A Bit Dramatic - Exodus 7
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A Bit Dramatic – 07.24.2022
When I was in high school, one of my absolute favorite movies was Mission Impossible II, starring Tom Cruise. I realize I’m dating myself, because now there are seven of those movies – but I have been there loving them from the start. Mindless action, spy thriller fun at it’s best. And I remember watching that movie with my family, and there’s a moment in the movie where super-spy Tom Cruise is breaking into the military fortress where the bad guys are housed. And the bad guys are all in the one room, and Tom Cruise’s character, Ethan hunt pulls out a stick of dynamite from his backpack. He throws it down the hallway and it clanks against the door. Then he pulls out his gun and shoots the dynamite. Is that how dynamite actually works? Of course not! Does it matter? Of course not! Big explosion, and the heavy metal door now has a bit fiery hole in it. And my mom leaned over and said, “watch this.” And I thought, this is it – this is the moment when he’s going to come through the doorway guns blazing to save the girl and win the movie. But instead of charging in, Ethan Hunt walks past the gaping fiery hole in the door, in slow motion, makes eye contact with our bad guy and keeps walking. And I was so confused and I turned to my family and asked, “wait – why didn’t he go in there?” And they told me, “well you just have to wait and see.” You see, I didn’t know the rule about action movies in Hollywood. When you blow something up, and there’s flames all around – you have to do the slow motion walk away. It’s basically the law. In Mission Impossible II he uses this massive explosion not to get in there and solve the problem as quick as possible, but rather to dramatically announce his presence to the bad guys.
Today we are beginning a brand new sermon series called “Plagued” which is part of a larger series where we are following Israel into and back out of slavery. We started with Joseph and his brothers and how the whole family of Israel moved to Egypt in the first place. Then last time we introduced Moses our hero who will lead Israel back out again. As many of you have probably grown familiar, I like to read the bible at roughly a chapter a week pace. And I looked at what was coming next, and I realized that the next four chapters are the ten plagues of Egypt. And I said to myself, there’s no way we can do a whole month of plagues – that sounds miserable. Can’t I just say – God did a bunch of mean things, but the ends justified the means? Like, we do not enjoy this part of the story. We don’t like talking about the plagues, because they’re terrible! But I do not believe in skipping the parts of the bible that are uncomfortable. If we struggle to understand, we shouldn’t skip things – rather we are invited to look closer and ask more questions to discover the true message. When I looked closer at the ten plagues of Egypt, I was shocked to see how much depth there is – and how much we can learn about who God is. And the first thing we are going to realize, like Ethan Hunt with his shooting the dynamite and walking away from the explosion in slow motion – the plagues are just a little bit dramatic.
Now, to give a little bit of backdrop – the story of Moses is pretty familiar. Born as an Israelite slave, Pharoah was killing all the little boy babies – so his mother hid him in a basket, and he was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter. As a full grown man, he tries to defend a slave and accidentally kills an Egyptian man – so he runs away from home. He heads out to Midian and starts his life over – becomes a shepherd, gets married. Then the famous burning bush encounter. God speaks to him, tell him to go back to Egypt to set his people free. Moses whines and complains, so God tells him that Aaron will help him. Aaron will be his voice. So Moses and his family head back to Egypt, they talk to Pharaoh – but Pharaoh says, “I don’t know this God. I don’t care about him – so I will make life worse for my slaves, just because you asked for their freedom.” And that’s where we’re at – getting to chapter seven.
And actually we need to back up to the last two verse of chapter six, [read 6:28-7:2]. So basically, Moses is still whining about the fact that he’s not a very good speaker. So God sets it up like this. I’ll tell you, you tell Aaron, Aaron will tell Pharaoh. And right from the beginning we get one of the fundamental principles of God’s work – here let me show you. I’ll tell you, you tell Aaron, Aaron tells Pharaoh. It’s almost like God is adding middlemen. I mean, if the goal was just to get the job done, God could have set a bush on fire in Pharaoh’s garden, right? It feels like God could have talked directly to Pharaoh and we could have skipped a whole bunch of steps. But this is a core teaching – God loves a middleman. God prefers to work through people, rather than for people. It’s not that God is lazy, God is plenty active in this story – but God loves including people in his redemptive work. Now this idea echoes into our lives too. Think about any piece of the Christian life. No matter what it is – feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, providing counseling, leading a bible study, performing music, putting on a VBS program – no matter what it is – God could do it better than you. God can do anything and everything perfectly, so if he did it himself, it would be better. And sometimes we’re like Moses, we wish he WOULD do it for us. And yet, one of the fundamental features of the character of God is that he prefers to work through the hands and feet of his people. God loves working through you for his redemptive purposes. There’s an old song by Matthew West called “Do Something,” where he says I woke up this morning, saw a world full of trouble now. I thought, “How’d we ever get so far down?” And “how’s it ever gonna turn around?” So, I turned my eyes to Heaven, I thought, “God, why don’t you do something?” Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of people living in poverty, children sold into slavery. The thought disgusted me. So I shook my fist at heaven, and I said, “God, why don’t you do something?” He said, “I did. I created you.”” God loves a middleman. God delights in your work, when you join him in the good things he is doing for this broken world.
