Past, Present, Future

The Big Story  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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In Exodus chapter five, Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh for the first time, and Pharaoh’s response is a particularly relevant one for us. He asks: “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice?” Pharaoh believed that he was the incarnation of two Egyptian deities himself, and in a day in which the power of the god was determined by the prosperity of the people, why would he, the master of the Hebrews, submit to a request from the obviously lesser Hebrew God? And, this is the same question of western civilization, isn’t it? Who is God and why should I obey him? Why should I live accountable when I have the ability to live as I please? Why should I accept his morality as being more valuable than my own definitions? Why should I seek freedom in God when I can have freedom from God?
It’s this question, asked so poignantly and honestly by Pharaoh (and by us), that Exodus seeks to answer. In Genesis, we’re given an introduction to God, and in Exodus, we’re given a greater explanation of his character, nature, and work. Let’s read Exodus 6 together to see how satisfying an answer it offers.

God’s Word

Read Exodus 6:1-9

How the Gospel is Past, Present, and Future (headline):

The gospel always has something to say about the past, the present, and the future. It’s not three easy steps to avoiding hell. The gospel is all of life. It’s being delivered from your sin, despite how bad you’ve been, so that now you are somebody new. Further, it’s taking everything that you’ve been and everything that you are and aren’t, and it’s using it to shape you more into the character of Christ over time. It’s the total transformation of what was cursed into what is blessed. It’s not just a sinner saved, but a saint sanctified and then ultimately glorified. It’s being delivered FROM death, AND it’s being delivered TO a new life. This is what’s coming into clearer focus here in Exodus. This is what I’m wanting to come into clearer focus for you during this series on the Big Story.

The proven “power” of God’s “love” secures your future.

v. 3 “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them.” You’ll see that the proven “power” of God’s “love” secures your future. Everybody is wrestling with who God is. That’s true in Choccolocco, and that’s true in ancient Egypt. Pharaoh isn’t the only one whose had questions. Israel worships God in chapter four and then doubts him in chapter 5. Moses is supposed to be his mouthpiece, and ends up asking God why he would do such evil to him and his people. So, there’ s a lot of wrestling with God happening here, and God is pleased to pull back the curtain and give insight. You’ll notice in verses 3-5 that God explains how they’ve gotten to where they are today. He appeared to the Patriarchs, established a covenant with them, heard the groanings of his people, and has remembered his covenant with them. The first thing that God points out to Moses is that, from start to finish, He did it all. He appeared to Abraham; Abraham didn’t go looking for him. He established a covenant and promised them Canaan; they had no inherent rights. But, He’s not just the God of yesterday; He’s the God of right now. He’s not just their parent’s God; He’s theirs. He’s heard their grumblings and seen their struggles. And, He has remembered his covenant, meaning He’s going to fulfill it in the future, meaning He’s going to take action they’re going to see. The Covenant mattered yesterday, it’s being upheld today, and it will come to complete fulfillment one day. From past to present to future, God is there, and God is at work. And, it’s a shadow of the gospel.

Almighty Power, Covenant Love

That’s why God places such a great emphasis on his Name. He starts out by saying, “I am the LORD.” “LORD” is all caps there; so we know that He’s referencing to his name as “YWHW” or “I Am.” He’s going to repeat this throughout our passage. But, notice the distinction and clarification He makes in verse three. He says, “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God almighty.” That is, they knew me primarily as “El Shaddai”, as the Almighty and Omnipotent One. It doesn’t mean that they didn’t know that his name was “YWHW”. They did. It’s used throughout Genesis. It means they didn’t get it. They didn’t see the full glory of what it meant that He is. They saw the power of God, but they never saw the fulfillment of the covenant. They never saw the realization of his promises. But, here is Pharaoh, Moses, and Israel, and they’re going to see it all. But, they’re going to see it all. They’re going to see God’s almighty power joined with his relentless covenant love so that the promises of the past and oppression of the present might crescendo into the experience of the fulfillment of promises tomorrow.

YHWH is El Shaddai

That’s what I understand verses four and five to point us to. “I established my covenant and now I have remembered it.” He’s going to bring it to fruition. The covenant He graciously made He is now going to powerfully uphold. He made the covenant by his love, and He takes responsibility for the covenant by his power. Think about what it means that ‘El Shaddai’ (the Almighty) is also ‘YHWH’ (Israel’s covenant, adopting God). He is the Almighty. He is able to create universes and manipulate evil and crush armies with equal ease. He is the Almighty, but He is YWHW. He is Israel’s God. He is their promise-maker and their promise-keeper. There is nothing that God can’t do or accomplish, and He is channeling all of that power and might into his covenant with them. You see, God’s covenants are his “power” aimed by his “love”. They are God’s terrifying might leveraged by God’s awesome love for the salvation, transformation, and blessing of the people that will bear his name. How could they know that God was not proving them to be fools in Egypt? The proven power of God’s love verified the security of their future, no matter what they saw.
And, that’s why we live for the praise of the Name of God. We have entered into a covenant with God that we will be saved even though we struggle with basic morality. We will be faithful, even though we find it difficult to even talk with him. We will be secured forever even though we tremble at the smallest unpleasantry. We will rest forever with Christ even though we feel like we’re coming apart. And, the assurance is in the Name of God. He is the God who is mighty to create and yet willing to save. The gospel is God channeling his power through his love to “secure” us “forever”. It is his might aimed by his love that is able to do what is otherwise impossible, even more impossible than overcoming Egypt: to save us, to sanctify us, to secure us, and to glorify us. Do you see the past, present, future nature of the gospel here?

