02 Lessons from Exodus - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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Slippery Slopes to Sin
N°2. Lessons from Exodus


Text: Ex.20:20  
"Moses said to the people, "Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin."

Introduction:
Sin is a very serious subject and we underestimate it at our peril. It is so serious that it took the coming of the Lord Jesus into the world to save his people from their sins. In coming he secured the forgiveness of sins for all those who are united to him by faith but this forgiveness cost him dearly – in order to save us from our sins he had to die in our place and bear the punishment that our sin called for.

People have developed various strategies to avoid them having to think too deeply about sin.

One way people try to deal with the whole matter of sin is to limit its meaning. Sin, they say, only refers to certain extreme forms of behaviour of which they disapprove: in this way murder and rape and child abuse are widely considered to be abhorrent and wrong and so ‘sinful’. These are the kind of "sins" that make it onto the front pages of our newspapers. In addition to these ‘gross sins’ each individual society has its own particular list of taboos and to go against one of these taboos is also considered unacceptable. Of course it is not difficult to draw up a list of a few specific acts that we’re not personally guilty of and then fool ourselves into thinking that sin is only something that concerns others.

A second way the world tries to avoid taking sin seriously is to trivialise the whole notion of sin. And so we find the advertising industry selling us a product as "naughty but nice" or as a "guilty secret" or again as a "sinful pleasure". Yes, we know what they mean but the drip, drip effect of this is simply to tell us that sin isn’t really all that bad, indeed that sin can really be quite a bit of fun and maybe even good for us.

The Bible does not want us to approach sin in these restricted or light-hearted ways. Sin dishonours God. Sin destroys lives. Sin is so serious that it took the death of the Son of God to find a solution for it.

And so we are taking some time to think about a number of the different sins into which men and women fell in the Scriptures. We are considering the circumstances and conditions which prevailed as they gave way to temptation and sinned. We want to see what lessons we can learn from these Scriptural accounts so that, if possible, we might not commit the same mistakes as they did.
When we turned to the Book of Genesis we saw among other things that:

Sin is deceitful – it promises much but does not deliver
Vigilance is needed to resist sin
Success in overcoming sin is not a once-for-all victory: fresh circumstances and new responsibilities call for renewed vigilance

Now it is time for us to turn to the Book of Exodus where we will look at five further episodes to see what we might learn from them.


Lesson N°1 "No-one will ever know..."

Ex.2:12 "looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand."


Moses had been spared an early death when Pharaoh’s daughter found him hidden in a little basket made out of bulrushes that was floating among the reeds near the river bank. She took him and brought up with all the privileges of the Egyptian palace. By a remarkable providence Moses own natural mother was employed to look after him and she doubtless taught him something about his origins.  When Moses was a grown man he knew who his people were – he knew himself to be a Hebrew.

He went out one day to find out more about his people and was witness to some harsh treatment being meted out to a fellow Hebrew. And Moses was incensed. He wanted to do something about it.

Anger at wrong-doing is by no means wrong  - Jesus was angry when he was confronted by men who, in the hardness of their heart, were more interested in their own idea of keeping rules than in showing compassion. Was he not also angry when he drove the traders out of the Temple precincts as he twice sought to cleanse it?

But being in a state of anger calls for special care:

"Be angry but do not sin." Paul later wrote the church in Ephesus (Eph.4:24)


Moses was careful but not nearly careful enough!

What do I mean by that? Well I mean that Moses took care not to be observed in what he was about to do. Why did he carefully and furtively look this way and that? He didn’t want to be seen because he knew instinctively that what he was about to do was wrong! It was. He was about to commit murder.

Moses thought he could get away with it, no-one would ever know... How many times since Moses time have men and women acted in similar ways? I wonder how many times you have tried to do the same thing in your life. You know a certain course of action (or of thinking) to be wrong but you have pressed on anyway convinced that no-one would ever know.

Moses was in for a shock. Word of what he had done had got out – he hadn’t got away with it. In fear he fled for his life – and he would live in self-imposed exile for decades to follow.

You may succeed in keeping your sins hidden from other men and women but you never will from the all-seeing eye of the LORD. How foolish then to deliberately press on with what we know to be wrong when we know he misses nothing.

