Sermon for Sunday, June 20th, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Psa 105:26-45 ESV] 26 He sent Moses, his servant, and Aaron, whom he had chosen. 27 They performed his signs among them and miracles in the land of Ham. 28 He sent darkness, and made the land dark; they did not rebel against his words. 29 He turned their waters into blood and caused their fish to die. 30 Their land swarmed with frogs, even in the chambers of their kings. 31 He spoke, and there came swarms of flies, and gnats throughout their country. 32 He gave them hail for rain, and fiery lightning bolts through their land. 33 He struck down their vines and fig trees, and shattered the trees of their country. 34 He spoke, and the locusts came, young locusts without number, 35 which devoured all the vegetation in their land and ate up the fruit of their ground. 36 He struck down all the firstborn in their land, the firstfruits of all their strength. 37 Then he brought out Israel with silver and gold, and there was none among his tribes who stumbled. 38 Egypt was glad when they departed, for dread of them had fallen upon it. 39 He spread a cloud for a covering, and fire to give light by night. 40 They asked, and he brought quail, and gave them bread from heaven in abundance. 41 He opened the rock, and water gushed out; it flowed through the desert like a river. 42 For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham, his servant. 43 So he brought his people out with joy, his chosen ones with singing. 44 And he gave them the lands of the nations, and they took possession of the fruit of the peoples’ toil, 45 that they might keep his statutes and observe his laws. Praise the LORD!
New Testament reading:
[Act 13:13-17 ESV] 13 Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, 14 but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.” 16 So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said: “Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen. 17 The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it.
[Mat 8:23-27 ESV] 23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”
[Exo 14:1-31 ESV] 1 Then the LORD said to Moses, 2 “Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea. 3 For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, ‘They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’ 4 And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.” And they did so. 5 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the mind of Pharaoh and his servants was changed toward the people, and they said, “What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” 6 So he made ready his chariot and took his army with him, 7 and took six hundred chosen chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. 8 And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the people of Israel while the people of Israel were going out defiantly. 9 The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and his horsemen and his army, and overtook them encamped at the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon. 10 When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD. 11 They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” 13 And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14 The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” 15 The LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. 16 Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground. 17 And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. 18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.” 19 Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, 20 coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night. 21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. 24 And in the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, 25 clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians.” 26 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the LORD threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. 29 But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. 30 Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.
All of Pharaoh’s horses and all of Pharaoh’s men couldn’t get the Israelites back to Egypt again.
The most powerful nation, the most powerful king, the most powerful army. These were as nothing compared to the Lord God of Israel who fulfills all His plans according to the counsel of His own will.
We find in Egypt a kingdom that was indeed broken with the departure of two million people. And now Pharaoh has second thoughts about letting the Israelites go. His heart is AGAIN hardened. And you must think, “How many times has He now hardened his heart?” “With all of this hardening, he must have the very hardest of hearts!” He again and again opposes the Lord. And again and again his plans fail while the Lord uses Pharaoh to succeed in the Lord’s own plans.
I. Fear and Doubt (v. 10-12)
So we find now that the Israelites are in a sense trapped. They are surround by seas. And Pharaoh realizes that this presents a good opportunity to attack them.
He gathers up his forces and heads out for battles.
And when his forces are seen coming over the horizon it is the cause for the Israelites of both fear and of doubt. [REPEAT: The cause of both fear and of doubt]
The fear comes upon sight of chariots. Pharaoh in fact brings out 600 chariots. And these were perhaps the most powerful weapon in the ancient world.
Now I all but stopped playing video many year ago, but a while I was intrigued in watching clips of a video game called Total War Rome. It is a fairly realistic game where you pit massive armies against one another. The Romans, the Greeks, the Carthaginians, the Scythians, the Egyptians. And what you see in these reenactments of war is that chariots are the powerful of all the forces arrayed for battle. Each one would have multiple horses and multiple soliders. Usually there was a driver and then perhaps an archer, and maybe a spearman. And then the chariots themselves might have spikes on the sides and armor all around. They were fast moving and powerful; the tank of the ancient world.
So 600 chariots might not sound like a lot when there are 600,000 men of Israel. But these chariots along with the army of Egypt were a formidable force bringing much fear and confusion.
Chariots will feature in later stories in the Scriptures as well. In fact, God will command his people not to trust in them. Psalm 20:7 – “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God..” The Israelites will eschew the use of them, for a time. But as they later fall away from the Lord in one of their many cycles of faith and failure, they will for a time take up the use of chariots themselves, not trusting in God for their protection.
Here, as the Israelites approach the Red Sea, they must indeed trust in God. If not for the Lord’s intervention there would have been widespread slaughters. And the Israelites who who survived would be brought back to slavery in Egypt.
So there was not only fear, but also doubt. They doubt that this is God’s plan at all. It is a cynical group that complains to Moses saying:
“Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”
This same mentality continues among some of Israelites in later chapters:
The doubters say:
“Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”(Exodus 16:3)
“Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (Exodus 17:3)
They are freed from 400 years of slavery, and yet now they pine for “the good old day in Egypt.”
They even say later in the book of Numbers,
“Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness!” (Numbers 14:2)
They are not trusting in God. They are not deserving of God’s intervention. But what does God do? He intervenes!
