Sermon Transcript - Sunday, March 22, 2020
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ The Story, Chapter 4 ~ Sunday, March 22, 2020
It has been an unusual, even unprecedented sort of week. If you’re like me, you’re reeling a bit from all the changes that happened over the last several days, particularly how rapidly things have unfolded. When global problems hit close to home, it’s natural to ask the question, “Where is God in all of this?” But it doesn’t take a worldwide pandemic to prompt that question. Things happen in our lives that make us feel like God is distant. Like God has quit answering prayers. Or maybe he hasn’t quit answering all prayers, just mine.
With all that’s going on in the world today and with whatever you’re struggling with in your life right now, I’m grateful you’ve come for this time of worship. I’m grateful because the portion of Scripture we’re looking at today, the first part of the Old Testament book of Exodus, gives us a timely perspective on times of rapid change. But even more than that, it reveals the truth that sets us free even in the midst of a situation we didn’t ask for, the type of situation that is continuously changing, bringing more restrictions on our lives, weighing us down with worry. As hard as we’ve been praying that God would take this whole thing away, it kind of feels like he isn’t answering. Honestly, it feels like things are going from bad to worse. Are you feeling that way at all today? We’ve all been thrust into this new reality, and we’re anxiously awaiting the day when the news is: Life can go back to normal! But there is a part of us wondering if “normal” will be forever changed going forward. If “normal” is something so new, so different, do you wonder, even worry if you’ll be able to handle what that will be, what that will look like, how that will work? When each new day feels a little darker than the last, hope starts slipping.
That’s where the Israelites are at as we change over from Genesis to Exodus. The book of Exodus moves us four centuries forward from the stories of Joseph and Jacob, and how the Hebrew people had come to settle in Egypt on Pharaoh’s dime. Since the days they first settled in Egypt, the family of Jacob, also known as Israel, has flourished. Their population has grown considerably! God is holding true to the promise he made to Abraham to make his offspring into a great nation! But after Joseph died, the Egyptians’ appreciation for the Israelite people turns cold and dark into fear and oppression. A new king (Pharaoh), to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. As he looks out and sees how great the Israelites have become in number, he’s worried that they’ll up and revolt! He’s worried about what will happen to the Egyptian economy if they would suddenly lose all of these against-their-will employees!
So the king tries to take all their hope from them. The king tells the slave drivers to turn the heat up, increase the amount of work that Israelites are required to do, so the work becomes so strenuous, so long, so all-consuming that they won’t have time or energy to want more kids and raise bigger families. When that doesn’t work, he takes his plan to the next level. He orders the Hebrew midwives to perform post-birth abortions on any Hebrew baby boys, taking away their hope by killing their babies right after birth. But these God-fearing women wouldn’t dream of following this order! So finally the Pharaoh issues this bone-chilling decree that any Egyptian that sees any Israelite male child, by law they are to take that child and kill that child by throwing him into the Nile River. It’s a dark and gruesome time to be an Israelite!
Can you imagine? How often do you suppose the Israelites wondered and worried: “Where is God in all of this? Why isn’t he showing up? If this God is so good, so caring, so powerful that he could create the heavens and earth with just his words, then how come that God won’t deliver us from this evil that is ruining our lives? Why does he feel so distant!”
Does that feel familiar? Does it in any way capture how you’re feeling right now? “It feels like I’m stuck! It feels like I’m a slave to this situation.” Maybe it’s the isolation? Maybe it’s fear? Maybe it’s worry over what’s going to happen to your job? Your retirement? To your future? Your health or the health, the lives of the people you love? And you ask yourself, “Yeah I’m here to worship and pray today, but it feels like nothing more than wishing upon a star. Because I’ve been praying to God, I’ve been praying to him for some time now. Praying, ‘God if there is some way that you can deliver me from this situation in life, I’m asking you God to show up, to show me you care, just show me that you hear my cry. That I am not praying to a God that is distant, that I am not praying to a cold, unfeeling God. That I am actually praying to a God who enters into my life, who gives me hope, who restores purpose to my life.” Because when it feels like you’re praying to a God who doesn’t seem to hear, who lets my life situation go from bad to worse, it makes you wonder if it’s really worth continuing to even believe?
That’s what Roger was struggling with. Roger shared his story with his congregation in Iowa … and I’d like to invite him to share his story with you now… VIDEO
How did I get here? How am I ever going to find myself, my way out? I think it’s a question a lot of us have dealt with or are dealing with in our lives. It’s that kind of question where we feel like we’re not even sure we can have hope any longer.
The Israelites were there. They’ve been enslaved for so long and things were going from bad to worse, they were ready to give up hope. But it’s about that time, that God appears to this man named Moses. Moses is a shepherd, he’s out tending his flocks. It’s important to understand that Moses is dealing with his own loss of hope. Though he had grown up in the household of Pharaoh, with all the privileges and advantages of the palace, due to a really bad decision, he had to flee from Egypt in fear for his life. He’s living in isolation for his own protection, when one day as he is tending his flock he sees a bush that is on fire, but it isn’t burning up.
That’s because the fire is God. Yes God shows up, and God says, “I’m going to use you, I’m going to use you to deliver my people. I’m going to send you to the Israelites, and I want you to tell them that freedom is theirs. You’re going to lead them from slavery to freedom. I want you to go to Pharaoh, the most powerful person on earth, and I want you to tell him, “You need to let my people go!”
