Not what my hands have done

Posted on 26 Aug 2018, Pastor: Rev Hans Vaatstra

Manuscript of this sermon is available for reading services.

Unfortunately, there is no audio recording for this sermon.

Reading: Acts 7:17-29
Text: Exodus 2:11-15

Not what my hands have done.

Reading: Acts 7: 17-29       Text: Exodus 2:11-15

People have often commented on the Crusades of the middle ages when armies of Christian soldiers fought the Muslims in their efforts to reclaim the Holy land and Jerusalem. Some were mercenaries, others may have been willing to suffer for the cause of Christ but the overall result was one of failure rather than success.  Islam not Christianity ended up dominating the Middle East. While we can sympathise with those who fight against false religions or to defend one’s own territories, the gospel of peace is spread by the sword of the word and by the spirit of God. Not by human effort and with guns and swords.

Similarly, salvation for ourselves and others is not achieved by human effort. This account of Moses doing things in his own strength and failing in the attempt shows us that salvation is entirely of the Lord. We look at the narrative in three parts

  1. Taking matters in one’s own hands.

Forty years had passed since Pharaoh’s daughter rescued Amram and Jochabed’s child out of the water, adopt him and give him the name Moses. From then, as a member of Pharaoh’s household, Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians and became a man of power in words and deeds.” (Acts 7:22) He had all the riches of Egypt at his disposal and as a member of the king’s household Moses was a man of authority and power.

As well as being learned in the ways of the Egyptians, Moses was educated in the ways of the Lord. He knew who he was, where he had come from and what he believed.   He also knew what his people were going through. During his whole life he’d witnessed their ill treatment at the hands of the Egyptian slave drivers and grew more and more concerned. So, according to Acts 7:25 Moses assumed that his fellow Israelites understood that God was granting them deliverance through him”.

This is what prompted Moses to act in the way he did.  One day he went out and looked up his fellow Hebrews. What he saw made his blood boil. He saw an Egyptian “beating one of his people.” This probably wouldn’t have been the first time he saw something like that but on this occasion Moses saw red and the slave driver lay dead on the ground.

Other Hebrew slaves witnessed the crime and were not happy about it. When Moses went back the next day to break up a fight between two of his own countrymen they basically told him where to go. One of them said, “Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian” one said.  Moses crime had become well known among the Hebrews. All the slaves were talking about it.  Moses the prince of Egypt had committed murder.

Pharaoh also heard about the crime and immediately signed Moses death warrant. Suddenly Moses had two problems. One; Pharaoh was after him and two;  his own people regarded him with contempt. Any hope that they would join him in a revolt against Egypt evaporated. Moses thought his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand. They didn’t. Instead they rejected Moses saying “who made you ruler and judge over us?!”

That’s a good question. Who had given Moses authority to lead Israel? According to the record no-one had yet. It would be 40 more years in the wilderness before God called Moses by the burning bush and made him leader of his people.

So at that point Moses was operating as a self-appointed saviour and taking it upon himself to lead his people but they weren’t going to have a murderer be their leader. Moses credibility was gone and it would be 40 years with a new generation before he would gain the Hebrews respect.

It reminds us that when it comes to the Lord’s work we can’t take matters into our own hands and presume the Lord will bless them. For example, if someone has the desire to be a leader in the church that’s a good thing to have according to 1 Timothy 3:1. But notwithstanding the fact that a man might have the qualifications for such a position, he can’t just make himself a pastor.  Any candidate for ministry needs to submit to church elders who have the responsibility to nominate and examine these men and then also submit to all the Lord’s people in a congregation who have the duty to vote for or against those who their sessions nominate. By submitting to the orderly Biblical process we can have greater confidence that the call to ministry is a call from the Lord.

And so when it comes to matters of salvation and helping others come to faith, which is what the church is all about, those who lead God’s people are completely reliant on God’s grace. As the Psalmist says.  Unless the Lord builds his house the labourer’s work in vain.

In Moses defence some have said that Moses may have been within his rights as a Prince of Egypt to kill a slave-driver if he was threatening the lives of the Hebrew slaves. Some even think that it’s doubtful that Moses would have been convicted in an Egyptian court if there was an investigation. Others have said he could have been defended on the basis of an eye for and eye and toot for a tooth i.e. the law of retaliation. The slave driver was beating a Hebrew slave and had Moses not stepped in fellow his countryman might have died instead.

If you’ve ever seethed with anger at gross injustice perpetrated against innocents you can probably sympathise with Moses too.  Think of Corrie Ten Boom who with her sister Betsie was sent to a German concentration camp during WW2 for harbouring Jews.  When she saw a Nazi concentration camp guard beating her sister Betsy, Corrie later admitted that she felt like taking a pick axe and hacking the Nazi to death.  But when Corrie confided this to her sister Betsie rebuked Corrie and said “No hate, Corrie no hate”.

Hatred is not the way of the cross or of Jesus Christ who said   “You have heard it was said, an eye for an eye and tooth for tooth. But I say to you do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:38)  As Christians we’re called to live in peace. The WCF larger catechism sums it up well where it says “Sinful anger hatred envy desire of revenge, provoking words, oppression, quarrelling, striking, wounding and whatsoever tends to the destruction of the life is forbidden.”

When it comes to matters of justice in either the state or the church we have clear guidelines in Romans 13 or 1 Corinthians 5 on how offenders should be dealt  with When it comes to personal anger against perpetrators of injustice we have the imprecatory Psalms which encourage us to take our anger to the Lord in prayer.

