My Story Ends with Freedom (Sermon)
Frederick Douglass grew up as a slave in Maryland in the early nineteenth century and experienced the brutality of slavery. As an infant, he was taken from his mother. Growing up, all he had to eat was runny corn meal dumped in a trough that kids fought to scoop out with oyster shells. He worked in the hot fields from before sunup until after sundown. He was whipped many times with a cowhide whip until blood ran down his back, kicked and beaten by his master until he almost died, and attacked with a spike by a gang of whites.
But even so, when Frederick considered trying to escape to freedom, he struggled with the decision. He wrote in his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, that he had two great fears. The first was leaving behind his friends: "I had a number of warm-hearted friends in Baltimore; friends that I loved almost as I did my life; and the thought of being separated from them forever was painful beyond expression. It is my opinion that thousands would escape from slavery, who now remain, but for the strong cords of affection that bind them to their friends."
His second fear was this: "If I failed in this attempt, my case would be a hopeless one; it would seal my fate as a slave forever."
On September 3, 1838, he remembers: "I left my chains, and succeeded in reaching New York without the slightest interruption of any kind. I have been frequently asked how I felt when I found myself in a free State. It was a moment of the highest excitement I ever experienced. I felt like one who had escaped a den of hungry lions."
Can you imagine that feeling of freedom? Can you put yourself in his place and consider how it felt to be delivered from slavery?
Deliverance from slavery is a common theme in the Bible. In the New Testament, we discover that every Christian shares the experience of Frederick Douglass. We have all been delivered from slavery.
(Romans 6:6–7 ESV) We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.
From the opening pages of Genesis until the final prophetic scenes in Revelation, we uncover a God who delights to deliver His people from bondage. The Bible reveals a saving God, a rescuing God, a God of deliverance.
The book of Exodus begins with one of the most famous stories of God’s deliverance. It’s a story about how God heard the cries of His oppressed people, performed mighty signs and wonders and accomplished a breathtaking deliverance. Even the name of the book—Exodus—testifies to this amazing story. Exodus means “departure,” and the book of Exodus chronicles Israel’s departure from a land of slavery.
For us, this is far more than an ancient story. It goes beyond an exciting tale of danger and rescue. In this ageless account of the Exodus we learn why God delivered His people and how God delivered His people. This revelation has remarkable relevance to your life and mine.
Why did God deliver His people?
If you remember where the book of Genesis ended, then you’re in for a surprise at the beginning of Exodus. Genesis ends with an Israelite named Joseph rescuing the nation of Egypt from famine. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, invited Joseph’s family to live in Egypt. For 300 years, Joseph’s descendants married and had babies. Their numbers multiplied greatly.
(Exodus 1:8–14 ESV) Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.
The condition of God’s people as slaves in the land of Egypt brings us to the first reason God chose to deliver His people.
1. God delivered them to demonstrate His steadfast love.
Throughout these chapters, we repeatedly see that God heard the cries of His people and remembered the covenant He had made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
(Exodus 2:23–25 ESV) During those days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.
The basis of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants was not their worthiness; it was His love. God’s steadfast love is revealed in His commitment to making and then keeping covenant with a sinful, rebellious people.
God saw and God knew (v.25). What hope we find in that statement. How easy it would have been for an Israelite to assume that God was either blind or ignorant of their plight. In their distress, it could appear that the God who had brought them into the land of Egypt had forgotten them. But God saw and knew.
There is nothing that God doesn’t see. God does not blink. He saw every strike of the whip. He saw every blow of the staff. He saw every kick to the ribs. All of it was done in God’s sight.
There is nothing that God doesn’t know. God doesn’t forget. He doesn’t get confused or distracted. He heard every cry of an anguished heart. He recognized every tear that fell down a muddied cheek. He understood every late night moan that slipped from the lips of a bloodied slave. There is nothing that God doesn’t see and know. Nothing escapes His vision and nothing eludes His understanding.
This should encourage you. You may think that no one else understands the pain of infertility, of desperately wanting children but not being able to conceive. God does. You may think that no one sees your struggle with loneliness. God does. You may think that no one else is overwhelmed by life. No one else recognizes that you are so worn out from trying to care for a house full of little sinners with endless energy that you just want to give up. God sees, and He knows.
