Monday, 17 November 2014

Jonah 1 'God is bigger than our bigotry'

Sometimes people make the assumption that this is a Christian country and that people from other religions should keep quiet about what they believe if they want to fit in.  However, I believe in the separation of church and state. I believe that the New Testament does not push for the church to have special status in any country.  Indeed, I want to belong to a nation that shows generous tolerance to people of many creeds (including tolerance towards evangelical Christians like us).  So I recently unfriended someone on Facebook because I felt that something they posted was aimed at stirring up fear of Muslims.  I don't believe we need to fear the Muslims in our community (who seem to be generally peaceful citizens), instead I believe we need to fear 'for' Muslims in our community (because there is a great deal of bigotry shown towards them).

Be honest, what groups of people do you struggle to love?  Some of us are too proud to face the tribalism that all of us have to battle with.  So imagine your son brings home his new girlfriend.  Like him she is a Christian, and you can tell that they are really good together, but she is from a traveller family.  What do you think?  Your new neighbours never cause trouble, they keep their property looking well, but they don't speak English.  How do you feel?  Do you make as much effort to become friends with the gay man at work as you would try to befriend anyone else?  Do you judge people by the colour of their skin rather than the content of their character (to quote Martin Luther King)?

The book of Jonah is designed to tackle our prejudices.  For Jonah was a bigot.  He would have wanted to go to a church that was filled with his sort of people.  He would have agreed with you if you said, 'we have enough of '"them" (whatever your them refers to) and we need more of "us".'  God calls Jonah to share his love with "them".  Jonah's "them" were the people of the city of Nineveh.  Jonah could have supplied a whole load of reasons why God should not bother with them.  Nineveh was a wicked city, belonging to an evil regime that had kept undertakers in Israel busy for years.  But God loves them.

Our God is more compassionate than we are (verses 1-3a)

The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai ...

This book is not the only time that Jonah is mentioned in the Bible.  In 2 Kings 14 Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher, is ministering God’s word to King Jeroboam II of Israel.  It’s the eighth century B. C.

King Jeroboam was a very wicked man and his people were unrepentant. Yet Jonah comes to the king with a message of mercy and grace – Israel’s borders will be restored to what they had been during the era of prosperity under Solomon.  God shows them favour that they do not deserve.  These were Jonah's people and so he has no problem with God showing them undeserved kindness.

Now Jonah is been called to speak to a different people! "Go to the city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”   So what does Jonah do?  He runs away!  

Nineveh was a feared and hated place.  Nineveh was responsible for all kinds of atrocities.  Jonah is being called to speak against this city.  Jonah is to warn them of God's imminent judgement.  And Jonah knows that warning people of God's judgement gives them the chance to repent and be forgiven.  He knows that God's intentions are actually merciful.  In the last chapter he complains, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home?  That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish.  I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents in sending calamity."  Note that warning people about God's coming judgement is actually an important act of mercy. 

Jonah was glad when God showed undeserved kindness to the people he loved, and sad when God showed the same undeserved kindness towards the objects of his bigotry.  The scope of God’s mercy was too great for him.
How do you feel about God’s mercy?

One morning in church a special visitor is invited to share their testimony. He tells the congregation of how he used to be a theif.  But he was introduced to the gospel when he was in prison.  Everyone is delighted.  But then you realise why you know his name.  He is the man who was convicted for robbing your parents' home.  Your dad is still a nervous wreck because of that break in.  Your mum no longer sleeps well at night.  Is it easy to accept this man as a brother in Christ?

Our God is always in control (verse 3-15)

As well as this being a story of God’s wonderful compassion (compassion in forgiving Nineveh and compassion in persisting with a rebellious bigoted prophet like Jonah) it is also a story about God’s absolute control.

Jonah heads for Tarshish.  While Nineveh is in the east (it was in what is now northern Iraq), Tarshish is west.  He heads in the opposite direction! God calls Jonah ‘up’ (verse 2 is more literally, 'Arise go to Nineveh...'), he went ‘down’ to Joppa.  He sailed to Tarshish, 'to flee from the LORD'.

