You might be familiar with that great Churchill quote from WWII - this is not the end, but this is the beginning of the end… well our topic tonight is the end of the beginning of the end, and the beginning of the end of the end.
When Israel crossed the red sea it was the end of the beginning, when the walls of Jericho fell it was the beginning of the end of the end. That is to say, these two events represent the book ends to salvation in the OT – they leave the land of slavery through the Red Sea and they enter the land of Promise via Jericho. And so together they sum up the experience of being saved – for the OT people of God, and for us.
What to say about them? They show us how by faith God's people receive God's promises through obedience.
1. Salvation is all God from beginning to end
2. God's people were Saved– and God's enemies destroyed
3. Salvation came through faith expressed in obedience
1. Salvation all of God From Beginning to End
There's no doubt that these are miracles of the highest order. Let's just review what happened – in Exodus God told Moses to take the Israelites back to the sea so that Pharaoh would see they were trapped and come out to catch them and God would gain glory from Pharaoh. They did and he did and God did – Israel put themselves directly in harm's way, Pharaoh took the bait and God opened the sea like a canyon in the desert so they could walk through on dry land, the water like a wall beside them… and then when Pharaoh took his men into the sea God sent it back over them to utterly destroy them, like flushing something down the toilet.
And then 40 years later, after all the wandering in the wilderness, God parted the Jordan river for them to walk through, reminding them all of the red sea, and then the first city they came to – the great walled fortress of Jericho God said don't fight, just walk around the city a few times and shout… they did, 6 days they walked around the city once, on the seventh day they walked around 7 times, then they shouted and the wall fell down and Jericho was theirs. First major obstacle of the campaign, done… no loss of life, no danger, no fear, God delivered their enemies into their hands.
These are clearly set out for us as interventions from God in our world to suspend or manipulate the natural order so that his People can be saved from Pharaoh, and so that they can take possession of the inheritance he has for them.
So before we've even started we're confronted with a serious question - Can we believe that this ever happened? Really? And just so we're clear – yes, Absolutely, yes. Of course we can. It's very simple: If God created the universe then he can do whatever he wants with it and in it. He can suspend the laws of physics if he wants to (witness the days when the sun stands still Josh 10.13, or the shadow of the sun going back on the sun dial in Isaiah 38.8), he can raise the dead and heal the sick and make the blind see and provide a miraculous catch of fish and calm the storm … If he is God then he can do all these things… And that is actually what these miracles are all about – they're not God doing amazing stuff to show off, but to demonstrate that he keeps his promises – that he keeps them; that it is him who is responsible: he saves Israel in this way, using these undeniable miracles, so that there can be no argument that Israel saved themselves, that they fluked it, or that Egypt and Jericho blundered or messed things up militarily.
Throughout Exodus we hear this idea repeated again and again, and here it is again in 15.4 God says 'I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD' – that's what's on the line here – God's reputation; God's very 'Godness', his rule as God, as the Lord, the sovereign who alone determines all things on his earth – God's claim to be God is contested in our world – always has been since Eve listened to the snake in the garden.
In the Exodus God sets out to demonstrate that he is who he says he is, he is the ruler, he does ordain all things, his arm is powerful to save and none can stand in his way. He truly is God, him and he alone… So he does these unmissable miracles so that we will recognise that he is God and he alone, he rules, and what he promises he is able to deliver. It was no fluke, it was God.
This is established not just by the clear miracle, but by the promise given and promise received – God promised in advance that he would do this, 400 years before it happened he said that his people would be enslaved in Egypt and he would bring them out by his own power, and that he would give them the land of Canaan (gen 15.12-15). Again and again this promise is repeated in Genesis and throughout Exodus and Numbers. God said it, and then God did it. This is important because lots of people give God credit after the event –and lots of people gave Baal credit, or Ashteroth, or Evolution or the Government or the Markets or whatever else we trust in. But it's one thing to claim the credit afterwards, quite another to claim the credit in advance and then pull it off, and that is what God does.
The parting of the Red Sea and the Fall of Jericho are signs and seals – just as Jesus' miracles marked him out as the man who God listened to, in fact as God himself.
When we want to establish it's all our own work we might apply for a patent, or assert 'Copyright Rod Earnshaw, 2014'. In Texas if you wanted to protect your cattle from Cattle wranglers, you stuck a brand on their rump (not sure if still do this, in Australia and UK a tag through the ear seems more usual), in Australia where national pride calls for it, it helps to sell your product if you still a 'made in Australia' tag on your goods. If you want to leave your mark for posterity, you take out a spray can and you write 'I was 'ere' or something equally dull on the side of the bridge, and you tag it so no one else can claim it. When you land on the moon, stick your flag in so no one else can claim it, you want to keep all the moon rock for yourself! If you're going to grow the longest finger nails in the world, make sure you get someone from the Guinness World Records people there to verify your record.
