All posts by David Balzer

Exodus 32-34: The God who is merciful

When you meet someone new, how can you learn about them? (What their character is?)

One way is to WATCH them. (See the things they DO. What they like and don’t like. How they treat people.) Like two people going on a date together. Doing things together, so they can get to know each other.

The OTHER way is to ASK them. Ask questions. Then let them TELL you about their personality, their priorities, and their preferences. And that’s REALLY where you get to know someone. Because you don’t have to INTERPRET their actions. Actions can be MISUNDERSTOOD. Instead, they can TELL you why they did something. They can TELL you about their character. About their dreams and plans. What they’re passionate about.

Doing things together is ONE level of getting to know someone. But it’s LONG, unguarded CONVERSATIONS when you REALLY get to know a person.

And it’s the same with knowing GOD. And in Exodus 32-34 we see BOTH ways. We WATCH him, and we LISTEN to him. We’ve got a story ABOUT him. (How he ACTS). That’s chapter 32. But Moses wants to know MORE about God. So he ASKS him. That’s chapter 33. Then in chapter 34 God TELLS Moses what he’s like. And the STORY and the SELF-DESCRIPTION AGREE. They COMPLEMENT each other.

In fact they do it SO well, there’s probably no other passage in the Old Testament that better shows us God’s character and nature. In fact, verses 6 and 7 of chapter 34 are the MOST-QUOTED VERSES IN THE WHOLE BIBLE. They really get to heart of WHO GOD IS.

So listen carefully, because if you do, you’ll know God better. You’ll REJOICE at his MERCY and FAITHFULNESS. You’ll be GRATEFUL that he ABOUNDS in love in faithfulness, but is SLOW to become angry. That his basic orientation is FOR you, not AGAINST you. You’ll be HUMBLED at your sinfulness, but at the same time you’ll GROW IN CONFIDENCE that you’re FORGIVEN and ACCEPTED. And you’ll be ENCOURAGED to PRAY MORE BOLDLY.

We’re picking it up in chapter 32. Last week we were in chapter 20, with Moses up on Mt Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments. But not just the Ten Commandments. While he’s up there, God gives him a bunch of OTHER laws. First, from chapters 20 to 23. Expanding and applying the Ten Commandments. And then, again, from chapter 25 to 31 there are instructions about building the tabernacle.

There’s lots for Moses to write down. In fact, ch 24 v18 says he stayed on the mountain FORTY DAYS AND FORTY NIGHTS. Which sets the scene for chapter 32. V1 begins. When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

The people are so dependent on Moses, they don’t know what to do when he’s GONE. Moses had led them. (Gone BEFORE them) Now they want Aaron to make GODS to go before them. So, v2, Aaron collects their gold jewellery, makes an idol in the shape of a calf, builds an altar in front of it, and announces, v5, “Tomorrow there’ll be a festival to the LORD.”

And that’s what they do, v6. They’re KEEN – they get up early, and offer sacrifices. Except it’s not to GOD, it’s to a statue of a golden calf. Which they were told NOT to make. Or to worship. And except, afterwards, they had a great party, which almost certainly included some behaviour God had just FORBIDDEN.

God’s promised if they keep the covenant, they’ll be his treasured possession. And they promised they would. Twice. 19:8 and 24:3. (Promised they’d obey everything he commanded). But they don’t even last SIX WEEKS.

V7, the scene switches to God and Moses up on the mountain. God says, “Go down, the people have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them.” V9 “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

It’s interesting the number of references to BODY PARTS in these chapters. Israel are STIFF-NECKED. Like cattle or horses that won’t be turned in another direction. They’re STUBBORN and unteachable. It’s an expression that’s crossed over into English. But the way GOD’S described HASN’T made it from Hebrew to English. He says to Moses, “Leave me alone, “for MY NOSE IS HOT against them”. A hot NOSE means God’s ANGRY with them, and he wants to destroy them. They DESERVE to be destroyed. God would be entirely consistent with his covenant promise and his character to wipe them out.

But notice what he says to Moses, “LEAVE ME ALONE so that my wrath may burn against them.” It’s almost an invitation for Moses NOT to leave God alone. A hint that God’s character is more about FORGIVING than it is getting ANGRY. A hint that if Moses was to ASK, God would calm his anger – cool his nose.

And that’s what Moses does. V11. “Why should your nose burn against your people?” And then he gives God two reasons why he shouldn’t destroy them: Because if you do, v12, the Egyptians will say you brought them out of Egypt on PURPOSE to kill them, and Because, v13, you promised Abraham, Isaac and Israel that you’d make their descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. (Because of his REPUTATION and his FAITHFULNESS). And he pleads, v12, “TURN from your fierce anger; RELENT and do not bring disaster on your people.”

And if we’ve been following the way God’s acted with his people SO FAR, we should be surprised he DOES JUST THAT. V14. “Then the Lord RELENTED and did NOT bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.”

It’s hard to work out how God can be SOVEREIGN and controlling and planning and knowing EVERYTHING. And yet, it seems like he CHANGES HIS MIND. PART of the answer’s explained in chapter 34, where God says he ABOUNDS in love and faithfulness, but SLOW to become angry. His natural inclination is to LOVE. He’s easily convinced to keep forgiving. The natural, simple way of reading it is that Moses’ prayer caused God to change from the path he’d suggested.

We may not UNDERSTAND it, but we can REJOICE in it. It means we can pray, confident that our prayers are HEARD, and EFFECTIVE. Somehow, they’re part of God’s purposes for his world.

So, v15, Moses heads down the mountain to check out the damage. He’s carrying the two stone tablets. When he gets to the camp, v19, he sees the calf, and the partying. And he throws down the tablets, and they break into pieces. It’s what ISRAEL’S done to God’s covenant. They’d agreed to KEEP it, but then they SMASHED it. And Moses destroys THE CALF – burns it and then grinds it up for good measure. (God might be slow to get angry, but MOSES isn’t)

And then, v21, he turns his attention to Aaron, who he’d left in charge. He’s destroyed the TABLETS, he’s destroyed the CALF. I wonder whether Aaron thinks HE’LL BE NEXT. Look at his weak reply, v22. “Don’t be angry, my lord. You know how prone these people are to evil.” Which is TRUE. “They said ‘Make us gods’. So I said, v24, ‘Take off your jewellery’. I threw it into the fire and OUT CAME THIS CALF!” What a ridiculous piece of blame-shifting! It would be HILARIOUS if it wasn’t so SAD!”

Meanwhile, v25, the party continues to rage out of control in the camp. They’re running wild. And Aaron hasn’t STOPPED them. And Moses realises the nations who hear about it will LAUGH. God’s NAME will be ridiculed. His reputation will suffer. So he stands at the entrance to the camp, and shouts out for volunteers, v26. And all the Levites join him. And they go through the camp and kill those involved in what was probably an orgy. And that day THREE THOUSAND died. It seems like that finally stops the party. And, v29. Moses commends the Levites for defending God’s honour.

But we can’t help wondering if he did the right thing, or not. Is it what God wanted? The narrator doesn’t make it obvious.

Either way, it’s not the end of the matter. For Moses, OR God. V30, the next day, Moses tells the people, “You committed a great sin. Perhaps I can make atonement. Perhaps I can satisfy God’s anger.” Is he thinking about the punishment he’s just performed? Or about the offer he’s about to make to God? Again, it’s not clear.

So Moses CONFESSES the sin of the people, v31, and asks God to FORGIVE. And then he adds, “but if not, then BLOT ME OUT of the book you’ve written.” He’s offering himself in place of the people. That if God WON’T just forgive their sin, he’ll take Moses’ life INSTEAD.

But look at God’s reply. V33 “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. 34 Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.” 35 And the LORD struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.

On the one hand, God says it’s not up to Moses to make atonement. No one can pay for another person’s sin. Everyone has to pay for his own sin. That’s JUSTICE. And God will look after his own justice. Which he DOES. In time. Because he’s SLOW to become angry. What Moses COULDN’T do, in God’s timing, JESUS DID. When he died as the atoning sacrifice. God himself satisfies his own justice in paying for the sin of the world.

I wonder if there’s not a slight rebuke here, too, against Moses’ action of quick action. (Of immediately delivering the death sentence on the people). God says, “Your job is to lead the people into the land. I’ll do the blotting out. You don’t need to do it. When the time comes for me to punish, I’ll punish. And then v35 describes a plague against the people that comes some time later.

We know Moses is impulsive and quick to act. (That’s what started the whole process back in chapter 2, when he killed the Egyptian.) And he’s jumped straight in to execute Israelites. In contrast, in chapter 34 God tells Moses that he’s SLOW to anger, whereas it seems Moses has been QUICK to anger. Despite the people DESERVING it. Despite them failing the conditions of the covenant. God PERSEVERES with them. (Into chapter 33), he tells Moses to lead the people into the land he promised.

And that’s section one. (The STORY. We’ve watched how God’s ACTED.) In section TWO we’ve got the SELF-DESCRIPTION. (God TELLING Moses what he’s like). Jump down to v7 of ch33. Moses would meet with God in a tent set up on the outside of camp. And v11, the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.

And what Moses wants MOST is to KNOW GOD BETTER. Perhaps he’s been slightly puzzled, like us, with how God’s ACTED. So he wants things cleared up. It’s what he needs if he’s going to lead them properly. He says, v13, If you are pleased with me, TEACH ME YOUR WAYS SO I MAY KNOW YOU and continue to find favor with you.

He wants to know what guides God’s actions. What lies at the core of his being? And, v17, God AGREES. He says, “I’ll do the very thing you’ve asked, because I’m pleased with you.”

To which Moses has ANOTHER request, v18, “Now show me your GLORY.” The GLORY of God is something like A VISIBLE REPRESENTATION of God. The people saw it in the pillar of cloud that led them, and that settled on Mount Sinai.

But look at what God offers INSTEAD. V19. “I will cause MY GOODNESS to pass in front of you. And I will proclaim my NAME, the LORD, in your presence. I’m MERCIFUL, and COMPASSIONATE. But you can’t see my FACE, or you’ll DIE.” God reveals himself, his CHARACTER, most clearly IN WORDS, not in what he LOOKS LIKE. He’s a God who SPEAKS.

And then, v23, he promises that he’ll pass by Moses, but he’ll protect him in a split in a rock, so he doesn’t get destroyed. He’ll cover Moses with his HAND, so he only sees God’s BACK and not his FACE. (once again, more body parts)

And that’s the way it seems to have happened. Into ch34. Moses makes two more stone tablets. To replace the ones who broke. And he heads up Mt Sinai. Again. And then, v5.

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

These are the verses quoted more times in the Bible than any other. They’re God’s answer to Moses’ two requests, “Teach me your ways”, and “Show me your glory.”

What is God’s character? And how does he ACT? On the POSITIVE side, he’s MERCIFUL – withholding punishment we deserve. And he’s GRACIOUS – giving us good things we DON’T deserve.

And he’s SLOW to anger. In Hebrew, he says he’s LONG OF NOSE. Remember after the golden calf, how he told Moses to leave him alone for his NOSE WAS HOT against Israel? But here he says he’s LONG OF NOSE. THAT’S his character. That’s why Moses was able to pray for God not to destroy them. And God DIDN’T. And instead of getting ANGRY, he’s more like to show steadfast, reliable, consistent LOVE, and truthful FAITHFULNESS. And, v7, when that’s applied to his dealings with humanity. He shows steadfast love to thousands of generations, and forgives their sin.

But, on the OTHER hand, that’s not ALL he is. He does have LIMITS. As SLOW as he is to anger, there comes a point where his justice falls. Where his patience will run out. He will CERTAINLY punish the guilty. Israel mustn’t ABUSE his patience. But in comparison to how long his LOVE is – to a THOUSAND generations – his PUNISHMENT runs out of steam after THREE AND FOUR generations. Because he’s compassionate and gracious.

And, v8, Moses bows down to the ground. And WORSHIPS God. And so should WE. As quick to sin as we are, God is quick to FORGIVE. As slow to repent as we are, God is slow to BECOME ANGRY. As faithless and wandering as we are, God is faithful and reliable. As lying and dishonest as we are, God is truthful and consistent. Yes, God is just and will punish sin. But he’s overwhelmingly FOR us, not AGAINST us. He’s PATIENT, not wanting ANY to perish, but ALL to come to eternal life.

And, v10, God RENEWS his covenant with Moses and Israel. And down in v28, Moses writes all the words down on the SECOND pair of stone tablets. And he’s there ANOTHER forty days and nights. And when he comes down, his face is GLOWING because he’s MET WITH GOD. And the people are AFRAID.

What an incredible event! That the LORD would speak with Moses face to face, as a man speaks with a friend. And reveal his CHARACTER – his GLORY – to him. And show him his WAYS. No wonder it’s the most quoted paragraph in the Bible! But as clear an explanation as it is of God. There’s an even CLEARER one. When God speaks about himself IN HIS SON. The Lord Jesus.

Fittingly, the beginning of John’s Gospel calls him THE WORD. God’s self-communication. He was WITH God in the beginning, and WAS God. And then we get to v14. Exodus 34:6-7 are pretty special. But v14 is EVEN BETTER. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Jesus made his dwelling among us. Literally, he TABERNACLED – pitched his TENT – among us. Just like GOD did when he came down on the tent of meeting and met with Moses. And John says, We have SEEN HIS GLORY, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father. The only one who could reveal God’s magnificence is the only one who’s come from the Father.

Moses asked to see God’s glory. And God hid him in a split in a rock and protected him with his hand, and showed him his BACK as he passed by. But John and the other eyewitnesses SAW the GLORY of God himself in the God-man, Jesus. He walked and talked among them. And while God revealed himself to Moses as abounding in love and faithfulness, Jesus revealed himself as FULL OF GRACE and TRUTH. (Overflowing with generous mercy and reliable consistency) The same characteristics as God. Because he’s GOD HIMSELF.

As UNIQUE as Moses’ experience was, the eyewitnesses to Jesus saw God EVEN MORE CLEARLY. John adds, in v18. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

Not even MOSES saw God’s face. But John and the other disciples have seen JESUS, and through him, God himself. And what’s TRULY amazing is that we get to DO THE SAME. We look over their shoulders, listening to their testimony. And see GOD HIMSELF, revealed in the person of Jesus. Jesus, full of grace and truth. Merciful, forgiving, reliable.

But more than that, through him, we can KNOW GOD. Not just know ABOUT him. John says, in v12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-

Sons and daughters of the God who’s compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. And that, out of ALL the things God’s told you about himself today, is the BEST piece of information of ALL!

Exodus 19-20: God’s Law: God’s Gift to God’s People

Is there someone you have trouble buying presents for? Perhaps they already seem to have everything. Or maybe it’s someone you want to say “thank you” to, but there’s no gift that says a “thank you” that’s big enough. For me, it’s my Dad. If he wants something, he just BUYS it. Occasionally I find something he needs, or would enjoy. Like a theology book he doesn’t have, or the DVD set of a new series. But what’s even BETTER is when Dad TELLS me what he’d like. It spoils the surprise. But he figures it’s better to get something he NEEDS rather than something that will sit in a cupboard.

But what about God? How do you say thank-you to God? He’s given us EVERYTHING. But what present can you give God to say thankyou for ALL THAT? And what does he NEED from us? He’s entirely self-sufficient. What’s HE missing from his cupboard? What book’s not on HIS shelf?

Here’s the good news. Just like my Dad, God TELLS us what he wants. He tells us HOW TO SAY THANK YOU. Look at Exodus 19 v 3. God’s led Israel through the desert. And they arrive at the foot of Mt Sinai. And God’s got a message for Moses. Look at v3.

“This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: {4} ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. {5} NOW IF YOU OBEY ME FULLY AND KEEP MY COVENANT, then out of all nations you will be MY TREASURED POSSESSION. Although the whole earth is mine, {6} you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’

God reminds Moses about all that he’s done for Israel. And then he says what he expects in return. OBEDIENCE. And it’s the same for US. We say thank you to God for saving us/ by OBEYING him. In GRATITUDE. That’s the correct response to God’s GRACE.

But WHAT are we to obey? The good news is we don’t have to GUESS. Because, once again, God TELLS us. He gives us HIS LAW so we know WHAT to obey. And that’s what we see in chapter 20 onwards. Chapter after chapter of how God’s people are to obey him. Covering every aspect of life. From how to worship God, to how you do business, right down to what to do if you find your neighbour’s donkey.

And as they DO that, THREE THINGS HAPPEN. One, they LEARN ABOUT THE HOLINESS OF GOD. Two, they SHOW GRATITUDE TO GOD. And, three, they SHOW THE WORLD how great God is.

