[Notes of a sermon originally preached in 2003]
Text: Exodus 8:20-9:35, esp. 9:13-35.
We read it in the Bible, we recite it in our creed, we sing it in our songs and hymns, we say it in our prayers. But do we really believe it? Is God really powerful?
‘Allies meet for crisis summit’ – The leaders of the US, UK and Spain hold an emergency summit on Iraq as final preparations are made for war.
‘Global alert over mystery virus’ – A frantic search is on to find people who have come into contact with a virus that has claimed lives in a number of countries.
‘Forum tackles world water crisis’ – A major conference in Japan hears that water shortages pose a greater long-term danger than current events in the Middle East.
The feeling is about that if there is a God, then things are way out of his control. For many, God is like some exasperated parent, looking down helplessly from an upstairs window while her children take pot-shots at one another in the garden. From time to time she wrings her hands and calls down feebly, “Why can’t you children behave?” But no-one is listening.
Welcome back to the plagues, esp. the 7th. A freak hail-storm, and a stubborn tyrant who refuses to release people he has exploited for years as slave-labour.
But look how God takes control in this situation.
1. God takes control by using evil for good purposes. See v16, “But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
Gen 50:20 “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Acts 2:23f “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”
Napoleon, at the height of his career, is reported to have given the following cynical answer to someone who asked if God was on the side of France: “God is on the side that has the heaviest artillery.” Then came the Battle of Waterloo, where Napoleon lost both the battle and his empire. Years later, in exile on the island of St. Helena, chastened and humbled, he is reported to have quoted the words of Thomas a Kempis: “Man proposes; God disposes.” This is the lesson with which history confronts us all. God is able to work his sovereign will – with or without our co-operation.
And, look: God is sovereign even over Pharaoh’s heart, v34f; 10:1.
And you say, “I don’t get it. Pharaoh was obviously responsible for his own actions, and yet it clearly says that he was under God’s control. How do you reconcile divine sovereignty with human responsibility?” Answer: I don’t.
‘That God is sovereign, and yet that man is responsible, are two facts that few can see clearly. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory, but they are not…Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other…I do not believe they can ever be welded into one on any earthly anvil, but they certainly shall be one in eternity. They are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the human mind which pursues them farthest will never discover that they converge, but they do converge, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.’ (Spurgeon)
2. God takes control by harnessing the forces of nature, 23f. God could have achieved his purpose by simply ‘zapping’ Pharaoh, or by sending an army of angels to deal with him. But most, if not all, of these plagues involve a miraculous harnessing of the natural world: frogs, gnats, flies, hail, and so on.
Here is an important reminder that what we call ‘nature’ is just as much God’s work as what we call ‘miracle’. ‘Nature’ is simply God going about his business as usual, what we call a ‘miracle’ is God doing the unusual.
Verse 29, “so you may know that the earth is the Lord’s.”
Think what it would do for scientific study and enterprise if we could regain this sense of the physical world being created and sustained by an almighty God; that every scientific discovery was merely the investigator ‘thinking God’s thoughts after him.’
Think what it would do for our stewardship of the environment if we could remember that, at the very beginning, ‘The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.’
Think what it would do for each one of us if when we woke up in the morning we appreciated that the sun had risen not merely in response to some natural law, but because God had said, “Get up, and do it again.”
3. God takes control by protecting his own people, v26. I’m not sure that the Israelites felt very protected. In fact, they felt that Moses was taking them from the frying pan into the fire.
2 Pet 2:9 ‘The Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials.’
1 Cor 10:13 ‘God is faithful; he will not let you be tested beyond what you can bear. But when you are tested, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.’
The story has been told of a believer, Frederick Nolan, who was fleeing his enemies during a time of persecution in north Africa. Pursued by them over hill and valley with no place to hide, he fell exhausted into a wayside cave, expecting his enemies to find him soon. Awaiting his death, he saw a spider weaving a web. Within minutes, the little creature had woven a beautiful web across the mouth of the cave. The pursuers arrived and wondered if Nolan was hiding there, but on seeing the delicate, unbroken web, thought it impossible for him to have entered the cave without breaking it. And so they went on. Afterwards, he exclaimed, “Where God is, a spider’s web is stronger than a concrete wall. Where God is not, a concrete wall is weaker than a spider’s web.”
Do you feel weak and vulnerable? Does everything seem against you? Let this all-powerful God be your God today. If [such a] God is for you, who can stand against you? All his power is extended for the good of his people. God had a plan in raising up a people for himself and that plan cannot be overthrown. God had a purpose in send his Son into the world, and that cannot be thwarted. God has given us his very great and precious promises, and those promises cannot be broken.
Crowns and thrones may perish,
Kingdoms rise and wane;
But the church of Jesus
Constant will remain:
Gates of hell can never
‘Gainst that church prevail:
We have Christ’s own promise,
And that cannot fail.
I pray that almighty God will give you the power to begin, continue, and complete, your walk with Christ
Col 1:11f ‘that being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.’
Eph 3:16 ‘that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.’
Rom 15:13 ‘that the God of hope may fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.’