A Sermon from Exodus 3.7-8; Psalm 145.1-3, 18-21; Luke 1.68, 4.16-21; Hebrews 2.10-14, Delivered at First Presbyterian Church, Chattanooga, TN, October 21, 2007
Introduction to the Reading
Today we will read about a part of God’s character that will hope and healing to your lives. Join me as I read from Exodus 3.7-9; Psalm 145.1-3 and 18-21; Luke 1.28 and 16-21; and Hebrews 2.14-15.
Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, Exodus 3.7 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 8 And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 9
Psalm 145.1-3, 18-21
I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name forever and ever. Psalms 145.1
Every day I will praise you and extol your name forever and ever. Psalms 145.2
Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. Psalms 145.3
The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. Psalms 145.18
He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them. Psalms 145.19
The LORD watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy. Psalms 145.20
My mouth will speak in praise of the LORD. Let every creature praise his holy name forever and ever. Psalms 145.21
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. Luke 1.68
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
Let us pray.
Our Father, let your Spirit illumine our hearts that we may believe Your Word. Jesus, let Your light bring light to our minds that we may understand Your will. Almighty God, overwhelm all other powers in this place and lead us to trust in Your power to save through Jesus Christ our Lord. God. Amen.
Introduction to the Sermon
Sally Quinn of the Washington Post wrote:
“I announced to my parents when I was 13 that I was an atheist. And I was a committed atheist all of my life. My view was that more evil had been done in the name of religion than anything else in the world.I saw no redeeming value in it at all.” (See link).
She has since moved from being an “atheist” to being a “seeker.” But I wonder how many people are like Sally Quinn and wonder how God could care for us and still allow the evil and suffering all around us.
I once stood behind a door as a toddler played on the floor. I had pots and pans in my hand. And I banged as loud as I could. And the child never even winced. And I fell to my knees. And I wondered if God cared.
There are many of us who believe in God but we hold a grudge against God. “Why doesn’t he see and do something about my pain?” “Why doesn’t God do something about the ACLU? Or the radical Islamic Fundamentalists who are killing their own people and terrorizing the world? Or why doesn’t God care enough to help me understand what I am to do about my business? Or about my wife? Why can’t God fix my kids? Why can’t we have kids? Why did God allow my dad to get transferred when I was just making friends at this school?” And on it goes. There are many other areas where we wonder about God and His compassion.
We are told by a recent book which divulged the personal journal of Mother Theresa that she sometimes had a crisis in her faith. And I thought to myself, “That’s news? The woman held the dying of India in her arms, people who seemed indistinguishable from the garbage in the streets in which they lay, and that did not affect her?”
Throughout the Bible it always seems, as in Moses’ case, that God doesn’t show mercy. In fact amazingly it is the Bible that shows the very thing that we complain about. It was Abraham who wondered about God’s mercy when He was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. It was Job who wondered about God’s mercy as he suffered beyond what anyone could imagine. David cried out to God and asked, “How long?” Martha could not understand the mercy of Jesus who chose to tarry as her brother Lazarus lay dying. “If you had been here…” she cried and in her cry we hear the cries of mothers who received word that their sons died on the battlefield. If you had been here. We hear the cry of parents of children afflicted with disease. If you had been here! We hear your cry. Jesus knows your question. For Jesus Christ cried out to the Father, “Father let this cup pass…yet not my will but thine be done” and he was speaking of the cup of wrath to be poured down on the Son of God. And I continue to be amazed at the words, “Eloi, Eloi lama sabachtani! My God, My God why have you forsaken me?”
Maybe you too struggle with understanding how God cares.
Perhaps Moses did. We do not know. But we know that he took things into his own hands and sought to shape the destiny of a people by his own intervention. In revenging the mistreatment of the Hebrews, Moses played God. “If God won’t be compassionate and let these people go then I will.” Again, the Bible doesn’t say that about Moses. But it shows that about him.
I played an interesting game yesterday at the father/son retreat led by Pastor Jerry Harwood at Camp Vesper Point. A son was asked to fall backwards into the arms of his father. If you have ever fallen backwards you know it can be frightening. But we were being taught to trust our fathers. But then we were told that once one of the camp counselors fell backwards in demonstration to the others and the guys who were supposed to be catching him were not paying attention, and Forest Walker, the counselor, fell backwards and landed flat on his back in pain. But the lesson was: if we trust our earthly fathers to catch us that is one thing, and they will catch us although there could be distractions that give us pause. But God always catches us. God cares in a way that we can’t. But falling backward onto His arms in faith, waiting on His plan by faith, trusting in Him for your life and not your own plans can be scary. Will God your Father really catch you?
