"The Great Pursuit"#87-35
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on April 26, 2020
By Pastor Ryan Tinetti, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Exodus 15
He has risen. He has risen indeed. Hallelujah! And the risen and reigning Lord Jesus pursues the enemies of His people, most especially that last and most stubborn of enemies: death. There's a saying in combat and contact sports, the best defense is a good offense. The idea is that rather than playing it passive and waiting for the enemy to attack, you proactively pursue the opposition. You put them back on their heels. And when it's applied to football, for example, it means that you keep the ball and you keep moving it forward. Not only providing more opportunities to score, but also keeping the other team from taking its shot. The best defense is a good offense.
Well, in the redemptive work of our Lord Jesus, you and I have the greatest defense of all. We have a Lord who is a man of war who pushes back the dread assaults of sin, Satan, and death, and defeats them decisively. The Lord has gone on the offensive on your behalf and in the process provided us with eternal defense. And so, this week we continue our celebration of our Lord's Easter victory with a metaphorical touchdown dance and a spike on the enemy. That's what we see in today's passage from Exodus.
Now this is the victory lap of the people of God after their Savior has swept them through the Red Sea on dry ground and swept away Pharaoh and all of his host. And more than that, the Lord the man of war, turns the table and pursues the pursuers. So let's hear the reading from Exodus 15.
Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord saying, "I will sing to the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously, the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation. This is my God, and I will praise Him, my father's God, and I will exalt Him. The Lord is a man of war. The Lord is His Name.
Pharaoh's chariots and his host, He cast into the sea and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea. The floods covered them. They went down into the depths like a stone. Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power. Your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy. In the greatness of Your majesty, You overthrow Your adversaries. You send out Your fury. It consumes them like stubble. At the blast of Your nostrils, the waters piled up. The floods stood up in a heap. The deeps congealed in the heart of the sea. The enemy said, 'I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil. My desire shall have its fill of them. I will draw my sword. My hand shall destroy them.' You blew with Your wind. The sea covered them. They sank like lead in the mighty waters. Who is like You, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? You stretched out Your right hand, the earth swallowed them. You have led in Your steadfast love the people whom You have redeemed. You have guided them by Your strength to Your holy abode. The peoples have heard, they tremble. Pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia. Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed, trembling seizes the leaders of Moab. All the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away. Terror and dread fall upon them because of the greatness of Your arm. They are still as a stone, till Your people, O Lord, pass by. Till the people pass by whom You have purchased, You will bring them in and plant them on Your own mountain. The place O Lord, which You have made for Your abode, the sanctuary O Lord, which Your hands have established. The Lord will reign forever and ever. This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Now let's back up just a bit and remember what all has transpired to this point. So, in recent weeks we've seen how the Lord unleashes all of these signs and wonders on the Egyptians—works of wrath to those who despise Him, labors of love to those who trust Him. And finally, all of those plagues culminate in the death of the firstborn, the plague that precipitates the Passover. It's then the Pharaoh finally consents to Moses cry. Moses had been saying over and over and over again, "Let my people go!" And now it's like Pharaoh finally says, "Okay, fine. Beat it. Get out of here!" But that sentiment lasts for about a New York minute or an Egyptian minute as the case may be, because the next thing you know, Pharaoh has got a change of heart. He looks to his army and he says to them, "What have we done? We can't let these Israelites just get away like that. After them!" And so they take up hot pursuit after the people of God.
Now, I want you to pause here in your mind for a moment and just imagine, imagine the abject terror that the Israelites must be feeling in that moment. I mean here they had thought that they were home free. Mothers had quick gathered up babies and basic provisions. Elders ambled off with dreams of freedom for the first time in their lives. Children who could sense the anxious excitement of their parents, they'd packed up and headed out. But all the while, those first steps toward freedom were feeble and fragile. And now, now their worst fears are realized. Pharaoh's had a change of heart, and his hot breath is breathing down their necks. He's coming after them with all the rage and terror that he can muster, and surely not just to bring them back under his thumb, but to punish them—to punish them—for their flight. You can almost hear it in his rapid-fire proclamations: "I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil. My desire shall have its fill of them. I will draw my sword. My hand shall destroy them." Listen, that's the unflagging, unflappable foe that's pursuing the Israelites. And I tell you what, being pursued is a terrifying place to be.
