The In-Between Years - Part 38
Series: The In-Between Years
June 13, 2021
The In-Between Years — Part 38
We are diving deep into Stephen’s message, the longest sermon recorded in the Bible. Stephen, if you recall, was a proto-deacon, a man full of the Spirit and faith chosen to help with the daily distribution of food to the widows in the early church. He was good at serving but perhaps he was even better at preaching, because he spent time proclaiming Jesus as the risen Christ before his Greek-speaking brethren in the Jewish synagogues and did so so effectively they could not withstand his wisdom. And that got him into trouble.
They couldn’t win a debate with him, but they could falsely accuse him of blaspheming Moses, the Law, and the holy Temple, and that’s just what they did. He was arrested and brought before the Jewish council of elders where he summarized the history of the Jews, looking at everything through the lens of Jesus. He highlighted the heroes of the Jewish faith starting with Abraham, then Joseph, who was rejected by his brothers but used to deliver God’s people — remember that). Then came Moses. If you are sharp, you may have noticed Stephen divides the life of Moses into 40-year spans. That’s no coincidence. Numbers have significance in the Bible. The number forty is associated with testing.
23 “When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. Acts 7:23 (ESV)
Moses was raised in the house of pharaoh as a prince, nurtured by his own mother in those early years. He never forget who he was or where he came from. At forty he felt led to be their secret savior, but he was rejected by his own people when he first tried to deliver them from the bondage of slavery in Egypt — remember that. You recall how he murdered an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. Word got out and he was forced to flee to Midian where he met his future father-in-law, Jethro.
30 “Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. Acts 7:30 (ESV)
This is what we covered last time. After forty years of tending sheep in the desert, Moses was humbled. Only then was he ready to be Israel’s deliverer. And deliver them he did…
36 This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. Acts 7:36 (ESV)
Forty years a proud prince in the court of the pharaoh. Forty years a humble shepherd in the desert of Midian. Then forty years a deliverer and leader of God’s people as they finally move into the fullness of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is where we pick up today.
Moses is sent to deliver the Israelites, and — surprise, surprise, surprise — it doesn’t go well.
1 Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’ ” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” 3 Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” 4 But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.” 5 And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!” 6 The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, 7 “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8 But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ 9 Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.” Exodus 5:1–9 (ESV)
And — surprise, surprise, surprise — the people weren’t happy with their deliverer once again. God assures Moses of his presence, a presence bound up in his former promises…
1 But the Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.” 2 God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the Lord. 3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them. 4 I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. 5 Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. 6 Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. 7 I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’ ” 9 Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery. 10 So the Lord said to Moses, 11 “Go in, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the people of Israel go out of his land.” 12 But Moses said to the Lord, “Behold, the people of Israel have not listened to me. How then shall Pharaoh listen to me, for I am of uncircumcised lips?” 13 But the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron and gave them a charge about the people of Israel and about Pharaoh king of Egypt: to bring the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt. Exodus 6:1–13 (ESV)
Moses demanded, “Let my people go!” Pharaoh wouldn’t let God’s people go, so a series of plagues followed. Ten to be exact…
3. Lice or gnats
There’s nothing funny about these plagues, but every time I think of them I’m reminded of the story a seminary professor tells. He pastored a church once where at the end of the service a certain member would get up and make announcements. He was really good at it, but they tended to go long at times. On one particular day, as the people in the pews shuffled in anticipation of heading out the door, this fellow began covering a long list of events. As he did so people watched a cricket hop down the aisle to the front of the church. The fellow making announcements noticed and made a joke about it.
Soon after a frog - no lie - came through the open doors and hopped down the aisle. The fellow making announcements noticed that too and remarked, “A cricket and then a frog. I wonder what God is trying to tell us today.” Someone in the audience was heard to say, “How about let my people go!.”
The last plague, the tenth, was the worst. The firstborn of every household in Egypt would die unless the blood of a lamb had been applied to that home’s doorposts. Those that did would be “passed over” by the angel of death. Those that didn’t, would suffer tragedy.