  1. Obedience means learning about the holiness of God.

Firstly, obedience means LEARNING ABOUT THE HOLINESS OF GOD. The things that stands out in chapter 19 is HOW HOLY, or DIFFERENT, GOD IS. And the requirement for the people to be CEREMONIALLY CLEAN. They had to PREPARE THEMSELVES before they could come near to God.

The point was that people are SINFUL, and God WASN’T. Approaching a holy God wasn’t something you did EASILY. Or LIGHTLY. It was like preparing to enter a nuclear reactor. It was a big deal to come into God’s presence. He’s pure, dangerous, white hot holiness. Look from v10 of Ch 19. God tells Moses, Have the people CONSECRATE themselves. PURIFY themselves and their clothes. And it won’t be QUICK. Today, and tomorrow, and, v11, be ready on the third day. Because on that day the LORD will come down to Mt Sinai in the sight of all the people. And v12, set up a safe perimeter around the mountain. So people don’t TOUCH it. And v13, make sure you approach only when the ram’s horn sounds. That’s when it will be safe for them to go up.

And that’s what the people did. And then, v16, On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. {17} Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. {18} Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, {19} and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. {20} The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up {21} and the LORD said to him, “Go down and WARN the people so they do not force their way through to see the LORD and many of them perish. {22} Even the priests, who approach the LORD, must consecrate themselves, or the LORD will break out against them.”

That really does sound like what you do around a nuclear reactor! It was an awesome thing to come before the God of the Universe. And we can only come AT HIS REQUEST. ACCORDING TO HIS RULES of APPROACH. Point one: In the law, we learn about the HOLINESS of God.

How FOOLISH people are to think they have the right to come to God ANY WAY THEY PLEASE! That he’s like your neighbor, or your best friend. Who you can drop in on unannounced, and ask a favour. Even as CHRISTIANS, we can take that access for granted. We think we can approach him because we’ve read our Bible every day this week. Or because we’re giving money for missionaries. Or serving in a ministry. The reality is we serve the same awesome holy God as Israel did. We can’t approach him any more easily.

Except because JESUS has MADE THE WAY. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. NO ONE comes to the Father, except through him. He’s the PRIEST, and the SACRIFICE. He’s the TEMPLE and the CURTAIN into the Most Holy Place.

This description of God’s dangerous, white hot holiness should drive us to REJOICE in GRATITUDE for what Jesus has done. Shake our heads in amazement that we can boldly approach the throne of grace of a God like THIS, through work of Jesus!

What an ENORMOUS THING Jesus did. What a COST to cleanse us! To satisfy the wrath of a holy God like THIS. So we could stand before him, clean and pure and WELCOME.

Listen to the encouragement we have to approach God, in Hebrews 10 v19

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have CONFIDENCE to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 LET US DRAW NEAR TO GOD WITH A SINCERE HEART IN FULL ASSURANCE OF FAITH, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

Praise God for Jesus, and the access he gives us to God!

  1. Obedience means showing gratitude to God.

(ONE, the law shows us God’s holiness. Secondly, obeying the law SHOWS GRATITUDE TO GOD.) All the way through Exodus we’ve seen the order of things. God ACTS, and then he expects A RESPONSE. He shows GRACE, then he gives a test of obedience. A chance to show GRATITUDE. And it’s the same at the start of Ch 19. (We read it earlier). ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. {5} NOW IF YOU OBEY ME FULLY AND KEEP MY COVENANT, then out of all nations you will be MY TREASURED POSSESSION.

God reminds Israel what he’s done, and THEN he tells them the right response to that. Same thing in Ch 20. How do the Ten Commandments start? V2. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. {3} “You shall have no other gods before me.

He starts by declaring who he is, and what he’s done. ONLY THEN does he tell us what WE have to do. It’s the OPPOSITE of what every other world religion teaches. And it’s the complete opposite of what most people think Christianity is about. That you do things for God, and then he saves you because you’ve EARNED it.

And it’s the complete opposite of what most people think is happening here. They think, “The New Testament’s about GRACE. About what GOD does for US. But the Old Testament’s about LAW. About what WE have to do for GOD. “If I obey the Ten Commandments, then God will accept me”.

But that’s upside-down thinking! Because the WHOLE of the Bible is about grace. God’s ALWAYS made people his children because of grace. And obeying him is always a RESPONSE OF GRATEFUL APPRECIATION TO THAT GRACE. Take the Sabbath command for example. Ch 20 v10. “The seventh day is a Sabbath TO THE LORD”. Our rest is to be DIRECTED TO HIM in THANKS.

And that’s exactly the same for Christians. Nothing’s changed. The New Testament’s full of examples. About how we obey in response to God’s goodness. Like Romans 12 v1. Therefore, I urge you, brothers, IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCY, TO OFFER YOUR BODIES AS LIVING SACRIFICES, HOLY AND PLEASING TO GOD–THIS IS YOUR SPIRITUAL ACT OF WORSHIP. {2} Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, etc

God shows us MERCY. THEN we offer our bodies. We obey in RESPONSE to God’s grace. Or what about Ephesians 2:8-10?  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this NOT FROM YOURSELVES, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, CREATED IN CHRIST JESUS TO DO GOOD WORKS, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

God SAVED us, and THEN calls us to do the good works he’s prepared for us. And that COMPLETING TRANSFORMS the way you approach obeying God. It sets you FREE. Because it’s not about your PERFORMANCE, but about your GRATITUDE. Jesus has ALREADY PERFORMED. Point TWO: In obeying the law, we SHOW OUR GRATITUDE TO GOD.

  1. Obedience means showing the WORLD what a great God we serve.

The third point about the law/ is obedience shows the WORLD what a great God we serve. Go back to Ch 19 v 6 again. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although (the Hebrew has “BECAUSE”) the whole earth is mine, {6} YOU WILL BE FOR ME A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS and a holy nation.”

Obedience means that Israel will be a KINGDOM OF PRIESTS. What does that mean? Remember that a priest’s job was to represent man before God, and to represent God before man. To be the “in-betweener”. If you like, the introduction agency.

And God WANTS all nations to be introduced to him. Because they BELONG to him. It’s BECAUSE the whole earth is his that he wants a kingdom of priests to REPRESENT him to the world. It’s what God promised Abraham, right back in Genesis 12, “I will make you a great nation and ALL PEOPLES on EARTH WILL BE BLESSED THROUGH YOU.

How would the whole nation act as priests? By obeying God FULLY and keeping his covenant. That’s V5. And then v6 says that will mean they fulfil their calling to be a kingdom of PRIESTS to the whole earth.

Over in Deuteronomy 4, it explains how obedience can introduce the world to God. It’s the OTHER account of the Ten Commandments. Listen to what Moses says about what obedience will do. V5 of Deut 4.

See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. {6} Observe them carefully, for THIS WILL SHOW YOUR WISDOM AND UNDERSTANDING TO THE NATIONS, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” {7} What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? {8} And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?

As Israel obeyed God’s laws, it made the OTHER nations sit up and take notice. “Look at what a great nation Israel is! It’s really got its act together! If they show justice and mercy to each other LIKE THAT, how just and merciful must THEIR GOD be!” Obeying God’s law declared God’s goodness to the nations.

And if you look at the follow-up chapters in Exodus. Chapters 20-23. There are SOME laws to do with GOD. (To do with worship and idols and altars). And they’re really important. But the majority are to do with HOW PEOPLE TREAT EACH OTHER. And it’s a pretty attractive picture. If people really DID treat each other like that, then the world would be a great place. The whole TONE of the chapters isn’t about loading great burdens onto people’s backs. One more law after another.

They’re certainly COMMANDS. But it’s also a vision of God’s preferred future. It’s describing PARADISE. If everyone looked to the interests of OTHERS, then THE WHOLE SOCIETY will be better. (Make sure your animals are tied up. Make sure your verandah is fenced off. Look after slaves, and widows, and orphans. Don’t accept interest on loans. If you take a man’s cloak as security, make sure he gets it back at night). BE OTHER-PERSON CENTRED. In fact, it would be just like the way God created things in the beginning. All relationships in harmony. Man at peace with man. Man at peace with creation. Man at peace with God.

These laws aren’t “Here are some burdens for you to bear.” But/ “Here’s the way society will work best. The way people’s rights will be protected. Here’s my gift to you”

And that’s what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount. He comes at the end of a long line of prophets calling people back to obeying God’s law. Matthew Ch 5. He says is that he hasn’t come to ABOLISH the law. Verse 17. And that nothing’s going to disappear from the law. In fact, he makes it even harder. Because he goes on to talk about a number of the Ten Commandments. Murder. BEING ANGRY is just like murder. Adultery. A LUSTFUL THOUGHT is just like adultery. And some other favourites. Divorce. The law isn’t an excuse for you to change your wife because you feel like it. It’s there to protect the rights of people.

And the same with “an eye for an eye”. Matthew 5:38. Getting someone back because they hurt you. It’s not an excuse for vengeance. God’s original law set a LIMIT on punishment. The punishment was there to PROTECT PEOPLE’S RIGHTS. If you’re “other-person-centred”, the best way you can look after their rights is to TURN THE OTHER CHEEK – that’s the purpose of the law. And he finishes chapter 5, Be PERFECT, as your heavenly Father is PERFECT.

Just imagine if people actually LIVED like this?! It would be LIFE AT ITS BEST. The way it was designed. And when that happens. When people start treating each other well, THE WORLD WILL TAKE NOTICE! Jesus takes up God’s call for his people to be a kingdom of priests when he talks about being SALT AND LIGHT. 5:13. “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world”.

If Israel obey God’s law, and if they do it from the right motivation, and they put other people first, then the world (other nations) will notice. They’ll see what a great life it is following God. And Israel really WILL be a KINGDOM OF PRIESTS.

And that’s JUST as true for us Christians as it was for Israel. Turn over to 1 Peter Ch 2 with me. Peter’s talking to THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. But he picks up the language of Exodus 19. Look at verse 9. Look at who he calls the Christian church.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

We, the church, are a holy nation. We’re to be separate and pure. But we’re also a royal priesthood. They’re to be IN the world, but not OF it. To be IN the world/ means to stand between men and God. And to declare God’s praises to the people around. To introduce people to the God who can save them. Who can call them out of darkness.

And look how we’re to do that. Look down at v 11. They do it by obeying God’s laws.

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. {12} LIVE SUCH GOOD LIVES AMONG THE PAGANS that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Our lives are to be so good, that we’ll STAND OUT. That our neighbours will want to be part of us. And they’ll glorify God on judgement day. In other words, they’ll become God’s people too!

That’s a challenge for us, isn’t it? That, as a church, our lives should be SO OTHER-PERSON-CENTRED, and full of JOY AND LOVE AND GRATITUDE TO GOD, that other people will want to be part of us. They’ll want to be introduced to the one who can rescue them from darkness, too!

God’s law is his gift to his people. In the law we learn about his HOLINESS. As we obey it, we show GRATITUDE to him. And we SHOW THE WORLD what a great God we serve.

Exodus 15:22-17:7: Grumbling, Grace and Gratitude

It’s been a year where GRUMBLING is acceptable conversation. Grumbling about the health risks in a pandemic. Grumbling about the inconveniences of lockdown and closures. Grumbling about the boredom, or tensions, of working from home. And not being able to travel. And too many zoom meetings. And wearing masks. The list goes on and on.

But is grumbling acceptable for God’s people? There’s a TYPE of grumbling we find all through the Psalms. It’s LAMENT. It’s okay to be SAD, and to cry out to God. Because the world is BROKEN. God ENCOURAGES us to hand our pain, and requests, over to him, because he’s God and we’re NOT.

But then there’s the grumbling we see in today’s chapters of Exodus. Which is something DIFFERENT. It begins with FORGETFULNESS. It’s only DAYS since God miraculously rescued them from slavery and destroyed Egypt’s army. But they’ve FORGOTTEN how God rescued them, and so they don’t TRUST that he’ll look after them. And they’ve forgotten how BAD Egypt was, so they’re not CONTENT. And they’re UNGRATEFUL. That’s what separates grumbling from lament. A LACK OF GRATITUDE, CONTENTMENT AND FAITH.

We see grumbling again and again in today’s chapters. (Putting God to the TEST). And yet despite their grumbling. Again and again, we see God GRACIOUSLY PROVIDING what they need. And giving them the opportunity express GRATITUDE.

What if we could learn a lesson from Israel? What if, instead of grumbling, we REJOICED? Expressed GRATITUDE. TRUSTED God to provide. Trusted that he’d work GOOD through all things. What if we learned to look FOR HIS GOOD HAND AT WORK in the midst of the mess? I reckon it would transform our conversations. And transform the way we approached life. And how we walked through it with God.

1. God provides water (15:22-27)

We’re picking up the story in Exodus 15 v22. Israel’s just crossed the Red Sea, and Pharaoh’s army’s been completely wiped out. God’s miraculously saved Israel. And they’ve sung his praises. But now, it’s only three days later. They’ve marched through the desert. And there’s no water.

Finally they find a spring. But when they start drinking, they spit it out in disgust. It’s salty! Full of minerals. Like drinking SEA water! They could have done THAT back at the Red Sea! And so v24. They GRUMBLE to Moses, “What are we to drink?” So Moses cries out to God. V25. and the LORD showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the WATER BECAME SWEET.

Protest and provision. Grumbling and grace. They’re thirsty. And he gives them water to drink. Not because they DESERVE it. But simply because OF WHO GOD IS.

But look what else he does. He gives the chance to show GRATITUDE. He gives them a test. Half way through v25.

There the LORD made a decree and a law for them, and THERE HE TESTED THEM. {26} He said, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.”

Israel had taken their eyes OFF God. They’d DOUBTED him. But they’d been shown grace. And now they’ve got the chance to show GRATITUDE. To LISTEN to God’s commands, and to DO WHAT’S RIGHT. If they PASS, the curses of disobedience won’t come on them.

And then, v27, to REINFORCE God’s undeserved goodness, and to back up his promise of blessing, they come to the spring of Elim. With no salty water. And twelve springs – one for each tribe. And seventy palm trees to top it off! Grumbling, grace, and gratitude. Look out for that pattern as we keep moving.

2. God provides food (16:1-36)

Episode two. Chapter 16. They move on from the spring of Elim. It’s been one month since Israel left Egypt. Thirty whole days. And what happens? More grumbling! V2.

In the desert the whole community GRUMBLED against Moses and Aaron. {3} The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

The food’s running out. Their STOMACH’S are grumbling, so THEY start grumbling. It would be HILARIOUS if it wasn’t so SAD. It’s the ultimate in selective amnesia – forgetting the worse bits of their years of suffering. Four hundred years of slavery in Egypt. One month of freedom. And they want to go back to Egypt. God’s TESTED them. And it hasn’t taken them long to COMPLETELY FAIL.

Israel GRUMBLES. And how does God respond? Once again, he shows GRACE. Look at v7 and also in v12. He tells Moses, “I’ve HEARD their grumbling.” Which is OMINOUS, if his response is about what they DESERVE. But instead he PROVIDES. He promises MEAT in the EVENING, and BREAD in the MORNING. A two course heavenly banquet. And that’s what HAPPENS. V13. That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. {14} When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. {15} When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” (In Aramaic “Mah na?”) For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat.

Gratitude (16:19-30; 31-35 ) – a test (16:4-5)

Grumbling. And grace. The LORD provides. But once again, notice how God gives them the opportunity to show GRATITUDE. The GIFT comes with ANOTHER TEST. Look back at v4 and 5. A test in two parts.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough FOR THAT DAY. IN THIS WAY I WILL TEST THEM and see whether they will follow my instructions. (And) on the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and THAT IS TO BE TWICE AS MUCH as they gather on the other days.”

He PROVIDES for them, but he TESTS them. He shows GRACE. But he expects OBEDIENCE. To see whether they TRUST him, or not.

Here’s how the testing worked. First, he tells them to collect just enough for one day. No more. But just like most of us, some people couldn’t help collecting a bit extra. Just in case.  But look what happened. God tested them, and they failed the test. Because they didn’t trust God. Over to verse 19. Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.” {20} However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.

They failed the first part. How would they go with the second? On Friday, God said to collect TWICE AS MUCH. Because there’d be none to collect on the SATURDAY. Because God wanted them to REST on the Sabbath.

And that’s the way it HAPPENED. Twice as much collected on Friday. And, v24, it lasted until Saturday. And then, v25, Moses explains it all

“Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a Sabbath to the LORD. You will not find any of it on the ground today. {26} Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.”

But look at v27. SOME of the people DIDN’T collect double on Friday. And they went out looking on Saturday. When they were supposed to be RESTING. (I wonder if it was the same people who’d collected TOO MUCH during the week, and it had gone off?). And God had a message for Moses to tell them. V28.

