I remember the difficulty—it seems minor now, but was agonizing at the time—following my weekend trips to the Ozark Mountains.
Ever since I could remember, my parents would take me up to Fayetteville, Arkansas, on that beautifully scenic road that wound its way to their alma mater.
We’d go about three or four times a year—whenever the Razorbacks played a home football game. That meant it was always in the Fall.
The Ozark Mountains in autumn are truly a sight to behold. Of course, being a little kid, I wasn’t all that into the wonderful scenery.
I was excited about a weekend away in a hotel, about going to a football game, and about the possibility of missing a little bit of school on Friday afternoon.
The weekends were usually the same. We’d arrive sometime on Friday evening, check into our hotel room, and then go out to eat.
We’d usually meet up with some family friends at some point during the night.
Then, it was back to the hotel for hanging out until bed. Usually, my friends and I would play football in the hallways of the floor where our rooms were located.
At least, that would last until it got too close to bedtime, where we might disturb those trying to sleep. At that point, we’d move our game into one of our rooms.
Usually, that involved jumping on the beds until time to go to sleep.
Saturday morning meant a trip to the Farmer’s Market, located in the downtown square just outside our hotel. Mom would look at crafts and the produce.
I would bring a football—I always had one in hand—to play catch with my dad or one of my friends.
Following that, it would be time to head out to the stadium. When I was growing up, the Razorbacks didn’t have lights at their stadium.
So every game was in the afternoon. We’d head out to the game, park on the practice field, and throw around the ball for a bit before heading into the stadium.
Then came the game. During the mid-to-late-eighties, which formed my first memories of these trips, the Razorbacks were nearly undefeated at home.
That meant, more than likely, we were celebrating a win as we walked back to the car. We’d play some more football on the practice field.
And then we’d pile into the car, dirty and sweaty, and head back to the hotel. Every Saturday night was pizza in the room while watching a game on ESPN.
It was heaven, as far as I was concerned. Nothing could be better. That is, of course, until Sunday morning came.
For whatever reason, it always seemed to be raining whenever we woke up on Sunday morning. I once thought that was just me.
You know, just the way a little kid remembers things. But then on one particular trip—when I was older, in high school—my mom commented on it.
“I think it rains every Sunday morning we’re here,” she bluntly stated as we were packing the car. Sundays in the Ozarks were never as good as Fridays/Saturdays.
I hated going back home. For whatever reason, I just felt more at home up there in Fayetteville. Probably has a lot to do with me choosing to go there for college.
But I remember being sad and gloomy almost every Sunday morning on those trips.
The only thing drearier than the weather was me. There were such high expectations for the trip. And it never disappointed.
It was always the highlight of the week, the month, or perhaps even the year. And now, what was I supposed to do when it was over?
Sure, there would be another one coming up at some point, but no little kid thinks like that. What? I was just supposed to go back to life, as usual?
Get back in the routine with school, homework, no hotel beds to play on, no big football game to attend, and no football in my hand at all times?
That didn’t seem like any fun to me. It didn’t seem like any life I wanted to be a part of. And yet, that was my life. It was time to snap back to reality and get to work.
And so, here we are on the Sunday after Easter. What an incredible week it was!
Thursday night was certainly a unique blessing. Friday night was moving and poignant. And who can forget Easter Sunday? Who can forget a sermon in the dark?
I promise you, you will remember that Easter for as long as you live. And now, what are we supposed to do? Go back to business as usual? It seems so difficult.
And yet, what did we talk about last Sunday? Easter isn’t so much the culmination of things in the spiritual sense as it is the launching point.
Easter infuses everything and everyone with life, so that we can go on living—truly alive in Christ—during the days ahead.
Our passage today, found in the 15th chapter of Exodus, speaks to a similar situation.
We mentioned last week, during the Maundy Thursday service, that the OT equivalent of Easter was the Passover.
God spared the Israelites the plague of death of the firstborn and led them out of Egypt. As you may or may not know, however, Pharaoh wasn’t done.
He pursued the people of Israel to the Red Sea. Seemingly trapped, the Israelites were improbably delivered by God dividing the sea.
The Egyptians followed, but they were swallowed up as the Israelites arrived safely on the other side. Exodus 15 comes in the aftermath of that.
I invite you to read along with me as I begin in verse 22. (Read Exodus 15:22-27.)
