are in the light. Could it be? Is God... for us? But we are nothing - how can this be?

Do you not understand? You are his people. His favour rests upon you. His salvation is secure.

But we have no faith. We have forgotten our God.

Ah, but God remembered you. Remember Ex 2:24-25 God heard their groaning, and he remembered his covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25 He looked down on the people of Israel and knew it was time to act.

What was his promise? God’s word to Abraham in Gen 15:13–16 Then the LORD said “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land for 400 year. They will be oppressed as slaves. 14 But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. 16 After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction.”

The Israelites should have known this. They should have been secure, knowing that the time had come for rescue! Just like we should trust that when Jesus says that he will return.

How would life as an Israelite have been different if they had believed the word of the Lord? The temptation to compromise, side with the Egyptians, would be gone. The desire to obey God and serve him with gladness would be there. You could endure because you have hope, hope of a rescue that is coming. Well, it is the same for us. What difference does it make to you knowing that Jesus will soon return?

If I really believe that, really live my life like that. The toil of this life will soon be done. The greed and grabbing all you can – be generous. The need to compromise with the world – sex, drugs, entertainment, selfish behaviour, “me-time”, boozing it up, buying buying buying, having the best this or that or dreaming of the perfect life, the perfect house, the perfect husband. What difference does it make that Jesus will return? Perhaps today?

God remembers his promises. You can be secure in that. He has shown his power in raising Christ from the dead. And the warning is clear: fire! Judgement is coming. Get out.

And we must respond.

2. When God speaks his people respond in faith.

3 Announce to the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each family must choose a lamb or a young goat for a sacrifice. Then the whole assembly of the community of Israel must slaughter their lamb or young goat at twilight.
7 They are to take some of the blood and smear it on the sides and top of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the animal. 8 That same night they must roast the meat over a fire and eat it along with bitter salad greens and bread made without yeast.
11 “These are your instructions for eating this meal: Be fully dressed, wear your sandals, and carry your walking stick in your hand. Eat the meal with urgency, for this is the LORD’s Passover

See, the Israelites had, like us, been shown God’s awesome power. They had seen the plagues. We have seen the whole history of Bible, with the very son of God showing his power over sickness and evil spirits, and showing his love as he takes our place, and showing his power even over death!

They had seen his power – and now they are called to respond. Take a lamb or goat and sacrifice it. Roast the animal and eat it. Put its blood on your doorframes to be saved. Eat your meal dressed for a journey.
This is “faith”. Faith is acting like God’s word is true based on the evidence in front of you. They had to dress for a journey because God has promised to rescue them. They took action – putting on journey clothes. That’s faith.

But faith is based on EVIDENCE. God does not demand that we “just have faith” as in the way it’s often used today – just to throw yourself out there. That’s the sort of New Age idea “just believe” and the “universe” will give you good vibrations back or something. That’s just nonsense. Who lives like that?!
The Bible demands that we use our minds, that we investigate. Biblical faith is based on evidence. Notice that God does not ask the Israelites to do anything until they have SEEN the EVIDENCE of his powerful word in action. NINE plagues are a pretty good indication that God can do what he says he will do.

And now they are called to respond.

I’m sure some had doubts. Oh, I’ll look like such a fool – all dressed up and nowhere to go. And tomorrow I’ve got to be at work. I’ll be whipped if I’m late.
You can imagine the Egyptian neighbours looking on and laughing as they smeared blood on their doorposts. Haha look at these primitive slaves. Like some blood on your door could save you. Hahahaaaa.

Haha. You Christians and your zombie Jesus. Like a dead man could ever save you. Primitive nonsense. We’ve moved on from then. Now we have science!

But science is based on evidence. And the evidence is before the eyes of the Egyptians: the Israelite God is supremely powerful. But they will not see it. Because if they see it they might have to believe. And if they believe they might have to respond, humble themselves and say “you are God”.

And the evidence is that 2000 years ago Jesus rose from the dead just like he said he would. Many saw him afterward, including a crowd of 500 people. It was really him. But he was different. He could do things like walk through walls – but he was no ghost because he could eat food with them. He had a resurrection body – his body, only... better. The evidence was plain to see. If you really believed “science”, you would believe in Jesus! As he had said, he conquered death. His awesome power to heal, his power of creation – which nobody could deny, not even his enemies – that stretched even to death. Who was this man? He was no ordinary man. Jesus is something more.

Then when we look at the promises of Scripture we see, wow, this is the Holy One of Israel. This is the Messiah, the promised saviour. This is the fulfilment of all God’s promises – from right back in Gen 12 to bless all the nations through Abraham.

See, faith in Jesus is not just some pie in the sky. Some happy thoughts to get us through the dark day. The important thing about faith is NOT having faith – that’s just stupid. Everyone has faith. What is important about faith is the object of your faith – what are you putting your faith in.

The Egyptians put their faith in their gods, in their king. And were battered by blood and hail and frogs and darkness and ultimately death.

The Israelites who responded in faith and trusted that obeying God’s word would save them, however str4ange it may have seemed to paint blood on your door or to eat a meal with your coats and boots on and suitcases ready – those who trusted God and obeyed him were saved. They were rescued and given life – the plague of death did not touch them.

Those of us today who put our faith in Jesus - we will live forever. We will pass through death and be raised to live by him. This is based on evidence. His word is trutsworthy, His Spirit is active. He does what he says he will do. We have experienced the Living God, personally, intimately. And one day we will see our God face to face.

So live like it, dear brothers and sister. As we read recently in Col 3:1 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.

When God speaks his people respond in faith.

3. God’s people remember what God has done

14 “This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the LORD. This is a law for all time. 15 For seven days the bread you eat must be made without yeast. On the first day of the festival, remove every trace of yeast from your homes. Anyone who eats bread made with yeast during the seven days of the festival will be cut off from the community of Israel.

Reading all this about yeast immediately reminded me of a well-known yet rather puzzling statement Jesus makes in Mark 8:15 As they were crossing the lake, Jesus warned them, “Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod.”

16 At this they began to argue with each other because they hadn’t brought any bread. 17 Jesus knew what they were saying, so he said, “Why are you arguing about having no bread? Don’t you know or understand even yet? Are your hearts too hard to take it in?

Oh, haha, those dull disciples. Obviously Jesus wasn’t talking about bread. They’re so dull. He’s obviously making a spiritual point. And then we all nod wisely at each other, all the while felling a bit uncomfortable because we’re not entirely sure exactly what Jesus meant either and to be perfectly honest, feeling a bit “dull” ourselves. Beware the yeast of the Pharisees. What’s that all about?

And why would you be cut off from the community just for baking a bit of bread with yeast in it on one of those seven days. A bit harsh isn’t it? I mean, really?

Anyone who eats bread made with yeast during the seven days of the festival will be cut off from the community of Israel.

Well, bread with yeast takes time. It needs to be set aside in a warm place for many hours to rise – something that you can’t do when you are leaving the country. No-one ever said just before leaving for the airport – let me just mix up a batch of bread. If you had to have bread, you would make flatbread – bread you could bake immediately. But bread with yeast takes hours!

During the Festival of Unleavened Bread (leaven is an old word for yeast so Unleavened Bread is bread without yeast: Flatbread). So during the Flatbread Feast they were celebrating the Exodus, the rescue of God’s people from Egypt when he lead them out. It was a symbol, a reminder that they left that very night, dressed to travel, after the Passover. Therefore, during this feast, do you see how serious it is to make bread with yeast? How you are saying by your actions I want no part in the rescue of Israel. I will not be leaving. I have time to make bread with yeast and wait for it to rise because I’m not going. I don’t want to be part of God’s people. I don’t trust his word.