“How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions? {29} Bear in mind that the LORD has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where he is on the seventh day; no one is to go out.” {30} So the people rested on the seventh day.

God did it that way for a reason. For one thing, He wanted his people to REST. Secondly, he wanted to test their obedience. Obedience which was IN RESPONSE to his grace. Notice that it’s not just Sabbath, but “Sabbath to the LORD”. Their act of keeping the Sabbath is TO EXPRESS THEIR GRATITUDE to God’s grace. They stop working IN RECOGNITION that God’s PROVIDED for them, so they don’t HAVE to. Grumbling, grace and gratitude.

3. God provides water –again (17:1-7)

Grumbling (17:1-4)

Next we get to Ch 17. and the story’s a familiar one. V1, more travelling, and more thirsty people. V2.

SO THEY QUARRELED WITH MOSES and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? WHY DO YOU PUT THE LORD TO THE TEST?” {3} But the people were thirsty for water there, and they GRUMBLED against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” {4} Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

Once again – grumbling. But notice? This time it’s the PEOPLE who put GOD to the test. Rather than responding to GOD’S test by OBEYING, they grumble, and put God to the test! “What are YOU going to do for US? How much grace have you got?”

Grace (17:5-6):

THEY might fail GOD’S test. But HE doesn’t fail THEIRS. v5.

The LORD answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. {6} I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.

Once again, God provides. DESPITE the doubting of his people. And in v7 Moses even gives the place a couple of nicknames. “Testing” and “quarrelling”.

“because the Israelites QUARRELED and because they TESTED the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”

Is the LORD among us or not? There’s a CYNICISM there, I think. A doubt that God’s GOOD or that he’s ABLE. (Will he PROVIDE? Is he LOOKING? Does he CARE?)

And it’s that VERY QUESTION that gets answered in the next two sections. “Is the LORD among us, or not?” Because God continues to provide for his people. He provides in WARTIME, and he provides in PEACETIME. He brings them victory against the AMALEKITES in ch 17. And he provides JUDGES to help Moses govern the people in ch 18. Which are great stories. But we don’t have time to look at them today.

Instead, I want to come back to the question we BEGAN with. Can we learn a lesson from Israel, and move FROM GRUMBLING TO GRATITUDE? The truth is we’ve been saved from a much greater enemy than Egypt. A much greater slavery than forced labour. If we’re Christian, we’ve been saved from the power and consequences of our sin. We’ve been saved from God’s anger and judgment. We’ve been put right with God through trusting Jesus.

That’s the GREAT TRUTH that should colour the way we think about life NOW. Look at the logic in Romans 5. Focussing on how God’s JUSTIFIED us IN THE PAST means we can confidently rejoice in PRESENT SUFFERINGS. Romans 5 v1.

Therefore, SINCE WE HAVE BEEN JUSTIFIED THROUGH FAITH, we have PEACE WITH GOD through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we REJOICE in the hope of the glory of God. 3 NOT ONLY SO, BUT WE ALSO REJOICE IN OUR SUFFERINGS, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Focus on what God’s ALREADY DONE FOR US in saving us. Rejoice in the experience of your relationship with him. That will give you the tools, the perspective, to rejoice in the PAIN of life. The GOSPEL is the key to moving from GRUMBLING to GRATITUDE.

The God who SAVED you will never DESERT you. Or, as Romans 8:32 says, “If God did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us ALL THINGS?!”

Paul didn’t just WRITE those words. He LIVED THEM. The letter to the Philippians was written from PRISON. But it’s also called the LETTER OF JOY. He rejoices that he’s stuck in prison, because, 1:13, “it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” And so he can say, in v18, And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,

Even though it looks like he might be EXECUTED. Not even the THREAT OF DEATH can stop his joy. Because he knows that he’ll be better off, because he’ll BE WITH JESUS. He says, 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

In v27, he encourages them, “whatever happens conduct yourselves IN A MANNER WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL.” In other words, live out the GRATITUDE of people who’ve been shown GRACE.

And then, 2:14, he turns it around. And states the NEGATIVE. Grumbling is the NEGATIVE of REJOICING. He commands Do everything WITHOUT COMPLAINING OR ARGUING, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you SHINE LIKE STARS in the universe 16 as you hold out the word of life-

It’s easy to do things you ENJOY without grumbling. But do EVERYTHING without grumbling. Everything! Wake up with a sore throat, receive criticism, sit in traffic, pay a parking ticket, cook dinner for an ungrateful family. Sit through another zoom meeting.

And if you can live like THAT in the midst of a grumbling generation, you’ll LOOK DIFFERENT. As different as stars in the night sky. Do THAT. And you’ll show yourselves to be TRUSTING CHILDREN of your heavenly Father. Who cares for you and gives you good things.

Not grumbling is an attitude that flows from your relationship with him. That’s what it means when he says in 3:1 Rejoice IN THE LORD. Rejoice BECAUSE you belong to the Lord.

That’s the treasure Paul says he’ll GIVE UP EVERYTHING ELSE for. Knowing God is his TOP PRIORITY. Everything else is worthless. He says in 3:8

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of KNOWING CHRIST JESUS MY LORD, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I MAY GAIN CHRIST 9 AND BE FOUND IN HIM, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ

That’s where JOY and GRATITUDE come from. That’s what STOPS grumbling. That’s the secret of BEING CONTENT. Because what you have in JESUS is worth FAR MORE than anything this world can offer you. 4:12

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned THE SECRET OF BEING CONTENT in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

The strength to be CONTENT. To not GRUMBLE. But instead to show GRATITUDE. To trust the God who SAVED you, the FATHER who cares for you.  Rejoice in the LORD always! I’ll say it again, REJOICE! And don’t grumble!

Exodus 11-15: The One Who Redeems

It seems the American elections are decided. But what will be almost as interesting is THE BLAME GAME that follows. Who made mistakes? Whose FAULT it was. People are happy to take credit for the VICTORY. But they’re not so quick to take the blame for the LOSS

And many people ask similar questions as they read about the Passover, and death of the Egyptians in the Red Sea. Perhaps they’re ANGRY with God. Or just PUZZLED. It seems so unfair that innocent people and animals DIE just because Pharaoh was stubborn. Why did God have to do it THAT way? Why not some OTHER way?

1. God acts

But there’s no way of avoiding the fact. One of the really obvious things to notice in these chapters is that God ACTS. It’s full of what God SAYS and DOES. He doesn’t just sit back and watch what’s going on. He’s the main player. The star of the show.

HE brings the plagues. HE hardens Pharaoh’s heart. HE makes the Egyptians look on the Israelites with favour. HE kills the first born. HE baits Pharaoh into a trap in the Red Sea. HE make the sea crash back and drown all the Egyptians. It’s God who KNOWS what’s going to happen. And it’s God who MAKES it happen too. The God of the Bible is a God WHO ACTS IN HISTORY. Whatever decision you come to about these terrible, awesome events, you can’t get away from the fact that God’s RESPONSIBLE for them.

Which means he’s responsible for all the things that happen in OUR lives, TOO. Not just the GOOD things, but the BAD things TOO. For cancer and COVID and natural disasters and the suffering or death of loved ones. We might debate the precise wording – whether he ALLOWS them, or whether he BRINGS them. BUT HE’S THE KING OVER IT ALL.

There’s a MYSTERY here, because God is PERFECTLY GOOD, and yet isn’t the AUTHOR of evil. He’s the sovereign KING, who’s also the righteous JUDGE who holds us accountable for our decisions. He rules with perfect wisdom and goodness. But it’s over A FALLEN WORLD, where there’s sin and brokenness and pain and death.

And many of you have EXPERIENCED these things over the last few years. And STILL ARE. Situations where I’m sure your non-Christian friends have either said, or at least THOUGHT, “How can you still believe in God with everything that’s happened to you?”

But what other option do we have? Either God’s there, but he isn’t INTERESTED. Or else, he’s not there at all. Both of which are, surely, worse. Because IF GOD’S NOT CONTROLLING THINGS, then everything’s just RANDOM. There’s no purpose or plan. There’s just NOTHING. Which is hopeless. And depressing,

But what’s so good about believing in the God of the Bible is that the God CONTROLS EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS. He’s sovereign. Whatever happens – no matter HOW PAINFUL. No matter whether we UNDERSTAND it or not. He’s got a good reason for it. He LOVES us, and he’s working all those things FOR OUR GOOD.

That’s the FIRST, high level, observation from these chapters. GOD ACTS.

2. God acts for his people (12-13):

Second, zooming in a little closer. God acts for HIS PEOPLE. (Which is where the COMFORT comes as we endure tough times.) He doesn’t just pick ANY OLD group. It’s ISRAEL he makes PROMISES TO, and CALLS, and GROWS. And we saw last week, it’s Israel he’ll RESCUE.

God sends nine plagues on Egypt. And after each one, Pharaoh’s given the chance to let Israel go, But he DOESN’T. At the end of Ch 10, the plague of darkness hasn’t worked either. So we get to Ch 11. And God plays his final card. Keeps the worst ‘til last. Verse 1

“Now the LORD had said to Moses, “I will bring ONE MORE PLAGUE on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely.”

This is it! The last roll of the dice. We know what’s coming. Back in ch 4 v21. At the burning bush. God had told Moses to say to Pharaoh

‘This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, {23} and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.'””

This is God the FATHER jealously defending and rescuing HIS SON. The death of Egypt’s first-born isn’t simply an act of BRUTALITY, or VENGEANCE. IT’S SENDING A MESSAGE. “The anguish you feel for your son – is the anguish I feel for Israel. The LOVE you feel for your son is the love I feel for Israel”.

Into Ch 12. And he gives HIS PEOPLE a part to play, too. They SHOW they trust their father by obeying his instructions. They’re to pack up everything. Sacrifice a lamb. Paint its blood on the doorposts. Don’t add yeast to the bread, because God says he’s coming SOON. They’re to eat with their travelling clothes on, and their shoes on their feet. And GET READY/ because God’s about to act. And that’s what they do. V28 says they did everything God commanded.

Now all they can do is wait. Wait for God to ACT. To save. And to destroy. They finish dinner. It’s ten o’clock. Still waiting. Conversation slows. Kids fall asleep. Eleven o’clock. Still waiting. Everything’s silent now. The anticipation grows.

Perhaps they begin to look at each other, questioning, “What if nothing happens?” “What if God doesn’t do anything?” Still waiting. Then Verse 29. God acts.

“At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. {30} Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.”

One action: Salvation and judgement. Mercy and punishment. Life and death. Israel’s protected. Egypt’s attacked. Tragedy and joy. All on the same night. After all the detailed instructions of Ch 12, the description of THE EVENT ITSELF is surprisingly BRIEF.

Then v31, Pharaoh calls Moses and Aaron, and tells them to go. He’s had enough. He’s finally learned his lesson. He’s FINALLY understood who God is. Who ISRAEL is. What it means/ for God to love Israel as a first-born son. God’s WON. But look at his last words. Not a parting shot. Not a final defiant stand. Look at them. Verse 32. “AND ALSO BLESS ME”. They’re the words of a beaten man. The quiet recognition that he’s lost. That GOD is the one who controls things in Egypt AFTER ALL. And not him.

And so all Israel goes, v37. Six hundred thousand men. (Women, children, and animals too). Everyone goes out into the desert. He’s done it. He’s acted in history. And he’s acted for his people.

But the story’s not finished, is it? The job’s only half done. Because Pharaoh hasn’t REALLY learned his lesson. Jump ahead to Ch 14. Verse 1. God tells Moses to camp near the sea. Not to go the shortest way through the desert. Almost like bait in a trap. Look at verse 3. Camp by the sea, then PHARAOH WILL THINK they’re wandering around. That they’re lost. And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart. And then in v 5 that’s what happens. Pharaoh has second thoughts, and comes after Israel with his army.

Israel’s petrified – no wonder! And they complain to Moses. But this time, instead of passing on their complaint to God, Moses says, v13,

“Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and you’ll see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The LORD WILL FIGHT FOR YOU; you need only to be still.”

Then in v21 Moses stretches out his hand over the sea, and during the night God divides the waters. Israel walks through the middle on dry land. Imagine it! A wall of surging black water on the right and a wall on the left. It’s night-time. Not much light. A million people walking quietly down towards the water, and across the sandy floor of the sea. Eery! And AMAZING! And SCARY, too!

But look at v23. It’s still night, and the Egyptians realise Israel are getting away. They arrive at the seashore, see all the footprints heading down into the sea. And the walls of water, with the dry path through the middle.

Can you imagine being an Egyptian soldier? Especially one who’s lived through the ten plagues. I reckon he’d be pretty wary. The mossie bites are still itching, the boils are still healing, the memories of his dead son is still fresh.

But Pharoah’s cracking the whip. So, v23, they start chasing. Down into the sea, across the seabed they go. Chariots, horses, soldiers. Chasing Israel.

But now it’s nearly sunrise. When most surprise attacks happen. And, v24, God looks down from the cloud at what’s happening, and throws the army into confusion. Wheels coming off chariots. Horses rearing up. Shouting, noise and chaos.

V25, the Egyptians realise it’s GOD who’s fighting them, and they try to get away. But, v27, Moses stretches his hand over the sea, and it goes back to its place. And Pharaoh’s army is drowned. Look at verse 28

“The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen–the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived. {29} But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. {30} That day the LORD saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying on the shore.”

And so for Israel it’s time to praise God. That’s ch 15. He’s saved his first-born son. It’s MIRACULOUS and MARVELOUS and AWE-INSPIRING. And – at least for a little while – Israel’s prepared to follow God and Moses.

But we can’t help asking the question, “Why THIS particular way? Why so messy?” God could quite easily have SOFTENED Pharaoh’s heart. But all the way through these chapters we read that he HARDENED it. God COULD have worked things so that no-one got killed at all. Like Nehemiah. About 1000 years later Israel’s in exile in Babylon. And Nehemiah’s the king’s wine taster. All he has to do is look SAD. The king asks him what’s wrong. He says he wants to go home to Jerusalem. And the king says, “Okay”!

How simple’s that! Couldn’t God have worked the Exodus like that? But he didn’t. He did things this way for a reason. And if you look closely he tells us EXACTLY why. Again and again. Look back at Ch 9 v16 for example.

4. God acts for his glory

God works – as he always does – FOR HIS GLORY. To show people what he was like. From v15, He’s talking, through Moses, to Pharaoh.

For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. {16} But I have raised you UP FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE, that I might SHOW YOU MY POWER and THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED IN ALL THE EARTH.”

Or Ch 14 v4

“And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will GAIN GLORY FOR MYSELF through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.”

And again in v17, and again in v18.

This is God’s ultimate purpose in the events of the Exodus. TO BRING GLORY TO HIMSELF. (Acclaim. Honour. Recognition.) He wanted Israel, AND EGYPT, to know that he, alone, was God.

And, at least to BEGIN with, it WORKED. Chapter 14 finishes with this summary, v31.

And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people FEARED the LORD and PUT THEIR TRUST IN HIM and in Moses his servant.

And the big message of the Bible is that God wants US to DO THE SAME. TO RECOGNISE and give GLORY to him. To FEAR him, and TRUST him.

You see, God may not have rescued US from Egypt. But the story of the Exodus gives the rest of the Bible the language to describe what God’s done for us. It’s “SHADOWS” to our “REALITY”. “Black and white cartoons” to our “high definition colour”. WE need rescuing by God, TOO. The Bible describes our rebellion and sin as SLAVERY we need REDEEMING from. God saved his people THEN with the innocent blood of a lamb. And he saves us TODAY by the innocent of a lamb – Jesus who died on the cross. Back then, one lamb protected one household. But Jesus was the perfect Passover Lamb for ALL HUMANITY. For ALL sin.

As glorious as the Exodus was, what’s REALLY incredible is that Jesus’ frail and broken body hanging on a cross is even MORE GLORIOUS. One event. Love and justice. Punishment and salvation. God’s JUSTICE demanded PUNISHMENT for our sin. God’s LOVE allowed his son to be killed for our SALVATION.

So what should our response be? Let’s FOLLOW THE EXAMPLE OF THE ISRAELITES. (At least here in Ch 14.) 1. Recognise we’re slaves who need rescue, and TRUST the God who SAVES us. 2. Then REMEMBER what he’s done and WORSHIP him.

First, we need to recognise we’re slaves who need rescue, and then TRUST God who rescues us. That’s what Israel did when they SHOWED THEIR TRUST IN ACTION. They obeyed God’s instructions. They covered their doors with the blood of a lamb. They got ready. Packed everything up. And WAITED. They relied on GOD to provide the rescue.