So the LORD sends a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arises that the ship threatens to break up. All the sailors are afraid and each cries out to his own god.  The sailors do what Jonah should have done—they pray.  But nothing changes, because their gods don’t exist, they have no power.  Jonah who is the cause of this storm does know the one true God who can calm that storm.  But where is he?  He has gone below deck, where he is in a deep sleep.  All around him people are facing death and he is asleep—what a devastating picture of the half-hearted Christian and the sleeping church!  We know the way to rescue, but refuse to share it.  

The captain goes to him and says, “How can you sleep?  Get up and call on your god!"  But does Jonah pray?  It doesn’t seem so – he is still running from God.

By this time the sailors are convinced something extra-ordinary lies behind this storm and they are determined to find out what had sent it, and why.  So the sailors said to each other, 'Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.'  They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.  They bombard him with questions, 'Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us?  What do you do?  Where do you come from?  What is your country?  From what people are you?'

Jonah answers, ‘I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.’  There is something very shallow in Jonah’s response.  He claims to worship God but he is running from his call!  There is so something inauthentic when we claim to be Christians but refuse to obey God and do things like forgive as we have been forgiven and love even our enemies.

Jonah's God is in control of all that is happening.  Jonah had sought to flee from his presence but the Lord was at work wherever he went.  Who sends the storm? God!  Who directs the lots in the story? God!  Who will turn up the volume of the storm when the sailors try to get Jonah to land? God!  Who will calm the storm when Jonah is thrown overboard?  God!  Even when we are the ones who have created the mess God remains in control and he is often working in hidden ways.  

The sailors' voice their astonishment that anyone who claims to know this God would have the audacity to defy Him.  The sea was getting rougher and rougher.  So they asked him, 'What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?'
'Pick me up and throw me into the sea,' he replied, 'and it will become calm.  I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.'
'Kill me' (surely that is what Jonah expects to happen when he is thrown into the sea).  So man rebellious man reluctantly goes to his death so a crowd of men could be saved.  There is an imperfect shadow here of Jesus' death.  Jesus is neither reluctant or rebellious but willingly goes to his death so that we might escape from the storm of God's judgement.

The sailors had been afraid of the storm (1:5).  They were terrified and asked Jonah 'what have you done?' (1:10).  Jonah had declared 'I worship (literally "fear") the Lord' (1:9).  Now, in verse 16, we read that as the storm grew calm the men 'greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him' (1:16).  As we encounter the God of compassion and control our fear of circumstances should give way to the reverent awe and worship ('fear') of God.

Conclusion

Thanks God that the one of absolutely control is the one of infinite compassion.  He even ordered events to ensure that his Son would die for the guilt of undeserving people.  He made a promise to Abraham that all the nations of the world would be blessed through his people.  That is what is happening here.  Jonah, one of Abraham's people, is used in sharing the love of God with these pagan sailors (and is on his way to pagan Nineveh).  This blessing for the nations finds its fulfilment in Jesus who sends us with the good news to all people, and who is gathering to himself a people from every tribe and language group.  The compassion of God issues the call to repentance and the control of God guarantees that our mission is not fruitless.

Jonah's prejudices had deeper roots than most of the prejudices we struggle with.  They were based on real acts of violence against his people.  Nineveh had kept the undertakers in Israel busy for years.  And what if God decided to be prejudices against us?  The Bible tells us that we have been hostile towards God, the same hostility that pinned his only Son to a cross.  Yet Christ died for us while we were still his enemies.  He has shown us a kindness that we have done nothing to deserve.

So may we delight at the opportunity that is presented to us in the diversity of people that walk into those building; may we seek to share the good news of Jesus with all different types of people who live and work around us; and may we faithfully warn people of the coming judgement so that they may avail of the forgiveness and life that is offered as a result of the cross and resurrection.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Angelic protection

A friend gave me a book about Robert Chapman (1803-1902) called 'The Apostle of Love.'  Spurgeon described Chapman as 'the saintliest man I ever knew'.  On one occasion a man became so angry at Chapman's preaching that he swore to himself that he would kill him.  He knew of Chapman's walking routine and waited along a quiet road with his gun.  However the man could not get a shot because there was always another man between him and Chapman.  But Chapman walked alone.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Amy's dream

Amy Carmichael (1867-1951) was an Irishwoman who served as a missionary in India for many years.  She rescued many children from difficult backgrounds and brought them up in an environment of love.  Sometimes she had dreams that she learned to pay special attention to.


