Video of Vespers is here. The sermon begins around the 18:45 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It is so easy to be overwhelmed by our situation or our circumstances. When things are going well, it is easy to think we have things under control, that we are on top of the events of our life. But then something happens, and something else, and something else, one thing after another, one thing on top of another—and all of a sudden we are drowning when we thought we were easily treading water. God causing plagues to come upon the Egyptians so that Pharaoh will let the people of Israel go is good. God bringing them out of the land is good. But the people are not really on board. Have you noticed that even while God is doing all these things, the people of Israel don’t really say a lot? The conversation is between Yahweh, Moses, and Aaron; or between Moses and the people, or Moses and Pharaoh; or Pharaoh and Moses. But the people are told what to do. They seem to do it, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of enthusiasm for the Lord’s deliverance. In fact, the last words before this spoken by the people are all the way back in chapter 5, where the people are ordered to make bricks without straw, and they say to Moses and Aaron, “Yahweh look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us” (5:20-21). And even Moses asks God, “Why have You done evil to this people? Why did You ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name, he has done evil to this people, and You have not delivered Your people at all” (5:22-23). Things have gotten worse, not better.
Yahweh says to Moses, “You will see what I will do to Pharaoh. … Tell the people, ‘I am Yahweh, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of Egypt, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and great judgments” (6:1, 6). But the people “did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery” (6:9). In fact, it is hard to find any place throughout their journey that the people rejoice in God’s salvation, except just after they cross the Sea. Then it’s back to grumbling.
And isn’t it always easier to see the bad things and dwell on them, than to remember the good things and believe them? It is so much easier to be weighed down by the burdens of the negative than to be lifted up by the blessings of the positive. It was for Israel, and it is for us. So we become overwhelmed by our circumstances and our situation and we lose track of God’s promises. The clear light of what God has done and the promises contained in those saving actions become obscured by our complaining, grumbling, and our almost-miraculous ability to see our old sinful selves, our slavery to sin and death and evil, with the rosiest of rose-colored glasses. We told you, Moses, that we didn’t want to leave Egypt. We said we were fine, and that you should leave us alone in our slavery. But you brought us out here anyway, and now we’re going to die in the wilderness.
Of course, none of that stops God from doing His work of deliverance and bringing His great judgments on Egypt. None of that stops God from sending His Son into flesh to bring us out of a slavery we’re not so sure we want to leave. But I chose you, He says. I love you. And I’m going to save and deliver you by means of mighty judgments. I judged Pharaoh and his false gods, proving that they are nothing. All your enemies, and all the gods you would prefer to serve, I judge as nothing and emptiness, as death. But My mightiest judgment I reserve for the Son, as He takes willingly the best that sin and death can deal out. As impossible as it looked that God might be able to save His people while they were standing at the edge of the Sea, with Pharaoh and his army closing fast, it looked even more impossible that God’s salvation in Jesus might be accomplished. Israel could see no escape, no way that they might be delivered. So also, it doesn’t seem like a dead Savior, hanging on a Roman cross, can do much to deliver us. No one who is not a Christian can imagine keeping an image of a dying man as the picture of the one we worship. But while Christ crucified is to all the world either a scandal or a stumbling block, to us He is the power of God for salvation to all who believe.
When the people were unbelievers, focused only on what they could see with their physical eyes, Moses said, “Stop being afraid. Take your stand and see the salvation of Yahweh that He will do for you today. Because Egypt, whom you see today, will be seen no more forever. Yahweh will fight for you while you are silent” (Exodus 14:13-14). Even when our mouths only opened in complaint and unbelief, God fought for us. Take your stand and see the Salvation of Yahweh that He has done for you. See the Savior, the Yah-shua. Take your stand on the full cross of Christ and the empty tomb, because the crucified is the one God raised from the dead. He fought, He conquered, He is the victorious one, and He brings you safely through the midst of sin, death, and the devil; through the midst of all your unbelief in the water of baptism. He has brought you out on the other side.
Now, of course, we still struggle in the midst of our situations and circumstances; we still have trouble keeping the voice of complaint muffled underneath the voice of rejoicing. This is why we need Lent: to teach us to die, so that we believe God and His Word. Every time we think that the slavery we left is better than the wilderness in which we find ourselves, God is going to put that to death in the crush of life, so that we will be forced to wait and see and be silent. In the morning watch—very early in the morning—God’s salvation was seen, as God looked down on death and brought it to its end in the breaking open of the tomb. Yahweh has fought for you, and He will bring you to the eternal land of promise. Stop being afraid; take your stand and see the Jesus of Yahweh in His victory. And the day is coming when all the sin, all the complaining, all the grumbling, all the unbelief; all the death and all the grief; will be put to death, swallowed up in the baptismal tide, and you will see them no more forever. Faith will give way to sight, and these long years in the wilderness will give way to the bountiful land of resurrection and rejoicing.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/14/23