Messages to the church and the world

Posted on 30 Sep 2018, Pastor: Rev Hans Vaatstra

Manuscript of this sermon is available for reading services.

Text: Exodus 3: 16-22

Messages to the church and the world

Exodus 3:16-22

In this chapter God has revealed himself as the great I am, the God who is mysterious, far above us, almighty , holy and yet loving. He has also  revealed himself to us as our covenant God of Grace. We see just how gracious he is to those who fear him in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “before Abraham was I am”. He claimed to be the God of Moses and said to his opponents, “when you have lifted up the son of man you will know I am he.”  In other words Jesus death on the cross and his resurrection proves that he is the God of our salvation.

In this next section of the third chapter of Exodus we’ll see what the Lord God had to say to those who fear him and believe in him as their saviour and what he has to say to those who don’t.

There is contained in these verses a message for the church and a message for the world.

1 The message for the church. In verse 16 it says “Go, gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, the Lord the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has appeared to me saying I am indeed concerned about you and what has been done to you in Egypt.”

So Moses was instructed to go to elders of God’s people and say, “thus says the Lord” and repeat the promises which God had made earlier to Moses and the patriarchs.

So in Exodus chapter 4:29 it says that Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of Israel and Aaron spoke all the words which the Lord had said to Moses.

There is an important principle here when it comes to how we view the Bible. This event in salvation history shows us that the men who wrote the Bible spoke on God’s behalf just as Moses and Aaron spoke God’s words to the people of Israel.

Moses and Aaron didn’t just make up a story to whip up the Israelites and get them to mount a revolution. The words he spoke to them were the same words he received from God at the burning bush.

This is how we must regard all the words of the Bible because as Peter wrote, “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

And God’s message to the Israelites contained many important truths about the person and work of God which are equally relevant to us today.

He revealed himself to them as YHWH, the eternal, holy, self-existent God and also as their covenant God the God of their fathers Abraham Isaac and Jacob the God who would deliver them from slavery in Egypt.

Moses was to tell the elders of Israel that God had appeared to him and spoke to him from the burning bush. He was to tell them that God know that they were being treated harshly and were being sinned against in Egypt. Verse 16b say “I am indeed concerned about you and what is being done to you”.

Moses was to tell them that God would do something about their hardship.  Verse 17 “I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite  and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite to a land flowing with milk and honey.”

God also told the Israelites that they were to go to Egyptians and that they would listen to them (eventually) and let them go. When that time came and they packed their bags God would make sure they wouldn’t leave without being compensated for their years of slavery. Verse 21 “I will grant this people favour in the sight of the Egyptians. And it shall be that when you go, you will not go empty handed.” Then in verse 22 we see that the Israelite women would go to their Egyptian neighbours and ask for, and be given, silver and gold articles and clothing for the family. That would fulfil Genesis 15:4 and the promise given there that Abraham’s  descendants would come out of Egypt with great possessions. So just as years later the Lord turned King Cyrus heart to favour the Israelites and allow them to return to Jerusalem after the exile assisting them on their way, so the Lord made it so that the Egyptians sent the Israelites off with silver and gold and clothing for their families.

In any case justice demanded it because later on when God gave the law he decreed that slaves be released after 6 years of service and that when they were released they weren’t to go empty handed but were to take livestock, grain and wine. As the Lord blessed the slave owner through his slaves labour so the slave owner had to bless the slave when he or she was redeemed. The reason for the law goes back to the Exodus. It says in Deuteronomy 15:14, “For you will remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you” Slaves were not to leave their former employment empty handed.

So God had a comforting message for Israel, he was concerned about the fact that they were being sinned against and would do something about it. He has compassion on those who fear him and would redeem them and bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey. Furthermore he would see to it that they were well supplied with everything they needed for the journey home.

The corresponding message for us is that the God of the Hebrews is the same yesterday today and tomorrow. We have come to know this God through Jesus Christ who also came to liberate God’s people. =During his earthly ministry the blind received sight, the lame walk the lepers were healed  the deaf could hear again the dead were raised and the poor have the good news preached to them.” (Matt11:5)

The good news for us is that Jesus has redeemed us from slavery to sin by going to the cross, experiencing the abandonment of God which we deserve so that we will never ever have to experience that ourselves. He was then being raised from the dead for our justification; a guarantee of our resurrection.

Jesus is also concerned for us in that he knows when we suffer or when we are being sinned against and will do something about it. He will see to it that justice is done for everyone now or in the future. He has promised that he will bring us to be with him in the new creation.

Fruthermore when Jesus freed us from slavery to sin he gave us spiritual gifts with to enrich our new life of freedom in Christ with.  It says in Ephesians 4:8 “when he ascended on high he led a host of captives and gave gifts to men.” These are the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit priceless possessions because these are the gifts which bring about spiritual growth among the members of the church. They are  used by the church to advance the cause of missions. They are the gifts that are instrumental in bringing the gospel to others and providing and that blessed Christian way of life to our homes , communities and countries. That way of life is the envy of those who do not know Christ or understand the gospel.

