"Look Back, See What God Has Done"#84-42
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on June 18, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2017 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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This week on Action in Ministry Q&A MP3
Text: Exodus 19:2-8
Our text for today is recorded in Exodus chapter 19 beginning at verse 2. They the Israelites set out from Rephidim, and they came into the wilderness of Sinai and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, while Moses went up to God. The Lord Yahweh called to him out of the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 'You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel."
So Moses came and he called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that Yahweh had commanded him. All the people answered together then and said, "All that the Lord Yahweh has spoken we will do!" And Moses reported the words of the people to Yahweh the Lord. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Hallelujah.
Rephidim is one of those details we skip when we read from the Bible. Our reading starts by saying that Israel set out from Rephidim, which is the Hebrew word that means "resting place." I know you're probably thinking "Pastor, who cares?" Who cares? Well, let me tell you. Let me tell you why you should. Let me tell you what happened at Rephidim. First, the people of Israel got mad at Moses that there was not enough water there. They were afraid they were going to die of thirst, so they complained and accused Moses of leading them out to the desert from Egypt to die. They looked back at Egypt and remembered having plenty of water there, even though they were in captivity and slavery there.
Moses took this complaint to God. He told God that the people were so angry they were going to stone him, so God fixed their mess. He told Moses to go in front of the people to a rock; God told Moses to hit the rock with his staff. Now picture this. The people are dying for water in the middle of a desert and Moses leads them to a rock, not a spring, but a rock, and he hits that rock with his staff. This, folks, it makes no sense, but water came from the rock and the people drank. From a rock, God brought water, water that satiated them in the desert.
While they were at Rephidim, the Amalekites attacked, so Moses went to the top of a hill and he lifted up his hands, and the Israelites started to win, but when Moses lowered his hands, they started to lose. When Moses raised his hands, they won. When he lowered them, they lost. This kept happening over and over again so they found a rock for Moses to sit on. A rock. Then Aaron and Hur held up Moses' hands because Moses got tired and Israel defeated the Amalekites because God delivered them through Moses' hands-just as He provided water from a rock through the staff in Moses' hand.
It's more than a little important when it says they left Rephidim. Now listen, I know you've never been to Rephidim and you've never won a battle because of the prophet's hands were uplifted. You have never drunk water from a rock because God's prophets struck it with a staff, but I'm guessing that if you had been to Rephidim and seen those things, you might not be inclined to leave. I mean, incredible things happened there for those people, but Israel did leave because God called them somewhere else. For all the marvel and wonder of Rephidim, there was even more ahead.
I was once at a reservoir that was made to dam up a river and create a lake. Fishermen are gathered around the spillway to try to catch one of the hundreds of fish gathered at this confluence of water. They're perched around the railings; they bait their hooks and they hold their poles, watching for tension and signs of hooked prey. Down the river, though, there are nests, large nests perched at the very top of the trees, and there perched on the branches are large birds, very large birds. Eagles. They gather there, too, to hunt and to eat.
Now if you get to watch one of these, you would see the most amazing process, wings spread aloft, they fly and float over the length of the river, scanning the water. Their eyes are designed to see into the water and to identify their target. When they see the fish they want, they flick their feathers and dive. Speed, agility, and accuracy all meet in the exact right space and time, and the eagle dips into the water with its talons, and there in the grasp of the eagle is a large fish.
It might appear that this catch might be just too much for that eagle to carry, but the splendor and size of its wings are on full display with sweeping, powerful motions. The eagle's wings provide power and lift so that that eagle with that fish in its talons rises up to the perch in the branches of the tree. There the eagle feasts on its catch and all those who witness the catch feel a sense of awe and appreciation for such a majestic creature. In that moment, the men with their poles hoping to get lucky and snag a fish, they seem awfully clumsy and totally inferior to that incredible creature of God, the eagle.
Even the God of the eagle doesn't seem to impress us much anymore. People are leaving the church today in an effort to find God. As crazy as this is, people are walking away from Christianity in search for Jesus. Yeah, people are wanting a God that helps them in their everyday life. People want a God who is practical and effectual again on our own terms. They ask questions like this, "What has He done for you? What has He done for me, lately?" We read all of these stories in the Old Testament and we wonder why doesn't God do that for me like He did for them?
Many people believe in an if-then God. If we obey, then God will bless. Our text seems to present God in this way. Moses tells Israel that God has made a promise. If Israel obeys, then God will call them the treasured possession. You can imagine what these Israelites were thinking. They remembered what God did to the Egyptians. He's not someone to mess with. They remembered crossing the Red Sea miraculously. They remembered Rephidim. God lays it out for Israel. If you obey, you are My treasured possession. If Israel obeys, they will be a kingdom of priests.