Verse 3, [v.3-5]. Again, I’m struck by this realization that God is determined to take the scenic route. This is not the most effective or efficient way forward. God lays it out from the beginning – Pharoah is going to harden his heart, and I’m going to multiply my signs and wonders. By the time we are done here they will KNOW, not suspect, not guess, not wonder – but KNOW that God is the Lord of all. Before we even get to the plagues we need to realize that this is more than just freedom. This process of setting his people free through the use of plagues is DESIGNED to be dramatic. The drama is on PURPOSE. This is more than freedom, this is a gauntlet thrown down. Pharaoh says, “I don’t know this God. I don’t respect this God. I won’t listen to this God, because I don’t believe this God has any power.” And God up in heaven cracks his knuckles and says, “well then allow me to introduce myself.”
So then we start small – we have a little mini miracle before the first plaque. [read v.9-11]. This is a pretty famous story, Aaron throws down the staff and it turns into a snake – but then the sorcerers do the same thing. It says they do it with their “occult practices” – and they don’t really go in depth, but mostly we understand that to mean they are using tricky or deception of some sort. They’re magicians, illusionists, slight of hand artists – and they fool Pharoah into thinking what Aaron did was no big deal. [read v.12-13]. In sort of a weird symbolic gesture of victory – Aaron’s snake EATS the magicians snakes. After eating the magician snakes, I assume Aaron’s snake would have a little bulge in it’s tummy – I wonder if it turned back into a staff, would it have a knot in the wood right there? Either way, the message there is simple – God is the real deal. There are occult practices – witchcraft and sorcery and such – but they are nothing more than an illusion. God’s miracles, as we will see – are the real deal. God’s snake eats the magicians snake, because God is the real deal. It’s an impressive miracle, but it’s not enough for Pharaoh – who turns his back.
[read v.14-19]. The very first plague, turning the waters of the river Nile into blood. Gross. But look at the format. Every time I read that the Lord told Moses to tell Aaron to do something – it just sounds like middle school drama between teenagers who are mad at each other. Verse 19, “The lord said to Moses to tell Aaron that Sally said that Susie was mad because Joanie didn’t respond to Trevor’s text.” [laugh]. But it just reenforces the teaching – God loves a middle man. God works through the efforts of others, including so many of us in his good work. God delights in working through your efforts – even if you don’t know what to say or mess things up from time to time. God loves working through his people. And look at verse 17, [read it]. I love that it says, “watch.” Right? Like, this is how you will know I am the Lord, I’m going to do something awesome – watch me. I have four little boys, three of whom love having my undivided attention. Dad, dad, are you watching? Uh huh. You’re not watching, Dad look over here, Dad. God is grabbing Pharaoh’s attention – watch what I’m about to do. Why? Because the drama is on purpose. This is more than just setting people free, this is God introducing Pharoah to the power of his presence. And then the story finishes up, [read v.20-22]. God did the real thing, but the magicians did a copy cat by their “occult practices.” God is the real deal, but Pharaoh has his excuse – he doesn’t need to listen to God, just because the river is super gross now. [read v.23-25].
The good news this morning is that only God is God. The thrust of this entire series, and this chapter specifically is that Pharaoh, and each of us in our lives, we are constantly trying to substitute lesser things for God. The reason that God is being SO dramatic is because there is nothing like God. Only God is God. Only God can satisfy you and fulfill your life completely. Only the presence of the Holy Spirit dwelling in your heart and give you that fulfillment and peace that eludes us in contemporary culture. The fancy religious word we use for this is idolatry. We spend our lives trying to fill the god shaped hole in our hearts, and anything in our life that is even remotely “good” we think – ah ha! This will satisfy me forever. This will complete me. This will fulfill me. But only God is God. And here's the real struggle, Idolatry is the practice of trying to replace God with the good things in our lives – but you end up putting too much pressure on those good things. Like your job. You might have the greatest job in the world, but it cannot be your god. And if you treat it like a god, eventually it will become unsatisfying. Because you’re trying to make something that’s not God fulfill what ONLY God can fulfill. Or your marriage, or your kid’s sports team, or getting good grades or having the best vacation – these are all amazing things. But if you put too much pressure on them. If you turn them into idols, you’ll find that they disappoint you. You can have the greatest marriage in the world, the greatest grades, take the best vacations and it will not be enough. Only God is God. Only God can be held up as the thing we worship. If you hold up the wrong stuff, when they disappoint you – it’ll ruin it for you.
