[buzzsprout episode=’510401′ player=’true’]
May 7, 2017
Pastor Jeff Struecker
Let’s say that this week you’re driving home from work and it’s been a really rough day. Your boss was a jerk. You have the children in the back seat, they are going nuts, and you’re about to pull your hair out. It’s 100°, high humidity, and your air conditioner is broken. You’re just saying, “God, I cannot wait to get this day over with.” As you’re pulling into your subdivision and getting ready to go to your house or apartment, you see this enterprising entrepreneur. A child has set up a little stand on the street corner to sell fresh lemons. You’re saying, “I could really use some of that right now.” So, you pull the car over. You’re thirsty and tired. Your day has been absolutely terrible. You go to this little boy and you say, “Hey, I’ll take a glass.” He hands you a tall glass with three whole lemons in it, no lemonade just lemons. How many of you in this room are going to be totally disappointed? How many of you would bite into a raw sour lemon when that kid on the street corner hands it to you? Isn’t it fascinating that, if you can take a bite out of the lemon, it’s going to leave you sour and miserable. However, if you squeeze it into a picture with some water and add some sugar, it goes from being a sour lemon to sweet lemonade.
Here’s what I want you to know about what we’re going to look at today. God and God alone is big enough to take lemons, the bitter, miserable, struggling difficulties at work or in life, and turn them into lemonade. In fact, did you know that there’s a verse in the Bible that really says this? Isaiah 61:3 says when God’s people are struggling he can make something beautiful out of your ashes. Isaiah 61:3 says for God’s people he gives you joy instead of mourning and he gives you praise instead of despair. Only God is big enough to take your problems, difficulties, challenges and lemons, and turn them into lemonade. Today we’re going to take a look from the Bible in Exodus chapter one. Today, we’re going to start by looking at the circumstances of when God brought forth a rescuer, a man who would eventually become a refugee and spend most of his life wandering in the desert. This guy was Moses. We will be studying him for about the next 12 weeks. Today I want you to see the backdrop before Moses comes on the scene. There in Egypt where there’s nothing but midwives and mayhem around you.
I. Sometimes God lets it get bad before he makes it better
I’m going to make a statement about how God steps in and intervenes for his people. I’m going to try to answer the question that I hope all of you have asked from time to time because I have, “God, when will you step in and rescue your people? God, why are you letting this happen to me?” In order to answer this question, I’m going to have to make a bold statement about God today and before we’re done I think I can back it up. In order for us to get there, I want you to just keep in mind that maybe you’re struggling, maybe you’re just coming out of some really difficult circumstances, maybe you’re about to go through some real tough times, occasionally God lets it get bad before he lets it get better. These are the circumstances going on in Israel before Moses shows up on the scene.
8 Eventually, a new king came to power in Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph or what he had done. 9 He said to his people, “Look, the people of Israel now outnumber us and are stronger than we are. 10 We must make a plan to keep them from growing even more. If we don’t, and if war breaks out, they will join our enemies and fight against us. Then they will escape from the country.” 11 So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. They appointed brutal slave drivers over them, hoping to wear them down with crushing labor. They forced them to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses as supply centers for the king. 12 But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more the Israelites multiplied and spread, and the more alarmed the Egyptians became. 13 So the Egyptians worked the people of Israel without mercy. 14 They made their lives bitter, forcing them to mix mortar and make bricks and do all the work in the fields. They were ruthless in all their demands.
Let me just tell you in this verse how much time has taken place. If you were to go back to the Genesis in the Bible, roughly one third of the book of Genesis describes a guy by the name of Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers, who was a house servant in Potiphar’s house, accused of rape and thrown in prison. Joseph goes from the dungeons of prison to the Prime Minister of Egypt in one day. God gives Joseph a vision for what the future is going to hold. Joseph rescues his family and Egypt. Joseph personally, single-handedly, rescues most of the people alive in the middle east because of the vision that God gave him for a famine that’s about to happen. There’s roughly 300 years that takes place between the last chapter of Genesis and Exodus chapter 1. Now there’s a new king on the throne in Egypt. He has the history books but he chooses not to remember what Joseph did. Now, the people of Israel had become really numerous and the king has a problem. The king is freaking out. He is afraid of what happens if all of these Israelites take up arms and fight against them.
Crushing labor means, “Let’s make their lives so miserable, let’s make them so exhausted, that they don’t have any energy to do anything but fall into bed asleep, get up the next morning, and do it all over again. Maybe that will keep them from growing as a nation.” Egypt is scared right now. The king of Egypt is Pharaoh Ramses II. He is often referred to as Ramses the Great. Ramses is scared. He’s going to do everything that he can to stop Israel from growing as a nation. So, the first step is to make them slaves and turn them into slave labor. Do you see the vicious circle? The king is frightened because of the Israelites numbers so he tries to oppress them. The more he oppresses them the bigger Israel grows. The bigger Israel grows the more frightened the king becomes. The circle just keeps going over and over again and the king is freaking out. He knows if these people rise up they will overthrow the country.