And which is why Jesus warns his disciples against the empty religion of the Pharisees. They are not willing to follow Jesus. And so they are remaining in a spiritual Egypt, and will face God’s judgement. Jesus had come to lead a new Exodus – all those enslaved by sin, facing death, could place their trust in him, be covered by his blood, and be rescued from slavery.

That is what it means to be a Christian. We are dressed for a journey. This world is not our home – we look for another. We follow Jesus wherever he may ask us to go, whenever he tells us. We smear his blood on our lives, trusting that he will pass over our sin on that judgement day. He is our Passover Lamb. And we avoid the “yeast” of anything that takes our focus off him and makes us want to stay put in “Egypt”. This is not our home.

One of the ways we do that is by remembering what the Lord has done. 14 “This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the LORD. This is a law for all time.

Each year the Israelites celebrated (or should have celebrated) their Passover and Exodus. That was for them. But we still celebrate it today. It is still remembered and celebrated for all time.

Because we remember our Passover, the true Passover which this one here was only foreshadowing, we remember it here each Sunday in the communion. We remember that our Lord gave his body, shed his blood, the sacrificial lamb dying in our place so that his judgement would pass over us. We remember that we belong to him, that our sins are covered.

Praise God that he remembered us, remembered his promise to Abraham to bless all nations, and sent his son to rescue us.

And we respond in faith, trusting in his Son, our Lord Jesus, and living for him. Remembering what he has done each day, celebrating his rescue. Our sins are covered, we are set free! We belong to Him! Praise the Lord, O my soul! Praise the Lord!

søndag 23. november 2014

Exodus 11 God is sovereign over Life and Death

Exodus 11

1 My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? 2 Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief. The opening verses of Psalm 22, written by David, the king, quoted by Jesus, the King of Kings, on the cross.

My God my God.
Why did author, David, blame God for his situation? It was his enemies who had surrounded him, evil men, not God.
And why did Jesus quote this? It was not God who crucified him, who had betrayed him.

What David and Jesus understood was this: God is sovereign. He has all things under his control. And so it is right to go to him and say “why have you abandoned me? Why have you let this happen?

God is sovereign. Bible does not hide this fact – it trumpets this! We try to minimise it because it goes against our Western self-determination, make your own destiny cultural philosophy. And we are fools if we do so. Because what use is a god who is not sovereign. What use is a god with no power? He is no god at all!

This chapter is designed to remind us that God is in control. Just before the final plague is unleashed we are reminded that death is coming, that God’s people will live, and that this will most definitely happen because God is sovereign.

1. The warning: death is coming

4 Moses had announced to Pharaoh, “This is what the LORD says: At midnight tonight I will pass through the heart of Egypt. 5 All the firstborn sons will die in every family in Egypt, from the oldest son of Pharaoh, who sits on his throne, to the oldest son of his lowliest servant girl who grinds the flour. Even the firstborn of all the livestock will die. 6 Then a loud wail will rise throughout the land of Egypt, a wail like no one has heard before or will ever hear again.

Imagine you were an Egyptian at that time. Death is coming. Egypt lies in darkness, devastated by hail, locusts, frogs, gnats, boils, sickness, flies, and blood. And now the final judgement has come. Death hangs in the air.

You have seen your king, Pharaoh, stand against Moses and his god. And you probably agreed with him. After all, this was the god of the slaves! Ridiculous that he could have power over the might of Egypt. But as water turned to blood, as frogs appeared, then gnats, then flies, then your animals died, then boils broke out on you, then hail, then locusts, and finally darkness... you can imagine a bit of nervousness at the beginning, then feeling uncomfortable – maybe their God really is powerful -, then fear, then full-blown terror as you look out at your once beautiful country devastated, ruined – and you see the Israelite area perfectly protected – and a cold dread fills your heart as darkness comes over you like a cloud and you can almost taste death. He is coming. He is coming.

But we don’t have to imagine it. We don’t have to pretend we’re Egyptians. Because we know that death is coming. It is all around us. People die every day. Oh, in our society we’re pretty good at insulating ourselves from death. People die away in hospitals or old age homes. We have a little ritual in church and we let our religious rituals comfort us and then we push it out of our minds. But that fear is always there, in the back of our minds, threatening to come out and choke us. What if the God of the Christians really is there? What if there is Someone out there and I am not right with him. The unspoken fears of the Egyptians. The unspoken fears of the Norwegians.

Death is coming. Death is coming for each one of us. Each of us has over our heads a doomsday clock – and as each second ticks by we are closer to our death. Tick. Tick. Tick. One step closer. Each breath you take is closer to your last.

So how do you live, knowing that you will die?

Pharaoh rebelled against it. He refused to accept the judgement. 10:28 “Get out of here!” Pharaoh shouted at Moses. “I’m warning you. Never come back to see me again! The day you see my face, you will die!”

29 “Very well,” Moses replied. “I will never see your face again.”

Some laugh in the face of death. Take more and more risks, seeking the thrill of being on the edge. Some go out to grab all they can, crush everyone in their path. Some surround themselves with loved ones, pouring themselves out in other people, trying to find peace in being significant and remembered. Others try to block out the world with entertainment and noise and virtual realities. But I think most of us just kind of drift along with a vague unease, just pushing the thought of death to the back of our minds. What we should do, is seek a way out of death. That’s the point of the warning.

You see, God could have just wiped them out without warning, without sending Moses to Pharaoh. Just boom – justice for their cruelty in enslaving an entire people and murdering their children. Justice! He could just wipe us out – wham. Justice for all our sins and rebellion and cruelty. Don’t you ever watch the news and wonder why he doesn’t just wipe us out? Well, because even in the midst of judgement there us mercy. There is a way to live forever. There was light among the Israelites!

The stench of death did not hang over God’s people. God’s favour rested upon them. But for the Egyptians... the sword of the Destroyer was pointed towards them. The Grim Reaper, as we call him, waiting with his scythe to harvest the dead from the earth.

Death is coming. What will you do?

2. The promise: God’s people will live

7 But among the Israelites it will be so peaceful that not even a dog will bark. Then you will know that the LORD makes a distinction between the Egyptians and the Israelites.

From the plague of flies onwards, we’ve seen the Lord make a distinction between his people and the people of Egypt. Although they were affected by the plagues of blood, frogs and gnats, the Lord then showed his power to save.
8:22 But this time I will spare the region of Goshen, where my people live. No flies will be found there. Then you will know that I am the LORD and that I am present even in the heart of your land. 23 I will make a clear distinction between my people and your people.
9:6 And the LORD did just as he had said. The next morning all the livestock of the Egyptians died, but the Israelites didn’t lose a single animal.
9:26 The only place without hail was the region of Goshen, where the people of Israel lived.
They did not suffer from boils or the locusts either, it seems. And of course, when darkness fell, the darkness of judgement and death, Israel had light. 10:22 So Moses lifted his hand to the sky, and a deep darkness covered the entire land of Egypt for three days. 23 During all that time the people could not see each other, and no one moved. But there was light as usual where the people of Israel lived.

The point is this: the Lord can save his people. The word of the Lord can be trusted. When he says “I will save you” we can trust his word!

Have you noticed that the Israelites have pretty much been absent from this story. It’s been Moses and Aaron vs. Pharaoh. We’ve heard nothing from the Israelites. The last we heard of them was all the way back in chapters 5 and 6 – and that was anger and lack of faith! 5:21 The [Israelite leaders] said to [Moses and Aaron, “May the LORD judge and punish you for making us stink before Pharaoh and his officials. You have put a sword into their hands, an excuse to kill us!”

And the people: 6:9 So Moses told the people of Israel what the LORD had said, but they refused to listen anymore. They had become too discouraged by the brutality of their slavery.

