Faith Makes the Difference When we Walk Through Crisis
As we look at four more instances of what faith produces, keep in mind the definition from Hebrews 11:1: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." So each of the four acts in this text is produced by faith, that is, by the assurance of something hoped for, namely, God's promise to be all that the believer needs. So watch for that. Watch for the way hope in God produces a new kind of behavior (which I think we should call love). And notice too that these four acts of faith cover a period of eighty years from Moses' birth to the time he led the people out of Egypt. And finally notice, as we read, that in these four moments of Moses' life the stress is tremendous. Each of them is a life and death situation that would cause you to be knotted up inside and scarcely able to sleep at night - like Dane and Mirjam Hanson experienced when they had to evacuate Albania and like Steve, Julie and Luke Anderson experienced when they had to evacuate Congo, and the Deckers when they had to leave Liberia - and like some of you may be experiencing right now because of threats looming in your life. So watch now what faith produces.
V 23) By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king's edict.
V 24) By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; 25 choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; 26 considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.
V 27) By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen.
V 28) By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the first-born might not touch them.
These are four crisis points in Moses' life. And the point of these verses is that faith - the assurance of things hoped for - makes all the difference at those points in our lives. Let's look at them and ask God to teach us how to walk through crises by faith.
Crisis #1 in Moses' Life - Were his Parents Afraid?
The first has to do with the faith of Moses' parents when he was born. You recall that the king of Egypt was fearful of the growing number of Jewish males. So he ordered them to be killed at birth: Exodus 1:22, "Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, 'Every [Jewish] son who is born you are to cast into the Nile, and every daughter you are to keep alive.'"
Notice that there are two threats in that edict from the king: one is explicit, that Jewish baby boys are to be killed; the other is implicit, that if you disobey this command and keep a Jewish baby boy alive, you will be disobedient to the king's law and risk your own life. In other words, parents had two choices: they could kill their sons and save themselves, or they could try to save their sons and risk their own lives. There was no middle way.
Now that's important to see, because Hebrews 11:23 doesn't make sense if you don't see it. It says, "By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king's edict." Someone might respond to that and say, "Of course, they were afraid of the king's edict; otherwise they would not have been hiding the baby. They would have been showing him off to the neighbors if they weren't afraid of the king's command that baby boys be killed."
So what does verse 23 mean, that they hid their baby son "because . . . they were not afraid of the king's edict." You would expect, "They hid their son because they were afraid," not ". . . because they weren't afraid." And surely that's right: if they had not been afraid for their son's life, they would have carried him around in public.
The answer is that there are two threats in the king's edict, not just one. One against the babies and one against those who don't kill the babies. If you kill the baby you save your life. If you don't kill your baby, you risk your life. So when Moses' parents decide they are not going to drown Moses in the Nile River but hide him, they are risking their lives. In other words, they look the fear of death and perhaps torture in the face and say: we will not give in to you. We will not kill our son out of fear for our own lives. Fear of death will not control us.
And the point of this text is: that act of courage against the king, and that act of love toward their son comes from faith. "By faith Moses . . . was hidden by his parents . . . because they were not afraid of the king's edict."
How does faith produce that kind of courage and love? The definition from Hebrews 11:1 gives the answer. "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for." Faith frees us for this kind of radical courage and risk-taking and love because it is the assurance that what God promises to those who die in the path of love is better than what the world promises those who shun risk and save themselves. More simply, faith in God's promises frees us from the fear of death and makes us brave in the risks of love.
Human Ingenuity or Faith in God?
There's a minor point here as well as this main one. It's important for all of us who want our lives to be on the cutting edge where there are risks and dangers and great crises and great needs. It's a point of realism and balance. Notice. Moses' parents risked their lives by not killing their baby. But they did hide the baby. Some people's minds - immature minds with little real-life experience and out of touch with the complexities of the soul - might say, "If Moses' parents really had faith, they would have entrusted the child's care to God and just walked around the community with their new baby. That would have been real faith."
How would you respond to somebody like that? - people who say, "They don't trust God; they're using human ingenuity to protect their baby instead of entrusting him to God"? Perhaps the best way to respond is simply to tell them to read their Bibles and read them carefully. Because the Bible says, in Hebrews 11:23, that Moses' parents did indeed have faith, and they hid their baby. Not killing the baby put their lives at risk and was a great act of faith and love. Hiding their baby was a act of human, but God-given, wisdom (and no less from faith); and to do otherwise would probably have been presumption - like the idea of Jesus jumping off the roof of the temple to see if God would catch him (Luke 4:9-12).
So how shall we apply this today? One way would be to say that following God's call to work with AIDS patients is an act of risk-taking faith; and wearing rubber gloves during treatments is an act of faithful wisdom. Following God's call to live in a rough neighborhood is an act of risk-taking faith; and buying deadbolts is an act of faithful wisdom. Following God's call to Guinea or Tanzania or Khazakstan or Uzbekistan with your children is an act of risk-taking faith, and giving your children vaccinations and malaria treatments is probably an act of faithful wisdom.
In other words, living by faith is often perplexing - which is why, I think, Paul prays incessantly that his converts would have "spiritual wisdom . . . and bear fruit in every good work" (Colossians 1:9-11). Which risky, inconvenient, dangerous, inopportune "good works" we should do will seldom be written in the sky or spoken in a dream. (That is why Paul prays for spiritual wisdom.) They will be wrestled into by agonizing prayer and Biblical saturation and self-mortification and - above all - faith, the assurance of things hoped for. Radical confidence in God's promise to take care of us is the main key to unlock the power and path of risk-taking love.
