Bible reading for March 3: Exodus 14; Luke 17.
And Moses said to the 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." (Exodus 14:13-14)
Have you ever felt the power of the ocean in the aftermath of a storm? Some years ago I went swimming when the waves were high (too high), and was shocked at how strong the undertow was, and how many times the waves knocked me down. My muscles soon felt like helpless noodles. It was frightening, and I was glad to get out and dry off when I did. Water like that is simply not manageable. The Hebrews in the Old Testament had something of that view toward large bodies of water.
The parting of the Red Sea is one of the main miracles cited throughout the Old Testament. It marked the birth of the nation of Israel. A large population is saved through the sea; and a large army was destroyed by the sea. This remarkable deliverance involved an extensive body of water. Like Noah and the ark coming through the waters of judgment to begin a new world, the Israelites pass through on dry ground to begin their new lives before God. In the Bible it is God alone who masters the sea (Gen 1:1-10; Ps 77:19; Rev 4:6; 21:1). This was a point not lost on Jesus' disciples, who said of him, "Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?" (Mark 4:41) The Red Sea has also become a picture of our baptism into Christ (1 Cor 10:1-4).
Stand and see. Another major truth here is that God is the One who does the saving. This affects the way we look at our salvation in Christ. God did what we cannot do. As Tim Keller says, "Jesus lived the life we could not live, and died the death we should have died." Salvation in Christ is a complete and perfect work on behalf of lost sinners. Like the Israelites, we are called to "fear not" (positively, that is to believe), and to "stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord". He is our Champion, the One who fought, and fights, for us. As for the sinful world, the flesh, and the devil and his demons, the day is coming when we "shall never see them again." What a promise!
"I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left." (Luke 17:34-35)
It takes faith to forgive, and to be made well (17:1-19). On his journey to Jerusalem, Jesus teaches his disciples about forgiveness and faith (17:1-6). We should not cause others to stumble; we should reprove one another when needed, but also forgive each other generously. In my pre-marriage counseling sessions I have young couples practice these words: "I'm sorry. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?" In any marriage, church, or community, we will be saying this to each other many, many times in life. And this ability to forgive is not the fruit of our effort, but the fruit of our faith. We should always avoid thinking our works somehow go above and beyond what God requires (17:7-10). We will never have what theologians call supererogatory works, that is, good works which are super-righteous and thus merit rewards. God does give his children rewards, but even these are given in a gracious, fatherly way, in response to faith. God himself is the Author of every good thing (Mark 10:18; Jas 1:17; Rev 4:10). Meanwhile, as he travels on toward Jerusalem, Jesus heals ten lepers (17:11-19), one of whom turns back to give thanks. Gratitude, also a fruit of faith, is such a vital component of our Christian life! I always love reading our Lord's words here -- and his similar statements in other passages -- "Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well" (17:19).
Snatched away (17:20-37). It seems the pre-tribulation rapture has fallen on hard times in popular theological circles. But Jesus' teaching here has a number of features we should observe. First, the kingdom was in one sense present in Christ at his first advent. The King, and therefore his kingdom, was "in your midst". This is a better translation than, "within you", which comes across a bit more individualistic. The plural "you" with the preposition (en) denotes "among you" or "in your midst", that is, referring to his presence with them. That's his first coming. His second coming, during which people will be taken away suddenly (aka the rapture), will be preceded by a period of normalcy: eating, drinking, marrying, buying, selling, planting, and building (17:27-28). That does not sound like Christ's appearing at the end of a tribulation period, but rather, at the beginning. Noah and Lot are the examples given. They were taken away before judgment was poured out. And when the life is gone out of a body (the world), then the vultures gather there to feast (17:37). Another thing to note: Two pairs of people are mentioned, one pair sleeping at night, one pair working in the day (17:34-35). Since Jesus said that his coming would be sudden like the lightning, it follows that Jesus knew that the earth was round, since at the same time some people would be involved in daytime activities, and some in night-time activities. I've used this from time to time in sharing the gospel with skeptics.
Finally, I'll close with some lyrics from a song by Larry Norman, which I enjoyed as a young Christian:
A man and wife asleep in bed
She hears a noise and turns her head he's gone
I wish wed all been ready
Two men walking up a hill
One disappears and one's left standing still
I wish wed all been ready
The father spoke, the demons dined
How could you have been so blind?
There's no time to change your mind
The Son has come and you've been left behind
-- Larry Norman, "I Wish We'd All Been Ready"
lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
Image credits: Photo at top by Tim Marshall on Unsplash. Photo at bottom: Larry Norman, courtesy of Christianity Today.
We are following the Robert Murray M'Cheyne (RMM) two-year reading schedule, as arranged by D. A. Carson. A PDF copy is available here.
Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.