In one of her dreams she saw Muttammal (a girl who had been associated with her home and was residing in China) being married to Arul Dasan (a helper at her refuge).  The wedding was taking place in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).  The dream was very vivid and filled with little details, like the fact that it took place in the Galle Face Church in Colombo and that neither Amy nor the Clifts (Muttammai's carers in China) were there.


Amy finally shared the dream with a senior helper Arulai.  He had been praying, for over a year, that the couple would marry.  So Amy asked Arul what he thought of the idea and he was pleased with the idea.  The couple began to write to each other and were soon engaged.


Plans were made.  It was thought that Arul would travel to China for the wedding.  But in 1917 the world was at war and the Clifts were leaving China.  It was seemed more sensible for them to take Muttammal as far as Ceylon.  The Clifts were in a rush to get home and were unable to wait in Ceylon for Arul to arrive for the wedding.


So the couple were married in the Galle Face Church without either the Clifts or Amy present, just as she had dreamed.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

A message to be proud of (Romans 1:16-17)

Martin Luther was a German monk who knew something about the holiness of God but little about the kindness of God.  He believed that a person had to live a righteous life in order to be saved from God's condemnation.  When he read the term 'the righteousness of God' he thought it simply referred to the righteousness whereby God punishes people for their sin.  He also knew that he couldn't live a good enough life to satisfy the demands of this holy God.  So he was miserable.  

Then he had a breakthrough in his understanding.  He began to understand the term 'the righteousness of God' more fully.  'I grasped that the righteousness of God is that righteousness by which, through grace and sheer mercy, God justifies us by faith.'  Now he could experience peace and joy.  'I felt myself reborn, and to have gone through open doors into paradise ...'  

This gospel is amazing, so why might we feel ashamed of it?  This gospel is amazing, so we ought to boast about it.

1.  Four things that might tempt us to be ashamed of the gospel

'I am not ashamed of the gospel ...'

The great Welsh preacher of the last century, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, suggested that if we have never been tempted to be ashamed of the gospel it is probably not because we are an exceptionally good Christian but that our understanding of the gospel has never been clear.  For the gospel is a message that will cause people to look down on us and we are tempted to feel ashamed when people make fun of us.  I want to suggest four things that might tempt us to be ashamed of the gospel.

Firstly, we are tempted to be ashamed of the gospel because people think it is irrelevant.  

Rome was the centre of Caesar worship with all its grandeur, pomp and ceremony.  But the Christians in Rome claimed that a poor carpenter from the provincial backwater of Galilee was greater than Ceasar.  They claimed that Jesus is the King of kings.  That seemed unlikely.  Compared to the Caesar, Jesus seemed unimportant.  They were likely to be laughed at in mighty Rome.

In our society Jesus can also seem irrelevant.  Our society has turned its back on the version of Christianity it grew up with.  To become a Christian is to be a member of a minority group.  It is to belong to something that people believe no longer matters.  We can be tempted to feel ashamed of the gospel because people claim it is no longer relevant.

Secondly, we can be tempted to feel ashamed of the gospel because people say it is foolish.

The Roman world valued the intellect.  They loved the lofty ideas philosophy.  But the gospel is a simple message for ordinary people.  It is not designed to make us look smart.  In fact it may make us look foolish.  A man dying a shameful death pays for the sins of the world.  Many Romans didn't think it made sense.  

In our society atheists present a false divide between science and religion, and so label us as simply being superstitious.  We might be tempted to feel ashamed of the gospel because people say it us foolish.

Thirdly, we can be tempted to feel ashamed of the gospel because it is fanatical.  

The gospel calls for a whole life response.  Jesus calls us to take up our cross and lay down our life for his cause.  Jesus also claimed to be the truth and the only way to God, which sounds decidedly fundamentalist.  

