14th Sunday after Trinity September 5, 1999
3, 433, 437, 457
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. In the morning watch the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. He made the wheels of their chariots come off so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing from it, and the Lord swept them into the sea. The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived. But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant. Here ends our text.
In the name of Jesus Christ—your Best Friend and mine!—Dear Fellow-Redeemed,
The Roman poet Ovid once said, “So long as you are secure you will count many friends; if your life becomes clouded you will be alone.” He was stating a truth about friendship that we all have learned from experience. When things are going great in your life, friends seem to come out of the woodwork. But when you get in a jam, and things are going badly, it can be tough to find a friend who’s willing to help you. That truth is preserved in the simple proverb that every grade-schooler knows: “A friend in need is a friend indeed!”
At the Red Sea, the Children of Israel found themselves desperately in need of a friend. They had escaped from the slavery and oppression of Egypt, only to find themselves being chased by the army of Pharaoh. And now they had their backs against the wall. To the east was an impassible barrier—the Red Sea. To the west they could see the dust of the Egyptian chariots coming closer and closer. On that fateful day, the Israelites discovered Who their greatest Friend was: the mighty Jehovah-God. You know, He’s your greatest Friend, too! Let’s go back to that day and see why, for Israel and for us, the Lord is truly…
I’m sure you’ve heard it said that “you can’t change the laws of nature.” If there’s one thing that remains constant in this life, it’s the fact that water runs downhill. Or does it? Perhaps it’s true that we can’t do much about the physical laws of nature, but there is One who is above those laws—the Almighty God. And He proved it that day on the shores of the Red Sea, when the Israelites were facing certain destruction at the hands of the Egyptians. He proved that He was a powerful Friend.
I wonder if any of you have ever been in a situation of sudden grave danger. A situation where you suddenly realized that in the next few moments you might lose your life. Then maybe you can imagine how the Children of Israel felt. It must have been like looking down the barrel of a loaded gun. One of the mightiest armies of that day, the army of Egypt, was bearing down on God’s people, preparing to destroy them. They could see the cloud of dust coming closer and closer, hear the pounding hooves of the horses, the rolling thunder of the chariots—with every moment that passed, they were a moment closer to blood and the sword and the awful wrath of the soldiers of Pharaoh. The Israelites panicked. They were frantic with fear. They cried out to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? …It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.”—Ex 14:12-13.
And then the miracle happened. The water ran uphill!
God told Moses to turn around, face the sea, and extend his hand over it. Then the Lord caused a strong east wind to blow, and parted the sea, creating a dry path for the people to walk across on. Moses led them through the sea, with a wall of water standing up on either side of them. When the Egyptians tried to follow them through the sea, they ran into trouble. The wheels came off their chariots and the army was thrown into confusion. Pretty soon even the godless Egyptians realized that Israel had a powerful Friend who was helping them. “They said, ‘Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.’” But the realization came too late! When Israel was safely on the other side, Moses again extended his hand over the sea, and those walls of water came crashing down on the Egyptians. They were all drowned—there wasn’t a single survivor. In this time of Israel’s greatest need, God’s people found out who their real Friend was, and they found out exactly how powerful He was!
Do you realize how powerful a Friend you have in God? I often ask confirmation students who has the most power in the world. They invariably come up with the names of the presidents of the United States and the Russian republic. And those men have a lot of power, no two ways about it. They hold the power of nuclear holocaust in their hands. That thought’s enough to frighten anybody! But let’s not forget that there’s Someone who holds even Clinton and Yeltsin in His hand. A mightier name. The name of Jesus Christ! Paul says, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you…and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given.”—Eph 1:18-21. Oh yes, your Friend is a powerful Friend!
Your Friend is also a forgiving Friend. Ask yourself why it was that God befriended the Israelites at the Red Sea. What caused Him to open a path for them to escape the Egyptians? Was it because they were such a faithful people, who always kept God’s Word, and never disobeyed? That sure wasn’t the reason! They were rebellious sinners, just like you and me! They had fears and doubts and weaknesses just like we do. The psalmist looked back on that day and saw that nothing had changed since then…“We have sinned, even as our fathers did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly. When our fathers were in Egypt, they gave no thought to his miracles; they did not remember his many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his mighty power known.”—Ps 106:7-10. And nothing has changed since then, either. God’s people can still be just as weak and faithless as the Israelites at times.
We Christians seem to have very short memories, don’t we? It happens again and again: God gets us through some trouble or other—often miraculously—and before we know it, we’re worried about something else in our life. As if God won’t take care of that problem, too! Think back on all the times God has delivered you from adversity. If you can’t remember many, you’re not thinking hard enough! It’s lucky for us that God’s mercy doesn’t depend on our long memory. He is a forgiving Friend. He forgives our forgetfulness, our faithlessness, our periodic weaknesses and doubts. He forgives our sin for the same reason he forgave the Children of Israel that day—for the sake of the Messiah, our Savior Jesus Christ.
“But Pastor,” you say, “are you exaggerating a little bit? Aren’t you reading a lot of New Testament back into those Old Testament times? After all, how much could Moses and the Israelites really have known about Jesus when He wouldn’t even be born for another 1300 years?” But I’m not exaggerating. Those people knew a lot about Jesus! They understood very well the prophesies of the Messiah. Remember the ritual sacrifices and the Sabbath Day observances. Remember the Passover—where each family sacrificed an innocent lamb and spread its blood on their doorposts for protection. All these things pointed the Israelites to one Person: the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ! In fact, the Book of Hebrews tells us that it was faith in the coming Christ that made Moses become the leader of Israel in the first place. It was faith in Christ that made him lead the people out of Egypt. And it was faith in Christ that got them across the Red Sea. Here’s what the Bible says: “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger…By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land.”—Heb 11:24-27, 29. For the sake of Jesus Christ, God befriended Israel even though they were a stubborn and rebellious people. And by reason of your faith in Christ, you, too can rest assured that your Friend is a forgiving Friend, who will save you despite your sinfulness!
Finally, your Best Friend is a Friend who doesn’t change. How many of your other friends can you say that about? Probably every one of us can think of people who we once considered close friends, but who turned out to be no friends at all when the going got tough! God isn’t like that. His mercy and generosity stay the same no matter what. James says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”—James 1:17. A true friend is there when you need him. God promises to “be there” for you—tomorrow, next week, next year… God will be there with you all day, every day, for the rest of your life! With the gift of forgiveness for your sins, the gift of faith through the Holy Spirit, the gift of deliverance from every trial through his omnipotent power. Times change, but our Savior doesn’t! One of the most beautiful passages in Scripture assures us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever.”
A pastor told me a joke once about a man who slipped over the edge of a cliff. As he fell, he managed to grab onto the branch of a small tree, which left him hanging by a twig, hundreds of feet above the canyon below. He yelled frantically back up to the cliff, “Is anybody up there?” He heard a voice say, “This is the Lord speaking…I’ll help you. Just trust Me, and then let go of the branch!” The man thought about it for a few seconds. Then he yelled, “Is anybody else up there?” My fellow Christians, you and I have a Friend who wants to, and is able to, help us out of every kind of trouble, no matter how serious. He is a powerful, forgiving, and unchanging Friend. May the Holy Spirit give us each a faith strong enough to let go of everything else, and trust God, our greatest Friend! In Jesus’ name we ask it, AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.