Call Us : +1 800 876-9880 (M-F 8am-5pm CST)

"Labors of Love"

#87-31
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on March 29, 2020
By Pastor Ryan Tinetti, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2022 Lutheran Hour Ministries


Listen (5-10mb)  Download (35-70mb)  Reflections

Text: Exodus 10

A reading from Exodus 10.

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD."

So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh and said to him, "Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, 'How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? Let My people go, that they may serve Me. For if you refuse to let My people go, behold, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your country, and they shall cover the face of the land, so that no one can see the land. And they shall eat what is left to you after the hail, and they shall eat every tree of yours that grows in the field, and they shall fill your houses and the houses of all your servants and of all the Egyptians, as neither your fathers nor your grandfathers have seen, from the day they came on earth to this day.'" Then he turned and went out from Pharaoh.

Then Pharaoh's servants said to him, "How long shall this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God. Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?" So Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh. And he said to them, "Go, serve the LORD your God. But which ones are to go?" Moses said, "We will go with our young and our old. We will go with our sons and daughters and with our flocks and herds, for we must hold a feast to the LORD." But he said to them, "The LORD be with you, if ever I let you and your little ones go! Look, you have some evil purpose in mind. No! Go, the men among you, and serve the LORD, for that is what you are asking." And they were driven out from Pharaoh's presence. Then the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand over the land of Egypt for the locusts, so that they may come upon the land of Egypt and eat every plant in the land, all that the hail has left." So Moses stretched out his staff over the land of Egypt, and the LORD brought an east wind upon the land all that day and all that night. When it was morning, the east wind had brought the locusts. The locusts came up over all the land of Egypt and settled on the whole country of Egypt, such a dense swarm of locusts as had never been before, nor ever will be again. They covered the face of the whole land, so that the land was darkened, and they ate all the plants in the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left. Not a green thing remained, neither tree nor plant of the field, through all the land of Egypt. Then Pharaoh hastily called Moses and Aaron and said, "I have sinned against the LORD your God, and against you. Now therefore, forgive my sin, please, only this once, and plead with the LORD your God only to remove this death from me." So he went out from Pharaoh and pleaded with the LORD. And the LORD turned the wind into a very strong west wind, which lifted the locusts and drove them into the Red Sea. Not a single locust was left in all the country of Egypt. But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go. This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.


I. ORIENTATION


This must be what the wrath of God looks like. I remember having that thought go through my mind a numbers of years back on what started out as a normal Tuesday. It was a day in late fall, and I was living in the Pacific Northwest at that time. And I had noticed in the morning there was just a little bit of a breeze. Nothing out of the ordinary for late November. But as the day goes on, that breeze picks up and starts to turn into some pretty serious gusts. And the next thing you know those gusts have transformed into hurricane-force winds.

Now as the storm had been getting worse, I was none the wiser. I was inside at my church. In fact, I was in the middle of a meeting when suddenly I get a phone call, and it's my wife. And I pick it up, and she sounds really frantic. She says, "You need to get home right now!" Then I say, "Okay, is everything all right?" She says, "No, you need to be here—now!" "All right. What's going on?" She says, "An 80-foot pine tree has just fallen onto our house." And I say, "You're right. I do need to get home right now."

So I quick hustle out of the meeting and I hop into my car, and I'll never forget the drive home. It was just a few miles, but in those few miles as I was making my way back to my house, it was like I was going through a war zone. Everywhere I looked there were great big trees toppling like toothpicks. There were transformers popping and pulsating, and power lines are lassoing all around. It looked like this incredible pyrotechnic scene. I'll never forget having this thought go through my mind as I'm trying to dodge through all of these fallen branches and just can't believe everything that I'm seeing. I have the thought go through my mind: "This must be what the wrath of God looks like."

I think back to that windstorm and that drive home when we come to this part of the book of Exodus. Now over the last several weeks, we have been traveling through the book of Exodus and have been seeing all of these remarkable stories, revisiting these moments when the people of God were held in brutal slavery in the land of Egypt. And how the Lord heard their cries and He determined to act. We saw how He enlisted an unlikely servant named Moses to lead His people. And now we have come to that part of the story that's commonly known as the plagues. Now, I should point out that "plague" is actually not the most common word used in Exodus to describe these powerful acts of God. More often they are simply referred to as "signs and wonders," or even just as "signs." But whatever we call them, whatever we refer to them as, there's clearly a popular opinion of what they mean.

