Description / Transcription
This sermon originally delivered by Kevin DeYoung at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan
I extend my welcome to those of you who are visiting here for the first time. My name is Kevin DeYoung. I’m the senior pastor here. When I started pastoring here 12 years ago, people used to shake my hand afterwards and say, “Are you the youth pastor?” Nobody asks me that anymore, what with all the gray hair.
I’m very glad that you are here. What you’ll find, Sunday after Sunday, is that the main thing is going through the Word of God. That usually means going through a book of the Bible, verse by verse. That way, the Bible sets the agenda, not the preacher’s hobby horse. So, if I gets into something that you didn’t want to hear about, it’s because it arises from the text.
We just started a series in Exodus, the 2nd book of the Bible. It’s 40 chapters long, so that may give you an extra year or two to finish school before we’re done. Hopefully, we’ll be done before that! But this morning we come to Exodus 1:15-22:
Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.” Exodus 1:15-22
Sin Will Find You Out
I imagine that many of you have seen the headlines over the past few weeks about a major security breach at the internet dating site Ashley Madison. “Dating”, in this case, is a euphemism. It was a site to find affairs and discreet hookups—for married people, presumably.
A few years ago, I remember sitting with my wife watching football, which was very nice of her to do. When this site first came out, there were a few commercials for it, and one of them came on. I saw the words “Ashley Madison”, and I started thinking of Dolly Madison, who makes donuts and snack food. This was very different. When I got to the twist at the end of the commercial, I thought, “Did I just see this? I’m used to seeing commercials for dating sites—and that’s fine—but an affair site? Did I really just see this? Is this actually happening? There’s a site like this—and it’s public?”
I didn’t hear anything about it or think about it again until a few weeks ago, when I saw the news that 37.5 million usernames, passwords, and other data were exposed by hackers. Like many of you, I’ve had the unfortunate experience of knowing some people whose names were on that site. One well-known pastor wrote this week that, though he never acted upon it, he had registered for an account there. From what I can tell, he seems very humble and contrite in facing the consequences of that tremendous mistake of judgment.
I heard just a few days ago about a pastor whom I know (not from around here) whose name was found among those 37.5 million. He’s told his congregation that, as it turns out, he had several affairs over a number of years. He’s now out of the ministry—probably for good—and is trying to figure out how to be a father and husband. You may know of other stories. Perhaps some of you are wondering if your name has been exposed.
It makes me think of several things to mention to you. First, I have no secrets. Sure, I’m a sinner. I do dumb things. But I don’t have that kind of secret. You need to know that about your pastors. You don’t need to fear that their names are on the list.
Second, please pray for your pastors. I remember taking a pastoral ministry course in seminary. We heard from this older man who had been a pastor and a professor, who said to all of us eager, young bucks, ready to go into ministry and change the world, “Don’t say, ‘Marital infidelity will never happen to me,’ because it can (and too often does) if we are not vigilant.”
Third, don’t just pray for your pastors, but for each other. Are you praying as the Lord Jesus taught us to pray? “Lead us not into temptation…” We spent time as a staff this Wednesday, praying just that. If you and I think that we don’t need to ask the Lord to protect us from ourselves, then we don’t know how weak we are. We’ve already sung about it:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love… Robert Robinson – Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
There are men and women who walk with Jesus more than you and I do who have made bigger mistakes. Thankfully, no matter how big the mistake, there is bigger grace for those who repent. It does not have to be the end of life or of service for the Lord.
Talk to your spouse. It can be difficult to have a conversation with your husband or wife and say, “I’m feeling tempted in this way,” “I stumbled on this site,” or “I registered for this and didn’t do anything.” But wouldn’t that be better than for some greater sin to be revealed in 6 months—or 6 years? Would you talk to each other about these things?
The last thing that this brings to mind is also how it intersects with the text. I’d like to ask you, as I ask myself, “Is the fear of God before your eyes?” It is said that character is who you are when no one is looking. You will not be the sort of person who follows hard after God when no one is looking unless you fear God.
