Israel’s Baptism

Scripture: Exodus 14:5-31

Title: Israel’s Baptism

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Israel’s baptism
  • Moses’ leadership
  • Jesus’ identity
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

Please turn with me to Exodus chapter 14, page 72 in your pew Bibles

  • Today we continue our series on Moses
  • By this point in the story God has struck Egypt with the tenth plague – the death of the first born
  • Pharaoh has sent the Hebrew people away and they are making good their escape
  • We pick up the story from Exodus 14, verse 5…

[Read Exodus 14:5-31]

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this reading for us

Impressionist - Starry Night

 

On the wall here is a painting by Vincent Van Gogh

  • Can anyone tell me what style this is painted in? [Wait]
  • Yes – that’s right, ‘Impressionist’ (or post-impressionist)

Impressionism is not interested in capturing a scene with photographic accuracy

  • Impressionism is about capturing the light and movement of a scene
  • This painting is called ‘Starry Night Over The Rhone’
  • You can see how Van Gogh is trying to give the impression of the star light reflecting on the rippling waters of the river – light and movement

Some would describe the account of Israel crossing the Red Sea as impressionistic [1]

  • It recalls a real historical event, perhaps not with photographic accuracy, but certainly in a way which conveys the light & movement of that night

 

We see a real movement for Israel in Exodus 14

  • Not just in the geographical sense of moving from one location to another
  • But in a spiritual sense as the people move from terror to trust – from fear of death to faith in God
  • In fact, as Christians looking back at this, we get the overall impression that Israel (as a nation) went through a kind of baptism when they passed through the Red Sea
  • This was a conversion experience, an internal change took place for them

Israel’s baptism:

Verse 8 of Exodus 14 tells us the Israelites were leaving Egypt triumphantly

  • They were full of confidence and bluster in other words

Triumphalism is the counterfeit of true faith

  • Triumphalism feels like what we imagine faith should feel like, but it actually isn’t faith

Triumphalism insulates us from reality

  • Faith exposes us to reality

Triumphalism is the advertisement

  • Faith is using the product

Triumphalism is maxing out our credit card and telling ourselves we will pay for it later

  • Faith is waiting until we can pay for it by cash

Triumphalism is telling ourselves we don’t need to prepare for exams – we just need to pray

  • Faith is studying

Triumphalism is the illusion (or the fantasy) that we cannot fail, that we are bullet proof, that we are always right and this will be easy

  • Faith is waking up from the fantasy, realising from experience that we can fail, that we are not bullet proof, that this life is difficult in practice

Triumphalism is what young men feel when they enlist in the army to go to war – “We’ll be home by Christmas”, they said

  • Faith is surviving the battle and learning respect for our enemies

Triumphalism is falling in love

  • Faith is the commitment to tough it out through the hard times

Triumphalism is what we Christians sometimes feel on a Sunday morning when we sing heroic songs to God, surrounded by people who think the same as us

  • Faith is Monday to Saturday when we are out in the world at work or school surrounded by people who think differently to us
  • Faith is also when we are at home struggling with grizzly children or at home by ourselves struggling with loneliness

We could go on but you get the point…

  • Triumphalism has no foundation – it is based on illusion
  • Faith has a firm foundation – it is based on reality

The Israelites left Egypt triumphantly, not realising their confidence had no foundation – it was based on a passing feeling

  • God was about to give them a firm foundation though – the reality of experiencing His salvation

From verse 10 of Exodus 14 we read…

When the Israelites saw the king and his army marching against them, they were terrified and cried out to the Lord for help. They said to Moses, “Weren’t there any graves in Egypt? Did you have to bring us out here in the desert to die? …It would be better to be slaves there than to die here in the desert.”

 

Their bubble of triumphalism has been burst

  • We shouldn’t be too hard on the Israelites though
  • Their backs were against the wall at this point
  • They were trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea
  • Or more precisely between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea
  • So they had good reason to panic

In that moment of terror, as they feared for their lives, and all trace of triumphalism had been drained from their hearts – it probably felt like they were a long way from faith

  • But in actual fact, the Israelites were closer to faith when they were scared than they were when they left Egypt triumphantly
  • The terror of the Egyptian army purged the Hebrew people of all illusion
  • The reality of their mortality wiped the slate clean to make room for faith
  • Fear is like a wind which blows the fog of fantasy away

You see, it is our thirst which makes us drink

  • It is our need which brings us to God
  • And it can be fear which brings us to our senses, clearing the way for faith

At God’s command Moses raised his hand and the Lord parted the sea so the people could walk through