Think back to the great movie Ghostbusters. There's this scene in the movie when all of the ghostbusters, they're mustered together, in the mayor's office. They're trying to persuade the mayor that he is facing imminent doom if he doesn't act. And Peter Venkman, the guy who's played by Bill Murray, he steps up and he says, "Sir, this city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions." And the mayor is really flummoxed by this. He says, "Biblical proportions? What does that mean? All the rest of the ghostbusters have no problem explaining to him what that means. One by one, they start piping up. They say, "It means Old Testament, real wrath of God type stuff! Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! Darkness! Earthquakes! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!"

Hmm. Mass hysteria. Well, that sure seems to sum up what we have with these wonders in the book of Exodus as well. And how could you see them as anything but signs of God's wrath? You've got the Nile River turning to blood. You've got frogs filling ovens and creeping on countertops. Can you imagine? There's infestations of gnats and flies that make the worst summertime swarms in St. Louis look like a trip to spa. There's livestock croaking, boils bubbling, hail falling, and—as we heard just a moment ago in today's reading—there's locusts littering the land like an invading army. I grant to you it's not quite dogs and cats living together, but you can't help thinking that this is what the wrath of God looks like.


II. REVERSAL

But I've got a question for you: Is that all there is to this story? What I mean is, if these plagues are merely a matter of God flexing His muscles at a stubborn opponent—if it's just Him showing the world you don't mess with the Lord—well, you could be left with the impression of God that He's kind of like the school bully on the street corner. He doesn't take kindly to provocation. And if you cross him, watch out.

Now, I need to be careful here—because the wrath of God is real, and the power of God is neither to be questioned nor to be crossed. His holiness isn't a matter to be tampered with—just ask Pharaoh, as God finally leaves him to his own devices. No, we ought to come before the Lord with awe and reverence. You think of the prophet Isaiah in the book of Isaiah 6 when he has that vision of the Lord "high and lifted up" in the temple and the thresholds of the doors are shaking, and the angels are singing out their "Holy! Holy! Holy!" and Isaiah is cut to the heart, and he says, "Woe is me!" And he knows that he is toast if God Himself doesn't act on his behalf in order to forgive his sin because he is a man of unclean lips, and he dwells among a people of unclean lips. And sure enough the Lord sends an angelic messenger to take a coal from the altar, pressed against the lips of Isaiah, and he says "Your sin is atoned for."

But I guess that's just my point. The God of awesome power has also showed Himself to be the God of awesome mercy. He did that then, for Isaiah. Does He also do that here—even in these plagues, these preeminent pictures of His power?

Well, let's look again to our text today, and I want to highlight for you must a couple of verses at the beginning of the text from Exodus 10:1-2. Listen to this, it says,

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD."

Now, on the one hand, we do hear of hard hearts and harsh dealings and we could think, "Well, yeah, God has got it in for them. That's His wrath at work." But I want you to look deeper here. What is the Lord's ultimate aim? His heart is that sons and grandsons, mothers and daughters, would hear and treasure these works. What He wants more than anything else is that through these wonders people might know Him, might live in relationship with Him. That's His goal.

See, what if we understood these signs as pointing, not just to God's power—which they undoubtedly do—but what if we also saw them pointing to His compassion? I am persuaded that if our main takeaway from this section of Exodus is that God is filled with reckless, raging fury, then we've missed something even more profound, which is this: these signs and wonders—they're not merely works of wrath, they're also labors of love—labors of love that show us the lengths our Lord will go to for the sake of His people.


III. REORIENTATION


When I ponder that, my mind goes back to another movie, one that came out a couple of years ago called Silver Linings Playbook. It's a romantic comedy, and I'll confess that's not typically my favorite genre of film, but this is not your typical romantic comedy either. For one thing, both of the main characters are deeply troubled: Pat is a guy who is played by Bradley Cooper, and he's just gotten out of a mental institution. And Tiffany, she's played by Jennifer Lawrence, she hasn't recovered from the death of her husband. They're both broken, hurting people. So in that way, they're a perfect match, right.

But Pat, he doesn't seem to see it that way. He's still smarting over the loss of his wife who left him for another guy. But Tiffany is persistent in pursuing after Pat. She's obsessive, even. She chases him down when he's out for a run. She studies up on his other love: the Philadelphia Eagles. She even forges letters to him from his ex-wife. Now understand, I'm not necessarily endorsing any of these as good courting strategies, okay?

