The Great Refusal
October 2, 2008
“The greatest thing you will ever do is learn how to say no.”
I’m not sure who said that, but whoever it was spoke the truth. Nothing is harder than learning how to say no at the right time, in the right way, for the right reasons. Life is made up of choices, in fact, that’s really all life is—a series of choices we make that lead us in one direction or another. We make our choices and our choices turn around and make us.
In the last few days I’ve been corresponding with a young man who is not yet 21. As he looks at his life, he does not like what he sees.
I have made many mistakes. I find my self now full of regret. I have a long list of things I am sorry for and a extremely short list of things to be proud of. I just finished your book “An Anchor for the Soul” one thing stood out more then anything else. It was the story of the older man who was dying of cancer and told you to tell the young people to not waste time anymore. Pastor Ray, I have wasted my life, up to this point.
I received a letter from a different young man of about the same age.
I have been incarcerated for seven months now and have three months left. I grew up in the church but then I fell away by (the influence of) all the lost of this world. I know that getting out of jail will be a fight cause this big world is very corrupt. I wanna share a verse with you that I read and think about every morning. It’s Joshua 24:15, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.” Every day I choose the Lord for me.
Though that second young man is in jail, he has learned something that the first young man is still figuring out. Every day we choose to go one direction or another. We can’t say yes to this without saying no to that. It is the same in the spiritual realm. We cannot serve God and mammon. It’s light or darkness, sin or righteousness, life or death, heaven or hell. Go ahead and make your choice.
Before we say yes, we have to learn to say no. That’s the message from the life of Moses as it is summarized in Hebrews 11:24-28. I am struck by the fact that the writer pitches the story in the negative. Moses did great things for God because he learned to say no.
We can sum up the life of this great man in five simple statements, each one emphasizing the Great Refusal that led to the Great Deliverance of God’s People.
I. He Refused Egypt’s Fame.
“By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter” (v. 24).
This may seem to be an act of ingratitude since it was Pharaoh’s daughter who saved him. She was the one who found him in the basket floating in the reeds along the bank of the Nile. She was the one who ended up paying his mother (she didn’t know it at the time and apparently never knew the real story) to be his nurse. She was the one who protected him when her father, the Pharaoh, had ordered all the Hebrew baby boys be put to death. And she must have been the one who took care of him and gave oversight to his education in the Egyptian court. I assume she made sure he had the best tutors to teach him the Egyptian language, culture and history. I am sure she protected him from anyone who questioned his heritage. From the few details we glean from Exodus 2, Pharaoh’s daughter seems like a strong, wise and compassionate woman. She took Moses in and raised him—and yet he refused to be known as her son.
Every day we choose to go one direction or another.</h6 class=”pullquote”>
Why is that? It cannot be because of basic ingratitude, as if Moses took advantage of the situation but did not love and appreciate what Pharaoh’s daughter had done. He owed her his very life. I think the answer lies elsewhere.
Let me throw out a few names and see if you recognize any of them:
These are all presidential daughters. Here’s an undeniable fact about all of them. We know them by their last names. (Some of them I had never heard of before.) Their main claim to fame is being the daughter of a president. For instance, I know nothing about Eliza Monroe except that she was the daughter of President James Monroe. And Amy Carter? Well, we know a lot about her, all of it because of her father, President Jimmy Carter. To say that is not to deny the singular accomplishments of these women. Some have gone on to do noteworthy things. It is simply to acknowledge that they are forever remembered as presidential daughters in the public memory.
The same was surely true—and much more so—for Pharaoh’s daughter. After all, he was the most powerful man in the world. His word meant life or death. To be his daughter meant living in the lap of luxury. I think Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter precisely because she was Pharaoh’s daughter. Although he must have loved and appreciated her, he did not want to be joined in anyone’s mind with the Pharaoh whose lifestyle and religion he rejected.
Some scholars suggest that in those days the line of succession passed through the daughter of Pharaoh. If so, Moses was in line to become the leader of the most powerful nation on earth. The upshot is this: Moses had everything he wanted and everything that most people would give anything to have. He had power. Clap his hands and in came a dozen men to do his bidding. Clap again and servants delivered trays of food. Whatever he wanted, he could have.