Moses responds as I think many of us would: “Who am I God that you would use me? God, I have a checkered past. I have my own doubts and fears. Besides, who am I that people would even listen to me? Who am I that Pharaoh would listen to me? I can’t even speak very well!”
God answers: “It’s not about you, Moses!” Instead God tells Moses, lead the people focus on me! “God 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.’ ” (Exodus 3:14). God says, “You go to the Israelites and you tell them that ‘I AM has sent me.’ You say, “I AM sends you, who was, is, and always will be; that’s the God that is going to deliver you into freedom.’ Moses it’s not you, it’s me who is going to deliver the people!
So Moses returned to Egypt with the promise of God and the support of his brother Aaron. As expected, Moses’ demands of freeing the Hebrews were met with Pharaoh’s stubborn refusal. Boldly Moses warns Pharaoh: “Our God is with us and he is stronger than you. He is more powerful than you. If you don’t let the people go, there are things that are going to happen that are going to cause you to want to let us get out as fast as we can.” Pharaoh refuses, plagues come. And you’d think enough happens to soften the heart of Pharaoh to convince him to let the people go. But this cycle repeats itself again and again and again: The plague strikes; Pharaoh relents; the plague stops; Pharaoh recants. And with each new plague but no real change, you wonder, “Is there any hope at all? Will God ever be able to set these people free?”
When we get to the end of ourselves, when we feel as if all other options have been exhausted, isn’t that where God shows up in the most powerful ways? That’s where it was for the Israelites. That’s where it was for Roger who spoke to us earlier about his captivity to cancer too. Take a look (Video)
You might watch that and think, “Well that’s great for Roger, but what about me? Sure he’s the one who received physically healing, but how many others have prayed but didn’t?” I hope you didn’t miss what Roger said on a deeper level. “He healed my heart because that’s where I really need to be healed. That’s the thing that really needed the most, and to give me strength to get through this.” The healing of Roger’s heart, that’s what enabled him to I really came alive, to feel more alive than he ever had in his life! Because here’s the thing: our perishable bodies will all at some point expire. a physical death that no one in this room will ever be able to escape (unless Jesus comes first). But there is everlasting life Jesus offers to each of us, that will enliven us, will awaken us, will set us free from the slavery to disease, the situations that threaten us, the current realities that weigh on us and worry, delivering us in a truly permanent and lasting way on the Last Day!
That’s the power of God, that’s the power of this God that we have. The God that shows up to Moses to bring the people to freedom. It’s the power of God that says to Moses, “You go to Pharaoh. You tell him to let the people go, and tell him that if he doesn’t the final plague, the firstborn of Egypt will die. The very thing you did to take all of our hope, is the very thing that is going to happen to you and your people.”
Then God presented a shadow of what would be the “ultimate deliverance” with the final plague. All the firstborn in the land would die in a single night, and there was only one means of rescue. Every household in Israel was to select a perfect Passover lamb, slaughter it and cover the doorposts of their homes with its blood. That night the angel of death would come and “pass over” the blood-stained houses, preserving the lives of all who were inside.
For the Hebrew people the story of God’s deliverance was one they were to remember year after year through their Passover celebration, not only to give thanks for what God had done for them as a nation, but also to look forward to the coming of the Lamb of God who would deliver his people from slavery to sin, death and Satan. I hope you don’t miss this! You see this Passover meal has huge implications for the ministry of Jesus Christ. It’s when Jesus comes on the scene, when Jesus’ earthly ministry begins, that John the Baptist is teaching, and he sees Jesus coming and he sees, “Look! Look! There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:9) The Lamb of God, our hope, God’s ultimate promise, has come in flesh. Jesus has come in flesh to deliver us from all the evil, sin, and death that is in this world. That through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, lasting death, the punishment of everlasting hell will pass you over, it will not come to your doorstep. Eternity is at hand for you! And it will raise you to a new and everlasting life, regardless of how dark and hopeless your current life situation may seem. God is a God who enters in. He is involved in very real and very personal ways in your life. God will heal your heart in a way that will allow you to know and understand and comprehend how deep is his love that heals your heart and sets you free and gives you a glimpse of eternity.
That means stepping out into God’s freedom right now from the things that oppress our souls. Friend, God sets you free from your past! Your sins are forgiven! Your mistakes are washed away in the blood of Jesus. You don’t need to live under guilt, but in freedom, grow from what you’ve experienced. Take the lessons you’ve learned through the pain and put them into practice as someone who has been healed!
You don’t need to stay far away, hiding out in your own wilderness. It might seem easier to hide from what you’ve done than face it. But forgiveness empowers you to do what you can to heal what you’ve hurt, to fix what you’ve broken, to restore what you ruined. Not out of guilt, but moved by grace. Not to become worthy of forgiveness, but because forgiveness works a humble, healing spirit in you! A spirit that is stronger than your fears, that moves you to gladly swallow your pride for the sake of the people who love you in Christ, a spirit that moves you into the light of honest and transparent relationships where real trust and true connection is formed and built!
No matter where you are in life, I thank God that you’re here, in God’s presence, on this hallowed ground! God goes before us just as He did Moses. Our marching orders are clear: admit what you need to be delivered from. Lay those things before the Lord, one by one. Admit your fear and resistance. Ask for new courage and boldness to follow God as he leads you, and you will be amazed at all he can deliver you from, and how he, working through you will bring his deliverance to those around you too! Amen.