Every time we talk about idolatry, I always want to be very clear. I’m not bashing good things. The good things in our lives must grow up from the foundation of what we worship. I just want you to set your foundation first. You can’t grow a healthy Christian life off of a foundation of your marriage. But you can grow a healthy marriage off a foundation of God. You can’t live a fully satisfying Christian life off a foundation of your family or your job. But you CAN build a healthy family and work life off of a foundation of God. When I say that I want you to turn away from your idols and let God be God in your life – what I mean is that I want all the good things in your life to be built on the foundation of God presence in your life as a Christian. God was designed to be our foundation, the core of our identity, the main thing – and the good things of life will build from that foundation.
So the challenge I have for you today comes from this idea of idolatry. I want you to find your idols and turn away from them. There’s two steps to getting this done. First, you have to search for your idols. Look at your life and think about what things are you trying to use to take the place of God? What is the real foundation of your life, and where is it failing you? In this chapter with Moses the magicians are using the “occult” – sorcery and such. And that stuff still exists. There’s a lot of pagan spiritualists who dabble in sorcery, almost like it’s a fun hobby. But it’s not a cute hobby that brings you into contact with nature, it’s an idol that is pulling them farther away from God. It is, at best, a pale imitation of what the real God can do. But I think for most of us – avoiding witchcraft and sorcery is fairly easy. For most of us, our idols are the good things that we try to substitute as a foundation for our life. We try to substitute the good things that grow from our foundation and MAKE them a foundation. The things that consume you. The most important things in your schedule. The first step is to FIND your idols, and then the second step is to set your foundation. When I say turn from your idols – I don’t mean you have to get rid of good things, I mean you need to make GOD your foundation. It’s not God OR the good things of life. It’s God AND THEN the good things of life. The good things in life need to grow up from a foundation of God in your life.
Henri Nouwen in his book The Wounded Healer, tells a parable that comes from ancient India. Four Royal brothers decided each to master a special ability. Time went by, and the brothers met to reveal what they had learned. The first brother said, “I have mastered a science by which I can take but a bone of some creature and create the flesh that goes with it.” The second brother said, “And I kno how to grow that creatures’ skin and hair if there is flesh on its bones.” The said, “Well I am able to create its limbs if I have flesh, skin and hair.” The last brother concluded, “I know how to give life to that creature if its form is complete.” After this the brothers went into the jungle to find a bone so they could demonstrate their new abilities. As fate would have it, the bone they found was a lion’s. One brother added flesh to the bone, the second grew hide and hair, the third completed it with matching limbs and the fourth gave the lion life. Shaking its mane, the ferocious beast arose and jumped on his creators. He ate them all and then vanished contentedly into the jungle. We too have the capacity to create what can devour us. Goals and dreams can consume us. Possession and property can turn and destroy us – unless we first seek God. Let God breathe into what we make of life.
Search for your idols, and then turn from those idols. And I don’t mean get rid of good things in your life – I mean put God first, and THEN let good things grow in your life from a firm foundation. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Sunday used to be a holy thing. Nothing was open, nobody did any work. Sunday was for God. But then people got to thinking, that’s so legalistic. You don’t HAVE to go to church on Sunday. You can worship God anywhere. And so a lot of people still claimed God, but they didn’t go to church on Sunday. But if they aren’t in church – they wanted to be somewhere else. So restaurants opened, and they needed staff to work those days. Golf Course, shopping malls, whatever – and so more and more people started making something else the foundation of their week. And at first it felt like freedom. I can do anything I want with my Sunday. And then the sporting world said, “well – hey, if you’re not busy on Sunday. Let’s have games and tournaments on Sunday.” And then the offices and factories and work forces said, “well hey – if you’ve got time on Sundays, maybe you can do a little work too.” And then the post office which has never delivered on Sundays – suddenly I start seeing those packages showing up, even on Sundays. And now the postal workers and the office workers and the sporting parents – they’re busier than ever. They lost the one day they had set aside for God, they filled it with other things, and eventually those things turned around and consumed them. Now obviously, I’ve got no problem with people working, or packages coming in the mail or sporting events. But in the modern world it takes conscious effort to say, God is my priority, and then I will let good things grow from a firm foundation.
Only God can be God, and for the Pharaoh of Egypt – God is about to introduce himself in an unforgettable way. With Moses and Aaron, we see that God loves a middle man. With the miracles they perform compared to the trickery the magicians – we see that God is the real deal. And all of this – hardening of hearts and dramatic signs and wonders – the drama is by design. God is being a bit dramatic to demonstrate in an unforgettable way that we should turn from our idols and make God and only God the foundation of our lives. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you take heart that God loves to work through the simple efforts of his people. May you never forget that God and only God can fully satisfy that hole in your life. And finally, may you make God your priority, and then let the good things of life grow up from that firm foundation. Amen.
 Nathan Castens