In our society fanatics and fundamentalists are seen as the enemy of freedom and tolerance.  To be labelled a fundamentalist puts us in the same category of Islamic State; even though our fundamentalism teaches us to love our enemies.  If you understand and live the gospel even your friends and family will claim you take Christianity too seriously.  We are tempted to be ashamed of the gospel because it us fanatical.

Fourthly, we are tempted to feel ashamed of the gospel because its message is offensive.

If you misunderstand the gospel, leave out the cross, and present Jesus as a moral teacher who wants to enhance our lives then you will offend no one.  If you want to make Christianity popular then explaining what the cross is about is bad public relations.  The cross says that God is angry at human sin and that we would be condemned if Jesus did not die in our place.  The gospel also reveals that even the most noble life is absolutely pointless and that without Jesus and that the most moral life amounts to a pile of stinking rags.  The gospel is offensive, so people ridicule it and resent it, and therefore we are tempted to be ashamed of it or even afraid to share it.

2.  Six reasons to be proud of the gospel

When Paul writes 'I am not ashamed of the gospel' what he is really saying is 'I am proud of the gospel.'  It causes him to rejoice.  While we might be tempted to be ashamed of the gospel because the world mocks it, there are actually many reasons to boast about the gospel.  I want to mention six.

Firstly, 'I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power ...'  This message is powerful stuff.  Through the gospel God opens the eyes of the spiritually blind, draws rebels to himself, changes us from within, and keeps us until we see him in glory.  Who knows what God will do when we let this message loose?

Secondly, 'I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God ...'  Every other religion centres on what people do for their gods; Christianity focuses on what God has done for us.  This is not a program for self-improvement or a call to self-effort.  This is a revelation of God's wonderful goodness and kindness. 

Thirdly, 'I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God that brings salvation ...'  Martyn Lloyd-Jones says that salvation is the key word of the New Testament.  Salvation is more than forgiveness.  We are forgiven and we are being changed from within.  We are restored to fellowship with God and adopted into his family.  We are made the apple of God's eye and can look forward to enjoying him in glory forever.

Fourthly, 'I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile ...'  God is an equal opportunities rescuer.  This message is good news for the self-righteous and self-loathing.  'There is nobody hopeless as regards to the gospel' (Lloyd-Jones).  God wants us to share this treasure generously so that he may do for others what he has done for us.

Fifthly, 'I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.  For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed ...'  The gospel reveals how God makes sinful people righteous.  God takes our guilt and places it on Christ on the cross and then God clothes us in Christ's perfect obedience.  The gospel shows how God is righteous in accepting sinful people as his children because through the cross God demonstrates that is is both just and the one who justifies the ungodly.

Sixthly, 'I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.  For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last ...'  The word translated faith can be translated trust or believe.  Faith is the means by which we accept God's gift of righteousness.  But we can not take the slightest amount of credit for our salvation because even this faith is generated by God.  The Christian life begins by trusting God and continues living in that same trust.

In Cafe Church we are doing an Old Testament overview.  We are trying to see that the Old Testament points to Jesus and proclaims his gospel.  It might not be as clearly seen in the Old Testament but it is there, as the final words of these two verses show.  Paul quotes the prophet Habakkuk who said, ‘The righteous will live by faith' (or possibly 'the righteous by faith shall live').  God's grace is on every page of the Bible.

Conclusion

So tomorrow morning, as you mix amongst the people at your school, workplace, family or neighbourhood, you are going to have a battle of two competing emotions.  

On one hand you will be tempted to keep your head down and your mouth shut because it is easy to feel ashamed of the gospel.  It is not because there is anything wrong with the gospel, it is just that it is hard to share something that people think is foolish, and causes people to label you as a weird, superstitious, religious fanatic.  

On the other hand you should be so proud of the beauty of Christ and his cross, and so great-full that he has rescued a wretch like you that you want to tell others about this gospel.  I am not encouraging you to be tactless or disrespectful, but may this gospel so delight us that our desire to share this treasure will overcome the temptation to be embarrassed or fearful.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Amy's numbers

Amy Carmichael (1867-1951) is one of the most wonderful people that has ever been born on this island.  She is best known for her missionary work in India and her adoption of many destitute Indian children.  I recommend Janet and Geoff Benge's book on her life.

