HEB 11:29 By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned. It is going to take me a couple of minutes to get to the actual theme of my message. To prepare our thinking for that theme let me make the following statement- reflecting my own experience as well as my observation of so many others.
The first really difficult journey in life is the journey into our own personal and unique experience of true faith. And the second difficult journey is the journey we make with our children into their own personal and unique experience of faith. I want to leave you hanging on that hook for a few minutes. Hebrews 11:23 begins with- By faith, Moses…. From this verse to verse 30 the writer gives us his snapshot view of the “Exodus generation.” And that really is what this whole chapter is; a series of snapshots of faith worked out experientially in the lives of those who were called to it. And how many know that faith as a theology or point of doctrine- faith as dogma is not at all the same thing as personal experiential faith. In that sense the chapter was not intended as a formal definition of faith as a doctrine or point of theology. Looking at this particular illustration of faith, we are in the presence of some of the most important values regarding faith ever to be written down. Perhaps the first significance of this verse is the validation this New Testament writer brings to one of the most incredible events in world history. By referencing this, the writer is telling us that this is no mere folklore, it is not mere tradition, it is not a parabolic story with a deep spiritual meaning- it is not mythology. He is validating that it was actual, it was literal, it was concrete- it really happened just as Moses reported it. And so, right off the top- this validation is in fact a declaration that our God works miraculously in our time-space world. And the manifestation of the miraculous is not mystical and abstract but is actual and concrete within the structures of the details and events of our experience. But the particular value I want us to consider is one I find absolutely astounding. You have got to see the picture the writer is drawing with his words. Looking intently into that picture ask yourself the question- ‘What is the most incredible detail in this portrait- the one detail that snaps the soul to attention, resulting in a very healthy dose of the fear of the Lord- 1 expressed in a proper self-examination in assessing the true maturity of our faith?” I can tell you what it is for me. First of all it is not just the fact that Israel walked through the sea on dry ground; that is but one detail in this portrait. The far greater fact for me is that- two distinct peoples are doing the exact same thing- but the results of their doing are exactly opposite; one is life while the other is death and destruction. Have you ever been in this place? You observe what a person is doing. You see this wonderful outcome of their doing. You decide to do the exact same thing. The outcome is completely negative- completely filled with frustration. And you shake your finger at God and tell Him He does not play fair. Now after all of this, let me announce my theme- and upon hearing it I think you will have some of the explanation of the picture in front of us: “Who’s Faith is it, Anyway?” At some point we make the discovery that coming to personal faith in the true Biblical sense is not nearly as nice and neat, as polite and romantic as the church tries to make it. In fact it is a messy ordeal involving the grit and grind of our life journey. Being raised in “the faith” does not in itself equate to personal faith. Living in the shadow of someone else’s faith does not in itself equate to true personal faith. And practicing (doing) what people of faith do does not in itself equate to true personal faith. ( Just ask the Pharaoh’s army). I want us to take these considerations back to the fourteenth chapter of the book of Exodus- where we find the record of the Exodus of Israel from Egypt. Obviously the whole chapter is packed with significance, and it is with great difficulty that I “try” to remain focussed on the particular point of this message. At a very basic level the explanation of the theme I am presenting is fully expressed in three verses (1,15 & 26)- and they all state the same single fact: ‘God spoke to Moses.’ In fact it is almost overwhelming to take a good concordance and count the number of times you read of God speaking to Moses. 2 What we discover in Ex.14 is that Israel did what they did in passing through the sea- and the outcome of their doing was what it was because they heard the voice of God. The armies of Pharaoh did what they did in going into the sea- and the outcome of their doing was what it was because in their doing they heard absolutely nothing from God. What then is the difference between acts that are done out of hearing the voice of God and acts (even the same acts) that are done without hearing the voice of God? The difference in a word is faith. And the end of this argument is the writing of the apostle Paul to the church at Rome. So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word (the rehmathe living, active, dynamic spoken word) of Christ.(Rom.10:17) When Moses stood in front of that sea he did not merely read a word from a piece of parchment. Nor did he quote words from someone else’s experience of faith in an effort to generate his own faith. He directly, intimately and personally heard the voice of the Spirit of Godand acting upon the faith generated out of that encounter he and his people experienced deliverance or salvation. What they were doing they were doing in response to what they heard God speak- and that fact alone determined the outcome of their doing. The Egyptians did what they did without hearing one word from God- and that fact alone determined the outcome of their doing. And this begs the question- Why are you doing what you are doing? Whose voice have you heard? Whose words are you responding to? Faith does not come by observation but rather by living, dynamic personal relationship with and in the Holy Spirit whereby we actually and really hear the word. And therein lies the real challenge in coming to our personal faith experience; it requires intimate, living, dynamic personal relationship in the Holy Spirit. This is where our flesh does not want to go. It always seems easier to have a “soul familiarity” with the teachings of faith-with the structures of faith-with the ‘implements’ of faith-with the fruit of someone else’s faith experience than it is to pay the price of true intimate spiritual relationship with Christ in which we hear His voice. In my view this was the core issue with Lot- Abraham’s nephew. It was Abraham who progressively heard the voice of God and thus grew 3 progressively in his personal faith experience. Lot, on the other hand, simply lived in the shadow of his uncles faith. And in the end we see the deadly consequences of that. Let me close this out by reminding you of the most revealing issue regarding the failure of that Exodus generation. It occurred when God called the whole assembly to the mountain of the Lord to hear His words. According to the record of this, in Deuteronomy 5:27 we make this discovery: ‘ Go near and hear all that the LORD our God says; then speak to us all that the LORD our God speaks to you, and we will hear and do it.’ The people told Moses to go and hear from the Lord. They made someone else responsible for hearing from God for them. When you put another in that place you are relinquishing your responsibility for both your faith and consequently your life. If your life runs off the rails then you simply blame “Moses”. Either he heard wrong- or he gave you a wrong word. They told Moses- we will hear and do it- but the truth is they neither heard nor obeyed. But the one thing they did do was to blame and judge Moses. That was exactly the pattern of this whole Exodus generation. And in the end they all perished in the wilderness- the New Testament says, because of their unbelief. That means they never came to faith. And the reason they never came to faith was because they never heard the word of the Spirit personally, intimately. The Exodus generation was what I call “the generation of easy offence.” And what we need to see in that is that our sensitivity to offence for the most part reflects the uncertainty or immaturity of our personal faith development. When faith is reduced to a dogma to defend (which very often happens) it loses its spiritual dynamic and becomes an academic/intellectual exerciseand almost always becomes divisive. And now the “faith” that was intended to bring life is actually resulting in death. In contrast to this, people who have clearly heard the word of the Spirit tend to stabilise within the true faith of that experience. “Easy offence” indicates that our “faith position” is more about personal rightness than the rightness of the word of Christ. 4 God will always defend His word with or without me. What He will not defend- in fact what He will deliberately resist- is any attempt to validate self in relation to that word. Question: ‘Why are you doing what you are doing?’ ‘Who’s faith is it, anyway?’ You don’t have to answer that question this morning. In fact for the most part that question can’t be answered this morning. The real answer- the only answer- the ultimate answer is this: The outcome of your doing will provide the true answer to that question. 5