The king of Egypt came up with this brilliant plan. Pharaoh decides, I’m going to have them build great cities.” In fact, history calls these “Treasure Cities”. These treasure cities don’t mean that they have a lot of gold and a lot of jewels in the cities. It means that the kind of architecture the amount of work that Israel does is stunning. Around the world the kind of stuff that’s done in these two cities by the Israelite slave labor is world renownedn The whole goal was to make their lives so miserable that these people would simply work themselves to death. I can’t help but think, if you are in ancient Israel, you’re asking the question, “God, why are you doing this to us? God, when are you going to step in and when are you going to rescue your people? How long is this going to go on?” It just keeps going from bad to worse for Israel. No matter what they do it feels like God’s 1,000,000 miles away and he doesn’t care. Are you going through that right now? Are you struggling with those kind of circumstances where it feels like God is a long way away and doesn’t care?
I think you really ought to know about a woman by the name of Linda Down. Linda completed the New York City Marathon in 1982. The New York City Marathon is considered one of the largest marathons in the world. In 1982 Linda Down was the very last person to cross the finish line. By all accounts nobody should know who this woman is except for the way that she crossed the finished line. In 1982 many people didn’t finish the race. They didn’t have it in them just to make it to the finish line. The fastest runners that year finished the race in a little over two hours. Linda finished the race at 11:00:54. In the process she became the first woman in American history to ever finish a marathon on crutches. You see, Linda Down has cerebral palsy. She decided she was going to try to do a race to try to prove to herself that she could make it across the finish line. It became so famous that President Reagan invited her to the White House to celebrate this woman’s accomplishments. He said, “Linda didn’t let her handicap hold her back. She went from being a victim to victory. She had the strength to hang on, stay in there, and cross the finish line.”
Linda decided to run the New York City Marathon two years later in 1984. By now people were paying attention to her. She finished the New York City Marathon in 1984 also. The New York Times reporters were waiting there with their cameras and with their microphones when Linda crossed the finish line. She did a quick interview with them. They asked why she did it a second time. Linda Down said, “We are living in negative times. Things feel impossible today. I thought that if I could try to do, it might be an inspiration to others, and maybe they would try some big things too.” Then Linda made this strange statement that the reporters didn’t know how to handle. She said, “But the last eleven miles were an act of God. With eleven miles to go, I ran out of my own strength. I didn’t have any more. I finished the race on borrowed power!”
If you’re struggling right now, if you’re really going through some tough times, if you’re asking the question, “God, how much longer? God, why are you letting this happen to me? When is it going to get better?”, sometimes like in Exodus today it gets bad and God lets it get bad before he makes it better.
II. Fear God, not your boss
There’s a second thing that you can see from Exodus today. When it gets really bad, fear God – not your boss, not your teacher, not your friends. I’m going to be honest this is hard. The reason why this is hard is because, if you find yourself in a situation where your boss is asking you to change some numbers on that report and to sign your name to it because if you don’t it’s going to make him look bad or it’s going to make your department look back, that’s a lot of pressure. When you have a teacher at school or some friends that are asking you to compromise your values it’s really hard when those folks are right in front of you and they’re putting pressure on you. We all know that it would disappoint God. Let’s be honest. At those times it feels like God is a long way away and this pressure is right in front of your face. The pressure is immediate and intense. Sometimes even sincere Christians compromise what they really believe when they are put in situations like that. I want you to see how intense the pressure gets on some Israelite women during this whole period when it goes from bad to worse in Egypt.
Then Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, gave this order to the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah: 16 “When you help the Hebrew women as they give birth, watch as they deliver. If the baby is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 But because the midwives feared God, they refused to obey the king’s orders. They allowed the boys to live, too. 18 So the king of Egypt called for the midwives. “Why have you done this?” he demanded. “Why have you allowed the boys to live?” 19 “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women,” the midwives replied. “They are more vigorous and have their babies so quickly that we cannot get there in time.”
I want you to think about the logic for just a second. If Pharaoh wants slave labor, this order doesn’t make sense because the boys are much better workers in the field than the girls are. Obviously Pharaoh is concerned that the men are going to rise up against him and go to war. Or, maybe he just wants to use the Hebrew girls to become future wives or concubines for Egypt. In whatever case, he puts pressure on these women. They are told that when they are in a situation where they’re helping a woman deliver a baby, if it’s a boy, while it’s still in the birth canal he wants them to give the women an abortion. After the baby is born but before the mother gets a chance to see the baby boy, they should kill it and deceive the mother. They were to let her believe that her boy was born dead.