You probably know how obsessed we are in our society with ranking people, places, and things. This even goes far beyond the sports world.
Magazines release rankings based on looks, wealth, and likability all the time. Sometimes things just shouldn’t be compared to other things. Sometimes things flat out cannot be compared. We might think that way in regards to Easter.
The horrific death on the cross and the subsequent resurrection from the dead are extremely tough to top. But the deliverance from Egypt can certainly hold its own.
There was the dramatic death of every first-born in Egypt, which was the culmination of ten astounding plagues.
We’re talking about frogs and flies and rivers turning into blood. We’re talking about locusts and boils and barrages of hail.
And then, remember that the people of Israel actually plundered the Egyptians upon their departure. It was as though Egypt wanted them gone ASAP.
They even escorted them out of town with fancy gifts, such as all sorts of gold trappings. And then we get to that part with the Red Sea.
Seemingly trapped by Pharaoh’s army, God’s people walk through a sea that He divided. What must that have been like? Imagine the sights and sounds!
And then, in a giant splash of rushing water, the enemy threat is gone. They are completely and totally free from Egypt.
They celebrate. They rejoice. They likely worship in awe of a God who could do all that. Our chapter today begins with a song of praise from Moses and his sister.
But, now what? What do they do now? Oh, sure, there’s the easy answer. Get to the Promised Land. But that answer can be a little bit trite.
You and I have just finished a wonderfully moving Easter week. What do we do now? Wait for the “Promised Land”—or heaven?
That’s all well and good, but surely there’s something more at play. What about the in-between? Think about these Israelites.
I know that, in truth, they did nothing. God provided all the deliverance. But, after going through something as amazing as that, isn’t it tough to press on sometimes?
Doesn’t everything else seem to pale in comparison? After witnessing all those plagues, that amazing day when they left bondage, and the whole Red Sea experience, doesn’t travelling through the desert seem a little mundane?
And think about it for us. Thursday and Friday nights were some really significant, really moving moments we shared together.
And you will always remember celebrating Easter in the dark—not just because it happened in the dark, but also because you knew God was among us.
And now, here we are on April 7th. There’s not really much special about April 7th—unless, I guess, you have a birthday today.
It just seems more difficult to get excited, to get passionate, and to keep pressing forward. So what do we do? Well, we have a few options.
One of them was perfectly demonstrated by the Israelites in our passage today.
They complained. It wasn’t long before less-than-ideal circumstances made them forget all that God had done. So they complained.
Let’s not completely throw them under the bus here. Notice the circumstances, found in verses 22 and 23.
They left the Red Sea and ventured into the desert. For three days they were without water. And then, one day, they find water.
Unfortunately, it was bitter. It was bad water. It was clearly undrinkable. Didn’t take long for God to test them, did it?
Okay, I shouldn’t jump to conclusions there. But it does seem as though they are being tested, wouldn’t you say?
They learned, while in oppressive bondage, that fully relying on God would be the only way for deliverance. But would they continue to rely on Him?
Who wouldn’t trust God as the sea turns into walls of water, between which even the feeblest of people may pass?
Who wouldn’t trust God as He was destroying the mightiest army in the world?
But now, can we trust Him with our everyday need of water? Who wouldn’t clap their hands, bow the knee, and cry “Risen indeed!” on Easter Sunday?
But what’s your response on everyday Tuesday when problems arise at work, there’s bickering among your classmates, or your family schedule is full of conflicts?
Too often, our response is just like that of the Israelites. We complain. The effects of whatever special event we’ve just completed have clearly worn off.
Easter is over. We might get a little boost from Mother’s Day or VBS or the Fall Festival. But really, there’s nothing to hold onto until Christmas.
Of course, we know that’s not the case. But so often we act as though it is the case.
“Well, God, you raised Jesus from the dead. And You’ve promised to one day raise me from the dead. But my car’s messing up a lot this week.”
“This fellow at work is really irritating me. My teacher is completely unfair. Money is tight this week and we can’t eat out. I feel like I’m coming down with something.”
Look, these are all legitimate struggles. I’m not trying to downplay their significance at all. I’m just saying this. It may not be Easter, but He is still risen.
Jesus defeated the greatest enemies we will ever face—sin and death and hell. We have an even greater deliverance available to us than the Israelites experienced.