Psalm 34:1-4 could be waved as a banner over the Ashley Madison website. I don’t approve of hackers and stealing things online, but I wish they would have put these verses on the website instead of revealing all the names:
Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated. The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit; he has ceased to act wisely and do good. He plots trouble while on his bed; he sets himself in a way that is not good; he does not reject evil. Psalm 34:1-4
Surely, if the technology age in which we live can remind us of anything, it’s that nothing we do is ultimately a secret. If the threat of hackers revealing your texts, web browsing, and email messages is not enough, then let us consider that one day, all of us will stand before the Judge of the universe. All of the secrets of our hearts and lives will be laid bare before the one to whom we owe an account. We will either present ourselves washed in the blood of the Lamb, or we will realize, when it is too late, that nothing we have done in the body was a secret to God.
The focus of this passage is in verse 17: “But the midwives feared God…” We’re going to get there, but I’m going to walk through the passage first and show you what’s going on. In verse 15, you see a strange juxtaposition: on the one hand, you have the king of Egypt, whose name is not mentioned. On the other hand, you have two lowly midwives whose names are memorialized for all time: Shiphrah and Puah. As I said last week, it’s striking and very much like the Lord that, through all of this ordeal in Egypt, Pharaoh is not so much as given a name. He’s just an instrument in the Lord’s hand for his glory. But these two women are named so that we can remember them forever.
Shiphrah and Puah were probably not the only midwives in all of Israel. That would be a tall task with all the babies being born. They were probably two of the chief midwives, who had some responsibility over the others.
They were given a command from Pharaoh himself: “When you see the women give birth on the birthing stools, and it’s a boy, kill it. If it’s a girl, let her live.” People have scratched their heads over this, wondering, “Shouldn’t it be the reverse, Pharaoh? Why kill what will be the strongest part of your workforce to build store cities and pyramids? If you want to control the population, doesn’t it make more sense to kill the women anyway? They’re the ones who are giving birth. One man could have children with multiple women, but a woman can only have one man’s children at a time. Why not kill the women?”
People have speculated about this. Maybe Pharaoh wanted to get rid of the boys so that as the girls grew up he could have them as some kind of harem for himself or his cronies. Maybe he thought, “Well, women are dependent on the men. It’ll be harder for them to raise their own crops without a generation of boys.”
But the best explanation for why he wanted to kill the boys is found in verse 10: “Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” That’s what seems to have been uppermost in Pharaoh’s mind: “As the Israelites grow and multiply, they could be a military threat to us. Let’s kill their military forces—namely, their men.”
It’s likely that several years elapsed between verse 16, when the midwives were given the command, and verse 18, when they were brought to the principal’s office to explain themselves. It probably wasn’t as if Pharaoh was watching over their shoulder, wondering, “What are you going to do?” If he wanted to do that, he could have just gone in and killed the boys himself. He wanted to do this somewhat surreptitiously and clandestinely, so he has the midwives do it.
So it’s likely to have been several years later when Pharaoh heard the report: “You know, Pharaoh, there are still a lot of boys running around among the Israelites. What happened to your decree? I thought we wouldn’t see anything but girls around here.” Perhaps it took a few years for all of these toddlers to come out of hiding.
An Acceptable Lie?
So Pharaoh brought back Shiphrah and Puah and asked them the question that they, perhaps, had long feared they would be asked: “Why have you let the boys live?” Their their explanation may have been partially true. They said to Pharaoh, “Look, the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women. As we’re running there, they’re already out! We can’t get there in time. We have bathtub babies! We have parking lot babies! We have all sorts of crazy stuff going on here.” 1/6 of our family was born in that way, so we know a little bit about what that’s like.