  • Their walking through the sea was an act of faith
  • Faith isn’t just what we say we believe in the safety of church
  • Faith is what we do both in the ordinary moments of our lives and in those moments of utter desperation
  • Through the night the nation of Israel made its way on dry ground while God held back the water and the Egyptians

At the end of chapter 14, when the Israelites have made it through safely to the other side and they see the Egyptians lying dead on the seashore, we read how they [the Hebrew people] had faith in the Lord

  • The experience of God’s salvation has changed the Israelites
  • An internal shift has taken place within them
  • God has taken Israel from triumphalism through terror to trust
  • He has brought them from fantasy through fear to faith
  • The past is dead on the seashore – the future is open before them

It’s not that their faith is made perfect yet – baptism is just a beginning – the people still have a long way to go before they reach the Promised Land

  • But it is a start – the experience of God’s salvation has given Israel foundation for their faith

Okay, having heard about Israel’s baptism into faith, let’s now consider Moses’ leadership in this situation…

 

Moses’ leadership:

Although Moses is Israel’s leader, verse 31 describes him as The Lord’s servant

  • Moses is the original servant leader
  • Moses does not exercise leadership for his own benefit, as Pharaoh did
  • Moses exercises leadership in service to God’s agenda
  • He takes his direction from God and the people follow Moses
  • This serves both God’s purpose and the well-being of the people

One of the qualities required of leaders – and particularly of servant leaders – is differentiation

Differentiation is a term coined by the psychologist Murray Bowen

  • ‘Differentiation’ refers to a person’s capacity to “define his or her own life’s goals and values apart from the pressures of those around them” [2]

To put it another way, ‘differentiation’ is the ability to hold on to yourself, while staying connected to others

  • Holding on to yourself means holding on to who you are
  • Holding on to your beliefs and values – your integrity
  • Sticking to what you know is right and not being too easily swayed by other people’s feelings or opinions
  • Staying true to yourself, in other words

People who can differentiate in their relationships are able to stay calm, manage their anxiety and avoid blaming other people 

Rudyard Kipling has a famous poem – the opening lines of which describe differentiation. It goes like this…

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating…

                                  …you’ll be a man, my son!

 

Good leadership requires the emotional intelligence to differentiate – to hold onto yourself like this

Now this concept of differentiation or ‘holding onto yourself’ is not new – it’s been around for thousands of years

  • When our core beliefs and values (our true self) is informed by God, differentiation goes by the term: ‘Fear of the Lord’
  • “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”
  • It sets you free from the fear of lesser things – like the fear of man

To fear the Lord is to not be swayed by the opinion of others

  • So when people think you are a bit simple for believing in God
  • When they say that science is the answer to everything
  • And that religion is the opiate of the people
  • You don’t go along with that – you hold onto yourself
  • You stick to what you believe in your heart – that God is real and that one day, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord
  • But you’re not offended either – you don’t just walk away
  • You simply smile & ask them what they believe & quietly pray for them

To fear the Lord is to stay calm in a crisis, even when people are saying the crisis is your fault

  • So when the boss is swearing at you at work because things didn’t go well that day
  • Or you are the boss and your team is not talking to you because you had to make a hard decision that they can’t understand
  • Or you’re at home and your kids are telling you it’s not fair and you’re the worst parent in the world
  • Or you’re on the sports field and some clown is yelling at you from the side lines because they are frustrated with their own lives
  • In those situations, to fear the Lord, means remembering that God is your judge – no one else
  • Not your boss, not your teacher, not your work mates, not your parents, not your children and certainly not the random armchair critics

Fear of the Lord, in the specific sense of remembering that God is our judge, enables us to hold onto our perspective and not take the criticism personally

  • It helps us to turn the other cheek and stay in the conversation
  • To listen without reacting and to communicate without antagonising

Differentiation, fear of the Lord, holding on to yourself, whatever you want to call it – if you can do that, you have the makings of a servant leader

Moses could do that

  • In verses 10-14 Moses demonstrates a high level of differentiation
  • Moses holds onto himself under extreme pressure

The entire Egyptian army is bearing down on them

  • They have nowhere to run and Moses has brought them to this cul-de-sac of death
  • Over a million people are terrified and blaming him saying things like…
  • “Did you have to bring us out here in the desert to die? Didn’t we tell you this would happen?”

And how does Moses respond?