That’s it! The Israelites are bedraggled, discouraged. They had given up. No hope. The light had gone from their eyes. They were beaten down. They had no faith in the Lord. They had no service to him. They did not dress in their best clothes, or offer the right sacrifices or do anything to deserve his rescue. And yet the Lord says “I will save you.”

Moses was wandering around in the desert, a failure – and God called him and said “you will lead my people”. Why? Because God. He decided that Moses would lead the people, and so it happened. Did Moses do anything other than muck up his life? No. But God...

The Israelites are likewise “failures”. Beaten down, discouraged. They are not people of faith. Their faith has been knocked out of them. They do not deserve salvation, yet God saved them.

And so too with us. We are not required to dress in our Sunday best, to get our life in order before we come to Jesus. Our salvation does not depend on us any more than the Israelites salvation depended on them! Our salvation comes from the Lord, not from us!

How often we think like that! “I need to get right before I come to God.” That’s utterly foolish.

It makes a mockery of God’s holiness – you really think that you can get yourself right enough to be acceptable to God –seriously?!

And it makes a mockery of the cross. Do you think Jesus would have suffered the agony of death and judgement on the cross if we could simply put on a new suit and try a bit harder and that would make us acceptable? No! It took the firstborn son of Heaven to DIE our death. To take the darkness upon his shoulders and absorb it. We’ll spend more time on this next week, looking at the echoes of the Cross in the Passover here in Exodus.

Because this is a great picture of how God saves. He saves on his initiative, with his power, and, we’ll find out next week, at a great cost. There is a cost to be paid to avoid death. And that cost is a substitute: the lambs that were slain. Representing the Perfect Lamb, the Lamb of God as John the Baptist calls Him, as he gave his blood, his perfect blood, the sinless dying in the place of the sinners, so that we could have life.

It’s all God. He promises. He calls. He commands. He saves. And He pays the cost for that salvation. Praise God!

Praise God for his promise: his people will live.

And that promise is secure, because

3. The Lord our God is the Sovereign Lord

11:9 Now the LORD had told Moses earlier, “Pharaoh will not listen to you, but then I will do even more mighty miracles in the land of Egypt.” 10 Moses and Aaron performed these miracles in Pharaoh’s presence, but the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he wouldn’t let the Israelites leave the country.

Did you notice something odd about the way this chapter was written? It’s going backwards. It’s like the credits at the end of the movie going down instead of up.

V1 Then the LORD said to Moses. V4 we go backwards 4 Moses had announced to Pharaoh. V9 further back still! 9 Now the LORD had told Moses earlier

Why? Why is it written like this? Chapter 10 ends with the dramatic argument, and you will never see me again! You should go straight into chapter 12. Instead, the author steps out and says “now remember, it is GOD who has arranged all this and who has control”. Why did God want him to write it like this? It seems God wants to emphasise His sovereignty, his absolute control over all things.

Something that struck me in reading these chapters is the Bible’s attitude to “and God hardened Pharaoh’s heart”. For us, this display of God’s complete sovereignty is a problem. We get…uncertain about it, and try to explain it away, or to minimise it. You know… the lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and RESCUED THE ISRAELITES!

The question is then, what is wrong with me? Why am I embarrassed by something that God is clearly not embarrassed by, nor were his people. They exulted in his sovereignty.

I think many problems we have with God, I think our lack of faith in so many areas, our need to twist the gospel to suit us, our mass of false teachers with prosperity gospel promises and your best life now self-help Christianity come from this: we don’t actually believe that God is sovereign. Which really is the same as saying that we don’t believe God is God. Because if God is not sovereign, he is not God. If God’s creation is outside of his control – well, his words are meaningless, his promises do not matter, his judgement can be avoided. He just becomes another entity in creation, one of the gods like Zeus or Thor or Odin or the “Jehovah” of the Witnesses or the “God” and “Jesus” of much modern Christianity.

But the God of the Bible. Wow. He can harden Pharaoh’s heart, just like that. He can plunge a nation into ruin and suffering for standing against him. He wipes out nations for rebelling against him. Even his own people are judged and found wanting and he sends the Assyrians to wipe out the Northern Kingdom of Israel – and it was utterly wiped out, never to rise again. Who is this God?

You know, what matters is not your attitude to God. That’s pretty much irrelevant. What matters is God’s attitude to you. Are you an Egyptian or an Israelite? Are you in darkness or in light?

So the smart thing to do is to beg him for mercy! Because nothing else will work. No amount of bowing and scraping or wheeling and dealing or little offerings or obedience or will change that. There is no way we can get the upper hand. He is utterly superior to us and totally immutable. Immutable is a good Bible word meaning unchangeable, unable to be affected in the sense of manipulating him. We know he is affected by our sin and our suffering – the Lord is with his people. But his emotional attachment does not leave him open to manipulation. He is immutable. High above. Sovereign. He does what he wants when he wants.

And that is good. Because it means that when he says he will judge the wicked it means he will judge the wicked and all the evil that has ever been done on this earth will be dealt with. No-one will escape. Justice will be done. Death, eternal death, is coming for all, no matter how great they once were. All those dictators and warlords – all will stand before God.

And it means that when he says he will save his people it means he will save his people. All those who are in Christ will be saved. His promise is secure because there is nothing outside of his control nothing can interfere with his plans or trip him up. Praise God!

Ps 105 Give thanks to the LORD and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done. 2 Sing to him; yes, sing his praises. Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds… 25 ...[H]e turned the Egyptians against the Israelites, and they plotted against the LORD’s servants. 26 But the LORD sent his servant Moses, along with Aaron, whom he had chosen. 27 They performed miraculous signs among the Egyptians, and wonders in the land of Ham. 28 The LORD blanketed Egypt in darkness, for they had defied his commands to let his people go. 29 He turned their water into blood, poisoning all the fish. 30 Then frogs overran the land and even invaded the king’s bedrooms. 31 When the LORD spoke, flies descended on the Egyptians, and gnats swarmed across Egypt. 32 He sent them hail instead of rain, and lightning flashed over the land. 33 He ruined their grapevines and fig trees and shattered all the trees. 34 He spoke, and hordes of locusts came— young locusts beyond number. 35 They ate up everything green in the land, destroying all the crops in their fields. 36 Then he killed the oldest son in each Egyptian home, the pride and joy of each family. 37 The LORD brought his people out of Egypt, loaded with silver and gold; and not one among the tribes of Israel even stumbled. 38 Egypt was glad when they were gone, for they feared them greatly. … 45 All this happened so they would follow his decrees and obey his instructions. Praise the LORD!

søndag 16. november 2014

Exodus 10 The Light that burns the darkness

Exodus 10

When I say the word “God” – what comes to mind?

If I say “Jesus” what comes to mind?

You know, reading the Bible is really annoying because it keeps messing with our pictures of God. Whatever picture you have, you’re probably pretty ok with it. And I guarantee you that there are some things in this passage that you did not like. That you kind of slid over and said “nah” and effectively ignored.

These are the ideas that we probably have of God that this passage challenges:

1. God is fair. He would never harden someone’s hard then judge them for having a hard heart – would he? That sounds unfair, and my God would never do that. He’s fair.

2. God does not cause suffering. God would never send a swarm of locusts to destroy the land, would he? My God would never do that.

3. God will, in the end, accept everyone. My God is a God of love. He would never condemn anyone.

1. God is not fair (Divine sovereignty and human responsibility)

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Return to Pharaoh and make your demands again. I have made him and his officials stubborn so I can display my miraculous signs among them. 2 I’ve also done it so you can tell your children and grandchildren about how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and about the signs I displayed among them—and so you will know that I am the LORD.”

