Passing Through the Red Sea

October 5, 2008 / No. 3431

Dear radio friends,

If you were able to listen to last week’s broadcast, you will remember that we looked into the truth of baptism. What is the importance and significance of baptism, according to the Bible? We learned from the Word of God that baptism is, first of all, a beautiful sign to us and an oath from God that all of our sins are washed away in the blood of Christ. To the believer, baptism represents cleansing in the precious blood of Jesus.

But we saw, from the Word of God, that baptism represents more. It also represents a separation from sin. It means that one has been brought into a gracious covenant with God, and in that covenant lives and walks and talks as a friend of God.

This, namely, that baptism is the sign of a new and holy life, is the teaching of the apostle Paul (of the Holy Spirit) in the word of God in I Corinthians 10:1, 2. And it is that teaching that we wish to understand today. We read: “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”

The apostle Paul is teaching there that biblical baptism represents to the believer that we have been delivered from a life of sin, from the bondage of sin, into a life of faith and obedience. And we have been separated from enslaving lust to the freedom of Christ. This is what baptism represents. Paul has, in this part of his epistle to the Corinthians, been warning believers against being spiritually lackadaisical, against spiritual apathy. The Corinthians knew well that they had been freed by Jesus Christ from the condemnation of their sins. But they had become indifferent. They had indulged their own sinful pleasures and had not denied themselves their sins for the sake of Christ. And so the apostle, in the last part of chapter 9, using the figures of running a race or fighting in a boxing match, tells them (and us) that the Christian life calls for focused, strenuous, spiritual effort, including self-denial. The Christian life is not an indulgent attitude, but a passionate, committed struggle to live a new, godly life, to be like Christ.

The apostle then continues that idea in the tenth chapter, and he goes after the idea that, if the outward symbols of Christianity have been pronounced upon a person, then somehow all must be well. He says, “No, those outward symbols of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are indeed important and precious things to a child of God, but they point to a spiritual reality. They must not simply be received as an outward sign that all is well and it does not matter the state of one’s heart.” The apostle is teaching that those things call us to a new and holy life.

He says, “I don’t want you to forget, I don’t want you to be ignorant, that all of the fathers (our spiritual fathers—the children of Israel) were baptized.” But then he goes on to say in verse 5: “But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness.” They lusted and they murmured and they tempted God, he goes on to say in the tenth chapter. And his point is this. Yes, Christian baptism, to the believer, represents an amazing cleansing from sin. But it also represents a deliverance, a deliverance or separation, an escape from the bondage of Egypt and Pharaoh, or the bondage of our sins and death, unto a life of faith, love for Christ, and godliness.

The apostle Paul, then, is using Israel’s passing through the Red Sea as a picture of what baptism represents to believers.

The memory of the Red Sea was to the children of Israel a dramatic and unforgettable reminder of God’s powerful deliverance from slavery. How could they ever forget? They had been the bondmen of Pharaoh. And God, by bringing them through the Red Sea, had delivered them. So also our baptism reminds us of the deliverance from the bondage of sin and death unto a new life of obedience in Christ.

The people of Israel, when they were slaves in Egypt at the time of Moses, were trapped and they were afraid. Moses now had brought them out, after the ten plagues upon Egypt, and Pharaoh had ordered them to get out of the land. And God had led them. But God had led them to a place that was a dead end. Mountains stood to the right and mountains to the left. The Red Sea was straight ahead of them. And Pharaoh, who had a change of heart and decided that he was going to take the people back to be his slaves, is coming up from behind. Pharaoh behind them is driving the greatest army in the world of that day. He has six hundred chariots as an advance force, with the brigades and divisions of his army just behind. So Israel was trapped and afraid.

They were in that condition because God had led them there. He had led them there by the cloud. God led Israel by a cloud in the day, a great cloud, and a pillar of fire by night. And deliberately He had led them to a dead end so that Pharaoh would say, “They are entangled (that is, boxed in) in the land. The wilderness has shut them in. I can get them back.”

God had brought Israel to this impossible situation to teach them. He had brought them to this situation not only to bring judgment upon Pharaoh, but also to strengthen the faith of the people of Israel for their journey to the land of Canaan. Yes, God was preparing them. He wanted them to see what He would do, so that in the future they would remember. God is always leading us. And He is especially leading when you have come to your dead end. He is leading you then especially, to teach you to trust in Him.