By the end of his life Moses had learnt this lesson and in turn passed on what he had learnt:

Num.32:23 "behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out."


The NT repeats and develops such teaching:

Jesus declared in

Lk.12:2 "Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known."


And Paul wrote:

1Cor.4:5 "Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God."


Moses the murderer! Yet he found favour with God. There are other high profile murderers who take their place in God’s family – there is King David who orchestrated the death of Uriah the Hittite and there is the apostle Paul who as the angry Pharisee Saul of Tarsus readily approved of the death of the first Christian martyr Stephen. That such men with such a history can be forgiven and be made children of God should ever stand as an encouragement to us. We too might fall into grievous sin but yet there is hope with God!


Lesson N°2 "But..."

Our second example also comes from the life experience of the man Moses and is found in Ex.4.

The years have passed and Moses is now approaching 80 years old. The time of his self-imposed exile is at an end and he is about to be summoned back to Egypt by the LORD who has work for him to do.

The call and the instruction are both clear enough but Moses is not eager to obey and instead comes up with a series of objections. The reality is that Moses is desperately trying to wriggle out of God’s plan for his life.

His objections at first sight might seem to be entirely legitimate but the truth is that Moses objections are really just dressed up excuses. He doesn’t want the job but doesn’t want to say so in so many words at least, that is, until he sees no other option.

The LORD countered each objection Moses could raise, equipping him for the task in hand. In doing so Moses real concerns are forced into the open – he had been raising his objections not in order to receive solutions but to serve as a pretext for rejecting God’s call on his life. Eventually he blurts out:

"Oh, my Lord, please send someone else." Ex.4:13


How easy it is for us too to put forward reason after reason why we don’t have to respond obediently to God’s call whether that call be to a specific office or function or whether that call be to a specific choice of lifestyle and behaviour.

Moses wriggled and twisted. He provoked the LORD to anger – a sure sign that his behaviour was not merely misguided but sinful. But none of his excuses could get him off the hook!


Lesson N°3 "I will not..."

Pharaoh supplies us with the third example, and his example is an example that we most definitely want to avoid copying.

Pharaoh was a stubborn man and he repeatedly and oh so stubbornly refused to pay heed to what the LORD told him to do.

It wasn’t that he couldn’t understand or didn’t understand what was required of him, he simply did not recognise the LORD’s right to give him instructions. He was without excuse as the simple command he was given was repeated over and over again:

"Let my people go..."


To impress upon him the seriousness of the matter, the instructions that were given to Pharaoh were frequently accompanied by warnings:

"if you refuse..."


And so it came to pass that as Pharaoh refused to obey punishments fell severely upon the land of Egypt, in the form of the 10 plagues. In fact the command to "let my people go" was issued generally in 5:1 and then repeated before the first, second, fourth, fifth and seventh plagues!

In fact it was not until the seventh plague had been inflicted upon Egypt that Pharaoh admitted to any wrong-doing:

Ex.9:27 "This time I have sinned; the LORD is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong."


But this confession quickly showed itself to be no more than regret for the consequences of his actions rather than of true repentance for the wrong-doing itself and soon returns to his previous stubbornness.

Pharaoh receives a further warning in 10:3-4 before the eighth plague broke out. By this time his advisers were convinced and they tried to reason with Pharaoh:

Ex.10:7 "Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?"


But still Pharaoh persisted.

How could he be so stupid? we want to ask ourselves. But haven’t there been times in our own lives when we’ve stubbornly tried to face God down as it were and to refuse his leading? Perhaps some of us are there right now – we know that we should be living a different way but we go on and on trying to shut our ears to his voice.

Pharaoh’s repeated "I will not..." did not earn him any honours. What a fool he was! Let us learn from his example that we might not imitate his folly and stupidity.


Lesson N°4 "It’s not fair..." or "Grumbling and quarrels".

Well we’ve looked at the some examples from the lives of the individuals Moses and Pharaoh and now it is time to consider the example of the people of Israel in their corporate state.

It didn’t take the Israelites long before they started to moan and complain. They were out of Egypt and on the way to Mount Sinai where they would arrive two months after leaving Egypt but they were already complaining. How quickly the hardships of slavery were forgotten as soon as a new set of difficulties had to be confronted.

