Bricks With Straw [Exodus 5]
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Bricks Without Straw – 05.15.2022
Forgive me if I’ve told this story before, but it makes a lot of sense. There once was a pastor named Dr. Howard, who was at a church in Australia years and years ago. And one day he preached very strongly on the subject of sin. How toxic it is for your life, and how you need to work to get rid of sin. And after the service, one of the church officers came to counsel with him in his study. He said, “Dr. Howard, we don’t want you to talk as openly as you do about man’s guilt and corruption, because if our boys and girls hear you discussing that subject they will more easily become sinners. Call it a mistake if you will, use softer language - but do not speak so plainly about sin.” Standing there in his study, the pastor went over to the medicine cabinet, hanging on the wall. He took down a small bottle and showed it to the visitor. He said, “You see that label? It says strychnine – and underneath in bold, red letters it has the word “poison!” This has common use in pesticides. When you say, “do not talk about sin” – do you know what you are asking me to do? You are suggesting that I change the label. Suppose I do, let’s say I make a little label, paste over the warnings, and put a friendlier label that says, “Essence of peppermint” don’t you see what will happen? Someone would use it, not knowing the danger involved, and would certainly die. So it is, too, with the matter of sin. The milder you make your label, the more dangerous you make your poison!”
Today we are wrapping up a sermon series about Moses. As part of a larger story, we have been following the nation of Israel into slavery and back out again, and we are into chapter 5 in Exodus. Now last week, if you remember, we dove into an absolutely bizarre story – but at the end of it Moses was confirmed. Moses is now officially a part of the family of Israel. The old self is dead and now we are ready to head back to Egypt and into the fight. And one thing that’s going to come up throughout this struggle is the theme that “Israel’s slavery is like our sin.” Their struggle for freedom from slavery is just like our struggle for freedom from sin. And as we all know, joining a church and saying, “Hey I’m a Christian now, I’m a part of this family” that means that all your sins and all your troubles and all your temptations evaporate, right? They just disappear like my toddler’s interest in vegetables. Being a Christian is easy, right? All you’ve got to do is get started and then it’s smooth sailing right? Maybe not quite.
We jump in and get started with verse 1, [read v.1-2]. Two quick things here. First, Moses and Aaron go to Pharoah and ask him, “please let us go, so that we can go have a festival to worship God out in the wilderness.” Most of us read the story as Moses trying to set his people free like the north versus the south in the civil war – but actually, the pursuit of freedom was all about their ability to worship God. Set us free, so that we can worship God. The goal was never, “set us free so we can go do whatever we want” – but from the beginning the framework was, “set us free so we can worship God.” But Pharaoh’s response was basically – “who is your God? I’ve never heard of him. Why would I listen to some silly, powerless God I’ve never heard of?” Now those of us who know the rest of the story – we know how stupid he sounds. Pharoah, my man, you don’t even know – this is going to be reaaaaally bad. God is about to rain down some pain on Egypt that is so significant, so intense that it will literally be all they talk about for hundreds of years. It shapes the entire identity of a people group. We’re talking THOUSANDS of years later, people on the other side of the world who don’t even care about God will know and understand the phrase, “the ten plagues of Egypt.” Like, if you’re making a list of the most significant events in the history of the planet – I bet this makes the top three. But Pharoah doesn’t know this God, he doesn’t respect him, and he’s certainly not going to let his slaves go and worship.
[read v.4-5]. Pharoah turns to Moses and Aaron and says, “stop distracting my people from their slavery. You’re filling their heads with all this nonsense about freedom and worshipping God. Stop distracting my slaves. Now, I’m just going to go out on record and say, “actually, it’s okay to distract people from their slavery – even if it disrupts the status quo.” And remember the framework – Israel’s battle with slavery is our battle with sin. There are some folks (and by some folks I mean every single person who ever breathed except for Jesus Christ), there are some folks who live with sin in their life. And sometimes getting rid of sin can be disruptive. And you might think, “you know – it’s just really mean to point that out. You’re disrupting them.” But actually – but you know what? I’m going to suggest it’s actually okay to distract people from the slavery of sin in their life – even if it disrupts the status quo. Let me use an extreme, silly example. Let’s say someone is out there murdering people. It’s part of their daily routine, they’ve got a nice rhythm to their life – getting rid of that sin would really disrupt their flow. It would be way nicer to them and the way they want to live their life, if you would just let them keep on murdering people. The nice thing to do would be to leave them alone and stop distracting them from their slavery. And you might laugh at that, because it’s absurd, but why is that so different than any other sin. Swap out murdering with any other wrong-doing. Maybe it’s not murder, it’s someone who lies a lot. Someone is out there lying as a constant part of their life. Being honest would disrupt their life, maybe even get them in trouble. Pharaoh says, “stop distracting my slaves from their jobs” and sometimes in our hearts we say, “God, stop distracting me from my sin.” Leave me alone, don’t disrupt my slavery.