Before she worked in India Amy served as a missionary in Japan.  On one occasion she took a mission trip to the village of Hirose.  There were only nine known Christians living there.  Before setting out she spent a day praying about the trip and felt that God had promised her one convert as a result of the trip.

The Christians in Hirose had invited their friends to come hear Amy speak but only one Buddhist woman showed up.  By the end of the night this woman had become a Christian.  Amy had the convert that she believed God had promised.

Four weeks later Amy felt that she should make another trip to Hirose.  After another day of prayer Amy felt God promise her two converts as a result of the trip.  When she arrived she found that the woman who had become a Christian on her last trip had shared her faith with a friend who now wanted to come to faith.  Later that day Amy got to speak to an old woman who wanted to become a Christian.  Amy had her two converts.

After a further two weeks Amy returned.  This time she felt that God had promised her four converts.  But hardly anyone turned up at the first meeting that was organised for her and no one come to faith there.  Amy still believed that God would give her four converts.  To make matters worse the local Christians felt that Amy was making it too hard for people to become Christians with her insistence that those who come to faith must burn their idols.

At another meeting on that trip Amy spoke to a room of blank faces.  To everyone's surprise at the end of the meeting a woman who was seated in the corned of the room said, 'I want to believe.'  So after the meeting Amy spoke to the woman alone and then the woman's son came into the room and started to listen.  Both became Christians. 

As she set off to where she was staying the night she stopped into to the home of a local Christian to share the good news.  'I am so glad you came,' the local man said, 'I have a guest here who wants to know how to find the way to God.'  She had her third convert.  But God had promised four!

By now it was very dark.  Almost all the local Christians had joined them in that house.  Amy asked if anyone knew of if there was anyone interested in becoming a Christian.  One man spoke up, 'my wife is, she wants to become a "Jesus person", but she is out of town and will not be back for a week.'

Amy was puzzled.  God had promised four new Christians.  How could this man's wife be one of them if she wasn't even in town?' 

During that night Amy kept waking and praying that God would lead her to a fourth person who would become a Christian.  Then, at first light, a servant knocked on Amy's door with a urgent message.  The man's wife had returned home unexpectantly and she wanted to talk with Amy.  She told Amy of her desire to become a Christian.  As God had promised there were four converts as a result of her trip.  What more could she have asked for on her twenty-sixth birthday?

On the next trip to Hirose God promised eight converts ...


   

Monday, 6 October 2014

Romans 1:1-15 'Living as a people who are loved'

Who shapes your understanding of love?  Is loved defined for you by romantic comedies, popular music or soppy books?  John Stott says that if you want a definition of love you should not look for it in a dictionary, instead you should look to the cross.  Jesus is the one who shows us what our love should look like!

You won't understand Jesus' love if you don't understand the concept of grace.  You see, God does not love us because we are lovely but because he is love.  While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.  God gave his Son for us while we were morally repugnant.  Grace has a love that we do not deserve.

This sermon is about living as a people who are loved and who are loving.  It is about being grace-filled.  Jesus prayed that his followers would be known by their love and that through such love the world would know we belong to God.


1.  Love is the result of being loved

Paul writes 'to all in Rome who are loved by God ...' (7).

There is a world of difference between children who grow up in homes where they know they are loved and those who have reason to doubt their parents' love.  To be a Christian is to be the object of the purest and most passionate love any human being can experience.  We have a Heavenly Father who loved us while us were his enemies, who adopted us as his children, and who promises that nothing can separate us from his affection.  One of the great prayers we are to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters is they may have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:17-19).  One of the reasons some of you are unhappy is because you struggle to believe that God delights over you (Zephaniah 3:17).


2.  Love causes us to enjoy God's people

When we realise the gracious love of God we become more patient with our Christian brothers and sisters.  The church at Rome was far from perfect.  There was a big problem there between Christians from a Jewish background and Christians from a Gentile background.  Yet Paul does not start his letter by criticising them, but by telling them how thankful to God he is for them.  'I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world' (8).

