søndag 22. februar 2015

Exodus 19 Be prepared to meet the Holy God!

Exodus 19:1-20:3

Why are you here?

Why do you come to church?

Because this is what you always do? Because you’re trying to impress God? Because your Dad told you to? Because you must? Because without God’s Word you will die? Because you are desperate to be with the Lord and his people? Because you fear the Lord, and want to avoid his anger?

Why are you here?

Today’s passage is about being ready to face the Lord. Are you prepared? Who is this LORD that Israel is about to meet? Unapproachable. Dangerous. Terrifying. Holy.

The first thing we learn from this passage is that
The Lord will destroy you because you are unclean
The Lord will destroy you unless you have a representative
The Lord will destroy you unless your representative is Jesus – so listen to Him!

1. The Lord will destroy you because you are unclean

Today the rescued people of God, chosen by Him, kept safe by Him, fed by Him, lead by Him, watched over and protected by Him - finally are gathered to hear from Him at His holy mountain. And yet they cannot approach Him. 12 Mark off a boundary all around the mountain. Warn the people, ‘Be careful! Do not go up on the mountain or even touch its boundaries. Anyone who touches the mountain will certainly be put to death.

21 Then the Lord told Moses, “Go back down and warn the people not to break through the boundaries to see the Lord, or they will die. 22 Even the priests who regularly come near to the Lord must purify themselves so that the Lord does not break out and destroy them.”

Why would the Lord warn his own people that he will destroy them? What’s up with that?

Well, as I mentioned at the start, God is a HOLY God. Holy. What does that actually mean? We talk about the Holy God, Holy Bible that kind of thing – but what does it mean? So I looked it up. And “holy” basically means who God is. It is his nature, his selfhood. These are some of the descriptions of holiness: power, glory, transcendence, uniqueness, exclusiveness, pureness, dangerousness. He is other. He is pure. He is power. He is perfectly good. But that goodness is not a kind of “oh, how nice” goodness – it is goodness like a blade of sharpened steel, goodness like a blazing fire – goodness that will cut through and burn up anything that is not equally good.

And that makes him unapproachable. But God’s holiness is also expressed in his saving work and being with his people. So how can unholy people (that is people who are not-God) meet with the Holy God. Can not-God and God meet?

Well, yes, but only because God has made it possible, and (and this is important) only in the way that he has made it possible. There is only one way to God – His Way. Any other approach will end up with you dead, destroyed by his holiness.

As all of you know, we’ve just got a dog. And she’s great. Dogs are great. They’re such cool animals. Because a dog exists to please its master. That’s what they live for. A dog’s role, a dog’s job description is to serve and obey his master.
But a dog who doesn’t do that, a dog who is disobedient and running wild – a wild dog – is a problem dog, a bad dog, we say. He’s not doing what he should be doing. Instead of a faithful companion the dog becomes a menace, a nuisance, even dangerous to those around him. A bad dog is bad for those around him – and bad for the dog himself. He is not happy, but angry. He is alone, isolated, friendless, snapping at the world around him. Living in fear, anger – ready to attack to defend what little he has.

We were created to please God. He is our master and we were made to please him, to serve him and to love serving him. It’s in our nature. But like wild dogs we have gone astray. Bad dog. Stop pretending to be God (Ex17) and let God be God.

As Christians, we should know better. In everything we are to please God – all of life belongs to him. And yet so often we are like bad dogs, disobedient dogs – running away from our master when he calls, eating rotten fruit or cat poo even when our master is saying no (true story). Weeing on the floor inside (true story). We march around demanding our rights, demanding that he, our master, does what WE want him to do.
Dear friends, I am not God. You are not God. Like Israel we march around demanding water and food and comfort – our rights – instead of trusting him to provide what we need. Dear brothers, we have no rights. We belong to Christ – twice! He made us and he bought us back. We are his. My life is his. Your life is his.

Are you still trying to approach God on your own? Sneak around the back of Mt Sinai. Hide under Moses’ coat as he goes up. Pretend to be a bush. Poof! That’s the end of you. We know what God does to bushes! (Burns them!)

You cannot approach God. You cannot manipulate God. You cannot demand of God. Who do you think you are? Who does your life belong to?

It’s worth us stopping and asking the question: when did I last give my career over to God? Or my marriage (or future marriage)? What if God calls me to give up my career? Or calls me to be single? The key is: it’s not your career. It’s not your future. It’s His. We belong to him.

Have I given up my family? For some of you this is a reality of following Jesus – rejection by your family.

We talk about choice, rights, disappointment with God. This is supremely arrogant. We were created to serve him. That is our job.

