Christmas and the Red Sea | Exodus 14

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It’s Christmas Eve. And at Christmas, we celebrate one of the greatest events in human history, that of God coming to the earth in the form of a baby boy named Jesus. Now the reason why God became a man has been quite warped and twisted over the centuries since it happened 2000 years ago. It has been said that THE main reason Jesus came to the earth was to show us how to live better lives. Though that is certainly not untrue, that is not the main reason he came. It’s also been said that the main reason was to start a social and spiritual movement where people would treat each other better and make the world a better place. Again, in some ways that may be true, but that’s not the main reason he came.

THE reason Christmas exists at all, THE reason Jesus became a man was to deliver people from slavery. Now I’m not talking about being enslaved to men, but being enslaved to sin. That’s why Jesus came, to deliver us from being enslaved to sin and to deliver us from the punishment we deserve because of our sin. Our sin: this incessant desire to be our own gods and call our own shots and do whatever we want no matter what God may want. On our own, there’s no true and real way to deliver ourselves from this. We can try and live better lives, and even try and do what God wants us to do, but ultimately, we have so rebelled against God as human beings, that there’s nothing we can do to fix this on our own, and we only have God’s wrath coming.

And God, being a holy God, will not just let sinners go free, just like a good judge would not just let a murderer go free. God being holy, and also God being loving, is the reason Jesus came, and the reason Christmas exists.

God, being a good judge, requires justice. And so, he sent Jesus to live the life we couldn’t live, a life of true holiness, and thus a life that deserved no death nor especially death by crucifixion, and yet he went to that Cross, taking your and my place. We bore the justice of God on our behalf, then three days later he defeated death and sin altogether by rising from the dead. This is the Gospel: If we turn from sin and place our faith in Christ, then the righteousness, the holiness of Christ becomes our righteousness and holiness. With Jesus, God’s justice is satisfied, because he’s a holy God and a good judge. And, with Jesus, we see the GREATEST act of love and deliverance in the history of the world, God’s love for us in sending someone to deliver us from our slavery.

Hear me, right off the bat. That’s why we worship at Christmas. That’s why we have unspeakable reason for being joyful and merry. It’s also why we come to the Word, to see how we can reflect on this incredible deliverance of God, and set our affections on our deliverer, Jesus Himself.

And the way I’d like us to do that this morning is actually by looking at the greatest act of deliverance in the Old Testament, which will give us some insight into what it means to have been delivered by Jesus in the New Testament. If you’re newer to the Bible, the Old Testament is the bigger section on the left, and the New Testament is the smaller section on the right, written after the Old Testament. The greatest act of deliverance in the Old Testament was something called the Exodus.

The Hebrew people had been enslaved to the Egyptians for more than 400 years. But long before this, God had told Abraham about this in Genesis 15, the first book of the Bible! He told Abraham that his descendants would be enslaved and mistreated for more than 400 years. But, he also told Abraham that he was going to deliver his people and that he would punish the Egyptians.

So what we see in the first 15 chapters of the book of Exodus, the 2nd book, is God fulfilling this promise to Abraham made hundreds and hundreds of years earlier. How did he do this? By sending a man named Moses. Moses was a Hebrew, but he grew up in the household of Pharaoh. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the biblical story, maybe you’ve seen the Prince of Egypt, the movie. God sent Moses to Pharaoh to tell him to let the people of Israel go. But Pharaoh said no. And we also see at times that God was the one to harden Pharaoh’s heart, which we talked a lot about several weeks ago, if you’re interested in the ins and outs of what that means.

But because Pharaoh said no, God brought about 10 plagues.

  1. Water of the Nile River turned to blood.
  2. Plague of Frogs
  3. Plague of Gnats
  4. Plague of Flies
  5. Diseased Egyptian livestock
  6. Plague of boils on all the Egyptians
  7. Plague of Hail, destroyed all the plants and trees
  8. Plague of Locusts
  9. Plague of Darkness
  10. Plague of the death of the firstborn

Now, the reason for all this was not only punitive; it wasn’t just to punish Pharaoh and the Egyptians although we do know that that’s part of it. It was also for God to show his awesome might and power to the Egyptians and really to the whole world! And with this last plague, finally, Pharaoh let the people go. They have officially been delivered; they have left Egypt and are no longer enslaved to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. That’s a pretty big deal. God has fulfilled something he told Abraham all the way back in Genesis 15. This is awesome, God has delivered them.

BUT this isn’t the end of the narrative. One more thing happens, and it might be the most famous of events in Exodus. And I’d like to read it with you. Exodus chapter 14; we’re going to read all 31 verses, and if you have a Bible with you you’re welcome to turn there, or you can just try and jump into the story by imagining what’s happening as I read it. So, reading Exodus chapter 14, starting in verse 1:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “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. For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, ‘They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’ 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.

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?” So he made ready his chariot and took his army with him, and took six hundred chosen chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. 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. 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. 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? 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.” 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. 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. 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. 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. 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, 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. 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. The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. 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, 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.” 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. 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. 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. 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.

Alright, pretty awesome to say the least. What I’d like us to see, briefly, is 5 Grand Truths of God’s Deliverance. This goes for the greatest act of deliverance in the Old Testament, the Exodus, as well as the greatest act of deliverance of all time, which is Christ coming, dying for us, then rising again defeating death and sin. The first:

 

  1. God knows what he is doing.

In the first few verses that we just read, we see God telling Israel to take a longer route out of Egypt than they had to. In fact, if you look at the end of chapter 13, which we didn’t read, we see that part of the reason God leads them through this longer route is to avoid the land of Philistines, which was way closer. Why’d he do this? It says because God didn’t want them to face battle as soon as they had left Egypt. So, he “led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea” (vs. 18). He knows what he’s doing here, yes?