So we can’t save ourselves or anyone else by taking matters in our own hands.

  1. Salvation is of God and of grace. While we sympathise with Moses he made a tragic mistake. So, it would be another 40 years of preparation for Moses in the wilderness before he would be ready to lead God’s people. Then when that time came and the 40 years had passed the Hebrews wouldn’t be saved by the strength of one zealous man but by the power of God alone as 10 plagues and the miraculous crossing of the red sea clearly show.

Another Bible character who learned this lesson well was the apostle Paul. He also realised that any attempt to achieve salvation through personal effort was a waste of time. In Philippians 3:4-6 Paul wrote about his credentials saying that if anyone could be saved by works it would be him. He had the right religion, came from the right family. He was blameless wrt. the law and a Pharisee. As for zeal; persecuting the church.

But by the grace of God Paul discovered that all of his religious assets were actually liabilities. In verse 7 he wrote “whatever was gain to me I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. All of his religious credentials; all his efforts; he came to see as rubbish compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ.

Well Moses credentials were pretty good too. If anyone could save the people he could. He was educated in both the Egyptian and Hebrews ways. He had a high position in the Egyptian courts and he was a true Hebrew, circumcised on the 8th day, of the tribe of Levi, as for zeal slaughtering an Egyptian.

Well God also showed Moses that his credentials were also worthless. Salvation is by grace not by works. The salvation of the Hebrews would come in God’s time by his almighty power and as a free gift of God’s grace.  Hence the preface to the Ten Commandments which we read earlier which says “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt out of the house of slavery.” It was God who would save his people not Moses. Moses was to be the humble and obedient servant of God.

Similarly for us salvation doesn’t come by our works or efforts but by grace through faith in Christ alone.  Our Christian heritage, family connections, denomination or receiving the sacraments do not save. It’s not enough to join a church or work for justice and truth in the community. Moses did all that and that didn’t save him or his enslaved brethren. Salvation is all of God and all of grace. A the hymn goes;  “Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole .. They grace alone O God to me can pardon speak thy power alone O son of God can this sore bondage break.

That leads me to the third thing

  1. Suffering for Christ’s sake.

According to Acts 7:23 when Moses was 40 years old he had it in mind to visit his brothers the sons of Israel. We’ve also already noted from Hebrews 11 that by faith Moses when he had grown up refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and chose to be mistreated with the people of God rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin.  He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ of greater value than all the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking for his reward

So notwithstanding the fact that Moses tried to take matters in his own hands the author of Hebrews presents Moses as a hero of the faith. He buried the Egyptian in the sand and turned his back on a life of hedonism;… preferring to suffer with God’s people for the cause of Christ and the hope of heaven.

Clearly Moses love was for his own people. He would go visit them in their labour camps. They were his family. When he saw their burdens, his heart went out to them. He saw how they slaved away just to ‘make Pharaoh great’ and felt a deep sympathy for them. One expert in Egyptian history (Ryken’s commentary) notes that the Egyptians were a proud race who despised manual labour and stressed the value of education. Higher learning lead to a life away from the grime and dust of the working class. Slaves were described as the living dead and compared to donkeys. In another ancient text it is written that “those in Egypt of the educated ruling class “would call for one and a thousand would answer. Would stride freely on the road and are in front of all the others.

Well Moses was one of the elite ruling class who strode out in front. He had everything the world could offer but the moment he went out of Pharaoh’s palace to visit his people and was moved to compassion by their suffering Moses made his choice. Better to suffer with the Lord’s people than choose the pleasures of sin.

In doing so he overcame three great temptations, love of self, love of pleasure and love of material things. All the things which are highly prized in the world but of no value in the Kingdom of God.

Sure Moses still had lessons to learn but the Lord could use the man who overcame temptation to lead his people; a man who was like Jesus. We note that it says in the letter to the Hebrews that Moses went out of Egypt for the sake of Christ. He suffered with the Hebrews and in time became their mediator who led them out of slavery and toward the Promised Land.

In that way Moses was a type of Christ who put aside his majesty and glory, didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped. He humbled himself; was born in poverty in a stable; lived among his people; saw their suffering and had compassion on them.  He then accomplished our salvation by taking away our sin on the cross and rising again for our justification. (Romans 4:24) And so Just as Moses as a type of Christ came to be with his brethren, Jesus came down to us and is not ashamed to call us his brethren. (Hebrews 2:11)

There is a further practical application for us in the text and that that like the believer Moses we are called to identify with the Lord’s people even if it causes us to suffer for the sake of Christ. The apostle Paul wrote of “sharing in Christ’s sufferings” in Philippians 3:10. To understand what that means we need to ask ourselves, ‘where is my ultimate allegiance? What is my primary identification? Is it myself and my wants and needs?  Am I attracted to all that is exciting and profitable from a worldly point of view?  Or is my primary allegiance and identification, with Jesus Christ and his people?   But as with Moses then so with us now learning to suffer loss for the sake of Christ is a necessary part of being Jesus disciple.

In conclusion then we don’t identify with Christ and suffer with him and the Lord’s people to be right with God or to give him a hand. We can’t do anything in our own strength. Whoever tries will fail as Moses did when he buried that Egyptian. Salvation is entirely a gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Our identity as Christians and allegiance to Christ and his people is as a result of God’s prior work of grace in your lives.  .As it says in 1 Peter 2:21, “You have been called for this purpose since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example to follow in his steps.”

Amen.