Pentecost 12a

Preached: August 31, 2014

The Lord’s Mighty Mercy Delivers His People
Exodus 14:10-31

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith in Jesus is Exodus 14.

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. I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”

Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel's army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.

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.

The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh's horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. He made the wheels of their chariots come off so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let's get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the Lord swept them into the sea. The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.

But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant. (Exodus 14:10-31 NIV84)

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

He prayed throughout the night. His thoughts tangled in confusion until he didn’t know what to say anymore. How heavy his heart was! Where was God’s help? Why such hardship? Had God turned his back in anger and withdrawn his love? Would his mercy ever take action again?

Have you had such soul-struggles? Personal dilemmas and guilt, the sufferings of a loved one, the evils in the world around us, the struggles of God’s people as false doctrine and hypocrisy attack the Church—all these and others can strike our soul with such feelings of helplessness. Where is our God? Why doesn’t he deliver his people?

Although the outward circumstances may differ, believers throughout the ages have had those struggles, just like you and me. About three thousand ago Asaph expressed them in Psalm 77. He wrote, “I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands, and my soul refused to be comforted … My heart mused and my spirit inquired: ‘Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?’” (Psalm 77:1, 2, 6-9 NIV84).

Asaph does not specify what caused his soul-struggle. So, dear Christian, no matter what may be the cause of your struggle, you and I can relate to Asaph’s feelings. And after laying all this out in the first half of the Psalm, Asaph points us to what alone truly calms our souls. “I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will mediate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds” (Psalm 77:11, 12 NIV84). And then he describes the Lord delivering his people by dividing the waters of the Red Sea.

In the same way, dear friends, may the Holy Spirit use the record of the crossing of the Red Sea recorded in Exodus 14 to comfort your soul and strengthen your faith. The Lord’s mighty mercy delivers his people. He did it in the days of Moses, and he still does it today. The Lord’s mighty mercy delivers his people. Fear him as his dear child. And trust him, for he is your heavenly Father. For with the proper fear and trust within our hearts, then the Lord’s mighty deliverance in Exodus 14 is not just a Bible lesson but true comfort for your soul.

A. Fear him as his dear child

The text closes by telling us the effect the Lord’s mighty mercy had on Israel. “When the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him” (Exodus 14:31 NIV84). Now maybe trust, which we’ll talk about in the second part, makes sense to us. But how does fear comfort our souls?

Now it’s not just any kind of fear that fills our heart when the Lord’s mighty mercy delivers us. The text illustrates some of the wrong kinds of fear. First of all we see the fear or terror of the Israelites. They saw the Egyptian army bearing down on them. Six hundred of the elite chariots were leading the way. And they had no where to run. They were pinned against the Red Sea. How would you feel if six hundred tanks were bearing down on you as well as other armored vehicles and infantry?

But such fear or terror at the sight of the enemy is the opposite of faith in God. Rather than believing in his mighty mercy, it gives up hope in God’s help. That kind of fear brings no comfort.

Later we see fear and terror in the Egyptians. As they pursued the Israelites through the Red Sea, the Lord threw them into confusion. There chariot wheels jammed or came off. They exclaimed in terror, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt” (Exodus 14:25 NIV84).

At least the Egyptians’ fear was focused on the Lord, but it was still not the right kind of fear. This was the fear that wanted to run away from God and hide from him. It was the fear that cowers in terror before the Judge, who will condemn and punish.

How often like Israel we fail to focus on the Lord. We see our version of the Egyptians bearing down on us whether that’s family problems, financial problems, health issues, community issues, job stress, social pressures, an accident or tragedy, and the list goes on. Whether the fear is a small worry or an all out panic it’s still the opposite of faith. We’re not focused on the Lord and his promise. This isn’t the right fear of the Lord. There’s no comfort there.

And when we do think about God, we can fall into the mindset of the Egyptians. They realized they shouldn’t have been pursuing Israel, and God was punishing them. When faced with the hardships, losses, and failures in life, we too feel that fear that God is punishing us. Now we do certainly deserve punishment. We are sinners. We deserve far worse than even the most hellish suffering this world offers. We deserve unending hell. Our old self within us ought to stand in terror of God. But you, dear Christian, are no longer controlled by your old self. This fear of punishment is not the right fear of the Lord. It’s not focused on the Lord’s promises but only his wrath. It brings no comfort only terror.

Rather, dear Christian, stand in awe and amazement at the Lord’s mighty mercy that delivered even a sinner like you and me. He didn’t simply part the waters of the Red Sea to deliver you and me. He parted heaven and earth itself to send down his one and only Son. See your mighty Savior rend the chains of death as he bursts from the Easter tomb, alive, risen in glory. Remember how he ripped you from Satan’s clutches when he washed away your sins through the water and word of Baptism. You were reborn as God’s child. His mighty mercy continues to work in you so that you drown your sinful nature day after day as you live out your Baptism, just as the waters of the Red Sea drowned the Egyptians.

How can we not tremble in the presence of such power! So great his mighty mercy! How can we not tremble like a newborn infant held by the mighty hands of her daddy? But such trembling, such fear, is not terror. For by faith we know that he uses his power to deliver us and protect us, just as a father protects his child. What comfort comes from this fear that trembles at his might mercy! For we know and believe that he has delivered us and will finally brings us safely to our Father’s house, for we are his children. Fear him as his dear children, for his mighty mercy delivers you.

This proper fear goes hand in hand with trust.

B. Trust him, for he is your heavenly Father

At first we see the opposite of trust from the Israelites. Instead trusting the Lord they complain about him and his servant 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!” (Exodus 14:11, 12 NIV84).

Now before we shake our heads at fickle Israel, think of their circumstances. A few nights ago they had made clean get away. After the tenth plague, the death of the Egyptian firstborn, Pharaoh sent them away and the other Egyptians gave them articles of silver and gold and clothing, back wages you might say. Their greatest dreams of freedom and prosperity were right there in front of them and now the sight of the pursuing army dashed their hopes.

And isn’t that true of us as well? We’re most likely to complain when our expectations are disappointed. There might be other positive things in our life, but when what we hoped for isn’t there, we complain. We fail to trust the Lord to bless us and take care of us as our heavenly Father. For he can turn even the worst into blessing. For his mighty mercy delivers us. What comfort!

Likewise, the people may have thought that Moses had failed to do his job. He led them on one path and then doubled back and then got them pinned against the Red Sea. And this too can be a source of our complaints when we feel that others aren’t doing their jobs. But even if others were incompetent (and Moses wasn’t), won’t the Lord still work his good plan? Trust him, for he is your heavenly Father.

Trust him even when you cannot see how his mighty mercy could deliver you. Toward the end of Psalm 77 Asaph wrote, “Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen” (Psalm 77:29 NIV84). So often we cannot see how the Lord will lead us through. His footprints aren’t seen. But trust follows him, even though we cannot see.

This isn’t the same as blind trust or blind faith. It’s not the same, because we have his promise. Even though our physical or mental eyes cannot see how the Lord will lead us, faith trusts his promise, which we see in his word and sacraments.

Keep looking to his promises, dear Christian, just as the Israelites looked to that pillar of cloud and fire. For in his word the Lord reveals his promises. And what comfort those promises bring. His mighty mercy has delivered you from sin and death through the death and resurrection of his Son. That’s his promise. God has become your Father through faith in the Son, Jesus Christ. That’s his promise. And as your heavenly Father, his mighty mercy will one day deliver you from this wretched earth to you heavenly home, your eternal inheritance. That’s his promise. Trust him for he is your heavenly Father. His mighty mercy delivers his people. He delivers you. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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