We're always asserting our claim, puffing our chest out and saying it was me, I did it, I claim the credit for that.
We do it out of mixed bad motives – to stop others getting credit that belongs to us, and for stupid pride and competitiveness and to gain a commercial advantage and so on… but God does it simply because it's right that he gets the credit – all praise belongs to him, the earth is his for he made it, you and I are his for he made us too. Glory belongs to God and to God alone. This is part of the sinfulness of sin, part of what makes it so distasteful to God –is that sin steals from God the glory that belongs to him.
In the Exodus and the Conquest of the Promised Land - in the parting of the Red Sea and in the fall of Jericho God is claiming back that which belongs to him. He asserts his right to be known as God – he made the sea and he can move it out of the way if he wants. He made the stones and the mortar, he makes them stand up, and he can make them fall. He made Pharaoh and he made the people of Jericho, and they are his to do with as he wishes, and they had ample opportunities to acknowledge God and live for him, but they never did. Not when Pharaoh was repeated shown by God that he was in the wrong in the 10 plagues, and not when the people of Jericho were holed up in the city watching the people of God march around carrying the Ark of the covenant, the symbol of God's presence with them – even though they had heard about the parting of the red sea, they knew God fought for them, they still thought they could be safe behind their high walls.
But God says in these great and calamitous events – I am God and there is no other, I am God and none can stand against me.
And just as this is true of all things, so it is particularly true of salvation. Here we have the bookends of salvation – exit from slavery and entry to the promised land – pictures in advance of our conversion and our entry into heaven. And it's all from God, beginning to end, there's nothing that we can claim for ourselves. When we get to heaven and look on the label it will say 'made in heaven' 'copyright the LORD God Almighty' 'Jesus Christ asserts his right to sole responsibility for this salvation.
This is so fundamental that God has to keep asserting it again and again and again. This is so counter our natural inclination that we need to keep admitting it again and again and again. So hear it again – you can not save yourself. You need to trust God and God alone through Jesus death and resurrection.
You can not keep yourself in salvation – you need to trust God and God alone through Jesus death and resurrection and the power of God at work in you by his Holy Spirit.
And you can not win your way to heaven – you need to trust God for that too, through Jesus death and resurrection and the power of God at work in you by his Holy Spirit.
So do you need to repent of your self –reliance tonight, or your pride and stubborn refusal to trust him? Do you need to come to God again and admit your absolute reliance on him? We're going to do that together later as we share in communion – only Jesus, only his blood poured out for us, only his body broken for us… and what a good thing that is, because we could never make it on our own.
SO first we see that salvation is both begun and completed by God. Faith clings to that and doesn't ever let go. What else do we see?
2. God's People Were Saved – and God's Enemies Destroyed
Salvation: Red Sea most obvious – they were hemmed in and Pharaoh wanted to destroy them, but God hid them and provided a way out and lured enemies to their destruction. Less obviously in Jericho God protected his people from loss of life in drawn out siege and destroyed their enemies instead.
Judgement: Pharaoh and the Egyptians didn't recognise God. They were cruel and merciless, Isrealites were less than human to them, Pharaoh was every bit as anti-semitic as Hitler, perhaps even more so, remember he had ordered the Israelite baby boys killed – and how? by throwing into the Nile. Now Pharaoh never showed any sign of any repentance for how he treated God's people. In fact the only repentance we see is repenting of his decision to let them go, reasoning that they were correct to use and abuse them as so much productive machinery…
Jericho – they were so rotten that 400 years in advance God had said that he would bring their end when their sin would have reached it's fulfilment – they were guilty and their guilt came up before God to the extent that they deserved complete destruction. So God brought down the wall and wiped them out.
This is the consistent pattern of the Bible, from the very first mention of salvation in Genesis 3 where the snake will be crushed so that the offspring of the woman can live, and of course it is supremely true in Jesus' death and resurrection, where he saves us by taking our judgement for us.
