Read Exodus 14: 19-31 and 1 Corinthians 10: 1-5 and then pray; Lead me Lord by your holy Word, and inspire me through the truth concerning your great faithfulness, care and power which was displayed for all to see in the great and mighty Exodus of Israel. Amen!

Is there a time in OT history where you wish you could have been personally present to witness the work and power of God with your own eyes? Personally speaking, I wish that I could have experienced the crossing of the Red Sea. This is the one historical moment, the one stand-out and awesome God-event I would have personally liked to have witnessed and experienced. What about you?

Read Exodus 14: 21-22 and 29-31. I would have liked to have witness to these events.

Last week we gave our attention to the great Passover event and meal that led directly to Israel’s Exodus from Egypt. Pharoah’s arrogant pride and fiercely stubborn heart was finally broken through the death of the first-born in Egypt – the tenth and final plague and judgement from God. This was the one that broke the defiant will of a brutal dictator who believed himself to be a god. His resolve cracked and he finally let Moses and Israelites go. In fact, Pharoah demanded that they go and allowed them to take plunder. From a rigidly determined position of insisting that they stay – he switched to a position in which he was pleading for them to leave – to get out of his country as quickly as possible! Passover enabled the people to go, to leave, to exit Egypt and hundreds of years of cruel and bitter enslavement. Freedom at last! Salvation and judgement from God had opened-up the way out!

Having then considered how the Israelites under Moses were enabled by God to come out of Egypt with boldness and plentiful provisions (14:8, 12:36), we now consider how God would take the people onwards on their epic journey of freedom and hope. From seeing how God took his people out with power and a mighty hand, we now consider how God took them on into a new future. The story about moving out of Egypt becomes the story of moving on from Egypt to a new life.

Our primary attention must be set upon God! His is the Prime-Mover! His is the power and the glory! His is the continuing work of salvation and judgement. What was started by God is now set to continue in the most outstanding and miraculous of ways through his sovereign will and power. Pharoah who had firmly decided to the let the people go, suddenly changed his mind once more and became obsessed with the thought of recapture and return!

Read Exodus 14: 5-8

A most important point to notice and understand – is the leadership and guidance of God on behalf of his people. As the Israelites marched away from Egypt in great haste, who was at the front of the procession of people? The Lord God Almighty was at the front – leading the whole multitude and guiding them in the way to go – which turned out to be the unexpected way in the direction of the Red Sea. This was a deliberate move by God, a choice made by Him alone – not Moses! At the beginning of the whole section in Exodus focusing on the crossing of the Sea, we hear about the truth of God’s own leadership of his people.

When Pharoah let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So, God led the people around by the desert road towards the Red Sea. (Exodus 13: 17-18)

Notice the clear emphasis on God’s sovereign leadership. There is no mention of Moses. All the attention is placed on God’s leading. This is made even more clear later in Exodus 13: 21-22.

By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place IN FRONT of the people.

Who led the people? Who guided them? Who was out at the front? God! God was leader and guide of his people – and the pillar symbolised his powerful presence and leadership! Moses was a leader chosen by God to lead – but he was under the leadership of God – his was the role of obedient servant. (14:31) God stepped in to personally lead at this crucial point through the pillars which were out in front.

Moses would be given things to do by God and commands to obey – but God was leading. Moses for example personally “took the bones of Joseph” with him. He carried them out of Egypt as Joseph had directed centuries earlier (Genesis 50: 24-25). This was a step of faith and obedience on the part of Moses. Moses would also raise his staff at God’s command and observe the parting of the Sea. Moses would encourage the people to trust God in their tight and dangerous predicament as they faced the Sea with the might of the Egyptian army speeding up behind them. (14:13) Moses had his part to play as obedient servant. But he was under God’s direction. The Psalmist puts it well: “Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron. (Psalm 77: 19-20)

We today, who are part of the Church of the living God, the God of Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses, must know and trust in the ultimate leadership of God through the Holy Spirit who has been poured out upon God’s people – His Church. The Spirit is out in front of us – leading the way forward, preparing the way for us to follow, opening-up the landscape of mission. The Spirit may take us on routes we least expect, but He will guide us in the way that most glorifies God and directs attention to the glory of His Son – Jesus Christ. Obstacles will be removed and victory will be gained as we resolve to follow the leadership and guidance of our faithful God who leads us now not by a pillar of cloud or fire, but by the pillar of truth (the bible) and with the personal fellowship of the Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures, and who travels with us to lead and direct the mission. (Acts 13: 1-3, Acts 16: 6-10)

Always think carefully when answering questions about Christchurch. When asked the question “Who leads at your Church?” The instinct may be to respond by saying “The Minister along with our Church Council.” But the answer should be: we at Christchurch aim and seek to be primarily led by the God we serve and as we listen to the Holy Spirit and seek to follow His lead. The Spirit leads us. The Spirit also appoints leaders within our fellowship to serve, lead and guide our Church. However, we always  aim to remain under the leadership and guidance of the Word and the Spirit.

God led the people of Israel – God wants to lead us as individuals and as a Church. He is the Good Shepherd whose leadership we should embrace and trust. We should trust our Lord to lead us in the paths of righteousness, toward green pastures and beside still waters, through the valley of the shadow of death and on into eternal fellowship and life. (Psalm 23) Who is your leader? Who leads your life? How do you decide which direction to go in life, which Church to join, how to use the gifts and resources you have been graciously given by God? Who is leading you right now?

We struggle and stumble most when we wilfully abandon the leadership of God. We must follow the biblical lead given by the Psalmist and others;

“Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.” (Psalm 31:3) Is that your prayer. Does that express your heart’s desire?

“For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even to the end.” (Psalm 48:14) Is this what you really want and desire? Do you want God to be your leader and guide until your dying day?

