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Category Archives: Exodus

There is No Room for Tolerance

We seem to think that tolerance is the ultimate virtue. We fail to understand how dangerous tolerance can be. Too much tolerance can:

  • Result in a loss—If your football tolerates the other team and allows them to score, it will cost you a game.
  • Cost you money—If a manufacturer doesn’t follow the specified tolerance in machining a part, it will cost extra when they have to machine it a second time.
  • Compromise your health—If you tolerate cancer cells in your body, you won’t have long to live.
  • Kill millions of people—The British government’s policy of appeasement towards Adolf Hitler helped contribute to the Holocaust and the death of millions during WWII.

What is true physically is also true spiritually. Exodus 32 explains that God is graciously intolerant of sin. We should be as well.

By way of background, Moses prepared the nation of Israel to hear from God (Exodus 19). God spoke the 10 Commandments in the hearing of all the people (20). The people were frightened by the voice of (20:18) and asked Moses to speak with God and then relay the information to them (20:19-21). God communicates the law to Moses (21-23) and Moses passes it on to the people (24:3). The nation reaffirms their commitment to be obedient (24:3-8). Moses, Aaron, and the leaders worship in God’s presence (24:9-11). Moses and Joshua go up on the mountain (24:12-13), leaving Aaron, Hur, and the elders in charge of the people (24:14). Moses spends 40 days on Mt. Sinai (24:15-18) receiving the plans for the tabernacle and the practice of worship (25-31).

No sooner was the ink dry on the contract, the people of Israel walked away from God and broke the first three of the 10 Commandments (32:1-6). Less than six weeks after receiving the 10 Commandments, the people begged Aaron to make them a visible god. He satisfied their desire by crafting a golden calf. Based on the people’s response, he did a good job. He also made an attempt at syncretism by suggesting they worship the Lord while bowing before the idol.

When we do what is popular rather than what is right, we fall into sin. When we choose convenience over commitment, we fall into sin. When we forget who God is and what he has done for us, we fall into sin.

When it comes to sin, God is graciously intolerant (32:7-14). God explains to Moses what the people are doing. Unless Moses intercedes, God will rightfully destroy the nation. Moses reminds God that Israel is his people and that his reputation is at stake.

We should be graciously intolerant of sin (32:15-29). Moses breaks the tablets of the law to signify that Israel had broken them. He burned the idol, ground it into powder, and made the people drink the concoction. This symbolized the powerlessness of the idol and made the people feel the pain of the consequences.

Moses confronted Aaron about his lack of leadership. Aaron responded by blaming the people (“You know how they are”), Moses (“If you weren’t gone so long”), and everyone but himself (“The golden calf just magically appeared”).

Moses drew a line in the stand to determine who was still committed to obeying God. The Levites responded and were God’s instruments in surgically removing the instigators of the rebellion. While it appears harsh that 3,000 men were killed, consider that it was only 3,000 out of 2-3 million people.

We should intercede for other people (32:30-45). Moses goes back up the mountain to intercede for Aaron and the nation of Israel. He even offers to die himself in exchange for God sparing the rest. God rejects Moses’ offer and explains that he will be fair in his punishment.

How’s your tolerance level? Do you have any golden calves you need to get rid of? Any areas of compromise where you are crossing lines you know should not be crossed? Are there any sins you’ve become far too familiar and comfortable with that need to be gotten rid of?

If the answer is “Yes” to any of these questions, stop what you are doing and repent. Turn to God and seek his forgiveness. Just like Aaron, you can be forgiven and restored. But don’t wait, thinking you can avoid God’s judgment.

God is graciously intolerant of sin. We should be as well.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 17, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on the life of Moses. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Are you prepared to meet with God?

If you knew that (the mayor, the governor, the president, favorite sports hero, movie star, TV celebrity, etc.) was going to be in church next Sunday, how would you prepare? If you knew that GOD was going to be in church next Sunday, how would you prepare?

Exodus 19 describes how Israel met with God at Mt. Sinai. Through their example, we see four principles that can help us prepare to enter God’s presence. We should prepare our mind, heart, and will before we enter God’s presence. We must be ready to listen, obey, and honor him.