Moses had everything he wanted and everything that most people would give anything to have.</h6 class=”pullquote”>
Here is the irony of it all. When he got to the height of his power, he gave it all up. Refused it. Relinquished it. Let it all go. It was not an easy decision to make because he knew that no one, least of all Pharaoh’s daughter, the woman to whom he owed his life, would understand. It seemed foolish, as if he was throwing away his whole future. By any normal standard, it didn’t make sense.
Don’t miss the point. Moses made a choice. Our problem is not that we don’t make the choice. It is rather that we don’t see that a choice even needs to be made. We think we’re supposed to live in Egypt! It hasn’t occurred to us to leave. We like being Pharaoh’s daughter.
II. He Repudiated Egypt’s Pleasure.
“He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time” (v. 25).
Note how the text puts it. “He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God.” It doesn’t call them “the Jews” or “the Hebrews,” even though those terms would be accurate. Moses didn’t make his decision on a racial or ethnic basis. It’s as if Moses stood in front of the Egyptians and said something like this: “You thought you knew me but you didn’t. I’m not one of you, and I’ve never been one of you. I may look like you and talk like you and dress like you and act like you, but down deep in my heart, I’m a different person. All these years in your midst haven’t changed my basic identity. Those Hebrew slaves who seem so troublesome to you, I’m one of them because they are the followers of the true and living God. Though you hate and despise them, they are my people and I cannot stand by and turn my face away while they are suffering. If they are hated, I will be hated too. If they suffer, I will suffer. If they are mistreated, then I will be mistreated with them. What happens to them will happen to me. I will no longer live as if I were an Egyptian because I’m not. I am a follower of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and it’s time I cast my lot with my own people.”
Our problem is not that we don’t make the choice. It is rather that we don’t see that a choice even needs to be made.</h6 class=”pullquote”>
Moses is the kind of guy who scares the people of the world. They don’t get him, he doesn’t fit into any of their categories, and they can’t buy him off. What deal can you make with a man who doesn’t want anything you have to offer?
III. He Resigned Egypt’s Wealth.
“He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward” (v. 26).
This surely made no sense to his Egyptian friends. “Moses, are you nuts? Have you lost your mind? If you want to help your own people, stay here with us in Pharaoh’s court. You can help them better here than by becoming one of them.”
So why would a man do something like this? The Bible says simply, “He was looking ahead to his reward.” Moses did some mental reckoning. He looked at the earthly glories of Egypt and figured out that it amounted to nothing compared with the glory that would come to those who trust the Lord and walk by faith. Somehow, like Abraham before him, he saw in the distance the coming of the Lord, and he knew it would be better to suffer for the Lord with the Lord’s people than to live in the lap of luxury in Egypt.
Again, our text is explicit about the choice he made.
He chose to be mistreated.
He counted it an honor to suffer for the Lord.
Christians today still have to make that choice. Several weeks ago I spoke at a missions conference sponsored by Alpha Ministries, an organization preaching the gospel and planting churches in India and throughout Asia. Benny Mathews, the Executive Director of Alpha Ministries, gave us an update on the persecution of Christians by Hindu extremists in India. We saw videos of Christian pastors being beaten as they were paraded through the streets. We saw the physical evidence of severe violence against Christians. We saw a picture of a young girl who had been raped. I saw a video, taken by the Hindu attackers, as they entered the home of a Christian pastor and began to destroy his possessions. As they beat him, the pastor said, “Father, forgive them.” In many cases Christians will not press charges because they are praying for their persecutors to be saved.
On Tuesday morning of the conference Benny received a call from his wife in India. She reported that a day earlier fifteen churches had been destroyed by Hindu extremists. In one case they had found a pastor and ordered him to burn all the Bibles in his church. When he refused, they cut off his hand.
This is not news from twenty years ago. This happened just a few days ago.
When I spoke at the conference, I confessed that after watching the videos, I found myself getting very angry. And I wondered out loud how I would respond in that situation. But I said—and I do believe this—that those Indian believers who at this moment are suffering so much are more like Jesus than I am.