Whew. Not easy reading is it. This is no small god with a limited power. This is no god who sits wringing his hands hoping that someone will choose him. This is no god who does not know what is going to happen, either because he is not powerful enough, or because he’s limited his power to a small keyhole-like view of the future. Those are all views of God’s sovereignty you’ll find floating around. And none of them are Biblical.

The Bible reveals to us a God who is terrifyingly sovereign. He is the one who can reach in to the very heartland of Egypt – right into the spiritual stronghold of the palace – and turn the heart of the king any which way he wishes. I have made him and his officials stubborn. Why? So I can display my signs – and that you may know I am the LORD.

This is a God who is sovereign, and who uses his sovereignty to glorify himself. If you missed last week’s sermon – read chapters 7 and 8, download the sermon, and listen to it.

It seems so unfair. He allows Pharaoh to rebel, he even hardens Pharaoh’s heart so he can rebel – so that he can display his power now so that v2 you can tell your children and grandchildren about how I made a mockery of the Egyptians. This whole event is orchestrated (arranged) by God to reveal to us his sovereign power, his grace at rescuing a despised and enslaved people, and his (eventual) terrifying judgement on those who oppose him.

The Bible reveals a God who is patient, and loving, and kind, showing mercy and grace to thousands – but when he rouses himself in anger, we are lost. There is no withstanding him. 4 If you refuse, watch out! For tomorrow I will bring a swarm of locusts on your country. 5 They will cover the land so that you won’t be able to see the ground. They will devour what little is left of your crops after the hailstorm, including all the trees growing in the fields. 6 They will overrun your palaces and the homes of your officials and all the houses in Egypt. Never in the history of Egypt have your ancestors seen a plague like this one!”

But, but we might say, that’s not fair. How can he punish Pharaoh for his hard heart when He was the one who made it hard?

Or to put it more generally, more personally – because that’s what we really care about - how does this affect ME: if God is sovereign, how can I be free. And if I’m not free, then how can God judge me for my actions.

This has often been used as an argument against God’s sovereignty, or to try to reduce it. And so we end up trying to make God small or limit his power or say he chooses to not see things- none of which match up to what we read in the Bible. So, either the Bible is wrong and God doesn’t know what He’s talking about when it comes to himself... or we’ve got a problem of understanding!

We misunderstand because we think “logically” that the two are mutually exclusive. That God can not be both fully sovereign, and that we have real choice – real responsibility. But that is EXACTLY what the Bible teaches. How that works out, I’m not quite sure. But since when is reality logical?

God created light. Light is both a stream of photons, like a stream of bullets da-da-da-da AND it’s a waveform swish. Both. At the same time. Which is not possible.

Flash memory in cameras, phones, etc. is equally impossible. Whenever you take a picture with your digital camera you do the impossible. There is a barrier in your memory card to stop the information on it simply “floating” away. But that barrier also means you can’t change what’s on the card. Except, you can. If you do some funky sciency stuff on the quantum level you can make information move onto the card, through the barrier, without actually going through the barrier. It’s like Star Trek, when they “beam” from the ship to the planet. It’s impossible – but it works.

Reality is not logical, and there are many contradictions in nature – is it such a surprise that there should be when we come to the Bible and the relationship of Creator and created? God is sovereign, and we have real choice.

Is that unfair? Well, does Pharaoh want to obey God? No. No he does not. His whole attitude is one of arrogant hostility. He does not care for God. And God, terrifyingly, respects his decision. Pharaoh chooses to rebel against God. And God is fair. He hardens Pharaoh’s hard heart so that Pharaoh will never repent. Even when faced with God’s awesome power, he will not repent, even when it is completely obvious that he should. 7 Pharaoh’s officials now came to Pharaoh and appealed to him. “How long will you let this man hold us hostage? Let the men go to worship the LORD their God! Don’t you realize that Egypt lies in ruins?”

You know, there comes a time when God hardens the hearts of those who are opposed to him. When God gives them what they want. We are not automatons, and it is not unfair. Pharaoh did not want to obey God. And God gives him what he wants: God has his enemy.

God is... fair. But not in the way we like it. We want him to be fair in the way that we are fair with our children, playing fair when it suits them, but tilting the scales in their favour when it doesn’t. But sometimes God says grow up, dress like a man and be assessed. And terrifyingly he gives us exactly what we choose: God, I am your enemy.

God is not fair? No he is fair. He is just. And his justice is frightening.

2. God causes suffering (God the judge)

12 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Raise your hand over the land of Egypt to bring on the locusts. Let them cover the land and devour every plant that survived the hailstorm.” 13 So Moses raised his staff over Egypt, and the LORD caused an east wind to blow over the land all that day and through the night. When morning arrived, the east wind had brought the locusts…..15 Not a single leaf was left on the trees and plants throughout the land of Egypt. 16 Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and Aaron. “I have sinned against the LORD your God and against you,” he confessed. .. 19 The LORD responded by shifting the wind, and the strong west wind blew the locusts into the Red Sea. Not a single locust remained in all the land of Egypt. 20 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart again, so he refused to let the people go. 21 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Lift your hand toward heaven, and the land of Egypt will be covered with a darkness so thick you can feel it.

Who is the prime mover, the driver of all this? The LORD. Yahweh is his name. God Almighty. He says to Moses. He causes the wind to blow to bring the locusts. He takes them away again. He hardens Pharaoh’s heart. He brings the darkness. The LORD is his name!

This is not some tame God who you can fob off with a bit of confession or a bit of Bible reading. He’s not fooled by a few good works lobbed in his direction – oh, I helped my friend at work, or I washed the dishes for my wife. We can’t get him off our back by saying a few “Hail Mary’s” or taking communion. He’s not impressed with sacrifices offered to idols or prayer five times a day towards mecca or anywhere else. This is the LORD. He will be obeyed. COMPLETELY.

And if we disobey him, he will judge us. He will punish us, because that is just and fair. Is it not right for the criminal to be sentenced? The judge who lets the criminal off is a bad judge. The good judge is the one who sees justice done. The good judge is the one who punishes the unjust.

I’ve been listening to the book of Psalms, and I have been struck about how many of them have to do with suffering – suffering because of the judgement of God. Lord, how long? Lord, how heavy your hand is upon me. Lord. Lord.

It seems the Psalmists knew something we have forgotten: that suffering comes from the hand of the Lord. He commands famine and he commands winds. He sends armies to destroy and he strikes down kings and governors. Nothing happens without his command.

We see this in Revelation as the Lord commands the seals to be opened and the trumpets to be blown and the bowls of wrath to be poured out. All things we see now. The Lord’s judgement is heavy upon us.

Let me stop there and ask a question: what is it that makes punishment punishment as opposed to bullying or torture? Is it not the guilt or innocence of the person being punished? And the intention of the punisher?

We, like Pharaoh, are guilty before the holy God, and our punishment is just. I am a sinner before him. And so are you. We have let our hearts guide us, instead of listening to him, seeking our own comfort and glory instead of doing what we were created to do: to bring him praise and glory!

And so God causes suffering. And in many cases allows suffering. Because, if we’re honest, most of our suffering is not the famine, wind, and storm variety – most is the interpersonal struggles of other people’s sin and our own sin: selfishness, bitter words, betrayal, disloyalty, lies, deceit, violence, gossiping, back-stabbing, cruelty, abuse and so on. And that God does not cause, but allows to happen. As Romans 1 says God in his judgement “gives us over” to our sin. But not all our sin – otherwise this world would be unliveable. Our hearts are like a wellspring of sin, rebellion against God. New ways of sinning come so easily to us – it’s like we have a fountain of sin at our hearts. God does not need to cause us to sin, we do that – what he does is regulate how much we are allowed to express our sin! Most of which he keeps in check. I mean, here we are, still alive, in one of the most pleasant countries in the world to live. God is certainly keeping our sin at bay!