  • With a message of good news
  • He doesn’t get angry with the people
  • He doesn’t turn the blame back on them or give in to their fear
  • Nor does he walk away

Moses holds onto himself, while staying connected to the people

  • He keeps his perspective and he sticks to what he believes, saying…
  • Do not be afraid
  • Stand your ground
  • You will see God’s salvation

Stay calm – be still – wait for God

This is not triumphalism – this is an invitation to faith

For Moses to respond in this way (with a message of good news), under these circumstances, required a high level of differentiation

  • Moses feared the Lord, more than he did the Red Sea or the Egyptians
  • Moses was more concerned about God’s opinion than he was the opinion of the people
  • Moses was able to define and differentiate what he believed & felt from what the people believed & felt
  • And he was able to hold onto his personal conviction without letting go of his connection with the people
  • So he was not swamped or knocked over by the tidal wave of criticism coming his way

As I said earlier, the experience of God’s salvation changed the Israelites

  • Verse 31 again, When the Israelites saw the great power with which the Lord had defeated the Egyptians, they feared the Lord
  • In other words, they began to learn to differentiate
  • They began to learn to hold onto themselves
  • Or, as Terence Fretheim puts it…
  • “Israel’s perspective will now be shaped by what God does, not by what the Egyptians do…”  [3]

It’s fair to say that, at this point, Israel has not mastered differentiation by any means – but it is a start

  • By saving Israel, God has strengthened the nation’s identity as His people

Jesus’ identity:

Strength of identity is key when it comes to holding onto ourselves

  • Those who have a clear understanding of who they are and who they are not, are less likely to lose their shape or identity around others

Jesus had a strong sense of identity – He knew in His heart of hearts (through & through) that He was God’s Son

After His baptism in the Jordan River, by John the Baptiser, God said of Jesus,

  • “This is my own dear Son with whom I am pleased” [4]
  • With this clear sense of identity Jesus was able to differentiate – to hold onto Himself throughout His ministry

So when the Devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness saying, ‘If you are the Son of God’, do this, that and the other thing [5]

  • Jesus was able to refuse, saying in effect…
  • ‘I have nothing to prove. I am not defined by what I do or what I own or what other people think of me. I am defined by God.’

Jesus held onto Himself in His confrontations with the religious leaders too

  • Like when He broke their man-made traditions by healing on the Sabbath
  • Or when He stood up for a woman caught in adultery [6]

Sticking to your principles in the face of an enemy is one thing but, in many ways, differentiation is more difficult when it comes to family & friends…

Like when Jesus’ mother and siblings came to take charge of Him – to bring Him home with them – because they doubted Him

  • Jesus was able to stay true to God’s purpose for Him and say,
  • ‘Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, my sister, and my mother’ [7]
  • Sometimes our family make it hard for us to leave home – but Jesus feared God more than His mum

He also feared God more than His friends – like when Jesus predicted His own death & resurrection and Peter took Jesus aside to rebuke Him

  • Jesus defined His purpose as different from Peter’s purpose, saying…
  • ‘Get away from me Satan… These thoughts of yours don’t come from God, but from man.’ [8]

We could go on but you get the point…

  • Jesus had a strong sense of identity grounded in His relationship with God
  • And from this firm foundation he had a tremendous capacity to stay true to God’s purpose for Him through all kinds of circumstances

Conclusion:

Differentiation, fear of the Lord, holding on to yourself, whatever you want to call it – it’s difficult to learn

  • None of us are quite at the level of Moses or Jesus (least of all me)
  • But that’s okay – we are all on a journey with this stuff
  • We don’t need to beat ourselves up about not being perfect
  • We do need to know that God’s grace is sufficient for us
  • And we also need to know what we’re aiming for

The temptation for us may be to try and manufacture our own identity…

  • Perhaps by what we do in racking up a long list of achievements,
  • Or by what we accumulate in terms of possessions,
  • Or maybe by pretending to be what we are not

Authentic identity cannot be manufactured

  • It can only be received as a gift from God

By the experience of God’s salvation the Israelites learned to fear the Lord and to trust Him as well

  • And through this process their identity as the people of God was strengthened

By the experience of Christ’s salvation of us we learn to fear the Lord and trust Him as well

  • And through this process our identity as members of the body of Christ is formed

Let us pray…

[1] For example, Terence Fretheim in his commentary on Exodus, page 158

[2] Quoted in Peter Scazzero’s book, ‘Emotionally Heathy Spirituality’, page 82

[3] Terence Fretheim, Exodus, page 156

[4] Matthew 3:13-17

[5] Matthew 4:1-11

[6] John 8:1-11

[7] Matthew 12:46-50

[8] Matthew 16:21-28

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