And we need to do the same. To recognise that we’re enslaved to Sin and death. And without Jesus, we don’t stand a chance. We need to trust his word. That he’s dealt with our sin. That he’s delivered us, and there’s nothing more to earn. And we need to RELY ON HIS RESCUE. And we need to pack up our old life, and step into the new life of serving King Jesus.

And then we need to WORSHIP him. Which is what chapter 15 is all about. Israel singing in relief and praise to the GLORIOUS God who saved them. We’re to DO THE SAME. Not just with SINGING. But with COMPLETE LIVES lived in gratitude and loyalty to God. (BODIES offered as LIVING sacrifices of spiritual worship).

And we’re also to follow the example of Israel in REMEMBERING what God’s done. A big slab of today’s passage is about what Israel is to do once they get out of Egypt. To make sure they REMEMBER. Ch 12 is about the Passover festival. Every year Israel is to celebrate it. Why? To remember what God has done for them. Look at Ch 12 v 14

 “This is a day you are to COMMEMORATE; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord–a lasting ordinance

So that was the Passover feast. Then there’s Ch 13. (We jumped over it before). It’s about the DEDICATION OF THE FIRSTBORN. The idea was/ every first-born male was to be dedicated to God. An animal was to be sacrificed in its place. Why? So that Israel would REMEMBER when God had killed EGYPT’S first-born sons. Look down to v14

14 “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed every firstborn in Egypt, both man and animal. THIS IS WHY I sacrifice to the LORD the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’ 16 AND IT WILL BE LIKE A SIGN ON YOUR HAND AND A SYMBOL ON YOUR FOREHEAD that the LORD brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”

Notice that the Passover, and the Dedication of the First-born, are both PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES. They’re not just WORDS. Something to do with the SENSES. We remember best when we do MORE than hear. But when we DO. When we see, and smell, and taste, and touch. They’re like a sign on our hand and a symbol on our forehead. To DO, and to THINK.

God gave these activities to Israel because they’re a great way to remember.

So that’s it. That’s our response to these chapters. Three things. RECOGNISE and TRUST. WORSHIP. REMEMBER

Which is just what we do in ANOTHER regular memorial. ANOTHER PHYSICAL memory aid. In fact Jesus gave it to his disciples to supersede the Passover. Luke 22. When he took the bread and the wine of the Passover, and connected them to his body, and his blood. And said to REMEMBER him.

We call it The Lord’s Supper. We use physical things to represent spiritual events. And what’s so good about physical things/ is that they help us to remember. We use bread and grape juice to remind us of Jesus’ body and blood. Food and drink give us PHYSICAL life. And in the same way Jesus’ body crucified, and Jesus’ spilt/ give us SPIRITUAL life. And as we chew on the bread and swallow the grape juice, we do exactly the same three things the Jews did.

1. We recognise our need for a Saviour. That we’re sinful people. Who can’t exist without JESUS/ anymore than someone can exist without FOOD. We TRUST him.

2. We worship the God who saves us. To eat and drink is to give God the glory he deserves. To eat and drink PROCLAIMS TO THE WORLD/ that true life and nourishment is only found in Jesus.

3. We remember what he’s done. The Passover Lamb sacrificed for us.

Recognise and trust. Worship. Remember.

Exodus 5-11: Who’s the Boss?

Have you ever made this mistake: Not recognizing someone great? Treating someone ONE WAY/ when they were something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT?

Sir Edmund Hillary was the first person to climb Mount Everest. And in the nineteen fifties, was well-known and honoured all round the world for his achievement. A few years after he was knighted, Hillary was back in the Himalayas for a photo shoot. He’s dressed in his mountain gear, they’ve got him standing in a group of mountaineers, and they ask him to hold up an ice pick for the photo. At which point a young climber was passing by, and not recognising Sir Edmund, comes over and says to him, “Excuse me, that’s not how you hold an ice pick. Let me show you.”

He doesn’t realise who he’s giving advice to. He underestimates him. And so he acts in ONE way. When he REALLY should have been lining up for an autograph, and taking lessons from him. Hillary could have put him in his place. He could have said, “Young man, don’t you know who I am?” And given him a lesson in icepicks and everything else. And left him hugely embarrassed. But, instead, he smiles. And thanks him. And lets him adjust the icepick in his hands. And goes on with the photo. Which, apparently, reflected his humility. But nevertheless, this climber was left looking foolish. He’d misjudged someone GREAT. It’s foolish to treat someone ONE WAY, when he’s something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.

And it’s the same thing with Pharaoh and God. Pharaoh underestimates God. He thinks he’s just like the other gods. Powerless. In charge of one small part of things. And so he behaves accordingly. But he’s got God completely wrong. He’s misjudging someone GREAT. And these chapters show he’s a fool.

And so God’s about to correct him. That’s the point of the plagues. To show Pharaoh who God really is. To show him who’s the boss. Pharaoh asks the QUESTION, and the plagues are God’s ANSWER.

Look at Ch 5 v2. Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh, just like God says, and they pass on the message. “Let my people go”. But look at Pharaoh’s response. Verse 2. It’s the first of three questions.

“Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go.”

He doesn’t recognize him. So he behaves in a certain way. He thinks God is ONE THING, when he’s SOMETHING ELSE ALL TOGETHER.

V6. He figures the Israelites must have too much free time on their hands. And so he tells the slave drivers to stop giving them straw to make the bricks. “Let them find their own straw! THEN we’ll see how much time they’ve got to think about religion”.

Verse 12. The people scatter all over the place looking for straw! But they’ve still got to make just as many bricks as they did before! There’s just not enough hours in the day! So much for God’s plan to RESCUE them! Everything’s just become HARDER!

And so Moses is wondering what’s going on. In v 22 he goes back to God. Another QUESTION.

“O Lord, WHY HAVE YOU BROUGHT TROUBLE UPON THIS PEOPLE? Is this why you sent me? {23} Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he’s brought trouble upon this people, and you haven’t rescued your people AT ALL.”

You said you’d HARDEN HIS HEART. You said he WOULDN’T LET US GO. But you never said anything about him making things EVEN HARDER! What are you DOING?

So Moses is asking the question. Just like Pharaoh’s asking a question. And God’s about to answer BOTH questions.

First, he answers MOSES’ question. “Why have you brought trouble?” Ch 6 v 1.

Now YOU WILL SEE WHAT I WILL DO TO PHARAOH: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go;

And then, v2, he answers PHARAOH’S question. “Who is Yhwh?”

{2} God also said to Moses, “I AM Yhwh. {3} I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name Yhwh I did not make myself known to them. {4} I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they lived as aliens. {5} Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.

That’s who I am in the PAST. And, v6, THIS is who I am in the FUTURE.

{6} “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I AM Yhwh, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. {7} I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. THEN YOU WILL KNOW THAT I AM YHWH YOUR GOD, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. {8} And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I AM YHWH.'”

This is who I am! This is what I’ll do. And this is WHY. Surely that’s enough for Moses and the people! Right? … Wrong!! Both Moses and the people aren’t convinced. V9. Moses tells them what God says. But they didn’t LISTEN.

And then, v11, when God tells Moses to say it to PHARAOH, Moses replies, v12, (question number 3) “If the Israelites will not listen to me, WHY WOULD PHARAOH LISTEN TO ME, since I speak with faltering lips?”

And it’s a question that WE’RE meant to keep asking. It keeps ringing in our ears. “If the ISRAELITES won’t listen, why would PHARAOH listen?” If God’s people won’t listen, why would a Gentile? It keeps ringing, right through this strange excursion about the family tree of Moses and Aaron. This long list. “These were the names of the sons of so-on-and-so-on”

I think part of the reason for the list is make us focus on the question. To raise the suspense. To KEEP asking the question. Why WOULD Pharaoh listen to Moses? How IS God going to work things out?

And then in Ch 7 God gives his ANSWER. Look at Ch 7 v2. Why WOULD Pharaoh listen? Here’s why!

Tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. {3} But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and THOUGH I MULTIPLY MY MIRACULOUS SIGNS AND WONDERS in Egypt, {4} he will not listen to you. Then I WILL LAY MY HAND ON EGYPT and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. {5} AND THE EGYPTIANS WILL KNOW THAT I AM THE LORD when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.”

Why would Pharaoh listen? By God’s POWER AND CONTROL. Over Pharaoh, over miracles and signs, over Israel. And even over Egypt.

Pharaoh’s asked the question. Who is the LORD? And now God’s ready to give the answer. “I’ll show you who the LORD is!

Moses asks the question, “Why would Pharaoh listen to me?” And God says, “By my mighty hand!”

I’m the God of creation. Who MADE everything. And who CONTROLS it. I’m the God over it all– even the parts YOU think are controlled by YOUR GODS. By Hapi, who controls the NILE. Or Osiris who controls the CROPS and the BIRTH of CHILDREN. Or Ra who controls the SUN.

And all the way through the plagues, we see God’s INTENTION. The GOAL of the lesson. So they might KNOW who God is.

  • It begins in v7 of Ch 6 Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.”
  • And v5 of Ch 7. “And THE EGYPTIANS WILL KNOW that I am the LORD.”
  • And then Ch 8 v10, Moses gets Pharaoh to pick the time the plague of frogs will leave. Like a magician getting an audience member to pick a card. Why? “So that YOU MAY KNOW that there is no one like the LORD.”
  • Same again in 8:22. Flies only affect the Egyptians, not the Jews. “SO THAT YOU WILL KNOW that I, the LORD, am in this land.”
  • Same again in 9.14. SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW that there is no one like me in all the earth.
  • And 9:29, the thunder and hail stop when Moses prays, SO YOU MAY KNOW that the earth is the LORD’s.
  • And, 10:2, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW that I am the LORD.
  • And, finally, Ch 11 v5, the death of the firstborn Egyptian children and animals. But, v7, but not among the Israelites. Why? THEN YOU WILL KNOW that the LORD makes a distinction.

Through 10 different plagues. A lesson plan designed to teach Pharaoh who God is. So that he would KNOW. And it gets more intense, and targeted as the plagues unfold.

Covering the whole breadth of creation. Everything the Egyptians thought THEIR GODS ruled over. From water to land. From tiny insects to large beasts. Plants and animals AND mankind. Plagues to do with the weather. And with sickness. And with light and dark. And even over LIFE ITSELF.

Skim through these chapters with me. First the water in the Nile River becomes blood. Ch 7 v 14. It’s putrid. And no-one can drink it.

The court magicians can’t fix it. V22. All they can do is IMITIATE it. Which, ironically, just makes things WORSE. There’s MORE blood!

Same thing a week later, there’s a plague of frogs. Ch 8. They’re everywhere. Even through the palace. And, v7, all the magicians can do is MAKE MORE FROGS. Not helpful!

After the frogs, Ch 8 v 16, Aaron strikes the dust, and all the dust in the land becomes gnats.

This time, v18, the magicians CAN’T duplicate the miracle. THEY recognize who God is. And they tell Pharaoh, v19

“THIS IS THE FINGER OF GOD.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen, just as the LORD had said.

The MAGICIANS know. THEY’VE learned who God is. But not Pharaoh. And so the plagues continue. Next, it’s FLIES. Ch 8 v 20. But from this plague on, they only affect the EGYPTIANS. And Israel’s protected. (Just like God separates light from dark at creation, and water above from water below.) V22, the distinction is “SO THAT YOU WILL KNOW that I am in the land.” GOD’s at work!

Then a plague that kills all the Egyptian cattle. Ch 9.

And then God starts to GET PERSONAL. Ch 9 v 8. Moses throws soot from the brick kilns into the air. And when it settles on Egypt, both men and animals break out in festering, painful boils. Ch 9 v 11 says the magicians couldn’t stand before Moses because they were covered in boils. I bet they couldn’t SIT DOWN EITHER! But still Pharaoh refuses to give in. Refuses to recognize who God is. He’s misjudged someone great.

Then it’s HAIL. All over the land of the Egyptians. Ch 9 v 13. The crops that were just about ready for harvest were destroyed! But not one hailstone where Israel was! That’s no ORDINARY hail storm. That’s EXTRA- ordinary. SUPER natural.

Then locusts. Ch 10. So many, the air is THICK with them. And they finish off any crops the hail left behind. God’s RUNNING OUT OF THINGS TO DESTROY. What ELSE has he got up his sleeve? How much longer can Pharaoh hold out? How dumb IS he?

You can imagine Pharaoh peering through the curtains. Hardly daring to imagine what’s coming up next. Which comes in v21. Unannounced. Darkness. It was so dark, no one could move from his house for three days. It was darkness you could FEEL. Except, somehow, v23, it wasn’t dark where the Israelites lived. Darkness that was just like Pharaoh. He was in the dark about God. Blinded to who he really was. And so God LEFT him in the dark.

And just to prove that God’s right, Pharaoh STILL wouldn’t let Israel go. Nine plagues. Across the full sweep of creation. God showing Pharaoh the full extent of his power. But he hadn’t quite finished.

I want you to imagine for a moment the scene in Egypt. It HAD been the jewel of Africa. The most powerful country of its time. Lush, fertile, rich. The mighty Nile flowing through it. Wealthy, well-fed, healthy Egyptians walking around – carefree and contented. Plump, good-looking cattle. Fields bursting with grain ready for harvest. Imagine it now. Not a green plant left standing. Stubble and dusty ground. All the animals dead by hail or plague. Rotting frogs piled up in heaps. People walking around gingerly – covered in boils, in a state of shock. Squinting in the bright sunlight after 3 days of blackness. Shell-shocked. Destruction and chaos. A battle-field. Complete DE-creation from the hand of the Creator. That’s what happens when the Lord of Hosts comes to fight on your side. When someone dares to ask the question, “Who is the LORD?”

But God’s got one card left. Because his people still aren’t free. And this one’s different from all the rest. It cuts right to the CORE of Pharaoh. We know it’s coming. God told Moses, back in Ch 4 v22. When Pharaoh won’t let you go say to him, “This is what the LORD says, Israel is my first –born son. You would let him go. So I will KILL your firstborn son. The plague on the first-born. When all the first-born sons of Egypt will be killed by the hand of God. But you’ll have to wait for next week for that one!

Let’s stop and ask ourselves, Have we learned the lesson God wants us to learn? Has God’s purpose been achieved? SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW that HE is Yhwh, and there is NO ONE LIKE him. So that you may know that he is in the land. SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW that the earth is Yhwh’s. Can you SEE it? Do you KNOW? It’s about as clear a lesson as anyone could want. And yet Pharaoh STILL didn’t learn. So make sure YOU learn!

But as spectacular as God’s lesson plan was for Pharaoh, he had an EVEN CLEARER demonstration planned. Many centuries later, when he sent his SON. Jesus, the CLEAR DEMONSTRATION of who God is. Hebrews 1 says in these last days God has spoken to us by his son, who is the RADIANCE of God’s GLORY, the EXACT REPRESENTATION of his BEING. So we would KNOW him. When you SEE JESUS, you SEE GOD. When you KNOW Jesus, you KNOW God. And, just like God did with Israel, he ALSO came to rescue his people from slavery. Not the slavery of EGYPT, but the slavery of SIN and DEATH.

Pharaoh didn’t see it. He didn’t recognize and know God. But, in some sense at least, his advisors DID. In Ch 8 v19, the magicians can’t reproduce the plague of gnats, and they said to Pharaoh, “THIS IS THE FINGER OF GOD” They recognize God!

That phrase is found in only ONE OTHER PLACE in the Bible. Luke chapter 11. V14, Jesus casts out a demon from a mute man. And he begins to SPEAK AGAIN. And the crowd are amazed. But there are SOME people who misjudge someone great. Just like that guy with Sir Edmund Hillary. Just like Pharaoh did with God. And they say, “By Beelzebub, the PRINCE of demons, Jesus casts out demons.” They think Jesus’ power over demons comes from Satan himself.

Jesus says that’s NONSENSE. A kingdom fighting against itself will be RUINED. And then he corrects them, v20. But if I drive out demons by THE FINGER OF GOD, then THE KINGDOM OF GOD has come to you.

His power is a demonstration of the FINGER of GOD. It’s not SATAN’S power. It’s the Kingdom of God arriving. DELIVERING people. And he goes on to describe the CONTEST. V21, Satan’s like a strong man, who’s guarding his house, which is the world, or people. But then a STRONGER man comes along, which is JESUS. And he ATTACKS him and OVERPOWERS him.

That’s what Jesus is doing. Overpowering the weaker forces of Satan in the world. And robbing his house. Rescuing his people. That’s what GOD was doing in Egypt. Overpowering the weaker forces of Satan in Egypt. Robbing his house. Rescuing his people.