God allows just enough of our sin out to reveal our sinfulness. God sends just enough disasters to remind us that we are not in control, that we are not God. So that we will turn to him. In Revelation we see that God only allows a “third” or a “portion”. All the sin and evil we see on display today is only a small part of what we’re really capable of. That should cause us to fall to our knees and cry out to God “save us!”

You see, that’s something else you read in the Psalms. All their cries are directed…to the LORD. We need to GO TO HIM, like the Psalmists. Where else would we go? The purpose of suffering is to drive us to God. That’s where Pharaoh should have gone.

So, yes, God does cause suffering, on occasion. And God does allow suffering. And it is all to drive us to him, to seek him out. We are in the darkness, and we are to seek out the light.

3. God does not accept everyone (Darkness or light)

21 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Lift your hand toward heaven, and the land of Egypt will be covered with a darkness so thick you can feel it.” 22 So Moses lifted his hand to the sky, and a deep darkness covered the entire land of Egypt for three days. 23 During all that time the people could not see each other, and no one moved. But there was light as usual where the people of Israel lived.

The contrast is stark. The land of Egypt was in darkness, under judgement. But Goshen where God’s people lived – there, there was light! It’s a contrast that’s been going on since the plague of flies in 8:22. There is a way out. There is a place free of judgement, a place of safety, a place where there is no suffering, where the Lord’s hand is not against you.

The message is obvious. That’s where you want to be. Under the Lord’s favour. How do you get there? How do you get God’s favour? It’s a desperately important question, particularly given how terrifyingly awesome God is.

Well, we’ve got Pharaoh to show us how not to do it. Pharaoh had a tiny view of God – an idol view of God. Pharaoh tried to placate him – to send him a few gifts, a bit of obedience. Even some repentance with some real, genuine tears. 16 Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and Aaron. “I have sinned against the LORD your God and against you,” he confessed. And God smashes his pretence. He sees right through to the hard heart of Pharaoh and his hand of judgement weighs heavy: a blanket of darkness covers the land.

Pharaoh does not fear the Lord, does he? He is not afraid of his power, his might, his glory, his holiness. And, to be honest, all to often, neither am I. I try to impress God with my little works of holiness. I try to show God how good I am and that he really owes me because I go to church and read my Bible and pray and confess my sins and take communion and am a Nice Man – all of which are good things – but completely worthless in impressing a holy God. Because all those things are done by a sinful man, a man who’s heart of heart is turned towards self. My glory. My comfort. My honour. Instead of towards God. His glory. His honour. His praise.

Don’t you see? The God of the Bible is not some puppet, some small god that we can boss around or placate. He is vast and unapproachable and frightening. He terrifies us in his anger and frightens us in his wrath. His voice makes us cover our ears. He is the Holy God, fierce in his beauty and majesty, the one who dwells in unapproachable light. What are we but dust? We are nothing, chaff to be burnt up in his presence, an insect to be flicked off.

What are we compared to the Almighty. What is our holiness compared to his?

We are in darkness. We think we are light – but compared to the Lord we are a smouldering wick in the fierce sun – the kind of sun you get in the desert in the Sudan. Bright and powerful and all-consuming! Compared to him even our “light” (our goodness) is shadows and darkness - and the light will burn the darkness – and eventually destroy it. Where the sun blazes, there is no darkness. It is destroyed. So it is with us who try to walk with God.

Do we not see therefore how amazing, how great, how necessary the incarnation was and is? The Incarnation: God becoming man and walking amongst us. That he came in the person of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Not just wearing a person suit – but actually becoming a human being. Being born as one of us, a baby in a manger, growing up as a child, experiencing pain and hunger and love and emotions – one of us, completely. And then he – the Holy One - took our sin upon his shoulders, and took our place on the cross. Behold the Light of the world! And the world became dark as he was judged. Jesus suffered. Jesus went through the frightening justice of God. He took the full blow of punishment our sins deserved. Why?

Because this was the only way for darkness to become light. It was the only way for unrighteous sinners like us to be made righteous. How stupid we are when we think we can earn our salvation. Match the holiness of this God? It is preposterous, ludicrous, idiotic. That’s why we needed his righteousness.

Why are the people of Israel in the light? Because two thousand years later Jesus died for them. He was in darkness in order to bring them light.

Why did God hear the cries of the Psalmists? Because Jesus suffered in their place.

And why does God hear our cry for mercy? Because Jesus has taken our sins upon him.

God is fair, and that is terrifying, because our choices matter. So God sends suffering and allows our sin in order to drive us to him. Lord, have mercy. In utter helplessness we must come to him, not trying to manipulate him or impress him – we simply stand, hands empty, and plead for mercy. Please, I am in darkness. Transform me into the light of your son, the Lord Jesus.

Because if we do not, we will remain in darkness, and a day will come when God will say 29 “Very well,” Moses replied. “I will never see your face again.”

søndag 9. november 2014

Exodus 8:20 – 9:35 To God be the glory

Exodus 8:20 – 9:35

I have spared you for this purpose: to show you my power and spread my fame throughout the earth.

That’s chapter 9:16.
It’s probably the key verse in Exodus because it explains what God is doing... and why.

And it’s a verse we really struggle with.

Because we crash into the central truth of the Bible: God is God, and I am not. God is the centre of the universe, not me. These verses hit us like a hammer blow. How can God do this? How can he say this? What about Pharaoh? Is he just a puppet? Am I just a puppet? How can God allow all the suffering of the Egyptians? Just for his glory? Isn’t that rather self-centred. I think God should do… this.

Oh, isn’t it revealing. I find myself standing in judgement over God. I find myself questioning his right to do what he wants with his creation. I, a mere creature, a rebel against God at that!, dare raise my puny moral code against him and say “I don’t like it”. Why? Because I’m a sinner. And the essence of sin is “I am God” “I will decide what is right and wrong”. And you are a sinner too, and so will have the same reactions.

So it is important that we allow the hammer to fall and we really grasp these verse. Let us lay aside our sinners reaction and try to understand this central truth of the Bible: That God’s plan is to glorify God. That is indeed, my first point. This is where we are going:

1. God’s plan is to glorify God

2. If we do not glorify God, God will still be glorified

3. If we obey God, God will be glorified

4. God WILL be glorified. How will you glorify God?

1. God’s plan is to glorify God

Let’s read those verses again where God reveals why he’s allowing Pharaoh to stand against him. 9:12 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and just as the Lord had predicted to Moses, Pharaoh refused to listen. 13 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh. Tell him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so they can worship me. 14 If you don’t, I will send more plagues on you and your officials and your people. Then you will know that there is no one like me in all the earth. 15 By now I could have lifted my hand and struck you and your people with a plague to wipe you off the face of the earth. 16 But I have spared you for a purpose—to show you my power and to spread my fame throughout the earth.

Ah, the sovereignty of God. We think we’re fine with it, until we come to verses like this.

Why does God harden Pharaoh’s heart, as in 9:12? Why does God allow Pharaoh to harden his own heart, as in 8:32, 9:7, and 9:34?
The answer is: For his own glory. For God’s glory.
Why the plagues and the sin and rebellion and Pharaoh’s rudeness and suffering and rescue and joy for the Israelites and raising Moses and Aaron up? It’s all for God’s glory.

Why is the world the way it is? Ultimately, it will serve God’s glory. Oh it’s more complicated than that – but at the end of the day it is all about him. Can we get it, can we grasp it? We are so good at making God small. So skilled at reducing him to a manageable size.
That’s why we have to keep coming to his Word and reading what is there. Being overawed by who He is. By what he can do.

