Slideshow image

This blog post is Part 16 of a series entitled "From Fear To Freedom" by Pastor Jeffrey Dean Smith of Donelson First in Nashville, TN. 

Message Date: June 2, 2024

Click here to listen to this message

If you have ever gathered at a large event where there is a lot of people, then you know the excitement and the energy and the euphoria that accompanies such a moment. Either at a concert, or a sporting event, at a July fourth celebration, or downtown music city along the riverbank on New Year's Eve…When you gather with a lot of people, even people you do not even know, there’s an exhilaration about such a moment that can leave you feeling almost breathless!

Well, the Bible too speaks of a similar moment – one I know you will not want to miss; one I pray you do not miss! I’ll explain…The disciples of Jesus asked Him a very important, and unusual, question in Luke 13: “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” Luke 13:23

We do know that multitudes of people will be saved. John saw this in his vision of heaven which is recorded in Revelation 7:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. Revelation 7:9

What a gathering this will be – after a lifetime of worldly challenges, pains, fears, losses and death – when we are finally free of these earthly bodies and will hurt no more. Yet, we too know that so very many people will perish; so very many will never join with every tribe and every nation and with people of every language standing before the throne of God. Clearly, more people will be lost than will be saved.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. Matthew 7:13

Knowing this truth, that so very much of humanity will spend an eternity separated from God in eternal destruction, I wonder if you can attest today that this is your desire; your passion; your spiritual ambition to do whatever is necessary, whatever the Lord asks of you, to speak His truths, to be His voice, and to proclaim His ways to the world? We see throughout the Scriptures that people over and again were willing to do the hard things; to have the hard conversations; to place themselves in hard places in order to accomplish the will of God. 

At this present place in the story of this 80 year-old man, we see Moses doing one hard thing after the other. We know he has now traveled hundreds of miles to stand before the most powerful man on the planet to deliver an extremely hard message. We too see, though Moses is still a man vacillating between his fears and his confidence, he too is a man stepping into his own as one of devotion; allegiance; loyalty; fidelity. You see, and I know you know this… but I remind you of this today Church: Moses could never, both submit to Pharaoh, and too, obey the ways of God. Such a task would be impossible. For Moses to submit to the Pharaoh requires complete defiance of the ways of Jehovah God. Now, some say… “Moses did not have a choice. God would have just made his life miserable until Moses agreed to follow God.” Well… I say…

You always have a choice. And it is your response to such a choice that defines your life as one of complete allegiance to God or to man.

It too will be this choice that defines how we each spend eternity. Moses had to choose. Striving for both would prove impossible. He would either prove his allegiance to Pharaoh thus disobeying God, or obediently follow the ways of God thus placing himself at odds with the Pharaoh. Isn’t this the very call before our lives today as the Church; as followers of the Christ? I dare say it is a call so very many in the Church choose to ignore; a call from which so very many in the Church retreat…

To answer such a call requires the Christian to fully examine ones allegiance. And in doing so, the “narrow way” immediately forces a born again believer out of the bleachers, off the sidelines, and directly onto the battlefield.

Today there is another ever-increasingly popular call for evangelicals to remake Christianity into a religion [I would say is] more inclusive. There is an effort from both within and outside the Church to make the narrow gate Jesus describes in Matthew 7 more wide under the banner of grace and compassion. Now, I want to be clear as a Pastor that I am opposed to any form of Christianity that holds strongly to truth without embracing compassion; one that proclaims righteousness without forgiveness. But one must not forget that the call to proclaim the true ways of God is a call that is undoubtedly and too unapologetically divisive; it is a call that leaves for no middle ground; it is a call that, as Jesus stated:

Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.  Matthew 10:21-22

From the moment God revealed His will to Moses as Moses stood barefoot on holy ground before a burning bush, Moses was forced to decide upon whom his allegiance would rest. And his choice to journey back to the land where he had once been wanted dead was one that now placed him at odds with so very many people, including his family. Answer this question, “What was the most powerful tool with which God equipped Moses?” Was it the staff which Moses is commanded to throw to the ground and turn into a snake? Was it the leprous hand that was to be revealed to the Pharaoh during their conversation? Was the most powerful tool God provided to Moses the comfort of having his brother, Aaron, by his side? I say, “No” to all of this. The most powerful tool the Lord afforded to Moses - - God’s words!

