Will You Sing?
I don’t know if you are much of a singer. Do you sing in the shower? I don’t – even though the kids leave before me – I feel self conscious about the neighbors listening. Do you sing at the sport? I noticed the English at the Olympic Opening Ceremony sang Hey Jude! I saw video clips of people at the railway stations in the queues singing Hey Jude.
Why do people sing? Some sing to muster up courage. I am thinking of the army marching to battle singing.
Why do people sing? Some sing to express support/to give praise. The Christian has a song of praise.
The football fans also have a song of praise.
Why do people sing? Some sing to express things that you just can’t say in another way. There are things you can’t say in prose. There are some things that need to be said in poetry. There are some things that have to be said in song.
Why do people sing? Some sing to express truth and emotion and experience – to help them process the emotions. There are songs that just put it out there – that say something that is so memorable.
‘And Townsville lined the footpath as we marched down to the quay;
This clipping from the paper shows us young and strong and clean;
And there’s me in my slouch hat, with my SLR and greens…
God help me, I was only nineteen.
Then someone yelled out “Contact”‘, and the bloke behind me swore.
We hooked in there for hours, then a God almighty roar;
Frankie kicked a mine the day that mankind kicked the moon: –
God help me, he was going home in June.
And the Anzac legends didn’t mention mud and blood and tears,
and stories that my father told me never seemed quite real
I caught some pieces in my back that I didn’t even feel…
God help me, I was only nineteen.
And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can’t get to sleep?
And why the Channel Seven chopper chills me to my feet?
And what’s this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?
God help me,
I was only nineteen.’
Why do Christians sing? And just to be clear, Christians have always been singers. We would sing four songs at every church meeting here, 52 Sundays in a year.
If you are a Christian and regular at church, you sing 200/300 more songs than the average Australian.
How do you feel about singing? Some I know love it. Some I know endure it? Some are bewildered by it. Do you find it a bit intimidating? Awkward?
I sometimes wonder, if someone is in church, they are not engaged in the singing, are they thinking, ‘This is a bit out there – this is a bit over the top!’ Or maybe they just think the songs are a bit daggy.
I was talking to a friend yesterday…
A friend who used to come to church here but has moved to the Northern Beaches…
And they sing up there…
‘Give me joy in my heart, keep me praising,
Give me joy in my heart, I pray,
Give me joy in my heart, keep me praising,
Keep me praising ’till the break of day.
Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
Sing hosanna to the King of kings!
Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
Sing hosanna to the King.
And as I was standing there thinking – wow – we stopped singing that in 1973.
He went on and said they have this verse…
Give me wax on my board keep me surfing,
Give me wax on my board I pray,
Give me wax on my board, keep me surfing,
Keep me surfing to the end of day.’
And I was thinking – wow if I was visiting that church – I’d be bewildered… When you go to church, do you join in? Do you sing loudly? Do you sing excited? Or is it just come on, get to the end. Are you emotional about the songs – the words? Or are you kind of like I was …
Give me wax on my board.
It’s like we could do an inner west version:
Give me sugar in my latte.
Skip the first bit waiting for the teaching. Endure the songs.
I want to show you today one of the great songs of the Bible. I want us to feel one of the great songs of the Bible. I want us to sing one of the great songs of the Bible. I want to speak about why we sing, what we sing about and whom we sing to.
In Chapter 15 of Exodus, God’s people have just been through an extraordinarily stressful, overwhelming experience – and they burst out in this amazing song. This is the first recorded incident of God’s people singing in the Bible.
2. Why they sang.
What was their experience? Why did they sing? Well, look what has just happened.
a. God’s amazing power (Exodus 14:1-4)
The first thing is that they saw God’s amazing power. We’ve just had the power struggle – the ten plagues – and God has so decisively crushed the Egyptian Pharaoh. Pharaoh has let the Israelite slaves go. And they are on their way out of Egypt – heading towards the water.