Just look at what he does to Egypt, an area of 1 million square kilometres, a vast superpower in those days, a population of maybe 2 million people. 8:24 And the Lord did just as he had said. A thick swarm of flies filled Pharaoh’s palace and the houses of his officials. The whole land of Egypt was thrown into chaos by the flies.
9: 6 And the Lord did just as he had said. The next morning all the livestock of the Egyptians died, but the Israelites didn’t lose a single animal.
10 So they took soot from a brick kiln and went and stood before Pharaoh. As Pharaoh watched, Moses threw the soot into the air, and boils broke out on people and animals alike. 11 Even the magicians were unable to stand before Moses, because the boils had broken out on them and all the Egyptians.
23 So Moses lifted his staff toward the sky, and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and lightning flashed toward the earth. The Lord sent a tremendous hailstorm against all the land of Egypt.

Can you feel the POWER? Do you get a sense of the vastness of God? That we are as powerful as an ant compared to him – even less? That at any moment he could simply flick us off? That our rebellion against him is laughable?

Like I said last week, Pharaoh was getting ready to go a few rounds in the boxing ring to determine who was going to be the champion – but he didn’t realise that he was hopelessly – hilariously – ridiculously outclassed. I said it was a bit like me vs. Sylvester Stallone. Actually, it’s a bit like me versus a 50 tonne freight train…

God is God. He spoke and everything was. He has more power in his little finger than all the power of the sun for all eternity. Why does he bother with us? What is man that you are mindful of him?

The fact is that we exist and go about our business at his pleasure. The universe exists for him. Remember Colossians 1:16 He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see— such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him.
I’m not sure we really grasp that – until it we see it displayed like here in Exodus. If we’re good Christians we’re theoretically all happy with the fact that God is in control and that God’s plan is to glorify himself and that he is the most important person in the universe.

But I often think we’re happy that God is in control simply because we think he’ll do what WE want. That we’re happy to obey God as long as God is asking us to do what we already want to do!

I know that’s me! I’m all for the sovereignty of God when God is blessing me, doing things my way – but when he decides to do something different, call me to obey in an area I don’t want to, highlight some sin in my life that I happen to like thank you very much. Then suddenly I’m not so happy about the sovereignty of God. Sound familiar?

What does that reveal about us? That we’re still trying to be God. In my heart of hearts I think I know best how the world should work, and particularly how my life should go. It is when we are called to the hard paths, when we suffer, when we are put under pressure, that we see whether we really bow the knee before God, when we see who really is on the throne. When all is stripped away and we see whether we love God because we love HIM, glorious HIM – or whether we love him for what we get from him.

Because if we just love God for what we get from him, we don’t really love Him, do we? We love ourselves. We exist to glorify ourselves – and our “love” for Jesus, our “religion” will be, on the last day, revealed as a sham, a fake.

God’s plan is to glorify God.

2. If we do not glorify God, God will still be glorified

8:20 Then the Lord told Moses, “Get up early in the morning and stand in Pharaoh’s way as he goes down to the river. Say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so they can worship me. 21 If you refuse, then I will send swarms of flies on you, your officials, your people, and all the houses. The Egyptian homes will be filled with flies, and the ground will be covered with them. 22 But this time I will spare the region of Goshen, where my people live. No flies will be found there. Then you will know that I am the Lord and that I am present even in the heart of your land.

Pharaoh was warned. IF you refuse, THEN this will happen. Three times in this passage Pharaoh is given a IF…THEN warning:
8:21 which I just read;
9:2 IF you continue to hold them and refuse to let them go, 3 (THEN) the hand of the Lord will strike all your livestock;
9:14 IF you don’t, (THEN) I will send more plagues on you…;

Pharaoh will not give God glory. He will not. He is on the throne. I used the example last week of the steward upon the throne – when he heard that the rightful king was returning to claim the throne he said “I will not bow the knee to this “king”. The rule of my kingdom is MINE, and no other.” That’s Pharaoh. That’s all too often us. “The rule of my life is mine – and no other”.

And that is a dangerous place to be. Because God’s plan is to glorify God – and Pharaoh has set himself up against that. God had promised his people that they would be set free. He had promised Abraham a land, a people, and great blessing. Pharaoh was standing in the way of that promise. What a fool.

For what happens to thieves and rebels when the rightful king returns?

If you do this, THEN this will happen. If you rebel against God, you will eventually find yourself unable to repent, and cast out into the utter darkness. Into Hell. Hell is described as fire and torment because imagine spending all eternity cut off from God. It is terrifying. We are eternal creatures, with an eternal soul. And there are only two ways to live – either with God, or without him, for all eternity.

Then you will know that I am the Lord.

There are many today who glory in their rebellion against God. Who mock him, and angrily resist his rule. When he returns, or when they die, whichever comes sooner – they will know that He is the LORD. There are many who claim to love him, but are seated firmly on the throne. Who “obey” like Pharaoh does in 8:25 Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron. “All right! Go ahead and offer sacrifices to your God,” he said. And in 9:27 Then Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and Aaron. “This time I have sinned,” he confessed. “The Lord is the righteous one, and my people and I are wrong. 28 Please beg the Lord to end this terrifying thunder and hail. We’ve had enough. I will let you go; you don’t need to stay any longer.”
We “obey” the Lord until we can get him off our backs and get back to what WE want to do. Just the bare minimum so that hopefully he will go away, or give us what we want. That’s not obedience – that’s rebellion. And there are many people like that sitting in churches across this country. Lord, please reveal our hearts if that is us. Please let us see our rebellion.

Because even our rebellion does not take away from God’s glory. Pharaoh cannot stop God being glorified. Did you notice how God is using Pharoah’s rebellion to glorify himself even more? 15 By now I could have lifted my hand and struck you and your people with a plague to wipe you off the face of the earth. 16 But I have spared you for a purpose—to show you my power and to spread my fame throughout the earth.

God allows Pharaoh to remain, to rebel, in order to show his great power, and so that his name, the LORD, Yahweh, is known throughout the earth.

Jesus allowed Judas to betray him, allowed Pilate to sentence him to death, allowed the priests to rebel against him – all so that he could go to the cross and achieve a great and glorious rescue that his name, Jesus, would be known throughout the earth.

God will glorify himself, and if we refuse to give him glory – he will still be glorified, even as we are judged and condemned.

God will be glorified.

3. If we obey God, God will be glorified

A short point, but an important one. Moses and Aaron obey God and are part of God’s huge salvation plan.

God is moving to glorify himself, to show all the world his power, and that he keeps his promises. So why does he need Moses and Aaron? He could have spoken to Pharaoh in a dream. Or appeared in a pillar of fire as he does later on. Or whatever!
But he chooses to call Moses and Aaron. And they get to be part of the greatest rescue the world has seen before the Cross of Christ. Remarkable.

God does not need them! This is only something you notice when you’re preparing for a sermon, reading the passage very carefully, but did you notice WHO is doing the bringing of the plagues? At first he tells Moses to tell Aaron to raise his staff and say… blood, frogs, gnats; then the next two, the flies and the plague of livestock, just happen. God says it will happen and then it happens. No human being is waving a staff or speaking words.
God doesn’t need Moses or Aaron. But he chooses to use them.
For the next plagues it’s then Moses who gets to do the actions: throwing soot for the boils, lifting his staff to the sky for the hail, raising his hand for the locusts and the darkness. But the final judgement, the judgement of death, that is the Lord who does it, by his word.

The point is, is that God will do what He will do – but if you or I are obedient and willing, like Moses and Aaron, we can be part of his saving work (and judging work) in the world. We can glorify God in our obedience.