And so as the people gather before this unapproachable God, they are gathered to hear from him how they are to live as his people. The next chapters of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and on to Deuteronomy are filled with God’s Law – God’s commands to say “this is how you will live your life”. Because our lives are not ours – they are his. And that’s a good thing because he is a good master and gives us good gifts and looks after us, like we look after Eowyn, our dog, and feed her and keep her warm and give her lots of love and affection. And in return she obeys us. Most of the time.

You see, I am her Master. She is my Dog. God is our Master. We are his people. We are not the same. He is Other. He is Holy. Do not touch the mountain, for you will surely die.

16 On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled. 17 Moses led them out from the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently.

The Lord will destroy us because we are unclean, like disobedient dogs.

But that’s not the whole story, is it.

2. The Lord will destroy you unless you have a representative

19 As the blast of the ram’s horn grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God thundered his reply. 20 The Lord came down on the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses climbed the mountain.

How is it possible for unholy people, sinful people, to get into contact with a holy God? We need a representative. We need someone to bring us the word of God. And we need someone to clean us – make us ready to meet with God.

10 Then the Lord told Moses, “Go down and prepare the people for my arrival. Consecrate them today and tomorrow, and have them wash their clothing. 11 Be sure they are ready on the third day, for on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai as all the people watch.

Moses could go to meet with God. Why? Because God chose him to be the representative. Remember way back in chapter 4, at the Burning Bush? God says to Moses “Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.”

Moses’ job was to be the mouthpiece of God. Not to add anything to it, but to simply repeat the words of God. What he heard his Heavenly Father say, he would say.

And Moses’ words, which were really God’s words, could make the people ready to meet with God.

14 So Moses went down to the people. He consecrated them for worship, and they washed their clothes. 15 He told them, “Get ready for the third day, and until then abstain from having sexual intercourse.”

Why sex? I don’t know. Perhaps, like fasting, to control your bodily desires simply to honour God? But they were washed, they were cleaned – and only then were they ready to hear the voice of God. 20:1 Then God gave the people all these instructions: 2 “I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. 3 “You must not have any other god but me.

Moses prepared the people to meet with God, and then they met with God.

What we’re doing today is not so different. We are God’s people, gathered together to hear God’s word. This, in Exodus 19 and 20, is the first church. The word “church” (ekklesia) simply means meeting or assembly or gathering. That’s what church is: the gathering of God’s people to hear God’s word. A gathering of Christians without God’s word is not a church. A Christian by himself reading the Word is not a church. But coming together, gathering together, to hear the word of God –that is a church.

This morning we are gathered together to hear God’s word. We are a church. But we did not wash our clothes or abstain from sex to come here this morning. Because we have been made clean not by Moses – but by the one who is greater than Moses: Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. As we saw last week He does not just bring the word of God – he IS the word of God. To know him is to know God. HE is the wisdom of God. He is the perfect representative of God to man – to see Jesus is to see God. And he is the perfect representative of man to God. And he can make us ready to meet God – cleanse us – so that we can be called the people of God.

He can make the unholy, holy.

3. The Lord will destroy you unless your representative is Jesus – so listen to Him!

9 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will come to you in a thick cloud, Moses, so the people themselves can hear me when I speak with you. Then they will always trust you.” Moses told the Lord what the people had said.

Why did God do this? I mean the people already knew Moses spoke for God – after all they’d just had ten plagues when Moses said “God says this will happen!” and it happened. They had the Red Sea, when Moses raised his arms and the sea parted. They fought the Amalekites and Moses raised his arms and they won. It was quite clear that Moses brought God’s word. Duh! So why this extra thing now? Why a cloud on a mountaintop and a voice from Heaven that proves that Moses speaks for God so that the people will always trust him?

Well, those of you who know the gospels will know why! We did Mark last year in this church – and in Mark chapter Mk 9:2–8 Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, far whiter than any earthly bleach could ever make them. 4 Then Elijah and Moses appeared and began talking with Jesus. 5 Peter exclaimed, “Rabbi, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He said this because he didn’t really know what else to say, for they were all terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.”

God does this with Moses so that when he does this with Jesus, his Son, we know that HERE is the true representative of man to God. Here is our Moses, the perfect Moses, the greater Moses. (And if you noticed also the true Elijah, the greater Elijah, the perfect Prophet). Jesus is the one whom Moses foreshadowed. Moses was the image – Jesus is the reality.

And just like the Israelites with Moses, the way we need to respond is to LISTEN and then obey what is being said.

With Moses we need stay back from the mountain or we will die. We need to trust Moses to go and be our representative. We need to wash our clothes and abstain from sex for three days to get ourselves ready, trusting God’s word that that will make us acceptable to him.