Three months after leaving Egypt, the nation of Israel arrives at Mt. Sinai (1). They will spend the next 10 months in this location. We have the impression from Hollywood movies that Moses only made one trip up the mountain. If you read the text closely, you discover he made seven trips up and down.

Before you meet with God (1-15), ask yourself:

Am I willing to obey? (3-8). After reminding the nation how he delivered them from bondage in Egypt, God explains an “if … then” responsibility. “If you obey … you will be my treasured possession.” Israel would be exalted above all other nations and have a unique priestly role of representing God to the world. The people respond enthusiastically, “Yes, we will obey.”

Am I ready to listen? (9). God is laying the groundwork for communication. However, he would not reveal new truth if the people were not going to listen to him.

Have I prepared my heart? (10-11, 14). God orders the people to wash their clothes, separate from any impurity, and even fast from normal marital relationships in order to set themselves apart for God. While we “come as you are” to God for salvation, we should cleanse our hearts to meet with him in worship.

Do I respect God’s presence? (12-13). Israel was to maintain a secure and sacred distance from the mountain of God. They were close enough to hear God speak to Moses but were to wait until Moses relayed God’s instructions to them. Sadly, we have lost this sense of reverence for God and treat him casually or flippantly. A shallow view of God leads to a shallow life.

God came down to meet with his people (16-20). It was not Moses who went up; it was God who came down. God descended in thunder, lightning, and an earthquake. It was a display of his majesty and glory. Moses later went up after God invited him.

God came down to establish a healthy fear of the Almighty (Exodus 20:20), to communicate written instructions for his people (Exodus 24:12), to reveal his word to his people (Exodus 31:18), and to reveal the design for the tabernacle (Exodus 25:8-9).

To meet with God, we need a place where we can go daily. We should ask ourselves the four questions to make sure we are prepared. We need to Scriptures since that is where God has revealed himself. We need a journal to record what we are learning.

Prepare your mind, heart, and will before you enter God’s presence. Be ready to listen, obey, and honor him.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 10, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on the life of Moses. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Trials, Tests, & Training Wheels

I am a fair weather biker. I have a 45-year-old ten speed bicycle I ride a couple days a week when the sun is shining. I don’t ride in the rain and certainly not in the snow. On days or seasons when the weather doesn’t cooperate, I find other forms of exercise.

My typical biking route is a 6.3 mile circuit in my neighborhood. I don’t aspire to ride in the Tour de France simply because I don’t have time to train for such a race. I content myself with riding for exercise. To be a serious, competitive biker requires graduated training over a long period of time.

The same is true of spiritual growth. In Deuteronomy 8:2, God explained how he used tests during Israel’s years in the wilderness to help them grow and mature.

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.

Scripture explains that God uses trials to teach us about himself and to test our commitment. Exodus 14-19 covers a span of three months. The Passover occurs on the 14th day of the first month (Exodus 12:18). Israel leaves Egypt and encounters an obstacle at the Red Sea a few days later (Exodus 14). Three days after the Red Sea, they arrive at Marah, where the water is bitter (Exodus 15:22). On the 15th day of the second month, the people complain about the lack of bread and meat (Exodus 16:1-2). One week later, they complain about the lack of water (Exodus 17:1). A few days later, Amalek attacks (Exodus 17:8). A few days after that, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro arrives to give him some career advice (Exodus 18:1). They arrive at Mt. Sinai three months after leaving Egypt (Exodus 19:1).

At each location, God tested Israel. He uses the trials to reveal something new about his character and attributes. He uses the events to see whether or not Israel would be obedient. He uses the trials to help Israel grow up and mature. The nation progresses from God fighting for them to the nation fighting with God’s help.

 

1 2 3 4 5
Scripture Exodus 14 Exodus 15:22-27 Exodus 16:1-36 Exodus 17:1-7

Exodus 17:8-16

Problem

Enemy at the Red Sea Bitter water No food No water Enemy attack
Attitude Fear Grumbling Grumbling Doubt

Confidence

Test

God fought for Israel God tested Israel God tested Israel Israel tested God Israel fights with God’s help
Insights about God The Lord is my strength The Lord who heals The Lord your God God is present among his people

The Lord is our banner

Lesson to learn

Depend on God for victory Depend on God for health Depend on God for daily needs Believe that God is present and cares for you

Depend on God for victory

What has God been teaching you recently? How has he been testing you? What do you need to do to learn the lesson and move forward?

