4. God saves - 17th February 2013 - Dave Walker

Exodus 3                                                                                                         

Bible Overview 4: God Saves

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What sort of God do you believe in? And what sort of God don’t you believe in? Because saying “I believe in God” doesn’t mean very much, does it? People have always believed in false versions of God: they call them ‘God’, there are elements of truth in there, but it’s mixed up with a whole load of lies. They’re not the real God at all. I think one of the favourite false gods of our day is the thinking that says that God is like a divine Dalai Lama: you know he just sits there smiling benignly at everyone, always polite, never a harsh word to say to anyone, loving, yes, but never wrathful, never angry; he never judges. That’s a very popular version of God. Lots of people think that God is like that. But that God is not the God of the Bible. And that sort of God doesn’t really love you and certainly can’t save you. The true God is much more loving than that. He really loves his people; powerfully. And that means he is a God of wrath, anger and judgment. He is a God who rescues his people, and he does it violently. Today in our Bible overview we reach the book of Exodus. Exodus means escape; it means rescue. The book of Exodus is the good news that God is a warrior.

So, a quick recap of the story so far: God made the world good, he made us to relate to him, but the first humans sinned – that is, they turned away from God, and that broke everything. So the world, instead of being filled with God’s blessing is under God’s curse. But then last week we heard about God’s plan to restore his creation: God chose a man named Abraham and he brought him into a special covenant relationship with himself. And God promised that through Abraham’s family, God’s blessing would reach the ends of the earth. The plan to fix the mess has begun. God made some specific promises to Abraham: he promised him people – lots of descendents; he promised him blessing – right relationship with God and with others; and he promised him a land where his family could live with God. People, relationship, land.

Well, by the time we get to today’s reading, 400 years have passed. Where are we up to in the promises? Well the first one – descendents for Abraham – yes! Just look over the page at Exodus chapter 1 on page 58, verse 5: “The descendents of Jacob numbered seventy in all; Joseph was already inEgypt. Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them.” God had promised Abraham that he would make him into a great nation – well there’s been some progress hasn’t there? They are no longer just one family; they are the Israelites, the descendents ofIsrael, Jacob.

But the other promises aren’t going so well yet. The relationship and the land. The people are now slaves inEgypt. Outside of the promised land, and oppressed by cruel slave masters and by false religion. The first two chapters of Exodus set the scene. They tell of how the Egyptian King, Pharaoh, made life miserable for the Israelites with forced labour and then as a sort of population control he adopted a policy of killing every Israelite baby boy. Every baby boy: can you imagine it? But under the providence of God, one slips through the net. His name is Moses.

And then at the end of chapter 2, the key verses. Verse 23: “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.” Now when God remembers his covenant, it doesn’t mean that he says “now, hang on, what was that thing I said? Something about a covenant…” God has not forgotten. No, when God remembers his covenant it means he’s about to act on his promises. Do you remember he said to Abraham “whoever blesses you I will bless, and whoever curses you I will curse?” The Israelites are being cursed by Pharaoh and his people. But the covenant still stands. So now God is weighing in to save. He’s going to achieve salvation. ‘Salvation’ is our big Bible word for today. It means rescue, deliverance, being saved. Our God is a God who saves, a God of salvation.

And as God saves, we find out about who he is. As we said at the start, the book of Exodus all the way through is an answer to a specific question.

The big question: Who is God?

Now you can read that question ‘who is God?’ two ways, can’t you? You could read it as “who is the LORD?” you know, what is God like? Who is he, in that sense? But you could also read it as ‘who is God inEgypt?’ “Which is the real God?” Exodus answers both of those questions at once. If you want to know who someone is then you look at what they do, don’t you? That’s the way that they show their character – through their actions. Well in the same way the things that God does in the book of Exodus demonstrate who he his, so that we can know him, and they show that he alone is God. With no rivals. So if the big question is ‘Who is God?’, the answer the book of Exodus gives us is this:

The LORD is the God who rescues his people by coming in judgment.

That’s who God is. He’s the God who rescues his people by coming in judgement. That’s the God we worship, if we’re followers of Jesus. That’s the main thing to grasp today.

Let’s see where that comes from. Have a look back at the reading from Exodus 3, page 60 – and look at verse 13. Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them,`The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me,`What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites:`I AM has sent me to you.'" God also said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites,`The LORD, the God of your fathers--the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob--has sent me to you.' This is my name for ever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.

