2010-02-28 Stand Still

Mike Montgomery: ...of course, we have the crossing of the Red Sea as the turning point in the history of God's people, the history of Israel. I invite you to turn your Bibles to the 13th chapter of "Exodus" this morning. It's at the end of "Exodus" the 13th chapter that we find God leading his people toward the Red Sea. We find that God went ahead of them to guide them to light their way; a pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night. So we understand that the Lord's presence never left them. As the 14th chapter opens, God gives, as well, a special command to Moses, "Tell the Israelites to turn back. Tell them to turn back, camp by the sea. I'll harden Pharaoh's heart. He'll pursue the Israelites, but I'll gain glory for Myself through Pharaoh and all his army. The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord." So we know, and as we saw the best we could there, that Pharaoh and his army pursued the Israelites, overtaking them as they camp by the sea. God's people were terrified, we read in the 14th chapter where they cried out to the Lord. They also cried out to Moses, "Why did you bring us here to the desert to die? Were there no graves in Egypt? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert." The verse that I want to cut straight on this morning is the 13th verse from the 14th chapter of "Exodus." Words of the Lord through Moses, words of encouragement to His people in this time of gravity. Verse 13, "Moses answered the people, 'Do not be afraid. Fear not, 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.'" In verse 14, "The Lord will fight for you, you'll only need to be still." Don't be afraid, first of all, fear not. How many times do we see that phrase, that idea, those words appearing in the Bible? "Fear not, do not be afraid." I actually typed it in and I got lots of different responses. But I think I'll go with the 62 or 72 times that we find the phrase "Fear not, do not be afraid." Perhaps, 72 times in 27 different books of "The Bible." We know from "Genesis," the Book of Beginnings to "Revelation," we find from the mouths of angels and from the lips of Jesus, these words "Fear not, do not be afraid." I think, if we're honest, we would say, "You know, that's sometimes easy to say, but harder to do." We know that fear or anxiety in a small dose or in a healthy manner can be good. It provides us with motivation. If you're afraid of failing a test, perhaps you'll spend a little more time in studying. Perhaps, if you're aware of danger, you'll run just a little bit faster. But, in many ways, fear is the opposite of faith, and certainly, worry is portrayed in the Bible. Excessive worry, unhealthy worry, fear, the opposite of faith. So, to hear the words "Do not be afraid" or "Fear not," I think they're words more than just words of comfort, words of assurance, but also a call to faith. I invite you turn to "Mark," the fourth chapter, for a moment. The fourth chapter of "Mark," a very familiar experience in the life of Jesus and His disciples. Beginning with verse 35 from Mark's gospel in "The New Testament," "Mark" the fourth chapter, Jesus calming the storm. Beginning with verse 35, it says, "That day." What day was it? It was a day of teaching, a day of Jesus presenting these various parables to His disciples. It was a day of Jesus teaching earthly lessons with spiritual application or truths. Perhaps, the test then came later that day after this day of teaching. We read in verse 35, "That day, when evening came, Jesus said to His disciples, 'Let's go over to the other side.'" We know what happened, a terrible storm came up on the Sea of Galilee. We read that the waves broke over the boat, they were nearly swamped. Where was Jesus during this squall, this storm? Verse 38, "Jesus was in the stern sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke Him saying, "Don't you care if we drown?" We know that Jesus got up, rebuked the wind, the waves, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" Maybe they didn't rest to stand up on the promises of Christ the King. We read that Jesus had told them in verse 35, "Let's go over to the other side." He didn't tell them, "Let's go out to the middle of the lake and experience this big storm and be drowned in the middle of the sea." "Let's go over to the other side." Someone has suggested that fear is looking at the storm while faith is looking at the son. Faith is looking at the son, looking at the Savior. They were afraid, we read in verse 40, "Why are you so afraid?" Verse 41, we read that they were terrified. It was interesting to me that there are two different Greek words there. First, they were afraid, they were fearful to the point of giving up during the storm. But secondly, they were terrified, they were fearful. They were stricken with awe and amazement at the presence of Jesus, the power of His words. Even asking, "Who is this? Who is this, even the wind and the waves obey Him?" Certainly, Mark, in the opening verse of his Gospel, tells us who this is. We looked to "Mark" 1, the beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I found a verse that I hadn't found in a while that was kind of new to me. I'd forgotten, in the Proverbs, I'll just read it to you. There are a lot of rhetorical questions in "Proverbs" 30, the next to the last chapter of Proverbs. Some of the questions are, "Who has gathered up the wind? Who has wrapped up the waters? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is the name of His Son?" We understand that God is the creator of all things, the creator of this universe. Jesus is His Son, Son of Man, Son of God. All that Jesus did was by the power of the Father, and His life is the perfect example of trust and living in dependence upon God. Faith and fear, perhaps, we see here in this passage. Faith is not pretending that troubles aren't there, that circumstances, that obstacles don't exist. But the faith is understanding that God is in control no matter what the circumstance is. Faith says that God is good all the time. Faith says that God can be trusted no matter what comes your way. God is in charge of the universe, that He is still on His throne. As we proceed to my second point, one of the commentaries said, "In times of great difficulty and trouble, it's wise to keep our spirits calm, quiet, sedate and to consider the work of God. I guess, our natural response, much like the children of Israel. When we feel like we're trapped, when we feel like we're hemmed in is to try to run. What does Moses say back in this 14th chapter, in this key verse this morning, "Do not be afraid, stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you. The Lord will fight for you. Stand firm, stand still." Point two. I think sometimes that God would have us just to stand, to stand still. It's true in my life that we're often, too often, busy trying to figure out our next step, my next step, that we forget, as "Scripture" says, that a man's life is not his own. It is not for a man or a woman to order his or her steps. There are times we need to be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him as we read in "Psalm" 37. "Our hearts have to be silent at times, to be still and know that He is God." This, I think, speaks to surrendering oneself to the submission of God's will, His plan, His purposes, and the Lordship of Christ as well. Later on in Israel's history, God gives his people very similar encouragement to what we read here at this particular time in Israel's history in the crossing of the Red Sea. Turn, if you would, to the 20th chapter of second "Chronicles." Wonderful passage, kind of parallels the words that we read here in the 14th chapter of "Exodus." Second "Chronicles," 20th chapter, much later, in the life of Israel, during the reign of Jehoshaphat. We see in this 20th chapter of second "Chronicles" that Jehoshaphat is fearful, he's alarmed. He's alarmed, this is a time in his reign when Juda and Jerusalem are faced with the invasion of a vast army. Actually, an alliance of three nations. Fear isn't always good. Alarmed or fearful, in verse three, he was determined to inquire the Lord. He sought the Lord, he and all the people as well. We understand and we read in his prayer of verse six that he refocused upon who God was, how important during times of difficulty. His prayer, verse six, "Oh, Lord, God of our Fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You're in control, You rule over the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in Your hand and no one can withstand You." He reminds God of His promises in the verses that follow. He admits in verse 12, a wonderful verse, "Oh, God, will You not judge them? We have no power to face the vast army that's attacking us." He says, "We do not know what to do, but oh, God, our eyes are upon You." As well, in verse 13, we see that entire families stood together before the Lord, still, I think, waiting for some sense of direction, for some encouragement. The encouragement comes to the prophet Jahaziel. In verse 15, he says this, "Listen, Jehoshaphat and all who live in Juda and Jerusalem. This is what the Lord says, 'Do not be afraid or discouraged; fear not, for the battle is not yours but God's. Tomorrow, march down against them.'" Verse 17, "You will not have to fight this battle. Just take up your positions; stand firm, stand still, and see the salvation, the deliverance the Lord will give you. Do not be afraid again, do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow and the Lord will be with you." I won't continue reading, but they worshipped before the Lord and Jehoshaphat encourages them to trust, to have faith. I think that they did actually believe that their faith was strengthened. We would read here that they set the worshipers, the singers out ahead of the army, thanking God and praising God for the victory to come. We would read here that as they began to sing, God began to work. I would say that we don't praise God to get Him to work, but we praise Him because we love Him and we trust Him come what may, good or bad. In this situation, very much like the crossing of the Red Sea, God was at work, causing the armies to turn on each other. They remembered, at the end, to thank God for his victory. Charles Spurgeon says, "Stand still has the idea of keep the posture of an upright man, ready for action, expecting further orders, cheerfully