Those difficulties took the form of shortages – there wasn’t enough to drink and there wasn’t enough to eat. The people responded by grumbling (murmuring) against their leaders Moses and Aaron. In this state of mind the people overlook and ignore all that the LORD had done for them and all they can focus upon is that back in Egypt they had food and drink in abundance.

We may find ourselves in a very similar situation politically in the months that lie ahead. How we will react if being "freed" from closer ties to Europe brings us some challenging consequences to us?

Moses received instructions from the LORD about how to proceed – he was making the necessary provision for his people and the people needed to understand just how he wanted them to make use of this supply. Moses passed on those instructions and the people by and large benefitted. There were however some who still tried to do things their own way in collecting the manna that was provided and they received a rebuke from Moses for this.

The immediate crisis is over but as soon as another problem of water occurs the reaction is the same with further quarrelling and complaining. Instead of looking confidently to the LORD who had just provided for them they question whether he is with them at all (Ex.17:7).

So, on a couple of similar occasions the people turned from trust to grumbling and complaining. And how easily such attitudes can become our default position! Long after Sinai had been left behind the people are still ready to grumble as soon as their immediate personal interests seem to be threatened. In Numbers ch.11 the people are once again found to be complaining – they’re fed up now with manna to eat day after day – "It’s not fair..." we can almost hear them say as they look back with sinful longing to the meat, fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic supplies that were so readily available to them in Egypt!

We should beware if we find ourselves feeling sorry for ourselves and beginning to grumble – such behaviour can become the norm for us and is totally at odds with what Paul wrote to the Philippians:

Phil.4:11 "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content."


Earlier in that same chapter he had shown a better way forward when confronted with difficult circumstances:

Phil.4:6 "do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God."



Lesson N°5 "I’ll do it my way..." or "The perils of DIY religion"

Moses had been up on Mount Sinai for well over a month and the people had grown unhappy and frustrated as they waited for him. Some suggested they might never see him again and they needed to get on with their lives, particularly with their religious life practices.

But their interest in religion was not healthy; they were in too much of a hurry and not prepared to wait for God and to follow his instructions. So they decided to set about doing things the way others do them – they wanted a visible, sensual religion. In their sinful impatience they put pressure on Aaron who capitulates to their demands and makes an idol for them (Ex.34:2).

We here in Sunnyhill might not be particularly tempted by idol worship but visible, sensual religion can still tempt us in other ways. High church religion supplies "smells and bells", the Pentecostal/charismatic movement so often wants to see signs and wonders, others long for a buzz that comes from a charged atmosphere with rhythmically exciting music.

We might be tempted to say or think: "If only we were to do it this way!" (whatever "this way" might be).

Let us remind ourselves that it is God that we need above all else. We can manipulate some things but not God and let’s not even try. Rather let us wait patiently upon him, eagerly desiring him to come amongst us.

Aaron acted wrongly – he knew he did. When Moses questioned him he came out with a cock and bull story that no-one believed and you only do that when your conscience is  uneasy.

The next day when Moses spoke to the people he called a spade a spade (Ex.32:30): what they had done was sin short and simple. He then turned from the people to the LORD to whom he confessed this sin and pleaded earnestly for forgiveness (Ex.32:31-32).

Jesus told his contemporaries that God sought those who would worship him in spirit and in truth (Jn.4:23). DIY religion does not match up so let us make sure that we don’t go off down that route. Even if the appearance might look impressive and exciting – and surely a great Golden Calf would have fitted that description – let us strive to worship our God in his way and not in ours.


Conclusion

Sin can take many different shapes and forms. It can present itself to us as a solution to our problems and as the way forward but it won’t ultimately solve anything for us but only make matters worse for us.

Temptation to sin won’t be uniform – temptation will be adapted to differing circumstances as one part of the devil’s armoury used against us. Nor will temptation and sin present themselves to us under their true colours – the Bible speaks of the "wiles of the devil" (Eph.6:11) for a reason. As we listen to what the Bible has to say may the Spirit of God teach us so that like Paul we too might be able to say that "we are not ignorant of his devices." (Cor.2:11).

Amen.

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