The Hebrew here is very difficult to translate. It could be that the midwives are saying, “The Hebrew women are wild women. They’re like animals. They breed like rabbits.” Or it could be that they’re simply saying, “These are vigorous women, unlike the Egyptian women. They are very active!” Perhaps the Egyptian women—especially the class of women that Pharaoh would have known—were very passive. It’s hard to be very passive in birth, I understand. But they would get the baby out, then let somebody take care of the baby and nurse it, and maybe not be all that involved—whereas the Hebrew women were right there and involved. They were ready to be active and engaged. Shiphrah and Puah are saying, “It’s different. They’re too on top of things. We can’t get there on time.”
It may have been partially true. It was certainly misleading dissimulation. It was some kind of lie to Pharaoh—which raises a question: were they wrong? You may have faced this in Philosophy 101, an Ethics class, or just a History class. The classic example is of the Nazis coming to you during World War II and asking, “Are you hiding Jews?” What is the right thing to do? To hide them and seek to preserve their life is good. Are you obliged to tell the Nazi officer the truth? Were Shiphrah and Puah obliged to tell the truth? Did they, in giving some kind of a half-truth (at best), commit a sin?
I want you to mark down this day very well. Those of you who have been around for a while will know why this is so significant. I’m going to disagree with John Calvin. That’s very dangerous, I know. Calvin, like many other commentators, thought that Shiphrah and Puah had sinned. I don’t see anything in the text that says they did. Calvin argues, “To not kill the children was right. But when Pharaoh asked them, they should have said, ‘We didn’t kill the baby boys because we don’t obey your wicked commands. We fear God.’” Calvin says, “In the answer of the midwives two vices are to be observed, since they neither confessed their piety with proper ingenuity, and what is worse, escaped by falsehood.” He goes on to say that it was only because of God’s paternal indulgence that he overlooked their iniquity and nevertheless rewarded them for their faith.
But look at the text. I can find no indication that they did anything that was considered blameworthy. In fact, every indication that we get from this text is that they are to be praised for their actions. You can see this in four different verses. In verse 15, they are given names, so that they can be remembered as heroines in the history of Israel. Verse 17 notes that they feared God. That’s a good thing. Verse 20 says: “So God dealt well with the midwives.” And again, in verse 21: “And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.” Four different verses all strongly suggest—in fact, explicitly state—that God was pleased. There’s no indication that God was parsing it out: “Look, what they did was good, but I’ll overlook the way that they said it.”
Theologians for centuries have distinguished among three types of lies. There’s the malicious lie, which is to serve yourself and harm your neighbor. That’s always wrong.
There’s the jocular lie, which is to jest or amuse with falsehood. That could be right or wrong, depending on the context. I think all of us would say that it’s not a sin to throw a surprise birthday party. It may not be appreciated by the one who’s having the party, but it’s not a sin, even though it probably involves some misleading. “We want you to go here. Nothing is going on. No, I wouldn’t do that.” That’s part of the surprise.
On the other hand, there could be joking or jesting that, no matter how much you may think it’s meant only in fun, is nevertheless harmful. Think of Proverbs 26:18, which says, “Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, ‘I am only joking!’” That’s a great picture. Someone is just walking around shooting flaming arrows. One lands in someone’s back, and the guy says, “It was a joke!” I’d say, “I’m on fire from your joke. It’s not funny. I was really hurt by that.”
The third category is the controversial one: the lie of necessity. Many good, smart Christian people have disagreed on this. Is it ever appropriate to lie in order to serve and protect your neighbor?
I’m not talking about a lie that just smooths things over for you, like those of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis. They’re with Abimelech, they see that their wives are really good looking, and they’re afraid that he might kill them if he know that these are their wives. So they each say, “She’s my sister,” so that they’ll be left alone. That’s a bad lie. It’s just to make things easier for them. More importantly, it put their wives in great danger, because the men are now thinking, “Well, she’s just a sister and a virgin. She’s nobody’s wife. Maybe we can take her.” Abraham and Isaac were acting the part of a coward, not being brave.