I don’t think you could properly understand the pressure that’s on these two women. These are slave women and probably represent all of the Hebrew midwives. They’re probably the two ladies in charge of all Hebrew midwives. So, Pharaoh probably tells them to spread this word to all the midwives, “When a Hebrew family has a baby boy, I want that baby boy to die before the family ever gets a chance to hold it. If that child is a girl, then allow the baby to live. If you don’t do what I tell you, you die.” Pharaoh Ramses II is so brutal on the Israelites that literally on his tomb is a picture of him holding Hebrew slaves by the hair. He’s saying to these women, “You kill those babies while they’re still in the birth canal. You kill them right after they’re born. Don’t you dare let those baby boys live! If you don’t do this, I will kill you.”
I want you to put yourself in that situation. You’re placed in a situation where you feel, “My life is on the line. If I do what I’m supposed to do, it will violate everything that I believe. It will violate my faith. There is no way that I can honor God and do what I’m being asked to do. If I don’t do it, it will cost me my life.” Which do you do? Do you turn in these Jews to save your own life? Or, do you stand up and speak out? This isn’t just 3500 years ago in ancient Israel. This is 1938 in a Christian country under German occupation when the Fuhrer said, “If you don’t turn over your next-door neighbors that are Jews to us, we do to your family what we’re going to do to them. You and your family will end up in the concentration camp.” Millions of German citizens turned in their next-door neighbors to save their own life. The pressure is intense. It’s incredible when you’re being faced with, if I do this it will compromise everything that I believe but if I don’t do it may cost me my life. God forbid you ever find yourself in that situation but you might because people in our generation have found themselves in those exact same circumstances. When the pressure gets tough like that, do you have the kind of faith that hangs on and believes that God is still at work around you and God is still at work through you even when it looks like a bottom is dropping out?
Starting this month, we are going to recognize how we arrived at the faith that we hold today. Did you know that 2017 is the 500th anniversary of what many people refer to as the Protestant Reformation? In 1517 many people believed that our faith really became what it is today because of this very significant moment. You’ll hear more about that at the end of the service today. In order to help you understand how we arrived at the faith that we hold today, for the rest of this year once a month or so we are going to try to explain to you a little bit about the courage that it took for us to arrive at the kind of faith that honors the Bible, the faith that we have today. We’re referring to it as the Luther 500. This is a deliberate attempt at NASCAR except for every month we’re going to take another lap in the Luther 500 and tell you about great men and women who have stood strong and spoken out about their faith.
Today I want to take you all the way back to 350 A.D. There were two brilliant minds who had very different opinions about what happened in the Garden of Eden. One was Pelagius and the other was Augustine. Pelagius had a lot of people that listened to him. Pelagius had a lot of people that believed his theory that in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve took the fruit and sinned they committed the act of sin. Pelagius said it was the act of sin that brought death and separated people from God. Pelagius believed that that sin was a one-time event and that all of us born after Adam had the ability to sin but we weren’t really born with the sin nature. In fact, Pelagius taught people are generally born good and become bad. Augustine said, “Oh no, that’s not what the Bible teaches. That’s not what the book of Romans teaches. That’s not what Ephesians chapter 2 teaches. The Bible teaches that we were born into sin and we sin because we were born sinners. We were born bad and that’s why we do bad things. It’s not that we were born good and became bad.” So Augustine writes some notorious letters that he circulates around about this false teaching that Pelagius is teaching. Augustine says in his treatise against the teachings of Pelagius, “All men are understood to have sinned in that first “man,” because all men were in him when he sinned; and from him sin is derived by birth.” In other words, Augustine said you and I were born into sin because of what happened way back in the Garden of Eden. Now somebody, Romans chapter 5, has to reach in and snatch us back out of our sin. Augustine was willing to stand up and speak out against this false teaching. One of the reasons as Christians we believe what we believe today is because of great men like Augustine. You’re going to hear more about great people of faith who stood up and handed to us what Jude described as the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
Imagine, if you were these two Hebrew midwives, you were placed where if you obey the king it will compromise everything that you believe. If you don’t obey the king, it’s almost certain that you’re going to die. Let’s see how these ladies respond in this situation.
III. God rewards dis–obedience
God rewards dis-obedience which means to be obedient to God sometimes means you have to be disobedient to others. If you’re obedient to others, you’re going to have to be disobedient to God. There is no middle ground.