and patiently awaiting the directing voice." He says, "It will not be long if you do before God would say to you, as distinctly as Moses said to the people of Israel, 'Move on, go forward.'" That's the third point this morning. Number one, "Fear not, do not be afraid." Certainly, there's a time as well to stand firm, to stand still, and to hear that still, small voice of the Lord. But there's a time to move on, as well, to move forward. Certainly, there is on our own lives. I mentioned last week about the importance of remembering the past. Sure, we remember the past, we do not forget where we came from and who we are apart from the grace of God. But we don't let our past impede us from moving forward as a people of God. Are we cleansed? Are we forgiven? Have we received God's forgiveness? Can we move on and press toward the goal that lies ahead, the high calling of God in Christ Jesus as Apostle Paul says?" Moving forward for the Israelites would have been an impossible command. I hope you could tell that from the video, but God through Moses, "Move forward, move on." Yeah, right. There's the Red Sea in front of me, there's the pursuing Egyptians behind me, mountains, I guess, to the side. But the Lord, through Moses, is saying, "Move forward." But we know that as they did obey God's command as they moved forward, it was a miraculous, supernatural event. We would read here in this chapter about the angel of God who had been traveling in front of Israel's army, withdrawing and going behind them. We would read about the pillar of cloud moving in from the front and standing behind them. In verse 20, from this passage, "The pillar of cloud came between the armies of Egypt and Israel, signifying the presence of God. Throughout the night, the cloud brought darkness to the one side, but light to the other side, so neither went near the other all night long." So we understand that God who commands us and orders us to move forward and who leads us and guides us, will also provide us the light to light our pass. As they move forward, God provided the way. The Israelites, 600,000 men, not including the women and children we read elsewhere, withdrew on dry ground, a wall of water on their right, a wall of water on their left. Before God allowed the wall of water to come crashing down on the Egyptians, He threw them into confusion just before the break of dawn. Moses stretched his hand out over the water, the water flowed back, and the entire army of pharaoh drowned. Verse 29, "The Israelites, God's people, went through the sea on dry ground." Verse 30, "That day, the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians. Israel saw them lying dead on the shore." What was the result, verse 31, when the Israelites saw the great power that the Lord displayed against the Egyptians? The people feared the Lord and put their trust in Him and in Moses, His servant. We understand, as well, from this opening chapter, verse 15, "The first thing that the people did, crossing the Red Sea, singing a hymn of praise, of thanksgiving to God for the deliverance." By way of application, I don't have to tell anybody here that life, at times, can be very difficult, very challenging. Maybe, perhaps, at this time, you're standing at a Red Sea in your life, figuratively speaking. Perhaps, you need encouragement. We all do, who doesn't? I ask, "Is God still in the business of providing? Is God still in the business of protecting? Is God still in the business of leading and guiding?" Is anything too difficult for God? Someone has said that despair will try and cast you down, keeping you from standing. Also, fear might tell you to retreat. Impatience might say do something and do it now. Presumption will tell you to jump into the Red Sea before the waters are parted. But what would God say to us? What does God say to us through the words of Moses, a key verse, "Do not be afraid, fear not. Stand firm, stand still. Perhaps, as well, move on. Move forward." As the people of God, our lives are always to be moving forward. They often say we're not perfect. We're not complete. We're not whole. We're not who hopefully, by the Grace of God, we will be some day. We're always to be narrowing the gap of who we presently are and what God would desire for us to become. Certainly his goal for our lives is to become more and more conformed to the image of his son. So our lives are to be moving forward. And as a people of God, we have a forward faith. Trusting in the promises of God, standing on the promises of God, standing on the promises of his son, Jesus, as well, we press on to the goal that lies ahead. Of course, we read in scripture that faith is what? Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. As well, we could say that faith is trusting God no matter how difficult the situation may be. But what I want to do this morning, just echoing that we acknowledge that life is challenging, that life is hard at times, that we're often at the crossroads where we need God's help and his encouragement, and for him to provide the way. I want to mention that Israel's deliverance from slavery in Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, as we've read here in this 14th chapter, is a wonderful picture of the believer's deliverance, or salvation, from the bondage of sin. We can certainly say that if it hadn't been for God, at this point in their lives, the Israelites would not have crossed. If it hadn't been for God, for his plan of salvation, if it hadn't been for his son, the Lord Jesus, we wouldn't be a redeemed people. We would still be in Egypt, figuratively speaking, in bondage to sin, in bondage to shame and guilt. But Jesus, God's son, paid the price, gave his life as a ransom, the purchase price. In him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. God's great demonstration of power in "The Old Testament" is what? Right here, right here, the crossing of the Red Sea, bringing his people out of bondage, out of Egypt. In "The New Testament," God's great demonstration of power is what? The raising of his son from the grave. God declared him with power to be the son of God by bringing him back from the grave. He, Jesus, was delivered over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification. You could look to "The New Testament" to first "Corinthians," the 10th chapter. I won't, but there Paul says, "this Red Sea crossing is a picture," or an image, type we might say, a picture of baptism. Paul says, "that the Israelites were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea." If we think, before we move on, for a moment, that picture of them coming through on dry ground. The cloud which consisted of water overhead. The wall of water on the left. The wall of water on the right. A wonderful picture of immersion. For the believer that's identifying with Jesus' death, burial, and the resurrection. It's our entrance into Christ. Just as all Israel here identified with Moses, the believer then identifies with Christ. Did you catch I think you did. I read the verses from this passage in "Exodus" that God's presence, signified by the pillar of cloud, brought darkness to the Egyptians? But it brought light to the Israelites. It might be a good time to stop and ask, whose side are you on? Are you among, as we read in second "Corinthians" five, those who are being saved, or, the other phrase is, those who are perishing. We understand from this passage, this wonderful passage, this portion of history with God's people, that God can manifest his power to both save and to destroy. Fear not, stand firm, and you will see the salvation of the Lord. Then God gave Moses the command, "raise you staff, Moses; stretch out your hand to divide the waters." And the words, "tell the people to go forth, to move on." I would say again, as I have said often, that while salvation is wholly, completely of God, mankind has the responsibility of cooperating with God. So often in scripture, in "The Old Testament," Naham, what did Naham have to do? "Go, dip, dunk yourselves seven times in the muddy river, the muddy water." How about the man born blind, ninth chapter of "John?" What did Jesus say? Go, wash in the pool of Siloam. How about those who cried to Peter in the book of "Acts," third chapter, "what shall we do?" They were given something to do. "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins." As well this morning, for those of us who have put on Christ in the waters of baptism, who have turned from the past, turned from sin, turned to God, been baptized, and began our walk, there's the sense in which we have crossed over. We have come out of Egypt. We have crossed over, began our walk. I would say "Why would you want to return to Egypt?" These verses here are pretty poignant. They said to Moses, not on just one occasion, "What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Leave us alone. Let us serve the Egyptian. It would be better to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert." Sadly, when we come to the conclusion of this chapter, and we read that the people feared the Lord and put their trust in Him, and that's wonderful. But we turn the page to the 15th chapter, a few days later, "Oh, if we could just go back to Egypt." More grumbling and more complaining. So we understand, figuratively, that to want to return to Egypt is a desire to go back to the ways of the world. We see a progression in scripture, friendship with the world, read that in the book of James. Loving the world, a little stronger perhaps, first "John." We read, as well, conformity to the world, the twelfth chapter of "Romans." Certainly we read as well about being condemned with the world. So we think of Jesus' words about no one who has put their hand to the plow, and looks back, is fit for service in the kingdom of God. It's a wonderful turning point in the life of God's people, this 14th chapter of "Exodus." Particularly the words of Moses, I hope that they've spoken to us this morning, "Do not be afraid, fear not. Stand firm, stand still and you will see the salvation of the Lord." As well, the Lord said to Moses, "Tell the Israelites to move forward, to move on." I'm thankful for all the promises of God, his great and precious promises, including God's promise to always be with us, to never leave or forsake us. Well, we have that promise from his son, as well, "I will never leave you. I will never forsake you."