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Worship Series: I’m In
Worship Theme: I’m Influential
Lesson & Sermon Text: Exodus 17:8-16 (EHV)
Gospel: Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV)
Music: CW 238 Oh, Bless the Lord, My Soul, Alleluia!, CW 478 With the Lord Begin Your Task, CW 537 Onward, Christian Soldiers (in worship folder)
Message Notes & Growth Group Questions
This weekend we begin livestreaming our worship services. Watch the livestream beginning at 5 p.m. on Saturday. After the livestream is finished, the video will be available to watch at any time.
Thank you in advance for your patience as we work through a few remaining technical issues.
Message: I’m Influential
Just before we started to sing the song before the sermon, I asked you to hold up both of your arms straight above your head as long as you could while we sang the hymn. You couldn’t bend them. You couldn’t clasp your hands together to support the other. They needed to be straight above your head just like the referee who signals a touchdown in football, just like how Moses had to raise his hands over his head in our sermon text. I also asked you to continue to keep your hands locked overhead during the reading of the sermon lesson, which I purposefully read very slowly. (Just kidding.)
It has been just a little over five minutes since I asked you to raise up your hands. Some of you already dropped your arms. Others are saying, “What? It’s only been five minutes?!” as your shoulders scream in pain, as the blood continues to rush down your arms away from your fingertips. Okay, you can put your arms down. They crashed down didn’t they! The macho ones among us are convincing themselves, “I could’ve lasted the rest of the service!” But really, you know how difficult that would’ve been. After just five minutes, your arms can already feel the strain and pain.
Imagine if this wasn’t just a fun exercise in an air conditioned church done while seated on padded pews. Imagine you’re Moses. Imagine you’ve already tired out your body from climbing to the top of a high, steep hill overlooking a battle field. Your lungs are stinging being out of breath from the climb and your legs are burning from over excursion. Imagine the wind whipping around pushing your body to the side as you stand atop that high outcropping overlooking the valley below. Every wind gust makes you use even more energy to steady yourself. Imagine the Middle Eastern sun beating down upon you with no relief in sight and you aren’t wearing shorts and a breathable tshirt or tank top. No! You have on multiple layers covering you from shoulders to wrists and from neck to ankle with a belt tied around your waist—your body suffocating under the weight of your clothes you’re wearing like a blanket.
Now imagine, you haven’t had your hands over your head for just five minutes but, instead, five hours. And every time your arms drop and you shake them out to have the blood finally flow once again into your fingertips—every time you do that an Israelite dies. One of your countrymen dies. The battle unfolding below you turns against your own people and they die. The people you have been called directly from God to lead, they die! That’s Moses.
Now imagine you are doing all of this at eighty years old! Exodus 7:7 reveals, “Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh.” Moses was eighty. Eight, zero. Eighty! He was eighty years old when he had to have his hands and arms held above his head for hours and hours as the Israelites fought in battle against the Amalekites.
Have you heard of the Amalekite people before? They were a nomadic, live-off-the-land-out-in-the-desert type of people. They were also an aggressive, heartless bunch. After the Israelites were weary and worn out from fleeing from Egypt, after the Israelites were weary and worn out from crossing the difficult terrain of the Red Sea, after the Israelites were weary and worn out from lack of water and food as they wandered out in the desert, listen to what the Amalekites did. “When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God.” (Deuteronomy 25:17-18) Because the Amalekites had no fear of God, they snuck up behind the Israelites and slaughtered the sick, the elderly, the young and the injured. They had no regard for life and attacked the weak and vulnerable in a cowardly way.
Now, they’re back. The Amalekites came back to finish off the Israelites. If you’re an Israelite, you’re terrified right now. These are the people who ruthlessly killed your friend’s grandmother. These are the people who heartlessly attacked your sister because she wasn’t feeling well and was lagging behind. These people are merciless.
If you’re an Israelite, you’re horrified. Until a couple of weeks ago, you and your people had been held captive as slaves in Egypt. You don’t know how to fight. You don’t know how to wield a sword. You don’t even have swords. You basically have no weapons, no military knowledge, no combat training, no chance.
What was the battle plan? What was the full proof plan to save the Israelites from the fierce foe they were facing? “Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.’” (Exodus 17:9) This is the first time we hear Joshua’s name and there is a reason for that. At this point he was a no name, a no body. He wasn’t a combat leader. He wasn’t skilled in the art of tactical warfare. But God was going to make him into a somebody…into the eventual successor of Moses forty years from now. But for right now, Joshua was getting some very quick on-the-job-training in trust in God. Joshua with no military leadership experience was the leader of soldiers with no military training going to war with no real weapons against a really bloodthirsty bunch.
