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The Issue Isn’t Behavior

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XToday’s Bible reading: Exodus 13:17-22, 14, 15:1-18 Matthew 21:23-46; Psalms 26:1-12; Proverbs 6:16-19

After the final plague on Egypt, the killing of their firstborn by God, Pharaoh had let, in fact implored, the Israelites to leave. Notice how God does not lead the people along the main route from Egypt to their destination even though it was the shortest way to go. He did this because, even though it was shorter, it was more populated and if the Israelites encountered any resistance they  might want to go back to Egypt. In fact as we read through Exodus we’ll see the Israelites struggle with faith many times. Many times, including in our passage today, they will regret their decision to leave Egypt. I think all of us are afraid of the unknown and sometimes we think that it is better to stay with what we know rather than venture out into unchartered waters, even if the “known” is a bad situation. Change involves risk. There is the risk that things could get worse, but the reward is that things will get better.

Joseph had requested that he be buried in the Promised Land so Moses took his bones which had been in Egypt now for about 400 years. I think it is very impressive that so many generations had passed yet Joseph was still remembered. How many of us can say that we will be remembered 400 years from now?

In Exodus 13:21 we see that God lead the people by day (as a pillar of cloud) and night (as a pillar of fire). God was with them 100% of the time in visible form. Yet as we will see, they lacked faith.

God intentionally leads the Israelites to a piece of land that was between two bodies of water. This location left them very vulnerable to attack as their were few escape routes. God did this in order to perform one last miracle against the Egyptians – the parting of the Red Sea. But notice despite the 10 plagues God sent against Egypt and the pillars of cloud and fire, the Israelites start to doubt and complain (Exodus 14:11). That didn’t take long. They are already longing for the days when they were slaves back in Egypt. They hadn’t even been gone a few days and yet they have forgotten all that God has done for them and all that He has promised to do. Sounds like a typical human being. It’s easy to only look at our current situation and all its problems while forgetting all the good that God has done for us. It takes a lot of practice to focus on the good. I can say this is something that I have to remind myself to do daily.

I like Moses’s response to them in Exodus 14:14. He tells them “Just stay calm” (NLT). That is good advice. Stay calm. Don’t worry. Worrying is a sin as we learned earlier this year. God’s response to Moses, who apparently brought the people’s complaints to Him, is “Tell the people to get moving!” (NLT). God doesn’t want us standing still. If we do nothing He can do nothing with us. If we at least move in one direction or another He has something to work with and can turn our lives into more than we can imagine.

After the people cross to the other side of the Red Sea they are in awe (Exodus 14:31) of what God has just done. It certainly would have been very cool to see these miracles that God was doing. The Bible says that they put their faith in the Lord and in Moses. These people are very capricious. They will change their minds frequently while on their journey. When they see a miracle they believe, for a while. Then they encounter trouble and forget all about the miracles. I don’t envy Moses at all – it must have been very frustrating to lead such a group.

Jesus really gets to the point today with the religious leaders who did not recognize His claims of being the long-awaited Messiah. In Matthew 21:31 He tells them that “tax collectors and prostitutes” will get into heaven before they will. I can imagine the shock on their faces. These were people who believed that they were loved by God because of all the allegedly great things they were doing. They also believed that God despised tax collectors and prostitutes and that these people had no chance of going to heaven. Jesus tells them they are wrong. Its sad to say that we have “religious” people in our society today who want to claim that there are some people that God doesn’t love. That is simply not true. God loves everyone and everyone can enter heaven if they only believe. The issue wasn’t the behavior of the tax collectors, prostitutes, or religious leaders. The issue was faith. The tax collectors and prostitutes believed Jesus’s claims about who He was while the religious leaders, who should have known better since they studied the Scriptures, did not. It is faith that saves. Behavior has nothing to do with it.

Perhaps you think that God doesn’t accept you because of things you have done or things you are doing. The truth is God loves you despite those things. Love is not based on the recipient. Love is based on the giver. God loves you because He wants to. There is nothing you can “do” to change that. Maybe you are gay and you’ve heard some so-called Bible teachers claim that God hates you and you can’t go to heaven. While homosexuality is not how God designed us and is a “sin”, God loves you immensely.  And you can go to heaven if you believe that you are sinful (just like we all are) and you believe that Jesus took on the penalty for your sins. That is true for anyone and everyone. If you have not yet believed in Jesus I hope you will think about this and make that decision soon, for your sake.

In Matthew 21:43 Jesus predicts that God is going to take His message from unbelieving Israel and give it to the Gentiles. That is where we are today in history. God took the message of salvation to the entire world through the New Testament writers.  At some point in the future the nation of Israel (including Jews all over the world not just those living in Israel) will come back to God and believe in Jesus. We’ll see that prophecy later this year.

Notice in Psalms 26 that it is God who declares someone innocent. We are not without guilt. All of us have sinned and fall short of God’s holy standard. But God is willing to “declare” us innocent if someone else pays the penalty for our sin. There is only one person who can do that and who has done that: Jesus. If you believe that Jesus died and paid the price for you then God will transfer your penalty to Him and will declare you innocent. How great is that? There is no better feeling in the world than knowing that you have been forgiven my the Creator of the universe.

We read about 7 things that God hates in Proverbs today. Its easy to see these things in other people and agree with God that these are not good things. But we should examine ourselves to see if any of these describe us. We need to hate them in ourselves just as much, if not more, as we hate them in others. We should not be arrogant. We should not lie or deceive. We should not take the life of an innocent being. We should not plot to do evil things. We should not do wrong. We should not be eager to do evil things. We should not lie to one person about another. And we should not do anything that will cause quarreling  within our family.

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