What happens when they don't obey? What happens when Israel disobeys or obeys some other god? Then God is released from the arrangement. If Israel disobeys God, then He no longer is their God and they're no longer His people. Again, pure and simple. Here's the irony of all of this. God's people didn't become God's people through obedience. They became God's people because He saved them first. We are God's treasured possession not because of our obedience but because of His Grace, His mercy, His love in Christ Jesus. It was the same then. It's the same now.
1 Peter 2 says this: But you, and he's talking about Christians now, are a chosen race, "a royal priesthood, a holy nation," a people for God's own possession. Now, this is a familiar passage to most, but you might not know what verse 10 says: "Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." God makes us what we don't deserve to be. Let me say that again. God makes us what we don't deserve to be. He makes us His own people out of His love and out of His mercy.
We don't jump from Moses, Isaiah, or even the children of Israel, immediately to our world today. We don't leap from then to now and pretend that nothing has changed from then to now. Something has changed. Actually, everything has changed because of Jesus. To those Israelites, God said, "You will be My people if you obey." They failed, we fail. Jesus didn't. Jesus lived His life in perfect obedience to God and in fulfillment of the Law in their place as well as ours. Jesus is the treasured possession that God is talking about. He's the King and the Priest of God. His obedience secures God's blessing for all who trust in Him.
On the cross, Jesus suffered and died because we disobeyed God's commandments. Because of our disobedience, we deserve nothing from God except His wrath. He is freed from His agreement to love us. He's freed from His promise to see us as His people. He's free from His promises because we have broken the pact. Our disobedience breaks our relationship to God and that means that He no longer sees us as His treasured possession. Disobedience to God's commands is serious, serious business.
There's a book out that says why do bad things happen to good people, but if you really take life seriously, why does anything good happen at all? We're accustomed to thinking that we can break the rules as long as we don't get caught. We have even convinced ourselves that rules are not important as long as no one gets hurt, but God doesn't share that view of rules. God says absolute obedience is the only obedience that counts. We don't have the right or the authority to decide which rules we should listen to and which ones are optional. We don't have the power to pick and choose the laws that make sense to us. We're not in the position to determine the truth. God tells us plainly in the Scripture: He makes the rules; we obey. He is God, we are not. If we disobey God, He will leave us alone. He will let us perish in our own sin. As a matter of fact, God will punish our disobedience; the Almighty God is to be feared.
When the almighty and eternal God punishes, that punishment is eternally bad. We will obey, they cried. We will obey, and God will hold us to that promise. He will uphold His end of the bargain if we uphold our end. He will bless us if we obey Him, yet we don't. We simply don't, ever. Who can rescue us from such a predicament? You want authenticity? Well, listen to this. The reality, the authentic experience, is that we don't deserve God's love, and our disobedience to His commands has disqualified us from a relationship with Him. Here it comes: authentic, real, God, however, still chooses to love us.
1 John 3 says this: "See what kind of love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God." What kind of love is that? Well, let me tell it to you straight. It's the love that gave His only Son, Jesus. His was an obedience in our place. He loved God perfectly, obeyed all of God's commandments as we should have, but He did it all in our place, and God was pleased with Him. And God called Him the King and He gave Him a kingdom. Then Jesus died. Can you believe it? He's the only One who deserved life and then He died in our place, too. He died the death of the disobedient-not because He had done anything wrong but because we continually disobey. Jesus died the death He didn't deserve to die. And He died because the promise had been broken-broken not by Him but by us.
Since we can't keep the promise, Jesus kept the promise for us so that we can be the people of God in Him, with Him, and by Him. All who trust in Jesus are God's people because of what Jesus has done for them. And all who trust in Jesus as their Savior are God's treasured possession. All who repent of their sin and believe they're forgiven because of Jesus' death and resurrection-they belong to God forever and ever, and in Him they are blessed.
See, this is how God likes to be known. He likes to be known as the God who lifts up His people on eagles' wings and saves them when they don't deserve it. He is the God of grace and mercy who loves those who haven't earned His love. That's why God said to those Israelites, "Look to Rephidim." When they left Rephidim, He said, "Look back, remember, don't ever forget what I have done for you." He was there God because He had acted to save them. He lifted them up like the eagle who lifts and carries with outstretched wings.
Today, what do we do? Well, we don't look back to Rephidim. Actually, we look to something even more certain, even more beautiful, even something more powerful. We look to the cross, where God acted to save us all. Look with me today and see what God has done to save you and to save me. Look back and see what God has done for us all. Just try and imagine what it means to be God's treasured possession because of what Jesus Christ has done for you. Give up the foolish notion that life is in your hands. Those hands eventually fail. They eventually falter. Those hands eventually lose their grip on life. God calls us to look back at the cross and see God's open hands and outstretched arms of grace, calling you back to Himself.