Some may question “why would that make them acceptable – washing clothes doesn’t deal with sin”. No, it doesn’t. It’s a symbol. It’s saying to God we need you to wash us, we trust that by obeying you in the symbol, in the ritual, you will do the reality. It’s like communion – we just eat a bit of bread and drink some juice. That can’t save us. But we trust the reality behind the symbol, behind the ritual, that God will forgive our sins because of the body and blood of Jesus. We are saying to God we need you to wash us by the blood, we need you to rescue us, forgive us. It is a symbol or ritual of our need for God. It is an act of humility. The symbol cannot save. But the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection CAN save.

Heb 12:18 You have not come to a physical mountain, to a place of flaming fire, darkness, gloom, and whirlwind, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai.... 21 Moses himself was so frightened at the sight that he said, “I am terrified and trembling.” 22 No, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering... 24 You have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks of forgiveness instead of crying out for vengeance like the blood of Abel.
So...25 Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking. For if the people of Israel did not escape when they refused to listen to Moses, the earthly messenger, we will certainly not escape if we reject the One who speaks to us from heaven!

The Lord will destroy us unless our representative is Jesus – so listen to Him!

I started this morning by asking why you were here. Why have you come? Because if we are coming trusting in anything other than JESUS as our representative, we will be destroyed.

Why? Because we are not perfectly good. We are not holy. Particularly in our culture, raised on the idea of the grace of God, this idea that God will reject us is very culturally inappropriate. But who are we dealing with. Fluffy little God, the grandfather in the sky? The God of the Bible is HOLY. He who dewells in unapproachable light. He is vast and majestic. His voice thunders. The ground shakes. When Christ returns he will not return as the Suffering Servant, but as the King, huge and awesome, body like flaming fire, and a sharp two-edged sword coming out of his mouth. He will return to judge the living and the dead, and if you are not ready you will be destroyed,. Are you ready? Are you ready to face the Living God?

You know, when we talk about sin, we often think about the news stories. And they are a big evidence for that we, as the human race, have sinned against God. But we can often be fooled by the news into a false sense of security – well, I’m not as bad as them, I’m not a sinner like them. And the unspoken idea sneaks in that I’m better, surely God wouldn’t reject ME. I’m... holy. But are you? Am I?

Do I live every day consumed by the glory of God? Do I pursue holiness? Do I seek every day to know God better? Does my life belong to Him – or me? Do I think of MY future, MY reputation, MY career, MY money, MY time.

Well, I know myself. I know many of you. And I know that we don’t live for Christ every minute of every day. Too often we sin. Too often we don’t share the gospel. Too often we are not interested in even going to church or Bible study. We do it if there’s nothing better to do. Nothing better than meeting with God? Spending time with our Lord and Saviour? Yup, that’s how sinful we are. That’s why in the confession we confess as sinful the good things that we haven’t done as well as the bad things we have done.

Like Israel, we are all different people, with different pasts, some good, some bad – but ALL of us are on the outside, barred from God’s holy mountain. God’s holy fire has come down upon the mountain – but we cannot get close. We cannot see God. We are outside.

We need someone to go to God for us. We need a representative. We need someone to clean us, to make us ready to meet with the Living God. Praise God that our representative is Jesus.

Let us use this time now to confess our sins before the Lord. We’re going to have time now to kneel or stand before God in humble confession, and ask him to forgive us for being disobedient dogs. For running away from what he has called us to do. For keeping our career or our money or our friends or our family or our reputation out of his hands. Let us confess our sins to him, and ask him to be Lord of ALL of our life.

And then let us celebrate together the great joy of our perfect representative. The One who went through death and back again to buy us back, to win for us the right to go up on to the mountain, to meet with the Living God like Moses did, and to hear his voice, to know HIM. Our Lord and Master. Our Life.

søndag 15. februar 2015

Exodus 17:8-18:27 How will you respond to the God of Israel?

Exodus 17:8-18:27

I have a confession to make. I must confess that I have struggled with this passage for the past two weeks. I started preparation already last week, together with chapter 17, because I was pretty unsure about this one. It seems so random. Jethro suddenly appears again, out of the blue. He brings Moses’ family. He seems to be a priest of God offering sacrifices, but isn’t part of Israel. And then he sits Moses down and tells him how to lead the people and Moses listens to him. Huh?
This is not a passage I wanted to preach. Not at all! But we are convinced that 2 Timothy 16-17 is correct: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

So chapter 18 is breathed out by God and profitable, useful to us, for teaching and correcting us. There’s another reason why we can’t just jump over chapter 18: God wrote Bible books as Bible books. They have a beginning, middle and end. They progress. And we need to respect the way God has written it. So we preach passages like this, trusting the Spirit to lead us and teach us. And knowing that we as men of God (and women of God) will be equipped for every good work, and we will not be lead astray by those who seek to twist Scripture to say what they want it to say – because we know the context of the verses they use, and know the themes of the books, and know that the focus of Scripture is Christ, Jesus, the Son of God, not you or me or politics or Israel or Jehovah or health and wealth or anything else people try to make it about! The man of God, complete, equipped for every good work.

