Exodus 2:1-4; 14:21-30; Hebrews 11:23-29
April 30, 2017 • Download this sermon (PDF)
Congregation of Christ: To those of you who spend some time on Facebook, did you notice the fondness for posts like, “Which celebrity do you most resemble?” or “What state is your favorite?” Even Reformed Christians have this question, “Which Reformer are you?” and if it turns out John Calvin or Martin Luther, you can congratulate yourself.
I think of this Facebook culture as a form of name-dropping, an annoying habit of some people who mention—or “drop”—names of famous personalities they claim they know personally in conversations. Celebrities, famous writers, musicians, painters, or even politicians are the most common names “dropped.” Among Christians, books signed by the most well-known authors are displayed. We’re all guilty of this one way or another, because it suggests our own importance or success.
Today, we come to the next part of Hebrews 11, the Bible’s “Hall of Faith,” where the hero of faith is the antithesis of a name-dropper. He was a celebrity, rich and famous in ancient Egypt. He lived a life only a handful of people around the most powerful king in the world lived. He was called “Son of Pharaoh’s Daughter,” something like “Prince of Wales” today.
Our text tells us about Moses, who was born in extremely dangerous times for Hebrew babies. His parents had faith to preserve him from certain death at birth. Then when he was an adult, he chose to leave the life of the rich and famous and be identified and persecuted with his people Israel. And by faith, he returned to Egypt after 40 years to deliver his people from slavery in Egypt.
By Faith, He was Preserved
About 400 years before Moses was born, his forefather Joseph, one of the 12 sons of Jacob, became the Prime Minister of Egypt, second only in authority to Pharaoh. The household of Jacob, 70 people, were welcomed by Joseph as sojourners in Egypt after a great famine in Canaan. We read in Exodus 1 that after 400 years, the Israelites greatly multiplied and flourished. The Egyptians were alarmed at their strength, so a Pharaoh who didn’t know about Joseph made the Israelites slaves to keep them in check under ruthless masters.
In addition to this bitter life of slavery, Pharaoh ordered the Hebrew midwives to murder all Hebrew babies to keep their population from growing. But the midwives disobeyed this command, so Pharaoh ordered all Hebrew male babies to be cast into the Nile as crocodile feed.
Here, the writer of Hebrews takes over the story. At that time, Moses was born of Amram and Jochebed, both descendants of Levi, the priestly tribe. Aaron and Miriam were Moses’ two siblings. So we know that Aaron was fully qualified to be a priest.
In verse 23, we read that Moses’ parents saw that he was “beautiful,” which is taken from Exodus 2:2. Different versions translate this word as “fine,” “goodly,” “proper,” or “no ordinary.” The word used in both Exodus and Hebrews verses can mean all of the above. Stephen confirms this in his speech before he was martyred, saying, “Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight” (Acts 7:20).
We’re all familiar with the rest of the story. Moses’ parents devised a plan to preserve their child, a story endearing to all, especially to children. They made a basket, sealed it with pitch, and floated it in the reeds where Pharaoh’s daughter bathed. When she saw the beautiful baby, her heart melted as he cooed and cried, though she knew he was a Hebrew baby. Miriam, of course, was there to suggest to the princess a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby. That woman, of course, was Moses’ own mother!
What did Moses’ parents see or sense about him when he was born? Could it be that the Holy Spirit put in their hearts that this child was not only beautiful in their sight, but even more—“beautiful in God’s sight”? It was only by faith that they saw and sensed that he was an extraordinary child.
What about all other babies? Aren’t they all beautiful in the eyes of their parents? Aren’t they all beautiful in God’s sight? They were all “knitted together in their mother’s womb… fearfully and wonderfully made” by God himself! (Psa 139:13-14) Tragically, not everyone thinks like Moses’ parents or David. For them, babies are not beautiful, wonderful creations of God, but a hindrance to their pleasures, careers and relationships. So instead of treasuring and cherishing them, they get rid of them. The worst genocide in the history of the world is not the Jewish genocide by the Nazis, or the Armenian genocide by the Muslim Turks. The worst is the ongoing American genocide against millions of unborn babies.
Moses was preserved by his parents’ faith. But we read from Exodus 2:10, “when the child grew older,” he was given back to Pharaoh’s daughter. We don’t know how many years Moses was in his mother’s care, but when he returned to Pharaoh’s palace, he already knew that the Hebrews were his people, not the Egyptians. According to Stephen, when he was about 40 years old, he already knew that God would deliver Israel from slavery in Egypt through him, “He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand” (Acts 7:25).
Moses’ knowledge of being God’s servant is a testimony to the faith of his parents. They raised him up in the discipline and nurture of the Lord. He became a hero of the faith by their prayers, teaching and training him in holiness and righteousness. He learned of God’s covenant promises to their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: a multitude of descendants and a land of their sojourning. All of you are parents and grandparents, uncles and aunts, who have the responsibility to train up the children in your family in the ways of God. Are you doing this to preserve them in the faith in this dark, ungodly world? The greatest blessing that you can give to them is teaching them the Word of God to instill faith in their hearts and preserve them from this wicked world.