I would argue, though (as many have), that under dire circumstances it is appropriate to tell a lie, as the midwives did. You may think, “That’s very dangerous, pastor. If you start introducing that category, my 16-year-old has got a lot of dire circumstances that he’s finding now.” I understand that it’s dangerous.
It’s dangerous to live as a Christian in a real world, where you have to understand that the fourth commandment said to honor the Sabbath—and then David and his men ate some of the show bread on the Sabbath, and Jesus said, “That’s not a violation of the fourth commandment.”
The fifth commandment says to honor your father and mother, yet Jesus says, “You can’t be my disciple unless you hate your mom and dad.” Which is it, Jesus? He’s making an exaggerated point about whom you ultimately follow. Peter and John, before the Sanhedrin, say, “You judge for yourself whether it is right to obey God or man. We have to follow God, even if it means going against the governing authorities.” That’s not a violation of the fifth commandment.
Neither did the Old Testament consider it a violation of the sixth commandment to protect yourself, your possessions, and your family, by killing an intruder. There are provisions for that in the Old Testament.
It’s the same here. Remember that the command explicitly says, “Do not bear false witness.” The context in mind is a courtroom, where (because of your slander and malicious intent) you’re giving someone else a punishment that they may not fully deserve. I would argue that we see the midwives praised in this passage—just as Rahab, when she hid the spies in Jericho, is later lauded as a woman of faith in Hebrews 11. I simply don’t see anything in the text to say that Shiphrah and Puah were praised for their faith, but condemned for their actions. Everything in these verses leads us to the conclusion that what the midwives did was right because they feared the Lord.
God’s Blessing and the Bitter Circumstances
In verse 20, God blesses Israel. “And the people multiplied and grew very strong.” Pharaoh doesn’t get it, and he’s got quite a bit further to go in expressing how much he’s not going to get it. “First, we’re going to make them work really hard. We’ll kill them off that way.” But they just kept growing. “Okay then. We’re going to get the midwives to do this for us.” But they just kept growing. God blessed them despite Pharaoh’s plans, because he promised that “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse…” Pharaoh is going to find out the hard way that God keeps his promises.
But the blessing isn’t just increasing for Israel. It’s also increasing for the midwives. Most midwives were older women who never had families. Now these get families of their own.
Blessings are increasing, but so are the bitter circumstances. Do you see how the progression is working here with Pharaoh and the state? In the first plan, he says, “Okay, there are too many people. Let’s try to work them to death. That way, they won’t see directly that I’m trying to kill people. We’ll just make it a side benefit.” That doesn’t work, so he’s got a second plan: “I guess I’ve got to get a little more involved here. I’m going to call in the midwives. I’ll get some of their own people to do the killing for me.” But that doesn’t work.
Now he’s getting even more desperate, so he goes to the third plan: “When any Egyptian sees a baby boy born, round him up and throw him into the Nile. Round up all the Jews.” Sadly, that’s not the last time that sort of command would be given. “Throw the baby boys into the Nile. It will be quick, easy, painless, mess-free, and hassle-free—like putting their body parts in the freezer and bringing them out to the dumpster with the trash.”
Surely it’s no coincidence that the first plague that came upon Egypt was to turn the Nile into blood. “You want a river of blood?”, the Lord asks. “I’ll give you a river of blood.” Mark this very well: God has a way of giving his enemies what they want in a way that they don’t want.
Whom Do You Fear?
The focus of our passage is on verse 17: “But the midwives feared God…” Have you ever considered that both sides of this equation are afraid? The midwives fear God. Pharaoh fears the people. Both are motivated by fear.
Everyone in this room is afraid of something or someone. Maybe you fear being cut from the team or being unpopular. You may fear getting sick or hurt, being alone, or losing a loved one. Perhaps you fear upsetting your enemies, letting down your friends, or disappointing your parents. You might fear strangers, crowds, small spaces, or spiders—or spiders in crowds in the midst of small spaces! Or you could fear the unknown and death. Both your life and mine are motivated by fear. There’s some fear that’s speaking to you, telling you what to do and what not to do, that gets you out of bed, gets you to work, keeps you on the straight and narrow, or pushes you into places you never thought you’d go. You will fear something or someone, and the Bible says that the smartest way to go about your life is to fear God. That’s the beginning of wisdom.