So let’s dive in and see what we can learn from this passage. And we’ll start by putting it in context.

Last week’s lesson was for the Israelites: stop pretending to be God. Let God be God. Only God can be God. It’s the same lesson we struggle with. That’s why Paul writes in 1 Cor 10:11 These things happened to them (the Israelites during the Exodus and desert wanderings) as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age. 12 If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.

Because as we read these stories we see ourselves reflected there. We are quick to complain when things don’t go our way – just like them. We forget what God has done for us. We long to go back to our sinful lives – our pre-Christian lives, forgetting what it was actually like to be ruled by our desires, forgetting what a blessing it is to KNOW the Father, and to have His Spirit with us, in us, at all times.

So last week we looked at the attack of the Amalekites. It was a cowardly attack, attacking those lagging behind at the back of the camp. They attacked without warning, and for no reason. It was a new challenge for the Israelites, a new lesson to learn how to trust the Lord. Who fights for Israel? The Lord fights for Israel. Moses’ hands are raised to the Lord – they win. Moses’ hands are lowered, they lose. Your strength comes from Him. Trust the Lord.

But there is a second thing we learn from the Amalekites, and that is to contrast them with Jethro. Here we have two foreigners, non-Israelites, with two very different responses to God’s people and God’s blessing of his people. The Amalekites fight, they rebel, they seek to destroy the Lord’s people before they can become a threat. Jethro, however, praises the Lord, sacrifices to him, and blesses and helps the people of God.

1. Two responses

17:8 While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them.

18:10 “Praise the LORD,” Jethro said, “for he has rescued you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh. Yes, he has rescued Israel from the powerful hand of Egypt! 11 I know now that the LORD is greater than all other gods, because he rescued his people from the oppression of the proud Egyptians.” 12 Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God. Aaron and all the elders of Israel came out and joined him in a sacrificial meal in God’s presence.

Two responses to God’s people that couldn’t be more different. Both the Amalekites and Jethro were also descended from Abraham. Amalek was the son of Esau, brother of Jacob who God renamed Israel. But Amalek and his descendants had turned long ago from the Lord. They would have known the promise to Abraham. They would have known that Esau, their ancestor, gave up that promise. They would be afraid that Israel was coming to claim their birthright, their promised land – because guess where the Amalekites lived? That’s right, in Canaan, the promised land.

You know, I wonder what would have happened if they had responded like Jethro did? If they had come to offer sacrifices and praise to the Lord. To rejoice for the rescue of their relatives? Could they not have lived side-by-side with the Israelites? Perhaps they could have been grafted back in? For we know the Lord’s name is “the gracious and compassionate God” (Ex34:6). We certainly see that in the way he treats his people!

But, no. They stay on the path laid down by their ancestors. Their brutality and ferocity towards the Israelites tells you a great deal of how they feel towards the Lord. They hate Him, they do not want to bow the knee, they want to wipe Israel out. And so they march out of their own land, into the desert, and attack the defenceless Israelites.

But they forgot that they are not fighting the Israelites. They are fighting the Lord.

Jethro, however, praises the Lord. He rejoices at the rescue of his people. Jethro, too, is a descendent of Abraham. Jethro, too, is a son of Esau. But he and his descendants after him chose to obey the Lord instead of reject him. Later we find Jethro’s son, Hobab, has joined the Israelites. And the descendants of Jethro, known as the Kenites, we later find as part of the nation of Israel, living alongside Judah and sharing in all their blessings!

What a contrast! The Amalekites reject the Lord, and fight against his people. And their judgement is destruction.
The Kenites, Jethro’s people, embrace the Lord, rejoice at his blessing his people. And their reward is to join with his people in the Promised Land. Remarkable.

Be like Jethro, seems to be the obvious application. And it is. But there’s one more thing we need to notice before moving on. And it’s to do with the names of God. Have a look at v8. Moses tells of what the LORD has done – that small capital letters stands for YHWH (Yahweh) God’s personal name in the Old Testament. Jethro, too, in v9, 10 and 11 praises the LORD “YHWH”. But in v12, when he offers sacrifices as worship to God, he offers them to God – the Hebrew word Elohim, not the LORD, Yahweh. Why? Because Jethro is not part of the people of God. He is still an outsider. He can be part of the blessing of God, but he is still outside – and Moses cannot bring him in. Moses, for all his greatness, is a limited saviour.