It is not hard to imagine what people thought of Rome.  Like all large cities Rome was home to all sorts of vice.  It was filled with idolatry and was the centre of emperor worship.  Yet in that wicked place God had extended his kingdom by bringing people into relationship with himself.  Their faith might not have been exceptional, but the fact that Jesus was building his church in Rome encouraged every Christian throughout the Roman world.

3.  Love prays

Now Paul was possibly the busiest Christian leader at that time.  He travelled as a missionary, he wrote as a teacher, he encouraged as a father in the faith, he gave of himself as a pastor, and all the time he supported himself through tent-making.  Yet he also found time to intercede in prayer for the churches.  'God ... is my witness how constantly I remember you and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you' (9-10).

What a lesson in the sovereign purposes of God!  God works all thing together for the good of those who love him.  But he does not always work in ways that are comfortable and expected.  Paul had hoped to visit Rome on his way to Spain.  However, God had different plans.  When he visited Rome it was in the chains of a prisoner and he had to minister to them from the room where he was kept under house arrest.

4.  Love lets others encourage us

Paul was a giant figure in the early church.  In contrast, the Christians in Rome demonstrated their immaturity through their divisions.  Yet Paul wants to both encourage them and be encouraged by them.  'I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong – that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith' (11-12).  

Sometimes it is easier to minister to people than to let them minister to us.  That is because proud people would rather give than receive, and proud people do not want to be in debt to anyone.  But love is not proud (1 Corinthians 13:4).  Love is willing to let others encourage us.  Love recognises that God has given every Christian gifts to minister with.  Love lets others encourage us.

5.  Love shares the gospel

Paul's love motivates him to share the gospel.  But notice that he sees this gospel-sharing in terms of discharging a debt!  In what sense is Paul in debt to the world?  How could an undeserving world say that Paul owes them the gospel?  Yet Paul writes, 'I am a debtor both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish' (14).  

It works like this.  Imagine a king gives his servant a thousand pounds to be distributed amongst the residents of a village.  That servant is now in debt to the villagers until he has shared out that money.  The villagers may have done nothing to deserve the gift from the king but the servant still owes them the money.  The villagers may even hate the king but the servant has still to give them his gift.  We have a treasure that is to be shared with the world.  Indeed there are people who won't hear this good news unless we share it with them.  May God give us the courage, wisdom and opportunity to discharge this debt.

6.  Love is rooted in grace

Notice that Paul also wants to preach the gospel to the converted!  'That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome' (15).  The good news of the gospel is more than simply telling us how we can be made right with God, it also shows us how to live as God's people.  That is because the gospel is all about grace (God's undeserved favour) and grace is applicable to every area of our lives.  Someone has said, 'you never grow beyond the gospel, you simply grow deeper into the gospel.'

Think of how grace is to change our attitudes!  If God has loved me with a love that I do not deserve, then surely I must not demand that people prove worthy of my love.  If I have been forgiven, then surely I am obliged to forgive others.  If Jesus was willing to go to a cross, then surely following him involves taking up my cross and follow him whole-heartedly.

Conclusion

Robert Chapman was a remarkable man who served God in the small English town of Barnstable during the nineteenth century.  Despite deliberately trying to avoid publicity he became known for his great compassion, wisdom, and love.  He was referred to as the apostle of love.  One time a letter from overseas addressed simply to 'R. C. Chapman, University of Love, England' was correctly delivered to him.  He wrote, 'God is love. His children please Him only so far as they are like Him, and walk in love.'  Let us walk in love as because we have experienced love and grace. Let us walk in love as we enjoy God's people.  Let us walk in love as we pray for them and let them encourage us.  Let us walk in love as proclaim God's love to a lost world.







Exodus 1-15 'The Great Escape'

           When I was a child I was fascinated by the film, ‘Escape from Alcatraz ’, the story of one man’s bid for freedom from the famous island prison.  More recently was the ‘Shawshank Redemption’, a film that is well worth watching.  Perhaps the most loved film in this genre is ‘The Great Escape’, staring Steve McQueen, and based on a 1943 breakout from a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp.

