Moses And The Road To The Red Sea
Exodus 14:10-16, 21-22
I wish to read for you these verses from Exodus 14. This is the Word of God.
“As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 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? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, “Leave us alone. Let us serve the Egyptians”? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert.’ 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. The Lord will fight for you. You need only to be still.’ Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.’
“Then 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.”
May God bless to us the reading and the hearing of this portion of His holy Word.
Pray with me, please. Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest. Just give me Jesus. Amen.
I have to tell you, I have always loved the story of the father who one Sunday afternoon asked his son what he had learned in Sunday school that morning. The young boy replied, “She told us about Moses and the Red Sea.” The father said, “Well, what did she tell you about that?” The young boy paused for a long moment, obviously, thinking.
And then suddenly, he launched into this incredible narrative. “Oh, Moses got mad because there was a guy named Pharaoh who was holding a whole bunch of people hostage. And Moses said to Pharaoh, ‘You better let those people go, or you’re going to be in big trouble.’ And so Pharaoh decided to let the people go. And Moses took all of those hostages and loaded them up on big buses. And then they hit it out down the road. And when they reached the Red Sea, they realized they were in trouble because right after they left, Pharaoh changed his mind. And he called out his army, his tanks, his half-tracks, his armored personnel carriers and set out in hot pursuit of them. And they recognized they were trapped. But they had an idea. They got sand, and they made sandbags. And they took those sandbags, and they pile them up in two lines out across the water. They brought in pumps, and they pumped out all the water between those two lines of sandbags. And the buses with the people drove right through on dry land. And they put plastic explosives in the sandbags. And when Pharaoh’s army followed them, they detonated those plastic explosives with a remote device, and they blew up Pharaoh’s army.” “Wait a minute,” the father said, “Wait a minute. Is that the way she told the story?” “Nah,” the little boy shrugged. “But if I told you the story the way she told it, you’d never believe it.”
The story of Moses and the people of Israel at the Red Sea, one of the best-known, best loved stories in all the Bible. The story of how the Egyptian pharaoh, after suffering a number of plagues, decided to release the Israelite people from their slavery, and how not long after they left, Pharaoh changed his mind and set his army in pursuit. And when the people of Israel under the leadership of Moses arrived at the Red Sea, they recognized they had a problem. They looked ahead and all they could see was water. They looked behind and all they could see was army. That’s what I choose to call a Red Sea conundrum: what to do? They couldn’t go forward. They couldn’t begin to think how they could get across all that water. They couldn’t go backwards. The army was coming. They couldn’t even stay where they were. A Red Sea conundrum: what to do? Well, interestingly enough, I’ve actually come to believe that there is a sense in which the story of the people of Israel is also the story of the people of MDPC, particularly right at this point in our history.
You see, we are now engaged in this church in a time of serious transition. We have a committed capable senior pastor nominating committee, searching diligently for a permanent leader for us. But the fact of the matter is we do not know precisely what the future holds. We as a congregation have a glorious history in this church. But the fact of the matter is we cannot recapture our past. We cannot even stand pat. Time and circumstance will not allow it. And so you see, we are caught in a kind of Red Sea conundrum: what to do? Well, if it is true, as I believe it is, that the story of the people of Israel is the story of the people of MDPC, then perhaps it would be instructive for us to come to understand what those Israelites needed to do there at the Red Sea.
The first thing that they needed to do was to futurize.
That’s right. They needed to futurize. They needed to turn their focus toward tomorrow.
Catch this, please. God said to His people, “Do not look at your past. You’re away from that. It’s gone. It’s over. Do not even look at your present. I’ll handle Pharaoh’s army. I want you, instead, to focus on the future. So the Red Sea is in front of you. So what? Just turn toward the future. Put one foot in front of the other and move forward. And I will take care of you.” In other words, God was saying to His people, “Don’t focus on your yesterdays. Don’t even focus on your todays. Focus on the promise of your tomorrows.” Well, if their story is our story, then I believe that right here in this time of transition for us, we need to focus on the future. We need to futurize. Maybe by God’s grace, Paul’s great word will become our watchword: “This one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind, straining forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Jesus Christ.”
