"Upon Further Review"#87-28
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on March 8, 2020
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Exodus 5
"Hey Michael," my brother-in-law says to me. He wasn't technically my brother-in-law at the time. I was engaged to be married to his sister, so he's my future brother-in-law. Paul's his name. He says to me, "Hey Michael, you think you can do this?" Paul standing on a sidewalk that leads all the way down the path to the lodge where we're having the family reunion: my wife's side of the family.
Along this sidewalk, there's a metal hand-railing, about standard hand-railing height, four feet high. Paul jumps up on top of it, balances himself and walks like a trapeze artist the whole length of this hand-railing, gets to the end, hops off, does a half twist in the air, sticks the landing like a gymnast, and says to me, "Give it a try." So I did.
I mount the hand-railing, steadied myself, and I noticed that there's a crowd starting to gather: family members, great aunt Dorothy and some of the cousins. I slowly start to take a few steps. What happened next I can still see very clearly because I've watched the instant replay in my mind many times, sometimes in slow motion. I lost my balance and when I lost it, I did not fall off to the left of the rail below me, I did not fall off to the right, I fell right down the middle. Not a gold medal landing.
I know because I've watched the replay. What do you do with the instant replays of your failures? If my memory were like a warehouse of old film strips stacked up on shelves, there would be a special corner for these memories labeled "Epic Failures." The one that I just shared you, it's pretty benign. It's harmless. It didn't do any real long-term damage. I'm still a part of the family. They still love me. They still claim me. But there are other memories in that section of the warehouse that are more embarrassing, more damaging, more indicting.
These events have tested the limits of the people who love me and their capacity to forgive. What do you do with your memories of failures? One option is the instant replay. Now, the instant replay has its place. It can be helpful in sporting events and also in life. There is value to mentally replaying clips of your failures, of receiving criticism, and learning to do better. At the same time, the instant replay wrongly used can do more harm than good.
It's like that in sports. At its best, the instant replay assures sports fans that the game isn't rigged, and it won't be ruined by human error. At its worst, the instant replay overused slows the game. stalls it, sucks the joy out of it. It's like that for life, too. If you don't review your failures, your errors, your mistakes, if you're not open to criticism, then you'll never learn from them.
When you use the instant replay feature of your memory to dwell in your errors, in your failures, in your shortcomings, in your sins, life can slow down to a torturous pace. See, the problem in life as in sports isn't the instant replay; it's how you use the replay. The problem is human judgment. This problem is on display in the book of Exodus. The book of Exodus is the second book of the Bible. I guess you could say in some ways the whole Bible is a story about the problem of human judgment, the evil that enslaves it, and the God who wants to set it free—to set us free.
So in the book of Exodus, God is confronting a potent form of this evil: a person who has been blessed with immense power and influence and yet is possessed by the idea that he is above criticism. He's called Pharaoh. He's the king of Egypt. He is standing in the way of God's rescue operation. He's holding God's people hostage as slaves—the children of Israel, family of Abraham—so God sends this guy Moses to bring them out of Egypt.
Now, Moses has the inverse of Pharaoh's problem. He doesn't think he's above criticism; he is shackled by his self-criticism. He's trapped in an instant replay of his failures. In chapter four we hear Moses complain that he's self-conscious of the way he talks. It might be that he has a stutter, or he just has trouble finding the words. Whatever it is, Moses is self-conscious about his speech. We hear him bring this up again in this section that I'm going to share with you.
Here, Moses says that he has uncircumcised lips or uncircumcised speech. Now, on one level it may simply mean that Moses is not eloquent, but on another level, Moses' comment about his uncircumcised speech reflects perhaps lingering guilt over his past life. See, circumcision was the sign that you belong to Abraham's family and, for most of Moses' life, and especially in the last 40 years, Moses had not belonged. At least from his perspective, he had not belonged to this family. He hadn't even bothered to circumcise his own son, and the Lord confronted him on this, was going to put him to death over this. But, thankfully, his wife Zipporah intervened, and the Lord spared Moses.
And so, Moses' comment about his uncircumcised speech comes from reviewing one too many instant replays of his failures, his shortcomings, and his sins. Listen for it as I share these excerpts from Exodus 5, 6, and 7.
"Then after this, Moses and Aaron, his brother, went to Pharaoh and said, 'This is what the God of Israel says, "Send out My people so that they may make up a pilgrimage to Me in the wilderness."' But Pharaoh answered, 'Who is this Lord that I should listen to His voice and send Israel out? I do not know this Lord, and Israel, I am not going to send them out.' So they said to him, 'The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please, let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord, our God, so that He doesn't strike us with plagues or with the sword.' But the king of Egypt said, 'Why, Moses and Aaron, are you distracting the people from their work? Get back to your duties. Look, these peasants have become a great horde, and you are causing them to neglect their work.'
"That same day, Pharaoh gave this order to all the work bosses and the foreman of the people of Israel, 'You'll no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks. Let them go and gather their own straw. But you must require them to make the same number of brick as before. Do not reduce the quota. They are lazy. That is why they are crying out, "Let us go and offer sacrifices to our God." You must make the service more difficult for the men so that they will keep working and stop listening to false promises.'
