First Presbyterian Church of Elmer
107 Chestnut Street
Elmer, NJ 08318
Sermon Notes (Sunday January 18th, 2015)
Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor
“Going Forward by Faith”
Exodus 13:17-22; 1 John 5:1-5
The Israelites are marching out of Egypt heading toward the new life God has for His people. They were delivered. They are free at last! That’s what the book of Exodus is all about. In fact, the word “exodus” means “the way out.” It tells us how God made a way out of bondage for His people. And it points toward the deliverance that would be revealed in latter times through the Lord Jesus Christ … our Passover Lamb who was sacrificed to save us from our sins, and to put the past behind us.
The Exodus story brings so much hope and joy for us at the beginning of a new year. As we think about our mistakes and our failures in the past years, we can think of a God who delivers us from the power of the past. That’s why God gave us the book of Exodus … to show us how to exit the life of bondage and how to enter the life of blessing. Exodus is about leaving the past behind, but also about moving forward in faith. That’s what I want us to talk about this morning … moving forward in faith.
The Israelites were just leaving Egypt where they had been leaderless for centuries. They saw themselves as slaves and victims of the tyranny of the world’s most powerful nation, Egypt. That’s all they had ever known. They had not experienced the awareness of the direct activity of God in their midst. They had never possessed military arms … wouldn’t know what to do with them. They were not used to God’s direct guidance, and understood little of His power and His presence.
Now all of that was about to change. They were moving out and moving forward as a new people with a new identity and a new destiny. Exodus, therefore, was not only a journey to Canaan, but also a journey to a more mature faith. In one night God took Israel out of Egypt; but it would take the next 40 years to get Egypt out of Israel. God delivered Israel out of bondage, so that He might deliver them into a blessing ~ the Promised Land. The same is true for us. We are not just saved from something; we are saved for something. Do you get that? There’s a life God is calling us to that is not just sitting around waiting to go to heaven when we die, but a life of fullness now. But this life of fullness comes through God’s working on us every day we live.
We need to move forward. Last Sunday I said that there are things in the past that can weigh us down … past failures, past sins, past mistakes, past setbacks. But also we can be weighed down with the blessings of the past … and we live longing for the “good old days;” but God says, “I have so much more for you.” God is forever pressing us to move forward in our life with Him. And our hope for the future is rooted in our confidence in God, not in ourselves. So the story of the Israelites leaving Egypt shows us how we can move forward into a new year with confidence in four great foundations: God’s presence, God’s wisdom, God’s faithfulness, and God’s guidance.
First: God’s Presence
In Exodus 13:17 we read, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” The thing we have to see from the beginning is that this was not just a group of people who decided they were fed up with being pushed around by the Egyptians and said, “We’re out of here.” It wasn’t just a charismatic leader named Moses who stepped up, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and said “I have a dream.” No, this was the activity of the Almighty God who saw the hopeless, helpless condition of His people and moved to set them free. They could never do this without His presence among them.
Friends, this vision of a “present” God, not an “absent” God is what makes the whole difference. All the things that will happen to Israel over the next 40 years will be presided over by an ever-present God. When we go through difficult times, you and I need to know that God is there. He is present and we need to trust Him. When we go through times of blessing we also need to know that God is there and we need to thank Him. We may not understand the way God takes us in life. But it is enough to know that He is with us. We move forward with faith in God’s presence, but also with faith in …
Second: God’s Wisdom
In Exodus 13:17 we continue reading, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” Have you ever asked God, “Are you sure you know where we’re going?” Sometimes we wonder if God knows where He’s leading us to. There are times when we wonder, “God why don’t you answer my prayers? Why don’t you give me that promotion I’ve been wanting?” We can see here the wisdom of God manifested in His active involvement in the lives of His people. God was not just present; He was acting in wisdom on their behalf. God is the only-wise God. That means that God always knows the right and the best way for something to be done. And He always acts in accordance with that right and best way. That is what we call wisdom.
Now if God had been consulting with military strategists, they would have disagreed with the evacuation route that God chose for His people. In short … it was too long. By conventional wisdom, it was way out of the way. But God is all-wise. He knows the plans He has for us His people, and it’s not just to get us somewhere quickly or with the greatest ease. Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” God knew that He if took His people along the regular highway; it would take them right into the territory of the Philistines ~ the location of the present day Gaza Strip.
It’s fun to talk to godly saints toward the end of their lives’ journey and to hear them talk about how all the twist and turns in their life seemed so unnecessary at the time, but on looking back they could see the hand of an all-wise God leading them. Friends, if we allow God to lead us and direct our paths, we may expect to be led sometimes down a path that seems unnecessarily long or out of the way. In times like that, we need to be reminded that God knows what He is doing. He isn’t in a hurry. He’s working in our lives according to a perfect plan. That’s the excitement of walking with God. We don’t know the way, but we know Him. Don’t you think that God’s presence and God’s wisdom would change our understanding to ourselves and to our circumstances in a new year? Friends, we are secure, not because we hold tightly to Jesus, but because He holds tightly to us. In 1 John 4:5 we read, “for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” Victory becomes a reality when we enter this New Year with these four great foundations in heart and in mind: God’s presence, God’s wisdom, God’s faithfulness, and God’s guidance. Next Sunday we will shed more light on the third and fourth foundations. In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.