4th Sunday after Pentecost
The bookies in 1st Century Jerusalem would not likely have offered good odds on the whole Jesus’ movement. Oh yes, it was popular…among a certain segment of the population—the outcasts, the poor, those drains on the city’s economy. But it certainly wasn’t popular among the religious elite. Why, they can’t even invite the Man to a dinner without His ragtag admirers showing up and spoiling the whole occasion. “This woman!” “Her kind!” “And He lets her touch Him!” “Forgive her? She ought to be taken out and stoned!”
Ah, but those who play the odds can never seem to see the hand of Him who never plays at dice (as Einstein once observed). In fact, the very one with the odds stacked against Him is the one who comes out on top! The mighty are brought down. The lowly are lifted up. But this whole forgiveness business is going to cost! It will cost Jesus His life, literally! No…no bookie will give you good odds on that sort of thing.
The odds on Moses’ success with Pharaoh are stacked so astronomically high against him, that no sane person would even consider the bet. And after Round 1 with Pharaoh in today’s episode, the odds are only going to get worse. Nevertheless, God wagers everything He has on Moses’ success. God is all in!
The scene today opens in Egypt. Moses, as we heard last week, is not at all happy to be involved in this whole operation. Last week we witnessed his spineless performance at the burning bush, trying every which way to weasel out of God’s Call. But…when the Almighty says, “Go!” Whatcha gonna do? 4:27, God has called Aaron, Moses’ brother, to go out to Sinai and meet Moses. He goes. And Moses explains to him the plan to get Israel out.
V29, “Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together the elders of the people of Israel. And Aaron spoke all the words that the Lord had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people.”
Aaron does all the talking, because when Moses had been whining at the burning bush about not being up to the job, God told him to hire Aaron as his press secretary. Aaron does the talking. Aaron also does the three wonders given to Moses—the staff turned into the snake and back again, the whole leprosy thing, and pouring out some water of the Nile on the ground where it turns to blood. V31, “And the people believed.”
That was quick. Easy. They believed; “and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.”
Oh…but little do they realize how quickly their belief is going to be put to the test. Like Jesus welcomed into Jerusalem with shouts of “Hosanna!” but by week’s end the city is calling for His blood, so the Israelites who believe Moses are soon enough going to be crying out, “Crucify him!”
Why? The Israelites may believe Moses; Pharaoh does not! 5:1, “Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “Let My people go…” But Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.’”
Well what did they think he was going to say? “Oh sure, you can all go! You make up nearly the entire population of our forced labor. Your departure will cripple our economy. It will end our massive building bubble. But, hey!, since you asked nicely, sure. Go!” Yeah, right…
Pharaoh’s response could have been predicted by anyone. And Moses and Aaron immediately crumble. V3, “Then they said, ‘The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest He fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.’” “Come on, please! Pretty please! You don’t know who we’re dealing with! He’s mean! If we don’t go out there, He’ll do something terrible to us!”
That’s not what God told them to say. God had dealt them a winning hand! But they fold…like a cheap suit…at the first sign of resistance. They resort to begging and pleading with Pharaoh. And their weakness makes life very hard for the Israelites. V5, Pharaoh says, “You’re all lazy, that’s why you want to go. Get back to work! Vi haf veys of making you verk!” “Arbeit macht frei!” V7, Pharaoh issues a new work edict: “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle…”
And when the Israelites hear about this, these once believing, head-bowed worshipers seize Moses and Aaron, v21, “The Lord 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 hands to kill us!”
And Moses, already no supporter of this whole scheme, he turns against God, v22, “O Lord, 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…and… You have not delivered Your people at all!”
It is a perverse notion, yet oh so pervasive…that faith in God makes everything fine. If you have faith in God, life will go smoothly. If you have faith in God you’ll always have plenty of money. If you have faith in God every little pious desire will meet success. It is a perverse notion which knows nothing of the cross of Jesus.
There is no redemption without the cross. What we have here in Exodus is the beginning of Israel’s Good Friday. But at this point, all they can see is that they are stricken, smitten, and afflicted. Their Easter is yet to come. For there is no resurrection without the crucifixion. There is no life apart from death.
Only the sinner knows the joy of sin’s forgiveness. Only the person wallowing in the muck of life knows the hope of being lifted to something far better. And here in Exodus, as in our own lives, the path of redemption must pass through some dark, dark valleys.
Martin Luther once wrote, “Discipleship is not limited to what you can comprehend—it must transcend all comprehension…. Thus Abraham went forth from his father and not knowing whither he went. He trusted himself to [God’s] knowledge, and cared not for his own, and thus he took the right road and came to his journey’s end.
“Behold, that is the way of the cross. You cannot find it yourself, so you must let [Christ] lead you as though you were a blind man. Wherefore it is not you…but [Christ Himself], who instructs you by [His] Word and Spirit in the way you should go. Not the work which you choose, not the suffering you devise, but the road which is clean contrary to all that you choose or contrive or desire—that is the road you must take. To that [He] calls you and in that you must be [His] disciple.”
To learn the cross, we must bear the cross, as God lays it upon us. For Israel that meant bricks without straw. For you…well, you know your own crosses from which you would gladly be set free if you only could. Yet God knows the day of redemption, the day of lifting your crosses. And in faith we wait…wait, as Israel and Moses must wait.
Yet God does not make us wait without His promises. 6:1, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh…” And God reminds Moses, v2, “I am the Lord.” V4 “I also establish My covenant.” V7, “I will take you to be My people and I will be your God.” V8, “I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” “I”…“I”…“I”…right down the line. “I am the Lord.”
And yet, at this point, it’s like they’ve all died. V9, “they did not listen to Moses because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.” Moses, too, is wavering on the edge: v12, “Behold the people of Israel have not listened to me. How then shall Pharaoh…?”
The odds are against them all…and perhaps we know what that feels like. It’s a Good Friday…but no one calls it “good” until after the Sunday of Easter. Yet, even in death, as Jesus shows us, there remains the promise of resurrection life.
So these Israelites, dead in their despair…yet shall they live. Moses, whose own heart seems to be dying on the spot…Moses yet shall live. We, dead in our sin…we yet shall live. Because, v13, “the Lord spoke…” Whenever God speaks, death is not the end. When God speaks, there is more to come.