Two things to see – God's salvation is not something we can take for granted – in the midst of salvation there is also judgement. If you are taking for granted that you will be OK when you meet God then you're in for a shock, just like the Egyptian who through they could just waltz through the Red Sea while they remained dead set against God. They continued in their crazy pursuit of rebellion against God right into the jaws of God's wrath against them. And many will do the same in our age too. We need to be clear – there is no salvation for those who remain in rebellion against God. We can't promise God's blessing on sin, he is clear, abundantly clear – we're saved when we repent – when we turn back from rebellion and submit to him as Lord. There are many things that are praised and gloried in in our day that the Bible condemns outright. As Philippians says 'many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach and their glory is their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (Philippians 3.18-21). If we are governed by our appetites we are condemned by them, they are false gods which lead to destruction. That is why gay marriage is always wrong, and no amount of church blessings will make it pleasing to God. Society wants to whitewash all kinds of things and say they're alright, and we need to be prepared at that point where we will be most conspicuous to say 'no', God will not grant heaven to us unless we repent.
God's salvation exists right alongside God's judgement, God's people will be saved through judgment, and that great and fateful day when we meet God face to face will be life to some and death to others. And at that point the things that seemed so important will be put into devastating perspective.
Can I be really blunt and ask you outright – what are you doing to help people to avoid God's judgement? We have a great and terrible picture of it here – a fate worse than death, a fate as certain as death itself. Only one way out. And you know the way. Are you praying in earnest for God's grace and mercy?? Are you prepared to stand out from the crowd and testify to God's goodness? Are you doing all you can to rescue sinners from hell? Some run towards God's judgement like the Egyptians, others put up the shutters and pretend they can survive inside their walls of denial. But unless they turn to Jesus they're equally condemned. Will you help them? I don't think I need to tell you to pray for Friday night do I? 92 tickets sold, many more sought after – pray in earnest for those women… and I don't think I need to tell you there's a wide open goal gaping infront of you at Christmas do I? Pray in earnest and invite, invite, invite.
And uncover? can you imagine how embarrassing it must be to ask someone to read the bible with you? Can you think of anything worse? It's horrifying … well it's a bit hard… well I'm embarrassed… I'm not just saying that to shame you, that's how I feel, and I've got permission , I'm a minister… but we've got to get over it – there are worse things than rejection, there are worse things than being embarrassed, there are even worse things than losing a friend – and high on that list of worse things is knowing we could have, we should have opened our mouth and talked about Jesus. God saves, first to last… and God's salvation comes in judgement . So how do we make sure that we're included in salvation?
3. Salvation Came Through Faith Expressed in Obedience
Simple point – God called for faith expressed in obedience. Israel had to step into the sea, Israel had to walk the walk and call out God's glory in the midst of his enemies. They exposed themselves to destruction, and to ridicule and disgrace. They were out there, way out there on a limb - their faith couldn't be a private thing, it had to show itself loud and clear for everyone to see.
It's clearest in Exodus 14.1-4. How could they do that? Well the people weren't really up for it, Moses had to give them a strong lead. They would have turned back and surrendered if they could, they were still saying to Moses 'I told you so, I told you we should never have rebelled, now we're all going to die out here…' But Moses knew full well what he was doing, he was all in from the very moment he walked into Pharaoh and said 'let me people go' he had painted that big target on himself, he knew exactly what he was doing. He knew God and his power. He knew God was with them – there was a great big pillar of cloud making it clear. And he knew God's power to save. But the people had to learn it, and they had to learn it the hard way – it wasn't until everything was on the line and God pulled them through that they could see just how powerful God was, just how much they could hope for from God. Moses put all his eggs in this one basket – God is good for it – and God came through.
Faith isn't faith unless its acting… say you love God all you like, your actions will reveal the truth. Say you trust God all you like, but if you never put your self on the line for God, well your actions reveal what's in your heart – if you can't trust God for this, or for that, if you won't put anything on the line, then in what sense are you trusting God?
Faith calls for action. Jesus says give your life to me, all of it, everything. There's no such thing as a part time Christian, a partial follower of Jesus – you're all in or you're all out. Either you're for him, or you're against him. Either you're trusting in Jesus, or something else is your god.
The Parting of the Red sea and the Fall of Jericho – they are pictures for us of the Christian life, beginning and the end. Exodus points to the beginning, rescue from slavery to sin; the Promised Land points to the end – entering into God's rest, taking possession of our heavenly inheritance. And what do they tell us about the Christian life? It's all about God – he does it all. Our part – to put bet all on him and to hold nothing back. Go all in or go home. But you don't want to go home, because all in on God always wins, anything on anything else always loses. That's the lesson – faith takes the prize because God will do it.