Exodus 1-3 sermon

Here is a bush that is burning.  Burning, but not consumed.  And, wonder of wonders, the Angel of the LORD, has come down INTO the bush – into the furnace of His people’s affliction.

…That has ALWAYS been His nature.  It has always been His nature to COME DOWN, to enter in, to suffer alongside, to suffer at our Head, and to rescue!

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Suffering and God.  How on earth do we put those two things together?  What kind of God allows suffering?  How can we be expected to believe in a good God, when we experience a bad world?

We remembered September the 11th yesterday and we also remember floods in Pakistan, the earthquake in Haiti, the Boxing Day Tsunami – they all show us that the world is deeply broken.  Well then where does God fit in?

That’s not just a question for those outside the church is it?  Christians struggle massively with this question.  If I’m God’s child, why is life so hard?  Why do families break up?  Why does sickness cripple?  Why does death strike?  Doesn’t He love me?  Doesn’t He care?  Or is He just powerless?

Suffering and God – what can we say?

Well here’s one thing we can say: Everyone who has ever asked a question about suffering and God, they want a way out.

[SLIDE – Way Out]

Every time we ask the suffering question we’re showing something absolutely universal: we want an escape from suffering, we want a way out of pain, we want liberation from disease, disaster, death and decay.

And we want a better world, a better hope, a glorious future.

We want deliverance from suffering to glory

And this book is all about it.  The word Exodus means way out.  Exodus means exit, it means escape.  It means that there is a deliverance.  Exodus shows us a way out from suffering into glory.

But to show you that, I need to give you some context for the book

So come back with me to the beginning – Genesis 3 and we’ll think about where it all went wrong.

So, Genesis 3.  Garden of Eden.  Adam and Eve are living in perfect harmony with the LORD, with each other, with the natural world.  There are no floods, earthquakes or Tsunamis in Eden.  The world is VERY good and Adam and Eve rule that world under God.

But when the serpent comes they mistrust their LORD and trust Satan instead.

And it destabilizes the whole universe.

As the head of not only the human race, but the whole creation, when Adam went wrong, everything was knocked out of kilter.  Humanity was broken, relationships were broken and even the creation was broken.  Just as one example of this, look at verse 17:

17 To Adam the LORD said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you,`You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you.

The physical world is cursed because of Adam’s rebellion.  And at the end of v19 the LORD pronounces the curse of death, “dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Why is there suffering in the world?  Genesis 3 tells us that Adam and Eve unleashed cosmic chaos through their unbelief.

But Genesis 3 also gives us a way out.

[SLIDE – Gen 3:15]

Look with me at verse 15.  Here is the way out:

The LORD is speaking to Satan and He says:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

So here’s the gospel – Adam and Eve had made an alliance with Satan but the LORD says no – there will be enmity, I’m breaking the alliance.  And then we read that the Offspring of the woman would come and He will crush Satan’s head.

He – the Offspring – will crush your head Satan, and you will strike His heel.

Now crushing the head of a snake is a dangerous thing to do.

And this verse promises that the Offspring would have His heel struck.  The Offspring would suffer but He would also bring a glorious victory.

Now we have seen the fulfilment of this promise.  Jesus DIED on that cross to defeat Satan.  He was struck – but as He was struck He was defeating Satan.

But from the very beginning it was promised – the way out is the suffering and glory of Christ.

[SLIDE]

And this gospel hope was the fountainhead of all OT promises.  You can read in 1 Peter chapter 1 how all the Old Testament prophets were pointing ahead to “the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.”  (1 Pet 1:10-12)

That’s what Old Testament hope was all about – Christ would come into our suffering , HE would suffer but through that He would bring glory.  The Offspring would be struck, but He would crush Satan.  That was their hope.

[SLIDES – Offspring]

And because their hopes were set on THE Offspring of the woman – Christ – then you can understand how important offspring-in-general became.

That’s why we have all those genealogies in the Old Testament that help you get to sleep at night.  Why was the Old Testament obsessed with offspring?  Because they were looking for the birth of THE Offspring.

We haven’t got time to follow the whole story but in Genesis 12 we read about Abraham

[SLIDE – Abraham]

And in Genesis 12, Abraham is told that the Offspring will come through him (Genesis 12:7; cf Galatians 3:16).  The salvation of the world is going to come through Abraham’s Offspring.