What does it mean to fear God? There are a few examples of it already in Genesis. In Genesis 20:11, Abraham lies about his wife. He thinks, “There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.” In other words, “These people don’t fear God, so they’ll do whatever they want. They have no higher moral code. They kill me just to get to my beautiful bride.”
In Genesis 22:12, Abraham is told to kill his only son, Isaac. Right before he does, the angel comes to him and says, “…now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” In other words, “You considered obedience to God more important than your own sense of security and well-being.”
In Genesis 42:18, when Joseph wanted to convince his brothers that he was telling the truth, and that they should leave one of their brothers behind, he reassured them by saying, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God…” In other words, “You can trust me, because I know that I have to give an account to God.”
Later on, in Exodus 18, we’ll see Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law) say to him, “Look, there are too many people. You can’t do this all yourself. Why don’t you find some capable men who fear God—honest men who do not accept a bribe?”
What does it mean to fear God? It means that you have honesty and integrity, because you know that God is watching, even if nobody else is. It means that you believe there is a God, and that he and is very interested in what you do. When we fear God, the presence and the purposes of God weigh on us more than the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Some of you may know a verse in the New Testament that says “…perfect love casts out fear…” Clearly, there is a sense of fear that we are not to have as Christians—a kind of slavish fear, where God hates and is going to condemn us, even though we’re his children and have put our faith in Christ. That kind of fear is cast away only by faith in Jesus. But even for those who follow Christ, there is a healthy fear of a holy God. We may profess all sorts of truths, but there are many so-called Christians who live like practical atheists, going about their days as if God does not exist, as if he made no promises to them, and as if there was nothing to fear from his judgment or discipline. They profess all sorts of things, and maybe even go to church for a long time, but when it comes to how they actually live their lives, it’s as if there is no God.
Incidentally, when you see all of these Gallup polls or Barna surveys that say, “More and more people in this country don’t affiliate with any sort of religion. It’s the rise of the nones—the ‘no affiliation’. What does this mean for Christianity?”—I don’t think it’s necessarily bad news. Most of those folks are probably people who were living like practical atheists, but used to feel cultural pressure to belong to a church. They don’t feel that anymore, so more power to them. Maybe it will be easier to know who they are and invite them to church because they’re not pretending to go to one.
Do you live your life as if God really exists? The midwives did. Think of everything else they could have feared. They could have feared the majority. Even though the Israelites were growing, they were still a foreign people in a foreign land—a minority people among the majority Egyptian culture. It’s hard to be a minority. Those of us who are in the majority have a lot to learn from brothers and sisters who live in the minority in this country.
All of us, as believers, are going to be cognitive minorities. We must embrace the fact that we’re going to believe some things that people don’t believe anymore. We need to decide now. High school and college students, you need to decide now—not just when you get into your classroom and it’s right there, but now—that you’re going to embrace this reality. Because you believe the Bible, love Jesus and are his disciple, and because God is your Father, you’re going to believe some things that the rest of the world thinks are absolutely nuts.
It’s worse than that. A generation or so ago, if people didn’t like what Christians believed, they’d say, “Well, Christians are backwards, not very scientific, and sort of laughable.” Now it’s gotten worse. Christian beliefs aren’t just laughable, but sinister. They are not just nuts, but nasty. If you have the operating principle (in your head and heart), “I must never disagree with the majority of comments on Facebook,” that’s going to be a bad way to live. It’s going to be a sure-fire recipe to not be faithful. Do you think, “I cannot go against the majority of tweets I read in any given week, the majority of my classmates and peers, or the majority of any new poll that is released”?