This broke pharaoh and the Egyptians and finally led to the Jews’ deliverance and freedom. After this…
33 The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.” 34 So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls being bound up in their cloaks on their shoulders. 35 The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. 36 And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. 37 And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. 38 A mixed multitude also went up with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds. 39 And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, for it was not leavened, because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves. 40 The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. 41 At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. 42 It was a night of watching by the Lord, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to the Lord by all the people of Israel throughout their generations. Exodus 12:33–42 (ESV)
And this takes us back to what Stephen said concerning Abraham…
6 And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years. 7 ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’ Acts 7:6–7 (ESV)
Which refers to this…
13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Genesis 15:13–14 (ESV)
God kept his promises! But they weren’t out of the woods yet. Pharaoh changed his mind and went after them, catching up with Moses and the people at the Red Sea. You know that story; it may be the most famous in all the Bible. What a mighty and wondrous work of God! But there was still more for God to do. God had promised to deliver them from Egypt to a land of their own so…
1 They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Exodus 16:1–3 (ESV)
They trusted God to lead them through the Red Sea on dry land but they didn’t think he could handle feeding them afterwards. God sent the famous manna, bread from heaven to them, lovingly and graciously providing for all their needs anyway. Nonetheless, on the heels of God’s miraculous work they, in a way, rejected Moses — remember that.
They journeyed on to the Promised Land but on their way came to and camped out at Mt. Sinai where God gave Moses the Law. While Moses communed with the God of their deliverance on top of the mountain, something awful went on below…
1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” 6 And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. Exodus 32:1–6 (ESV)
Once again, in a way, they rejected Moses. Remember that. This back and forth, BTW, plagued the Israelites from then on. If they weren’t complaining or grumbling, they were mingling the worship of other gods into the worship of the one true God, YAHWEH.
This characteristic led to the third forty-year span of Moses’ life. As they approached the Promised Land, spies were dispatched to check everything out. They came back with reports of giants. That scared everyone so bad they voted to not go in. This was in a way a rejection of Moses — remember that. God judged their lack of faith by having them wander in the wilderness for forty years.
Even after they finally came into the Promised Land and were given kings and a kingdom, over and over again they fell away from the one true God to worship false gods. This is what led the prophet Amos to prophesy…
25 “Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 26 You shall take up Sikkuth your king, and Kiyyun your star-god—your images that you made for yourselves, 27 and I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,” says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts. Amos 5:25–27 (ESV)
Israel was so rebellious and unwilling to serve the one true God only, he eventually sent them into exile. The greatest bondage Israel suffered wasn’t to the Egyptians, it was to their own sin. The Law God gave on Mt. Sinai uncovered that sin, shined a light on it, but it was never intended to deal with it. They needed someone like Moses but greater to deliver them from that, something hinted at from the mouth of Moses himself…
15 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— Deuteronomy 18:15 (ESV)
Conclusion: All this is summarized by Stephen in today’s text…
35 “This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. 37 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’ 38 This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us. 39 Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. 42 But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: “ ‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices, during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 43 You took up the tent of Moloch and the star of your god Rephan, the images that you made to worship; and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’ Acts 7:35–43 (ESV)
Finally, Stephen has positioned himself to deliver the thrust of his message. It may shock you. But before we get there, we need to step back and look at the story of Moses as he told it through the lens of Jesus. And we’ll do that next time.
I can’t let us go today without offering you the opportunity to take God up on his great offer. This offer is what all of Scripture is about, the story of God at work in the world since the beginning of time. If you’ve been with us you know what it is.
13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13 (ESV)
Just as God saved the Jews from bondage in Egypt to a life of citizenship as people of his kingdom in the Promised Land, God doesn’t just want to save you from sin so you can go to heaven when you die. He wants to save you to a life of citizenship in his kingdom, a kingdom he’ll set up one day literally on a remade version of this earth. A kingdom at work right now preparing the way for that.
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