2. A limited saviour

17:12 Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset.

18:17 “This is not good!” Moses’ father-in-law exclaimed. 18 “You’re going to wear yourself out—and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself.

What do we make of this story? Well, I think there’s some truth in the application that leaders need help. We need to carry each other’s burdens, says Ephesians. I need you to keep my arms upraised towards God, as you pray for me and the other leaders in this church that we would remain God-focussed and God-dependent. In your prayers you are like Aaron and Hur, supporting my arms. It’s a bit like that famous picture of the soldiers together raising the flag on Iwo Jima. Working together. Or the rugby scrum. Working together as a team. Honouring the Lord. I think that’s a fair application. As Jethro says “You cannot do it alone”

I think another is certainly that wisdom comes from many areas, even outside the camp! And the wise man accepts good counsel, no matter where it comes from (Prov 19:20).

Those are probably good secondary applications - but I don’t think those are the main applications.

Because we need to let context drive our application – what has come before, AND what comes after. What has come before is Moses leading the people, rescuing them from slavery and taking them through the sea. Raising his arms and giving them victory in battle. Moses has been the voice of God.

And what comes after is the first church – the gathering of God’s people before God Almighty, hearing God’s word. The mountain shakes, there is smoke and fire and thunder and lightning. It is GOD who has rescued the people. It is God’s power, God’s word.

And in between a couple of stories which reminds us that Moses is weak. That Moses is not the saviour. That God is the saviour. 8 Moses told his father-in-law everything the LORD had done to Pharaoh and Egypt on behalf of Israel. He also told about all the hardships they had experienced along the way and how the LORD had rescued his people from all their troubles. 9 Jethro was delighted when he heard about all the good things the LORD had done for Israel as he rescued them from the hand of the Egyptians.

I think that the point the text is making must be that Moses is great, yes, but he is not the Messiah. His family’s sudden return – the last time they were mentioned was in chapter 4, before he approached Pharaoh - reminds us of his past. Moses who was Gershom, the foreigner, the outcast, is no longer. He is now Eliezer, the one rescued by God.
We are reminded, after all of Moses’ triumphs, of Moses’ failure before God met him at the burning bush, and like Israel, rescued him. Moses is not the rescuer, but the rescued.

Moses is one of the greatest leaders ever, because he was humble before the Lord. But he is just a man. In case we were putting our faith in Moses – perhaps thinking that “Here’s the serpent-crusher promised in Genesis 3:16, the one who will overturn evil - after all, he overturned the evil Pharaoh.” Here we are reminded that He is just a man. We’re still waiting for the Messiah, the serpent-crusher. We’re still waiting for Jesus. And I think that’s the main point of this whole chapter. Jethro’s arrival, Moses’ family suddenly back in the picture, Moses’ folly, Jethro’s wisdom – all points us towards the perfect leader, the perfect Messiah, the one who does need to be rescued.

3. Jesus is greater than Moses

You see, Jethro had to remind Moses of what his job was: 19 Now listen to me, and let me give you a word of advice, and may God be with you. You should continue to be the people’s representative before God, bringing their disputes to him. 20 Teach them God’s decrees, and give them his instructions. Show them how to conduct their lives.

Moses was to be the people’s representative – the mediator between man and God. But Moses was limited. He couldn’t handle the pressure of a couple of million or so people.
But Jesus! Jesus is our mediator, our representative before the throne of God. The Son of Man is before the throne – we have a human representative in the court of Heaven. But because he is also fully GOD – he is the God-man, born of the Virgin Mary, by the Holy Spirit (as we’ve been reading in Luke’s gospel in the Bible study) – because he is fully man and fully GOD, he can be our perfect representative, and mere numbers are no problem for him. He does not need to divide us up into manageable groups and have a massive bureaucracy to handle our prayers!

Moses was the mediator between man and God – he stood between the people and God. Jesus brings us into the very throne room of heaven. Heb 9:24 For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf.

Jesus is the greater mediator (representative).

In the same way, Moses brought the word of God (v20 Teach them God’s decrees): but Jesus is the word of God. John 1:1 In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Jesus is the very Word of God.

Moses needed the wisdom of men. Jethro says in v19 Now listen to me, and let me give you a word of advice, and may God be with you. But Jesus is the very wisdom of God. 1 Co 1:24 But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Jesus is the very wisdom of God.

And Jesus does what Moses could not. Jesus brings the nations in, so that people like Jethro can know God not just as God (Elohim) but in person (Yahweh). We who are Gentiles have been grafted in to Israel (made part of Israel), and so we can know Israel’s God personally. In fact, he comes to live in us by His Spirit. Praise God. That is what Jesus has accomplished.

