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Living by faith (7)

The Lord will fight for you; be still

Scripture Readings:

  • Exodus 14:13-21
  • Hebrews 11:29-31

Introduction

Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted.  Over 400 million Christians live under 66 governments which restrict religious freedom and persecute believers. Every year an average of 220,000 Christians are killed for their Faith.

As recently as 1st of October heavily armed Muslims attacked the off-campus hostels of the Federal Polytechnic State University, College of Health Technology and several private residences of Christians in the Tudun Wada Wuro Patuje area of Adamawa state. The assailants demanded to know the names of each student. Those with Christian names were shot, or stabbed. Their bodies were left in lines outside the student hostels.

One of the survivors, Manasseh, reported:

They asked me to recant my Christian Faith to spare my life. I refused. After my Muslim roommate quoted some Islamic scripture, he was told to leave the room, they said they were only after these infidels who would all die that day. Then they shot me and slashed my back.”

Manasseh was left for dead, but survived, despite the grievous wounds.

And we ask, “Will we be saved?  How will the Christian Church survive and endure when what we see now, is just a prelude to what might lie ahead under global persecution before the return of our Lord Jesus Christ?”

The Word of God wants us to know a few things today. These things are given to us as encouragement as well as comfort.

Our salvation is an act of God

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned. (Hebrews 11:29, NIV)

Allow me to make this point to start with; it should mean a lot to all Christians, especially if we face difficult times and we start to wonder if perhaps God has forgotten us: my salvation and your salvation is not anchored in what we have done somewhere in the past. The decision we made to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, or the date on which it occurred is important and may be helpful, but our salvation does not rest upon our decisions.

Let’s put it this way: when the call of the Gospel came to you in the first instance and you decided to follow Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, it was a call from God.  It was God in action to seek and save the lost.  It was not us seeking to be saved – and even if that happened, we need to understand that the Spirit of God put that urge in our hearts to seek salvation.  God’s eternal grace found expression in your obedient answer to his call, but ultimately your decision to follow Christ was not completely and ultimately in your hands.

I am not right with God because of my righteousness, but because “the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ” has been credited to me. “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling; naked, come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace; foul, I to the Fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die” wrote August Toplady in the old hymn. We contribute nothing to our salvation. The name by which every Christian must be called is “The Lord is our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6)

This therefore means that the source of our security of being saved does not lie with us.  Therefore our circumstances cannot take away from us what God has given us.  In fact, no person or no power can take this away from us.  But most of all, we have to tell ourselves over and over again that no depression, no bad hair day, no external onslaught on my mind and heart can ever tell me that I or something else can undo the miracle of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Because of this we should never stop praying for Christians who are persecuted; indeed we should plead with our Father to burn this truth in their hearts and minds without ceasing.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38–39, NIV)

Right through all the episodes between the Pharaoh and Moses, God showed Himself to sovereignly be in control.  Every time we hear how He hardened the heart of the Pharaoh.  We read:

The Lord had said to Moses, “Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you—so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt.” (Exodus 11:9, NIV)

And now, in Exodus 14, with the israelites at last found their way out of Egypt into the desert, the Lord commanded Moses to alter the route.  Why?

Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” So the Israelites did this. (Exodus 14:3–4, NIV)

When the Israelites then saw the army of the Pharaoh pursuing them, they lost heart and regretted that they ever listened to Moses:

Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Exodus 14:12, NIV)

Let’s be honest, we have days like that too.  If not because of personal battles we have with the devil, or our own battle with personal sin, then those battles we have with loved ones who just can’t get to answer to the loving grace of God – “It’s too hard”, we say, “they cannot be saved.”

Even in our congregational life we might sometimes just slide back as we wonder how it will be possible to win this town for the Lord?  Are we fighting an uphill battle?  Or what will we say to Elkanah Sarduana,who was there on 1st October when the Muslim gangs descended on them?  He said:

I was asked to say my name. To which I replied that I am a Christian and that my name is Elkanah. They threw me to the ground and shouted Allahu Akbar! I cried out to Jesus, face to the ground. They demanded that I stop calling on Jesus, but I persisted. The next moment I was shot in the hand, and then slashed with a knife at the back of my neck. They must have thought I was dead, because they left. It was only God who saved me when they came to our room. We were four sharing a room and all of us had Christian names. My three roommates were killed before my eyes.

What shall we say when this happens to us? What does faith do in such difficult circumstances?

Moses said to the faith-faltering people:

Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. (Exodus 14:13, NIV)

Something out of the ordinary happened:

Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long. (Exodus 14:19–20, NIV)

As we have said a few times now, this reference to the “Angel of the Lord” is understood by most scholars to be the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ.  When He appears on the scene, there is salvation, there is victory over the evil forces of darkness, there is reason to sing and to praise God for his goodness.  Think of it, Jesus Christ interceding for you at the throne of God in you time of trouble and difficulty, but also He, the One who crushed the head of the serpent standing between you and your enemy; between his church and her persecutors.