God saw the affliction of His people, and He raised up Moses to deliver them. Moses gathered the people of Israel together and told them what God was going to do. Their response?
(Exodus 4:31 ESV) And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.
God would visit His people. He would not desert them. He would not forget them. He would be faithful to the promise He made to their fathers. He would return to them and deliver them. What a picture of faithful love. What a picture of unfailing, never changing love. God’s people understood that His deliverance was a demonstration of His steadfast love to them. After escaping Egypt and crossing through the Red Sea, they sang to Him:
(Exodus 15:13 ESV) “You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed;”
God’s deliverance of Israel cannot be attributed to their love and faithfulness to Him. Like a shepherd searching for a lost sheep, God rescued Israel from Egypt because He is faithful…because He is compassionate…because He loves with a never-ending love.
More than a century ago, some lines of poetry were discovered penciled on the wall of an insane asylum. They were written by a man confined to a dungeon-like room. He wrote:
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
The steadfast love of our God will never be exhausted. It never ceases. Even in the darkest dungeon or the deepest pit, His love never fails. He saw, He knew, He remembered, He loved and He delivered His people from slavery.
2. God delivered them to reveal His glorious character.
God’s love for sinners could cause someone to wrongly assume that the reason for His love and the reason for His saving action on their behalf are somehow related to their loveliness. God loves sinners because sinners are inherently lovely. Nothing could be further from the truth.
God loves sinners because God is glorious. God loves sinners because of something in Him, not something in us. God acts on behalf of sinners because He is committed to spreading His glory from sea to shining sea. God’s deliverance is no testimony to Israel’s worth. It’s a testimony to God’s worth. It reveals that there is no one like Him.
The way God chose to deliver Israel from Egypt’s grip was far from orthodox. He could have called fire down from the sky, fried Pharaoh’s army and flown Israel to the Promised Land. Instead, God sent a series of plagues (10 in all) to Egypt. After each of the first nine plagues, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he refused to let Israel go. Why did God choose to deliver Israel this way?
(Exodus 7:3–5 ESV) But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.”
(Exodus 7:17 ESV) Thus says the LORD, “By this you shall know that I am the LORD: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood.”
(Exodus 8:10 ESV) And he said, “Be it as you say, so that you may know that there is no one like the LORD our God.”
(Exodus 8:22 ESV) “But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people dwell, so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I am the LORD in the midst of the earth.”
(Exodus 9:14 ESV) “For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth.”
(Exodus 9:16 ESV) “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.”
(Exodus 9:29 ESV) Moses said to him, “As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the LORD. The thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the LORD’s.”
(Exodus 10:1–2 ESV) Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.”
We could keep going. God makes the same statement in chapters 11, 14, 16 and 18. We could read chapter 15, a song that praises God for what He did in rescuing His people. All of this was done so that men and women would know that God alone reigns over this earth. All of this was done so that Israel and Egypt would see that there is only one God.
God sent frogs, gnats, flies, boils, hail and locusts. He turned a river to blood and killed all of the livestock. He covered Egypt in darkness for days on end. All so that people would know that He alone is God. His purpose was to spread His glory so that men and women would gladly submit to Him as Lord.
What is sin in Pharaoh (seeking worship and praise) is not sin in God. Often, what is sin in man is righteousness in God. God’s righteousness is seen in His commitment to His glory, but if you were committed to your glory that would be sin in you. The reason is because you are not God—you are not inherently glorious. Because God is by His very nature and to His core glorious, then to be righteous He must be committed to His glory.
If my child were dying of thirst and I had a cup of water and a cup of saltwater, what would you think of me if I gave him the cup of saltwater? If God was not committed to His own glory, then He would be like a father who gave saltwater to His thirsty children. He would be denying them what would satisfy…what would quench their longing.
We were made to see and savor the glory of God. We were made to be restless until we could rest our eyes on the glory of God. God’s commitment to spreading His glory is also a commitment to our good. When He created us, He created us to find delight in the truly delightful. He created us to enjoy the truly enjoyable. He created us to find gladness in Him. He spreads His glory so that we can see and find true delight in His glory.