Do you want an authentic and relevant God in your life? Give up the foolish religious quest of trying to find it all on your own. Today, look to the One who is God in the flesh, real, personal, One who came for you and still comes for you today. He lived in this world; He experienced real life; and He truly died and rose to truly, really forgive your sins. You want a relationship with Him? Well, He wants that for you by grace through faith in Jesus alone because that kind of relationship lasts forever. You see, God has kept His promise to be your God, not because you were faithful to your end of the bargain, but because He loves you so much that He not only kept His side of the bargain, He kept your side of the bargain, too. Look back, see what He's done, and put your faith in Him. Amen.
Action in Ministry for June 18, 2017
Guest: Dr. Joel Biermann
Announcer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour and this is Action in Ministry, your call to action in response to all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Pastor Seltz, in today's message, he talked about the distinct characteristics of God as Father.
Gregory Seltz: Yeah, Mark, God was protector and is protector and provider, a leader for the Israelites. He showed us what it looks like to show mercy despite disobedience. He is the perfect Father, but nowadays, the very definition of fatherhood is being blurred in our society where extreme equality or egalitarianism rules.
Mark Eischer: We want to consider today what the Bible has to say about fathers as we celebrate Father's Day. Joining us is Dr. Joel Biermann, Professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. He is father to three and grandfather to five.
Gregory Seltz: Wow! Dr. Biermann, Happy Father's Day and thanks for joining us.
Joel Biermann: Thank you, and number six on the way.
Gregory Seltz: Oh, my goodness. Blessings all around.
Joel Biermann: Indeed.
Mark Eischer: Very good. Now in previous years, I think it all seemed more straightforward. Dads went to work to provide for their families. They had the final word on everything and they were responsible for protecting their family. Nowadays, society tells us be whatever you want to be, do whatever you want to do. Those traditional roles have been replaced by an unwillingness to conform to any sort of traditional pattern. What's a father to do?
Joel Biermann: Yeah. I think the first thing is to recognize it's not just a matter of tradition. It's not just a matter of-I like doing things traditionally and fathers should be in charge. No. It's just how God has arranged things, and the very concept that God has arranged His creation to function a certain way is very difficult to get across in our culture today because our culture today is built around the individual being the center of things instead of God's truth being the center of things. It shifts how you begin to think about it.
Gregory Seltz: Let's talk about this. What does the Bible say about fatherhood? I know this is a question that a lot of people have. Is it really possible to practice that way of doing things in this day and age?
Joel Biermann: It's not easy, but it's never been easy, because to be a father the way God calls you to be a father means sacrificing self. You're not living for yourself and what you get out of life. Kids aren't there to meet your needs. They're not there to have fun with. You're there to be responsible to provide for them, care for them, nurture them, guide them in God's way so that they are walking with Christ and cultivating character. These things take work and they always have.
Today, maybe it's even harder because we don't have society on our side. But the cool thing is a father still has the church on His side, and this is where churches and pastors really need to step up and say, "Wait a minute. We need to be encouraging and equipping our men to be the kind of men God calls them to be, because it's not an easy thing."
Gregory Seltz: Yeah, and there's real purpose in that way of living, and that's one of the things everyone's looking for, but here we have it in following God's Word.
Mark Eischer: How does a man stay true to that calling?
Joel Biermann: Yeah. One of the best ways to stay true to that calling is to stay where God's truth is being taught. Stay in God's Word. Be regular in church attendance. It's really hard to follow God's truth when you're not hearing it and being nurtured in it. Be with other men who have similar standards and goals because they can encourage you. They can help you sort out when things aren't going quite right or help you realize maybe your thinking is a little bit off track and get you back on track.
Mark Eischer: Now we have a video resource titled, Fatherhood. It makes a great study for individuals; you can also use it in a group setting. Dr. Biermann, what could one expect to gain from using this material?
Joel Biermann: What you gain from the material is maybe a new perspective because we're inundated with perspectives about what a real man is and what it means to be a father, and there's these cliché ideas. The first thing that the series will do is kind of give you a new perspective on, wait a minute, this is how God expects us to work. It kind of opens your mind a little bit, and then it also gives you some concrete things specifically on what you can actually start to incorporate and especially gives us some tips on what is it that God expects me to do for my children. How can I care for them? There's some concrete things in there that help with that. It's just not theory.
Gregory Seltz: Yeah, and it's crucial for believers to know and practice what God expects and enables fathers to be for the good of their families. Folks, this is not only a great study for fathers or fathers-to-be, but for young men and women, too, Joel.