            In each of these films the escape depends on the ingenuity of the escapees and a certain amount of luck.  The escape that we are looking at in this chapter is entirely different, it doesn’t depend on the escapees or on luck—God orchestrates the whole thing!  As for the size of this escape, this is not about the freedom of just one individual or a small group but of a whole nation.
Introduction: (chapters 1-2)

In the our last sermon we looked at the promise/covenant that God made with Abraham.  There we claimed that this promise forms the backbone of the whole of the Old Testament.  But as we read the opening chapters of Exodus we might think that God has forgotten this promise.  Abraham’s descendants have not become a great nation (although they are multiplying in number) and they have not yet taken possession of the promised land, indeed they are not even in the promised land.  As their stay in Egypt turned into slavery it must have seemed that fulfilment of God’s promises is becoming less and less likely.

Yet, as we noted in the last chapter, the circumstances that stand in opposition to God’s promises merely serve to underline that their fulfilment can only be achieved by the supernatural power of God.  In the Exodus we will see the LORD free his helpless people with ‘an outstretched arm and mighty acts of judgement’ (6:6).

            The situation for the slaves goes from bad to worse when the Pharaoh orders the killing of all the Hebrew baby boys that are born.  It is against this background that we read of someone who will have a special place in this story.  Through the ministry of Moses God will redeem his people.  In this sense the role he plays reveals and foreshadows the nature and work of Christ.  When we read of how Moses was placed among the reeds, found by Pharaoh’s daughter, given to his mother to nurse, and later adopted by the princess we are witnessing the ‘overruling of the powers opposed to his kingdom so that they cannot hurt the one chosen to mediate God’s plan of salvation’.

            Moses is given a Hebrew and an Egyptian upbringing in preparation for his ministry.  The next stage of his preparation will be in Midian, where he takes refuge after killing an Egyptian.  However the end of chapter 2 brings us back to Egypt .  Verse 23-25:
During that long period, the king of Egypt died.  The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.  God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.  So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.

Of course this does not mean that God ever forgot the covenant, but rather that he is about to act on the basis of these promises.  What we are about to witness in the book of Exodus is God’s covenant in action.
‘I AM WHO I AM’: (chapters 3-6)

God begins the rescue operation by appearing to Moses in a burning bush at Horeb (another name for Sinai).  He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (verse 6)—who in grace made his covenant with them.  He is about to act upon that covenant by freeing his people from Egypt .

He commissions Moses: ‘So now, go, I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt ’ (verse 10).

But what if the Israelites do not believe Moses when he returns to Egypt and claims to be God’s chosen for this task?  God reassures him on two grounds.  Firstly, Moses ‘will identify the God who has spoken to him as ‘I AM’ and as the God of their fathers ( 3:14 -16).  Secondly, Moses is given some miraculous signs which he will be able to repeat to persuade the Israelites of his mission (4:1-9).

Let’s think about this divine name for a moment.  ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites:  “I AM has sent you” (verse 14).  While this affirms his existence, much more it means his active presence.  But with what sort of action does God affirm his active presence?  Verses 16-20—he is the God, who delivers his people, who keeps his promises and who overthrows his enemies.

The third person singular of ‘I AM’ is ‘he is’.  God says of himself ‘I AM’ his people say ‘he is’.  The Hebrew translated LORD in verse 15 is YHWH (the Hebrew has no vowels—translated Jehovah in some older translations, but better pronounced Yahweh) which means ‘he is’.  Whenever you read ‘the LORD’ spelt with small capital letters here and elsewhere in the Old Testament it is a translation of the divine name.  Yahweh, the God who makes and keeps his promises.
Moses returns to Egypt and convinces his brother Aaron and all the people of his God given task.  But when he goes to Pharaoh and issues God’s command, Pharaoh responds by imposing even harsher condition on the captive people, who are in turn annoyed with Moses.

Then God gives Moses one of the great covenant statements of the Bible.  In it he says, “. . . say to the Israelites: I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.  I will free you . . . I will redeem you . . . I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.  Then you will know that I am the LORD your God . . . (6:6-7).  As they experience release from slavery they will know God in a new way as the God who keeps his covenant.  

God’s name is more than just a title it expresses his character, his character which is revealed in his acts to redeem his people.  ‘If we want to know who he is, we must watch him act in history on behalf of his people.’
Salvation by substitute: (chapter 7-12)

When Moses had appeared before Pharaoh in chapter 5 and delivered God’s command to set his people free, Pharaoh replied with contempt: ‘Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go?’ (5:2). He is about to find out!