14 ‘Then the Lord spoke to Moses: “Tell the Israelites to turn back and camp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea; you must camp in front of Baal-zephon, facing it by the sea. Pharaoh will say of the Israelites: They are wandering around the land in confusion; the wilderness has boxed them in. I will harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he will pursue them. Then I will receive glory by means of Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am Yahweh.”’
God has a goal – that the Egyptians will see his amazing power, that they will know that he is Yahweh!
b. Hard hearted self confident Egyptians (Exodus 14:5-9)
Now, Pharaoh the King of Egypt wakes up, I think, with a dreadful hangover. Yesterday his eldest son died, along with the eldest sons of all his friends, and every Egyptian. It has been a crushing devastating day on top of a crushing devastating year. Pharaoh has gone ten rounds with the God of Israel and his prophet Moses. And Pharaoh has lost every round. And then crushed, humiliated, he let the Israelites go.
But, the morning after, he wakes up and is having second thoughts!
And Pharaoh thinks, ‘Hang on, Egypt without slaves is like Australia without computers, America without fast food, New Zealand without sheep.’ Try and imagine Australia without electricity, Australia without computers!
I am just thinking back 12 years ago to the Year 2000. Everyone was freaking out that it was going to go midnight from 1999 to 2000, and all the computers all around the world were going to crash, and everything that was computer driven was going to stop:
Egypt without slaves was like Australia without computers, like Australia without electricity.
So look at sentence 5:
5 ‘When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about the people and said: “What have we done? We have released Israel from serving us.” 6 So he got his chariot ready and took his troops with him; 7 he took 600 of the best chariots and all the rest of the chariots of Egypt, with officers in each one.’
Pharaoh is making a real decision to pursue the Israelites. God has made a decision to display his glory through Pharaoh!
c. Fearful doubting people of God (Exodus 14:10-13)
God’s people panic as they see the Egyptians approach! And to be honest, this is a little disappointing.
10 ‘As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up and saw the Egyptians coming after them. Then the Israelites were terrified and cried out to the Lord for help. They said to Moses: “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Isn’t this what we told you in Egypt: Leave us alone so that we may serve the Egyptians? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”’
I said it was disappointing – they have just seen the power of God in the ten plagues. They have just seen God’s mighty hand but they immediately think God can’t save them. And yet, I don’t want to be too harsh on them, because there have been moments when I have experienced God’s power – and then my nerve cracks and I doubt him and think it’s going to be too hard for him.
It’s a verse like this, this vision that we have for our church, for God’s people – God has done a mighty work in saving people here – an amazing work. God has formed:
A saved people magnifying Jesus, growing in maturity, trained in ministry, helping others come into membership engaged in mission.
And God has done it here, and in Petersham, and Summer Hill, and Abbotsford, and Drummoyne, and Canada Bay.
It’s not beyond God to do a work by his spirit in the lives of people. God has worked by his spirit in the lives of media workers. God can do it –
Should we be frightened about the future?
Listen to Moses….
13 ‘But Moses said to the people, “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and see the Lord’s salvation He will provide for you today; for the Egyptians you see today, you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you must be quiet.”’
d. God saves (Exodus14: 15-22)
Look how God saves them… look how God fights for them….
15 ‘The Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to break camp. 16 As for you, lift up your staff, stretch out your hand over the sea, and divide it so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 17 I am going to harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them, and I will receive glory by means of Pharaoh, all his army, and his chariots and horsemen. 18 The Egyptians will know that I am Yahweh when I receive glory through Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”’
Jump down to verse 21….
21 ‘Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back with a powerful east wind all that night and turned the sea into dry land. So the waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with the waters like a wall to them on their right and their left.’
God has saved his people. They trusted. He saved them.
e. God judges (Exodus 14:23-28)
And then God judges his enemies…
23 ‘The Egyptians set out in pursuit—all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen—and went into the sea after them.’
26 ‘Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may come back on the Egyptians, on their chariots and horsemen.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea returned to its normal depth. While the Egyptians were trying to escape from it, the Lord threw them into the sea. 28 The waters came back and covered the chariots and horsemen, the entire army of Pharaoh that had gone after them into the sea. None of them survived.’