Joel Biermann: It is. Absolutely. We all need to learn from this, even a guy like me. I'm in grandfather stage now. I still need to remember I've got responsibilities to my grown adult children, which don't go away. Just because they're 18 isn't the age of emancipation there, all bets are off. No. I'm always a father, always a grandfather, and I still have responsibilities to carry out.
Gregory Seltz What a great work to do, a great purpose in life. Dr. Biermann, thanks so much for being here with us.
Joel Biermann: It's a pleasure.
Gregory Seltz: That's our Action in Ministry segment today to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ for others.
Mark Eischer: To view or download this resource for free, go to lutheranhour.org and click on Action in Ministry or call 1-855-JOHN316. That's 1-855-564-6316. Our email address is email@example.com.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for June 18, 2017
Topic: Pierced for our Transgressions
ANNOUNCER: We are back once again with Pastor Gregory Seltz responding to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. Today we're going to explore another well-known Bible passage. This is Isaiah 53 verse 5. "But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our inequities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed." Now this is the Old Testament, but it sounds like it's talking about Jesus.
Gregory Seltz: Mark, this is one of the most amazing verses in the entire Bible. As a matter of fact, this verse is found in one of the most important sections of the Old Testament.
Mark Eischer: What section is that?
Gregory Seltz: This one verse is part of Isaiah known as the "Suffering Servant" song. The book of Isaiah contains several servant songs, and this is the fourth servant song in which the servant is pictured as both God and as the One who suffers for the salvation of God's people.
Mark Eischer: Okay. This is written by the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament. When did he write that?
Gregory Seltz: We don't know exactly what year Isaiah wrote this, but we know that he prophesied and wrote from around 740 until 681 B.C. Listen, that's 700 years before Jesus was born.
Mark Eischer: Why are we talking about Jesus when this is an Old Testament passage?
Gregory Seltz: In Acts chapter 8, there's a story about a man who's reading the fourth servant song in Isaiah. He asked a Christian named Philip who this song was about, and Philip told the man the good news about Jesus from this passage.
Mark Eischer: All right. So you're saying Isaiah wrote about Jesus 700 years before Jesus was even born.
Gregory Seltz: Yes. As amazing as that sounds, yes. The fourth servant song in Isaiah 52 to 53 is a prophecy about who Jesus is and what He was to do on the cross.
Mark Eischer: He's telling us that Jesus is God and that He will suffer for His people. Where does it say all that?
Gregory Seltz: The servant song actually starts in verse 13 of chapter 52. There the servant's described as high and lifted up. These are the same words that are used to describe the eternal holy God in Isaiah Chapter 57. These words also echo how Isaiah describes God in Isaiah 6. In the New Testament, Paul tells us in Philippians 2 that these words, "high and lifted up," describe Jesus as God.
Mark Eischer: You're saying that in the Old Testament, the prophet told us the suffering servant would be God Himself.
Gregory Seltz: Yes. There are many places in the Old Testament where Gold tells His people that He Himself will come to save. Of course, we see that most clearly fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Mark Eischer: You also said that this song tells us this servant, who is God, will suffer.
Gregory Seltz: You know, Mark, amazing as that seems, yes. Listen to what Isaiah 53 says. He uses these words: "pierced," "crushed," "chastised," "wounded." That's the suffering servant in action.
Mark Eischer: Which sounds a lot like a description of crucifixion.
Gregory Seltz: It does.
Mark Eischer: But it's not just a physical description of death on the cross. I think there's more here. It's for our transgressions, for our iniquities, for our peace, and for our healing.
Gregory Seltz: Servant of the Lord, He suffered all of the pains of death and hell to forgive our sins, and the Bible says Jesus died on the cross in order to pay the price for our sons, to suffer the wrath of God because of our sins, ultimately, yes, to give us His peace and healing.
Mark Eischer: He's God but He's suffering on a cross.
Gregory Seltz: Yes, He is, and as God, His death then can destroy death, can destroy sin, can destroy the power of the devil, and there's more! God wasn't finished just removing the curses. He also, by all this work, gives us His eternal life. So the resurrection of Jesus means that we live forever with Him in His kingdom. Listen again to the words of Isaiah: "But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for iniquities. Upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace. With His wounds, we are healed."
Mark Eischer: His wounds bring us peace and healing.
Gregory Seltz: Again, 700 years, that's exactly earlier, that's exactly what Isaiah says. We will rise with Him and live forever with God, forgiven free forever. We live now and forever because of Jesus' death and resurrection, a fullness of Isaiah's prophecy accomplished for the world to see.
Mark Eischer: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"God Loved the World So That He Gave" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"Hail, Thou Once Despised Jesus" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)