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I invite you to open your Bibles or service folders to our first lesson today and think of the crossing of the Red Sea in the light of what Jesus asked his disciples when he calmed the storm. Why are you afraid?
The account of Israel crossing the Red Sea gets a lot of attention. It’s a memorable scene in the movie, “The Ten Commandments.” Many scholars, some even religious, have said that it is impossible, and they have tried to deny that it happened, or to explain that it wasn’t a sea but a swamp; that nothing supernatural happened. Others have circulated claims that chariot wheels have been found certain places along the bottom of the Red sea as proof that it did happen. We know it happened because God’s word is truth. It’s been the subject of a number of jokes and memes. The picture of baby Moses dividing the water in his bath tub, or the woman walking between the walls of water with the caption “Ick, I think I stepped on a fish;” or the latest one I’ve seen, showing a man with his fishing line cast in the wall of water with the caption, “There’s always one.”
These memes might provide a good chuckle now, but at the time no one was laughing. Pharaoh was in a blind rage intent on re-capturing his slaves and punishing someone for the death of all the first born. Israel was filled with fear. God had put them between a rock and a hard place. There were mountains to the right and the left. In front of them was the Red Sea and behind them were Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, the most feared army on the earth at the time. There was no place to run. Stand and fight? They were shepherds with women, children and animals, no match for Pharaoh’s horses and chariots. They were right to conclude that they were in a hopeless situation. But they were wrong to give up hope.
There may not be many of us here today who have faced such a no-win, hopeless situation. Maybe some have been in an airplane that is in distress, like Pastor Bourman and his wife were about a year ago. Maybe some of you have been told you have cancer. That feels like a hopeless situation, at least at the moment. The disciples had seen storms on the Sea of Galilee before, but they realized that the one described in our Gospel lesson was the worst. They knew that if the storm continued their boat would sink and they were too far from shore to swim to safety. They were in a hopeless situation. But on the basis of what God did for Israel and what Jesus did for the disciples, we can say that no matter how hopeless a situation seems there is always reason for hope. When we are afraid, we need to hear Jesus asking us: “why are you afraid, you of little faith?”
Sometimes you find yourselves in a mess, in a seemingly hopeless situation, because of sinful, foolish choices you have made. If that’s the case, take a good long look in the mirror, and confess what you have done. There is hope. God may be using the consequences of your sins and foolish choices to humble you and bring you back to him so that you don’t end up suffering the eternal consequences of Hell. He may not rescue you from the mess you have made, but as you confess your sins and turn to him seeking forgiveness because of what Jesus has done for you, you are rescued from the eternal consequences of your sin. Like the prodigal son, the Father welcomes you home and rejoices because you were lost but are found, you were dead, but are alive.
Sometimes your hopeless situation has nothing to do with your sins or foolish choices. That was the case with the disciples on the Sea of Galilee. There was no indication that a storm was brewing, or that it was dangerous to try to sail that day. It was true of Israel too. They were just following where God was leading them. It looked to them like God had led them into a hopeless trap. Many blamed Moses, and God, for their situation, and we would have been tempted to do the same. But God had put them in this situation for a purpose. Partially, like the disciples caught in the storm, to test and strengthen their faith. But, in this case, primarily to bring judgment on Pharaoh and the Egyptians bringing himself glory- to let them, Israel, and all who would hear about what he did then and now, know that I am the Lord, the one and only true God, the ruler of all that exists, the one who has power even over water, wind and waves. He is the one who can ask, why are you afraid? He is the one who says through Moses, Stand firm and see the salvation from the Lord. The Lord will fight for you. You must wait quietly. Or as he says through the Psalmist, be still and know that I am God.
Consider what God did for them. The pillar of cloud, the visible indication of his presence with his people, became their rearguard. The one side of the cloud made it pitch dark for the Egyptians so that they couldn’t find Israel. The other side of the cloud provided light for Israel. He caused the water of the sea to pile up in two walls, and the wind to dry up what had been the bottom of the sea so that Israel didn’t sink in mud as they walked between the two walls of water. And, it must not have been a narrow path either, because about two million people and everything they had crossed in one night. When they were all safely across God kept the word he had spoken through Moses, the Egyptians you see today you will never see again, for he had the waters come crashing down on them and their great and powerful army was destroyed without a single arrow being shot by Israel.
Peter encourages us when we seem surrounded by wickedness, by pointing to Noah, and to Lot, and he could have added Israel at the Red Sea. He reminds us that if God found a way to spare Noah and destroy the wicked in the flood, and to spare Lot when he destroyed wicked Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone, and to rescue Israel from mighty Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment. Why are you afraid?
We may not have a pillar of cloud that assures us of God’s presence, but we have his promises that he is with us. As the servant of Elisha saw when Elisha prayed that his eyes would be opened, the angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him. Jesus isn’t physically in the boat with us, but when we feel afraid or hopeless he can still ask us, “Why are you afraid? I have promised that I am with you to the very end of the age. No power on earth, not wind or waves, not even the unseen powers of darkness, not even death, can separate you from my loving care.”
It was a great thing that God stepped in and gained glory for himself by rescuing his people Israel from what seemed like certain slaughter at the hands of the Egyptians. It was a great thing that Jesus stood up in the boat and rebuked the wind and the waves and rescued his disciples from what they thought was certain death. He revealed his glory as God and the disciples learned to put their trust in him. But none of these people are here with us today. This reminds us that as great as miraculous, physical deliverance may be, there is something even greater.
Isn’t it interesting how the physical deliverance at the Red Sea also pictures for us the greater deliverance God has given us in Jesus? When we see our sins and realize what we are by nature and because of our sinful thoughts, words and actions, we see our hopeless situation. We see that we deserve worse that being slaughtered by Pharaoh’s charioteers. We deserve worse that drowning in a storm. We deserve to be sent away from the presence of God forever. We are in a hopeless situation. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves from the eternal destruction we deserve. But God says to us, don’t be afraid. I will fight for you. Just wait quietly and you will see my salvation. He says, “I sent you the promised seed of the woman to fight for you. He defeated Satan and his armies who were pursuing you, against whom you were powerless. He kept the law that would have condemned you. He took on himself the punishment you deserved. He even defeated death by his resurrection from the dead. He is right now preparing a place for you to live in the promised land, paradise, for all eternity. So, no matter what it is that seems frightening to you, remember that God is in control. There isn’t anything he can’t do. Trust him to take care of you now, and, when the time comes, to take you to the promised land of heaven. Hear Jesus asking you, “Why are you afraid?”