Mia was sharing the other night about how all the patients in the ward were asking for her to come and help them with this or that – they wanted her. Why? Because something about her, about the way she saw them and treated them was different. She was exhausted, overworked – but something of Christ was still rubbing off. She was glorifying God in her work.

If we obey God, God will be glorified.

4. God WILL be glorified: how will you glorify him?

God is mighty, glorious, wild, powerful beyond measure – infinitely dangerous to those who oppose him – and infinitely safe for those whom he loves.

In the end, there are only two ways to live. One ends in death and destruction. The other, eternal life.

Because along with divine sovereignty (God’s authority) the Bible also teaches human responisibility. That our choices matter. That frighteningly, our lives echo into eternity. We are not mere puppets but human beings made in God’s image. And somehow our choices and God’s sovereignty work together to achieve His purposes.

So what are you going to do with God?

One way is Pharaoh’s way. He rebelled, he manipulated, he did not fear the word of the Lord. He set himself up in opposition to God, and God allowed Pharaoh to oppose him – for a time. Until he had served his purpose in glorifying God – and then darkness and death overtook him, and his rebellion was crushed, giving glory to God and salvation to the Israelites. Praise the Lord!

That’s one way to live.

The other is to accept the lordship of God. Accept that he is the ruler of the whole universe, including over me. It is to fear the word of the Lord – to listen to him, obey him. And to listen to God is not just intellectual assent “yes, I believe in God”: it will involve a change in lifestyle. It will be visible, something we seem to want to avoid. Think about those Egyptian officials who ran out to bring in their livestock and servants before the hailstorm. It was quite clear that they had listened to God. Their belief led to a changed lifestyle. And you can imagine the dirty looks they would have got from their fellow Egyptians. “Hmm listening to the slaves’ god, eh? Are you going to become a slave too?” Or think about Moses and Aaron being sent before Pharaoh “Go and tell Pharaoh…” seriously? Knees probably knocking – but they went – and are praised as saviours of God’s people, being caught up into God’s glory for all eternity.

See him! See his glory and his power! See his beauty and his majesty! And lay aside your rule, get off your throne, and say Lord take your place in my life. You are my king. I will follow you through whatever path you choose, through darkness and through light, through suffering and joy, because you are the Lord, you are my God, you are my saviour and my life. I love you because you are the Lord God Almighty, and through Christ I can call you my Father. Abba, Father. Daddy.

There are only two ways to live... and God will be glorified.

søndag 2. november 2014

Exodus 7:8 to 8:19 Who will be God?

Exodus 7:8 to 8:19

In the book The Lord of the Rings there is a character called Denethor, the Steward of Gondor. The steward and his family have been given authority to rule in place of the King, until the King returns. After many generations, with the Steward’s family on the throne, they suddenly receive word that the King’s son is returning to Gondor.

And what is the Steward’s response to the news. “I have seen more than you know. With your left hand you would use me as a shield, and with your right you would seek to replace me. I know who rides to this city. Word has reached my ears of this “king” and I tell you now, I will not bow to this Ranger from the North, last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship!

The rule of Gondor is mine! And no other's!”

That’s Pharaoh’s attitude, isn’t it? He is challenged with God’s authority over his life and he says “No. The rule of Egypt is mine, and no other’s.”

But Pharaoh’s not the only one, is he? Every single one of us reacts like these men when God intrudes into our little world. I am the king of my life. How dare you come and claim authority over me. “The rule of my life is mine, and no other’s.”

And so we ignore him – pretend he isn’t there. Shut our eyes to the evidence. Or we build little idols – I’ll worship that, instead. So many religions. So many ways to turn our back on the real God.

We even make up new versions of Jesus, and worship him instead. There is a reason so few “Christians” read their Bible… they (we?) don’t want to be reminded of the REAL God – he messes up our fake one! All ways that we rebel against God: we turn our back on him, we try to manipulate him, we do everything we can to avoid saying “You are God, You are the rightful king over my life. I will obey you.”

That’s our problem – and that was Pharaoh’s problem. So let’s turn to the passage and see what happens when you refuse to bow to the returning King.

1. Who’s the real God in Egypt?

This passage is like a battle between two warriors. Like two boxers, shaping up for a fight, trading blows. And here they come, the boxers, ready to enter the ring, and fight for the rule of Egypt…

In the red corner, the current champion, wearing the red, black and white (colours of Egypt’s flag), representing Egypt, and the human race: Pharaoooooh! His word is law, his cruelty is well know, his power immense.

In the blue corner, the challenger, wearing a white robe dipped in blood, his name written upon his thigh, many crowns upon his head, and a sharp sword coming from his mouth. Are his words powerful? We shall see. He claims to be the Master of the Universe. Let’s find out…

Let’s get ready to ruuuumble!

The fight starts in v10 Aaron threw down his staff before Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a serpent!


But Pharaoh has his guard up, and he sends in his magicians to do the same. “Huh, you think you’re powerful – I have the same power”. It’s like two fighters testing their strength. At least that’s what Pharaoh thinks. 11 Then Pharaoh called in his own wise men and sorcerers, and these Egyptian magicians did the same thing with their magic. 12 They threw down their staffs, which also became serpents!

What he doesn’t notice is what happens next. But then Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. Or maybe he did notice, and he chose to ignore it. 13 Pharaoh’s heart, however, remained hard. He still refused to listen, just as the Lord had predicted.

I just want to make a little note here, where I think the NLT has chosen a weak word “predicted”. I’m not sure why they used it, since the Hebrew simply says “said” “just as the Lord had said”. It has an overtone of control, kingship, which I think is missing from “predicted”.

You see, Pharaoh is way out of his depth in this fight. It’s like me going up against Sylvester Stallone. Oh we might go a few rounds if he chose to, but the moment he decided the fight should end… this fight is that kind of mismatch.
Pharaoh, however, has deluded himself into thinking this is an equal fight. In fact, he thinks he is stronger. After all, look at the power he has over the Israelites, look how he’s been treating them. And this God, Yahweh (LORD), claims to be their god. The God of slaves. Look there in v16 The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to tell you, “Let my people go,”

Seriously – whose gods are more powerful? The God of the slaves? Or the gods of the masters?

For Pharaoh refuses to notice Aaron’s serpent eating up the other serpents. He simply ignores the Nile turning to blood, as his magicians could do the same thing. Look at v23 Pharaoh returned to his palace and put the whole thing out of his mind.

His people, however, are suffering. V24 24 Then all the Egyptians dug along the riverbank to find drinking water, for they couldn’t drink the water from the Nile. 25 Seven days passed from the time the Lord struck the Nile.

Seven days. Seven days – and Pharaoh does nothing. Just pretends life is normal. He’s outmatched. Outclassed. But he’s not going to admit it. It’s like the challengers first stunning blow, which rocks the title-holder and he realises this fight is much, much harder than he first thought, and that he might just lose this. But he shakes it off, and tries to forget it. Puts it out of his mind. I am the champion. I am the king of Egypt. I am a god.

After seven days of blood, the Lord speaks. The sword of the Lord flashes out of his mouth: 8:1 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go back to Pharaoh and announce to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so they can worship me. 2 If you refuse to let them go, I will send a plague of frogs across your entire land. 3 The Nile River will swarm with frogs. They will come up out of the river and into your palace, even into your bedroom and onto your bed! They will enter the houses of your officials and your people. They will even jump into your ovens and your kneading bowls. 4 Frogs will jump on you, your people, and all your officials.’ ”

The next blow lands: Frogs! Frogs everywhere! But Pharaoh hits back – boom! The frogs are no more, but they’re crawling over Moses and Aaron – in their hair, in their beards, in their clothes – no. That’s not what happens, is it? Pharaoh’s defence is again “well, we can do the same thing” .