So God was good to the midwives, and the Israelites continued to multiply, growing more and more powerful. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own. 22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Throw every newborn Hebrew boy into the Nile River. But you may let the girls live.”
When you thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse for Israel, when it couldn’t get any better, it goes from bad to worse. Pharaoh says, “This isn’t working. Even the midwives are having children now.” We don’t have a lot of information about these ladies in the Bible. History tells us almost nothing about them. From the language of the Bible today, it appears that these ladies were chosen as midwives because they couldn’t have children of their own. This means they would spend all day long helping another family deliver a baby because they didn’t have children to take care of at their own home. Some of you ladies in this room know the scourge or the pain associated with watching other people have a child but not being able to conceive on your own. Imagine you’re a midwife and you have to watch this every day and you feel the pain of not being able to have a child. Got sees what these two Hebrew midwives are doing and he’s proud of them. So, God blesses these midwives with babies when they were unable to conceive before.
I’m thinking Pharaoh is pulling his hair out saying, “Even the women who can’t have babies are having babies now. What is it going to take to stop this people from growing?” Pharaoh comes up with one more devious plan and this plan is about as bad as it gets. He says to all the Egyptians, “If a Hebrew has a baby boy, you grab that baby boy as soon as it’s born and throw it into the Nile River. The crocodiles will tear that baby to pieces or, if they don’t, the baby will drown. We are going to stamp out the Israelite race once and for all.” When you think it couldn’t possibly get any more bitter, it does. God is aware. God is active. God is involved all along.
I want you to do something for me in the bottom of your worship guide. I want everybody to remember this statement. God always rewards his people when your faithful and everyone else around you is going crazy. You may be thinking, “Wait a second Jeff. That’s a really bold statement. How can you back up that he always rewards people every time? Are you certain you can back this up?” I’ll prove it to you. If you were to take what we read today – verse seven combined with verse nine, add verse 12 and verse 20, the language from Exodus chapter 1 is pretty clear. God is not only aware that this is happening, God is allowing this. This becomes the moment when the faithfulness of these Hebrew midwives and God’s faithfulness meet together. I think the whole passage that you’re reading today hangs on the phrase that the women feared God more then they feared their own lives and more than they feared Pharaoh. God blessed these women. God was good to these women. God was beautiful to these women. Literally the root word is God was beautiful to these women because they were beautiful in his sight. While they were being faithful to God, God was being faithful to them. Sometimes he is going to reward you here on earth like he did with these Hebrew midwives but every time he will reward faithfulness in eternity. God promises this, “I’ll give you the reward of my presence, if you’ll be faithful to me. If you’re faithful to me, I’ll be faithful to you.” Here’s how Jesus put it in the New Testament, “Anybody who confesses me before men, I will confess before my Father in Heaven and anyone who I confess before my Father in Heaven confesses me before men.” This is where our faith and God’s faithfulness meet together and God always, always, always rewards his people when they’re faithful to him.
I’m going to give you a couple of challenges from the Bible today. All of us get from time to time in the position where we’re more concerned about what people think about us than what God thinks about us. The pressure gets intense and high. If you find yourself going through that right now, I will pray for you in just a second that no matter how bad the pressure gets no matter, how much pressure your boss puts on you or your parents or your teacher at school that you hang onto your faith no matter what. For some of you in this room, I’m going to pray that God gives you the opportunity, if you are struggling right now, to be rock solid in your faith. I’m going to make a guarantee. People are watching the way that you live out your faith especially when the chips are down. If you’re solid in your faith and honoring God with the way that you’re living your life even when life gets tough, I promise you people will notice that. You will have an impact. They may never say to you the kind of impact that your having on them but they’re watching. They will notice and maybe it will have a huge impact on the people that you’re around. I want to challenge you to do something with what you heard today and respond to the word of God by taking the next steps this morning.
• Today, I realize my need for Jesus as my Savior. This morning I surrender to Jesus for the first time.
– I have been more concerned about people’s opinion of me than what God thinks about me. Today, I commit to put God’s opinion of me before others.
+ I’ve been tempted to compromise my faith lately. This week, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I will be faithful to God and trust him with the results of my dis-obedience.
- How certain are you that God cares about your problems when your world goes from bad to worse? How do you normally respond during those times?
- Do your friends encourage you to be a better follower of Jesus? If so, how?
- Is it okay to be close friends with someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus? Defend your answer using the Bible.
- When was the last time someone put pressure on your to compromise your faith? How did you react?
- If God really loved Israel, why did he let them go through this misery?
- Is it ever okay to tell a lie? Are there any situations where God doesn’t consider it a sin to lie?
- Pray that you will be able to honor Jesus when facing peer pressure.