Jesus is greater than Moses. He is the greater mediator. He is the very word of God. He is the very wisdom of God.

Heb 3:3 ... Jesus deserves far more glory than Moses, just as a person who builds a house deserves more praise than the house itself. 4 For every house has a builder, but the one who built everything is God. 5 Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later. 6 But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house. And we are God’s house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ.

So, if Jesus is greater than Moses, how are we to respond? Not like Amalek, but like Jethro.

Heb 3 continues 7 That is why the Holy Spirit says, “Today when you hear his voice, 8 don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled, when they tested me in the wilderness..... 12 Be careful... , dear brothers. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. 13 You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. 14 For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ.

There are only two responses to the Lord and to his work. Amalek, or Jethro. Praise God that Jesus is the better Moses, so that if we like Jethro call out to him, he can save us, bring us in, make us one of his people. And if we belong to him, then we belong to him. Brothers and sisters, by His grace we are the people of God! Praise God. Amen.

søndag 8. februar 2015

Exodus 17 Stop pretending to be God!

Exodus 17

1. Testing the Lord (Who will be God?)

Well, Exodus has been quite a roller-coaster ride hasn’t it? Imagine you were an Israelite in those days. From slavery without hope, to a great and dramatic rescue, to being trapped at the Red Sea, to being miraculously given a way out, and the most powerful army of the day being destroyed – to then, a few days later, moaning to the Lord for food and water. “I want an ice cream” indeed! (If that reference makes no sense, download last week’s sermon and listen to it!)

If we were under any illusions that God saved the Israelites because they were somehow better, more holy, than anyone else – chapters 15 and 16, and now 17, today’s chapter, soon show us otherwise. What a bunch of faithless, ungrateful, whiny windbags. I mean just LOOK at the end of verse 7 the people of Israel argued with Moses and tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD here with us or not?”

Is the LORD – Yahweh – here with us or not?
Are you INSANE? What has just happened? 10 plagues. Huge rescue of millions of slaves. Pharaoah’s army utterly destroyed. Sheep and cattle and goats, gold and silver, fine clothes provided by the Egyptians. And not to mention the very waters of the sea parting in front of your eyes! Is God with us? Yes! There he is! See, the cloud in front of us. The pillar of fire by night. How can you miss it? Oh, yes, not to mention the bitter water which turned sweet, and the manna you go out and pick up EVERY DAY. Is the LORD with us? Really?

But how often are we like the Israelites. A tiny little problem appears, a bit of pain, a bit of sickness, a bit of heartache. And suddenly our world comes crashing down. Our faith flies out the window and we say “Is the Lord with me”?

I know a number of people in this church are suffering at the moment. Some with chronic illness, which stops them from being who they are. Others with potential serious, life-threatening issues. Others with deep psychological scars. Others have lost loved ones or beloved pets.

And those things can cause us to wobble. Like the Israelites we murmur. We forget the Lord. We forget what he has done for us. All we feel is the PAIN we feel now. WHY, O LORD! Have you forgotten me? Do you not care? Don’t you exist?

Like the Israelites, who only felt their thirst, we cry out like v3 But tormented by thirst, they continued to argue with Moses. “Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Are you trying to kill us, our children, and our livestock with thirst?”

Lord, do you really care about me?

How quickly we forget his past mercies to us. How quickly we forget how we were slaves to our sinful natures. How we were children of wrath. How our lives lacked purpose and direction. How we walked in darkness. And then the Lord saved us. He broke in. He opened our eyes. He flooded our lives with light and life! He gave us a new hope and a new purpose. He is with us, right with us! His Spirit lives inside of us – how much more intimate can you get? We are free! We are loved! We have a hope and a future! Praise the Lord.

And then “thirst” hits. Sickness. Heartache. Financial difficulties. What is it that you are struggling with now? Last week we wrote it on our hands as a symbolic message and gave it to the Lord. Did you give it to him? Or did you take it back, worrying over it? Do you really trust the Lord? Do you have faith?

The answer is sometimes no, we don’t have faith. Sometimes we let the problem fill our minds – become so big we can’t see anything else. The solution, of course, is what Exodus 13 told us to do: Remember the Lord. Remember what he has done. Remember his salvation, his love, how he has rescued ou. Remember how he has blessed you so abundantly in the past. Remember the Lord. Then you will not be swayed to despair, disbelief, and ultimately disobediently testing the Lord. Remember what he has done.