In the midst of all of this, Pat is thick-headed and hard-hearted, and he can't help but fail to see the heart behind Tiffany's overtures. And so finally, she gives up—literally, she runs away from him because she's so heartbroken. But then in that moment, Pat's eyes are suddenly opened. Like a detective in a mystery novel, it suddenly dawns on him that Tiffany has been after him all along. That she has gone to outrageous lengths in order to win his heart. That she would do anything juts to be with him. He had missed it all the while.

And so there's this wonderful, climactic moment in the movie when it's Pat's turn to chase Tiffany down. And to me it's here that in the most surprising way it resonates beautifully with, of all things, the story of the plagues in the book of Exodus. It's something that Pat says to Tiffany. And what he says to her is this: "The only way that you could meet my crazy was by doing something crazy yourself." See he realizes that all of the things that he thought were just her wacky antics—these were actually labors of love.

Now look—don't misunderstand me here. This isn't me telling you that God must be crazy. Although I grant that He might look a little off His rocker—what, with the swarms of frogs and all. But then again you and I aren't exactly all put together, are we? We are all broken people. Every single one of us is afflicted with the insanity of sin. We all insist on going our own way, doing our own thing. Remember, Pharaoh's not the only one who could be hard-hearted and stubborn. Left to ourselves, you and I—no less than the Israelites of old—we are thick-headed and stiff-necked, are we not?

And the only way God could meet our crazy was by doing something crazy Himself. If He was going to get through to His human creatures, He knew that He would have to go to outrageous lengths. Like showing up in a burning bush. Like sending flies and hail and locusts in abundance. Or like giving His own Son to be plagued by sin and death for us all.

I mean to look at it, anyone would think this is what the wrath of God must look like. And in fact, people did esteem Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. The hard heart of all humanity has now fallen on Him. The cross of Christ Jesus is the most painful plague of all.

But if that's all you see, you miss the profound point of Calvary. This is not merely a work of wrath; this is a labor of love. These are the lengths that our Lord would go to in order to make you His own, that you might be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom. So that you and I might know Him and His compassionate heart toward us. So that we might share with our sons and grandsons, neighbors and friends, people with hard hearts and people with closed hands—that all might know that this is the indomitable, unstoppable, stubborn mercy of the Savior. Yes, this is what the love of God looks like. Isn't it crazy, and isn't it wonderful? Amen.

And may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.







Reflections for March 29, 2020

Title: Labors of Love


Mark Eischer: For free online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and much more, go to lutheranhour.org. Now, here's our Speaker Dr. Michael Zeigler.

Michael Zeigler: Thank you, Mark. I have joining me today in the studio, Dr. Bob Kolb. He's the author of at least 15 books, maybe more, and more than a 100 articles. Most of his work focuses on the Christian faith and teaching, seen through the lens of the Reformation, and especially the writings of Martin Luther. He's been a professor for a long time, longer than I've been alive, and has taught in over 40 different educational institutions around the world. And I'm blessed to call him my teacher. Welcome Dr. Kolb.

Robert Kolb: Thank you, Michael.

Michael Zeigler: Dr. Kolb, we just heard a sermon from pastor Ryan Tinetti on Exodus 10. And in Exodus we hear clearly that God is a loving Father at heart. But then we also see Him threatening and judging harshly with the plagues. And of course, people might also feel His threats and judgment in their life circumstances now. There's also the coming judgment that we are told of when Jesus returns to be the judge of the living and the dead, and He says He is to give some eternal life and others will be condemned to eternal hell apart from God. For a lot of people this can be a confusing and perhaps frightening picture of God. And apparently this was the case for Martin Luther, a man that you've read a lot about and kind of have come to know through his writings. How did he struggle with this picture of God?

Robert Kolb: Well, he grew up in a system that I think really has roots in pre-Christian, traditional religious structures where human beings for help of every kind, for this life and the next, needed somehow to go through sacred activities, ritual performance, and they had to approach God. A good deal of that structure remained when Luther's ancestors 700 years earlier, 800 years earlier, had been Christianized. He grew up thinking that as he learned at the university then if he didn't do his best by purely natural powers, he wasn't going to get the grace that it would take to make him truly God-pleasing. And he never thought he did his best. Most people said, "Well, of course, I did my best. It doesn't have to be all that good." And Luther didn't. Luther took that very seriously and always knew that there was something in him that was interfering.