How did the magicians do it? The text doesn’t say, and therefore it’s not really important, is it. Black magic, demonic power, illusion, whatever. They certainly seemed to have some power – but they were outmatched – and, they couldn’t make the situation better, only worse. With snakes, they made more snakes. With blood, more blood. With frogs, more frogs. Satan’s power is a poor imitation of a small amount of God’s power. The world may promise solutions but they’re kind of like more frogs. What we need is someone to deal with the problem once and for all. And the problem is sin. Sin is why our marriages fall apart. Why our children are neglected. Why we lock our doors at night. Why we need to have money to motivate us to go to work – no-one works for the good of our fellow man. Sin is why we have police and prisons and child welfare. Sin is why we hurt each other so deeply, and are hurt by those who should love us.

And there is no solution to the problem of sin. Except God. He sent his son to deal once and for all with the problem of sin- and that’s where this series of plagues is heading. It is all leading up to plague number 10: the death of the firstborn, and the Passover rescue – and that points forward to the death of the firstborn of the Universe, the very Son of God, as he becomes our Passover rescue.
And all this is to show us what we are like. To show Pharaoh and us our need for a saviour. Because we don’t believe it. We cling to our lies and harden our hearts. Frogs are everywhere, but we won’t give in.

I’m sure you’ve seen that attitude in your friends, family, husbands, wives, parents – particularly when the gospel starts to hit home. They go into “battle mode” the defences come up, and they may even lash out. You may have experienced extremely hurtful reactions, maybe even been cut off from your family for confronting them with the truth of the Lordship of Christ.

Remember, their reaction is not against you – but against Christ. They feel the Truth of his Lordship, they hear his voice of command – and they want to run away, to fight, to shut it up. That is the heart of man. We want to be God, and we cannot bear it when the real God shows up and embarrasses us! So have compassion on them. Remember the insults and abuse Christ experienced here on earth and remember that He is right there with you. And remember how you reacted when Christ first called you. Remember that sting of pride as your realised you couldn’t save yourself, but had to bow the knee to the Almighty. For some of us that sting was bigger than others.

And remember that we still struggle with it. For as we read on through the Bible (and as we have read), Pharaoh is not the only one who struggles with God, and it’s not so much the “enemies” of God who struggle – but the people of God. We struggle with God. Our sin rears up time and time again – and we try to justify it. How often are we like Pharaoh – and we know the Lord.
How often do we cling to our pride? How often do we consider ourselves equal to God – even when our life is crumbling around us. How often do we justify our sin, even when our sin is ruining our life! The rule of my life is MINE, and no other.

Oh Lord, save us from ourselves! Humble us, Lord, in your mercy! Open our eyes to our rebellion and save us!

Who is the real God in Egypt? Not Pharaoh, but the Lord, Yahweh.

Who is the real God in Norway, in your life, in my life? Not me, not you, but the Lord, Jesus, the Christ.

Even Pharaoh begins to realise he is outmatched – that God is more powerful. So he does what most of us then do in that situation: we try to manipulate God to do what we want. He might be more powerful, but maybe we can turn that to our advantage….?

2. Manipulating God

Because Pharaoh seems to give in, doesn’t he? Look at v8 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and begged, “Plead with the Lord to take the frogs away from me and my people. I will let your people go, so they can offer sacrifices to the Lord.”

Hallelujah, haaalelujah!

But he was still on the throne. 15 But when Pharaoh saw that relief had come, he became stubborn. He refused to listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said.

He wasn’t interested in obeying the Lord, but only interested in serving the Lord as long as he got what he wanted.

But no. It was just a manipulative ploy. Another favourite trick of ours. When we realise that God is more powerful we start to wheel and deal with him. You give me this, I give you that. We manipulate God. And we certainly do it as Christians. I’ll pray the prayer of Jabez for 40 days and God will surely bless me. I’ll go to Bethel to get the blessing. I’ll do this or that or say this prayer in this way Jeeeee-susss, or light this candle or pray to a saint , or Jesus’ mother – because surely he’ll listen to her, and we try being very, very good – but in our heart of hearts we are trying to get God to serve US. We put on a nice front. But that’s all it is. And there are many sitting in churches, who are seated on the throne, “manipulating” God. You may have met them, you may even have been one of them (I was). Maybe you still are. Norwegian has a great word to describe us when we’re like that: “skinnhellig” – skin deep holy – but under …. Squeeze them and you see what comes out, and it’s not Christ. I was a good Christian boy – and lived utterly selfishly. Pharaoh listened to God “I will let your people go”

Is it a good idea to resist the Lord? It will only end one way: badly. 16 So the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Raise your staff and strike the ground. The dust will turn into swarms of gnats throughout the land of Egypt.’ ”

And this time, Pharaoah’s defence fails: the magicians cannot do the same trick. God’s power is beyond them, and they exclaim v19“This is the finger of God!”

They realise they are outmatched. But Pharaoh – he refuses to listen to reason, and Pharaoh’s heart remained hard. He wouldn’t listen to them, just as the Lord had said.

The Egyptians have seen the power of God. Their water turned to blood, covered with frogs, and now swarms of gnats. The magicians are outmatched and realise that this is real power. The Lord, Yahweh, he is the real God. But Pharoah – he will not bow the knee. Such a small thing. And yet the hardest thing in the world.

It is such a small thing to acknowledge that God is God and that you are not. So easy. Yet so hard. Because that is sin: pretending that you are God, that “I am God”. And we all do it. It is our default. We think only of ourselves and our own glory. Let us instead repent – cry out to God that we need him, because he is merciful. Let us stop trying to manipulate God, and siply accept the glorious salvation offered to us – for free. We don’t need to manipulate – we can just accept!

3. The God of the poor and downtrodden

Because this passage is about the fight between God and Pharaoh, but it also reveals to us the character of God. Our God is a God is is not ashamed to be associated with the weak and downtrodden. Look at 7:16 The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to tell you, “Let my people go”. Think about that, as a Hebrew, locked in slavery, without hope – that God says “My people, the Hebrews”. He is… with us?

God is with us. He showed that supremely 1500 years later when he identified completely with us, being born a human being, poor, unexalted, downtrodden. He lived among us as one of us: he is our God, and we his people. And, living among us as Jesus of Nazareth he showed us his power, the same power present in the Exodus: power over evil spirits (he cast them out with a word), power over creation (calming the storm, walking on water), power to heal, power even over death.

And just like in the Exodus, that power is used to rescue. We are slaves to our sin, so he broke the power of sin over us by dying in our place. We might be like Pharaoh – the rule is MINE – but Jesus broke the power of sin over us as he broke his body for us on the cross. His blood was shed and covered over our sin and rebellion – and we are set free, set free from our rebellious and hard hearts and we can follow our King, the true King, the true God, and learn to love him and obey him all of our lives.

A repeated phrase in Exodus is 7:17 “I will show you that I am the LORD”, 8:10 “Then you will know there is no-one like the LORD our God”, 8:22 “Then you will know I am the LORD”. The Exodus judgement and rescue reveals our God to us. He is utterly powerful, utterly in control. Pharaoh can no more stand against him than a feather stand against a hurricane. And yet he is the God who rescues the humble, the broken, the downtrodden. All who call upon the name of the LORD will be saved.

Who is the real God? Not me, but God.
Can I manipulate God? You can try. But it will end badly, like it did for Pharaoh. A hopeless end.
What can I do? Turn to the God of the poor and downtrodden, a God who became one of us in order to rescue us, and accept the salvation he offers. An endless hope.