A sermon on Exodus 14:10-14 given by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD on August 23, 2020, the twelfth Sunday after Pentecost. This is the sixth sermon in an ongoing series on the book of Exodus.
I. The (True) Exodus & The Christian Life
“Pastor Donald Bridge tells the story of a liberal preacher visiting an African-American church. As the minister talked about the crossing of the Red Sea, someone shouted, “Praise the Lord. Takin’ all them children through the deep waters. What a mighty miracle!” The minister, who did not believe in miracles, was annoyed at this intervention. So rather condescendingly, he told the congregation that the Israelites were probably in marshland with an ebbing tide, so they were simply wading through six inches of water. In response to this, the same voice as before shouted, “Praise the Lord. Drownin’ all them Egyptians in six inches of water. What a mighty miracle!” (Signs and Wonders Today, pg. 17, as retold in Exodus for You by Tim Chester, pg. 101)
In this church, we believe the word of God. We make no apologies for that. Today, as we ask what the deliverance at the Red Sea means, we can never disconnect that from what happened. History and theology are intertwined. In fact, that’s one main lessons of the Old Testament. As Alec Motyer puts it, “the way things happened is also the truth they declare.” (The Message of Exodus, pg. 158)
Today we’re going to see that as we look together at what “Crossing Over” the Red Sea teaches about the Christian life. We’re going to be looking primarily looking at chapter 14, verses 10-14 and thinking in two directions 1) Israel’s doubts before crossing the Red Sea (vs. 10-12) and 2) Moses’ assurance to them in response (vs. 13-14).
II. Is Life Easier with Jesus? (Ex. 14:10-12)
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.”
Now this scene has been deliberately set up by God. Israel is backed into a corner. God, in fact, told the people of Israel to turn around and camp by the sea. Ordinarily, this would be complete military blunder. And, as they now see the Egyptians come toward them, God’s people are trapped. Or so they think. And so they long to be back in Egypt, and out of this mess.
Connecting this with the Christian life, this passage helps us to be honest about the fact that sometimes life with Jesus isn’t always easier. Life with Jesus, in fact, ruins all our prior expectations. The “comfort” of the world has been left behind. We become a pilgrim people. Does anyone on any of those survivor shows ever look comfortable to you? That’s kind of what it means to be a pilgrim people. A Christians, we can sometimes long to just go with the flow, fit in, and stop persisting in the faith (especially if you are a young believer). You know, we are at a place in our culture, where it can no longer be said that being a professing Christian will make things go better for you, help you fit in, or work for your general promotion in society. And it’s here that we need to be reminded that it was in this context, a context of hostility, that God’s People (both Old and New Testament) were born out of.
Similarly, we can look at COVID, and ask, why have you led us out into this wilderness where things are so hard? Christian, be sure: the Lord has brought us here, not to drown us, not to destroy us, but to develop us and demonstrate his faithfulness. One of the main lessons of Exodus is to teach us to trust God. As the Israelites were called to follow the pillar of fire and cloud, so there is a parallel to the way in which we are called to follow Christ. Listen to this moving description by Valerius Herberger (the most Lutheran-sounding ever uttered):
“As the Israelites followed You, so will I follow You also, for as long as I live. Often I consider and contemplate Your ways and paths which the holy evangelists recorded. Wherever You are, there my heart follows right at your feet. No sooner do you go to the garden or to Your death than my heart is with You there, finding and drawing powerful comfort. Although I must make many arduous steps in my Christian life, all this I will suffer with patience, for here I see Your bloody footsteps before me. Whoever would approach You must follow You, though heel and toe should bleed. With Christian patience I will gladly and willingly follow You through distress and death. Yea, on the Last Day I will at last follow You with great gladness into the heavenly Jerusalem. Then will every believing heart be seen journeying behind its Lord who is seated upon the clouds. Then will the great starry caravan be seen as all godly Christians, shining in the brightness of the stars, following the train of the great Sun of Righteousness (Dan. 12:3), Jesus Christ, into eternal joy.” (The Great Works of God: The Mysteries of Christ in the Book of Exodus, pg. 222)
When we are tempted to look back to Egypt, we need to echo the words of the disciples, who when asked by Jesus, “Do you want to go away as well?” Answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:67-68) Every time we get between a hard place and rock (or a sea, in this case), we need to recognize that is but another opportunity for God prove himself faithful. And that’s exactly what happened here.
III. Seeing Our Great(er) Rescue (vs. 13-14)
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.”
I want to turn now to look at the Great Rescue accomplished in the parting of the Red Sea. When think about both the judgment accomplished on Egyptians and the salvation given to God’s People, we should immediately think it of it in relationship to Jesus Christ. In fact, the name of Jesus, Yeshua, is contained in verse 13! The Great Rescue at the Red Sea points us to the Greater Rescue accomplished by Christ. Here’s again where history and theology matter – if you think the deliverance at the Red Sea is just a myth, what do you make of Jesus Christ? Rather, the power and goodness of God displayed at the edge of the sea that day was but a foretaste and prelude of the rescue we have in Jesus. The prophet Isaiah says as much in chapter 43:16-19 of his book:
16 Thus says the Lord,
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
17 who brings forth chariot and horse,
army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
18 “Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
19 Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The Lord says, in so many words, Look – do you remember that time I parted the Red Sea? Well, look again, I’m going to do something even greater!
In Jesus, God again did battle with the greatest enemies of humanity, decisively defeating them. But this time, he himself stepped into the waters of judgment.
At his baptism, Jesus went under the waters, preparing to bear the tidal waves of God’s wrath for sin. In his he death, he extinguished the consequences of sin. In his resurrection, he himself crossed over the sea of death, emerging in victory, so that we might be joined to him in his triumph. In the words of Romans 6:3-4, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
Tim Chester tells the story of a particular point in Martin Luther’s life. “[He] was in hiding in a castle. He spent his time translating the Bible into German, but it was a dark time for him. He struggled with doubt and discouragement. He felt attacked by the devil – on one occasion, he famously threw an inkpot at him. But his more successful strategy was this. He was heard shouting in the grounds of the castle … : ‘I am baptized’. How Luther felt was up and down. His circumstances looked bleak. But his baptism was a fact and it was a fact that embodied the promise of God. He felt he had little fight left, but the truth was that, in all the ways that eternally mattered, the fight was not his – God had already fought for him, and won for him.”
“Christ passed through the waters of death on our behalf. So our baptism is the pledge and promise that we are liberated people on the eastern side of judgment. We walk through life with our judgment behind us.” Tim Chester, pg. 106, 109)
That day, at the banks of the Red Sea, an enemy from the past made an attempt to reclaim God’s People. Well, Scripture tells us that we have three great enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil, all of which have been defeated by Christ. Whenever they allure us and attempt draw us back into slavery, the answer is the same: “I have crossed over with Christ and my judgment is behind me.” Or, as John Newton put it:
My Savior is near,
And for my relief
Will surely appear:
By prayer let me wrestle,
And He wilt perform,
With Christ in the vessel,
I smile at the storm.
Though dark be my way,
Since He is my guide,
’Tis mine to obey,
’Tis His to provide;
Though cisterns be broken,
And creatures all fail,
The Word He has spoken
Shall surely prevail.
Thanks be to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! Amen.