These women could have feared that. They could have feared for their lives and livelihood. They had a lot to lose: their jobs, families, safety, security, and heads! They could have rationalized it away: “You know, Shiphrah, we’re just doing what we are told. I don’t like it, but we’ve gotta be good subjects. We don’t want to make things worse.”
They could have thought, “Well, there is a greater good. Maybe if we just kill a few kids, others will live. Maybe Pharaoh can look and see that the population is decreasing a little bit, and he’ll be nicer to us. Maybe we won’t have such harsh taskmasters. Maybe he’ll relent on this population control. You know, Shiphrah, we really have an opportunity here to make things better for our people if we could just kill a few kids.”
Maybe they were tempted to rationalize: “Look: they’re just babies, not real people. They’re not worth that much.” In the ancient world, it was uniquely the Jewish people who prohibited abortion and infanticide, Infanticide was not finally outlawed until Christianity took a privileged place in the Roman Empire 1,500-2,000 years later. Christians and those in the Judeo-Christian tradition have always opposed killing children, whether outside or inside the womb. The 1st century constitution of the church said, “You shall not abort a child or commit infanticide.”
In Jesus, we see a scandalous love for children. When others wanted to push them away, he said, “No, bring them to me.” He also said, “The measure of you love for me is the measure of your love for these children,” and he took the children into his arms, as if to say, “Honor these little ones and you honor me. Send them away because they are weak, socially insignificant, and bothersome, and you have demonstrated that you do not understand the values of the kingdom.”
Praise the Lord! There is greater grace than our sins. There is mercy for the sins that you and I have committed. Anyone who has made a decision or pressured someone to make the decision to end a human life in the past can know forgiveness and freedom at the foot of the cross. You need to hear that gospel good news.
You also need to see what motivated Shiphrah and Puah: the fear of God. They did not rationalize to themselves: “Well, we could get away with it. Maybe we just need to do our job. They’re just kids. Maybe they don’t really deserve to live.”
Let me read you a paragraph, and then I’ll tell you where it’s from.
As an advocate of Birth Control [not just of the things people do to plan their families, but of the larger system of values], I wish to take advantage of the present opportunity to point out that the unbalance between the birth rate of the “unfit” and the “fit”, admittedly the greatest present menace to civilization, can never be rectified by the inauguration of a cradle competition between these two classes. In this matter, the example of the inferior classes, the fertility of the feeble-minded, the mentally defective, the poverty-stricken classes, should not be held up for emulation to the mentally and physically fit though less fertile parents of the educated and well-to-do classes. On the contrary, the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective. Margaret Sanger – The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda
When I read that to my wife, she said, “Is that Hitler?” I said, “No, that was Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood.” She was a part of a group of people who were very popular in some progressive circles in the ’20s and ’30s who championed eugenics, which means “good breeding”. The idea was that the problems of civilization are caused by the weak, feeble, and unfit out-breeding those who are mentally and physically strong. There were, on occasions, racist overtones to that plan—which is why, in recent months, a group of African-American pastors have written a letter to the Smithsonian Institute, asking, “Why in the world is there a bust of Margaret Sanger in the Civil Rights wing of the Smithsonian Institute, next to MLK, who was not a champion of the same things?”
As Christians, we will not render unto Pharaoh or unto Uncle Sam what belongs to God. We have to get verse 17 deep into our hearts. “But the midwives feared God…” Think of the situation that they were in. On one hand was their job, safety, prestige, and life itself. On the other hand was uncertainty, probable suffering, and potential death. How would you choose? A healthy fear tipped the scales.
Fill in the blank: but [your name] feared God and did not…? Shiphrah and Puah feared God and did not kill babies. What can you put in the blank? “I feared God and did not go to the party, sleep with my boyfriend, pressure my girlfriend, go to that site, take those pills, have another drink, burst out in rage, cheat my way to the top, leave my spouse, or dishonor my parents. Because I fear God, I did not!”
