Sermon for Sunday, December 27th, 2020 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Exo 1:1-14 ESV] 1 These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, 3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, 4 Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. 5 All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. 6 Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. 7 But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. 8 Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. 13 So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.
New Testament reading:
[Act 7:1-18 ESV] 1 And the high priest said, “Are these things so?” 2 And Stephen said: “Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3 and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’ 4 Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living. 5 Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child. 6 And God spoke to this effect–that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years. 7 ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’ 8 And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs. 9 “And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him 10 and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. 11 Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food. 12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit. 13 And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. 14 And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all. 15 And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers, 16 and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem. 17 “But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt 18 until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph.
[Luk 6:20-23 ESV] 20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. 22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
There tends to be an all too rosy picture of church history, as if in time’s past everyone believed and only in recent times has there been a decline in faith. The reality is much more sinusoidal, up and down like a roller-coaster or the body-shape of a sea serpent.
The Lord, for His own purposes, has brought good times where the people of God had their own nation in the promised land, and hard times where only a small remnant of believers existed on Earth. Even as few as 8 in the ark.
My own all too rosy picture of Reformed church history was shattered recently in a book I read about a historical revival in the Dutch Reformed Church. The Reformation reached the Netherlands early and it was there in the city of Dordt in 1619 that the strongly Reformed “Canons of Dordt” were written. These are standards used in the Dutch Reformed churches, much like we Presbyterian have the Westminster Standards. Well, I always figured the Dutch Reformed churches stayed true to the faith until recent times. But this just wasn’t the case.
By the early 1800’s the church had severely fallen from its heights. After the Dutch nation shook off the invader Napoleon, the Dutch government took control of the churches! And there was almost no resistance! Rather than decisions being made at presbytery or synod, the Dutch government’s “Department of Religion” called the shots. The Reformed faith was almost forgotten as errors flooded into the church, unable to be checked by the church courts.
It got so bad that many true believers refused to attend church, because they were not hearing the Gospel there. They were not hearing the Word of God in the churches, but rather they were hearing the word of man. Modernism had taken over; that miracle-denying anti-supernatural worldly view that twists all the life out of the Scriptures.
The great Dutch church of the Reformation had crumbled into ruins.
But the Lord saw fit to raise up men to bring back His truth to the people.
A secession movement (or, in Dutch, afscheiding) was started by a minister named Hendrick de Cock (whose name in Dutch incidentally means “the rooster”). Hendrick De Cock woke up the church, or at least parts of it while other sections dozed.
Those believers who ceased attending the state church, they did not cease worshiping the Lord. They met in “conventicles” in barns and houses and wherever else they could meet.
Hendrick de Cock was soon joined in ministering to these Christians by a number of other ministers, and a group of believing churches coalesced.
For a decade or more the Netherlands government oppressed these churches and minsters; fined them and jailed them. But the Lord saw to it that they grew and grew and grew.
From 1834 with just Hendrick de Cock and his one church the movement of true churches grew to over 370,000 members by 1892, and shortly thereafter it’s leader Abraham Kuyper became, in fact, the Prime Minister of the whole country. So in two generations they went from being persecuted by the state to being leaders in the state.
God brought an exodus of people out of the old Dutch state church through Hendrick de Cock and grew them into a great nation.
Does this sound familiar?
In the Exodus of the Scriptures God brings people out of Egypt with Moses in the lead and a couple generations later they are a new nation in the Holy Land.
And we do well to note in this that it is God who does these things. Moses, Hendrick de Cock, Martin Luther, J. Gresham Machen; these men are merely God’s instruments in the renewal of His church.
And the church throughout the ages has needed constant renewal. The glory days weren’t always so glorious. In all times and places there has been a tendency to fall away from the Lord and a strong call needed to return to him.
Church history, and Biblical history, shows us that the Lord has renewed his church before. He has done it again and again.
So it is a great error to think that the church was always perfect and thriving in times past.
Sometimes the people of God are very few in number and sometimes completely without influence in the world.
I. The Foreground
That’s where we find the Israelites as we start the book Exodus. They are in slavery in Egypt. They have no power. They have no nation.
And as we begin the book of Exodus, note that there is a carryover here, a connection from the book of Genesis. Genesis ended with Joseph dying in Egypt. Now Exodus begins with Joseph’s children there in the same country.
Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah,
Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin
Dan and Naphtali,
Gad and Asher.
And their generation multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.
So there was great blessing from the Lord. The dominion mandate of the book of Genesis to be fruitful and multiply was being heeded. And we remember the promise of God to Abraham that he would be the father of multitudes; that his children would be as the stars of the sky.
And it is clear that this multiplication of the people is a blessing OF God. That is, the people of Israel grew in number despite being oppressed by the Egyptians. God blessed the multiplication of the people of Israel.
And this indeed is a blessing. Our culture is a very strange one today. We don’t value children as have other cultures. There is a great delay in marriage and having of children as we pursue other interests. And the average number of children per family is low. But did you know it is actually increasing? The data I checked shows that since 2007 (which was the low point), the number of children per family in the US is actually increasing.
As for the Israelites in the Exodus, he Lord is not giving them children as a burden upon them, but as a blessing.
And so great was the growth of God’s people in Egypt that the Egyptians become concerned about the strength of the Jews.
Apparently, the Egyptians were glad to have the Jews there. The concern was that they would leave! And you don’t want good workers and scribes and scholars to leave your country. But also in leaving they might join forces with enemy nations and fight against Egypt.