Sounds easy enough. But there’s a problem. And the problem is me. My own heart. But often I don’t want to remember. Because actually I WANT to have a greiveance against God. I want to play the victim, to manipulate Him into doing what I want, when I want!
In short, I want to be God. I want an excuse to go back to my old life, to justify some sinful behaviour. Haven’t you done that? Or is it just me? Oh God, I’m suffering now, I deserve to indulge in this... I know it’s a bit wrong, but you understand, right. Just a little sin....

Oh, because “Egypt” is so tempting. Our old life often seems easier. Or a different life, where I can just do what I want when I want it. Sin and selfishness is soooo tempting sometimes isn’t it. What did they say last week 16:3 “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted” What a lie! What a total fabrication! Egypt was where they were beaten, forced to work hard labour. But in their minds it has become paradise. Pots filled with meat.

How often do we look back with longing at sin. Oh, it’ll be so good (or it was so good). Forgetting what it was actually like when we were in the grip of it. Thinking about lying because it seems the easy way out. Just change a few words here and there on an insurance form or on a tax form. Leave this or that out. Or even talking ourselves out of an opportunity to share the gospel! I’ve been there. We all have. “We sat around pots of meat”, we say. “It was so good to live in Egypt” we lie to ourselves.

But we know in our heart of heart that it’s not true. We’re just angry. We are frustrated with our circumstances and so we lash out at God. Why aren’t you doing things my way?


This is not unexpected. You see, the root of sin is selfishness, it is the desire to be God. What did Satan say to Adam and Eve? “Take this fruit and you will be like God”. We want to be God in our lives. We want everything to go our own way. We are just like little children, just that we’re cleverer at covering up our tantrums and are able to make our demands sound reasonable and cultured. But when you strip all that away we’re saying “boo I’m thirsty” “I’m hungry” “I want an ice cream!” “I want” I demand that you, God, do what I want right now.

And so we test the Lord’s patience. It is amazingly rude. We question his goodness. We question his love. Is the Lord with me?

How do we get through this? How do we stop wallowing in self-delusion and self-pity? How do we put God back on the throne? Well, we follow Moses.

2. Let God be God

4 Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What should I do with these people? They are ready to stone me!”

Moses was under tremendous pressures. In today’s passage the people are ready to stone him! That’s job pressure! “Give us water or we’ll kill you” says the angry mob. Good grief.

But Moses does not sit down in despair. He does not look longingly back to a dream world of life back in Egypt (even though he actually DID have a good life in Egypt in Pharaoh’s palace). No. He goes straight to the Lord. Your problem big guy!

This is a habit for Moses. This is what he always does. It is part of his character. When we first met Moses he was a hothead, and did things his way, in his time. Which ended up with him murdering an Egyptian, fleeing the palace, and hiding in the desert! Moses has learnt obedience, learnt that God’s man needs to be GOD’S man before he can be useful to God (and others).

4 Moses cried out to the Lord

My Dad has a phrase which he uses a lot “Bow yourself out and bow God in”. It means deliberately acknowledging your own weakness, your own need, and asking God to intervene, to take over. It is the very opposite of sin (I am God) – it is saying to God: “Please would you be God here in this situation”.

And then you listen to Him.

5 The LORD said to Moses, “Walk out in front of the people. Take your staff, the one you used when you struck the water of the Nile, and call some of the elders of Israel to join you. 6 I will stand before you on the rock at Mount Sinai. Strike the rock, and water will come gushing out. Then the people will be able to drink.” So Moses struck the rock as he was told, and water gushed out as the elders looked on.

Moses cried out to God “I can’t do this”. And God answered him. Come to me, he says. Walk to the rock where I am standing, and strike it. Now it’s unclear if everyone could see the Lord or just Moses. It may have been the pillar of cloud – in fact it probably was. In which case everyone would see that it was the Lord who provided them with water.

He provides. The situation was too big for Moses. He realised it was beyond him. And so he asked God to be God.

What areas to you try to be God? One area might be suffering and evil. Do you ever get weighed down by it? Well, bow yourself out and bow God in! DO not despair. YOU see no solution – but you are not God. He has it in hand. Leave it in his hands. Let Him be the solution. Let water gush out of the rock.

Ah, but what if you disagree with his solution? Moses could have said “bang the rock? No God, that’s dumb. I’ll look like a complete idiot, smacking a rock in a dry river bed. No.”
God’s solution, God’s way, is the only way. If you find yourself telling God that his plan basically sucks...then repent, stop trying to be God. How arrogant can you be, thinking that your solution is better? Who are you, O man, to question God? Were you there when the foundations of the world were laid? And so on.