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on August 27, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on the life of Moses. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Grace Notes

Being surrounded by negativity, it is far too easy to adopt the mindset of our culture. We can play the “It’s not fair!” card or become consumed by worry about what might happen.

Considering what we are bombarded with, it’s no wonder we feel as bad as we do.

To change our mindset, we have to make a conscious choice as to what we feed our minds. We must shift our attention from woe to worship, from pity to praise, from complaining to confidence, and most importantly, from me to God.

Praise plays a key role in this process. Praising God for the past helps us trust him for the future. Moses provides an excellent example of this principle in his song in Exodus 15:1-21.

Moses states his theme in verse 1: “Praise God, he won!” The song contains three stanzas—“See what God did” (2-6); “See who God is” (7-11); and “See what God will do” (12-18). The theme is repeated in the chorus (19-21).

Following the destruction of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea, Moses led Israel in praising God (1). When God does something great, he deserves to be praised. Often this praise comes in the form of a song, something you see throughout the Old Testament.

The three stanzas of Moses’ song focus on God—what he did in the past, who he is, and what he will do in the future. In the first 18 verses, Moses refers to “the Lord” at least 45 times. It demonstrates that praise is focused on God, not on us.

In the opening stanza, Moses acknowledges God’s strength and it leads him to praise (2-6). In the middle stanza (7-11), Moses moves from history to theology, from describing the victory to exclaiming his wonder about God. He uses metaphors and word pictures to help describe God’s attributes and actions (8, 10). In the final stanza (12-18), he moves from proclaiming his wonder about what God did in the past to a statement of confidence and trust in what God will do in the future. God not only brought his people out of Egypt, but he will bring them in to the Promised Land.

The song concludes with Moses’ sister, Miriam, picking up a tambourine and leading the chorus. Considering that Moses wrote this song when he was 80 years old and Miriam played the tambourine in her 90’s, who says seniors can’t learn new songs and lead in worship!

This passage challenges me to consider three probing questions: (1) What can I praise God for today? (2) What does this tell me about God’s character? (3) What do I need to trust him for tomorrow? Praising God for the past helps us trust him for the future.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on August 20, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on the life of Moses. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

 

Following God … to a Dead End

Have you ever felt like your life hit a dead end? You were heading in the right direction. You were making good progress in your marriage, career, relationships, etc. And then without warning, everything went off the rails. You came to a sudden, inexplicable, jarring halt. You couldn’t go forward and you couldn’t go backwards. Regardless of your best efforts, you were stuck.

That was the dilemma the nation of Israel faced when they found themselves trapped between the Red Sea and the armies of Egypt (Exodus 14). Before they could go forward, they needed to learn some new lessons about who God is and what he was going to do on their behalf.

God often places us in situations where we have to rely on him (1-14). On those occasions, God displays his glory so that we might know him better.

God led Israel into a cul-de-sac in order to demonstrate his glory (1-4). With armed fortresses to the north, the desert to the south, the Red Sea to the east, and the armies of Egypt advancing from the west, Israel was at a dead end. God led them into this problem so that they might know him better.

It appeared that Israel’s enemies had gained the upper hand (5-9). A few days after the Passover, Pharaoh changes his mind about allowing the Israelites to leave. He dispatches 600 of his best chariots and armed forces to bring them back. It appeared that he had them trapped in a geographical cul-de-sac.

Rather than rely on God, Israel reacted in fear (10-12). They weren’t merely afraid, they were greatly afraid. They were in full blown panic mode. Like many of us, they cried out to God and then blamed the leadership (Moses) for their predicament.

God wanted Israel to depend on him (13-14). God gives them four commands—fear not, stand firm, see the salvation of the Lord, and be silent. Like Israel, we tend to do just the opposite. We are afraid, run away, don’t look for God, and complain to everyone around us. In so doing, we miss what God is doing.

When we trust God, he fights our battles for us (15-29). Contrary to human wisdom, God instructs Israel to move forward (15-18). God then moves to stand between Israel and her enemies (19-20). During the night, God opens a path through the Red Sea (21-22, 29) and then destroys the Egyptian army when they try to pursue Israel (23-28).

Seeing God at work should cause us to trust him and to worship him (30-31).