[SLIDE – Abraham’s Offspring]

Now listen to that word “Abraham’s offspring”.  Does ‘offspring’ mean one person or does it mean ‘many people.’  And the answer is: Both.  In particular it means that Christ is going to come through Abraham’s line.  But, more generally, ‘the offspring of Abraham’ means the nation of Israel.

[SLIDES]

So the Offspring of Abraham means BOTH the Messiah AND it means the people of the Messiah. (Gal 3:16,29)

And here’s the point.  Just as Abraham’s singular Offspring, Christ, would suffer and then be glorified, so Abraham’s many offspring, Israel, they will suffer and then be glorified.  Christ’s people will tread the path that Christ treads – through suffering and out into glory.

And that’s exactly what is promised in Genesis 15, verse 13.  Let’s turn to this crucial prophecy about Abraham’s offspring.  The LORD says:

13 “Know for certain that your descendants [your offspring] will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and ill-treated four hundred years. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterwards they will come out with great possessions.”  (Genesis 15:13-14)

You know what you’ve just read?  You’ve just read the story of Exodus.  There it is in two verses.  Let’s read it again this prophecy of the Exodus:

13 “Know for certain that your descendants [your offspring] will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and ill-treated four hundred years. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterwards they will come out with great possessions.”  (Genesis 15:13-14)

That’s Exodus predicted centuries in advance.  And it’s the story of Abraham’s offspring suffering and then coming out with great possessions.   That’s the pattern – suffering then glory.  So it is for Christ, so it is for His people.

So as we turn to Exodus chapter 1 I hope that helps us to know what to expect in this book.  In this book we will see the sufferings and the glories of the Israelites who are groaning under slavery in Egypt and brought out to inherit a land of milk and honey.

But in this book we will also see the sufferings and glories of Christ, who entered into the ultimate darkness, who suffered on the cross and then was brought up from the grave into resurrection freedom.

And in this book we will see the sufferings and glories of you and me.  Because if we are in Christ – then we are in the offspring of Abraham. (cf Gal 3:29).  And in 1 Corinthians 10 Paul says we Christians have the SAME spiritual experiences as the Israelites.  Once we were in the darkness and slavery of sin but have been brought out through the bloody redemption of the LORD Jesus.  And now we experience wilderness times of hardship and testing before we enter the promised land of His presence.

1 Corinthians 10 verse 11 says the events of the Exodus “happened to them as examples and were written down to instruct us.” (v11)   Exodus will teach us all about our own sufferings and glories.

Exodus is not a history lesson about some ancient uprising, it is a gospel presentation of Christ’s suffering and glory.  And if we are in Christ, then we are in the story.

So that was a long and complicated introduction and if I’ve lost you, don’t worry about it.  Now it’s time to dive down into the story and see these events unfold.

Let’s look at chapter 1 to see how the Israelites got into Egypt in the first place.  Verse 5 tells us it all began with Joseph.  Remember him and his technicolour dreamcoat?  His brothers hated this dreamer, sold him into slavery, he ends up in Egypt, unfairly accused, condemned, imprisoned but ends up saving the whole nation and sitting at the right hand of the king.  What a story of suffering then glory.  What a prophecy of Christ – from the pit to the throne to save his people.  Well, in a very Christlike way, Joseph uses his power not to punish but to forgive his brothers and they come down to Egypt to be with him.  So from verse 1 we read about Jacob and the other 11 brothers with their households, they make their way to Egypt.  Verse 5 adds them all up and says there were 70 of them.

Now a bible buff reads the number 70 and says ‘that’s significant’.  Numbers are always significant in the bible.  70 is the number for the nations.  It’s a number symbolising the whole world.  These 70 Israelites are a microcosm of the world.  What happens to Israel here in Egypt is what God intends for the whole world – He wants a cosmic liberation from the powers of darkness.

And we see that cosmic focus continued in verse 7.  Do these words remind you of anything?:

7 but the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them.

It sounds like Genesis 1 doesn’t it?  Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.  God is kind of redoing humanity again, He’s kind of re-potting the plant, but starting again with the offspring of Abraham.

And that all sounds very promising until we hit trouble in verse 8 – a new king, who did not know about Joseph, comes to power.