The “joy” of “redemption” redefines your future.

v. 6 “I will bring you out from the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will delver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgement.” In verses 6-8, you’ll notice that there are seven “I will” statements given by God to Moses. And, here I want you to see that the “joy” of “redemption” redefines your future. You’ll notice that even these “I will statements” are begun by “I am the LORD.” He says it three times in these three verses. And, the point is clear enough: God’s “activity” flows from his “identity”. He is and so He does. “I Am so I will.”
And, we should see these seven statements as building upon one another and clarifying one another. He starts by talking about what He will do, and He lands on to what end He is doing it. So, to start with he says essentially the same thing in three different ways: “I will bring you out…I will deliver you…I will redeem you.” The first two (‘bring you out’, ‘deliver you’) tell us what He’s doing, and the last one (‘redeem you’) tell us how He’s doing it. In Exodus 4:22, God calls Israel his ‘firstborn son’. They’re his family because He has adopted them and made them so, and redemption is a family responsibility. Redemption becomes a major part of life in Israel, and it could take many different shapes. A redeemer was like a family advocate or family champion that protect the family from certain circumstances. A person might be in debt and unable to pay. They might even have sold themselves into slavery to their debtor, and the redeemer would come and pay the ransom, the debt, the price of their freedom so they could return home. When famine would strike, someone might sell the family land to another family. But, the redeemer could pay that family a ransom that would uphold the heritage of the family. If a woman was widowed without an heir or a livelihood, the redeemer would marry her and seek to provide her with an heir, with standing, with a future. A redeemer could pay someone’s way out of prison. So, at times it was the result of sin and other times it’s the result of misfortune, but what we learn is Redemption is securing someone’s “future” by paying for their “past”. It’s a ransom paid at the expense of the redeemer. That’s how God is going to liberate Israel. He’s going to redeem them 'with an outstretched arm’. At the cost of his effort and energy. And, it’s a preview of how He is going to redeem his ‘firstborn son, Israel’ by sending his truer firstborn son, Jesus.

The Expectation of Joy

v. 7 “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God.” And, here’s the power of this: redemption isn’t just for the purpose of setting free and then leaving alone. It changes everything. Redemption “reshapes” reality. It comes with the expectation of gratitude and servitude in honor of the Redeemer. That’s what He’s getting at in verse 7 when He says, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God.”. Israel will be set apart from the world because on Sinai and then the tabernacle and then the Temple, and ultimately in each of us individually through the Holy Spirit, God lives in the midst of his people. His presence in there, and his holy presence reshapes and redefines daily life for his people, then and now. So, there is an anticipation of coming, sustainable joy for God’s people. He’s going to redeem them, and then abide with them. It’s the formula for durable joy. It’s the same thing that Jesus says about us, isn’t it? “Abide in him that your joy might be full.” Redemption is a reset. It’s the restoration of value, the attainment of purpose, and the realization of freedom. You were a slave, but someone paid for your freedom. You were a debtor, but someone paid off your debt. You were destitute, but someone gave you a home. You were under the penalty of death, but someone paid your price. What rational response is there outside of joy? Redemption expects joy. You’ll serve your redeemer, but you’ll serve him joyfully, cheerfully, happily. Joy is an expression of gratitude to your redeemer. This is the perspective that will quench any anger or resentment that you hold toward God. This is the remedy for the sense of unfairness you’re always battling. Drag it into the house of your Redeemer because anger and resentment, entitlement and self-pity can’t survive there.
v. 8 “I will bring you into the land” But, redemption doesn’t just change right now. Redemption “redefines” the future. You’ll see that God has far more in view than just taking them out of Egypt. He’s taking them somewhere. He’s saving them from something, and He’s saving for something. He’s taking them to the promised land. He’s giving them their rightful inheritance. He’s bringing them out of slavery to give to them the inherited promise from Abraham so many hundreds of years earlier. It was going to be a total transformation. This is the picture of what Paul says of our redemption out of our slavery to sin paid by the ransom of Christ in Galatians 4:4-7: “When time came to completion, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts (reshaped reality) , crying, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God (redefined future).” The redemption of Exodus, the redefining of Israel’s identity, the reshaping of Israel’s future is a light that shines upon your own identity and future so that you can understand them and love them better. You were slaves with an inheritance of misery, but Christ paid the ransom, Christ set you free, and Christ purchased your inheritance, your future. So, Christ redeemed who you were to reshape who are and redefine who you will be. You will be an heir! It’s the gospel the redeems us and pays for our past. And, it’s our gospel redemption that reshapes our reality and redefines our future. The gospel is past, present, and future. That’s the big story.
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