In chapters 7-11 God sends ten terrible plagues against Egypt .  Each plague demonstrates the mighty power of the LORD, and the powerlessness of the so-called gods of Egypt .  Each time Pharaoh stubbornly refuses to let the Israelites go until the last plague which breaks his resistance.  On that dreadful night, God passes through the land in judgement, and every first-born Egyptian son is killed.  That night is the Passover.

While the night of the Passover was a night of sorrow for the Egyptians it was a night of salvation for the Israelites.  In his grace God had provided them with a way of escape.  Each family was to kill a lamb and put its blood on the door-frame of their house.  Moses explains in verse 23, ‘When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the door-frame and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.’

We see am important principle here—God saves by substitution, an innocent lamb dying in their place.  In this, ‘we are being prepared for a greater act of deliverance, of which the Passover is just a shadow.’ 
That greater act of deliverance is achieved by Jesus on the cross.  He is called ‘the Lamb of God’ (John 1:29 ), his death takes place at Passover time (Matthew 16:19 ; John 19:31 ), Paul explicitly declares, in 1 Corinthians 5:7, ‘Christ, our Passover lamb, has been crucified.’  And so we too can be rescued from God’s judgement by the death of a Passover lamb.
Salvation by conquest: (chapters 13-15)

There is one great drama left before the Israelites are free of the Egyptians.  God’s power is again going to be demonstrated at the Red Sea (14:3-4).
The natural way out of Egypt would be along the well trodden road through the Philistine countryside ( 13:17 ).  However God does not lead the Israelites that way, but rather through the wilderness to the shores of the sea, where they set up camp (14:2).

Back in his palace Pharaoh has a change of mind:  ‘What have we done?  We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!” (14:5), so he sends his army to pursue them and they soon catch up.

Now the situation looks hopeless, they have been led up an apparent blind alley, hemmed in by the desert, blocked by the sea, and now trapped by the mighty Egyptian army. 

As Pharaoh approached, and as the Israelites saw the Egyptians marching after them, they were terrified.  They cry out to the LORD, and say to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us out to the desert to die?’ (14:11-12).

Moses answers their complaints, verse 13-14, ‘Do not be afraid.  Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today . . . The LORD will fight for you; you need only be still.’

And so it happens.  The waters are driven back, the Israelites go through the sea on dry ground, but when the Egyptians pursue them they are drowned ( 14:21 -28).
Once again this act of salvation foreshadows what God has achieved through the death of Jesus.  Before we came to faith we were enslaved to the powers of sin and the devil, but God defeated them through the cross and has set us free.  Paul writes in Colossians 2:15, ‘. . . Having disarmed the powers and authorities [evil spiritual forces], he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross’.
Conclusion

At the beginning of the book of Exodus it might appear that God’s covenant promises to Abraham have amounted to nothing.  However it is on the basis of these promises that God brings his people out of Egypt ( 2:23 -25; 6:1-6).  In doing this he reveals his character as being one who is absolutely faithful to his covenant commitment.  He is the LORD, the covenant keeping God.

Rather than going straight to the promised land, the LORD bring them to Sinai (where he had appeared to Moses in the burning bush).  There he declares, ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt , and how I carried you on eagles wings and brought you to myself’ (Exodus 19:4).  He has acted upon the ‘people’ part of his promise.  In the exodus God begins to fulfil his promise by forming Israel into a ‘unified, distinct nation which is on its way to the promised land’.
What about us, how does this relate to us?  Firstly it tells us something about the LORD.  The first question that we should ask when we come to the Scriptures is ‘what does this show us about God?’  It tells us that he is faithful—he is faithful to his covenant and does as he said he would (see Genesis 15:13 -14).  Secondly it shows something of his salvation.  The LORD, the covenant-keeping God invites us to be a part of his covenant people.  He is willing to rescue helpless people like us who are unable to rescue ourselves.  The Passover Lamb, Jesus has been slain that we might escape his judgement.  On the cross disarmed the powers and authorities that we might know his freedom.