Good morning! Did you all get a good night’s rest? I’m delighted that you’re worshipping and fellowshipping with us this morning. Can you think of anything that is more important than participating in these things?
We experienced trials in our lives when we reach a crisis that is potentially dangerous or devastating. You may have come to the brink of a divorce. You may have seen your life turned upside down when your company downsized and you were let go. Or some hypocrite or weak Christian said or did something that created a crisis of faith for you. Life is not neat nor is it easy. And when you travel with God the path he chooses according to Jesus is narrow and hard. And at some point you will find yourself in the same position that the Israelite were in at the Baal Zephon. You will find yourself between the sword and the sea.
It is particularly important at these moments that you develop the habit of faith in God’s presence in your trial. A habit is an automatic response that has been learned through experience and repetition. The habit of faith in trials is not natural. Many times we give in to our panicky instincts rather than respond with faith in God’s presence. The children Israel panicked when they perceived Pharaoh’s avenging sword at their rear and the sea to their front. They were in a trial without the habit of faith. Yet God was gracious. Here’s what he did. “19Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel's camp, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20coming between the army of Egypt and the camp of Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.”
Isaiah recalling this event in chapter 63 says that God shared their affliction and the angel of his presence saved them. In Hebrew the root word for presence is the word face. Many think that this angel who moved from in front of the camp to its rear is God’s messenger Jesus the Christ. He is the very presence or face of God. I’m not going to spend time this morning on whether He was or not Jesus, but I am going to insist that when you are between the sword and the sea the face of God’s presence is there between you and the sword. He makes his presence known by separating you from the sword with the cloud of his power and might. And God’s presence throws your enemies into darkness, and gives you light to escape through the sea.
King David certainly had the habit of faith in God’s presence. He was often between the sword and the sea. He lived a very dangerous and hard life for the cause of God’s kingdom. And if the trial was a giant, or a wicked king, or an ungrateful wife he habitually trusted and felt God’s presence with him. He prays, “5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.” This habit was so ingrained in him that it was beyond his understanding. Paul will speak of God and his love filling everything and it surpasses knowledge. God does hem us in. He is in the front and the rear and along side of us. And we need to develop the habit of trusting his presence all the time, and especially when we find ourselves reaching a crisis.
This morning’s lesson is really about how you practice the habit of faith in the presence of God. When God wants you to go where it frightens you, and when you need to pray when you are pursued by Satan, and when you are about to panic then is when the habit of faith in his presence makes the difference. You need to learn it and practice it over and over again.
When you are between the sword and the sea practice acknowledging God’s nearness in your heart. The book of Deuteronomy may be classified as Moses legacy to Israel. In this legacy he repeats and expands many of the laws and goals God had for the nation. In chapter four Moses reminds them that from the beginning of time God had not spoken to another nation like he had to them. That no other god had done for any nation what God did with the incredible signs and wonders that destroyed Egypt for them. And that he had brought them out of Egypt by his very own powerful presence. God did all that so that they would acknowledge that he is God In verse 39 Moses says, “So acknowledge today and take to heart that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.”
The Israelites in front of the Red Sea should have acknowledged and taken to heart that God is God in heaven and on earth too. He is always near. The doctrine is called Omnipresence. It simply means that He is everywhere at all times. In this situation He manifested his nearness to their physical senses in what is called a theophany. From the land of Goshen to their present location the angel of his presence lead them in a visual cloud.
Let’s be careful about wondering why they panicked, because have you ever asked how could God let this happen to me in a crisis? We’ve seen God shower blessings upon blessings in our everyday lives, and yet we struggle with the idea that God is near in bad times. When I was a sophomore at Harding I remember praying in my dorm before the crisis of final exams, and simply stopped because it felt like no one was listening. Have you had a similar kind of experience?
Moses says there is no other God and that he is always present even when we don’t feel it. Acknowledging is the habit of stating your faith in God. But Moses wants us to go one step farther. He wants us to really believe it. Paul says if we confess with our lips and believe in our hearts we will be saved. It is the same basic principle with slightly different applications. In a crisis you need to stop and acknowledge that God will be God in your crisis. You need to tell yourself that truth and express it to others from the sincerity of your heart.
