Slavery—bondage—servitude. Brutal taskmasters—heavy burdens—daily despair and hopelessness. This was the land of Egypt for the Israelites. Four hundred years prior, the land of Egypt was a place of refuge, a place of rescue. It was a place that promised food in the midst of famine, a land that gave the Hebrews a home at a time when things were becoming desperate. But that had all changed. A pharaoh had ascended to the throne who did not know, who did not acknowledge the great deeds and works of Joseph. Now, the Hebrew people had become a source of cheap labor. Now, the Hebrew people were enslaved to carry out the building projects of the pharaoh. Now, slavery, bondage, and servitude, brutal taskmasters and heavy burdens were their lot
, and they groaned under this reality.
Even though the Israelites had journeyed willingly to the land of Egypt, and even though they had been blessed in this journey by plentiful grain and the beautiful land of Goshen as their dwelling place, what had once been a good and gracious land had become a place of enslavement. What had once been a place a refuge became a place of pain and sorrow. What had once been a place of life became a place of death—a land of exile where their baby boys were thrown into the Nile River. And the Hebrews were helpless to break free and escape Egypt.
The people were in need of a leader. They were in need of a savior. They needed a leader to arise from their midst, a leader who would gather them together. One who would remind them of who they were and who their God was—and who they were in relationship to this God. They needed one who would bring them out of this terrible land of slavery and death. They needed someone who could and who would stand up to Pharaoh. So God sent Moses.
We could spend time talking about Moses and his abilities, or lack thereof. We could speak of his training, his education, and his reluctance. We could speak of his temper, of his wimpiness, of his lack of desire to carry out the task. We could speak at great length about all of these things; but God equipped Moses for the task and then sent him to rescue His people. One stubborn pharaoh and ten plagues later, Moses and the Israelites finally leave town after four hundred years. Moses and the Israelites are headed back to the land that was promised by God to His people from the days of Abraham.
However, two obstacles remain between them and their rescue. Two obstacles stand in the way of their return from exile: a large army and a big body of water. Two obstacles and the Israelites are right in the middle of both of them. Pharaoh and his army are coming up fast from behind, and the Red Sea looms large ahead. They are stuck between the proverbial “rock and a hard place;” but God has a plan, a way, a means by which to save His people.
The Lord God tells Moses to raise his staff over the waters of the Red Sea; miraculously, stupendously, the waters part, and the people pass through the waters on dry ground. As the people go through the waters, they are rescued from the land of slavery and death. The people cross over as they begin their return from exile. And then, to tie up all the loose ends and to deliver a message, the waters collapse on the advancing Egyptian army. Pharaoh and his army are destroyed in the waters. The evil is washed away. In the words of Moses, God says to His people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” And so the Hebrew people are saved by the waters.
There is life and death in those waters. The same waters that destroy the evil pharaoh and his army save the people of God. The Egyptians are drowned, and the Israelites walk away alive. The waters that killed also preserved life. This will not be the last time the Lord uses water to destroy the enemy and give life to His people. This will not be the last time the Lord uses water to bring His people back from exile.
A land of bondage, a land of slavery to sin and death—slaves of Satan, enemies of God. The enemies—sin, death, and Satan—still seek to enslave God’s people. Indeed, these enemies are successful, for we groan under the terrible burden of everlasting death. The people need—we need—to escape, but alas, we cannot. We need a Savior, a Deliverer to rise from our midst. A Savior who will gather us up and bring us out of this land of exile. We need a Savior who will reunite and restore us to God. We need One who will stand up to Satan and his evil power. So God sent Jesus.
We could spend some time speaking about Jesus and His abilities. We could speak of His power, of His lineage, of His sacrifice, of His love and mercy, but suffice it to say that in Jesus, God became flesh to dwell among us and rescue us from our land of exile. Jesus went down into the waters of the Jordan to be baptized by John—not to be washed clean of sin, for He had none. No—Jesus went down into the waters of the Jordan to take all of the world’s sins upon Himself and to go into the wilderness to take them back to the father of sin, Satan.
The obstacle to our return from exile—the dividing wall of hostility that was raised between us and God by sin, death, and Satan—is removed. Christ went down into the waters and gathered all sin to Himself in order that waters might be cleansed and prepared for our own journey through the waters.
Down into the waters of Baptism we go, and our old Adam is drowned as all sin is washed away. Up from the waters we arise, a new Adam, a new creation, a child of God. We come up from these sacramental waters into the promised land of everlasting life. Returned from exile, returned from a land of slavery, through the waters, into the arms of God. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.