“For I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterwards you will take me into glory.” Does this reflect your outlook on life and the future?

The hymn/prayer of James Edmeston encourages in this way;

Lead us, heavenly Father lead us,

o’er the world’s tempestuous sea;

guard us, guide us, keep us, feed us

for we have no help but Thee;

yet possessing every blessing if our God our Father be.

We keep or loose our sense of blessedness depending on our commitment to the leadership of the Lord.

But as well as embracing the leadership of God over our lives, we can also know the precious truth of God as our Shield and Protector. God led Israel out of Egypt and onward through the Red Sea, but He was also their Strong Shield and Protector along the way. Do you remember the question I asked earlier? Who was out in front of Israel? The answer was – the Lord! But there is one point in the story where this dramatically changes, and it is the point where our Exodus reading began today. (v19)

The angel of God who had been travelling IN FRONT of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from IN FRONT and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other: so neither went near the other all night. (Exodus 14: 19-20)

The Lord God Almighty led His people, but, when necessary, when the enemy turns upon his chosen people, God stands as Divine Protector. And you can have no greater or stronger Shield or Protector than God. The God of Israel moved swiftly from being in front to being behind His people. No super-powerful Pharoah with his six hundred chariots will get through this Sheild! The enemy is held back and put into a darkness, whereas God’s people continue to know and benefit from His light.

Notice the form of protection includes angelic protection and action. The angel of God who had been travelling in front of Israel’s army withdrew and went behind them…

The Lord is the Lord of hosts! Angelic hosts! Mighty, powerful, and absolutely dedicated to God’s glory and honour! They move swiftly into position at God’s holy command. The Lord is a Warrior (Exodus 15: 3) and the angels form his battalions. They form a battle formation on behalf of God’s people. They shield when and where necessary. I am convinced that God sends angels to guide and guard us and that such angels have often come to our aid when we are not even aware of it. When writing about the ministry of angels in the book of Hebrews, the author stresses that angels are “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.” Those who will inherit salvation? That is us! Angels are sent to serve us, to guard us, guide us and protect us. God’s angelic army enter the battlefield of the heavenlies and our world on our behalf of God’s people.

Psalm 91: 11 reveals this truth; For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. When Jesus was under intense pressure and feeling weak in the wilderness after resisting the devil, we are told that angels came to him and attended him. (Mark 1:13) They served the Son of God. When Jesus was agonising in prayer in Gethsemane, we hear that he was strengthened and supported by an angel. (Luke 21:43). Should he have wished, Jesus could have called upon 12 legions (armies) of angels to protect and defend him when he was arrested. (Matthew 26: 53-54) But he knew that was not God’s will. Nevertheless, there were moments when Jesus was served by angels. There will also be these moments for us who are servants of Jesus. I am sure of it.

You and I can rejoice in the truth that the Lord is our Shield. He delivers us from evil attacks. (2 Timothy 4:18) He enables us to overcome enemies. The Psalmist rejoices; “But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and I lift up my head.” (Psalm 3:3) “For surely, O Lord, you bless the righteous: you surround them with your favour as with a shield.” (Psalm 5:12) “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, both now and evermore. (Psalm 125:2)

When we embrace God’s leadership, we automatically inherit His protection and shielding – whether that be through angelic activity on our behalf or by some other means the Lord chooses. As the prophet Elisha said to his scared servant, “Do not be afraid, those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (2 Kings 6:16) The power of God that takes us out of Egypt (out of the kingdom of darkness) takes and shields us as we enter and live in the kingdom of His light. God commits himself to lead and shield his people. This is what the Exodus teaches us. I repeat again;

The angel of God who had been travelling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them.

God was watching Israel’s back! He watches my back and your back also!

God was committed to getting his people into the promised land. He was also committed to bringing judgement upon Pharoah. His evil heart had now (through the judgement of God) been hardened even more. (14:4,7) As God shields his people from Pharoah’s armies, he instructs Moses to hold up the staff of God over the sea waters – and witness his saving power in the parting of Sea. This is the Lord’s mighty and miraculous work. Stand fast everyone and see the salvation of the Lord! (14:13)

This is the drama, as I said at the beginning of this sermon, I would have loved to have witnessed.

(14:21) The Israelites hurry through on the dry ground – all through the night. Once safe, the Lord tells Moses to hold forth his hand again (his hand symbolises God’s own hand). The pillar of fire has stayed behind the Israelites as they crossed, but now it was possible for the Egyptians to begin the same crossing. As they pursued Israel with their mad and psychotic leader in the front chariot, the waters returned and smashed over them as Moses’s hand was held high; all the armies of Egypt were destroyed by God’s Masterstroke. They were hurled into the sea (15:4). The deep waters covered them: they sank to the depths like a stone. (15:5) So sang the captives who were now free. (Exodus 15:1-21)

This is a clear dramatic picture and graphic illustration of the fate of all God’s enemies in the future – of all who have mistreated and persecuted His people. Their end is destruction. The Holy God of Israel and Creator of the ends of the earth is glorified in the just expression of His wrath against all evil, wickedness, cruelty, barbarity, and egotistical pride. At the last day, evildoers will all be swept aside!

Is it any wonder that the Israelites under the direction of Moses and Miriam sang with great joy about their saving and protecting God, who rescued them so powerfully and swept aside their cruel oppressors so decisively.  Read Exodus 15: 1-3.

Let me finish by encouraging you to know and live with God as your leader and guardian protector, and so end with the comforting and consoling words of Psalm 121: (Read Psalm 121)

To the God who leads, guides, and forever protects and guards His own people – be all the glory. Amen!

(Revd Peter J Clarkson 17.9.23)