But in a burning bush, Almighty God speaks to Moses. Moses had taken things into his own hands by thinking that he had to care for the Hebrews and express that care in his own terms. He had to learn to trust God, to fall back and let God work. So Moses was living in exile in the Midian back forty because of that presumptuous sin which led to his fall. But in that place he would learn that God’s vision for the Hebrews and for the world was bigger than Moses’. I like that because I need to know that. In my life, in my questions, in my troubles, and in my mind and life I want to know about God’s compassionate vision for the world and for His creation. Thus, in the call of Moses we learn to trust a compassionate God for His mercy and care.
There are five brief affirmations I want to make about the way God cares this morning that is taken directly from this passage.
1. God sees in a way that we cannot see
For we read, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt…” (v. 7)
You see, again, the context of this passage is that Moses did not think anyone was looking to see the oppression of the Hebrew. In fact the Bible says that Moses thought no one was looking to see him:
“He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand” (Ex. 2.12).
My Aunt Eva used to remind me to be “careful little eyes what you see…for God up above is looking down in love, so be careful little eyes what you see.” I have often thought how powerful that quaint children’s verse is today in the age of the Internet and the purveyance of visual immorality in our society. But the text is really, here, drawing us to see that God sees our oppression in a way that no one else can. God saw the problem.
God sees the problems today in a way we cannot. The greatest thing to do is to pray to this
God who sees and to trust in Him. Jesus told us:
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6.6
He sees in secret. But he acts in the open to bless.
The other day I had a counseling appointment. And during that time my heart broke over the damage that sin has done to human beings. But I took comfort and sought to give comfort in this: God sees the deepest pain, and sees the oppression of sin.
It is for this reason that God saw, and Jesus came. And when Jesus looks into our lives and we experience His look of love, our lives are never the same.
Another way that we can trust God to care is this:
2. God hears in a way that we cannot hear
I know this because God told Moses, “I have heard their cry because of their taskmasters” (v. 7).
The Psalmist asked: “He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see (Psalms 94.9)?” The answer intended is not just that God hears, God hears everything. God hears my cry and yours and the cry of the person who wants to believe but can’t; the person who is in bondage to alcohol; the person who is in bondage to sexual sin; the child who is fearful of bullies at school; the young man or woman who is in bondage to fear of being isolated from their peers because of their faith. God hears.
Yesterday, again at the Father/Son retreat, we walked in the beautiful woods next to Camp Vesper Point. And Forest Walker was our team leader. And Forest asked us to listen as we walked. When we stopped he asked us what we heard. Some heard the sound of rustling leaves. Another heard the sound of a bird singing. Yet another heard our own footsteps. And we were reminded that there are so many sounds in life that are beautiful or maybe even mundane but filled with meaning that we simply do not hear because we are too preoccupied with other things.
My beloved, God hears you. God is focused on human beings. The universe is not impersonal but personal. For the Word of God says,
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 1Peter 3.12
The Bible also teaches us that the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ wants to speak to you today. Seven times in the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John, Jesus says:
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ” Revelation 3.22
Church…Christian…God hears you. Do you know hear God speaking to you? He cares for you.
3. God knows in a way that we cannot know
The revelation of God to Moses goes even deeper. Beyond God’s sight of our affliction and the sound of our cries, God knows our suffering.
All other religions claim a way through suffering. Their way is through ritual or mysticism or denying the reality of pain or a Stoic submission to it. But in Christianity, God Himself comes to know our suffering. And that is the whole point of the Gospel. Jesus as the Incarnation of God in human flesh knows our suffering. And so the writer to the Hebrews wrote:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4.15 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. 16
I will never forget when a philosophical debate arose at our seminary over the question, “Can we know what God knows.” And the classic sides are, one the one hand, “Yes. I know that David was king of Israel and God knows that. There are lines of knowledge that do meet.” On the other hand, people like Cornelius Van Til said that we cannot know what God knows. “God knows about David and the deep meaning of truth of His kingship infinitely more than we do and His revelation condescends to us.” I remember that we had a question and answer lunch with Dr. D. James Kennedy, the Chancellor, later that day. And so we asked him. Without hesitation, Dr. Kennedy with his fork in one hand, about to eat a bite of steak, responded, as if we had asked the simplest question in the world: “Of course not. God knows in a way that we cannot know. And that is our hope. Are there any hard questions…” Pow. That was it. And you know what? That is our hope. And the fact that God knows deeply about your suffering, or the Holocaust, or the suffering of people in Darfur, or the abuse the Archbishop of Uganda endured for the Gospel, or the pain you are going through now, gives meaning and in a word gives, “hope.”