[read v.6-9] This Pharaoh guy seems like a really fun guy to have at parties. I know what we’ll do – we will make their life worse! We will make their life so difficult they won’t have any time to get any crazy ideas like freedom. But here’s the thing. We are built, especially in American culture, to follow the path of least resistance. Just go with the flow, don’t rock the boat. If things get bad, sometimes we think – “oh no I’ve made a mistake.” If things are difficult, I should stop trying. This is a mentality for some of us. We think, “it’s supposed to be easy, and if it’s challenging – something is wrong.” Now there’s two sides to this and I want to be careful. If you’re doing something dumb, and life gets worse – stop doing the dumb thing. That should go without saying. If you’re out there – lying, cheating, stealing, whatever – and it’s making your life more difficult, that’s your fault. You’ve got to stop doing the dumb thing. Here’s a silly example – when I was in college, I was a big time night owl. I would stay up incredibly late, and then sometimes I had an 8am class. I didn’t do particularly well for my 8am class. In fact, one time – I didn’t study all semester. I got to the end of the semester, and I had the final exam. So I stayed up all night studying. I studied and studied and studied, I went to bed at like 5am. I’ll sleep a couple hours before my exam. Anybody want to guess what happened? I slept through my exam! I woke up halfway through the exam, had to rush over there and I had half the time to do it. But let’s be honest – that was my own fault! I did a dumb thing and my life got worse. If you’re doing a dumb thing and your life gets worse – then you’ve got to stop doing the dumb thing.
But that’s not what’s going on with Israel. For Israel, what we see in this chapter is that sometimes doing the RIGHT thing is what makes life worse. Doing the right thing is harder. Some of us have this false teaching in our heads – if I do the right thing, it will always go easy. If I am being a good person, my life should be easy. But that’s not real. That’s not the truth. That’s not what the bible shows us. In fact, I will argue that going with the flow, the path of least resistance is most often NOT the life God wants you to live. If you are pursuing holiness, if you are living your life trying to live into the freedom of God, trying to worship God with your life? DON’T STOP JUST BECAUSE IT’S HARD. I think my favorite metaphor for this is working out. You decide you want to live healthier, take better care of the body God has given you and you go for a run, or you lift some weights. You put on your cute work out outfit, you take a selfie with the hashtag “workout goals” and you get to it. But nobody talks about day two. When everything hurts and you’re sweaty and you can’t even stand up straight because you’re just all floppy. And you think, “my goodness, if this is how my body reacts, then it must not be good for me.” If you live your life always seeking the path of least resistance, you’ll never grow. You’ll never be healthy. Sometimes when things get harder, it’s a good thing. Sometimes when there is pain, it means your muscles are growing, your body is healing and you are getting stronger.
And don’t miss what’s going on here. Pharaoh gets all mad at Moses and Aaron and says, “stop distracting them from their slavery.” I’m going to make their life harder so they don’t have time for you and your God. Remember the theme is that Israel’s battle with slavery is the same as our battle with sin. And the enemy of God uses the same exact tactics as Pharaoh does. When you’re living your life in sin, and you start to put your head up – you start to catch a glimpse of Jesus and the goodness and holiness that he could offer you – you best believe that the enemy is going to crack the whip. He’s going to do everything he can to get you to put your head back down, go back to the slavery of sin. You don’t want to follow that Jesus fellow, that’s going to be more difficult. Why don’t you just stay here in the comfort of your slavery. I know that sounds insane, but we all do it. We all have moments where God tells us to be generous, but it’d be a lot easier if I kept all that money for myself. We have moments when God teaches us to build up and encourage our neighbors, but it’d be a lot easier to gather with our click and do a little gossiping. God teaches us not to lust, to keep our minds pure, but it’s so much easier to let our minds wander and degrade the people around us by sexualizing them. It is more difficult to live a godly life, and the devil is going to remind you of that fact every time things get hard. But the message is simple – if you are pursuing holiness, don’t stop just because things are hard.