Crisis #3 in Moses' Life - Was Moses Afraid?
Now jump with me over the second act of faith in Hebrews 11:24-26 to the third act in verse 27. I make this move because what we see here in verse 27, forty years later, is a situation that Moses faced which is a lot like the one his parents faced at his birth. We will understand it better if we see it in connection with what we saw in verse 23.
According to Exodus 2:11-12, Moses began to identify himself with his Jewish kinsmen and be indignant at their slavery. He found an Egyptian beating a Jew and intervened and killed him. He thought his act had been done secretly, but the next day he discovers the word has gotten around. Exodus 2:14 says, "Then Moses was afraid, and said, 'Surely the matter has become known.'" Then the next verse says, "When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he tried to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the presence of Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midian."
Now here is a problem like the one we saw in verse 23: is Moses afraid when he leaves Egypt or isn't he? Were his parents afraid when they hid their baby or weren't they? In verse 23 it says that his parents hid their baby because "they were not afraid of the king's edict." Here in verse 27 it says, "By faith [Moses] left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king." Yet we saw that Moses' parents were at least afraid enough to hide their baby. And here we read in Exodus 2:14 that Moses was afraid when he heard that his violence was known.
So you see the similarity between these two crises.
So did Moses leave Egypt out of fear or didn't he? It's like asking: did his parents hide Moses from Pharaoh out of fear or didn't they? The answer for his parents is that they did fear for the child's life; but they did not act out of fear for themselves; they risked their lives, and they did it by faith in future grace.
It's a little different with Moses, but not basically different. He probably did save his life by leaving Egypt. But was fearful self-preservation his motive in leaving? When verse 27 says, "By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king," did the writer forget about Exodus 2:14 and the fear Moses felt, or is he pointing us to something very crucial and very deep in Moses' heart so that we won't misconstrue Exodus 2:14?
The key is found in the word "endured" in verse 27 - or your version may have the word "persevered." Verse 27: "By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king, for he endured - he persevered - as seeing Him who is unseen." In other words, it wasn't basically fear that caused Moses to leave Egypt, it was "endurance." Endurance?
In what? Endurance implies a chosen path of difficulty that you are tempted to forsake but you hang in there and "endure." What is the writer referring to when he says in verse 27 that Moses "left Egypt . . . for he endured . . ."? What path had Moses chosen that required endurance to stay on and even led him out of Egypt for 40 years before he came back to rescue his people?
Crisis #2 in Moses' Life - He Endured
The answer was given in verses 24-26. Now we can go back and pick up the second act of faith that we passed over. These verses describe a radically dangerous and costly path that Moses had chosen before (mark this!) he felt threatened by the Pharaoh. What was this path? Verses 24-26:
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather [there's the chosen path] to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.
The writer expresses the dangerous, painful path Moses had chosen in two ways: First (in verse 25) it is the choosing of ill-treatment with the people of God over the passing pleasures of sin. Second (in verse 26) it is the choosing of reproach for Christ (the Messiah) over the treasures of Egypt. Now don't miss this! The choice was made before the threat of Pharaoh. The bridges had already been burned between Moses and Egypt. It had happened in his heart. Not yet geographically, but spiritually and morally he was gone already. Do you see that?
Now the question was, would he endure in this chosen path of suffering for the people of God and the glory of the Messiah? Or would he cave in - like so many cave in today to the Egypt - the passing pleasures - of this world?
Was Moses' flight from Egypt a capitulation to a self-serving, fearful, pursuit of ease and comfort and safety? Verse 27 says, No. "By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king" - fear was not his basic mindset. What was? Next phrase: "For he endured." In what? In the same deep motive that caused him to choose ill-treatment with the people of God and reproach for the sake of the Messiah, namely, "he endured as seeing Him who is unseen" (verse 27b). In other words, "by faith." By looking to God's promise, not Pharaoh's threat.
This is the same motive that drove his radical choices in verses 24-26. You can see it at the end of verse 26: he chose ill-treatment with God's people and he chose reproach for the Christ "because he was looking to the reward." "Looking to the reward" in verse 26 corresponds to "seeing him who is unseen" in verse 27. He had, by faith, burned the bridges in his mind (by "the assurance of things hoped for"), and then, by faith, he burned them in his flight (by "the conviction of things unseen").
Yes, he experienced fear when the word spread that he had killed an Egyptian while saving a Jew - just as his parents had experienced fear when they saved their baby boy and risked their own lives. But hiding their baby was not an act of fearful, self-serving unbelief, and Moses' leaving Egypt was not an act of fearful, self-serving unbelief either. It was a persevering, an enduring, in spite of fear, in the obedience of faith. He wasn't driven merely or mainly by fear; he looked to the unseen God to work out some purpose for his people, and forty years later he would discover what that purpose was, and he would be back.
Burning our Bridges by Faith
The bridges were burned between Moses and Egypt well before he was threatened by Pharaoh - they were burned in his heart and they were burned by faith. That's what faith does all through this chapter. Faith is a hunger for God that triumphs over our hunger for the pleasures of this world. And so faith unleashes radically God-centered, risk-taking, people-loving behavior.
Let's be like Moses this morning. Let's look to the reward of God's promises, as it says in verse 26. And let's look to the God who is unseen, as it says in verse 27. And let's be so hungry for the superior worth of our glorious God that the bridges are burned to a hundred sins and a hundred fears.