For the Israelites, a name wasn’t just a label, it was a description of who you are. And we humans, we name things, don’t we? That’s one of the things that makes us human – we name things, we put labels on things, we pigeon hole things. If I bash away in the kitchen for a bit and eventually produce something from the oven, and then imagine you come in and say “what’s that?” and I say “it’s a cake.” And you say “fair enough, it’s a cake… it doesn’t look like any cake I’ve ever seen but you say it’s a cake so that’s what it is.” Humans give names to things, we label things. But we can’t do that with God. Only God can tell us who God is. “I am who I am” says God. God says who God is – only he gets to define who he is. We can’t say “I think God is probably like this” or “I like to think God is like that.” No. Only God gets to say who he is. We need to listen to him.

But then did you notice that no sooner had God said “I am who I am” than he then describes himself in relation to his people. He says “I’m the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – I’m their God, and your God.” God defines himself in relationship to his people. Now in a sense that sort of thing is true of all of us. Who am I? I’m Sarah’s husband, Lizzie & Tom’s Dad, Phil and Carol’s son and so on. We define ourselves by the relationships we have. But God does that too - with his people. God has made a covenant with his people which means that they are his people, but even more amazingly, he is their God. If you are in that covenant relationship with God – which you are if you’re a follower of Jesus – if you’re in that covenant then God is your God. He defines himself as your God. The God of his people – not all people – his people, his covenant people, the people of Jesus. Every time we see the word “the LORD” in capital letters in the Bible we should remember that – God alone gets to say who he is and he has said that he is your God, if you’re a follower of Jesus. He’s your God. Have you thought about how amazing that is? We can’t put God in any sort of box can we? We can’t label him, we can’t confine him, we can’t restrict him in any way. He’s much too vast. And yet he says he is yours. That’s the relational God we have.

But his people are those who are rescued by him. Turn over to chapter 6, it’s on page 62, verse 6. God is talking to Moses again and he says; "Therefore, 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 from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.  7 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, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.  8 And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.'"

God is the saviour. He is the rescuer. That is who he is. If you don’t know him as your saviour, your rescuer, then he is not your God and you are not one of his people. There are many people who think of God as their creator. They say things like “I believe in God, I believe there’s someone who made the world” or “I believe that there’s someone up there looking after us.” They are saying that they think that there is a God, maybe even acknowledging that they owe their existence to this God. Good. That’s a start. But it’s totally inadequate. Because if all you know of God is that he is the one who made you and sustains you, well then you hardly know him at all. You’re one of his creatures, yes, but you can’t say that you’re one of his people. Or that he is your God. Because the thing that God does for his people is he saves them. The LORD is the God who rescues his people. If you’ve not been saved by God, if you’ve not come to believe in Jesus as your Saviour yet, well then you’re not one of his people. Yet.

And the way that God saves is by coming in judgment. The action of the book of Exodus is all about that. We’ve already seen how there’s a tense situation. The Egyptian Pharaohs were seen not just as kings but as sons of the gods, as divine. So you’ve got Pharaoh who is claiming to be God and who is claiming that the people ofIsraelbelong to him, and then you’ve got the LORD who says “they are my people.” Who is God? Whose people are they? So God sends Moses to Pharaoh with the message “this is what the LORD, the God of Israel says: ‘Let my people go.’” And Pharaoh says ‘No.’

So the contest begins. God, as he has said, comes in judgment on Pharaoh andEgypt. It starts off small and gets bigger. If you know the story, you’ll know that God sends ten plagues. Some of them are almost funny – there’s the frogs hopping all over the place. But they get more and more serious: animals die, people get ill, the crops are destroyed. And each time God sends Moses with the same message – “let my people go, or I will strike the land.” God is being patient with Pharaoh. God does that in judgment. Very rarely does God swing the axe straight away. He usually gives time – time to repent. But Pharaoh has none of it, and so it comes down to the last and worst plague. In chapter 4v22 we hear “This is what the LORD says:Israelis my firstborn son, and I told you, “Let my son go, so that he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.”

God is going to come in judgment throughout the land. And when God judges, people die. Ever since Adam and Eve were warned that disobedience was the way to death, well since then sinful people, guilty people have always been on the way to death. That’s true of everyone. All have sinned. The wages of sin is death. Judgment is just paying out what is deserved. So when God comes in judgment, the sentence of death is carried out.

But that means Israelites as well as Egyptians, doesn’t it? The Israelites are sinners too. If God comes in judgment they will die too. Have a look at chapter 12 – it’s on page 69 – look at verse 21. Here we see the way that God will rescue the people through the judgment. “Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israeland said to them, "Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb.  22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the door-frame. Not one of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning.  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.”