It was the judgment of God. Ten times God had warned the Egyptians; even to the extent of the execution of the firstborn. But now, in saving his people, God judged his enemies.
f. God’s people see his great power and fear him (Exodus 14:29-31)
God’s people, who doubted a little while before, are left thunderstruck!
30 ‘That day the Lord saved Israel from the power of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 When Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and believed in Him and in His servant Moses.’
The trauma the nation had been through was overwhelming – two million of them in tension with Pharaoh. Then the national triumph – as Pharaoh was judged – his son and every eldest son of Egypt judged.
Then the people process together this overwhelming experience – and they sing.
3. What did they sing about?
They sang about three things:
a. The character of God.
b. God’s amazing actions in saving and judging.
c. And where God is leading them – taking them.
And it’s my suggestion that it is the same today – or should be the same today – in the songs that we sing as God’s people today.
a. God’s character (Exodus 15:1-12, 2 Thessalonians 1:10)
First they sing about the character of God…
Chapter 15, sentence 1.
15 ‘Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord. They said:
I will sing to the Lord,
For He is highly exalted’;
Look at sentence 11:
11 ‘Lord, who is like you among the gods?
Who is like you, glorious in holiness,
revered with praises, performing wonders?’
You are amazing. You are powerful. You are glorious.
And with a god who is so mighty, so glorious … what is the response to be?
Look at verse 2….
2 ‘The Lord is my strength and my song;
He has become my salvation.
This is my God, and I will praise Him,
My father’s God, and I will exalt Him.’
The right response is to praise him – to exalt him.
Someone told me years ago – that praise is advertising. I am really impressed with the character of God – so I praise him. I want you to be impressed with the character of God – so I praise him in your hearing.
We praise him for his character!
b. God’s salvation and judgment (Exodus 15:1-12)
And we praise him for his actions. We praise him for saving.
And, we praise him for judging!
‘I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted;
He has thrown the horse and its rider into the sea.
2 The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.
This is my God, and I will praise Him, my father’s God, and I will exalt Him.
3 The Lord is a warrior; Yahweh is His name.
4 He threw Pharaoh’s chariots and his army into the sea; the elite of his officers
were drowned in the Red Sea.
5 The floods covered them; they sank to the depths like a stone. 6 Lord, Your right hand is glorious in power. Lord, Your right hand shattered the enemy.
7 You overthrew your adversaries by your great majesty. You unleashed your burning wrath; it consumed them like stubble.
8 The waters heaped up at the blast of your nostrils; the currents stood firm like a dam.
The watery depths congealed in the heart of the sea.
9 The enemy said: “I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil.
My desire will be gratified at their expense. I will draw my sword; my hand will destroy them.”
10 But you blew with your breath, and the sea covered them. They sank like lead
in the mighty waters.’
How do you feel about that? They are obviously emotionally rejoicing in the saved bit.
But they are also emotionally celebrating the judged bit.
Now here is where this chapter of God’s word has challenged me in my preparation. For a long time I have believed it is right to preach the judgment/the justice of God. I have believed that it is necessary to preach the judgment of God.
And I heard someone say once, and I found it really helpful – we must preach judgment/justice – but we must preach judgment/justice with tears.
But here the judgment/justice is not peached with tears. Here the judgment/justice is preached with celebration, jubilation and excitement. They rejoice, they sing, they delight in the salvation and the judgment/the justice of God. They say it is a great, great thing – that the horse and the rider went in the sea (no, it is a great thing that God hurled them into the sea) and were drowned.
That hasn’t been in the past – the way I have thought. So to be clear, I am not just teaching here, I am being taught. I am not just attempting to persuade you to change a view, I am changing a view.
It’s thirty years since I left school. It’s my leaving school thirty-year anniversary this year. I am 1982 school leaver. The year I did my HSC was the year of the Falklands War. Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. And Great Britain defended them. And I remember the Falkland’s war on the radio in the newspapers during my HSC year.