There are four life lessons I take away from this account. (1) It often takes dead ends to break lifetime habits. God often has to bring us to the end of ourselves and our resources in order to truly change and transform our lives. (2) When you have nowhere else to turn, trust God. Far too often, trust in God is viewed as a last resort. (3) If God is to get the glory, he must fight the battle. If I can do it myself, I will take the credit. (4) Red Seas open and close according to God’s timing, not ours. God’s timing is always best, but it is always different from mine.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on August 13, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on the life of Moses. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

The shortest distance between two points is a zigzag

From the earliest days of geometry, we’ve been taught that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. However, that is not always the case in real life.

I go to Russia once a year to help train leaders. I fly from Boston to Amsterdam to Moscow to Anapa. During the first week, we meet in Tsibanobalka. Then we drive twelve hours to Elista in the steppes region of the Caucasus Mountains. You have to go the roundabout way to get there.

When it comes to spiritual growth, the shortest distance between two points is often a zigzag route. While God might take us from “A” to “B,” he often does it by way of “M,” “F,” “Q,” “V,” and “D.” We see a graphic example of this in Exodus 13:17-22.

The most direct route from Egypt to the Promised Land was the coastal route along the Mediterranean Sea. However, that was also the military road of the Egyptians. It was dotted with military fortresses and led directly through the land of the Philistines. Having recently escaped from 400 years of slavery, God knew that Israel was not ready to battle. At the first sign of conflict, they would turn tail and run back to slavery in Egypt.

In light of that, God took Israel on a zigzag route that was especially designed for them. They needed lessons that God had in store for them at Mt. Sinai. In the same way, there are times in our lives when we are not ready for God’s plan.

If you compare this to parenting, what parent in their right mind would give a three-year-old the keys to the car? No, you give a three-year-old a big wheel. Then you graduate them to a two-wheeler with training wheels. When the time is right, you take off the training wheels. Later, you let the kids drive the Autopia cars at Disneyland. When they turn 15 ½, they take drivers training to learn how to drive properly. Once they pass their drivers’ license test, then you finally let them drive by themselves.

As parents, we grow our children gradually. In the same way, God grows us gradually. Exodus 23:27-30 provides an interesting perspective. God says that he will help Israel “little by little . . . until you have increased.” Perhaps God will give you an assignment that stretches your character. You learn patience or compassion. Then God puts you in a situation that helps you gain new skills—job skills, life skills, ministry skills. Maybe God then stretches you and expands your network of contacts. Finally, God gives you an assignment that stretches your faith¸ teaching you to depend on him for strength.

God takes us on a zigzag path that is designed for our growth. Along the way, he provides encouragement. For Israel, that encouragement came in the bones of Joseph and the cloudy/fiery pillar that led them in the wilderness.

The bones of Joseph reminded Israel of God’s providence and his promises. 400+ years previously, Joseph told his brothers who passed it down through the generations that God would visit them and come to their aid. God would keep the promise he made to Abraham to return Israel to the Promised Land. When that time came, Joseph did not want to be left behind. By taking Joseph’s bones with them on their exodus from Egypt, the people demonstrated their confidence in God’s word.

The cloudy/fiery pillar reminded Israel of God’s presence and his provision. The pillar never left Israel. It demonstrated God was always with them. But the pillar also led Israel. It went before them and guided them through the wilderness.

Over 2,000 years ago a young Greek artist named Timanthes studied under a respected tutor. After several years the teacher’s efforts seemed to have paid off when Timanthes painted an exquisite work of art.

Unfortunately, he became so enraptured with the painting that he spent days gazing at it.

One morning when he arrived to admire his work, he was shocked to find it blotted out with paint. Angry, Timanthes ran to his teacher, who admitted he had destroyed the painting.

“I did it for your own good.  That painting was retarding your progress.  Start again and see if you can do better.”

Timanthes took his teacher’s advice and produced the Sacrifice of Iphigenia, which is regarded as one of the finest paintings of antiquity.

30 years ago, I was pursuing a Ph.D. with the hope of teaching in a university or seminary. Every door I knocked on was closed and remained that way. Instead of academia, God kept me in the church, first as an associate pastor and later as a senior pastor. It was only this past spring when God opened the door for me to become an adjunct professor at a Christian college. I now blend church ministry with college teaching.