Calvin said, “Reverence towards God had greater influence with them.” What can be said of you and me, or of your children and grandchildren? What can be said of you, kids? What has influence over you? What they say on ESPN? What happens at an awards show? What’s on the cover of a magazine? What everyone around you seems to be saying? What has a greater influence on you? For Shiphrah and Puah, it was the fear of God and reverence towards his holy name. There is little fear of God in our land. But as you see throughout the Bible and through history, God has a way of getting people to fear him. There’s a good way and a hard way. We may be on our way to the hard way. Too often, there is very little fear of God in the church.
One of the most shaping books I ever read was David Wells’ book, called “God in the Wasteland”. It’s over 20 years old now, but certain lines still stick with me.
The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church. His truth is too distant, his grace is too ordinary, his judgment is too benign, his gospel is too easy, and his Christ is too common. [David Wells – God in the Wasteland]
Is that your God? So many of us have a cartoon God. He’s always going, “Yah! Yah! Lightning bolts!” He’s just that sort of God. Or we go the opposite extreme, and he’s just a teetering old grandfather: “You need more Pixy Stix? Sure!” I really doubt that any grandfathers here give their grandkids Pixy Stix anyways. I will when I get there, because I’m enjoying them.
What’s your God like? Anyone who had a really good, godly father understands this. You understood that your dad was not to be trifled with, and you feared if you had done something and he came home, because there was discipline and judgment coming. Yet, at the same time, you knew that when you disappointed him, you absolutely wanted to run to his arms, because he was your father and he loved you. Both of those things—a love of God and a fear of God—must be uppermost in our hearts, heads, and affections, or we will have a God who rests inconsequentially upon the church.
We have turned to a God that we can use rather than to a God that we must obey; we have turned to a God who will fulfill our needs rather than to a God before whom we must surrender our rights to ourselves. […] And so we transform the God of mercy into a God who is at our mercy. […] Religious consumers want to have a spirituality for the same reason they want to drive a stylish and expensive auto. Costly obedience is as foreign to them in matters spiritual as self-denial is in matters material. In a culture filled with such people, restoring weight to God is going to involve much more than simply getting some doctrine straight; it’s going entail a complete reconstruction of the modern self-absorbed pastiche personality. The cost of accomplishing this may well be deep, sustained repentance. It is our modernity that must be undone. Only then will the full weight of the revealed truth about God rest once more on the soul. Only then will we discover our saltiness in the world. Only then will God genuinely be known in his church. [David Wells – God in the Wasteland]
I have two simple questions for you: is there a God? Is he to be feared? An overwhelming majority of people in this country still answer the first question with, “Yes, there is a God!”
What about the second question? Is he to be feared, or have you recreated a god in your own image—a god of unconditional affirmation. He gives nothing but pats on the back, and says nothing but, “There you go. Attaboy!” That’s a god who does not resemble the God whom Pharaoh is going to encounter in all of his raw, sovereign power. That God led Shiphrah and Puah to say no to the most powerful man in the world.
What you believe and how you live is largely shaped by whom you fear. What will you do now to cultivate this fear? Now! Not when Pharaoh knocks on your door and says, “Round up the babies”, but now. You may think that this is a hard sermon this morning. It does have hard edges to it, but I promise you that it is filled with good news. God is a much better master than Pharaoh. Bondage to him is much, much better than the slavery that the world will offer. You do not have to marry the spirit of the age. You can stop the love affair with yourself. You can have a moral code that rests on authority instead of mere authenticity.
Whom will you fear? There is good news here, because the God whom we fear is the God who will cast out fear. The God of edges and angles, the God of a holy presence, is also the God whom we want on our side. The God who is strong enough to judge is also sweet enough to forgive if you would come, bow, submit, and fear. The story of Exodus is the story of your life: there is no lasting freedom apart from the fear of God.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, would you reveal to us who you are, far beyond my poor power to tell or proclaim? Let us know you, see you, love you, and fear you through Jesus—in whose name we pray, amen.
Transcription and editing provided by 10:17 Transcription