Do you know what four words are spoken more than 800 times throughout the Scriptures? It is these four words that set apart any words verbalized by all of humanity. Too, these four words are used by every single prophet of the nation of Israel throughout the Old Testament writings as they deliver the words of a Holy God. Each of Israel’s prophets began their announcement with these four words. The four words: “Thus saith the Lord.” Now in your translation of the Bible, these words may read:  “This is what the Lord says…” “This is what Yahweh says…” “The words of the Lord say…” Or as often is the case in the NIV, from which I teach: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says…” or “This is what the Lord, Almighty, says…” Again, over 800 times in the Holy Scriptures, we read where God’s messengers want to make it abundantly clear that God is the One speaking:

Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices. Zecharia 1:4

This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. Jeremiah 6:16

Therefore say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: None of my words will be delayed any longer; whatever I say will be fulfilled, declares the Sovereign Lord.’” Ezekiel 12:28

King David, King Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Hose, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Nahum, Zephaniah, and so very many more authors of God’s Holy Word share the truths of God’s word by using these four words. These four words are so very powerful because they set apart God’s words in comparison to man’s words.Whenever we read these four words throughout the Scriptures, we should pause with an expectant heart knowing that what we are about to hear are in fact not the words of mere mortals, but instead, are the very words of a Holy God. This is precisely what Moses does when standing before the Pharaoh for the first time. He, along with Aaron, clearly articulate in their very first sentence, that the words to be delivered are not words from man. Rather, these words are holy words; set apart words; ordained words; God’s words.

Exodus 5:1

Moses wants to clearly articulate to Pharaoh from moment one of their dialogue that the words he delivers are the words from a Holy God. Of course we quickly see that Pharaoh is not concerned with the words of Moses nor the fact that such words are derived from the Jehovah God.

Exodus 5:2-9

It is important that you keep in mind that the Egyptians, and most likely Pharaoh himself, believed that the Pharaoh was a god. The Egyptians had a phrase they often repeated:

“Neter nefer!” /Egyptian/ Akkadian / Arabic = the perfect god; the god of slave people

So it makes complete sense to understand why the King of Egypt felt it not necessary whatsoever to follow the commands of God as outlined by Moses and Aaron to let the nation of Israel go. After all, Pharaoh himself believed, as a god, he could do as he pleased and that no one could tell him to do otherwise. Too, the Egyptian religion is the oldest pagan religion in the world. And within their religion were many, so very many, varying gods they worshipped. We are going to dive deeper into this next week as we examine the plagues inflicted by God upon the Egyptians and how specifically defiant each plague is as it’s directed squarely against the many false gods of the Egyptians.

So when Moses steps into the palace on this day to speak to the Pharaoh on behalf of the one true God, Pharaoh dismisses the words of Moses believing they are merely words of an inferior god, if a god at all, of whom he is not privy. Such a move will eventually prove to be fatal for the King, his family, and the entire nation of Egypt. Before moving on in this story, I want us to consider in greater detail several take-aways from the conversation Moses has with Pharaoh. For we will surely build on this encounter between the two as we move forward. As I have thought more through their conversation this week, I have gathered three thoughts:z

1. The world will never approve of, nor fully comprehend, the Christian’s life of obedience.  Paul wrote about this very comprehension when speaking to the church in Corinth:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

When Moses declares what the Lord has told him, Pharaoh is only concerned about the fact that the Hebrews are slacking in their work.

Exodus 5:4-9

I should not expect the world will ever see my obedience to the Lord as anything other than ludicrous. And this is why we are warned of the temptation ever before you and me to turn our allegiance to the things, and the people, of the world:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life - comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. 1 John 2:15-17

If my goal is to gain the world’s approval (or in the case with Jamie, my girlfriend’s approval,) it is only a matter of time before I compromise my obedience to the Lord. 