It’s like when a toddler is going to decide what to do. We had Jon Espen and Colleen visiting on Friday. Jon Espen with his 18 months of wisdom was determined to touch the fireplace. Colleen patiently said “no, hot!” every time he went near. A bit like how God provided the Israelites with food and water every time. A bit like how God blesses us, provides for us, cares for us, forgives us, every time.
Jon Espen is thinking “WHY can’t I go near the fire. It is warm. It is inviting. This is what I WANT. Mom is such a killjoy. Mom hates me.” Actually, Mom loves him. Loves him very much. And so she says “No”. Jon Espen needs to trust, to have faith in Colleen. And the more he grows and matures, the more he knows that his Mom does love him, and does have his best interest at heart. Mum knows best.

God is our Father. He is a good father. Trust him. Remember what he has done in the past. Remember how he has saved you, rescued you, provided for you, grown you carried you. And trust him.

Who will be God? Let God be God.

Of course, we tend to be a bit dull, so the rest of the chapter just repeats the message. You are not God. God is God. Let God be God.

3. Let God be God

Verse 8 introduces a new problem, a new test for the Israelites: 8 While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them.

In Duet 25:17 we find that the Amalekites attacked the weak and weary who were lagging behind the main group of Israelites. It was a cowardly and unprovoked attack. God, do you care? Is the Lord with us? Different problem. Same question. Lord, do you see our suffering. Are you with us?
We say to the Lord: Lord, we are sick. Lord we are grieving. Lord, we are in need. Lord, we are lonely. Lord we are under pressure. Lord, are you with us in Rock International Church? Are you with your people?

And the answer is an overwhelming YES! Because God takes it personally! Just look at verse 14 After the victory, the LORD instructed Moses, “Write this down on a scroll as a permanent reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”

It reminds me of Jesus’ words to Saul (later Paul) when he was attacking Christians. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me”. The Lord is with his people. The Lord is with his people. Be comforted. He is with us.

And during the battle the people of Israel got a big visual aid. If they tried to do things their own way – that is, when Moses’ hands were not raised in obedience to God’s command – they would lose. But if Moses’ hands were raised in obedience to God’s word – they would win. It was clear that the battle was the LORD’s. That just like at the Red Sea, the LORD would fight for them (Ex 14:14). They had to “be still”. That is, close their mouths, stop their moaning, and trust him for the rescue. Bow themselves out, and bow God in.

Oh yes, they had to fight the battle. But they fought it not trusting in their own strength and their skill with the sword. They fought it trusting in the Lord. Moses’ hands raised: they win. Moses hands fall: they lose. It’s quite a strong visual picture isn’t it?

And so when the battle is won, 15 Moses built an altar there and named it Yahweh-nissi (which means “the LORD is my banner”). This victory over the Amalekites belongs to the Lord. He has won the battle. It is his banner over the battlefield. The battle is the Lord’s.

Only God can be God. I cannot be God. I cannot win the battle. I cannot make water gush from the rock. I cannot make manna appear every day. I cannot provide for myself – my provision comes from the Lord. And I cannot save myself from slavery and death.
And, unless you’re Jesus of Nazareth, neither can you!

Only God can be God. Why oh why do we struggle so much with that. So often we try to take the reigns. SO often we forget the Lord, and struggle along in our own strength. I’m going to end by sharing my own story – a time when the Lord tested me like he tested the Israelites. And I did about as well as they did!

And it was about food and water. God’s provision. Did I really trust that my daily bead comes from the Lord?
At work a few years back I was pressured, squeezed into a dishonest situation. My boss asked me to keep things secret from his boss – and his boss in turn was asking me to keep things secret from my boss. And people were being hurt, and things were nasty. The thing is, I allowed myself to be pressured because I didn’t want to lose my job. I needed my salary. I needed to earn it. It was something I did, I provided. Kind of like an Israelite going out and saing “look at all this manna I gathered” or going to the water gushing out of the rock – look at this water I am collecting. Duh!
Until one day the Lord showed me that “my” salary came from his hand, not from the company. That my salary was a gift from him, not a result of my great efforts. He is my Father. He is my Provider. And I was suddenly set free from fear, and the pressure to keep silent. And so I immediately confronted my boss, told him to repent and shared the gospel with him. True story! I’d love to tell you he repented with tears of joy... but he didn’t. I did actually keep my job in the end, but even if I hadn’t the Lord would have provided.
When we moved here to Norway we had to have in faith that He would provide. He called us, he must provide. It’s his problem. Lord I can’t do this, bow myself out, bow God in: you are the provider and protector of my family. You are the Father and Husband no.1. I just follow behind. You see, Daniel can’t be God. Only God can be God.

So whatever it is you are facing – if it feels overwhelming – if you cannot cope. Good. You have a very strong indication that the problem is not something you can handle so hint, hint, take it to the Lord. It is His problem to deal with. Let God be God.