Can you SEE it? Do you KNOW it? GOD IS AT WORK. He’s POWERFUL. And he robbing Satan’s house. And rescuing his people. Can you see it? Do you know it?

Before you say quickly say yes. Does your behavior REFLECT that  you recognize God’s at work? Does your PRAYER LIFE show it? Does your WITNESSING show it? Do your PRIORITIES show it?

Or do you, perhaps, need a remedial lesson? A reminder? Have you, unknowingly, soaked up the post-Christian, secular mindset of the age? That God is dead. And Christianity is out of date. And the church is fading and under pressure and irrelevant? And that science and technology and cooperation will fix all our problems?

That’s the assertion of a great new book by Melbourne pastor and academic, Mark Sayers. It’s called Reappearing Church. He says

“Many Christians have internalized the secular map of reality (that) tells us not to expect dimensions of reality beyond the empirically evident…, that there are no linger any supernatural dimensions to reality.”

He says the solution is we need to

“Look at our moment through resurrection lenses. We must examine the possibilities of renewal through God’ unlimited power rather than through the limitations of a post-Christian framework.” (p10)

In other words, he’s saying We need to KNOW and live OUT the TRUTH that GOD IS STILL POWERFUL. He is Yhwh, and that there is no one like him, and that he is in the land. And that he is God of the world. And that his Son Jesus is still storming Satan’s stronghold, and setting captives free, by the finger of God.

Do you KNOW that? Are you LIVING THAT OUT?

Exodus 3-5: Who Am I?

Who AM I? Did you notice Moses asks that question, in Ch 3 v11? It’s a COMPLICATED QUESTION. Where do you find your IDENTITY? What’s YOUR CHARACTER, or PERSONALITY? What factors shape the way you think about the world, and how you respond to it? What things are MOST IMPORTANT to you?

These are big questions. And it can be really helpful to know the answers. For relationships, for work, for leadership. Because they help explain why you REACT the way you do. (Why you VALUE and PURSUE certain things. And why you get UPSET when you don’t get them. Why you COMMUNICATE in certain ways, and what those strengths and weaknesses are.)

We were talking about this at our extended family dinner the other week. And the MARRIED ones were talking to the SOON TO BE married ones about some of the personality tests they’d found useful.

Like the Myers-Briggs personality test. It describes people according to whether they are introverts or extraverts, observant or intuitive, thinkers or feelers, judgers or perceivers. These are basic ways we relate to the world around us.

Then there’s Enneagram system that identifies nine personality types. Perfectionist, mediator, thinker, guardian and achiever to name a few. Each one is defined by a CORE BELIEF, which shapes the way we see the world. Most people are a COMBINATION of personality types, together they make up WHO YOU ARE.

Tools like these are useful. And they help us live wisely in the world. But I want to suggest there’s a more foundational question than, Who am I? It’s what we see all the way through today’s chapters from Exodus. It’s WHO IS GOD? And who we are IN RELATION TO HIM. Not WHO am I, but WHOSE am I. And that’s what should, ultimately, shape how we relate to the world. That’s what REALLY matters.

  1. Moses meets God (3:1-4:17)

First, ch 3, Moses meets GOD. Remember where we finished last week? Moses fled from Egypt to Midian. He’s married into a family of shepherds. And that’s what he’s doing at the start of chapter 3. He’s travelled to the far side of the desert, probably in search of water and food for the sheep. And he ends up at Mount Horeb. Where, v2, he notices something unusual.

There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.

So, v3, Moses heads over to check it out. Next, it’s God’s turn to see something. V4.

When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”
In some way that’s not explained, it’s the ANGEL of God, or MESSENGER of God, who appears IN the flames. But at the same time it seems to be God HIMSELF. He called to Moses “from within the bush!”

And we’re ALSO not quite sure what to CALL him. We’ve got two different names there in v4. “The LORD” translates the Hebrew word, Yahweh, which we’ll see soon is God’s PERSONAL name. And “God”, which translates the Hebrew word Elohim, that’s just the general name for ANY God, or gods, or even heavenly beings.

And, v5, God warns Moses not to come any closer, and to remove his shoes. Because God himself is there in the burning bush. And he introduces himself. He’s the God of Moses’ ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And Moses, v6, is, understandably, PETRIFIED.

But God COMFORTS Moses, v7.

The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering

Just what we saw last week, at the end of Ch 2. The Israelites cried out to God, and he HEARD, and REMEMBERED, and SAW, and WAS CONCERNED.

And now, for the first time, we see what his PLAN is. V8. He’s going to RESCUE them from the Egyptians. And then bring them into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Which, I’m sure, Moses thinks is a GREAT idea. Until we get to v10. So now, go. I am sending YOU to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

It’s been YEARS since Moses was last in Egypt. Last time he was there, his attempts to help didn’t turn out so well. There was a murder, a price on his head, and a quick escape. It seems like the years have changed MOSES. Look at his response there in v11. “WHO AM I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

That’s the question. Who IS Moses? What’s SHAPED him? What MATTERS to him? Is he Egyptian? Is he Israelite? Is he Midianite? He seems to be NEITHER. (He called his son Gershom, or Foreigner, because he was a foreigner in Midian.) It’s a question that reflects HIS HUMILITY. It’s part question, part EXCUSE. He doesn’t feel equipped for the task. He’s a SHEPHERD. A HUSBAND. A DAD. Not a LEADER, or a WARRIOR, or a STATESMAN.

But God’s answer is that none of that matters. V12. “I will be WITH you.” What matters more than “WHO AM I” is “WHOSE am I”? God says, “It’s not about YOU. It’s about ME.”

But it doesn’t seem to comfort Moses too much. His FIRST question has been about his SELF-identity (Who am I?). His SECOND question, v13, is about GOD’S identity. Who are YOU?

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
14God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ “

Human beings are the product of genetics and upbringing. NATURE and NURTURE. Our character and personality are influenced by a whole range of things in our breeding, our background and our surroundings. We develop and change in response to lots of things. But God’s not LIKE that. God JUST IS. “I am who I am.” He’s the origin of everything. Nothing will change or influence his character or responses. If he did the Myers Briggs or Enneagram tests, he’d just BLOW THEM UP.

And he says to Moses. “Tell THAT to the Israelites. Tell them “I AM” has sent you.” And then, v15, God uses his PERSONAL name, Yahweh, which is connected to “I am”. It means “HE IS.”

“Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD (or Yahweh), the God of your fathers -the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob-has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.

It’s not about who YOU are, Moses, It’s about WHO I AM. V16. Tell that to the elders. And they’ll LISTEN to you.

Then, v18, you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt, and say, “Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, wants us to take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to him.” But he WON’T listen to you, v19. Unless my mighty hand COMPELS him. And that’s what I’ll do.

Sounds like a fairly thorough answer to Moses’ doubts. But it’s not enough for Moses. Ch 4 v1. ANOTHER question: Question 3: “What if they won’t listen?”

God’s already told him THEY WILL. But Moses needs reassurance. And God, patiently, PROVIDES it. V3 to 9, a set or miracles to perform to convince them. His staff becomes a serpent. His hand becomes leprous. And then is healed again. And then, v9, pour some of the water from the Nile on the ground, and it will turn to BLOOD.

Once again, it sounds like a wonderfully complete answer to Moses’ doubts. But it’s STILL not enough for Moses. So, he asks question number FOUR. V10. “But I’m not much of a public speaker.”

And God answers with a question of his own. V11, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, Yahweh?”

In other words, “Moses, you’re exactly who I’ve made you to be. Poor speech included.” He doesn’t disagree with Moses’ self-assessment. And he doesn’t say he’ll change Moses. He just says “I will help you speak.”

It’s not about WHO YOU ARE, MOSES. It’s about WHO I AM. TRUST me!

That should have been enough. But, no. Moses comes out with excuse number FIVE. V13, O Lord, please send someone else.

And, finally, God’s patience runs out. V14, Yahweh’s anger BURNED against Moses. It’s the first time the Bible says God is ANGRY at someone. Although there have been plenty who DESERVED it. And yet, even though he’s angry, he shows great patience and compassion for Moses. V14. “Your brother Aaron is a good speaker. You speak to HIM. And he’ll be your MOUTHPIECE.”

And it finally seems Moses runs out of excuses. God has the last word. v18. Moses heads home, packs up his family, and heads off.

Then V21. Moses meets God (again). Perhaps on the road. God warns Moses. “Perform all the wonders I’ve given you to do. But they won’t work. I’ll harden Pharaoh’s heart. Then say to him, v22, “This is what Yahweh says, ISRAEL IS MY FIRSTBORN SON, 23 and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.’ “

It finishes with a threat. But they’re actually WONDERFUL words for his CHILDREN. We learn something about GOD. He’s a father who jealously defends and protects his children.

And we learn something about ISRAEL. Who are they? God’s SON. Family. Precious. It’s the first hint of a theme that develops through the Bible. About being children of God. And we’ll come back to it in a moment.

But let’s move on, because there’s an even MORE intriguing/ puzzling scene in this meeting between God and Moses. V24.

At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met him and was about to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched his feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said. 26 So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.)

I’ll just cut a long story short. And say no one knows exactly what’s going on here. The NIV has made a guess, and added “Moses” in a couple of places. But it just says HIM. So we’re not sure if God was about to kill MOSES, or Moses’ SON. And we don’t know whose FEET were touched. AND we don’t know how Zipporah knew there was a problem.

(I SUSPECT there’s a connection to the previous paragraph that talks about God killing Pharaoh’s firstborn son, but I don’t know what it is. Let me know if you have any ideas)

Here’s ONE POSSIBLE scenario that I think fits. While they’re travelling, Moses, or his son, gets sick. Zipporah works out that it’s connected to one of her sons, perhaps the SECOND son, not being circumcised. She circumcises him, and then touches Moses’ feet, or his son’s feet. Perhaps showing the connection between the SICKNESS and the failure to CIRCUMCISE. And then Moses (or his son) gets better.

What do we learn? I’m not sure. But, perhaps, something about Moses’ IDENTITY. He couldn’t work out if he was Egyptian, Hebrew, or Midianite. For some reason one of his sons wasn’t circumcised. God wants him to identify with God’s people. To commit to the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham. And he does. And now he’s ready. He knows WHOSE HE IS.

So V27-28. Moses meets Aaron, and tells him everything Yahweh said. And then, together, back in Egypt, v29, they meet the Israelite elders. And they believed their message. And they worshipped God.

Moses and Aaron meet Pharaoh

Which brings us to the NEXT meeting. Moses and Aaron meet Pharaoh. Which DOESN’T go so well. They say to Pharaoh, Ch 5 v1

“This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.’ “

Which is not exactly what they were TOLD to say. And it doesn’t seem like the elders are there EITHER. But it doesn’t make any difference. God had already SAID Pharaoh wouldn’t let them go. And he DOESN’T. V2.

“WHO IS THE LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go.”

And that’s the key question. Not who MOSES is. But who GOD is. And it’s the question God will ANSWER over the next few chapters. With the plagues. All designed so Pharaoh would KNOW WHO YAHWEH IS. And we’ll look at those NEXT week.

But that’s where we’ll stop for THIS week. And return to the question we began with: Who am I?

Who am I? Personality tests will give you ONE answer. And they can be useful tools for knowing yourself. And helping you deal with situations better. But we can also use them as an EXCUSE. We say, “I couldn’t possibly do this, because I’m a feeler, not a thinker. An introvert, not an extrovert.” Or, “Don’t expect me to be nice or help people, I’m an achiever, I scored low on being a guardian and mediator.”

We might add OTHER excuses. But I’m the product of a broken home. I’ve got chronic pain. He was mean to me first. I deserve to look after myself for a change. It’s not my spiritual gift. It’s what MOSES did. “I couldn’t possibly do that. Who am I? I’m a stranger in a foreign land. I’m a fugitive. I’m caught between three cultures. What if they don’t listen? I’m a poor speaker.”

But what we’ve learned from Exodus is that what’s MORE important is WHO WE BELONG TO. God says that the nation of Israel is his FIRST-BORN SON. And he’ll jealously guard her. He’ll take them to be his OWN PEOPLE. And be their God. That’s whose they are!

And it’s even MORE TRUE for US. Who are we? Not just a NATION who’s a son, we’re, INDIVIDUALLY, sons and daughters of God our Father. John 1:12.

Yet to all who received (Jesus), to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but BORN OF GOD.

That’s your fundamental identity. A child of God. Not an extrovert, or an individualist, or an optimist.

And Romans 8 says we’ve received the SPIRIT of God’s Son, which makes us SONS. V14.

those who are led by the Spirit of God ARE SONS OF GOD. 15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ

And notice what that MEANS? If you’re a son of God, you’re not a slave to FEAR. God is your Father. His Spirit is with you. You don’t need to fear HIM, or anything ELSE.

You’re future is certain. You’re not defined by your past. Or your limitations.

You’re defined by God, your heavenly Father, who calls you to live out the family resemblance, as his child. To be perfect as HE is perfect, says Jesus is Matthew 5. To love your enemies that you may be sons of your Father in heaven, who sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous alike. To FORGIVE as your heavenly Father has forgiven YOU, in Matthew 6.

You’re defined by Jesus, who’s CLAIMED you. His Spirit gives you the power to follow him, to take up your cross, to conquer sin. To do more than strengths of your personality type suggest.

Who are you? You’re a child of God.

Exodus 1-2: The one who is faithful

Today we begin an eight week series in the book of Exodus. One of the most exciting books in the Bible. Full of drama and action. A wonderful story of intrigue and suspense. About heroes and villains. About leaders and rulers and advisers and slaves. About slavery and plagues and death. About oppression and tragedy and rebellion. About miraculous rescue and provision.

So much to notice. So many fascinating details. But here’s what I want you to notice. Above everything else, it’s a story about GOD. From start to finish, he’s the main actor, and prime mover. It’s the history of HIS-story.

In fact, the whole reason God planned these events, and then made them happen. Was so that people would RECOGNISE him. SEE him, and APPRECIATE him. (Israel, Pharaoh, and the Egyptians. And US, TOO.)

Here’s what God says to Pharaoh. Ch 9 v16

But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might SHOW YOU MY POWER and that MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED IN ALL THE EARTH.

God could have done things very differently. Far quicker and more simply. With less trouble and tragedy. But he did it THIS way, so people would recognize his power, and proclaim his uniqueness everywhere.

So don’t forget that. In the midst of all the detail. All the characters, and plot twists and turns. Don’t miss the main character. Make sure you notice what GOD’S doing. And that you trust him, and tell out his name.

A back story

With that said, let’s begin. The story of Exodus begins with A BACK STORY. Verses 1 to 6 remind us we’re actually starting at CHAPTER TWO. Chapter ONE – the book of Genesis – is about how God takes one man, Abraham, and promises to BLESS him. To give him a huge family who’ll bless the world, and then give them a land to live in.

Eventually Abraham becomes the father of Isaac, who becomes the father of Jacob, who’s also called Israel. And he, in turn, becomes the father of all those names in verses 2-5. (The twelve sons of Israel). Including Joseph, who rises to be second-in-charge of all Egypt. And Genesis finishes with them all in Egypt, safe from a worldwide famine.

V6, rather unceremoniously, cuts that story short. They all DIED. And then v7 brings things up to date. but the Israelites were FRUITFUL and MULTIPLIED greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the LAND was FILLED with them.

Here’s the point: God PROMISED to make Abraham’s descendants into a great nation. And that’s what he’s DOING. From one man, he’s produced a family that’s EXCEEDINGLY NUMEROUS.

God’s not even NAMED yet. But he’s there in the background. Especially if we’ve been paying attention to what came BEFORE Exodus. (If you’ve read the book of Genesis). He’s the God who PROMISES – who makes a COVENANT.

A deeper back story

But there’s something ELSE an attentive reader will notice. A DEEPER back story. This God in the background isn’t just the God who PROMISES, but the God who CREATES.

Back in Genesis 1, when God created people, male and female, he said to them, (v28)

“Be FRUITFUL and INCREASE IN NUMBER; FILL the EARTH and subdue it

And that’s EXACTLY WHAT’S HAPPENING HERE IN EGYPT, v7. The Israelites are FRUITFUL, they’ve INCREASED in NUMBER and the EARTH is FILLED with them. The same four words from Genesis 1 are repeated in Exodus 1.

The DEEPER back story is that God’s CREATED people to be fruitful and multiply, and to fill the earth. And that’s what they’re doing. The God who spoke the Universe into existence is at work here in Egypt, blessing his people.

A threat

All of that sets the scene for our story to begin in v8. And the blessing is THREATENED. A new king takes the throne. And with him, the policy of favoritism towards Joseph’s people ends. He breaks the promises made by his forefather.