Yes, that’s it. We need to futurize. We need to turn our focus toward tomorrow. Branch Rickey was one of the great figures of Major League Baseball. He was, for many years, the president and general manager of the old Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team. Branch Rickey also was a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ. On one occasion, he invited the noted New York preacher, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, to sit with him at one of the Dodgers games. The game was close. In the eighth inning, one of the Brooklyn Dodger players came up to the plate. He swung at the first pitch, hit a hot grounder deep into the hole at third base, and he started running toward first base. But he was thrown out. Branch Rickey was livid. He cried out, “Look at that. Did you see it? He wasn’t even trying.” And then he turned to Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, and he said, “Preacher, there’s a sermon illustration for you.” Norman Vincent Peale had no idea what he was talking about.
And so Branch Rickey explained. He said, “Didn’t you see it? He hit the ball. He started running toward first base. But he had a big plug of chewing tobacco in his cheek. And he turned his head to expectorate, and that slowed him down just enough so that he got thrown out at first base.” And then he said to Dr. Peale, “Preacher, here’s your sermon and here’s your text, ‘This one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind. I get to first base before I spit.'” Ha! Oh, let me tell you. There are a lot of people in this world who never get to first base because they’re always spewing out all their bitterness and resentments and frustrations and discouragements in life. They’re not willing to trust God for their future. And consequently, they never experienced the God who is ready to lead them into new and bright tomorrows.
That’s why I believe that it is so important for us—right at this critical point in the life of this church, it is so important for us to trust God for the future, to put one foot in front of the other, and move forward, believing that God will make a way where there may seem to be no way. Move forward. Focus on tomorrow. That’s what it means to futurize.
Ah, but the second thing the people of Israel needed to do was to visualize.
They needed to futurize and they needed to visualize. They needed to capture a vision of who and what God wanted them to be. I mean, look at what happened in the story. No sooner had they gotten free from Egypt, then they encountered the obstacle of the Red Sea. And what did they do? They started whining and whimpering and complaining. They said to Moses, “Why in the world did you drag us out here to die in the desert? It would have been better for us to stay in the midst of all the horrors of Egypt.”
Well, God recognized that His people needed to catch a vision of all that He had in mind for them. And so God said to His people, “I want you to visualize a land flowing with milk and honey. And I want you to imagine what it will be like to live there. I want you to catch a vision of the Promised Land. And I want you to see in your mind’s eye all the glory that waits for you there.” They needed to visualize what God had in mind for them. And since their story is our story right here at this point in our church’s history, I believe it is important for us to catch a vision of what God has in mind for us. All of the greatness that is out there ahead, visualize it, imagine it. Catch the vision of who and what God wants us to be. Let me express it like this. I have been studying the missionary journeys of the apostle Paul my whole life long. Only recently did I discover something that somehow I had missed before.
I noticed for the first time that as Paul obeyed His call to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he put the bulk of his focus on the cities. He didn’t stop and stay in the small towns or the rural areas. He concentrated on the cities because I think he believed that the concentration of people in the cities was such that if he could plant the Gospel there, then through the traffic of people and commerce, the Gospel would spread into the surrounding countryside. And that’s exactly what happened. Acts 19:10, it makes the point. It’s a little bitty verse, one that most people just skip over, never even really notice. But in that verse, we’re told that Paul devoted two years in the great city of Ephesus to planting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And what happened, as a result, is that the Gospel spread to that whole region. Listen. Listen to Acts 19:10. “This went on for two years so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the Word of the Lord.” Do you hear that? He devoted two years to planting the Gospel in the great city of Ephesus.
And as a result, all the people in the province of Asia—that’s what we call today Turkey. All of the people there heard—oh, it doesn’t say that they all believed, but it does say that they all heard the Word of the Lord. Let me express Paul’s strategy in a single sentence. Penetrate the city with the Gospel, and the Gospel will travel. Just think, visualize, imagine what would happen if this church truly adopted Paul’s strategy. My great friend and mentor, the late Peter Drucker, used to say to us that 100 years ago, 95% of the population lived in rural areas, and 5% lived in cities. Now, the figures are exactly reversed. 95% of the population lives in cities. Only 5% in the rural areas. Drucker said that is the largest, swiftest demographic location shift in all the history of humankind. And what that means for us is that the city is our mission field. I used the phrase mission field deliberately. We used to live in a society here, which stood in support of the work and the ministry of the church. No more is that true.