As you may well know, these complaints they lodged in our passage today were no one-time occurrence. They set the stage for a pattern of behavior.
God’s anger blazed forth at these stubborn and insolent people. He even fired warning shots. He decimated the camp. He even killed some of them for rebellion.
You know what complaining is, don’t you? It’s an overwhelming fascination or focus on the here-and-now circumstances, with no eye on the past or to the future.
And this fascination with the circumstances around us may not necessarily rear its ugly head through complaining. It could be through worry.
It could be through stress. It could be through any number of outlets. We just have to remember that resurrection isn’t merely a reality for Easter Sunday.
It’s an everyday reality. You and I are called to die to ourselves and our desires every day of our lives, only to find that Jesus raises us up to a new, Spirit-led life.
Likewise, these Israelites needed to remember God’s deliverance. They not only needed to hold onto the image of that parted sea, but also another one.
They needed to hold onto the promise that God would deliver them into a bountiful and pleasing new land one day.
That’s what I mean when I refer to remembering the past and looking to the future.
God took care of their difficult circumstances. He commanded Moses to throw a branch into the water, and when it entered the water turned sweet.
It was drinkable. Everyone was happy. Circumstances had changed. That’s not deliverance, though. That’s not salvation. It’s relief.
It’s always a blessing when God changes circumstances. But I’ve got news for you.
We are always going to be faced with unfavorable circumstances. They are going to rear their ugly heads, every now and again, until we leave this world.
We cannot remain as functioning and productive servants of God only when the conditions are favorable.
In truth, because of the resurrection of Jesus—and the hope that we, too, will one day be raised with Him—the conditions are always favorable to serve God wholeheartedly and cheerfully.
And God, after providing the relief, still has a little sit-down pow-wow with His people. He’s making sure they know where He stands on this issue.
Notice what is stressed. Keep your eyes on the prize. Listen carefully to God. Pay good attention to Him.
You cannot listen carefully to anyone, much less God, if your surrounding circumstances drown out everything and everyone else.
Do what is right in His eyes. We ought to stress those last three words. Lots of folks decide what’s right for themselves and then go and do whatever they want.
We are called to do what’s right in God’s eyes. Seek Him and His opinion before you take off running in whatever direction you want.
Pay close attention to His commands and keep His decrees. We don’t just claim Christianity. We follow Christ.
And you cannot follow without paying close attention. Know the Lord. Know His word. Pray to Him and listen for His call on your life.
And, finally, remember who He is. “I am the Lord, who heals you,” He told the Israelites. He is on their side, and He’s on ours.
He has plans for us—plans to prosper and not to harm. We hang on His word. We remember His promises. And we remember what He has done.
This is how we combat our natural tendency toward complaining, stressing, worrying, and generally focusing on circumstance over Savior.
What do we do now? We allow the resurrection truth of Easter to propel us forward, excitedly awaiting whatever God has around the corner.
What’s the better response, as opposed to complaining? It’s praying. In fact, we could even offer our complaints to God in the form of prayers.
You see, we’d rather complain to each other, more than likely finding someone who will agree with us and perhaps even enable our further complaining.
But God, when we come before Him—even in the form of a complaint—will begin shaping us and molding us. He won’t enable any sort of complaining.
As the old song goes, the things of the earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.
To me, that’s what made Easter week so special. It wasn’t the services or the egg hunt or even the power going out. It was the prayers.
What a blessing it was to know that we had 36 continuous hours of Friendship folks bowing on behalf of our church and our community!
And I’ll be the first to admit, when we did this last year, I had big plans for future development of that prayer ministry.
But, somewhere along the way, the fire within me faded. It was nobody’s fault but my own—just got distracted, I guess.
But I don’t want that for this year. I want us to continue to make prayer a public priority, perhaps even in conjunction with National Day of Prayer on May 2nd.
And I want us to continue the momentum of Easter—the momentum of the resurrection. I want Easter to be that launching point for us.
No more complaining over the hum-drum dreary existence we face. Instead, we rejoice over finding the resurrection at work in our everyday lives.
We will sing. We will celebrate. And we will pray. And we will eagerly anticipate what God might do in our midst.
What do you need to do today to avoid falling into that same trap in which the Israelites found themselves? Do you need to bow before God now?
Whatever circumstances might be dragging you down or distracting your attention, it’s always time to get on your knees and return to Him. (Pray.)