He’s threatened by God’s blessing of fruitfulness on the Israelites. So, v10, he speaks to his advisors, “Let’s deal SHREWDLY with them, or else they’ll become a threat.” “If we do nothing, they’ll join our enemies, and LEAVE the COUNTRY.” Which, ironically, is just what happens.

And that marks THE BEGINNING OF THE CONTEST. Between the God who KEEPS his promises, and the king who BREAKS them. With the Hebrews as the prize. V11. The king forces them into slave labour. But, v12, the more he OPPRESSED them, the more they MULTIPLIED. Pharaoh’s shrewdness and evil is no match for God’s blessing and creative power.

So, v15, if forced labour doesn’t work, how about selective genocide? He commands the Hebrew midwives who deliver the babies to kill any BOYS who are born, but keep the girls.

But, v17, we meet the first of MANY women rescuers. The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys LIVE. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?” 19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”

Despite the risk to their own lives, they feared GOD more than the KING. And their explanation? “Hebrew women are so blessed, and so fruitful, the babies are all born before we arrive!” Pharaoh’s shrewdness is no match for God’s wisdom!

And the midwives’ actions produce two results. FIRST, v20, God BLESSED their faithfulness. The population kept growing. And even the midwives THEMSELVES had children.

But SECOND, v22. Pharaoh INTENSIFIES the genocide. The SECRET strategy becomes PUBLIC POLICY. Every Egyptian is conscripted as an agent of the state.

Pharaoh gave this order to ALL HIS PEOPLE: “Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”

Spies in every neighbourhood. And as chapter 1 ends, we wonder: How will God’s plans to bless his people cope with this threat?

Chapter 2 moves from the GENERAL to the SPECIFIC. From the NATIONAL to the PERSONAL. EVERY Hebrew family is threatened, and their male babies. We zoom in on ONE Hebrew family and its male baby. A very SPECIAL baby.

V1-2, a Levite husband and wife have a baby boy. Despite Pharaoh’s plans, he SURVIVES. Mum sees that he’s FINE, or GOOD, so she keeps him secret from the neighbours for three months. But, v3, when he gets too noisy, the mother gets a papyrus basket, coats it with tar and pitch, places the baby in it, and then hides it in the reeds along the bank of the Nile. And then, v4, his big sister stands guard, watching from a distance. Two MORE women rescuers.

It’s ironic that she’s, technically, OBEYING Pharaoh. She’s thrown him into the Nile. (Just like he commanded). But it’s so he’ll LIVE, not DIE. The Nile River, planned to be the DEATH of Hebrew boys, becomes THE SOURCE OF LIFE.

And if we look closely, we can see MORE references back to Genesis. FIRST, when the baby’s born, Mum SEES that he’s GOOD. It’s the language of creation, in Genesis 1. At the end each day we read, “And God SAW that it was GOOD”. Just what mum does with her baby. (Just as God created the WORLD, he’s at work creating a new nation, beginning with this boy).

But there’s MORE. The BASKET she uses. The word that’s used, Tavah, is only used in one other place. In the story of NOAH, where it’s translated as ARK. She places him in an ARK, and coats it with pitch and tar, just like NOAH did with HIS ark!

What’s the point? I think we’re meant to notice it. It shows how God is at WORK here. Even if it’s not OBVIOUS. The God who made a covenant with Noah and saved him will do the same thing HERE. He’s in the BACKGROUND, but his saving and creating power is STILL AT WORK. As readers, it makes us keep looking for God’s hand. Here in the story, but also in OUR LIVES.

Because it’s like that FOR US, TOO. God’s not always OBVIOUS. But it doesn’t mean he’s not WORKING. The same God who CREATED and PROMISED and SAVED in obvious, miraculous ways, is still at work. IN THE BACKGROUND. We just need to LOOK for him, and TRUST him.

But back to our story. So what does the sister see, from her secret lookout? v5, Pharaoh’s daughter comes down to the river for a dip. As she’s washing, she sees the basket peaking out from among the reeds. It’s hidden from the bank, but she sees it from the water. She directs her slave girl, on the river bank, to fetch it. And when she opens it, v6, she sees the crying baby, and feels compassion for it. She either recognizes him as a Hebrew baby, or works it out from the fact that he’s HIDDEN.

Just imagine this is the first time you’ve heard this story. Feel the suspense. What’s going to happen to him? Will he end up like OTHER Hebrew baby boys? Surely, the easiest and most obvious thing will be for her to just DROWN him in the Nile. After all, that’s what her father’s COMMANDED. And she’s right there in the river.

But just at that moment, his sister jumps out from her hiding place. V7. “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”

Of course, she’s got the PERFECT Hebrew woman in mind! His own mum! Pharaoh thinks HE’S being shrewd. But this girl is even SMARTER!

And Pharaoh’s daughter agrees. The boy’s RAISED by his own mum – and she even gets PAID for it. And then, when he grows up, he’s given the name MOSES, and taken into the royal family. With all the privilege and education that goes with it. It’s the perfect outcome! And Pharaoh’s daughter becomes ONE MORE female rescuer. That makes FIVE. And we’re only halfway through chapter 2!

Next, v11, we see how MOSES HIMSELF rescues. Although the FIRST attempt is more failure than success. We jump forward many years. He’s now grown up. On the OUTSIDE he’s Egyptian, but on the INSIDE he’s still a HEBREW. V11, he goes out to the Hebrew district, and sees their slavery. He sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. He chooses his side. He looks around for to make sure no one’s watching, then kills the Egyptian and hides his body in the sand.

But he HAS been seen. Perhaps by the victim of the assault, or maybe another eyewitness. Word gets out. V13, the next day he goes out again, sees two Hebrews fighting. He steps in to break up the fight, and one says, v14 “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?”

And Moses realizes he WAS seen. And there’ll be CONSEQUENCES. Pharaoh hears of it, and tries to kill Moses. But Moses flees to Midian. (Out in the desert.) Which is where we see his SECOND rescue.

Some time later, he’s sitting down by a well, and, v16, seven sisters arrive, with their flocks, to draw water. But there’s a competing group of shepherds who ALSO arrive, v17, and they start to drive the girls away. But the gallant Moses jumps up, and single-handedly, comes to their rescue. And then, for good measure, draws up the water from the well for the animals too. What a gentleman!

The girls return home and tell dad how an Egyptian rescued them from the shepherds. He wants to know why they left him there, and didn’t invite him back for a meal.

So, v21, Moses is fetched from the well, given a feed, and then given somewhere to stay. And before long he’s given a WIFE, Zipporah. And then, v22, she gives him A SON. Rescue number TWO turns out better than his FIRST attempt!

And that’s where we leave Moses for the moment.

God remembers

But what’s been happening back in Egypt? V23 turns our attention back there. Many years pass. One king DIES and a NEW one comes to POWER. But not much changes for the Hebrews.

The Israelites GROANED in their slavery and CRIED OUT, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.

I think it’s a summary of what they’ve been doing all through that long period. Groaning, crying out for help to God. So what will God do? He’s hardly appeared in the story so far. Many years have gone by, and the people are still suffering.

But if we’ve been paying attention. If we’ve made the connections back to Genesis. To creation, and to Noah, and to Abraham, and to the Patriarchs. Then we should know what’s coming.

If God’s created people who achieve his creative purposes. Who multiply and fill the earth. Then he won’t let his creative purposes be STOPPED. If God’s PROMISED to bless his people, then he’ll KEEP his promises. If God saved Noah in an ark, through water, then he’ll save his people NOW. If God’s raised up HUMAN RESCUERS who can achieve his plans. Then we can trust that he’ll DO THE SAME when his people cry out to him. Even if it takes YEARS.

And that’s what happens. V24. God makes a triumphant entrance.

God HEARD their groaning and he REMEMBERED his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God LOOKED on the Israelites and was CONCERNED about them (literally, he KNEW them)

Despite years passing. Despite it seeming like they’re cries weren’t answered. He’s not deaf to their cry. He HEARS them. And he hasn’t FORGOTTEN his covenant. He REMEMBERS. He’s PROMISED, and he’ll DO it.

And he’s not BLIND to their suffering. He SEES. And KNOWS. Which is more than intellectual – it’s RELATIONAL. He’s more than just AWARE of their situation. He’s intimately COMMITTED. He FEELS COMPASSION. And we’ll see how that works itself out NEXT week. He’s got a timetable he’s working to. And his people just need to trust him.

This is the God WE know. Whatever OUR situation. Whatever our slavery. Whatever our groaning and cries. Even if it’s gone on for MANY YEARS. We can be SURE that God HEARS, and REMEMBERS. That he SEES and that he CARES. He may answer QUICKLY, or it might be SLOW, like here in Exodus (during that long period).

He MAY deliver MIRACULOUSLY, like he does here in Exodus. (People I know have certainly experienced miraculous rescues from terrible situations. Of healing, and provision, and protection and deliverance. But MOST of the time it WON’T be like what happens in the Exodus. Because that’s the point of Exodus. The events of Exodus are MIRACULOUS and EXTRAORDINARY. They’re not how things NORMALLY happen.

Most of the time, God’s people ENDURE, and HOPE, and CRY OUT TO GOD. That’s the normal experience of God’s people. We’re not less likely to get sick, or suffer, or be poor. We’re just as likely to be disappointed with life. Our kids will STILL make dumb decisions, and our hearts will break for them. But God sees and hears. He remembers and he cares. And he WILL RESCUE. He WILL ANSWER.

He may give us what we pray for. Or he may have DIFFERENT plans. He may deliver us in THIS life. Or he may NOT. But he’ll certainly deliver us from the slavery of SIN. It’s daily power, and eternal consequences. He’ll certainly redeem us through the payment of the righteousness of Jesus. And he’ll certainly bring us home to be with him forever.

Listen to this wonderful description of God’s salvation for those of us who are Christians. From Titus ch 3 v5 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 HE SAVED US, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He SAVED us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

We’ve been saved, washed, reborn and renewed. We have Jesus. And we’re HEIRS of eternal life. There are so many wonderful blessings in that. But we still CRY OUT. We still suffer.

So what can we DO as we wait for that? Paul tells us to WORK OUT our salvation – Philippians 2:12. Which means all sorts of things, practically. But here’s ONE way we can work out our salvation that flows from these chapters of Exodus.

Follow the example of the two midwives. I wonder if that’s why they’re named. (Shiphrah and Puah). So we’ll NOTICE them. And IMITATE them. They risked their lives to save others. They feared GOD more than they feared MAN. They demonstrated courageous, costly compassion. As they WAITED for God’s salvation, they lived out his saving purposes for those around them.

Here’s just ONE idea. Perhaps, for you, a first step to living like Shiphrah and Puah is to come to the Justice and Mercy workshop that Karine is running next Sunday afternoon. What might it mean for US to be the hands and feet of God who SAVES people? Can we be like God to the community around us, here in Ashfield? Can we SEE and HEAR and CARE and SAVE, like God does for US?

Ephesians 1:3-2:10: God and Us

Michelangelo’s famous painting, The Creation of Adam, is a fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, in Rome. It shows God reaching out to touch Adam, giving him life. It was painted between 1508 and 1512. It’s a METAPHOR that shows what God is like. (His character, and how his acts.) Not what he LOOKS like. But his nature and how he acts. It’s a much more intimate image of God than anything painted in the West before it. He’s simply-dressed. He’s the God of Genesis 2 – accessible and interested, actively reaching out to humanity. Rather than the God of Genesis 1 – the all-powerful and distant king, who interacts only with HIS WORD.

And compare God and Adam. Notice how Adam matches the shape of God. Perhaps showing that he’s made in God’s image. But there’s a relaxed, indifferent feel about his posture. While God is engaged and active, twisting and reaching out to bridge the gap. Even down to comparing the fingers. God’s finger is firm and pointed. While Adam’s is relaxed and floppy, like he doesn’t really care.

I think it’s a powerful picture, not just of CREATION, but of THE WHOLE of God’s relationship with humanity, down through history. From the Garden of Eden in Genesis to the New Jerusalem in Revelation, God ACTIVELY WORKS to undo the separation that sin caused. To bridge the gap between himself and us. To connect us back into an intimate relationship with himself.

It’s just a PICTURE, but I think it’s quite POWERFUL. And the Bible’s full of pictures, just like Michelangelo’s painting, that help us understand what God’s doing to JOIN US to himself. I’ve counted at least FIFTEEN DIFFERENT PICTURES. (Earthly metaphors that capture something of the spiritual reality). You’ll be relieved to know we’ll only look at TEN today. Each one adds a different emphasis. (Shows God’s work from a different perspective). And they’re given so we’ll UNDERSTAND his offer, and TRUST him, and CONNECT to him. And then LIVE THAT TRUST OUT in PRAISE and OBEDIENCE.

So that’s the goal for today’s sermon. That at the end of it, you’ll see and appreciate more of what God’s done. You’ll rejoice in it, and praise him. And you’ll trust, love and obey him better.  Or maybe, if you’re NOT YET a Christian. When you see ALL THE BENEFITS God gives his children, you’ll WANT THEM TO. And you’ll accept his invitation, and COME to him.

SEVEN of the pictures get mentioned in Ephesians 1 and 2, that we read earlier. We’ll get to those in a moment.

  1.  Covenant

But some of the BIG ones come up quite early in the Bible. The FIRST one is COVENANT. It’s A LEGAL CONTRACT. Often between a king and his subjects. Or between a more POWERFUL king, and a WEAKER king.

The picture of the covenant helps us to trust God’s promises. He’s not going to change his commitment to his people. In Genesis 15, God makes a covenant with Abram when he’s tempted not to trust God’s promise. In a vision, God tells Abraham to cut some animals in half, and then, v17. When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land

It’s what happened in that culture with HUMAN covenants. Both parties would walk between animals cut in half. It symbolised an oath, “May THIS happen to me if I break this covenant.” Except here, God, represented by the smoking firepot and the blazing torch, is the only one who walks through the pieces. God will keep his word! And it WORKS. Because Abram BELIEVES God. We’re told, back up in v6, that Abram BELIEVED the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

  • Justification

And that’s ANOTHER picture of what God’s doing. Justification. Or declaring righteous. It’s a picture that comes from the law court. When a judge declares someone INNOCENT, or NOT GUILTY, or RIGHTEOUS. He JUSTIFIES them. In THIS case, not because Abram IS innocent. But he TRUSTS GOD, and so God credits that faith to his righteousness account.

And that’s what God, the just judge, does with EVERY PERSON who trusts him. Whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament. He declares them righteous, not because they ARE innocent, but because of their FAITH. No one EARNS their innocence. Because NO ONE is good enough. And God’s legal verdict of justification gives us FREEDOM and CONFIDENCE and JOY, rather than uncertainty and fear. We can REST in it.

  • Atonement

As we move through the history of Israel there’s one more picture that’s really important in explaining HOW God, the JUST JUDGE, can declare guilty people innocent. Because justification doesn’t seem FAIR. And so the picture he sets into the religious structure of Israel is that of ATONEMENT. It’s an image from the TEMPLE. To ATONE for sin means to SATISFY GOD’S WRATH. And, in the Old Testament, God sets up SACRIFICES to do that. He graciously allows the death of AN ANIMAL to satisfy his justice, rather than require the death of the SINNER. The sinner would lay his hands on the animal, symbolically transferring his sin onto the animal. And then the animal would die in his place. And God would choose to count the death of the animal as satisfaction of justice.

The gory details of sacrifice and atonement emphasise how SERIOUS sin is. And how holy God is. And what a wonderful GIFT he’s given us is his Son. And our response is to offer OURSELVES as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to him. In humble thanks that we’re not treated as our sins deserve. But that another receives what WE’RE due.

There’s more pictures from the Old Testament we could talk about, but let’s jump over to our Ephesians passage.

After a brief greeting, it jumps straight into it. V3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING IN CHRIST. Paul wants to PRAISE God because he’s blessed Christians in ALL SORTS of WAYS. And then, from v4, he spends the next chapter and a bit LISTING them all. It’s Father’s Day today. And many of you wrote a card for your Dad. Perhaps you THANKED him for the things he does. You may have even LISTED some of the things you appreciate. That’s what we’ve got HERE. It’s a Father’s Day card to our HEAVENLY Father, listing the things we appreciate. (Every spiritual blessing.)

  •  Adoption

And the FIRST of these is ADOPTION. (Which is fitting on Father’s Day). Whoever’s joined to the Son gets adopted into the family, and becomes a son or daughter TOO. Look at v5 In love 5he predestined us TO BE ADOPTED AS HIS SONS through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will

It’s a picture that helps us, as children, approach our Heavenly Father CONFIDENTLY. He’ll listen to us, provide for us, and protect us. We can be sure of his love. Sometimes adopted children doubt the love of their adoptive parents. But the OPPOSITE is really true. A couple who wants to adopt makes A CONSCIOUS DECISION – a COMMITMENT – to the child. You HAVE to love a natural child, but you CHOOSE to love an adopted child. Which is what God, our heavenly father, does. IN LOVE, he PREDESTINED us = chosen BEFOREHAND – to be adopted.

