Border control for the kingdom of God
You may know that we’ve started a loose preaching series for the summer called ‘The Heart of the Kingdom’
- different expressions of the Kingdom of God
- in local, national and international arenas.
But today I want to ask the important question
- How do you get into the Kingdom of God?
- Is there a passport control and a border guard?
- Do you need a visa?
- What are the entry requirements?
Slide 1 – title page
The passage we had read to us is the song of triumph sung by the people of Israel after the parting of the Red Sea
- a paradigmatic story for God’s people.
- by the time it actually happens in the book of Exodus, the story has already been hinted at several times.
- And it gets many, many mentions throughout the rest of the Old Testament
- and indeed in the New.
It’s a story that has defined who Israel were throughout their history, and it’s still a very important story today to help us understand who we are.
The story is this – and we heard an account of it read earlier.
- God’s people are slaves in Egypt;
- subject to forced labour,
- forced population control and
- attempted genocide.
- no longer able to fulfil God’s creation mandate ‘be fruitful and multiply.’
- In other words, the oppressive regime, embodied in Pharaoh, has set itself up against God.
Slide 2 – chariot/river
Pharaoh uses a number of tools of oppression
- but there are two in particular that are worth noting.
1. He uses the river Nile. You may recall that
- in order to try to keep the population down,
- Pharaoh orders the drowning
- of all Israelite baby boys in the river Nile.
In response to their oppression, God sends Moses
- to tell Pharaoh to let his people go.
- Pharaoh refuses
- God sends ten plagues
- nine of them are warnings, demonstrations of God’s power
- so Pharaoh understands who he’s messing with.
- Finally God delivers the tenth plague
- the death of all the firstborn,
- Pharaoh agrees to let the people go.
2. And this is where we see the second instrument of oppression – the chariot.
- Because Pharaoh changes his mind
- pursues the Israelites with his 600 crack charioteers
- It’s like sending tanks against a straggly group of unarmed refugees
- the old, the infirm, the children
- There’s going to be a massacre of holocaust proportions.
OK, bear those two things in mind for a minute.
Slide 3 – sunset over Red Sea
Now, the people arrive at the Red Sea
- unable to go any further forward
- the dust cloud of Egypt’s army is coming up from behind.
- They are utterly beyond hope.
- They are caught quite literally between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Moses rebukes the people – just stand still and watch how God is going to rescue you.
Slide 4 – picture of crossing the Red Sea
And God sends a strong east wind, divides the red sea and they walk across on dry land.
So why have I chosen this story to speak on today?
Why does this story help us to answer the question – how do we get into the kingdom of God?
You see, this is more than a great tale of deliverance.
It’s a model of our own journey of discipleship – of our own journey into the kingdom of God.
And this is not coincidental.
- The Old Testament story is deliberately set up
- to form a framework to the understanding of the new.
- We are supposed to nod our heads when we come to the stories of Jesus and say
- ‘of course God would do it that way – this is how he’s acted before.’
So there are some important things that this story teaches us about how to enter the kingdom of God.
1. The story represents a definitive victory over the enemies of God
Slide 5 - text
This is where we come back to those symbols of oppression that I asked you to keep in your minds.
- The chariots and the river.
Slide 6 –chariot wheels
The pursuing enemy tries to follow Israel across the sea bed.
- But God is never going to allow that.
- The wheels of their chariots fall off
- probably getting stuck in the mud
- and the sea rolls back in over their heads.
God has won. His people are free. But did you notice?
The mode of his victory; the thing that trips the enemy up, is the very thing that Pharaoh had hoped to use against God’s people.
The chariots become a liability rather than a weapon. The waters drown them rather then the babies of Israel.
And so we come to the cross
– for this story of a mighty God saving his people is above all a picture of the cross.
Imagine the scene at Golgotha.
- The man gasping, pinned to the wood.
- The blood.
- The sweat.
- The pain.
But I wonder what else we would see if we could have our eyes open to the supernatural domain at that scene.