"The foreman and the work bosses went out and said to the people, 'Hey, this is what Pharaoh says, "I will not give you any more straw for making bricks. Go out and get your own straw wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced at all." So the people of Israel, they scattered throughout Egypt in search of stubble to use as straw and the work bosses kept pressing them saying, 'Finish the work required of you each day, just as when you had straw.' And the foreman of the people of Israel appointed by Pharaoh's work bosses, they were beaten, and they were questioned. 'Why haven't you met your quota yesterday or today as before?' So the foreman of the sons of Israel, they went to Pharaoh and they appealed to him, saying, 'Why have you treated your servants like this? Your servants are given no straw, yet we are told, "Make bricks!" Your servants are being beaten, but the fault is with your own people.'
"The Pharaoh said to them, 'Lazy. That is what you are, lazy. That is why you keep saying, "Let us go and offer a sacrifice to the Lord." Now, get back to work. You are to be given no straw, yet you must produce your full quota of bricks.' Then the foreman of the sons of Israel, they knew that they were in trouble, so they left Pharaoh and confronted Moses and Aaron, who were there waiting for them. And they said to them, 'You, may the Lord look upon you and judge you. You've made us a stench before Pharaoh and his officials, and you have put a sword in their hand to kill us.'
"And so Moses returned to the Lord, and he said to Him, 'O Lord, why have You brought this evil upon Your people? Is this why You sent me? Ever since I started speaking in Your Name Pharaoh has brought evil on this people, and You haven't even begun to rescue Your people.' The Lord said to Moses, 'Now you will see what I am doing to Pharaoh. Because of My mighty hand, he will send them out. Because of My mighty hand, he will drive them out of his land.'
"God also said to Moses, 'I am who I am, the Lord. I made Myself known to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shaddai, God all-powerful, but I did not make known to them My Name, the Lord. Yet, I established My covenant promise with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their sojourn, where they were living as sojourners. And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians are enslaving. And I have remembered My covenant promise. And so, you say to the children of Israel, I am who I am, the Lord. I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will set you free from being slaves to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as My own people, and I will be God for you. Then you will know by experience that I am who I am, the Lord your God when I bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians and into the land that I promised with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.'
"Moses reported this to the children of Israel, but they did not listen to him because of their broken spirit and their harsh slavery. But the Lord said to Moses, 'Go. Tell Pharaoh to send the children of Israel out of his land.' But Moses said to the Lord, 'Now, look, if the children of Israel will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me? What, with my uncircumcised lips, my uncircumcised speech?'
"And the Lord said to Moses, 'You must see that I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother, Aaron, will be your prophet. You must say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to send the children of Israel out of his land. But I will make Pharaoh's heart stubborn. And though I multiply My signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. And so, I will set My hand on Egypt, and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out My divisions, My people, the children of Israel. Then the Egyptians will know by experience that I am who I am when I stretch out My hand against Egypt and bring the children of Israel out of it.' So Moses and Aaron, they set about doing exactly as the Lord commanded them. Aaron was 83 years old and Moses was 80 years old when they spoke to Pharaoh." The Word of the Lord, Exodus 5-7.
How do you deal with your failures? I shared the replay of my fall at the family reunion. It was bad. It was so bad that later great aunt Dorothy found my future wife and expressed her concern about whether I would still be able to have children. It was that bad. How do you deal with your failures, with the replay? When you're stuck replaying your failures, what can you do? It's not as simple as reprogramming your playlist so that you can watch better memories. It's not as simple as being more or less open to criticism from yourself or from others. It's not that simple because you are not alone in your own head.
Now, I say that, and it might sound superstitious, it might sound mystical to you, but I think you can sense the truth of this. You have an enemy. You have an unseen slave master who is going to work on you. Sometimes the Bible calls it the spiritual forces of evil in this present darkness. Sometimes it's tied to the power of the devil. Sometimes it's just called sin. Whatever you call it, the truth is, on your own you're a slave to it, and you need someone to set you free.
Jesus of Nazareth described His mission in the language of the Exodus. He told people, "Anyone who sins is a slave to sin, but if the Son sets you free, you will truly be free." Now, Jesus believed this message. He believed that He was the Son of God, and He spoke of it so boldly and so publicly that people thought He was dangerous. They executed Him. They crucified Him. Three days later, His followers said that they had witnessed Him raised from the dead, and they started spreading the message that somehow through His death and through His resurrection, He had accomplished His mission.
I am one of His followers. I have been caught up in this mission, and He has sent me to speak to you. I've learned that He's stronger than the taskmaster, and true freedom is trusting in Him, belonging to Him. I've also learned that if you're like Pharaoh and you think you're above critique, Jesus will be your Judge. If you're like Moses and you're trapped in your own self-criticism, Jesus will set you free.
What instant replays are you stuck in? Have you fumbled your words? Have you tanked a career? Have you let down a friend? Have you hurt someone, and you can't see any way to fix it? Have you hurt a child? Have you broken a marriage? Have you failed a family? You might be able to learn something by replaying these events in your mind, but in the end, you need someone to set you free.