America is becoming more and more a secular society, even a pagan society, every bit as challenging and forbidding as any pagan society we read about on the pages of Paul’s letters. And that’s why more and more in the future, this church must be engaged in mission service here in one of the greatest cities in the world. This church must not—as beautiful as this place is, this church must not become a monument. It must be a mission station engaged in seeking to transform a city in the name of Jesus Christ. Dear friends, I happen to believe that God’s Kingdom agenda calls for the personal salvation of all people and the social transformation of all places. And I believe that a company of Holy Spirit-led women and men can, in fact, transform even a great city. It’s happened in the past. There is no reason it cannot happen now. And therefore, catch the vision, visualize, imagine. Imagine what could happen if this church were to pour itself without reserve into seeking to transform this great city for the sake of Jesus Christ. Visualize.
The third thing the Israelites needed to do was to personalize.
Futurize? Yes. Visualize? Yes. But also personalize. They needed to come to understand that God was with each one of them personally. That’s what Moses was trying to say to them when he said, “The Lord will fight for you,” for you individually and personally. They needed to personalize. They needed to understand that if they did move forward and put one foot in front of the other, that God was going to be with them every step of the way, guiding them, directing them, providing for them, protecting them. They needed to understand that God was ready to be with them individually and personally as they move forward under his purpose. If their story is our story, and I believe it is, then we must understand that God is ready to fight for us, to be with us, to guide us, to direct us individually, personally. And this God who parted the waters of the Red Sea, this God will lead us into all of the glory that waits for this church into the future.
But here’s the way God always works. God always uses individuals in order to accomplish great things for His people. In order to underscore the truth, let me call up for you some witnesses from the pages of the Bible who will confirm what I’m trying to tell you. Let’s call Samson. “Samson, where are you going?” “I’m going to fight 1,000 Philistines.” “Samson, what weapons do you have?” “All I have is a jawbone of a donkey.” “Samson, you can’t possibly fight anybody with just that.” And what did Samson say? Samson said, “Oh, yes, I can.” And then Samson with the power of God and the jawbone of a donkey won the great victory.
Let’s call Moses. “Moses, what are you doing?” “God’s calling me to lead His people out of slavery.” “Moses, what kind of supplies do you have?” “All I have is this rod in my hand.” “Moses, what are you going to do with that rod?” “I’m going to stretch that rod out over the Red Sea and part the water, so the people can go through on the dry land. And I’m going to take that rod and strike a rock and water is going to flow from the rock, so the people do not die of thirst in the desert.” “Moses, you can’t possibly do that with nothing more than just a big stick.” And what did Moses say? Moses said, “Oh, yes, I can.” And sure enough, with the power of God and the rod, Moses delivered His people to freedom.
Let’s call David. “David, what are you doing?” “I’m on my way to slay a giant.” “David, how can you do that? You don’t have a sword or a spear.” “I’ve got a slingshot and five rocks.” “David, you can’t kill a giant with that.” And what did David say? David said, “Oh, yes, I can.” And David with the power of God began to twirl that slingshot. He released the rock. And wham! The giant fell dead in the dust.
Let’s call Jesus. “Jesus, where are you headed?” “I’m on my way to Calvary. I’m going to die for the world’s sin. And on the third day, I’m going to rise again from the dead.” “Oh, Jesus, that’s impossible. You can’t do that.” And what did Jesus say? Jesus said, “Oh, yes, I can.” And sure enough by the power of God, on the third day morning, Jesus grabbed death by the neck and choked death until death turned him loose. And then Jesus cried, “I was dead, but now I’m alive, and I am alive forevermore.” Oh, yes. God always uses individuals in order to accomplish great things for His people. Personalize.
My beloved people, please hear me. I believe that Jesus is saying today, “I am going to build my church at the corner of Blalock and Memorial Drive. And because He can, He will. And Jesus is calling all of us, calling each one of us individually, personally, calling us to help Him achieve that great goal. And because He can, we can. Yes, we can. By the call of Jesus Christ and by following His Word, His way, and His will, we can change people. We can grow this church, and we can make a difference in this city for the sake of Jesus Christ. Oh, yes, we can. And by the power of the risen Lord Jesus Christ, oh, yes, we shall.
Soli Deo Gloria.
To God alone be the glory.
Amen and amen.