In bringing believers to spiritual maturity, the shortest distance between two points is a zigzag. It may not make sense at the time, but in hindsight we can sometimes see what God was doing.  Along the journey, God will remind us of his good intentions through his providence—he will come to our aid; his promises—he keeps his word; his presence—he is with us; and his provision—he will guide us.

If you are anything like me, your spiritual journey will have surprise twists, dangerous turns and an incredible destination. The Adventure is Just Beginning!

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on August 6, 2017. (The title and outline were borrowed with permission from Dr. Donald Sunukjian.) It is part of a series of sermons on the life of Moses. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

There is a Redeemer

Church historian Clair Davis describes the Christian life as a “combination of amnesia and déjà vu.” He says, “I know I’ve forgotten this before.” In other words, as we follow Christ we keep needing to learn the same lessons over and over because we keep forgetting them. And each time it happens, we suddenly remember that we have had to relearn these very same lessons before.

Of all the things that God wanted Israel to remember, the most important was their exodus from Egypt. God sent plague after plague against the Egyptians, culminating with the death of the firstborn, until finally Pharaoh agreed to let God’s people go. It was a rescue to remember.

To make sure that his people would never forget their salvation, God gave them a special memory aid: Passover, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This feast was meant to be an annual celebration.

To understand the flow of Exodus 10-11, it helps to see it as a combination of narration and explanation. The author tells the story and then periodically steps back to explain what happened. Narration (10:28-29), explanation (11:1-3), narration (11:2-9), and explanation (11:10).

Moses tells Pharaoh six facts about the final plague. There will be one more plague (11:1). It will happen at midnight (11:4). All the firstborn in Egypt will die, both people and animals (11:5). It will be a time of national distress, never experienced before or after (11:6). However, Israel will be protected (11:7). Afterwards, the exodus will begin (11:8).

In Exodus 12:1-20, God gave Moses instructions about the Passover (12:1-14) and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (12:15-20). The Passover lamb was to be a perfect, one-year-old lamb (12:5). The event would occur on the 14th day of the month at twilight (12:6). The blood of the slain lamb would be spread over the doorposts and lintel of each Israelite home (12:7). The meat was to be roasted (12:8-9) and eaten completely, saving no leftovers (12:10). The meal was to eaten in haste, ready to leave at a moment’s notice (12:11). The angel of death would move throughout the land, sparing only those families who had the blood over their door (12:12-13).

Behind the instructions for the Passover is the concept of OBEDIENCE. There is no magic in the day, time, or procedure. There is no merit in the blood of the lamb. The question was, Would Israel follow God’s instructions and place their faith and trust in his provision?

After Moses communicated the instructions to the people (12:21-27), they bowed down and worshipped (12:27), and obeyed the commands (12:28).

The events unfolded exactly as God foretold. After Pharaoh’s own son died (12:29), he summoned Moses and Aaron and told them to leave the country (12:30-32). The exodus officially started (12:33-42). The chapter closes with instructions about how to celebrate the Passover in future generations (12:43-51).

I find it fascinating to compare the Old Testament Passover with the cross of Christ in the New Testament.

Principles

Old Testament Passover

New Testament Passover

Instruction to sacrifice

“Take a lamb . . . and kill it.”

(Exodus 12:3, 6)

“Behold, the Lord of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
Condition of sacrifice “Your lamb shall be without blemish.”

(Exodus 12:5)

“. . . the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”

(1 Peter 1:19)

Application of sacrifice

“. . . take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses.”

(Exodus 12:7)

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

(Acts 4:12)

Reason for sacrifice “I will execute judgment.”

(Exodus 12:12)

“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”

(Hebrews 9:27)

Result of sacrifice

“When I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you.”

(Exodus 12:13)

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

(Romans 8:1)

Remember the sacrifice “This day shall be for you a memorial day.”

(Exodus 12:14)

“Do this in remembrance of me.”

(1 Corinthians 11:24, 25)

“For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.” (1 Corinthians 5:7b)

(Chart adapted from Walk Thru the Bible Old Testament Live Event)

Like Israel, each one of us must make the choice as to whether or not we will obey God’s instructions and place the blood of Jesus over the doorposts of our hearts.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 30, 2017. It is part of a series of messages on the life of Moses. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.