A more recent story brought home for me this terror of pursuit. An author by the name of Cormac McCarthy has a novel called No Country for Old Men. It was later made into a movie. And in the story there's this diabolical villain who goes by the name of Chigurh. People call him the invincible Mr. Chigurh. He's this psychopathic killer who will stop at nothing. And you know what else? He bears more than a passing resemblance to the grim reaper. You remember the grim reaper? That ancient embodiment of death. The guy who has that insatiable appetite. And as if, just to underscore the likeness, Chigurh determines the seemingly random unavoidable destinies of those whom he marks out. He determines their destinies with a coin flip.
So there's this one particularly chilling scene in the story. Chigurh, he pulls into a country gas station. It's dusk. And the owner, he's about to close up. He's this elderly Southern guy. And when Chigurh comes to the front counter, he starts asking the owner a bunch of questions, really strange, unsettling questions. He looks at the old man and he says to him, "What time do you close? And when do you go to bed? Do you live in that house behind the store?" The sensation of the grim villain's pursuit is palpable. And then Chigurh asks the owner, "What's the most you ever lost on a coin toss?" And the poor guy says, "A coin toss? Well, folks don't generally bet on a coin toss. It's more just to settle something." And Chigurh says, "Okay, what's the most that you saw settled?"
And he takes a quarter out of his pocket, and he flips it into the air, and he slaps it under the back of his forearm, and he says, "Call it, call it, call it." And the old guy is like, "What do I stand to gain?" Chigurh says, "Everything. You stand to win everything." And the man says, "Okay, heads, then." And Chigurh flips it, looks at it, and looks at the man and says, "Well done. That's your lucky coin." It gives me chills even now.
But here's the awful reality: most of us do not have some psychopathic, coin-tossing villain coming after us. At least I hope that you don't. But every single one of us has the dread threat of death hot on our tails. The grave pursues us all, and it will not stop until it has made us its own. Those awful words of Pharaoh might just as well be in the mouth of the grim reaper. I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.
Listen, being pursued is a terrifying place to be, and unfortunately we all live there. But the good news is that we're not the only ones being pursued. You and I have a Lord who pursues the pursuer. We have a Savior who will not let the enemy of His people have the last word. The best defense is a good offense, remember? That's how it was at the Red Sea. Pharaoh and his armies had the people of God in their sites. They were closing in and it looked for all the world like they were going to overtake the Israelites, but just when it seemed that psychopathic pursuer would win the day the Lord sprang into action.
He's a man of war, sings Moses and the people of Israel, the Lord is His Name. He takes the fight to the enemy. He flicks Pharaoh away the way that you flick a meddlesome mosquito from your skin. He leads His people through the water on dry ground, and then He doggedly comes after those ancient adversaries with an east wind and a wall of waves. See, the pursuer was pursued down to the bitter end, and so it was on Easter morning. See what happened at the Red Sea was a great victory for the people of God, but it was just a foretaste of what was yet to come. God wasn't going to sit idly by forever and leave His people in thrall to that most intractable of foes, that most insatiable of villains, the last enemy. Of course, I'm talking about death, instead God went on the offensive.
Christ Jesus, the Son of God, fearlessly volunteered for the heavenly rescue mission, and see sometimes, sometimes our Lord is portrayed as the hapless helpless victim of forces beyond His control. Look, it is not true. Now to be sure He was innocent, our sinless, spotless Lamb. But He was no mere victim to the awful machinery of death. No, Jesus climbed into its gears willingly, of His own accord, in order that He might be ground down for us. Now, I'm not usually a huge fan of advertising, I got to admit it, but every once in a while I'll see a commercial that really gets my attention, especially when I'm looking at them through a spiritual lens, right?