Brothers and sisters, don’t shy away from discussing God’s commitment to His glory. It can sound to our ears like incredible egotism. And if we said it…if we were committed to our own glory, it would be incredible egotism. But that’s because we don’t have any glory. Our glory, like us, fades like grass in the summer sun. But God’s commitment to His glory becomes to us an eternal fountain of delight. Because He is committed to His glory, and we were created to see and savor that glory, then His glory and our delight are not enemies. They are allies.
We see that clearly in the Exodus. God delivered Israel from Egypt because of His commitment to His glory, and what did that mean for Israel? It meant freedom. God’s glory and their joy were not at odds. Their joy was assured because of God’s dedication to His making His glory known.
So, God delivered His people to reveal His glorious character. Did it work? Was His glory seen? Here’s what Moses’ father-in-law said when he heard about all that had happened in Egypt.
(Exodus 18:10-11 ESV) “Blessed be the LORD, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh and has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods.”
God’s glory—that there is no other god like Him—seen and savored. This is why He delights in bringing deliverance.
3. God delivered them to preserve His promised Son.
God made a promise in the Garden of Eden to send a Savior for mankind. Someday in the future a child would be born who would rise up and crush the head of Satan, destroy all evil and restore man to God.
This account in Exodus begins with a decision by Pharaoh to kill all the newborn boys in Israel.
(Exodus 1:22 ESV) Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.”
No matter what the circumstances this is an unspeakable command. “Toss every male baby in the river so they drown.” Within the context of God’s plan to bring a Son out the nation of Israel, this command is a demonically-inspired plot to subvert God’s plan of ultimate and complete deliverance. In bringing His people out of Israel, God was showing them His commitment to keep the promise He made. Nothing and no one could hinder Him from fulfilling His plan.
In many ways, this entire account is a showdown over sons. God preserved the sons of Israel and destroyed the sons of Egypt. It’s a picture of how the coming Son would destroy all of the enemies of God—the “sons” of the Serpent.
One of the reasons we can trust God is because God always provides what He promises. What God promises, He provides. This is seen after the Exodus when Israel is wandering around the desert hungry and thirsty. God promised to care for them, and He provided all they needed. They were hungry, and bread fell from the sky. They were thirsty, and water gushed from a rock. They were trapped by the armies of Egypt, and the sea parted.
All of these miraculous promises are meant to strengthen our faith. We can trust God. We can safely place our faith in Him. What He promises, He provides. All of these smaller fulfilled promises give us hope that the ultimate promise of a Son who would end evil and reconcile us to God Himself—this promise too would be fulfilled.
God’s deliverance demonstrated His love, revealed His glory and preserved the promise of His Son. No power of hell and no scheme of man could ever prevent God from sending the long-awaited Rescuer.
How did God deliver His people?
We’ve seen why God delivered His people from slavery in Egypt. Now let’s turn our attention to how He delivered them.
Our first response might be to say that He delivered them through the 10 plagues, and that’s true…in part. The focus of the first nine plagues was to reveal His glory, not to bring deliverance. It was the final plague that brought deliverance. Before the first plague, God warned Pharaoh that the firstborn sons of Egypt would die.
But the significance of this event goes beyond the death of the firstborn of Egypt. Its significance is seen in God’s protection of the firstborn of Israel. In an event called the Passover.
Turn to chapter 12. Each household in Israel was to select a lamb. This lamb is described beginning in verse 5:
(Exodus 12:5–7 ESV) Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.
A perfect, spotless lamb was to be killed, and the blood was to be brushed on the doorposts of the house. Why?
(Exodus 12:12–13 ESV) For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.
The blood of the lamb spread on the doorposts of the house brought deliverance from judgment. This was the only way to be spared from the moment of destruction. Deliverance came only through the shedding of blood.
(Exodus 12:24–27 ESV) “You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. And when you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.
Every year, the nation was to celebrate this event. They were to pass it down from generation to generation. No one was to forget that God delivered them from death and from slavery, and that the death of the lamb was what protected them.