Jesus has come to liberate you. He has come to forgive you. He's come to be your Lord, your Guardian, Redeemer. He has taken your guilt to the cross, died with it, buried it. He has risen from the dead to lead you out from under these burdens. With Jesus, your failures do not define you. You don't need to replay them anymore. So I hobbled away from the hand-railing upon which I had just landed. Paul, my future brother-in-law, and great aunt Dorothy, they come over to ask if I'm okay. I tell them that it's mostly just my pride that's been damaged. Aunt Dorothy could tell that I was embarrassed, and so she graciously changed the subject. She turned and looked at Paul, and she was trying to figure out where he fit in the family tree, so she asked him, "Who do you belong to?" By that, she was trying to figure which of her siblings was his grandparent. Was it Gladys or Esther or Walter or Pauline? That's why she asked him, "Who do you belong to?"
And Paul in Paul's way answers, "Jesus."
It's true. You belong to Jesus. I belong to Jesus. It's a truth more potent than any of your failures, and upon further review, it's worth the replay. Amen.
Reflections for March 8, 2020
Title: Upon Further Review
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. Now in our 87th season on the air. For more information and free resources, go to our website lutheranhour.org. This week, Dr. Michael Ziegler, co-host Jessica Bordeleau and guests discussed this theme of instant replay on the "Speaking of Jesus" podcast. Here's part of what they said.
Mike Ziegler: What do you get to know more deeply about this God through listening to this?
Jessica Bordeleau: He keeps covering over our instant replays. He keeps covering over Moses' excuses as to why he's not good enough. And so when we keep having reasons that we tell God we're not good enough, He reassures us over and over again—like He did to Moses.
Jacob Wampfler: You see a patience and a persistence about God too, in that many Bible characters you can understand if God would just, "All right, I'm done with you. You're fired! Let Me go on to the next person to fill this role." But He sticks with Moses here. I was just reminded of, in Matthew, when the scene, when Jesus having a conversation with the woman who mentions that, but we'll just take the small crumbs, which Jesus says is really for the dogs. We'll take them, and Jesus says, "Woman, you have great faith." Right there, He could have told Peter, "You're out. This woman, she's in." But no.
Mike Ziegler: You see the character of the Father revealed in Jesus the Son and the way He interacts with people, His patience, when they're being hardhearted.
Jacob Wampfler: There are several times, probably every day, where God could kick me out of what I'm doing, what I'm doing for Him, because of my failures. But no, I'm forever His.
Mike Ziegler: Yeah. There's a scene or a section in Exodus 6 that I skipped over. It's a long genealogy, and it retells Moses and Aaron's family line and brings them back to Israel, which brings them back to Isaac and Abraham. And it's a way of kind of saying implicitly, "Moses, you're Mine, I chose you. You're part of the family."
Gerard Bolling: Michelangelo, when they're asking him about, "How did you get this vision for David, the statue, what did you do? What was your exact moment of realizing this vision?" And then he says, "David was already there. I just chipped away everything that was not David." And just that idea that that's exactly what God does to us. He chips away every single thing that is not in His vision for us. And then it's just this beautiful work of art when you see the way God puts it together: for the life of Moses for sure, but also for our lives. That's our hope for today—that God is going to do that little by little, and we're going to get it when we see the finished product, but it's not for us to see yet, not on this side of heaven. So.
Mike Ziegler: He's chipping away at us so that the real person made in the image of Christ comes forth.
Gerard Bolling: Yeah.
Mike Ziegler: What about you, Sarah? What do you think more deeply about God through this?
Sarah Mullen: I really took away just again, that kind of rescuing hand of God. God really wanting to set us free from just the human judgment and criticism that exists in the world. Just getting us out of that bondage, that sin, and just taking us as His own and knowing that I am one of God's people. He does want me in His circle, on His team, and that human judgment and criticism that we live in is just so dark, and that God wants us to break free from that.
Mike Ziegler: He enters into our context and our context, just like the children of Israel, is one of bondage and slavery. We don't always recognize that. We say, "We've never been slaves to anybody." And if we think that we don't have taskmasters, slave masters, in the same way today, we're fooling ourselves. And the devil is going to keep replaying those memories, those shameful things. And so yeah, to understand God's work in terms of breaking us out of that, is important. It's one of the main ways that the Bible talks about what God does for us. Where do you hear good news in this for you and your instant replays that you've got going on in your head?
Jacob Wampfler: What I was saying before, when I first became a Christian, in instant replay I was seeing myself in the stories and not Christ. Luther, I think said, "Just, when you read the Old Testament, try and see Christ in everything." When God spoke to Moses, to me, that's pure Gospel, pure Gospel. What do they call it—foreshadowing?
Mike Ziegler: Yeah.
Jacob Wampfler: "I will deliver you from slavery. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm. I will take you to be My people. You should know I am the Lord your God who brought you out from the burdens, from the Egyptians." But for me, I see it as out of our sin, from the devil, and you know it, and He says, "an outstretched arm." I can't help but go to Christ's arm outstretch on a cross. I can't. That's what I see.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)