So the message here from God to the church is also a comforting one. It tells us about God’s concern for all who put their faith in Him.  It reminds us that something has been done about sin and injustice by Jesus Christ and that there will be justice for all in God’s perfect timing, and it promises a future which is far better than the present. The great blessing we enjoy now is merely a foretaste of the glory yet to be revealed.

That brings us to the second point

  1. A message to the world

When God sent Moses to the Israelites he sent him to the elders who then would pass on God’s word to their clans. Later on when Moses became their leader the elders continued to exercise their role in the community. That principle of representative leadership by elders has remained in the church to this day.

So Moses couldn’t do all the work of leadership himself. He needed the help of these elders. Moses, Aaron and the 70 elders were to march to Pharaoh’s palace; request an audience  and ask him  to give the people three days off in order to worship the LORD.

Well as the text shows, God already knew Pharaoh’s hardness of heart. He knew that Pharaoh would refuse Moses request. Pharaoh’s refusal exposed an underlying problem. He wanted the glory for himself. It is an important point is it not? Whose glory do we live for? The Israelites wanted to serve and worship the One they called “The LORD our God” rather than Pharaoh.

Pharaoh refused to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and  chose to glorify himself. But you know even through Pharaoh’s obstinacy God would be glorified because, as it says in verse 20 he would “stretch out his hand  and strike Egypt with all his miracles”   and after that Pharaoh would let the people go.

It show that God is in control. He knows the future. He decrees what is to happen in the future. He is not a God who makes things up as you go along or as time and circumstances dictate but  who ordains all that is to happen according to the eternal counsel of his perfect will. The book of Exodus is a clear example of that.

Its important also to note how God would do that i.e. with an outstretched hand.  According to one historian, ancient Egyptian texts described Pharaoh as the one who destroys his enemies with his arm. But one commentator put it  ( Hoffmier,  in an article called “The arm of God vs the arm of Pharaoh”),  Pharaoh’s arm was too weak to wrestle with God’s. Pharaoh had to bend to God’s will God as the next 11 chapters in Exodus show. During that time Pharaoh had ample time to repent and certainly many Egyptians who witnessed the hand of God in the plagues did. They were the ones who decided to travel out of Egypt with the Israelites.

The message to Pharaoh was a demand  for freedom of religion and that God, not Pharaoh should be glorified.

The message to the world today is the same. The church which is God’s servant and voice in the world today has a duty to call and governments  to grant freedom of religion  and worship.

According to the Belgic Confession article 36 Civil Governments have the duty to protect the church and its ministry  to promote the Kingdom of Christ,  that the gospel may be freely preached and that God may be worshipped ad served by everyone according to His word.

Where governments refuse to do so and sin against God’s people instead the message is that  God will stretch out his hand against them  in order to liberate his people. The Bible provides us with ample example of how the Lord might do that through impoverishment, defeat by other powers and  ultimately through the final judgement when all power in the world which is opposed to the Lord and his church will be overthrown.

We see this in the fall of Jerusalem. At the time many of the leaders of the Jews were so hostile to the truth that they demanded Christ be crucified and the revolutionary Barabbas be set free. They even cursed themselves in their mad hatred of Christ saying “let his blood be on our own heads” And so it was, Jerusalem and the second temple were destroyed by Rome in 70 AD.

In the book of Revelation opposition to God  is represented by Babylon. Babylon is the OT name of an empire which once enslaved God’s people during the exile. In the book of Revelation Babylon symbolises all political opposition to God and his people. Its downfall is predicted in Revelation 18:2. “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great. She has become a  dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit. And further on in verse 7, “to the degree that she glorified herself  and lived sensuously  to the same degree give her torment and mourning for she says in her heart I sit as a queen and am not a widow and will never see mourning.” Then there’s verse 16 “Woe , woe is the great city in one hour her wealth has been laid waste.”

This is God’s word to those who persist in supressing the truth about God and who reject the Lord Jesus Christ.

Sure we would first pray for those who do that but we must also warn them with what the Bible clearly says is the awful destiny of those who hate God.

At the moment our hope and prayer is that the government in China will listen to the petition put forward by 273 pastors of house churches for freedom to worship without fear of interference or persecution by government authorities there. God is patient with everyone not wishing for any to perish but for all men to come to repentance and faith in him.  He will never overwhelm a sinner before every opportunity is given for the sinner to repent and amend her o her ways.  But where there is a refusal to repent the future prospects are grim to say the least.

Ultimately in either the salvation of repentant believing sinners of the judgment of obstinate ones, God will be glorified.

So, in conclusion there is great encouragement for God’s people in these verses. He looks upon us with favour and grace through faith in Jesus Christ. He knows when we are sinned against and will see to it that justice is done. He has liberated us from the slavery to sin through Jesus death and resurrection and he has blessed us with spiritual gifts as we  serve our saviour and continue on our journey towards our promised land.

The message from the church to the world according to our text is that governments have a duty to protect the church and its ministry to promote the Kingdom of Christ. They must see to it that the gospel may be freely preached and that God may be worshipped and served by everyone according to His word.   And there is a warning for those who think they can get away with sinning against God’s people. Don’t think that God doesn’t know, doesn’t see or won’t act for his people.