When the last prophet of Israel, John the Baptist, saw Jesus Christ he said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” The apostle Paul calls Jesus “our Passover Lamb.”
When Jesus was hanging from the cross, soldiers were sent to break His legs and insure a quicker death. They didn’t break His legs because He was already dead. Here’s what John wrote:
(John 19:36 ESV) For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.”
Now, look down at verse 46. Writing about the Passover Lamb, Moses says:
(Exodus 12:46 ESV) It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones.
Jesus is the Passover Lamb who was killed so your life could be spared. He is the Passover Lamb who died to take away your sin and my sin. Each one of us stands in the same position as those Israelites. We are enslaved, not to a foreign power, but to the power of sin. We are unable to free ourselves. God, in His love, made a way for us to be delivered. He killed the Passover Lamb. Now we must make a decision. Deliverance or destruction? The blood of the Lamb placed on our account means we will be delivered from judgment. But if we are not covered by His blood, then like the Egyptians, we will be destroyed.
(Romans 5:8–9 ESV) But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
Friend, God demonstrated His love for you by sending Jesus Christ to die in your place, because of your sin. His blood can justify you. It can make you stand before God righteous. All you need to do is confess your sin and trust fully in Jesus Christ. His death can save you from the just wrath of God. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Has He taken your sin away?
Jesus is the perfect, spotless Lamb of God. Last week, we saw that He is also a Lion. He is both Lamb and Lion. That’s almost too wonderful to comprehend. How can one be both lamb and lion? Only in Jesus could a statement this amazing be true. Brothers and sisters, we can never exhaust the wonder of our Savior. His glory is an ocean so vast that we will never reach the other side. We will spend all eternity worshipping this Lion and Lamb. We will watch the Lion crush His enemies with a single, powerful strike of His clawed hand, and on that hand, we will see the marks of suffering from when He offered His life as the Passover Lamb. I beg you to find your delight in Him. See and savor all that Jesus Christ is for you.
Our God delights to deliver. We delight in being delivered. God does for us what we need but are unable to do. Do you see the contrast between God’s ability and our inability? The nation of Israel was enslaved. Each day their suffering grew worse. They lived in fear and misery, without hope or a future. But God, with mighty hand and outstretched arm rescued them. He met every need—the need for freedom, safety, protection and deliverance.
Don’t forget who is able to deliver you from that which enslaves you.
(Galatians 5:1 ESV) For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
If you’re a Christian that means that Christ has set you free from sin. You are no longer enslaved. With His power, you can find freedom from the sin that tries to capture you. I wonder how many people in this room are discouraged because of failure. You try and try and try to stop getting angry, but you fail. You try and try and try to say no to lust, but you fail. You try and try and try to forgive, but you fail.
I encourage you to call out to the God who delights in delivering His people. He sees and He knows. He hears and He loves. He will remember His promise to you, and He will bring you safely out of your trial and temptation. Remember, the Israelites were not delivered because of their work; they were delivered because of their cry for help. You did not purchase your freedom with your own effort, and you cannot walk in freedom because of your own effort. Cry out to God, and He will hear.
Harriet Jacobs was born here in North Carolina and into a life of slavery. A portion of her life was spent in hiding from an abusive master. For 7 years, she lived in a tiny cubbyhole under her Grandmother’s porch. Her only companions were the rats and mice. After years of fear and uncertainty, her freedom was purchased for her. Harriet Jacobs understood the pain of slavery. She knew what it was like to be bought and sold as a possession. In 1861, her story was published. The final line in her book was, “Reader, my story ends with freedom.”[i]
Brothers and sisters, because of Jesus Christ, the Passover Lamb, your story ends with freedom. You are free from the chains of sin, and you are free to worship and enjoy Jesus Christ forever.
In some ways, we are in the wilderness right now. We have been freed from Egypt, but we have not yet made it to the Promised Land. Someday we will, and when we do, we will join with the heavenly chorus and sing:
(Revelation 5:9-13 ESV) Worthy are you…for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth. Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!
This sermon was originally preached at Redeemer Community Church in 2012.
[i] Lev Grossman, "Reader, My Story Ends with Freedom," Time (2-9-04), p. 75.