He intervenes FOR A PEOPLE WHO DO NOT DESERVE IT!
They are sitting ducks before the army of Egypt; in fear and in grave doubt. But their security comes from the Lord who intervenes.
II. The Intervention of God (v. 13-31)
And how does God intervene? How does God save the Israelites from the oncoming Egyptian army?
God then intervenes in two ways; both through the pillar of cloud and fire and in the miracle of the paring of the red sea.
First the pillar of cloud stands between Israel and Egypt. Then the pillar of fire helps the Israelites travel and night. It seems actually that their traveling across the Red Sea was by night, because it is then in the “morning watch” that the pillar of cloud and of fire looks down upon Egypt and throws them into confusing, and basically making them to get stuck in the mud so that they cannot escape when the waters come back upon them.
Where just previous it was the Israelites who would have been in fear and confusion, now the tables are turned and the Egyptians are thrown into panic.
God intervenes through the pillar of cloud and of fire.
Then we come to God’s intervention in the parting (and subsequent un-parting) of the waters of the Red Sea. This is likely one of the most well known miracles in the entire Bible. It produces such fantastic images in our minds of these walls of water being held up by the winds. Perhaps you think of Cecil B. Demille’s The Ten Commandments. Even this film presentation cannot do justice to the immensity of the Red Sea and the miracle of the parting of its waters.
While some try, as they often do, to explain a way this could occur naturally, I think these attempts are downright silly. The text is clear that this is a miracle of God. HE parted the waters upon the occasion of His servant Moses stretching out his hands over the sea.
Others question the historicity of this miracle. Did this really happen? Could all of these people traverse the sea a one time? Were there really as many people as the Bible claims?
Yes, yes, and yes. That’s my attitude towards these miracles and to the Word of God. No debate. Just acceptance. This is the word of God. We don’t debate it.
So we find that,
“the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.”
It really is quite a short statement here. There is no need for flair. This visual alone produces the effect desired: God is all-powerful and HE, and He alone, delivers his people from their enemies.
We find in our New Testament reading that Jesus, the son of God, our deliverer, also has power over the wind and the waves.
He rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”
What sort of man? A divine man! The son of God. Very God of very God.
And it is him that we have deliverance from all our enemies: sin, death, and the devil.
God is a god of deliverance even for a people who do not deserve it.
And Jesus is the messiah who delivers his people; even we who do not deserve it.
III. No Going Back
But what does this crossing of the Red Sea mean? What can we learn from this text?
A major realization In the crossing of the Red Sea is that we find that THERE IS NO GOING BACK!
And for us Christians, THERE IS NO GOING BACK. Being new creatures in Jesus Christ, we cannot go back to our former lives. There is no going back. Why would you want to go back to slavery in Egypt?
I remember reading years ago about an ancient Germanic tribe Julius Caesar mentioned in his book on the Gallic Wars. And this tribe, before they would go out to battle, before they would seek the conquering of new lands, they would set fire to their own houses. Why? So there would be no going back. The old life is done and the new is ahead. And you better fight for victory for there is no going back!
There is another important reference, again of Julius Caesar. He once “crossed the Rubicon” – a river in northern Italy. Julius was a Roman governor over a region north of Italy, and under his control was a considerable army. When his term ended the Roman Senate ordered him to return to Rome ALONE. Without his army. Knowing that he would be punished for his exploits in Gaul (modern France) done apart fro the command of Rome, Julius crossed the Rubicon WITH HIS ARMY. In this he crossed THE POINT OF NO RETURN. He had committed the grave crime of treason in the eyes of many Romans. His plans could only go forward now and he sought and eventually become Caesar, king of Rome, through victory in a civil war.
So with the Israelites, this is the point of no return. Have you seen the Red Sea on a map? It is fairly wide to cross, but it is incredibly long to go around. Once they’ve crossed by the miracle of God, they certainly can’t go directly back through the sea. Even going around would be incredibly dangerous if not suicidally impossible.
We as Christians have crossed the Rea Sea. We have crossed the Rubicon. There is no going back. We should not seek our old lives apart from God, but trust in His promise for the promised land, the world to come, where in resurrected bodies we shall live eternally with the resurrected Christ!
With the destruction of the Egyptian army, we don’t hear about them anymore. They are no longer a menace to the Israelites. Likewise, our enemies have been destroyed. Death no longer reigns. One day we will no longer hear about death or sin or any trouble.
Application: In your distress, reach out to the Lord.
In those most impossible circumstances where you are surrounded on all sides, with the enemy pressing in, where should you go? God to the Lord in prayer. Seek His help, His guidance, His deliverance.
The enemy will indeed come after you. But the Lord will protect you. No matter how many of the enemies horses, no matter how many of the enemies men come your way, the Lord will keep you till the end.
This is the promise of God. The perseverance of the saints. We persevere not because of any ability in us, but because of God’s promise to us.
[Rom 8:38-39 ESV] 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
[Phl 1:6 ESV] 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
[2Th 3:3 ESV] 3 But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.
[Jhn 10:29-30 ESV] 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
There is no turning back because you are safe in the hands of the Lord. Praise be to God. Amen.