The whole rest of the chapter is just a bunch of people whining. The slave drivers tell them to make bricks without straw. So the Israelite foremen go and complain to Pharaoh. Pharaoh says, “it’s Moses and Aaron’s fault.” So then they go and complain to Moses and Aaron. So then Moses and Aaron go and complain to God, [read v.22-23]. This is day two of the workout, when all the muscles are sore and everything seems terrible and your muscles are saying, “why would you do this to us?” And this is the part where most people give up. Holiness seems challenging, so they convince themselves maybe slavery isn’t so bad. They have forgotten the dream of freedom. They have taken their eyes off the prize. They can’t remember the freedom that they are shooting for, that they have been calling out for for hundreds of years! Now there’s two things to do when following God gets difficult. First, remember that sometimes the point is not to make your life better, it’s to make your life holy. The point of following God, all this stuff we do in the church and in our personal lives – the point is not to make life easy and comfortable. The point is to make you holy. To give you freedom to worship God. The second thing you need to do when following God gets difficult is reclaim and remember the dream. Keep your eyes on the prize, remember what you are shooting for and why you are doing what you’re doing. Chapter 6, verse 6 and 7 tells us, [read v.6-8]. When things get challenging, don’t compare today to yesterday – compare yesterday to tomorrow. Don’t look at the pain of today as if it was the final word, look forward – remember and reclaim the dream, the promise of what the future will hold if you make it through the pain of today. This is how you hang in there. This is how you make it through a challenging time – remember the point, and remember the promise.
The good news today is that God aint your fairy godmother, but he is here to free you from your sins. You see I think sometimes American Christians have been watching too many Disney fairytales. We think overcoming evil is just about doing the right thing, and then the sparkles will travel across the land and everything will be green again. But the real story is that your sins are going to put up a fight. The enemy is crafty and he’s going to do everything he can to get you to give up, to give in – to go back to your slavery. God aint your fairy godmother, but he is here to free you from your sins. Pursuing God is a bumpy road. It’s not a smooth ride slowly uphill.
This is such a practical, concrete, real life biblical text – and so I have two challenges for you to send us out. First, commit yourself to pursuing God. Seek freedom so that you can worship God – even when it’s difficult. Even if it is the more challenging path. Your sin is going to put up a fight. So expect resistance, expect that your sins are going to go kicking and screaming out the door. Commit yourself, make the decision today that even if it makes things more challenging for you, even if you have to make some sacrifices and live your life a different way – commit yourself to pursuing God. The freedom he is offering is so much better than your slavery. So many people give up when the going gets hard, so commit yourself to sticking with God’s way. That’s the first challenge, second – use carpet bombs, not silver bullets. Here’s what I mean by that – a lot of people think there’s just one little thing they need to change to tackle the problem in front of them. To use the work out metaphor, “I just gotta do this magic work out program for three weeks and then everything will be perfect forever” or “I just need to do this little tweak to my diet and boom everything will be fixed.” When things are challenging we look for a silver bullet, because silver bullets are easy. But when it comes to dealing with sin, you need to carpet bomb your life. Sin is going to put up a fight, so don’t come in here with that bare minimum mentality. Use everything you’ve got in the toolbelt. We’re going to start a new series next week, but when we come back to this story – we’ll be diving into the plagues. And you will see with painful obviousness that God does not use a silver bullet. God carpet bombs this issue of slavery in Egypt. Sometimes literally. So you need to carpet bomb the issue of slavery to sin in your life. When it comes to pursuing God, running away from sin and living a holy life – use everything in your toolbelt.
The message of Exodus 5, making bricks without straw, is that freedom comes with a high price. The slavery in your life is not going to just disappear. Holiness is a lofty goal and it takes everything to pursue it. Get to church on Sundays, pray every single day, read your bible every single day, volunteer, serve the people – feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, give of your life and be generous, encourage and lift people up and tell them about Jesus. We need to do all these things and more as much as we possibly can!
Dr. Howard was a pastor in Australia who spoke strongly against sin. The elders in his church didn’t like that much, but he knew how toxic the poison was. I think a lot of times we talk about Jesus and his victory on the cross, we forget that the battle of slavery and sin is still raging in our hearts. The enemy has lost, but he hasn’t given up yet. Pursuing God is hard, but so are most things that are worth doing. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you expect resistance from the sin in your life. Remember that God aint your fairy godmother, but he IS here to free you from your sins. And finally may you commit yourself to pursuing God and carpet bomb your sin with every tool in your spiritual toolbelt. Amen.