Moses chose . . . the Indian believers have chosen . . . we all have to choose. We’ve got to decide which team we’re on, which uniform we’re going to wear, whose colors we will carry, what flag we will fly, what name we will bear, and what price we will pay for what we believe.
It’s always easier to stay in Egypt. Plenty of rewards for the home team—at least in the short run. But in the long run, Egypt vanishes into the dust, but those who do the will of God abide forever.
IV. He Renounced Egypt’s King.
“By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible” (v. 27).
This refers to the moment when Moses fled Egypt and dwelt in the wilderness of Midian for forty years. That’s a long time to be separated from his own people. While things were getting worse in Egypt, he was biding his time, and there was no sign that he would ever return to deliver his people.
It’s always easier to stay in Egypt.</h6 class=”pullquote”>
Forty years is a long time to wait. I can imagine Moses talking to the Lord saying something like, “If you want me to deliver your people from Egypt, let’s get the program rolling. Why am I wasting all this time in the wilderness?” Good question, and yet nothing was wasted. We can look back and see that in Egypt, God was arranging the details so that at just the right moment, one king would die and another would take his place, clearing the way for Moses to return. Meanwhile Moses met and married his wife and proved his faithfulness by taking care of his father-in-law’s sheep. And it is not by chance—though it seemed that way—that God appeared to Moses in the burning bush while he was tending to the sheep in a remote part of the wilderness. The King James Version calls it the “backside of the wilderness” (Exodus 3:1). Basically that means you go to the end of the world, turn left, go five more miles, and then you come to the “backside of the wilderness.”
It’s the middle of nowhere.
It’s a long way from anywhere.
It’s the last place where you would expect to meet God.
So, naturally, that’s where Moses met God. And it happened in a remote place while he was in the midst of the routine (and sometimes disagreeable) task of herding his father-in-law’s sheep. He’s just doing his job, taking care of business, making sure the sheep are cared for. He’s not thinking, “Today God will speak to me in a burning bush.” He’s thinking, “I hope there’s water somewhere around here.”
And in the midst of doing his duty, in the normal routine of life, in a most unlikely place, God speaks to him. That’s how it usually happens. He works on his own timetable, according to his own agenda, moving at his own pace. People ask me from time to time, Can God speak to me? And I tell them, Don’t worry. He’s got your number on Speed Dial. He can ring your phone any time day or night—and you won’t put him on Call Waiting either.
V. He Rejected Egypt’s Religion.
“By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel” (v. 28).
Finally the moment of ultimate truth came after God spoke to Moses, after he returned to Egypt, after his confrontations with the Pharaoh, and after nine of the ten plagues had come upon the land. God’s way of deliverance means bidding farewell to Egypt once and for all. God tell his people that if they want to be delivered, each family must kill an unblemished one-year-old lamb, and then take the blood and put it on the doorposts and the lintel at the top of the door. Then they must roast the meat and eat it with bitter herbs. They are to eat all of it and eat it quickly.
On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt (Exodus 12:12-13).
Talk about a moment of decision! This was the decisive break with Egypt and all that it represented. And it was life or death for the firstborn.
People ask me from time to time, Can God speak to me? And I tell them, Don’t worry. He’s got your number on Speed Dial.</h6 class=”pullquote”>
Either the lamb dies.
Or the firstborn of the family dies.
The blood must be shed either way. Suppose you were an Israelite being asked to sacrifice your prized lamb and smear its blood on the door for all the neighbors to see. Would you do it? Or would you be embarrassed by such a thought?
Someone reading about the first Passover might say, “This story is absurd!” But I assure you that it is entirely true. Suppose an Israelite had refused to sacrifice a lamb. His firstborn would have died that night. Being a Jew could not save on that fateful night. It’s not national origin that matters to God but faith in God’s appointed way of salvation.
In the same way, it is not your denominational affiliation that matters to God. It’s not about being Catholic or Baptist or Lutheran. And it doesn’t have anything to do with your education, your wealth, your status, your achievements, the money you’ve made, the awards you’ve won, and it certainly doesn’t involve how many important people you know.