Most of our crises will occur because of others so Paul tells the Philippians to be gentle with everyone because God is near. He says, “4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.” We get desperate and behave impatiently with people and treat them as enemies, and often refuse to cut them any slack. The right way to behave in a crisis is to rejoice again and again in the Lord. In this way you are acknowledging that he is God in heaven and on earth. You don’t have to be desperate or immature in your dealings with those who have a sword to your back and the sea to your front. One of the best ways to acknowledge God’s nearness is to rejoice in his goodness and grace. Tell God and others what a great God He is from your heart.
Next when you are between the sword and the sea practice visualizing God’s presence in your mind. The Israelites visualized their bodies hacked to pieces by the Egyptians. There is little doubt that our thoughts are in visual form and not abstract. When we think of a crisis we usually see the worst possible outcome. Not in written words like on a computer screen but as pictures. We dream and visualize in the concrete world we know. If the Egyptians were behind you what do you think you would see in your mind? Would letters flash through your mind or would you see a picture of an Egyptian swinging his sword at your head?
David is a great warrior and often finds himself with Saul’s sword at his back. And he considered the many times Saul tried to kill him and pictures came to his mind, but they were not about the worst possible outcome. Listen to his prayer to God. He says, “13 Rise up, O Lord, confront them, overthrow them! By your sword deliver my life from the wicked, 14 … 15 As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.” He visualized God confronting and overthrowing his enemies. He saw God in terms of a great warrior that would deliver him by his sword. He declares that when he wakes from his dream of God that he will be satisfied with beholding God’s likeness.
The Bible paints pictures of God. For example it describes God as a Father lifting us up, as a Shepherd guiding us, and as a Hen gathering her chicks under her wings. However concrete none of these are physical descriptions. David saw God face and form as righteousness. One of the worst sins is to make images out of material things. And God is not a human being or some kind of super animal. The visualization God wants is for us to understand his heart, his character, his power, and his divinity. When David visualized God’s face and form he is seeing God destroy the wicked men who put him between the sword and the sea. He is seeing God act and be righteous.
The N.T. has the perfect picture of God. John’s vision needs to be ours. Here’s how he saw the face and form of God. “…I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. 14 His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.” When you are between the sword and the sea you need to habitually see Jesus in his true righteousness.
He is our high priest dressed with the long white robe. He no longer wears the emblems of the 12 tribes on his golden sash, but is the mediator of Jew and gentile alike. He is pure as the snow, and he sees to the depths of our souls with fiery eyes. He is powerfully trampling his enemies. His speech, like the sound of many waters, can reach every human heart with his message of grace. And from his mouth issues the sharp two edged sword piercing our hearts, souls, and bodies changing us from the inside out. And his face of righteousness is bright with pure majesty and glory. And he moves among the lamp stands which are his church, because that is how near we are. He is present. And by habitually practicing Biblical visualization we draw comfort and peace from the revelation of Christ in a crisis.
Next when you are between the sword and the sea practice approaching God’s presence through prayer. The Hebrew writer says, “15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” Jesus was tested with every human crisis and he passed them without sin so he can sympathize with our weakness. He promises to provide mercy and grace for our needs. Habitual prayer is the boldness the writer encourages. When you are in trouble there is no better time to call on God. Boldness is not arrogance. It is the confidence of knowing that God wants you to approach with humility and dependence. It is the confidence of knowing that God never grows tired of you and your life. It is the confidence of knowing that God will act and be righteous for you in your trial.
James reminds us “8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” God will not fail you when you approach Him. He will never run away from you, spurn you, or bar your entrance to His throne. The habit of prayer ingrains your dependence upon God, and allows your spirit to commune with God’s Spirit. It gives you the opportunity to visualize God from the pictures of the Bile. And it provides the needed opportunity of acknowledging that God is God in heaven and on earth. When you are between the sword and the sea you need that communion to pass the crisis. But actions which offend God or hearts filled with the pollution of cowardice, hate, lust, and vengeance will hinder the habit of prayer. So do you think to pray when you are between the sword and the sea? Do you take the time in prayer to cleanse your hands and purify your heart?
