'The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground’ - Exodus 14:21
Sisters and brothers, on the 4th June 1940 as the Nazi army was approaching victory in Europe Britain was facing what seemed like certain invasion and defeat. Victory had come in 1914 in the War to end all wars; and yet now, not so long after a great victory came almost certain defeat. On that night the new Prime Minister spoke to the House of Commons and through them to the nation: ‘We shall go on to the end! We shall fight in France. We shall fight on the seas and the oceans. We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be! We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender! And if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World with all its power and might steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old!’ This was our islands darkest hour, and yet Winston reminded us that the night is always darkest before the dawn.
This morning we arrive at the end of our studies in Exodus, and as we do we encounter another darkest hour. It was only seven short days since the victory of Passover. It was only last week when we heard how God had rescued His people from slavery in Egypt and brought them out in great triumph. Seven days when the victorious Hebrew people—Jews and those who had thrown their lot in with God—had walked out of Egypt and were now approaching the shores of the Red Sea. Perhaps they were still singing victory songs as they heard a rumble behind them, as they looked round to see the army of a superpower chasing them down. Oh how quickly smiles turned to shrieking, singing turned to crying, hope turned to fear, and their victory hour turned to their darkest hour. As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. What else could they do, but do what they did at the beginning of Exodus and cry out to God? This is where it all began at the beginning of the book, in desperation crying out to be saved. In Exodus 2 they had cried out to the Lord, not because they had faith, not because they really thought He might deliver them, but simply because they had no other option. How similar that is to us and to those round about us, to pay lip service to the Lord in good times and yet cry out to Him for help in the bad. And yet, this God of the Hebrews, this God of the poor, this God of the Exodus, is always ready to hear and to act… if only His people would trust Him. From our studies in Genesis we know that God had given His people every reason to trust Him, and yet their time in Egypt, their time under the jackboot of their Egyptian slave masters, had shaken their confidence. Yet when they cried out in Exodus chapter 2, when they asked the Lord to rescue them from the genocide which was taking place all around them, God heard and God acted. Over the chapters in-between we have seen how God first called and equipped Moses and then sent him to warn the Egyptians that their fight with the Lord could only end in their defeat. Then step by step—plague by plague—God had given the Egyptians every reason to believe, and the Hebrews every reason to trust, that God would win the day…and He had won the day, or so His people thought.
Fifteen-hundred years later God’s people found themselves in a very similar position. Controlled by the Roman superpower they had cried out to God and this time—in Jesus—God had come Himself. Again, as in the Book of Exodus, God showed through His mighty power—through His miracles of calming seas, healing the sick, and raising the dead—God had shown His people (and anyone else who would listen) that He would win and set His people free. However, trust—which takes years to build—can collapse in the shortest of times, and collapse it did when the Hebrews looked up and saw Egyptian chariots. Similarly, after the cross—the passover of passovers—the great victory of God came the darkness of Holy Saturday. The disciples looked in fear at the body of their crucified Lord, just as the Hebrews looked in fear at the approaching Egyptian army; and as the disciples did, so God’s people of the Exodus doubted (Exodus 14:11): ‘They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?’’ We can, I think understand, both the disciples’ and the Hebrews’ fear and yet how quickly they were to forget all that God had shown them, all that God had done for them! They doubted the Lord, the One who had given them every reason to trust. In their darkest hours their trust slipped away. How would Moses respond? How could Moses rally his people when they had so viciously turned on him, and so quickly forgotten all that had gone before? Verse 13: ’Moses answered the 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.’ ‘Do not be afraid’. It is as if Moses is saying: ‘You know who it is who brought you here, you know what He can do. Can we trust Him? Yes we can! Look back and remember, when the Egyptians killed our sons; when they flogged us and forced us to build their cities; when they persecuted us and practiced genocide on us…what did God do? He saved us, and He brought us out. Can we trust Him? Yes we can.
Many years later, those words ‘do not be afraid’ were on the lips of Jesus, and in a similar way He called on His disciples to remember what had come before…when the sick were healed, when the hungry were fed, and when the dead were raised. Can we trust Him? Yes we can. How often do we feel like the Hebrews, do we feel like the disciples? How often do we forget what God has done in the past when confronted with the problems of future? When darkness surrounds us, and we forget that God brought light yesterday and has promised light tomorrow. When illness or employment, set-backs or death of loved ones, seem to swallow us up and leave us in a world of darkness. Can we trust Him? Yes we can. The Hebrews looked up and saw only Egyptian chariots; but if they had looked closer they would have seen their God coming as a fiery-pillar to guard them from their enemies and to be with them on their journey to the promised land. The disciples looked up and saw only an empty cross; but if they had looked closer they would have seen the empty tomb and the Risen Lord coming to guard them from their enemies and to be with them on their journey to the gates of heaven. Often we look UP only to see the problems that assail us without noticing that the God, who protected the Hebrews and the God who rose from the dead, is with us now and what He has done in the past He will do again in the future. Can we trust Him? Yes we can.
‘Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left […] Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing towards it, and the Lord swept them into the sea.’ (Exodus 14:21-22, 24)
God saved His people: Can we trust Him? Yes we can.
‘On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away […] In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the [angels] said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!’’ (Luke 14:1, 5-6)
God saved His people once again: Can we trust Him? Yes we can.
Brothers and sisters, today we look back on the Exodus and each week we look back to the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Not because we’re historians who like a good story but because we know the God who has acted, and by looking at His actions in the past we can have hope for the future. As the Israelites clambered up the far shore of the Red Sea, they, verse 31: ‘saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, [and so] the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him.’ So it was then, so it is now. As the Hebrews before us, so we should look back and see what the Lord did on that day. Can we trust Him? Yes we can. And yet, we have even more reason to trust the Lord. As the disciples ran from the empty tomb and met the risen Christ, so they feared the Lord and put their trust in Him. So it was then, so it is now. We have every reason to believe that the God who rescues His people from darkest hours will ultimately rescue us whatever we may face…why? because in the resurrection He already has! So as we close this year’s study in Exodus, as we reflect on the pain and darkness which the Hebrews went through and the pain and darkness we at times go through… in the crossing of the Red Sea, but most supremely in the Resurrection, we find the answer to the question…the question which the Hebrews have been asking from Exodus 1 and which we too often ask about the Lord: Can we trust Him? Yes we can. Amen (from Fr Mike)