2. The choice of obedience is not necessarily understood by those closest to you. We saw this play out last week with Moses’ wife and two sons whom we believe are no longer traveling with him. Moses, with the assistance of his wife Zipporah, had to make a hard decision to obey God’s will. Zipporah was disgusted with this decision, and it appears the two lived estranged throughout the remaining years of Moses’ life. Now we see that Moses has once again upset others once loyal to him because of his obedience to the will of God:

Exodus 5:19-21

This is only the beginning of the disdain the nation of Israel will have against Moses for doing what God requests of him. I presume that Moses carried an immense weight on his shoulders as he journeyed the next 40 years presumably without his family by his side and with millions of Hebrews who, at times, questioned every move he made as their leader. Obedience is hard. Really hard. And too, as we discussed last week, often extremely lonely.

And I have found this to be true – those closest to you can often be those who most misunderstand your pursuit of obedience.

Even Jesus dealt with this very real and painful reality: For even his own brothers did not believe in him. John 7:5

I know there are many, so very many, here today who have a family member who does not believe as do you in the Christ. You have shared this with me. One of our members has numerous children who are not believers, and who even no longer speak to him because of his faith. Another member shared with me shortly after she began attending DF that her daughter does not believe in God and often treats her with disdain and disrespect over her beliefs. There is so very much I could offer about this reality, knowing that so very many here at DF wrestle with this very real and painful struggle. I will quickly offer this: God sees your pain, and He understands. In His Son’s most excruciating moment, He watched as the world turned away from the Savior. He wants you to know, that even when the world turns its back on you, He will not.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:8-9

A third truth I see from Moses’ first encounter with Pharaoh is one I too offer to you as a response to how we are to reason with these first two truths I have just offered:

3. Obedience with challenges is far better than disobedience with consequences. Man… I sure want our church to grow. And I sure want people to like me. And I sure want to feel good about myself. And I sure want to make people happy. But more than any of these things I want, I want to want more doing the will of God. Obediently following the will of God is not always fun. Remaining obedient to His will is almost never easy. Too, living the obedient life will become increasingly unpopular for the Christian and the Church. We haven’t spoken much of the Pharaoh. And in a few more weeks, he will no longer be a part of this story and we will not really speak of the King of Egypt again. But in his response to Moses, we learn two character qualities of this man that warrant our attention. Because it is these two qualities that, at the core, are the very two qualities that seem to drive much of the disobedience we as humans adopt. Look again at Pharaoh’s first response to Moses and see if you can see these two character flaws:

Exodus 5:4-5

The first character flaw we see is quite obvious. And it is the sin of:

1. Selfishness
The King of Egypt could care less about anything or anyone other than himself – his comforts, his life of privilege, and his standard of living. He simply believes that Moses has halted the workflow of the Hebrews, and he wants them working again. Period. Selfishness is simply this:

Selfishness = an attitude of concern over one’s interests above the interests of others.

The Bible warns us of this in Philippians 2:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:3-4

Paul compares selfishness to “empty conceit” - a term that could be translated “vanity” or “arrogance.” It refers to an overly high opinion of oneself. Selfishness, then, is similar to narcissism. Combating the sin of selfish ambition requires genuine humility. Unpretentious humility involves having a true perspective about oneself in relation to God. 

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. Romans 12:3

Notice the very first question Pharaoh asks of Moses:

Exodus 5:2

Pharaoh asks of Moses a fantastic question. Regrettably, he doesn’t take the time to truly gather information from Moses as to who is the God of the Hebrews. Rather than allowing Moses to speak into his heart about the Jehovah God, Pharaoh quickly diverts the conversation to the fact that Pharaoh wasn’t getting what he wanted - - the Hebrews working without any distractions. This is selfishness at its core. Obviously, the Pharaoh was never interested in listening, truly listening to Moses as to who is “the Lord.” How very often are we guilty of such, Church? Consider your prayer life as you answer this question:

When I pray, who talks more? God or me?