Then we see in verse 3 that we just read, that God was doing this also to make Pharaoh think that the Israelites were basically lost, and stuck in the wilderness. Why would God want Pharaoh to think that? Because Pharaoh was going to pursue them, and verse 4 says that the result of the Egyptians going after them would be that God would get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians would know that He is the Lord.

A simple, yet profound thing we’re reminded of with us: God knows what he’s doing. He knew what he was doing in leading the Israelites through a longer route, even though I bet that they had no idea what was going on at the time, or why God was doing that. But God did. He also knew what he was doing when he sent Jesus Christ into the world as a baby boy. Though many were probably asking, where’s our political messiah, or military messiah? You send us a baby, a carpenter, a humble servant? God knows what he is doing. The second grand truth of God’s deliverance:

 

  1. God is always with His people.

Also at the end of chapter 13, which we didn’t read, we see that in the midst of all this apparent wandering around, which was apparent not only to Pharaoh and the Egyptians, but probably to the Israelites, asking, “Where are we going?” What do we see in the midst of perceived chaos? God was with them. Verses 21 and 22 of chapter 13: “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.”

God is always with his people. We see that so clearly here, and we in fact see it later in Exodus, after the Red Sea, when they wander the wilderness for forty years! Even in the midst of rebellion, and not trusting God with taking the land that God had promised them, which is why they wandered the desert for 40 years instead of going straight into this land that God had promised. Even during those forty years God was with them! He led them even then with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. God is always with His people.

For you and me, as believers, if you’ve truly turned from sin and placed your faith in Jesus, please hear this: God is with you, and he will never leave you. This is part of our new identity in Christ, having been delivered from sin, that we have something even better than a pillar of cloud with us and leading us, even though I know that sounds very appealing. We have the Holy Spirit living in us, God Himself empowering us to live Godly lives. God Himself is always with us. The 3rd grand truth of God’s deliverance:

 

  1. God is the only one worthy of our fear.

Do you remember the Israelites’ response when the Egyptians began pursuing them? All of Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and his horsemen and his army, ALL of them came up on the Israelites. And when they saw this, verse 10 says they “feared greatly.” Then, verses 11-12, listen to this:

“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? 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.”

Does anyone else feel here like we missed something? What are these Israelites thinking? God just brought TEN PLAGUES in magnificent and mighty fashion, and now, so soon after bringing them out of Egypt after 400 years of slavery, they’re scared to death, and have no faith in this great God. They already want to go back into slavery. What’s happening here?

They’re letting their immediate circumstances completely blind them from the truth. The truth is this: God is the ONLY one worthy of our respect and ultimately, our fear. Pharaoh’s grand army with all his chariots, which in that day and age was an incredible sign of human power, it simply could not stand up to the God of the universe. This brings us to the 4th grand truth. This is exactly why, number 4:

 

  1. Our confidence is in God, NOT our circumstances.

Before we too quickly judge the Israelites for their response, we have to remember, we’re reading this thousands of years later. And we’re far more privy to God’s plan. We know what’s about to happen with the Red Sea. They didn’t. They were living in this, with this entire army coming toward them. So, in a very real sense, we can’t blame them too harshly. But in another sense, we’ve had 13 chapters in Exodus so far, revealing the unmatched power of God, as obvious as can be. You’d think that would at least help them with their fears and uncertainties. So, why the doubt?

Here’s why: as human beings, we are so consumed by our immediate circumstances. That’s all there is to it. It’s common that what is immediately tangible for us is what is most real for us. A perfect example is my son when he wants candy. He would eat candy constantly until it made him sick if we let him. Why? Because, his immediate circumstances of enjoying that candy totally outweigh the inevitable stomach ache that will come later! Obviously, as we mature, we get better about this, but it’s still true; We’re so easily blinded by our immediate circumstances or our immediate desires. And this isn’t completely illegitimate. What you’re going through right now is real. Please don’t hear me saying that it’s not. But hear this: GOD is our confidence, no matter the circumstances! This was exactly Moses’ response in verses 13-14:

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. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

This brings us perfectly to our last grand truth of God’s deliverance:

 

  1. True deliverance has come.

There is no greater reality for Christians. Just like for the Egyptians, even though they did NOT always recognize it, there was no greater reality than the truth that God had delivered them. THIS is why the entire Exodus narrative happened. God was revealing who He was, and what He was doing in establishing a new people, delivering them out of slavery and out of bondage. In the same, we celebrate this Christmas that we’ve been delivered, that our deliverer has come.

For Christians, this whole salvation and deliverance thing isn’t about being delivered from our circumstances just in life, although there’s nothing wrong with wanting that and praying for that, and there’s plenty in the Bible that speaks directly to life circumstances. But this Egypt narrative, this historical account of Jesus birth as well, is not about waiting for God’s deliverance; it’s about deliverance that has already come, in Christ. To quote one writer I read this week: “We are not to say, ‘What I am going through is like Israel’s Egypt experience,’ but instead ‘My Egypt is behind me. I am on the other side of the sea.’”

This Christmas, set your minds, your hearts, on God’s great deliverance, the salvation we have in Christ. If you are here today and you’ve never turned and truly believed in Jesus Christ, for salvation, for deliverance, I implore you: consider doing that today. The Word says very clearly that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and the wages of that sin, what we earn because of that sin is death, not just physical death, but eternal death.

But our God is a God of deliverance. He sent His Son Jesus into the world in the form of a baby boy. He lived a life of holiness, went to the cross bearing the punishment that we deserved, taking the wrath of God upon himself, then rising from the dead, so that if we repent and place our faith and trust in Christ and his sacrifice we are saved. That’s what we celebrate this Christmas.