So, there was this one, for a knife company of all things, and it made me think of this message of our Lord's victory. So let me just replay the commercial in your mind for a moment here. The commercial opens with an image of a man, and he's sharpening his knife on a whetstone. And then there's these images in the background of dangerous wildlife and natural disasters, and a voiceover says, "Hello, trouble. Been a while since we last met, but I know you're still out there, and I've got a feeling you're looking for me." Suddenly, the ad brings to mind all of those ways that we're in that terrifying place of being pursued, whether it be by wildlife or natural disasters-all of the trouble that's after us and around every corner we can't forget it, and we can't avoid it.
But then the commercial takes this turn. It goes on and now it has scenes of people scaling walls and people diving into deep waters, people caring for the weak and injured. And that voiceover comes back and it says, "You wish I'd forget you, don't you trouble? I will not. Maybe it's you that's forgotten me. Maybe I need to come find you. Remind you who I am." Now, however effective an ad that might be for selling knives, and I happen to think it's a pretty good one—to me what's so valuable about this is the way that it gives voice to the table-turning good news of what Christ Jesus has done for you and me.
Look, death pursues each and every one of us like a dastardly villain. But rather than being cowed by its terrors, Christ Jesus takes the terror to it, goes down into its clutches, and destroys it from the inside out. It's like Jesus is saying, "You wish that I'd forget you, don't you death? I will not. I came to find you and destroy you once and for all." That's who our Lord Jesus is for you and me.
In times of old, God went on the offensive, defended His people at the Red Sea. But if He destroyed the temporal enemies of His people in this way, how much more our eternal enemies through the resurrection of His Son? And in Holy Baptism God has drowned all of your sins; they don't have to hunt you any longer. Satan, he has kept us under his diabolical thumb with the fear of death. We all await that cosmic coin flip. But you know what? Now, you need not fear it, for the pursuer has been pursued to the bitter end. And not only that, see now your great, Good Shepherd, He pursues you and me not for death, but for life. Think of those beautiful, memorable words of Psalm 23: "Surely, His goodness and mercy shall pursue you all the days of your life, and you shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
Through the victorious ministry of our Lord Jesus, now being pursued is a blessing place to be. He has risen. He has risen indeed. Hallelujah and amen.
Reflections for April 26, 2020
Title: The Great Pursuit
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For free online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and more, go to lutheranhour.org. Last week Dr. Michael Zeigler spoke with the founders of The Bible Project about their unique approach to presenting the Bible in a visual format. Now with more of that conversation, here's Dr. Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you, Mark. The Bible is the most talked about, most influential book of all time. There are a lot of ways that people still use the Bible and see the Bible today. Six years ago, Jon Collins and Tim Mackie decided that they wanted to help more people see the Bible as a unified story that leads to Jesus, overflowing with wisdom and power to transform both individuals and communities.
Jon and Tim started making short animated videos about this and posting them online where anyone could view them for free. Since then, they've created over 140 videos in something called The Bible Project. These Bible Project videos have been viewed over 100 million times across 200 countries.
I'm here today again with Jessica Bordeleau, our host from the "Speaking of Jesus" podcast.
Jessica Bordeleau: Hey, guys.
Mike Zeigler: And Jessica's also a big fan of The Bible Project. Last week we started talking about the book of Exodus, and we talked mostly about the Egypt scene, but how do your videos that focus on Exodus deal with the whole book?
Tim Mackie: The drama of the book of Exodus really has two large movements. The first, the more well-known, which is the liberation. God confronts the evil of Egypt that's enslaving His people; He liberates them; Moses through the waters, there you go. The second half of the book of Exodus is about their trek through the wilderness, to go camp out in front of this mountain.
Then God shows up as a storm on top of the mountain, and that's actually famous, too: the Ten Commandments, yeah? Where that whole scene is.
Jessica Bordeleau: I think there's a movie or something.