There is an old Christian hymn that goes, “1Ere you left your room this morning, did you think to pray? In the name of Christ our Savior, Did you sue for loving favor, As a shield today? O how praying rest the weary! Prayer will change the night to day; So when life seems dark and dreary, Don’t forget to pray. 2When you met with great temptation, Did you think to pray? By his dying love and merit, did you claim the Holy Spirit As your guide and stay? O how praying rest the weary! Prayer will change the night to day; So when life seems dark and dreary, Don’t forget to pray. 3When your heart was filled with anger, Did you think to pray? Did you plead for grace, my brother, That you might forgive another Who has crossed your way? O how praying rest the weary! Prayer will change the night to day; So when life seems dark and dreary, Don’t forget to pray. 4When sore trials come upon you, did you think to pray? When your soul was bowed in sorrow, Balm of Gilead did you borrow At the gates of day? O how praying rest the weary! Prayer will change the night to day; So when life seems dark and dreary, Don’t forget to pray.”
Finally when you are between the sword and the sea practice reflecting God’s presence in your demeanor. When Jesus died on the cross he was between the sword and the sea. At his crucifixion there was a Roman centurion who was a practiced executor of criminals. This man had seen all kinds of behavior from his victims. He had witness them howl with terror, cry with sniveling self pity, and fight with the terrorized fury of cornered animals. But he had never seen a man like Jesus. He said of Jesus, “this certainly was a righteous man the Son of God.” When Jesus went through the ultimate crisis his demeanor was clam, loving, and forgiving. That is why Peter tells us to walk in his steps to the cross. Paul says he’s been crucified with Jesus and it is Christ living in him now. Jesus demeanor is best seen at Calvary.
Paul writes to the Corinthians and says, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” The glory of Jesus is the cross and when we view its reflection from the mirror of the Scripture the Holy Spirit changes our image to be like his. He does this in stages or degrees through our trials. We are to practice the demeanor we learn from Jesus death in Scripture and apply it to our daily lives. This is taking up the cross and following Jesus. When you are between the sword and the sea God is giving you the opportunity to express your faith in Jesus. As you pass through the sea that God opens and with the cross lightening your way your transformation occurs.
It is very important that ask yourself what is my habit of faith. When trials are thrust upon me am I like the Israelites. Do I behave by howling with terror or sniveling with self pity or fighting with animal like fury? Or do I stay clam, loving, and forgiving? What is your habit of faith? Hebrews says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” God wants you to develop the habit of acknowledging that he is real and rewards you for seeking him. He wants you to habitually visualize his reality, and see the promises he’s made and kept to you in your mind. He desires that you boldly approach him in prayer continuously knowing his grace and mercy are always available to you. Then you will, as a matter of habit reflect, the demeanor of Christ when crisis and trouble come your way.
This morning concludes our journey through the Red Sea with the Israelites. God’s word has given you 4 great principles to apply to your life. First God leads you into what seem to be traps for you to learn to obey him. He allows Satan to pursue so that you will pray hard and long. He wants you to get a grip on him so that you move forward. And he is present when you are between the sword and the sea. So what are you going to do? Will you step out into the sea with God or will you remain to be destroyed by this world and its god?
Will you pray with me?
God’s Presence in Your Trials—Exodus 14:19-20
19 Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel's camp, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20 coming between the army of Egypt and the camp of Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long. Verses 19-20
5You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. 7Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence
WHEN YOU ARE BETWEEN THE SWORD AND THE SEA PRACTICE
¨ [ACKNOWLEDGING] God’s Nearness In Your Heart!
So acknowledge today and take to heart that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. Deuteronomy 4:39
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Philippians 4:4-5
¨ [VISUALIZING] God’s Presence In Your Mind!
13 Arise, O Lord! confront them, overthrow them! Deliver my life from the wicked by thy sword, 14 …. 15 As for me, I shall behold thy face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with beholding thy form. Psalms 17:13-15
THE NEW TESTAMENT VISION OF GOD
13…I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. 14 His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force. Revelation 1:13-16
¨ [APPROACHING] God’s Presence Through Prayer!
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hb 4:15-16
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4:8
¨ [REFLECTING] God’s Presence In Your Demeanor!
And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18
What Is Your Habit Of Faith?
And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6