I am often so very guilty of doing all of the talking when I am praying. Rather than pausing to truly hear about God’s will for my life, I selfishly pivot to the things important to me. I want to encourage you this week to have a “self-less” time of prayer. Set aside 5 minutes to pray once a day this week and simply listen! Had Pharaoh taken the time to sit and listen to Moses’ response as to who is the God of the Hebrews, he may have never lost his kingdom. Had Pharaoh taken the time to sit and listen to Moses’ response as to who is the God of the Hebrews, he may have never lost his nation. Had Pharaoh taken the time to sit and listen to Moses’ response as to who is the God of the Hebrews, he may have never lost his first born. Had Pharaoh taken the time to sit and listen to Moses’ response as to who is the God of the Hebrews, he may have never contributed to the dead bodies of the Egyptian army soon to be floating in the Red Sea.

I wonder how so very many things we have lost or, at a minimum, failed to gain because, during our times of prayer, we have been too selfishly focused on talking rather than taking the time to truly listen to the heart of God and listen to what He has to say to us. I wonder how many times, how so very many times, you and I have missed receiving God’s words and being the better for it because our focus was on talking rather than listening. I dare say so many of us have missed what God wants to say because we have been too selfish spewing what it is we think we need to say. Of course God wants us to share with him the very deepest of our thoughts. But let me remind you church - conversation is a two-way street, and if all I am doing is talking, then really what all I am doing is being selfish.

God’s words are more valuable to me than my words are to Him.

Another character flaw we see in the Pharaoh that too often surfaces in our own lives of disobedience:

2. Fear
I keep reminding y’all, fear runs rampant through this study. This story is riddled with fear! Fear is such a powerful force in our lives. It motivates us in such negative ways. Notice what Pharaoh specifically says about the nation of Israel:

Exodus 5:5

Pharaoh is concerned over what? Pharaoh is concerned over how numerous the nation of Israel has become. He is fearful that if his work force continues to stop working and producing, that his standard of life will be greatly impacted. Pharaoh, rather than doing what was right, wanted the life he wanted. And obeying God would get in the way of exactly this! Man, does any of this convict you as it does me, Church? Pharaoh’s display of both selfishness and fear are representative of the struggles of so very many people …selfishly wanting what I want and my fear over not getting what I want…and therefore, responding to God’s will disobediently by saying, “I’ll do my own thing in my own way to get the results I want rather than to live the life God desires.” Do such struggles sound familiar to anyone here today?

One truth we can learn from Pharaoh is that selfishness and fear, if not kept in check, can lead to catastrophic consequences.

Interestingly, both Pharoah and Moses struggle with very real fears. But you see Church, the deal isn’t the struggle. The deal is – how they handle their struggles. Regrettably, Pharaoh allowed his fears to motivate him to make choices that displeased God. Moses took his fears directly to God. And that’s the very question before us today: “How do I handle the struggle of fear in my life?”

It’s unrealistic to think that you and I won’t find ourselves in positions where selfishness and fear slither their way into our lives. What is important is, in such moments, does one turn from God or lean into God. Pharoah allowed his selfishness and fear to continue leading the way, and soon, the end result will be disastrous for the entire nation of Egypt. Though Moses is a flawed man, what I am learning from his story is how to properly respond to my selfishness and fear in a way that invites God into the story.

Lastly, notice how God responds:

Exodus 6:1

God says, “See what I will do!” - God

Sadly, so very many Christians I presume never arrive at the place of “seeing what God will do” because selfishness and fear lead the way. Church, let us surrender our selfishness and fear and let us each “see what God will do!”


Jeffrey Dean Smith is a husband, father to Bailey & Brynnan, author, and the Senior Pastor at Donelson First in Nashville, TN. If you are in Music City, meet Jeffrey and enjoy iced tea on the front lawn each Sunday at 10:30a.