Tim Mackie: Yeah, I think so. But the whole point of that mountain scene is that God wants to marry these people. He wants to enter into a covenant with them and, as He says, make them into a kingdom of priests that they would represent Him to the nations. While they are signing the marriage documents, Moses goes up to do that, and they're down at the bottom of the mountain already violating and breaking the covenant with the famous story of the golden calf. But what God wants to do is move in with His people. This is where the tabernacle comes from. It's really this fascinating drama of how God saves a people and then takes them to the altar to get married and then they slap Him in the face, as it were, during the ceremony. What God chooses to still do is get married to them and move in with them. And that's how the book of Exodus ends with God moving in with them, which opens up a whole can of problems, which is what the book of Leviticus is there to solve.
Mike Zeigler: I've listened to some of your podcasts in addition to the videos you have. You talk about this most-quoted Bible verse by the authors of the Bible. And it's actually in this part of the book of Exodus, in the second half. Tell us more about that. It sounded like you were really excited about talking about that.
Jon Collins: This is where we get this verse where God says of Himself that He is gracious and compassionate, full of loyal love and faithfulness, abounding in loyal love in faithfulness, slow to anger is the other one. And so that verse, those characteristics of God, those five characteristics, the biblical authors love to talk about over and over and over. It comes right at the height of when you would expect God to really be justified in not having patience and saying, "Enough is enough."
Mike Zeigler: So that's Exodus 34:6-7, most quoted verse by the other biblical authors.
Tim Mackie: Yeah. In other words, actually later Moses keeps bringing up that God said this about Himself because people are going to rebel even more times, and God will be like, "Are you sure? Remember that conversation we had," and Moses will bring it up again, "Well, remember You are compassionate and gracious." In other words, God's covenant people exist because God is this way. That's why later, 20 more times, it will get requoted within the rest of the Old Testament. It's the definition of God's character in the Bible.
Jessica Bordeleau: How is that connected to the mission of Jesus?
Tim Mackie: The Gospel of John begins famously with the words of Genesis, "In the beginning." That first chapter of John is, in a way, a condensed retelling of the main themes of the first two books of the Bible, because he's activating Genesis within the beginning, and he talks about Jesus is the light shining in the darkness, like day one of Genesis. But when he gets to Jesus as God becoming human, he uses this phrase: "God set up a tent," or made His dwelling, set up a tabernacle among us. And he's quoting from this image right here in the book of Exodus. So John is actually saying that Jesus is the human embodiment of the God of the Exodus who redeemed His people and then maintained covenant relationship with them even when they were faithless t Him.
Jessica Bordeleau: What did you learn more about Jesus as you crafted this?
Jon Collins: Jesus is fully God but also the fully human One who famously said, "Not My desire, but Your desire be done," and showed what it looks like to even be in the wilderness like the Israelites were and be tempted but to say, "No. I am going to follow the will of God."
Jon Collins: We have Moses here who is really close to being that image-bearer. His face shines on Mt. Sinai; he's just so saturated in the presence of God. But Jesus comes and He's presented, especially in the Gospel of Matthew, as the true Moses, the true One who really can be the human one that can partner with God. And He can do it because He was God Himself as a human, which is something that Christians have been trying to wrap their minds around for 2,000 years.
Tim Mackie: Yeah, and actually there's that story that's in many of the Gospels where Jesus goes up, takes some disciples up to a mountaintop, and He starts glowing like a light bulb. He starts shining and then who's he talking to—Moses and Elijah and in the Gospel of Luke. This is cool. In the Gospel of Luke what we're told is that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah—all shining like light bulbs on this mountain—are talking about Jesus' "departure," is often how it's translated, but it's the Greek word "exodus." They're talking about His exodus He's about to accomplish in Jerusalem. So, you have the first Moses and then the ultimate Moses having a conversation about the ultimate exodus that Jesus will do, which lo and behold, He does on Passover weekend in Jerusalem, which is all about the exodus.
Jessica Bordeleau: That's fabulous. Thank you for using your art to help me understand Scripture and see it. You think of artists all through time using their art form, and it's on Sistine Chapel ceilings and it's in marble, and you're doing it in a way that reaches people today. So thank you for your artistry.
Tim Mackie: Yeah.
Jon Collins: Yeah, pleasure.
Tim Mackie: It truly is a pleasure.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"With High Delight" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)