4th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, No way! No way! It’s just not happening! Ever said that? Thought that? It was December 1776, only 5 months after the colonies had signed the Declaration of Independence and things were looking terribly grim. Why? Because up to this point many of General Washington’s army had been killed, wounded, captured, or deserted. For the most part, Washington’s men were not trained army men, they weren’t used to discipline or following orders, there were many that would have rather taken his spot, and the 13 colonies weren’t very “united” colonies at this time. And add to all of that they were fighting Britain who had the best army and navy in the world at that time. No way, not happening. Morale was extremely low, and to top it off many of the army men’s commissions were coming to end on December 31, 1776 and they could have legally left the army and went home. So, it’s Christmas Day 1776, that night it was decided that the Continental army would cross the Delaware River and launch a surprise attack on some of Britain’s mercenary soldiers. But that night there was a brutal winter storm: hurricane force winds, snow, sleet, hail, many men weren’t dressed warmly, didn’t have shoes, crossing a freezing river, wet, some men froze to death. One of the soldiers wrote that they crossed the river “with almost infinite difficulty.” And now they’re going to fight a battle?? No way! It’s not happening! Right? The obstacles in their way were too huge, too enormous, too insurmountable, right? Were they afraid? Scared? Nervous? Fearful? Anxious? Distressed? I’m thinking probably so.
We’ve all been there at some point in time, haven’t we? There’s been times when we’ve said, “No way! Not happening!” When the obstacles in our way seem too large, too insurmountable, too huge to get over. What is it in your life? What is it in your life that keeps you from moving forward? What obstacle would it be? What is it that fills you with fear? What are you afraid of?
Well, in our text the Israelites are also filled with fear and terror as they face an insurmountable obstacle. They’ve just escaped from slavery in Egypt, the whole nation has left Egypt and is headed to the Promised Land. But the Lord has led them on kind of a strange route out of Egypt, it looked as if they were confused, going one way and then turning back and going another way and eventually God has them set up camp right by the Red Sea. Then Pharaoh who had let the Israelites go changed his mind about them and thought, “What have we done? We’ve lost their services!” So he assembled his army to pursue them and then the Israelites saw them marching toward them.
So this is their situation: They’ve got a huge sea to the East in front of them, mountains to the West and to the South, and Pharaoh and his well-trained army heading at them from the north. Add to that they’ve got a nation of some likely 2 million people. Are they going to survive? By the way it looks- no way! And they’re terrified. What are they going to do? Where are they going to go? And where in the world is God in all of this?!? They’re scared, distressed, afraid.
Why are they afraid? Finally, they’re afraid because they can’t control what’s going on, right? To their own minds this can only turn out bad- in every direction is an insurmountable obstacle- and so this is going to be a blood bath, men, women, children killed or recaptured, so they ask, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert.” They can’t control the outcome of this. And isn’t that a big part of why fear often enters our hearts? When we can’t control the outcome? If we had everything worked out, everything figured out, every possible outcome taken care of, everything that could go wrong has been secured, then we’d be without fear, right? But finally fear is the result of realizing that I don’t have everything under control. It’s fear of the unknown.
How’s this sickness going to turn out? Where are my investments going to go? What is so-and-so going to think of me? What’s going to happen in the world?
The Israelites are terrified. And where is God? Well, where IS God? Isn’t He right with them? Not only right with them but visibly right with them, remember that God was leading the Israelites by pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. And He was the one who led them to the very place where they were at! Add to that what God had just got done doing in Egypt! Remember He had just sent 10 devastating and powerful plagues on Egypt! This all-powerful, awesome God was right with them!
So need they to be afraid? Need they be discouraged, terrified, scared? Not when God’s with them! Not with all that they’d seen in the past weeks! They had no right to be afraid. Well, hasn’t God promised something like that to us too? Didn’t Jesus say something like, “Surely I am with you always to the very end of the age?” Yes, He has. Need we really be afraid of anything?