- Surely we’d see Satan and his angels triumphing.
- Dancing on the top of that cross
- in celebration of their victory.
The means that Satan has employed for evil
are the very means that God uses to bring about his downfall.
Satan can’t see it yet – not until Sunday – but he’s dancing on his own grave.
God is a mighty God. He saves his people by the power of his hand. And he utterly defeats the enemy.
Slide 7 - text
2. Salvation waits until we accept we are utterly helpless.
God saves them when they are utterly helpless.
Imagine yourself sitting there on the shore.
- You can’t swim – or even if you can, you couldn’t swim the distance needed;
- not with your whole family in tow,
- and your belongings.
- So there’s no way forward.
And there’s no way back.
- Turn around and the army of Egypt are camped behind you.
- Armed to the teeth and very angry.
It’s not a promising situation, is it?
And it is at this point of desperation that God steps in.
As Moses tells the people in chapter 14 v 14 ‘The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.’
Slide 8 – ‘satellite’ picture
Indeed, if they had
- tried to swim,
- or tried to fight,
- the outcome would have been utterly different.
They needed to be in that place of desperation
– the place where all human hope was exhausted - -before they were able to be saved.
This is such a key point for us to grasp.
We can’t make it into God’s wonderful kingdom by our own efforts.
- We don’t get in by the things we do.
- We can’t earn our way in,
- or buy or way in,
- or blackmail our way in.
And when we try to
- when we try to scale the walls
- or earn the points,
- or live the life
- we are missing what God is offering us.
We can’t make ourselves fit for his kingdom.
If we wait for that, we’ll wait for ever.
Quite frankly, we can’t impress God.
- He sees us too deep.
- There’s no way of getting into the kingdom
- except by the grace and power of the King.
Let me explain that a little more with a concrete example.
One of the core essentials of our ethos in this place is – church without walls.
This means that we welcome everyone who wants to become part of the family here.
- We don’t grill you on your credentials,
- or ask for a signed statement of faith.
- Some churches do.
- Some will only offer communion to people whose faith has been tested and ‘proved’.
- But we don’t.
- We want to demonstrate the welcome of the kingdom of God.
- I wholeheartedly agree with church without walls.
But there is a danger associated with it, and the danger is this –
- that people can come in and become part of the family here,
- can start to live the life,
- to walk the walk,
- and can miss the fact that it’s not living the life or singing the hymns that gets you into the kingdom of God.
Don’t get me wrong.
- When we are in the kingdom, there’s a code to live by.
- There’s a new government.
- The kingdom is about justice and holiness, and we can’t be passengers in all of that.
- But that all needs working out on the other side.
It’s not a condition of entry, it’s a response to the welcome.
The only condition of entry is to accept that there are no conditions of entry!
- To accept our utter inability to help ourselves.
- To stand before God utterly without earthly hope
- To be in the place that says – if you don’t show up and save me, I’m done for
- To stand still and let God deliver us.
Slide 9 - text
3. The story represents a liberation of those who are in captivity
The Red Sea is a very key moment in the story of Israel.
It marks the moment when the people of Israel became the people of God.
- In one sense they were already.
- That’s why we see Moses saying to Pharaoh ‘God says “let my people go”’.
- But in another sense they were only God’s people in his mind.
- In reality they were the slaves of his enemy.
- They were being held against their wills in a place where they were never intended to be.
But when the people crossed over, they passed out of slavery.
As they set foot on the far side of the Red Sea, something very important happened – they became God’s people, not Pharoah’s.
There are many forms of slavery that we see today.
- Many types of addiction.
- No doubt we could list a lot of them, between us.
- Addiction to chemical substances in the form of alcohol,
- Addiction to food.
- Addiction to pornography.
But these are all manifestations of the same underlying bondage.
- The one that afflicts us all.
- It’s the bondage that started in the garden of Eden.
- It’s a slavery to the brokenness of the cosmos.
- It’s the thing within each of us that corrupts us at even our finest moments.