Do you see what happens? The Israelites are to buy a spotless lamb, look after it, kill it and eat it, and put the blood over the door of their house. This lamb represents the people in that house. It is their lamb. The only difference between a house where the son dies and a house where the son doesn’t die is the lamb. God makes no distinction – it isn’t that he judges some and lets others off. No the judgment is universal; the axe falls on everyone – but some of them are covered. If you look down at the end of verse 30 it says “there was not a house without someone dead.” In every house a death occurs. Either the lamb dies or else the son dies. The only way to be safe is to trust in the blood of the lamb.

Imagine an Israelite house the night before. The eldest son is feeling a bit uneasy. He asks his dad “Dad, are you sure it’ll be alright? I’m scared. Is it going to be OK?” And his dad says “Son, God has told us. Look, come and see: there is the blood above the door. The lamb has died in your place. You are covered. It will be enough – God has promised that. Trust God. Trust in the blood of the lamb.”

You probably know that in the New Testament it’s Jesus who is called “the lamb of God.” We often sing about the lamb. This is why. The Apostle Peter in his first letter, chapter 1 verse 19 says of Christians “you have been redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” Jesus is the lamb of God, the one who has died in our place. Because just like back then inEgypt, God has promised that he will come in judgment. A day is coming: Jesus has assured us of that. And when God comes in judgment the only difference between those who are saved and those who are destroyed will be that the ones who are saved are covered by the death of Jesus. They trust in the blood of the lamb.

This is a bit more of what I meant before when I said about trusting Jesus as your Saviour. It is about saying to God “Lord I know I am sinful; I know that when you judge I deserve death, but I trust Jesus who died in my place.” That’s real faith. Trusting Jesus with your whole self. Resting your future on him. Is that you? Are you covered? Are you trusting Jesus?

And this act of judgment is the thing that saves. God is the God who saves his people by coming in judgment. When the judgment of the tenth plague falls, the people are freed. When the judgment that you and I deserve fell on Jesus on the cross, we were freed from future hell, if we’re trusting him.

So Moses leads the people out ofEgyptand off in the direction of the promised land. But Pharaoh has a change of heart again. He gathers his army to give chase and hunt the people down. The people are unarmed, Pharaoh’s army are terrifying. They back them into a corner, up against the sea, with no way out. But the LORD is still with them. And so Moses can say “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today.” Just stand. Just trust. You don’t have to do the saving. God will save. And God does. The path opens through the sea and the Israelites walk across. Like he did for Noah, God opens a safe passage through the waters for his people while those same waters wash away Pharaoh’s army for ever. The judgment becomes their salvation. They are saved through God’s judgment. Now they are really free.

Just stand, said Moses. Just trust the LORD. He will save. What are you afraid of? What are the things about the present or about the future that you are scared of? Illness? People who can hurt you? Are you scared of your own ability to destroy yourself or others? Are you scared of death itself? You can only be saved from those things through the judgment of God. God saves as he judges. The two happen at the same time. God’s judgment in the future will bring about the end of those things in the world which harm and frighten you. It will happen. God has promised it, and his promises don’t fail. He will not just smile benignly as these things crush you. He is coming to save you. He is coming in judgment.

Just stand, says Moses. Don’t be afraid of those things; don’t let them rule you and keep you as a slave. Don’t let your sin hold you down, like some kind of Pharaoh. Jesus has come, hasn’t he? Jesus has already died for you to forgive your sins. Your sin doesn’t own you, any more than Pharaoh owned the Israelites. Don’t just think it will keep going on and there’s nothing you can do about it. Stand on Jesus. Death doesn’t own you either. God has already broken its hold when he raised Jesus from the dead. Don’t let the fear of death hold you down. If you trust in Jesus your future is secure. There is life with God in glorious freedom coming. Don’t let the darkness and the gloom have you. Jesus has risen to make you free. The enemies will be washed away.

But you must make sure that when God comes in judgment you are one of those who is rescued. Nothing that the world can throw at us will ultimately shake the Christian. Nothing. Not ultimately. Because God will sweep it away. But if you are not with Jesus, covered by the blood of the lamb, standing with Jesus the new and better Moses – if that’s not you then God’s coming judgment will be more terrifying and more fearsome than anything the world can throw at you. It’s not enough just to say “I believe in God, it’ll probably be alright.” Unless you trust yourself to Jesus and become his, well then you’re not one of God’s people and you won’t be saved. The gospel message that the Bible presents is amazing good news if you will accept Jesus and be welcomed into his family. But only if you accept him. The LORD is the God who rescues his people by coming in judgment. Make sure you are one of his people.

I’ve put two coffee questions on the sheet. The aim of these sermons isn’t just to brain dump some information on you and then you go and forget about it. They are meant to start you thinking, so that you can think it over and talk it over and pray it over. So use the questions. Today we have these: Do you think this challenges any of your ideas about God? What do you think you need saving from?

Think it over; talk it over; pray it over.