Saying No to the World

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Hebrews 11:23-27

He was the adopted son of a princess, destined to be a prince himself one day. He was raised in all the luxury and splendor of a royal household. But he gave it all up for the life of a wilderness wanderer. His name was Moses.

How could anyone make the kind of sacrifice Moses made? The answer is: by faith. It was faith that made Moses choose God instead of the power and wealth of Egypt, and a life of wandering in the wilderness with the people of God rather than life as a settled member of society’s privileged elite. Here is how the book of Hebrews explains it:

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the sake of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he looked to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king; for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.

(vv. 23-27, rsv)

FAITH DEFIES THE WORLD

The life of Moses illustrates two very important characteristics of faith. The first is this: Faith defies the world. Faith in the living God can enable people to stand up to the powers of this world and say no to their unjust demands, and no thank you to their glittering value systems. Moses was the great champion of his people, the man whom God sent to deliver them from slavery in Egypt. It was Moses’ task to appear before Pharaoh and deliver the Lord’s demand to “let my people go.” He engaged in a fierce contest of will with Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, over the liberation of the people of Israel, a struggle that was at the same time a battle between God and the forces of evil. Moses needed great courage as he came again and again before Pharaoh to challenge his authority and demand what was right: freedom for the people of Israel. The secret of his courage was simply that Moses believed in God. But he really believed in God. He feared God more than any earthly ruler. He was convinced that God’s power was above all human authority. He was more concerned about obeying God than pleasing men.

The writer to the Hebrews traces this type of faith all the way back to Moses’ parents. “By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born . . . they were not afraid of the king’s edict” (Heb. 11:23, niv). The book of Exodus in the Old Testament opens with the story of Moses’ birth. It was centuries after the time of Joseph, and Jacob’s family, the children of Israel, had grown from a small clan into a sizeable people, but they were a people without a homeland. They had continued all those centuries living in Egypt, and by now the days of Joseph were long forgotten. Now Egypt was ruled by a Pharaoh who, in the Bible’s words, “knew not Joseph.”

This king’s problem was that he was ignorant of history. He did not know about the time when Joseph had saved all of Egypt from a terrible famine. He was never told how one of his own ancestors had welcomed the Israelites as honored guests and settled them in a territory of their own. This Pharaoh did not realize that Israel was God’s chosen people, that God had a purpose for them that would eventually lead to salvation for all the nations, and that he had been blessing Egypt all these years for Israel’s sake. Ignorance of the past can have serious consequences. Ignorance of God is even worse.

If Pharaoh had known any of this, the story might have been very different, but instead he made a typically political decision. When Pharaoh looked at the Hebrews, he saw only a growing problem. They were foreigners, illegal aliens who posed a threat to Egyptian security, so he stripped the Israelites of their freedom and made them part of the slave labor force which carried out Egypt’s vast building projects. Yet even this was not enough to allay Pharaoh’s fears.

The Israelites’ high birthrate made him uneasy (the whole story has a decidedly modern ring to it), so he issued an executive order. Pharaoh decreed that all male Hebrew babies would be drowned in the River Nile. It was the first time, though tragically not the last, that history would see a campaign of systematic genocide directed against the Jewish people.

There were some, though, who defied the king’s command. Exodus tells about one Hebrew couple who saved their son’s life by hiding him in a basket which they floated among the reeds on the river’s edge. When Pharaoh’s daughter found the little baby Moses in his basket and decided to adopt him as her own son, God honored the courage and faith of his parents by allowing them to care for him during his formative years.

Here is the point of this story: Faith in God gives ordinary people the strength to do extraordinary things. Faith can allow people to defy the world whenever its power turns against God. Moses’ parents weren’t revolutionaries or radicals. They did not engage in terrorism, but when the authorities made an ungodly demand, they simply and quietly said “No, we will not obey, we will not submit.” Recently here at Words of Hope we made an offer to a man a wonderful brother in Christ who lives in a country where Christians are often harassed and persecuted. We invited him to record some gospel radio programs in his native language for broadcast into that country. Nothing negative, nothing inflammatory or subversive. Just a positive witness to the love of God and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. But we realized that the act of voicing these programs could pose a risk for our brother, who has already suffered for his faith in Christ. So we asked him to think carefully about it, about whether or not he wanted to do this before he answered us. His reply: “I already expect to die some day for the Lord Jesus, so I might as well do this! I want to bear witness to Christ by the broadcasts.”