- It twists our motives.
- It perverts our best intentions.
- It subjugates our bodies to sickness, aging and death.
- It warps all our relationships.
- It even causes the universe itself to groan in recognition that all is not as it should be.
And because of that inherent crookedness – what the Bible calls bondage to sin – we are not God’s people – not in reality.
We are in slavery to his enemy. We are held in captivity in a place where we were never intended to be.
God wants us back.
And in the cross of Jesus,
- by the power of his hand and the grace of his heart,
- he rescues us from that enslavement.
- And we need do nothing but walk across on dry land.
Slide 10 - text
4. The story represents a definite point of crossing.
Slide 11 - Mexico
The last thing this story tells us is this – there is a definite border.
I don’t know how well travelled you are,
- but I guess most of us have been overseas and had to present our passports at the border.
- Border crossings can vary quite a lot, can’t they?
- Sometimes there are armed guards,
- sometimes we might be searched.
- Sometimes it’s just a nod and a friendly wave of the passport.
Slide 12 – Laos to Cambodia
- In fact, in some remoter parts of the world, the border is not marked at all.
- I understand you can pass from Afghanistan to Pakistan through the mountain passes without crossing a wall or a checkpoint or a fence.
Slide 13 – snowy crossing
- Likewise, this is a picture of people crossing from Tibet to Nepal.
Slide 14 – welcome to USA
But whether or not there’s a big sign saying ‘welcome to …,’
- whether or not there is a frowning immigration officer checking your passport,
- even if the border is entirely unmarked,
- the border exists, and it is meaningful.
The position of the border is marked on maps.
- The language may be different.
- The customs may be different.
- The currency will probably be different.
- The government will certainly be different.
- What may look like a continuation of the same road as before, is in fact, an entirely different country.
This was the experience of the people of Israel. The Red Sea marked the border that they had to cross.
On one side they were slaves on the run.
- On the other side they were a free people on the way to a land of their own.
The journey continued.
- But that point of crossing the Red Sea was a definitive moment.
- There was no going back.
- There could be no doubt which side of the Red Sea they were on.
Slide 15 – words of Jesus
- They had – in the words of Jesus – crossed over from death to life.
And the same is true of our journey to faith.
- We are all on a journey.
- But there are two important questions that we need to ask ourselves about that journey.
- Number one – are we travelling in the right direction?
- And number two – have we crossed the border?
For many people here, the moment of crossing the border - the point when they became a Christian – was a border checkpoint sort of moment. A decisive moment when they knew they were crossing over.
But for others of us – and I am one of these – there was no checkpoint on our journey.
- There was no one moment we can point to and say – it was then.
- We crossed without knowing exactly when it happened.
- We woke up one morning and said – I’m on the other side!
But just because the border may not be clearly marked in our journey does not mean it does not exist.
Israel were either slaves or they were free.
We too are either saved or we are not.
So this is an opportunity to take stock.
- To stop and look at the scenery of your journey.
- To check the currency in your pocket.
- To ask yourself who the government is, in the place where you find yourself.
Because you are either a slave or you’re not.
- You are either free or not.
- And the difference is like crossing over from death to life.
So, there are three things to take from this story.
- The story invites us to cross from slavery to freedom.
- It encourages us to check the scenery and work out which side of the border we are on.
- And it urges us to come with empty hands, and to stand and receive the deliverance that God is offering.
And I finish with this one question.
Have you crossed over?
- Have you come with empty hands to the cross of Jesus, and said ‘please save me – I cannot save myself’?
The invitation is for everyone – absolutely everyone.
- It’s not just for good people.
- It’s not just for people who’ve got their lives sorted.
- It’s not just for people who have messed up their lives beyond recognition.
- It’s for everyone who looks at the other side of the border and wishes they were there.
- It’s for everyone who wants to walk in the good things that God has planned for us –
- both in this world and in the unending one.
If you come, you will not be turned away.
It’s like a green card to the kingdom of God.