I have told you before but I think some of the sweetest words a parent ever says to a child after that child has hurt himself, are, “Daddy knows, honey, Daddy knows…”
I want you to leave here today hearing, “Your Father knows, child, you Father knows.”
Now this leads us to the fourth way in which God cares and that comes
4. God comes to save in a way that we could never hope to save
Look at Exodus 3.8:
“and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites” (Exodus 3.8).
This really is the Gospel. God sees, God hears, God knows, and so GOD COMES DOWN. God came down how? God came down through a man, Moses. And Moses becomes a sort of type of Jesus Christ who comes down to deliver mankind from slavery to sin and its awful consequences. Again the writer to the Hebrews compares Moses to Jesus:
“Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are His house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope” (Hebrews 3.5-6).
Moses reacted to the problem in his own strength. He had to learn that it is only when God fills us, when we are set apart to do God’s will that anything good and lasting happens. Real liberation, real salvation, real redemption happens when God comes down. And God has come down in Jesus Christ.
And my beloved, it is only when God comes to you through His Holy Spirit that you are given strength to trust in Jesus Christ and then to walk by faith in His ways. You cannot do it alone. You cannot defeat the enemy, be released from the bondage, or have a plan for the future without Jesus Christ, who is God come down.
Finally, we see that when God sees, and God hears, and God knows, and God comes, things happen:
5. God brings a future that we could never imagine
The passage in Exodus 3.8-9 ends with the goal of God’s coming: “to deliver them” and “to bring them up out of the land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…”
Now the “milk and honey” part I like. I got to tell you, I can get that part. But the land of milk and honey also has Canaanites and Hittites and Amorites and Perizzites and Hivites and Jebusites and it is easy then to lose sight! In other words God is going to bring them to a land flowing with terrorists and Jihadists. It is a call to be His people amidst those who hate them. I cannot imagine that. Leaving Egypt to fight Amorites isn’t my idea of freedom. But what Israel had to learn was that the God who saves, saves completely, and saves us all the way home.
In the Cross of Christ, my beloved, we have our answer. God leads us from salvation of our lives, to salvation of our souls, and to finally salvation of our very bodies, and, this is so important to the passage, salvation to the whole creation. And He does it by defeating the forces that would keep us in bondage and the forces that would keep us from our new home.
The one who has now won this victory is Jesus of Nazareth.
I told someone yesterday that I actually like to preach funerals. I don’t like what death doesand I hate the pain of it. It is a result of sin in the world. But in preaching funerals, we can tell Christians and non-Christians alike about the Good News of Jesus who has a future we can never imagine. And it is a land flowing with milk and honey—a way of saying that it is perfect and beautiful and glorious. But death and separation from loved ones and weeping seem to be in that land too. But Jesus came to die that we might live in Him and live forever. He came to restore. He came to set things in order so that death, that every present Jebbusite that stalks us in the land, will die.
There is a friend of mine. He lost his son as a young man. Divorce and time, misunderstanding and sin, cost them a relationship, and cost them years. He came to me to pray about it when I first came here. But then he came to me again some time ago to tell me about a reunion with his son. And he told me that God had heard his cry. God was bringing redemption.
What this man is going through is what the world is going through. God is redeeming human beings who have been separated from Him by sin and time and distance. Some of you today are there. In Jesus Christ God has come to you. In His Spirit He comes to you personally. He lets you know: I have seen your misery. I have heard your crying. And I have come down to rescue you. If you will but look to Jesus today you will know God’s mercy in flesh. And you will enter this journey that takes us through conquest after conquest, from healing of damaged emotions, to God’s presence as you walk through illness, to Jesus’ shepherding you as you go through death, to Christ’s power that raises your body from the dead. Renewal is here. God is calling from the burning bush of His Word:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
My challenge to you is to trust Jesus Christ at His Word. Trust Him to fall into His arms by faith. Trust Him to lead you to stand up for Him at your job. Trust Him to overcome the Amorites in your life. Trust Him to lead you all the way home.