So Moses gives the Israelites some excellent encouragement. “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. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” But then did you notice what the Lord told Moses next? “Why are you crying out to me?” “Why?? There’s an army marching right at us to completely devastate us and we’re trapped! We have nowhere to go! Of course, I’m crying out to you!!” But need he be? See what God’s doing by asking him that? Perhaps God is gently reminding Moses of something. Remember, it was no accident that the Israelites were situated right where they were, God Himself had led them there! Would God have led them into that situation if it wasn’t for their good? No! So is Moses questioning God’s leadership? Questioning God’s ability to help? Perhaps.
And then, here’s the kicker, God says to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to move on.” What? Really?? Move on?? Move on where?? We’ve got Pharaoh and his trained army behind us and a sea in front of us! Two insurmountable obstacles, right? Insurmountable obstacles, yes for us, but not for God. God had Moses raise His staff and God split the sea, divided the waters, so that the entire nation of Israel, likely some 2 million people could pass through it, this wasn’t just a little passage, it must have been huge! And so the Israelites moved on. God, the almighty one, rescued them.
Need they have been full of fear? No. Remember what God had promised them? God had promised to deliver the Israelites from Egypt, He had promised to lead them to the Promised Land, He had promised to send a Savior through them. Would God be able to do those things if the nation was massacred by the Egyptians? No. God the all-powerful God is able to do anything to fulfill His promises- even when the odds and the obstacles look insurmountable.
Are there times when God places us in situations where it seems like the Red Sea is in front of us and Pharaoh’s army is behind us and we have no where to go and no control over our circumstances? But what happens when matters are out of our hands, out of our control are we filled with fear? Think about it, what is it that you fear? Loneliness, failure, rejection, being laughed at, family problems, not having enough money, job stress, the news, losing a loved one, future, disease, pain, I’ve even heard of something called a phobophobia which is the fear of being afraid! And fear has a way of paralyzing us, immobilizing us, and draining the joy out of life because it torments us.
So what’s God’s answer to our fears? It’s the same answer He gave these Israelites: keep moving on. Why? Because we like the Israelites God’s given us all kinds of promises. And faith is simply trusting that God has the power to do what He’s promised He will do. We can keep going in life because God’s promised to be with us…and He will. God’s promised to guide all things for our good….and He will. God’s promised that in Jesus all our sins are forgiven and that we’ve been released from the fear of sin, death, and hell…and we are. God’s promised that He loves us dearly…and He does.
Does that mean God’s going to part the Red Sea for us and everything that ever stands opposed to us in life will be defeated? No, God hasn’t promised that as we move forward in life everything is going to be pleasant and easy.
But He has promised us of the final outcome. God has assured us that our life’s journey will end in the glorious kingdom of heaven. How do we know that? Because Jesus won those mansions in heaven by His death and resurrection. Because of Jesus your sins- all of them- are forgiven. Because of Jesus you stand before God as right, as clean, as justified. Because of Jesus ALL of God’s promises are yes. God delivered the Israelites from Egypt, guided all of history so that at the right time Jesus would come, live for us, die for us and rise from the dead. Finally, it’s Jesus’ resurrection that drives fear out of hearts because by it we’re assured that our all powerful God keep His promises and loves us dearly.
Well, Washington led his army surprised the enemy and won a decisive battle boosting morale and cementing his leadership. Many historians believe if it wasn’t for this victory the war would have likely taken a turn for the worse and the Americans probably would have lost and the declaration of independence meaningless. It was a bold move, Washington didn’t know the outcome of the battle.
Well, we know the outcome of a far greater battle already. It was the battle Jesus fought on the cross for you. There He paid for your sins in full, there He released you from the devil’s snares, there He freed you from death and the fear of death. Because of Jesus eternal life is already yours, you know the outcome of your life – it’s eternity with Jesus!
And knowing that makes all the difference in life. With Jesus’ presence, His power to do anything- even parting seas, His guidance, His protection, His love, His promise of eternal life, you can move on in life, you can keep going, you can live free from fear. I don’t know what fears you carried with you in today, but know this: it doesn’t matter what people think if you, what others can do to you, what you might lose in life, what pain you might feel, because you know that with Christ as your Savior you already have it all now and forever. Amen.