I wonder sometimes, and maybe you do too, what it would have been like to witness some of these historical moments of the Bible. To have stood in awe as God opened the ground and the heavens pouring forth the waters that would cover the earth in a flood. To have seen the sun stop in the air so Joshua and the Israelites could defeat their enemies. To have watched Elijah be taken up in a whirlwind into heaven. Wouldn’t that be incredible? To see those things with your own eyes? I think it would. And don’t you think it would be a great faith booster to see these miracles of God? To witness God’s awesome power in action. Wouldn’t it put to rest any doubts you might have about God and his plan for you? And wouldn’t it drive out any fear you might have of current problems or future uncertainties since you’d be able to relive again and again the miracle God performed before your very eyes? Proof that he is real. Proof that he is…God, your God.
But if we look at what Moses writes for us in Exodus chapter 14 today we see that what we think and what the actual reality is, is quite different. Here God’s people, the Israelites, had witnessed miracles from God. They stood in awe as locusts invaded Egypt. They saw an eclipse that dwarfed the one last week and plunged Egyptian homes into darkness, but left their homes full of light. They watched as the Lord struck down all the firstborn of Egypt while sparing those who followed God’s Passover instructions.
And so, after witnessing these previous miracles, and now as they stood trapped in our lesson between the Red Sea and a fast approaching Egyptian army, what was there response? “They were terrified!” Which really is a very reasonable response to impending death, and that’s not all. We are told “they cried out to the Lord.” Which also sounds great, right? But here is what they cried, “They said 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? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
Faith fled. Faith which led these Israelites to follow Moses and a great pillar of fire into the desert was cast aside as doubt began its reign. And what was the Lord’s response to their doubt and fear? “Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” Be still God said. I got this. I will fight for you. I will save you. I will strengthen you. Be still.
And God did have this. He fought for his people. In the next verses we see his presence, that pillar of cloud, “moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel.” At the same time Moses was told to raise his staff and part the Red Sea so they could walk across on dry land. Amid doubt and utter despair, as faith fled, God led. He fought for his people.
Now we weren’t there when this happened. And we may not have a physical army racing towards us, but do we not face an onslaught of doubt every day in our lives? Are there not moments or experiences that have brought us to the brink of despair? What’s causing you to doubt in your life? Is it the news on the TV? The protests? The endless violence? The breakdown of civil discourse? The threat of war both abroad and at home. Maybe your doubts are more personal. For the children, a new school year. Will I make the sports teams? Will I have friends or get the grades that keep me and my parents happy? For we who are a little older, doubts about our self-worth, our abilities as parents or grandparents. How do we react to those doubts?
Maybe, just like the Israelites, “we’re terrified.” And those doubts that rob us of peace during the day and keep us up tossing and turning at night drive us from the Word and the blessing of prayer, drive us from our God who says, “I will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Or maybe we cry out to God with voices of distrust as faith flees? God can’t help me! God won’t help me, I’m better off taking care of this myself.
And let’s be honest for a little bit maybe that works. Maybe you find peace on your own. Maybe you learn to control your fears and worries, but what doubt and fear looms in the future? Death. What will happen after you die? You see, God might allow us to live enjoyable lives on this earth free from doubt and despair, but the Devil can use that to lull us into a false sense of security, until the day the reality sets in. The reality that the Israelites faced in our lesson, death is coming. What will happen to you after you die? For those who reject or walk away from God the answer leads to despair: hell.
Yet, what does God say? “Be still” I got this. God fights for us. He fights for us daily against the army of sin that assails and attacks us. He puts other people in our lives to encourage us. He provides us with his Word to show us his good and pleasing will and to remind us, as we saw in our 2nd lesson from James, that those trials and tests help us to persevere as we grow in our relationship with him by relying on him. Finally, he gives us the power of prayer to talk to him and lay our troubles and sorrows at his feet. “Be still” let me fight for you. “Be still and know that I am God.”
And we see the result of God fighting for his people. Towards the end of our lesson we see what happened to the Egyptian army: “During the last watch of the night 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…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.” God fought for his people. God won. They were saved.
But what does that mean for us today? What does that mean for you who are dealing with a medical diagnosis that will change your life forever? What does that mean for you who are failing to connect to a spouse or a child? What does that mean for you who are struggling, wondering, doubting, if your faith is real and your place in heaven secure? It simply means this: God won’t just fight for you, he will save you.
The love of a spouse or child can grow cold. Friendships can be forgotten. Cancer has no compassion for its victims. The universe doesn’t answer our cries for mercy with, “I remember you…and I’ll help you.” No, it’s Jesus walking out on the waves that have beaten us into submission and led us to despair. “It is I. Don’t be afraid” he says to you. “Come, you can trust me.” And we do, for a while, then we doubt as the next wave of life hits us harder than before. But as we begin to slip beneath those waves of doubt and fear, a hand reaches out and catches us. It’s our God. It’s your Savior.
This is the God we see in our lesson for today. A God who is patient and kind with doubters and despairers. A God who catches sinners and lifts them up, again and again. It’s terrible that God speaks in his Word all these promises of help and deliverance and something in me will often answer, “I’m not so sure about that.” Yet it’s grace that moves God to speak faith in me through the power of his gracious Word.
To hold out to sinners like you and me a promise, “I have taken your sin away through Christ my Son.” A promise that catches you and as it is held out beautiful to your eyes by his Spirit, tightens your grip on his hand which is already gripping you and will never let go. Your doubts and my doubts are washed away as our sin first was at our baptism and we believe. There is such a place as Calvary. There is such a Savior as Jesus and he saved me.
God saved you. He saved you from a life of doubt and uncertainty. You can lay your troubles at his feet and know that he will work them out for your good according to his will – and what a good and perfect will it is! He saved you from a death of eternal fire and suffering and fights for you against the devil and your sinful flesh. He arms you with his Holy Word, Words more powerful than anything on this Earth. Words that bring life and have brought life to you and countless others. Words that grip you tight and bring you peace and joy as you listen to his soft words, “Be still.” I will fight for you. I will save you and I will also strengthen you.
It goes without saying that the Israelites witnessed an awesome miracle the day they crossed the Red Sea on dry land. We are told that when they saw God’s “great power displayed against the Egyptians” they “feared the Lord and put their trust in him.” Their faith was strengthened as they saw how God saved them. Today, we don’t witness miracles like the parting of the Red Sea, but we witness miracles of a new kind. Miracles just as awesome. A sinner washed clean by baptismal waters. A meal of forgiveness received in Christ’s body and blood. And Words that break chains of despair and death, chains wrought by sin.
You are witnesses of these miracles. You are living examples of these miracles. They are here for your benefit. To strengthen and encourage you each and every day. Live knowing that God has marked you as his child, an heir of his kingdom. Come rejoicing to his table and find forgiveness and relief from all fear and doubt. And when you feel your grip loosening, when the daily grind of life has you lost and confused or when your fight with your sinful flesh seems hopeless and you believe you will soon fall beneath it’s dark waves, open God’s Word.
Hear your Savior, Jesus, speak directly to you. “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” My grip on you remains the same, I won’t let go. As I led the Israelites to safety, so too I will lead you through the trials and struggles of your life and one day I will come and bring you home. Home with me. “You need only to be still.” Amen.