Israel was very afraid. We read in the book of Exodus that when “Pharaoh drew nigh, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes and, behold, the Egyptians marched after them. And they were sore afraid. And the children of Israel cried unto the Lord.” Fear seized them and froze them. Fear incapacitated them from doing what they should: trust in God! Instead of trusting in God they, Israel, as so often we, began to lay charges against Moses and against God. We read, “And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? Wherefore hast thou dealt with us?” The charges were not only against Moses who had led them out of Egypt and now apparently to the dead end on the banks of the Red Sea, but also against God. We read in Psalm 106:7: “Our fathers…provoked him [that is, God] at the sea, even at the Red sea.”

Moses responds with prayer. He speaks to the children of Israel and he says to them, “Don’t be afraid. Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.” He said to them, as God says to us when we are brought to the moment of trial and desperation, “Fear not. Don’t let fear race through you. Yes, this is what you see—a hopeless situation—mountains to the right and left, water in front, the enemy behind, apparently hopeless, no human solution presents itself. But stand still. Trust in the Lord. Believe the salvation of God, that He controls all things and will not fail you or forsake you.” Moses said to them: “Fear ye not. Stand still. Have a patient trust in God. Do not rush to your own strength to deliver you. But be steadfast in your faith. Be still and know that He is God!”

And God did deliver the children of Israel. He tells Moses: “Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward.” Yes, first Moses needed to tell them to stand still, trust, wait upon the Lord, believe His promises. But then, “Go forward!” Trust and obey.

God then placed that pillar of cloud, that great pillar, between the Egyptian army and Israel, so that to the Egyptians it gave darkness and to Israel it gave great light. Then He commanded Moses to stretch forth his rod over the sea. And the Red Sea was parted! We read again in Psalm 106, this time verse 9: “He rebuked the Red sea also, and it was dried up: so he led them through the depths.” This was no natural phenomenon. This was not low tide. This was the mighty hand of God separating waters and holding them up by His own hand. We read further in Psalm 77:17-18 that the “clouds poured out water: the skies sent out a sound: thine arrows [that is, thunder and lightning] went abroad. …the earth trembled and shook.” The moment that the Red Sea parted, God also caused it to start to rain in buckets and torrents, with thunder and lightning and earthquake.

Now, get the picture. The Red Sea has parted. The seabed had become dry land. And the waters stand up as great huge walls. A pathway stretches across the Red Sea as far as the eye can see. Darkness and thunder and lightning and rain and the earth shaking. And God says, “Go forward.” Understand that the life of a child of God, the life of the church on earth, is not some cushy, sunny, skipping along, frolicking. There is a call to faith: Go forward.

And Moses led them as a shepherd. They entered into the sea. They went across the sea on dry land and came to the other side.

And God destroyed Pharaoh. For the reality of the salvation of the church was not only that the church escaped, but also that the world, or Pharaoh, is destroyed. Obstinate Pharaoh and his host were drowned in the Red Sea. Pharaoh pursued after Israel. He went into the Red Sea after them. He saw them passing and in his hardened heart he thinks, “There goes that church, there goes the children of God. After them, boys! They won’t get away from us. We’ll bring them back. We will destroy them. It is wide and dry. They made it across, so will we.” God wanted Pharaoh to enter. And as they entered, He troubled the host of the Egyptians. He took off the wheels of their chariots. He created a huge traffic jam right in the middle of the Red Sea. Everything was backed up. They wanted to turn around, but they could not. They were stuck in the mud. Then Pharaoh and his host looked up to the other side. They saw Moses and the children of Israel safe on the other side of the Red Sea. Then they saw Moses stretch out his hand over the sea. And as he stretched out his hand, the sea returned to its strength. The walls of water came down upon them and Pharaoh was destroyed. Israel was saved, saved by the water. What brought them deliverance brought judgment to the wicked world.

How could they ever forget that?

And yet, if you continue to read in the book of Exodus, you will find out that they did. For it was but three days later that the children of Israel begin to complain to Moses that he had brought them out into the wilderness to die. They had no water. God would not take care of them. What were they doing out there?

How can we forget? How can we forget the wonderful, dramatic, gracious deliverance from our sins as pictured to us in our baptism? Christian baptism represents that we were trapped. We were condemned in our own sins. We, as the apostle says in Ephesians 2, are children of wrath even as others. We are transgressors. We are guilty. We have fallen short of the glory of God. We are sinners. We are enemies of God by nature. And there is no escape. There is no quarter to look toward for deliverance. No man, no work, nothing. And death and judgment are pursuing us. The legions of judgment and wrath are behind us to capture us and bring us back into the chains of damnation.