God wants to know one thing, “Do you have faith that the blood of Jesus can wash away all your sins?” Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The blood of Jesus washes away every sin (1 John 1:7). What the passover lamb represented in the Old Testament, Jesus fulfills in the New Testament. In our day there are those who want no part in that bloody religion. I can remember one Sunday many years ago when I was preparing to preach on salvation through the cross of Christ. I wanted to sing the famous hymn by William Cowper called There is a Fountain. Someone objected because they thought the first verse was too graphic:
There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
After all these years, I can still remember the conversation. People won’t like it. Someone will be offended. Who wants to think about being plunged into a fountain filled with blood? And so it went, on and on. There was no reasoning with the person who made the objections. It was either sing it or not.
We sang the song on Sunday and the people were greatly blessed.
The same objections can be raised about the whole concept of substitutionary atonement. The idea of God’s Son dying for the sins of the world offends many people. Some call it “divine child abuse” and mock the very idea of the blood of Jesus saving anyone. It is too repulsive for the modern conscience, or so we are told. But God’s way is always repulsive to the people of the world. So we are faced with the choice of watering down God’s way to make it more palatable, or we stand strong and believe and teach the way of salvation.
Two Men in Egypt
Consider two men in Egypt on the afternoon before that fateful night. One is a good, moral Egyptian, the other an immoral, dishonest Israelite. Somehow the two men have become friends, despite their many cultural differences. The Egyptian enjoys the friendship of the Israelite even if he does not understand his strange religion. And the Israelite has seen many advantages to forging a relationship with a man from Egypt. So it was that they chatted together that day, the Israelite describing in some detail his plans to kill a lamb and put the blood on the doorpost. Only he sees no purpose in this strange thing. Why should he waste a perfectly good lamb (his best one) on such a useless endeavor? The Egyptian agrees, but wonders all the while about the many terrible plagues that have befallen his native land. They part, promising to chat the next morning.
But God’s way is always repulsive to the people of the world.</h6 class=”pullquote”>
But that conversation never takes place. Later that afternoon the Israelite keeps putting off killing his best lamb. His wife pleads and begs, “Sweetheart, it’s time. Don’t wait too late.” When the appointed hour comes, he kills the lamb but not with any enthusiasm. He delays till the last moment putting the blood on the doorpost. 10:30 comes and goes, then 11:00 and the dear wife is fearful her husband will delay too long. Their four children, including the firstborn son who looks so much like his father, gather round the table. 11:30 and still the man delays. 11:45 and still the man has not done it. His wife weeps before him. “How can you risk the life of your oldest son like this?” Grudgingly, the man takes the hyssop and applies the blood to the doorpost. His wife smiles, now satisfied because her family is safe.
Midnight comes and goes and nothing happens. Not a sound is heard. Not even a dog barking.
No Blood on the Door!
But in Egypt wild screaming, shrieks, wailing, women crying, fathers shouting. Death! Everywhere, Death! Firstborn sons and daughters dying in their sleep. Firstborn cattle dead in their stalls. Not a family is left untouched by the death angel. In the home of the good and moral Egyptian man, sudden terror and then wailing. Their 15-year-old son, the heir to the family business, their hope for the future, their comfort in old age, has suddenly stopped breathing. He dies so suddenly they don’t even have time to say good-bye.
For those who reject the blood of Jesus, God has no other plan of salvation. </h6 class=”pullquote”>
Why did he die? Because there was no blood on the door!
But what if the Egyptian had put blood on his door and the Israelite had not? Then the roles would be reversed.
The blood of the Lamb makes the difference. For those who reject the blood of Jesus, God has no other plan of salvation. He is God’s Lamb, the one whose blood covers every sin. Anyone, anywhere, at any time who comes to Jesus will not be turned away. If you are willing to plunge “beneath that flood,” in one shining moment, you will lose “all your guilty stains.”
What about you? Do you believe what God has said about his Son? Have you ever trusted Christ as your Savior? Will you say “no” to Egypt and “yes” to the Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you? Come to Christ just as you are. Run to the cross. Lay hold of the Son of God and put your trust in him. May God help you to come to Christ just as you are, wherever you are, right now. Amen.