And so to keep the Jews from leaving, the Egyptians enslaved them.
And this really sets the foreground for the story. They had growth in numbers, but they are now in slavery. The people of God have bottomed out. While their numbers are increasing, their status is the lowest possible. They are slaves, and they remain in slavery for many years.
That’s where we find ourselves in the beginning of the book of Exodus. The government has enslaved some of the people; the Jews.
And, finding ourselves in the United States at this time in history, we find our government (both and the state and national levels) also taken power into their own hands far beyond that which is intended of God or of our constitution.
And so as we study Exodus, there will be many applications relevant to our own day, both politically and spiritually.
Not the least of which application is knowing that it is the Lord that is for us, not the government. The state of Egypt was looking out for its own benefit and safety. They were not looking out of the good of the people; certainly not the good of the Jews living among them. And we are naive if we think that our governments are our protectors, looking out of us. This is not to say that there are not some in government who are striving for the benefit of all people of our nation by giving them more freedom and more liberty. But the vast majority of politicians and government officials are primarily focused on special interests.
Some of them may not even be aware of it. The politician from Nebraska or Iowa supports subsidies for farmers so help out HIS people. The politician from Michigan supports the Auto workers and is glad for government subsidies to support them. But in each case, we must ask, where does the money come from? It comes from other people. The farmers are a special interest. The auto industry is a special interest? And so with any group that the government supports, comes taxes and taking advantage others.
In our account, the Egyptians are taking from the Jews. Taking their time, their energy, and their very freedom, for the benefit of their safety and the enrichment of their wallets. Here, they have ceased to “govern” and have begun to oppress.
We should not expect the people of God to look to the government for answers. To the Lord they must look, and the to Lord they must listen.
II. An Outline of Exodus
Now, before we go any further, I want to give a brief outline of Exodus and what is ahead.
1. Exodus (ch. 1-18)
From Egypt to Sinai, the Red Sea, and the land of Midian.
2. Law (ch. 19-24)
The ten commandments.
3. Worship (ch. 25-31)
III. Bottomed Out
As we begin the book of Exodus though, we find the people bottomed out, in slavery.
It is a trough. The depths of despair. Or, you might call it “the year 2020.”
In 2021, as we, Lord Willing, go through the book of Exodus in this series, we will see the Lord leading His people out of the trough. God will deliver His people to Himself for Himself.
The Exodus is a story of deliverance.
God remembered the Covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And rescues his people from the very bottom.
I think of a physics experiment: when you drop a ball down a trough it comes back up on the other side. A skateboarder likewise drops into the halfpipe, goes down to the bottom, and comes up the other side.
The Scriptures are full of accounts of bouncing back from the bottom. And in all of them it is the Lord who is the agent of blessing.
APPLICATION: Overlooked Blessings
While the people of God have “bottomed out” (and we will see a return) there are blessings that might be overlooked.
First, we have the fact that there was up to the point of slavery, and even during it, the multiplication of the people. They are (or at least were) thriving in the land. But the real overlooked blessing, not really even specifically mentioned by the text, is that God is keeping them as a nation. They are not fusing into the culture of the Egyptians. And this almost always happens when a people live in a foreign land. Within a couple generations you are more like your new nation than your old one. But here God is keeping his people separate.
And this isn’t a racial thing; its a cultural thing. Any of the prohibitions against mixed marriages in the Old Testament is not because of any inferiority of the Egyptian or Canaanite races as compared to the Jews, but the inferiority of their cultures; their godless cultures. God was perfectly satisfied to allow some people who did not descend from Abraham to become people of God. Rahab was a Canaanite. Ruth was a Moabite. And yet both of these women become not only members of the Jewish nation, but ancestors listed in the genealogy of Jesus Christ.
So the only prohibition of “mixed marriages” in Scripture against marrying outside of the faith. A Christian is not to be yoked together with an unbeliever. But, Paul says, if you get married while both unbelieving and then one comes to the faith but not the other, this itself is not a reason for divorce.
But to return to the application, there is this overlooked blessing in that God is keeping the nation together; His people.
Now, what might be the overlooked blessings in our time? Is not God bringing the church ever closer together as the world goes further astray? As tv and movies become nearly entirely worthless, and as former friends follow stranger and stranger ways of the world, is there not a great comfort in our fellowship at church? And as travel is restricted with the pandemic, is there not the overlooked blessing of a calmer holiday season, of less money spent, of more time with nearby family? In all of our struggles we do well to consider these overlooked blessings.
As we conclude, consider that “having bottomed out is nothing for the Lord; He can pull you right back up.”
He did so with the entire nation of the Jews in Egypt.
He did so with the Reformed church in the Netherlands.
And he can do it also with you personally and individually. Perhaps you feel “down and out.” The Lord can bring you through this and up on the other side.
And we have hope in Jesus Christ, who returned from the very grave, resurrected. He conquered death itself; the lowest of low places. And he raises up to eternal life in the highest of all heights. The Scriptures — from Exodus to the Gospels and in all other places — testify that we have a Lord who knows our lows and remembers His promises and will raise us up as Jesus Christ himself was raised.
And so while we are to warn against a too rosy picture of Church history — for there are many ups and downs — our picture of the Lord’s work (His glory) can in this life only be a faint image of His true glory and the heights to which He will bring us.