They were going to lose. They were going to get creamed, get crushed, get dead. And they knew it. They were simply outmatched, out maneuvered, and outnumbered. As they were down in that valley they knew they were down ‘n’ out done for.
Doesn’t it sometimes feel like you are in the valley? And it’s not a lush green valley with a gentle rolling stream, carpet soft grass with a happy warm sun kissing your face with its refreshing light. No. The valley is dark. Your valley is dark. The valley you are in is dark. Your valley is dry and deserted. Deserted except for you and you’re all alone. In your valley, you are vulnerable. Exposed. Weak. Weary. Worn. That’s life at times. That’s your life at times. What valley are you stuck in battling a foe you know you can’t beat? When you are stuck in the valley of the shadow of despair or even the valley of the shadow of death, the walls of your valley grow steeper and more treacherous every day. The darkness deepens. The coldness cuts. The loneliness expands. And you fear the worst because you know it’s coming and it’s unavoidable.
That’s the emotion coursing through each one of the Israelites as they stood in the valley against the Amalekites—a foe they knew they were no match against. Their pride kept them from running away but their fear kept them from moving forward.
Isn’t that true for us as well? We are paralyzed by pride and fear. Why is it that we’d rather suffer alone in our pain because we let our pride keep us from asking for help! Why do we paralyze ourselves in the present mess our lives are in out of fear of that something worse might happen? When we are stuck in a dark valley, being paralyzed by pride and by fear will only make matters worse!
When the Israelites were paralyzed in pride and fear and didn’t know what to do, they looked up a hill and saw Moses in full visible sight. He stood in confidence for all to see with his hands raised high over his head with his staff in hand. With that staff, they knew Moses turned the water in Egypt into blood.
With that staff, they knew Moses struck a plain, ordinary rock and fresh, clean, clear drinking water poured out. They knew God worked miracles through the staff in Moses’ hand. But they weren’t focused on what was in Moses’ hand; they were focused on what Moses’ hands were doing.
If you see someone’s hands like this, (I’ll interlace my fingers folding my hands) you know that person is locked in prayer. When they saw Moses like this, (I’ll stand with feet spread apart and hands spread apart raised high above my head), they knew Moses was praying for them. Moses was praying to the Lord who sent Ten Plagues upon the Egyptians and saved the Israelites. Moses was praying to the Lord who ripped apart the waters of the Red Sea—it wasn’t the power of the staff but the power of the Lord who saved them. Moses was praying to the Lord who brought forth the water from the rock— it wasn’t the power of the staff but the power of the Lord who gave them water to drink and survive.
Moses was praying to the Lord asking Him once again to save and deliver the Israelites. As long as Moses was praying, they were winning the battle. Whenever Moses dropped his arms and wasn’t visibly praying, they started losing. When he wasn’t praying, things did not go well.
When you feel like you are losing in life, when you feel like you are stuck in a dark valley, reexamine your prayer life. You will probably notice that you have dropped your hands and heart from regular prayer. When things are not going well, your prayer life often is not going well either. Our pride makes us think we can fix it ourselves. Our fear keeps us from making the changes we know we need in our lives. We get stuck. Stuck in the valley of despair. The only way out is to look up and pray!
The Israelites down in the valley with the Amalekites looked up a hill and they saw their faithful leader faithfully, visibly praying. Moses covered the battlefield with his prayers and look at what God did. God saved the Israelites and destroyed their enemy!
We don’t look up a hill and see Moses. We look up a hill from the dark valley we are in and we see our faithful Savior on another hill, the hill of Calvary faithfully and visibly praying for us to His Father in heaven. Jesus covered over our lives with His prayers and look at what God did for us. God saved us from the terror of our sins and destroyed the power of our enemy, the devil. Christ not only covered you with His prayers from the cross but now, from the right hand of His Father’s side in heavenly glory, Jesus is interceding for you. Jesus is carrying your prayers from the darkest depths of your life directly to your Father in heaven. You have nothing to fear. You have no reason to be paralyzed by pride. The battle for your soul has already been won! Victory is yours!
Now that’s something to pray about. That’s something to give thanks to God in prayer. As you give thanks for the blessings He has given you, be a Moses. Pray for the battlefield being fought by faithful Christian soldiers in our ministry. Visibly pray. When someone has a personal need or a problem they share with you, don’t just say, “I’ll be praying for you.” Visibly pray! Pray with them right there, right then. Pray over our worship services that our members and visitors are uplifted by God’s message of grace and return next week. Pray for visible results from our outreach events that they reach the hearts of the hurting so they hear more about God’s love for them. And finally, be visible. The visible presence alone of Moses was encouraging to the people as they saw him. Be visible. Attend worship making it a priority. Attend events at church to support those who put so much effort into them making it a priority. Be visible and see what God does in response. Amen.