And in verses 9 and 10 he worries, what do we do about all these blinking immigrants??  Well this Pharaoh follows a path that we’re all too familiar with.  Verse 11, labour camps for the Jews.  He oppresses them with forced labour.  But v12:

12 …the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread

Suffering and glory together isn’t it?  Oppress God’s people and they multiply.  It’s a truth we see over and over again.  There was a saying of the early church “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”.  Beat them down and they’ll only grow up stronger.  This is the mystery of God working through suffering for glory.

We see it in each of these four little episodes in chapters 1 and 2.  In verses 15-22 again God works through suffering for glory.

Pharaoh does something horribly familiar, he steps up his persecution from labour camps to actual genocide.  The midwives were to kill every Jewish boy who was born.  But, v17, the midwives feared God more than they feared Pharaoh, they disobeyed Pharaoh and God blessed them with families of their own.  God works through suffering for glory.

Then in v22 Pharaoh steps up the persecution again.  It’s not just the midwives now, v22:

“he gave this order to all his people: “Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”

That’s Pharaoh’s final solution.  But in chapter 2 we see some more wonderful civil disobedience, this time from Pharaoh’s own daughter.  Verse 3, when Moses is born and could be hidden no longer his mother puts him in an ark (literally) and sends him off down the Nile.  Can you imagine being this mother?  What painful suffering to push your own helpless baby off down the river not knowing what will happen.

Well God will work through suffering for glory.  Verse 6, Pharaoh’s daughter, in direct disobedience to her father’s royal edict, feels sorry for this Hebrew baby and unwittingly gets Moses’ own mother to nurse him.  Imagine being Moses’ mother now.  She receives her child back and (v9) gets paid for being his mother!  And Moses receives an entrance into Pharaoh’s court and into the schools and wisdom and power of Egypt.  He becomes a prince of Egypt.

And then you think – I know what God’s up to. Moses will climb through the ranks of the Egyptian court and through political cunning or military might he will liberate his people as an inside job.

Well, maybe that’s what Moses was thinking but that plan goes horribly wrong.  In v11 he makes a ham-fisted attempt at liberating his people.  One day, aged 40, he comes to the rescue of a fellow Israelite against his Egyptian slave master.  And Moses kills the Egyptian.  In Acts chapter 7 we learn that this was meant to be the first act in an uprising of the slaves.  But the Israelites, v14, aren’t on board with Moses at all.  And, verse 15, Pharaoh gets wind that Moses is a murderer and a traitor so the coup is well and truly botched.  Moses has to flee into the desert as a failed revolutionary, on the run from the authorities, on the run from his own people.  And he just slumps down by a well in utter failure.

He had been at the heart of Egyptian power, but he took his chance on a violent coup and it all went horribly wrong.  Now he’s out of the game, at least as long as this Pharaoh is alive.

So Moses settles down in wilderness country, far away from his people, far away from the Egyptian court.  And, as Acts 7 tells us, he lives out the next 40 years as an insignificant shepherd.  He was probably the best educated shepherd in the world but it’s quite a come down for this prince of Egypt.

He raises a family, v22, and he grows old, 40 years old, 50, 60, 70, 80 years old in the wilderness.  And I imagine not a day went by when he didn’t think “I had my chance and I ruined  it.”

You know suffering, when it’s self-inflicted can be the hardest to bear.  Moses has to bear 40 years of it.

But that’s where we are in v23.  Israel groaning.  Moses groaning.

How is God going to work glory out of this suffering?

23 During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.

Here is the way out.  Not through any power of their own.  Their hope lies in God and in four incredible verbs from v24:  God heard, God remembered, God looked, God was concerned.

See, to the untrained eye it looks like God has been silent and absent in the past two chapters.  He is rarely mentioned.  But no, He hears, He remembers, He looks, He is concerned.  And all the apparent silence and absence of God needs to be seen through the lens of His covenant promises.  Actually He has been working out His covenant promises through suffering for glory.

We don’t always see it when we’re going through it, but that’s why we have to live by promises.  The people would be saying to themselves: Remember that ancient promise back in the garden.  Remember those 4 centuries old promises to Abraham.  But it’s not just the people who remember.  God remembers. That’s what’s really important.  “He hears their groans, He remembers His covenant promises, He looks on their situation, He is concerned about them.”

Isaiah looks back at the Exodus and sums it up in these words.