You know, spiritual courage is an even greater thing than physical courage. And it comes from faith. Those who trust in God can learn not to be afraid of evil because they know that God holds ultimate power over all human rulers and states. Do you recall the story of Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor? “Why don’t you answer me,” Pilate demanded of Jesus. “Don’t you know I can have you crucified?” “You have no authority except what has been given to you,” Jesus calmly replied. Christians should not be afraid of any human authority because we know a higher one. And we serve a greater king.

FAITH DENIES THE WORLD

Faith defies the world, that is, all the human systems of authority insofar as they oppose God and his law. It has the strength to say no to what is wrong and yes to what is right, even when faced with the threat of punishment or death. At this very moment there are thousands (perhaps millions) of Christians throughout the world who are quietly defying the unjust demands of state power. Persecution of believers for their faith is very real today. But God is giving his people the strength to stand fast for him despite all the threats.

Faith, though, also says no to the world in another sense: Faith denies the world in addition to defying it. In the Bible, as in ordinary conversation, the term world can refer to a number of different things. It can mean the earth, or the physical universe. This world is God’s creation, and as Christians we will respect it and care for it gratefully. “World” can also refer to the world of people, the entire human family. God loves this world, and so should we (John 3:16). But the word “world” in the Bible is also used to describe the whole system of sinful values that humanity has erected in its rebellion against God. The world in this sense is the world of violence and corruption, of human rights abuses, of mindless consumption and waste, of indifference to suffering, of cheap intoxication, of the endless pursuit of pleasure and the relentless accumulation of wealth. Faith says no thank you to that whole system. It refuses to buy into all the values that the world considers important. It prefers to live for the things of God and to identify with the people of God.

Moses had been taken as a little baby to Pharaoh’s palace to be raised as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. We can scarcely imagine the splendor, wealth, and privilege with which he grew up. (Think “Treasures of King Tut” to get some idea.) But one day Moses came unexpectedly to a crossroads in his life. It so often happens that way. You’ll be going along day by day, year after year, following your normal routine, and it seems like your life will always be the same. And then suddenly you turn a corner and find yourself confronting a crisis. You are forced to make a choice that will forever shape your destiny, almost before you realize what is happening. What happened to Moses is that he stumbled upon an Egyptian who was brutally beating a Hebrew slave. Suddenly the issues were defined for him with stark clarity. What do I do? With whom do I side? Who am I? An Egyptian or an Israelite? Where did he belong? In the palace or the slave quarters? Moses made his choice that day and he said no to the world and yes to God.

Notice everything that this decision involved. For Moses, it was a choice against worldly status. “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” Moses chose to surrender his status, his high social position. He gave up the life of a prince for that of a slave.

He also said no to worldly pleasure. By faith Moses chose “rather to share ill treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (v. 25). He preferred to experience the hard life of one of God’s people rather than enjoying all the imagined pleasures of a life without God.

And finally Moses rejected the wealth of the world. “He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt” (v. 26, niv). I wonder how many people really think deep down that knowing and loving Jesus Christ, even though it may bring the contempt of the world, is more valuable than all the wealth of the pharaohs? Believers do. They think exactly that.

To give up an easy and comfortable life for a life of hardship and suffering, to turn your back on wealth and fame in order to follow the Lord, to surrender all that the world considers important and valuable so that you can invest your life in serving God, a God whom the world thinks is either irrelevant or nonexistent – none of that seems like a very smart thing to do. But Moses knew something. He knew that the world’s treasures do not last. What he denied himself, says the Bible, was the fleeting pleasures of sin. Fame and wealth, beauty, youth, appetite and passion, none of them lasts. None of them are permanent.

Moses made his choice to deny the world and cast his lot with the people of God because he believed in God. “Because he was looking ahead to his reward,” says the Bible; “Because he saw him who was invisible.” By faith Moses accepted the reality that physical eyes cannot see. The world’s values and pleasures are not only temporary; they are illusory. God is the only real and ultimate pleasure, and only God can satisfy us. Compared to him, nothing else matters. And you do realize, of course, that Moses didn’t actually give up or lose anything of real value when he said no to the world. “It is no sacrifice,” wrote the missionary martyr Jim Elliott, “to give up what you cannot keep in order to gain what you cannot lose.”

That is the truth.