He was more than scared stiff. He believed that he was worthy of being damned. And there was one stage that he went through as he worked with the biblical message that caused him to say, "I must praise God for damning me because that is what is just." And finally, he got deeply enough immersed in the Scriptures, he started teaching Psalms and then Romans and Galatians, and he heard the voice of the psalmist, the voice of St. Paul, that assured him that he had the directions all wrong, that it was God coming to him that initiated and secured and maintained their relationship. And that God, as a God of conversation and community, wanted to be in conversation with him and granted him that as a favor.

Michael Zeigler: The picture of God that he received from his culture, his context, his parents, perhaps in some way, would have led him to see God primarily as a stern judge or an angry judge. But through encounter with the Scriptures, his picture of God was expanded or changed.

Robert Kolb: Yeah. I think we see in some of the medieval altarpieces, we get a glimpse of sometimes this God that comes with sword in one hand and lily in the other, and that's an Easter lily, a resurrection lily, but Luther didn't look at the Easter lily, he only looked at the sword. It's interesting that in his day where parents, we think at least, we have the impression that they were stricter and more angry, that God too was an angry God. That's in contrast with a lot of people today. We grow up in a world where a lot of parents are neglectful, and we think of God as an absent God, as a neglectful God, all too often.

Michael Zeigler: That's not much better then.

Robert Kolb: No. Maybe worse.

Michael Zeigler: Maybe worse.

Robert Kolb: Yeah.

Michael Zeigler: Right. What do we learn from Luther in our context when maybe we're more apt to see God as neglectful or distant, rather than angry and judgmental?

Robert Kolb: I think one of the primary themes in all he did was the presence of God. He talked about the presence of God in the Scriptures. I once did a witness workshop and entitled the part about what God's called a repentance, God's delivering His demands, His law upon us, as "Don't Open that Book, It'll Kill Ya." And he really believed that there was killing and making alive going on when we move into the Scriptures. And that's really where he found this God talking to him who embraced him with His love. I think to experience the presence of God by going to the Scriptures, by receiving the Lord's Supper regularly, recognizing that God's put us in His family through Baptism and made us His children, in the conversation we have with other Christians, in the community of the church—I think there we experience that presence of God. And the more instances we have in a week in which we're engaging God in conversation, He's engaging us in conversation, the stronger our sense of His presence will be.

Michael Zeigler: When Martin Luther went to the Bible, he saw a picture of a God who wants to be present and who is a compassionate Father at heart, but also a holy God. And by remaining in that story of Scripture, in conversation with others who are in that story of Scripture, his picture of God was changed.

Robert Kolb: Quite completely. He always knew that God in His holiness and in His love is angry with children who are abusing themselves by not trusting in Him and turning to Him. But there was that underlying definition actually of the righteousness of God, not so much as His justice, that's a kind of subset, of His mercy, His love. And I once thought, I wonder if Luther was really right about that and started reading from the Old Testament. I think I skipped Leviticus in part, but got a fair ways into it. And it's amazing how many times when the Bible speaks of the righteousness of God, it's describing His deliverance of His people, His coming to be present with His people rather than His holding them to account. I was a little amazed myself that Luther was really pretty much right on his actual redefinition of what the righteousness of God is.

Michael Zeigler: The key characteristic or most important characteristic that Luther saw in the God as it was revealed in the Bible was He is a Father at heart. And is going to be dealing with us as children.

Robert Kolb: And it's interesting that Swedish German language and literature scholar named Bergat Schtalt has written about Luther's usage of father and child imagery. Luther started using the father-child imagery fairly early on, but it really increases exponentially after his first child was born. And then when the second child came, all of a sudden, that picture of God as Father and us as His children became more meaningful for him.

Michael Zeigler: That theme, that message of the Scriptures, was more present to him.

Robert Kolb: Yes.

Michael Zeigler: Yes. Well, thank you for joining me, Dr. Kolb, would you come back again next week, and we can keep talking about this?

Robert Kolb: I'd be glad to.

Michael Zeigler: Thank you.







Music Selections for this program:


"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"My Song Is Love Unknown" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

Your browser is out-of-date!

You may need to update your browser to view LutheranHour.org correctly.Update my browser now

×