In all their distress he too was distressed,

And you know, that’s lovely.  It’s nice to know that God feels what we feel.  That’s nice.  But if the verse ended there it wouldn’t be much help.  And if Exodus ended at chapter 2 it wouldn’t be much help.  We don’t just need divine concern.  We need salvation, we need a way out.  And that’s how Isaiah continues:

In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.  (Isaiah 63:9)

And that’s exactly what we see beginning in Exodus 3.  Read with me from v1:

Exodus 3:1 Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4 When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. 7 Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Periz-zites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”

Here is the famous burning bush experience.

[SLIDE]

But you’ll notice from v2 the bush is burning but not burnt up.  And here is a great picture of the suffering of the Israelites.  Many times the people of God are described as like a plant: a vine or a branch or a tree. And many times their sufferings in Egypt are described like a furnace. (Deut 4:20; 1 Kings 8:51; Jeremiah 11:4).  It’s a furnace of affliction.  Well here is a bush that is burning.  Burning, but not consumed.  And, wonder of wonders, the Angel of the LORD, the God of Abraham, the Great I AM, comes down INTO the burning bush.

Does that scenario sound familiar?  The Angel of the LORD entering the furnace to be with His people?

Many of you will know the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from Daniel chapter 3.  The King throws these THREE men into the blazing fiery furnace.  But when the King looks into the furnace he says this [and perhaps some of you remember it from the old King James version:

Lo I see four men…walking in the midst of the fire and they have no hurt and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.  (Dan 3:25)

The King then says “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants!”  (Dan 3:28)

To this foreign king the rescuer looks like the Son of God and he’s called God’s Angel – He is the One who enters into the fires to be with His people.

This is always the way.  In all our distress, God our Father too is distressed and He sends the Angel of His Presence down into the furnace WITH US, to save us.

This one who is called in v2 “the Angel of the LORD”, he is called in v4 “the LORD”, in verse 6 he is “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”.  Next week we’ll see v14 where He’s called I AM WHO I AM.  There’s just one Person in the bush, but He goes by all these names.

And first He’s introduced as the Angel of the LORD.  Now ‘Angel’ doesn’t mean baby faced floaty spirit with wings.  Angel literally means “sent one” the One sent from the LORD.  There are lots of other angels in the bible.  Lots of sent ones.  Some of them are called ‘an angel of the LORD.’  But here is THE Angel of the LORD.  THE ONE Sent from the LORD.  But, v4, He also IS the LORD.  He is from the LORD and is the LORD.  He is LORD from LORD.  Verse 6, He is also called God.  God from God.  Light from Light. True God from True God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father.  By whom all things were made.  Who for us men and for our salvation CAME DOWN.

That has ALWAYS been His nature.  It has always been His nature to COME DOWN, to enter in, to suffer alongside, to suffer at our Head, and to rescue!!!

You know the name Jesus – literally it means “The LORD to the rescue.”  That’s just the very nature of Him.  And Exodus is a foretaste of His definitive rescue when, at Christmas, He didn’t just enter into a fiery bush, but entered into our humanity for all time, entered into our predicament, took our sorrows and sufferings on Himself and then on the cross took our sins on Himself and endured the flames that were destined for us.

And so the Christian can look to Christ and we can hear Him say v7 to us.  Jesus says to US:

I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are enslaved to sin and have heard their cry because of their affliction. I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them

Friends, if you have seen Christ’s rescue at the cross, then you KNOW that God cares.  He hears your groans today, He remembers His covenant promises, He sees your affliction and He is concerned for you.  He will bring you through this suffering to immeasurable glory.

There is a way out, there is an Exodus, an escape.  But only through the sufferings and glories of the TRUE Offspring of Abraham, Christ the LORD.  If you are in Him you will tread that same path, but He will tread it with you, and afterwards you will come out into a land flowing with milk and honey.

[SLIDE – Suffering and God]

So how does suffering and God go together?  Look at the burning bush.  Look at the cross – there in the midst is the Greatest Sufferer of all.  Suffering and God only makes sense with this God: the suffering God.

Suffering disproves a lot of gods.  There are a thousand gods out there who know nothing of suffering which proves them to be no gods at all.  But there is a God who suffering cannot disprove because He’s entered the furnace, He’s felt the heat, He has the scars to prove it.  And He did it all to bring us out.

ONLY He can make sense of God, ONLY He can make sense of our suffering.

To Him be the GLORY now and forever, Amen.

.

Posted on by Glen in Exodus, pastoral theology, sermons

About Glen

I'm a preacher in Eastbourne, married to Emma.

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