But God, the God of grace, in order to show His glory, to magnify His great name, sent His only begotten Son to bear away the sins of God’s children, to show the riches of His grace in ages to come. He gave Christ to be crucified for our sins so that our sins are forgiven. He opened up a way where there was none, a way to His presence for us who are filthy sinners. He cleansed us in the blood of His Son. He parted the waters that would otherwise overwhelm our souls. He placed our feet upon dry paths, upon the Rock, Jesus Christ. He took us through the stormy judgments in His Son. He forgave us all of our sins. He took us from the dominion of sin.

Seeing that God has pardoned us, sin and the devil raged and said, “But we will take them back, those blood-redeemed in Jesus. We will take them back. We will pursue after them, as Pharaoh pursued after Israel. We will bring them back into the land of the dominion of sin. Sin will rule yet over them.” But the blood of Jesus was powerful. For the cross of Jesus Christ breaks the power of every sin. It brings us to a new freedom so that no longer would we be the willing servants of sin but the servants of Christ. By His blood, represented in baptism, the believer has escaped the tyranny of sin and has been brought to the other side, has been forever separated from the bondage of Egypt and has been brought to the other side, the side of freedom, and placed upon the path to the heavenly Canaan.

To Israel the Red Sea has said, “Remember, you were slaves in Egypt. You did their will. You were hopeless and helpless. But God arose and delivered you. He shattered Pharaoh’s power to hold you. He brought you safely to the other side.”

So also baptism, Christian baptism, says to the believer, “Remember, you were sold under sin. You were the servants of sin, doing the will of the flesh, deserving wrath and condemnation. You were without Christ. You were without hope.” But while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Being made free from sin, we became the servants of God, the servants of righteousness. And now we have our fruit unto holiness and the end everlasting life.

Baptism is a sign, then, of a new life. The Red Sea was a permanent sign. The Red Sea represented to Israel that they had been separated from bondage, from Pharaoh. They had been joined unto Moses, who would lead them to Canaan. So now baptism. Baptism is a sign that God, in the blood of Jesus Christ, has separated us from sin and joined us to Christ permanently. Baptism is a sign of justification, pardon, forgiveness, a sign that we are righteous in the work and doing of Jesus upon the cross.

And baptism is a sign of the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit to change us so that sin will not rule in our life. He will bring us now to sorrow over sin, to repentance. He will work in us a desire to serve our Lord Jesus.

Israel could not go back to Egypt. They could not go back! The Red Sea was between them. So also the child of God, redeemed in the blood of Jesus Christ, cannot go back. For the Holy Spirit of Christ is poured out upon you. You cannot enjoy the same pleasures that once you did, the same joy that once was yours in sin. United to Christ means that one has become a new creature. Oh, sin remains within our flesh. The temptations of the flesh and of the world rage against us. In ourselves, there is no good thing. We still possess that sinful nature. But baptism is a sign that God, by His grace, grants to us a new man in Jesus Christ that is now attached to God and to holiness. And so attached to God and holiness you say, “I will follow God. Where my Savior leads me, I will follow.” You will say, “The world is not my home. Sin is no longer my pleasure. I’m just passing through. My pathway leads to the better Canaan. Forward I must go in faith and trust in Jesus Christ.”

Nothing less is the meaning of baptism. It is a sign. It is a permanent, non-erasable sign that we have been separated from the service of sin unto the service of the living God. And so baptism comes with a clear call: “Walk in new obedience. Cleave to God. Forsake the world and your old nature and walk in a new and in a holy life.”

Our calling is to give God humble thanks, because all of this is of His grace alone. There is no difference between us and any other sinner. There was no difference between Israel and the Egyptians except the grace of God. Baptism calls us then to be humble and to attribute all of our salvation to God. But it also calls us to the exercise of our faith. That is exactly Paul’s point in I Corinthians 10. Repeatedly he says to the Corinthians (and to us) that all of their fathers were under the cloud. They were all baptized in Moses. They all drank of that spiritual drink. But with many of them God was not well pleased. Paul is saying that mere outward connection to the church, the mere fact that baptism is performed, does not save you.

The water of baptism does not save us any more than passing through the Red Sea saved the soul of every Israelite. Baptism to the believer, to the child of God in whom dwells the Holy Spirit, is the sign that we have been separated unto a new and holy life.

Then, clutching to that beautiful Word of God in baptism, the Word of God that is clear, I can say, “My sins are washed away and I have been separated by God from the bondage of this world of sin unto a new life of obedience to Christ.” Then I can say, by His grace, “I have one impulse: that I might be pleasing to my Savior. I seek the grace to be separated from every way of sin and evil and to live as one who belongs to Christ.”

That is the meaning of our baptism. And may that truth, by the Holy Spirit, be written in your heart.

Let us pray.

Father, we thank Thee for Thy word. And we pray for its rich blessing upon us this day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.