And because we’re part of God’s family, it means we have brothers and sisters all over the world. All children of their heavenly Father. A new family with new loyalties and ways of behaving.

  • Redemption

The NEXT picture of how God has blessed us in Jesus comes in v7. Redemption.

In him we have REDEMPTION through his blood,

Redemption is to do with buying slaves out of slavery. In that culture, a price had to be paid to the owner – normally a debt the slave was working off. After that, the slave WAS FREE.

The image is used of God rescuing Israel from slavery in Egypt. In Exodus 6:6 God promises

‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will REDEEM you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.

In OUR case, we’re TRAPPED in slavery by SIN AND DEATH. And v7 says Jesus PAID for our freedom with his BLOOD. The chains of sin and death that bound us have been broken. And we’ve been RELEASED to serve him in FREEDOM. Romans 6:18 describes our life like THIS

You have been SET FREE from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

It’s a picture that emphasises we’re not trapped to sin, again and again. Jesus has FREED us, to DO GOOD. TO OBEY GOD.

  • Forgiveness of sins

The next spiritual blessing that’s ours in Christ is ALSO in v7. FORGIVENESS. (In him we have redemption through his blood), the FORGIVENESS OF SINS,

Forgiveness is a picture to do with the wiping out of debt. Or overlooking an offence. Wiping the slate clean. Returning the debtor’s ledger to zero. Re-formatting the hard drive. The picture of forgiveness helps us to APPRECIATE the clean slate we have before God. The fresh start. We’re new creatures, with no guilt holding us back. And knowing God’s forgiveness gives us the ability to genuinely forgive OTHERS. Because we know that we’ve been forgiven a far greater debt than anything anyone might commit against US.

  • Union with Christ

The next image is down in v13. We’ve been UNITED WITH CHRIST. V13 And you also were INCLUDED IN CHRIST when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.

God joins us to Jesus when we trust him. And then we receive all that belongs to Christ, because he stands in our place. He’s our representative. Like when one of our representative sporting teams plays. Like the Australian cricket team. Or the Diamonds Netball team. When they win, we say AUSTRALIA won. WE ALL won, because our REPRESENTATIVE won. Same with Jesus. He defeats sin and death, and is raised to life. And so are WE, because we’re JOINED to him. HE’S righteous before God because he lived the perfect life, and so are WE because we’re joined to HIM.

If we’re reading carefully, we’ve already seen it again and again in this passage. All the way through, blessings come IN CHRIST. In fact, if I had to choose ONE of the pictures that’s most important (that all the others DEPEND on). This would be it. UNION WITH CHRIST. All the rest flow from THIS. That’s what it says in v3. Every spiritual blessing is IN Christ. (We receive them because we’re in him.) V4 and 11 God CHOSE us in him. V6. He’s freely given us his grace IN THE ONE HE LOVES. V7 We have REDEMPTION in him. In v22 and 23 Jesus is described as the head over everything. And we, the church are his BODY. We’re connected to him, and he guides and gives us life. And, v23, he’s WITH us, filling us with the fullness of his presence in everything.

And if we jump down to Ch 2, we see in v5, God seated us with Christ in the heavenly realms IN CHRIST JESUS. (Since JESUS is seated with God in heaven, we’re there TOO, because he’s our representative. Heaven is where our identity and our loyalty is found.)

And it all comes to us because we’re UNITED TO Christ.

  • Marked with a seal

The NEXT picture is there in v13 too. (Along with union with Christ). We were marked with a seal. Having believed, you were MARKED IN HIM WITH A SEAL, the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance

A seal is a mark of authenticity. Like on a University degree. Or on a land title. To show its REAL. Letters used to be sealed with a wax stamped with the official emblem to show who sent. And when God makes us his own, he puts his stamp of ownership on us, his own Holy Spirit. It says THIS ONE BELONGS TO ME.

We know SOMETHING of God’s presence now. But his Spirit is a deposit guaranteeing even MORE TO COME. Like someone might put a holding deposit on a house they want to be. A commitment that the house belongs to them. And the REST of the money’s coming SOON. God’s SEAL gives us confidence and courage, because we know we BELONG to him.

  • Made Alive

If we jump over Paul’s prayer in v15-23, we come to NEXT picture. Into chapter 2, v5. We were MADE ALIVE. God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-

The start of the chapter describe what it means to be dead in transgressions. Following the ways of the world, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature, objects of wrath. Physically alive, but spiritually dead. Separated from God, the source of life. Headed for judgment and eternal death. And dead people are HELPLESS. Have you ever seen a dead person jump up and perform CPR on themselves? When you’re dead, you need someone ELSE to give you LIFE. Which is what GOD does. He makes us alive WITH CHRIST.  Jesus is the AUTHOR of life. The SOURCE of life. And God RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD. Then joined US to him by faith. So WE are made alive. We enjoy the benefits of his victory! It’s a picture that emphasises the newness of life as a Christian. There’s joy and freshness and purpose and hope. Compared to the old DEAD way of life we USED to live.

  1. Salvation 2.5, 2.8

The LAST picture is right there in v5 too. SALVATION, or RESCUE. God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been SAVED.

God rescues from EARTHLY danger. From sickness, or enemies, or physical harm. But it’s his JUDGMENT we MOST need saving from. We were headed for DEATH because of our transgressions. It’s what we DESERVED. But God showed us MERCY – he didn’t give us what we deserved. He showed us GRACE – gave us something we DIDN’T deserve – RESCUE! The picture of SALVATION emphasises how HELPLESS we were. God’s holding out the life preserver to us. Without it, we’re DEAD. All we need to do is reach out in faith and GRAB it.

Down in v8 it says that even our FAITH comes from God For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and THIS NOT FROM YOURSELVES, IT is the gift of God– 9not by works, so that no one can boast. God’s rescue is ALL of him, and NOTHING of us. And that means we’re HUMBLED. And GRATEFUL. With no grounds for BOASTING.

I’m going to stop there. Although I’m tempted to keep going. Because there’s FOUR MORE pictures in the next section, before the end of chapter 2! Perhaps you can have a read over it after church, and see if you can find them.

Our response

  1. Hear and believe

But what I want to do before we finish is think about our RESPONSE to all this. Firstly, if God is reaching OUT to us, the OBVIOUS response is to grab hold of him. Verse 13 describes it well. And you also were included in Christ when you HEARD the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having BELIEVED, you were marked in him with a seal

God himself is SPEAKING to you. The true word about Jesus. (Through the Bible, or perhaps someone telling you. Telling you about how God can SAVE you.) Your response is to HEAR the message, and BELIEVE it. And then LIVE OUT that trust in repentance and obedience. And, for those of us who ARE Christians, our response is to partner with God, SPEAK that word of truth, so OTHERS get to hear it TOO, and believe it. And be saved. Have you DONE that yet? (Heard and believed?) If not, then today’s a great day to DO that.

  • Praise

If you HAVE, the SECOND way to respond to these pictures of what God’s done/ is TO PRAISE him. That’s the way Paul BEGINS. Back in v3. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

At the very least, that means giving God honour and glory and thanks with OUR WORDS. In songs and prayers. In our conversations with others. But if God’s done so much for us, words are hardly enough. God deserves MORE. In fact, God EXPECTS more. Look at v12 to see his plan (we were also chosen), 12in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might BE FOR THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY.

That’s A WHOLE LIFE. God wants EVERYTHING. Not just your Sunday mornings, or your words, or your work, or your money. He wants you to BE for the praise of his glory. To EXIST for it. Head, heart, hands and mouth. Giving EVERYTHING back to God for his goodness, and pointing OTHERS to it.

  • Do good works

Lastly, our THIRD response is to DO GOOD WORKS. Down in Ch 2 v10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Notice three times WORK is mentioned? We’re the result of GOD’S work. (His gracious work of choosing and saving and forgiving.) And his PURPOSE in doing that/ is that WE would work. That we’d do the good works he’s prepared for us. Not things WE’D choose. But the ones he’s pre-worked for us.

And notice we’re not saved BY our good works –v9 says that. We’re saved FOR good works.

The good works that are FOR THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY. Works of grace and generosity and mercy that point to HIS grace and generosity and mercy. Works of love and forgiveness and rescue that point to HIS love and forgiveness and rescue. Works of truth and justice and life that point to HIS truth and justice and life.

PRAISE BE to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has BLESSED us in the heavenly realms with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING IN CHRIST!

1 John 4:7-21: God is love

It makes a big difference when you know how much someone loves you. In 2015 a Korean man went to HUGE lengths to show his girlfriend how much he loved her. While the couple sat in a restaurant across the street, friends and work colleagues stuck thousands of post it notes on the full length windows on three floors of a neighbouring building. They spelled out a wedding proposal inside a love heart. That’s a big gesture. I’m sure she’s in no doubt how much he loves her.

But it’s NOTHING compared to the big gesture God’s given US. He’s loved us from before the creation of the world. And he wants us to KNOW how much he loves us. But not just so we feel loved. He wants it to change HOW WE ACT.

So that’s what we’re going to do today. Answer the two questions: How do I KNOW God loves me? And how should I live in RESPONSE to that love?

Love demonstrated

How do I know God loves me? Because he’s DEMONSTRATED it. He wants us to KNOW it. (Just like that Korean man wanted his fiancé to know he loved her.) He’s made a grand gesture, far greater than thousands of post it notes. He’s given us his Son. Romans 5:8 says God DEMONSTRATES his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

That’s LOVE! And it was a gift that COST EVERYTHING. Life itself! That’s LOVE! A gift given to those who were undeserving and ignorant and rebellious. Which makes the love even GREATER!

And because we were helpless – stuck in our sin- it was a gift WE DESPERATELY NEEDED. A gift that means we can go from SINNERS to SAINTS. From ENEMIES to FRIENDS. A costly, generous gift that demonstrates love.

And 1 John 4:9 says something similar This is how God SHOWED his love among us: He SENT HIS ONE AND ONLY SON INTO THE WORLD that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins

God’s love language is gifts. And acts of service. He’s shown love to his children by sending Jesus, his ONLY SON, to die in our place, paying the penalty for our sin. So we can LIVE.

It’s an act that DEFINES love. “THIS is love”. Love begins with God. His initiative. It’s not a reaction to our love for him. True love INITIATES action, rather than simply RESPONDS to it.

In LOVE, he graciously chose us, then sent His Son to die in our place. Then, in LOVE he called us and saved us.

A love story

In fact, one way of thinking about the story of the Bible is that it’s A LOVE STORY. Between God and humanity. The bridegroom and the bride. The story begins with God making us to be his image bearers in his world. In rebellion we ran away. From that point on, God works to entice and woo his unfaithful bride. To win her back. He makes covenants with her, being her God and making her his people.

In the book of Isaiah God describes his historical relationship with Israel like that of a husband and his adulterous wife. In chapter 54 v5, he says

For your Maker is your husband- the LORD Almighty is his name… 6 The LORD will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit… 7 “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back.

God rescues Israel from slavery in Egypt, he makes a covenant commitment to them, to be their God. But they won’t commit to him. They keep loving other gods. And so God sends them into exile. And then, IN LOVE, he brings them back. But they still aren’t faithful.

But God’s got a better reconciliation planned. A greater intimacy and faithfulness. In the fullness of time, Jesus comes. And brings the separation to an end. And God joins us to him, in faith. The two become ONE. Ephesians 5 uses the image of husband and wife to describe Christ and the church. (Even the marriage idea of two being united, and becoming one flesh). And a husband’s sacrificial love for his wife is to be modelled on Christ’s love for his bride, the church.

And, finally, at the end of the Bible. At the end of this world. Revelation describes eternity beginning with a wedding feast. Between Jesus, the Lamb, and his bride, the church. Revelation 19:7 Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. 8Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) 9Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’

And that joy and unity and intimacy will continue FOREVER in the new heavens and new earth.

The story of the Bible is A LOVE STORY. The story of God’s love DEMONSTRATED. Most clearly in the giving of his Son.

Love recognised

And because he’s demonstrated it, it means he wants us to RECOGNISE and APPRECIATE it. It’s not enough for us to just GAIN THE BENEFITS of his love. He wants us to SEE it and UNDERSTAND it. That’s what Paul prays in Ephesians 3:17-19. He prays that you, being ROOTED AND ESTABLISHED in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to GRASP HOW WIDE AND LONG AND HIGH AND DEEP IS THE LOVE OF CHRIST, 19and to KNOW this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

The context is about how God’s Spirit lives in us. We EXPERIENCE God’s love because Christ is dwelling in our hearts through faith. That’s what it means to be rooted and established in love. God’s love is the soil our roots grow into. And his love is the foundation our lives are built on.

And Paul’s prayer is that we have the power to UNDERSTAND it. We’ve already gained the BENEFITS of his love. (We’re FORGIVEN and ADOPTED. We know what it MEANS to be loved.) But God wants us to BUILD on that experience.

He wants us to know how WIDE his love is. How all inclusive and encompassing. There are no extremes of behaviour or acceptability that are beyond Christ’s love. And there’s NO ONE beyond the boundary of his love. Jew and Gentile. Rich and poor. Red and yellow, black and white – ALL are precious in his sight. And there’s no situation where his love won’t hold you. No danger, no enemy, no power. Nothing can separate you from his love. (His love is WIDE).

And God wants us to have power to understand how LONG his love is. It’s no teenage infatuation, that lasts a lunch time, and then, tomorrow has moved on. It’s love that began before the creation of the world. Ephesians 1:4 says For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. IN LOVE 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ (He’s loved us for longer than the Universe has existed!)

And it’s LONG love in the sense that it’s infinitely PATIENT and long-suffering. There’s no limit to the amount of unlovely behaviour on our part that he’ll overlook. It’s not like HUMAN love – that’s FICKLE and TRANSITORY. That stays as long as the object of the love remains LOVEABLE. God’s love has stickability. His love is LONG. In Exodus 34:6-7 God describes himself THIS way. The LORD , the LORD , the compassionate and gracious God, SLOW TO ANGER, ABOUNDING IN LOVE and faithfulness, (His love is LONG)

And God wants us to have power to understand how HIGH Christ’s love is. Perhaps the idea is that it’s love that boosts and promotes us. It’s ACTIVE and PURPOSEFUL. It doesn’t leave us where we were. Christ’s love LIFTS US UP, makes us new creatures, with a new purpose and nature and future. It moves us from ONE kingdom into ANOTHER. Ephesians 2:6 says And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his KINDNESS to us in Christ Jesus.

And, finally, God wants us to have power to understand how DEEP Christ’s love is. It’s not superficial or mild. There’s an INTENSITY to his love. He gave EVERYTHING. The depth of his physical and spiritual suffering reflects his DEEP love.

And God doesn’t just want us to UNDERSTAND it, or COMPREHEND it. But to KNOW it (v19). To EXPERIENCE it. To know it from THE INSIDE – from being THE BELOVED.

And that’s a task you’ll never completely achieve. We can only BEGIN to know it. That’s what the phrase means in Ephesians 3:19 “to know this love THAT SURPASSES KNOWLEDGE.” Which sounds like a contradiction, but I think he means we know SOMETHING of it, but we’ll NEVER FULLY ARRIVE. We’ll spend our lives experiencing MORE of what it means to be loved by God. It’s an assignment worth committing your life to.

We know his love more as we read and re-read all God’s PROMISES found through the Bible. And MEDITATE on them, and PUT THEM TO THE TEST. We know it more as we read the gospels – the descriptions of Jesus’ earthly life and teaching and character. How he treated people.

We know it more as Christ dwells in our hearts through faith. As we TRUST him, and OBEY him. And find him faithful, and generous, and wise and good. We EXPERIENCE his love day by day.

And it’s an assignment you can’t do on your own. Did notice that it’s a GROUP TASK? Paul prays (v18) that we’d have power, TOGETHER WITH ALL THE SAINTS, to understand the love of Christ. As we SPEAK to each other, and SING to one another, of what we’re learning and experiencing of God’s love, OTHERS will know it more. And as we LOVE each other more, both LOVER and BELOVED grow in their EXPERIENCE of our FATHER’S love.

Love responded to

So that’s the FIRST two sections. Love DEMONSTRATED, and love RECOGNISED.

And God’s PURPOSE in that is that we’d RESPOND to it. You SHOW you’ve recognised it by the way you RESPOND.