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:15)

To Abraham God spoke his immutable blessing, now ultimately fulfilled in Christ:

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse. (Genesis 12:3, NIV)

While the Angel of the Lord stood between God’s people and their perusing enemy, Moses, on God’s command, stretched out his staff over the waters of the Reed Sea and God did the impossible:  God drove back the waters through a strong wind so that the waters parted and God’s people crossed on dry land, while the Egyptians died as God allowed the waters to go back to normal.   Even they acknowledged:

Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt. (Exodus 14:25, NIV)

As a sort of a postscript to the drama that unfolded itself before the eyes of the helpless Egyptians we read:

That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. (Exodus 14:30, NIV)

If ever there was evidence against the remotest possibility that man can and should save himself, this chapter provides the proof. It was God in action from the beginning to the last.

Your salvation, my dear brother and sister, is resting in the hands of God. There it is save and no one will or can take it from you.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. (John 10:27–29, NIV)

Our text says:

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned. (Hebrews 11:29, NIV)

What then is faith?

What then is faith?  Is it my contribution to the salvation that God provides to make me his child?  No.  Faith is not what God finds acceptable in us. In fact, strictly speaking, faith itself does not justify or save. Faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, have communion with him, and share in all his benefits. It is the object of our faith that matters.

The faith of the Israelites that night at the Reed Sea was no example: they were looking back to Egypt; they faltered badly.  But faith was stepping in to the open road ( and I cannot help but to think of the words of our Lord who declared they He is the only way to the Father) which God created by his wind (and I cannot help but to think of the wind of the Holy Spirit here here); faith was walking where God made the road possible; it was faith to see God fight for us; it was faith that made Moses take his staff and stretched it over the waters.

Faith was the channel, the instrument to see God Almighty powerfully and sovereignly at work for the glory of his Name.  Faith says I want to be where He is, I want to see his Name glorified in salvation and power.
Faith makes one march to see the glory of God displayed and the enemy destroyed

By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days. (Hebrews 11:30, NIV)

Jericho was the first city of the enemy Israel had to face after crossing the Jordan.  At that stage Israel was not an organised nation with a highly organised and trained army under one authority, other that Joshua. As such they, by human standards, did not stand a chance against those who had been living there.  The city walls were high and strong.

Again, something amazing happened:

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”  (Joshua 5:13–14, NIV)

This is followed by the words of the Lord:

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. (Joshua 6:2, NIV)

And the Lord gave his the command to March around the city for six days, and on the seventh day they had to march around it seven times.  On the seventh day, after the seventh times the marched around the city, they cried out:

Shout! For the Lord has given you the city! (Joshua 6:16, NIV)

The wall collapsed, not because of the sound of music, not because the people marched, not because the people shouted, not because the walls were poorly constructed: they collapsed because God caused them to collapse.  His displayed his glory, and He displayed his favour to his people by giving them the victory.  The only thing they had to do was to trust God, obey Him and destroy what was left after the walls collapsed.

Faith was for them to be there where God wanted them to be when He displayed his glory – even in the face of what was humanly impossible.

We need to remember this very well: by faith we follow to see how God displays his glory over his enemy.  That’s where He wants us – in his army, under his command, marching forward under the banner of the cross of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Faith claims salvation when there is no personal ground for it

By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient. (Hebrews 11:31, NIV)

This verse might sound like it contains a bit of good works as the ground for salvation, “Because she welcomed the spies.” God saved her because she welcomed spies?  Why did she welcome the spies?  We have to go back a few chapters in Joshua.

Joshua sent two spies to check out Jericho and they ended up in an inn, where the inn-keeper, probably unbeknownst to them, was a woman of ill repute.  Her house was part of the city wall (and one have to know that she and her family would certainly not survive that crumbling of the wall.)

What she said to the men she willingly allowed into her house is the key to understand the verse of Hebrews 11.

We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, … When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. (Joshua 2:10–11, NIV)

Rehab was awestruck with the glory and power of God.  She knew she could not resist Him, but she sought rescue from Him – and in Him.  She wanted to be part of the people of whom God was the Commander-in-Chief, for He is “God in heaven and God below.” Because of this she risked her life by allowing the men to escape with a promise to not destroy her and her family on they day of destruction.  She by then knew that God is a God of grace, and promised to save her.

She had nothing to save herself, and her history and life witnessed against her as a person who could not claim salvation.  When the armies of the Lord marched around the city and all hell broke loose over the city, she, by faith, tied a scarlet cord on the window as a declaration of her faith in God’s grace and for them to recognise her.

She was saved by God’s grace in spite of her past.  She was in the line of King David – and as such, King Jesus, who saves without merit on the side of the sinner, because with Him where we come from does not matter, as long as we come when He calls.

Amen.

Sermon Preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 4th November 2012

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