Then when Moses was 40 years old, an incident changed the course of his life, and the course of Israel’s history.
By Faith, He Changed His Allegiance
What incident changed his life forever? Stephen the martyr again tells us that when Moses was 40 years old, “it came into his heart to visit his brothers,” Israelites who were being oppressed by Egyptians. When he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew man, he killed the Egyptian. The following day, he saw again two Israelites quarreling, so he mediated between them. But one of them said, “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?” Moses knew then that someone saw him killing an Egyptian, so he fled to the land of Midian. There he married Zipporah, a Midianite woman, and they had two sons. He sojourned in Midian for the next 40 years (Exo 2:11-14; Acts 7:23-29).
The author of Hebrews tells us in verses 24-25, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.”
For many people today, this is an impossible decision. Comfort is of utmost importance, and more than this, riches. One of these rare decisions in life was made by William Borden, heir to millions his father had made in Chicago’s real estate and Colorado’s silver mining businesses. In 1904, after he graduated from high school at 16, he toured the world. During this tour, his desire to be a missionary came upon him. He entered Yale with this desire, and as a senior, he opened the first rescue mission in New Haven, which served 17,000 poor and homeless people in one year. Still, his heart was still fixed on going to China to evangelize Chinese Muslims.
In 1913, after he finished his graduate work at Princeton, he sailed for China. But he made a stopover in Cairo to study Arabic, since he was planning to work with Muslims. Within four months, he contracted spinal meningitis and died at a very young age of 25. Borden donated $1 million to the China Inland Mission and other Christian agencies. When he finally set sail for China, a Chicago daily’s headline said, “Millionaire Gives Up All.”
What made William Borden give up fame and fortune? The answer is, faith in Christ. In his epitaph are these words, “Apart from Christ, there is no explanation for such a life.” And this is also the reason why Moses left the treasures and pleasures of Egypt, identifying instead with God’s people, “He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” What is this reward? He was sure of his place in glory with God and his people. He might as well have read Paul’s words, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18). Like his forefather Abraham, he was looking forward to heaven.
This is why later, in Hebrews 13:13, we read this exhortation, “Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.” As Christians, we suffer with Christ and endure suffering only by faith in Christ. This story encourages you to forsake the sinful pleasures and treasures of this world, looking forward and upward to Christ. Moses himself looked forward to the promised Messiah.
The writer says that he endured his sufferings because he saw the invisible God. How can one see something that is invisible? Jesus taught the same to unbelieving Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Paul explains that in this age, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). Paul and Moses endured sufferings in their life because they “looked not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor 4:18). When the Spirit opened their hearts, they realized that their lives of wealth and privilege are only temporary and will soon pass away. In the same way, the Spirit opens our blind eyes to Christ, so we really see him—by faith—even when he has already ascended into heaven.
At 80 years old, Moses returned to Egypt from his exile in Midian to deliver God’s people.
By Faith, He Delivered Israel
Through Moses, God sent ten plagues against Egypt. The tenth and last plague was the death of all the firstborn of Egypt, both man and beast. Israel was delivered from the Destroyer by the blood of the Passover lamb. By faith, Moses believed God’s promise that if the people “kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood,” the firstborn of Israel will be redeemed from the plague. How difficult do you think it was for them to trust God’s word that simply sprinkling the blood of a lamb on their doorpost would save them?
How difficult would it be for you if God asked you to do the same thing? You might think it’s a crazy command! It wasn’t difficult for Moses. Nor was it difficult for William Borden. When you have faith, the Spirit will give you trust in God’s promises through difficulties in life.
After the Passover, Pharaoh finally let Israel go in freedom. But right after they left their homes to go to the Promised Land, they already had an impossible obstacle. They were caught between a rock, Pharaoh’s army, and a hard place, the Red Sea. In great terror, they grumbled against Moses, “What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt?” (Exo 14:11) But Moses assured faithless Israel to not fear, but stand firm, because they will see the salvation of God on that day. Then God commanded Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea to divide it so the people may cross the sea on dry ground. And he did. After all Israel had crossed, Moses again stretched out his hand over the sea, and the walls of water collapsed against the Egyptian army, drowning them.
Faithless Israel was delivered from slavery and death by Moses, God’s faithful deliverer.
Dear Friends: As God’s ordained deliverer, Moses faced insurmountable difficulties and persecution in his life. So did our Lord Jesus Christ. Like Moses, he came down from his glorious life in heaven to be an exile in this world. As Moses instituted the Passover to deliver God’s people, so Christ willingly became the Passover Lamb to deliver us from slavery to sin, Satan and death. As Moses looked to his future reward, so did Jesus even when he faced being forsaken by his Father and prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you… to give eternal life to all whom you have given him” (John 17:1-2).
In the midst of life’s difficulties, it is this glory on which you are to fix your gaze. In the midst of persecution, believe God’s promise of reward. Believe in things that are not seen. Be assured of things you hope for: all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places, and dwelling with your Deliverer forever.