  1. Love one another

And that was the point of the Bible reading from 1 John. The main purpose of the letter is to help the readers identify FALSE teachers from TRUE ones. And one of the three tests for a TRUE teacher was whether they LOVE OTHER CHRISTIANS. The true response to God loving you is to love his CHILDREN. See there in v7? Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

A person who DOESN’T LOVE THE BROTHERS shows that they DON’T KNOW THE LOVE OF GOD.

God has SHOWN us what love looks like. It’s costly and undeserved and sacrificial and other person centred. V9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

SOME people feel that God loves them because they see a pretty sunset. Or have a feeling of peace as they meditate by the ocean. Or because they got a new job. Or had a baby. Or they’re healthy and wealthy. But those things come, and DON’T come, to EVERYONE. (To God’s children, and those who AREN’T his children ALIKE). And they’re no SIGN of God’s special love for his children. But what IS a clear communication of his love is the GIVING of his only Son to save UNDESERVING SINNERS by dying in their place. And then to FORGIVE their sin. So they can trust, and obey, and love. THAT’S love! THAT’S the God who loves you. And the WAY he loves you.

And here’s the appropriate response to that love. V11 Dear friends, since God so loved US, we ALSO ought to love ONE ANOTHER.

That’s why it’s so important to KNOW God’s love. (To FEEL it). Because it’s the fuel for our love for OTHERS. We love the way the MOON gives light. The moon doesn’t PRODUCE light, it REFLECTS the light from the Sun. And TRUE love doesn’t COME from us. It shines from God ONTO us, and then we KNOW it and TRUST it, and we REFLECT IT ON. That’s what v10 is getting at This is love: NOT THAT WE LOVED GOD, but that he loved us

He’s not saying we can’t love AT ALL. I think what he means is that TRUE love doesn’t BEGIN with US. We didn’t love God FIRST. We can only love OTHERS TRULY (in the way GOD loves) when we’re LOVED BY GOD. When we KNOW it, and RECEIVE it. And when we’re JOINED to the God who is love. THEN we can love others with God’s love.

If you don’t KNOW sacrificial, undeserving love TO YOU/ then you can’t GIVE it. You can only give a pale imitation of it. A poor reflection of it. If you haven’t received the undeserved, forgiving, giving-everything love from God. If you haven’t recognised your complete UNWORTHINESS to be forgiven. Then you can’t truly love undeserving people. You’ll only love CONDITIONALLY. You’ll only love when they love you BACK, or when they DESERVE it. Or when you FEEL like it.

How well does our reflected love to others point people to the love God has for us? Is our love costly, and undeserved, and sacrificial? Or is it conditional, calculating, and self-protective? Does it point people to Jesus? Or does it turn people OFF him?

  1. Don’t fear

The SECOND way we respond to God’s love is NOT TO FEAR. To be confident. In ANY situation. Romans 8:35 gives these amazing promises. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us

Whatever happens to us, there’s nothing to FEAR, because nothing can SEPARATE you from God’s protective, powerful, saving LOVE.

  1. Accept discipline

THIRD. Not only can we be CONFIDENT in the face of bad things. We can ACCEPT THEM GRATEFULLY as DISCIPLINE. Hebrews 12 encourages us My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” 7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.

Bad things aren’t just things to be endured with COURAGE. They’re TRAINING from the hand of your LOVING heavenly Father.

And, just like PHYSICAL training, NO PAIN NO GAIN. A few verses further on there’s this application. V10 God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. 12Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees

Let life’s difficulties train your SPIRITUAL muscles because your LOVING Father is GROWING YOU STRONG. James 1:2 even encourages us to REJOICE in them, because they develop perseverance and maturity.

  1. Compelled by love

One final response to God’s love. Let it COMPEL you. Inspire you. Control you. In 2 Corinthians 5.14 Paul gives a hint to what DRIVES or MOTIVATES him. He talks about his life’s work of trying to persuade people with the gospel (v11). And that God’s given him the ministry of reconciliation as an ambassador, imploring people to be reconciled to God (v20). But in v14 we get this insight into his motivation. For Christ’s love COMPELS us, because we are convinced that ONE DIED FOR ALL, and therefore ALL DIED. 15And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again

Christ’s love COMPELS us. FUELS, INSPIRES and MOTIVATES us. He DIED for us. And so, we die. We die to our plans and ambitions. We belong to another. We’re, no longer, to live for ourselves. But to live for HIM who died for us and was raised again.

Let me finish with this quote from Jim Packer’s fantastic book, Knowing God. Great questions for us to contemplate about whether the truth of God’s love has reached beyond our HEADS to our HEARTS.

Is it true that God is love to me as a Christian?… If so, certain questions arise. Why do I ever grumble and show discontent and resentment at the circumstances in which God has placed me? Why am I ever distrustful, fearful or depressed? Why do I ever allow myself to grow cool, formal and half-hearted in the service of the God who loves me so? Why do I ever allow my loyalties to be divided, so that God has not all my heart?” J.I. Packer, “The Love of God”, Knowing God.

Romans 2:1-16: God is judge

It’s been interesting watching the reactions of different people to government COVID restrictions. Most of us are fine. We’ll stay home. We’ll wear a mask. We won’t travel. We’re willing to recognise the government’s authority over us. We’re willing to give up some of our individual freedoms for the sake of the whole society.

But other people demand that they’ve got the right to do what they want. There was Karen at Bunnings, ranting at staff, and refusing to wear a mask. And there was Cynthia Page, who, last week, sued the New York state for its COVID 14-day quarantine period. Because she said it infringed her fundamental right to travel. She lost!

And it’s the same sort of reaction MANY people have to the idea that God will JUDGE them. They feel they have the right to make their own choices, and no one, including God, has the right to question, or intrude on, that independence.

I think it’s the cultural individualism in the West that’s largely to blame. People quite like the idea that God FORGIVES people. Just not the JUDGMENT part. The unspoken rule of our culture is that each of us, basically, has the right to do whatever we want. And perhaps the greatest evil is to RESTRICT someone’s freedom, or tell them they’re wrong.

So what I want to do today is defend the idea of God’s judgment. Firstly, to show that it’s a central teaching of the Bible. Secondly, to give you three reasons to REJOICE in God’s judgment. And, thirdly, to give you three APPLICATIONS of God’s judgment. (How it affects how we think and behave.)

The Bible teaches it

Firstly, the Bible TEACHES it. From start to finish, Genesis to Revelation, we see the truth that God holds us accountable. And, in the end, will JUDGE us.

In Genesis, God creates Adam and Eve, tells them not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. And then delivers judgment on them when they disobey him. He’s the one who’s CREATED us, so he’s got the right to do with us whatever he decides.

He SEES EVERYTHING. Nothing’s hidden from his sight. Ecclesiastes 12:14 says For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

No one can escape. Even the powerful and rich and well-connected. God is more powerful than ALL of them. Psalm 11:5-6 says The Lord is at your right hand; he will crush kings on the day of his wrath. 6 He will JUDGE THE NATIONS, heaping up the dead and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.

Which seems completely scary. But at the same time, God is infinitely WISE, and completely RIGHTEOUS. So we can be confident he’ll always make the RIGHT JUDGMENT. In Genesis 18:25, Abraham is pleading with God to show mercy on the city of Sodom. And he appeals to God’s character in not destroying righteous people. And he concludes Will not the Judge of all the earth do RIGHT? One thing we CAN be sure of, in the midst of uncertainty. God will ALWAYS act wisely and justly.

And then, in the LAST book of the Bible, in Revelation 20, at the end of this world, God will be seated on a great white throne, and everyone will stand before him, and he’ll judge them according to what they’ve done.

And Romans 2, which we just read, talks about that day TOO. In fact, it begins in Romans 1. From v18 we read that God’s wrath is being revealed against the godlessness and wickedness of people. They choose to ignore God, and do what they want INSTEAD. And our world bears the SCARS of that. And that’s God’s wrath! And chapter one finishes with this damning description of humanity. Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

It’s painful to hear. I find myself not wanting to read the whole list. To skip over it, and just get to the end. But that’s what God sees and feels when he looks at out our world. You may not be ALL of those things. But you’re MANY of them. (We ALL are.) At least SOME of the time.

That’s the situation IN THE WORLD. It’s NO WONDER God, JUSTLY, will JUDGE US.

In Chapter 2, Paul turns his attention to THE CHURCH in Rome. In particular, what God’s coming judgment means for HOW CHRISTIANS RELATE TO EACH OTHER. Specifically, how the JEWISH Christians get along with the GENTILE Christians. And his FIRST point is we shouldn’t judge one other, because we ALL deserve judgment. V1. You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment DO THE SAME THINGS.

It’s dangerous to judge others by a standard you can’t live up to YOURSELF. V3 So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

At the moment, God’s PATIENT. We deserve his judgment RIGHT NOW. ALL of us. But he’s DELAYING, waiting for people to repent. But whenever people take advantage of that. And dismiss and reject and judge others who are different. They’re abusing God’s kindness. And their hypocrisy and blindness is inviting his judgment. The reality is THE DAY OF JUDGMENT IS COMING. V5. But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

I wonder if people think about “their individual freedom to choose” as STORING UP WRATH for themselves? It’s not building assets, or experiences, or qualifications. It’s storing up WRATH!

And then v6 describes what that day will be like. God will give to EACH PERSON according to what he has done

It will be INDIVIDUAL and COMPLETE. Each person. God will be impartial and thorough. There’ll be no special exemptions. No loopholes. No white privilege. No ethnic advantage. Jew and Gentile alike will be judged. And it will be CONSISTENT. According to what each has done. No one will bear the punishment for another’s sins. No one will have their behaviour overlooked.

V9 goes on. There’ll be ONE STANDARD. With no favouritism.

There will be trouble and distress for EVERY human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10but glory, honor and peace for EVERYONE who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11For God does not show favoritism.

Why does Paul emphasise Jew and Gentile so much? V12 makes it clear. Because the Jewish Christians thought they had an advantage over the Gentile Christians. They HAD THE OLD TESTAMENT LAW. They thought they had a head start. But, v12, they’re mistaken.

All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law (that’s the Gentiles), and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law (that’s the Jews). 13For it is not those who HEAR the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who OBEY the law who will be declared righteous.

You see HAVING the law isn’t enough. It’s not even enough to HEAR it. You’ve got to OBEY it. It doesn’t matter where you were born. Or what language you speak. Or how often you heard about Jesus. Or how educated you are. Or the colour of your skin. Or how many generations of Christians precede you in your family. The only thing God’s interested in is WHAT YOU DO/ with WHAT HE TELLS YOU.

You’ve sinned. You deserve judgment. But he’s showing you kindness, tolerance and patience. He’s leading you towards REPENTANCE. He calls you to TURN FROM YOUR SIN. To TRUST his Son. And then to LIVE FOR HIM, obeying and honouring him. And your fate on judgment day will depend on what you DO with that message. SO make sure you HEAR and OBEY.

 

Reasons to rejoice in God’s judgment

And that’s a good introduction into the NEXT section. Five reasons to REJOICE in God’s judgment.

  1. He offers us an escape

The FIRST reason to rejoice in God’s judgment is that he offers you an ESCAPE. We read in v4 of Romans 2. He’ll judge EVERYONE. But he’s showing patience and kindness, leading people to REPENTANCE.

And, v7, for those who repent. Who turn from SELF-seeking, and instead seek glory, honour and immortality – in other words they SEEK GOD HIMSELF- he promises ETERNAL LIFE. An escape from a guilty verdict on Judgment Day. All through the PERFECT life of Jesus, who stands in our place. Yes, God will JUDGE. But we can rejoice that he also offers us AN ESCAPE from it.

  1. It’s good news for the suffering

The SECOND reason to rejoice in God’s judgment is that it’s good news for those who suffer. 2 Thessalonians is written to a persecuted church. Paul writes, v4 of chapter 1, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.

And then, down in v6, there’s the comfort of this promise God is just: He will PAY BACK TROUBLE to those who trouble you 7and GIVE RELIEF to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

There’ll be RELIEF for the persecuted. And JUSTICE for those DOING the persecuting. Which is good news.

But not just good news for the PERSECUTED. There’ll be relief from ALL suffering. Everything in this world that’s been broken by sin. Relief from sickness and death and loneliness and fear and brokenness. In Revelation 21, following the judgment of God on his great white throne, we read about God joining himself with his people. And, v4, there’s the promise

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Judgment will bring to an end everything causes suffering and death. And justice against the culprits. And that’s a real comfort and hope to suffering people.

  1. It’s DELAYED

(That’s the SECOND reason we can rejoice in God’s judgment. It’s good news for the suffering) The THIRD reason is that it’s DELAYED. Which, perhaps, seems a little contradictory to reason 2.

At the moment, according to Romans 1, God’s wrath is being revealed against all godlessness and wickedness. He hands people over to the consequences of their choices. He gives them a taste of where their choices will end up if they continue in them. He DOESN’T bring judgment. Which means that, at the moment, there’s SUFFERING.

But at the same time, (we saw in Romans 2:4) that he’s kind and tolerant and patient. He’s LEADING people to repentance.

In 2 Peter 3, Peter answers critics who scoff that God’s judgment ISN’T coming. They say everything’s been the same for thousands of years. And Peter says, God’s done it once before (destroyed the world with WATER – with Noah’s flood), and then he adds, v7

By the same word the PRESENT heavens and earth are reserved for FIRE, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

It’s definitely coming. And, just in case you thought he was a bit slow in bringing it. V9

The Lord is NOT slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

It’s not that he’s LAZY, or DISORGANISED, or DISINTERESTED. He’s PATIENT. His desire is for EVERYONE to repent. He wants NO ONE in hell. And so he’s keeping back the day of judgment. He’s giving time, and opportunities, for your friends and family and neighbours and workmates to HEAR about Jesus. For YOU to TELL them. So they can trust him, and repent, and be saved. So rejoice that God’s judgement is delayed. (That’s the THIRD reason to rejoice in God’s judgement.)

Which leads on to some practical applications. How we should live TODAY in light of God’s judgment IN THE FUTURE.

  1. Repent

And the first and most obvious application is to REPENT. We saw it in Romans 2. V4. We WON’T escape God’s judgment. At the moment, he’s being tolerant and patient. His kindness is leading you to repentance. We saw it in the verses from 2 Peter 3. God is PATIENT. His wrath is a slow burn, but unstoppable. He wants NO ONE to perish. He wants EVERYONE to come to repentance. If you haven’t done that. Then TODAY IS A GREAT DAY. Don’t keep PRESUMING on God’s patience.

If you HAVE done that, then God’s patience means he waiting for YOU to tell people about his coming judgment, and his offer of forgiveness. You may be the only Christian some of your non-Christian friends KNOW.

  1. Don’t judge others

The second application is DON’T JUDGE OTHERS. That’s on GOD’S job description, not yours. We saw it in Romans 2. V1, we have no excuse to judge others as guilty before God, because WE’RE JUST AS GUILTY. We’re not QUALIFIED to judge.

And WE DON’T HAVE TO. We can leave the judging up to GOD. He’ll do a much better job of it than WE will. Over in Romans 12 Paul returns to the theme of judging others. V17

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19Do not take revenge, my friends, but LEAVE ROOM FOR GOD’S WRATH, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

The reality of God’s judgment EMPOWERS victims of injustice. They can choose to LIVE AT PEACE. They can choose to respond to HATE with LOVE. They can leave space for GOD to deliver the wrath. Rather than them providing it all.

  1. Live godly lives

And the THIRD application of God’s judgment is it MOTIVATES US TO LIVE GODLY LIVES. Flip back over the 2 Peter 3. We looked earlier at how God is PATIENT with people, and won’t bring judgment HASTILY. And then v10 describes how the day of the Lord will come like a thief and everything will be destroyed. And then we see the application in v11.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?

We might expect the answer to be, “Well, do whatever you like. It doesn’t matter. There are no consequences. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” But no, Peter says the OPPOSITE.

What kind of people ought you to be? You OUGHT TO LIVE HOLY AND GODLY LIVES 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are LOOKING FORWARD TO A NEW HEAVEN AND A NEW EARTH, THE HOME OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. 14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him

Judgment is coming, and then there’ll be a NEW heaven and earth, where RIGHTEOUSNESS will be the standard behaviour. So work hard at being holy and godly NOW. So you’ll be FIT FOR PURPOSE. So you’ll be READY for eternity.

Notice how the focus isn’t being good, so you make it through judgment. Because we WILL. If we belong to JESUS, then our judgment verdict is already DECIDED. We’re INNOCENT. Instead our focus should be on WHAT COMES NEXT.

So look FORWARD to the new heaven and the new earth, the home of righteousness. And DO that, by making every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.