On the fourth of May 1982, the London Sun carried what is probably its most famous front page:
‘GOTCHA, Our lads sink gunboat and whole cruiser!’
‘General Belgrano’ was the name of the ship. A British nuclear powered submarine had opened fire on the 14-thousand ton cruiser. The story in News Limited is that of all Britain’s newspapers at the time the London Son established a reputation for xenophobic, triumphalist, bloody-minded coverage.
The wire agency story came through that the boat had been hit – and a journalist called out ‘GOTCHA’
The editor seized on the line – and put it on the front page. It seemed like a great idea – until after the printing presses started rolling – and the follow up stories came through that 382 Argentinians were killed.
And when I first read Exodus 15, it feels to me like the Israelites are celebrating a little like the London Sun.
Why do I think and feel differently from the Bible? Well, when that happens I need to recognize something in myself. My mind is not where the mind of the people of God is. My mind is not where God’s mind is. My mind is not where the spirit of God is.
I was talking it over with my wife, and she said,
‘Well probably the Israelites have been through so much pain and suffering in the hands of the Egyptians – that they do think that way.’
For 400 years God’s people have been slaves. The Book of Exodus opened with Pharaoh throwing their babies into the sea. Pharaoh had exercised a systematic genocidal campaign against them – in their generation. And their God has fought for them. Pharaoh rejected their God – defied their God – again and again rejected the warning of the prophet of their God.
They were not warned off by the death of the firstborn. Pharaoh is deliberately, unambiguously, and autonomously rejecting God.
He had been warned, and he repeatedly defied God.
And it is right, just, fair, reasonable and appropriate that God judge Pharaoh and the Egyptians.
I want to suggest that a reason you might be siding with Pharaoh at this point is because he didn’t kill your baby. Somehow, you are not in this war – you are sitting somehow off to the side.
But friends, you are in this. Every person in the world is in this story somewhere. Every person in the world is either an Egyptian mocking God, or an Israelite saved by God – safe because of his mighty power.
If you are a saved Israelite – rescued by God – then join with God’s people glorifying, celebrating and rejoicing that our God saves – and that our God judges. This is not just an Old Testament teaching. In the New Testament we are taught that we should glorify God as he judges the wicked.
See 2 Thessalonians 1:
The Thessalonian people of God were being persecuted – just like the Israelite people of God.
And Paul says to them …
4 ‘Therefore, we ourselves boast about you among God’s churches—about your endurance and faith in all the persecutions and afflictions you endure. 5 It is a clear evidence of God’s righteous judgment that you will be counted worthy of God’s kingdom, for which you also are suffering, 6 since it is righteous for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you 7 and to reward with rest you who are afflicted, along with us. This will take place at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with His powerful angels, 8 taking vengeance with flaming fire on those who don’t know God and on those who don’t obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction from the Lord’s presence and from His glorious strength.’
There is a day coming – a real day – when the ones who reject God will be judged, and the ones who trust God will be saved.
And what will be the response of God’s people?
10 ‘In that day when He comes to be glorified by His saints and to be admired by all those who have believed….’
When you see the salvation and the judgment, you will praise God, you will glorify God, you will admire him. And I take it emotionally. We will marvel at him, and that emotion/that experience/that truth wells up inside us in song.
I want to suggest to me and to you, that if you are not rejoicing, then you are out of step with the mind of God. There is a whole tribe of people who call themselves Christian, who are totally out of step with God here.
Defining Christianity really broadly, there is a tribe of Christianity called Liberal Christianity….
Friends, Liberal Christianity has nothing to sing about – they will not sing this song. For in Liberal Christianity, the God that is worshipped is a …
A ‘God without wrath who brings humans without sin into a kingdom without judgment
through a Christ with no cross.’
But the God of the Bible is a God who is angry at sin, and humans are sinful. And God is the king who does judge.
It is through the work of Christ on the Cross-that people are able to escape that judgment – to be saved.
So if you stand at the foot of the cross, and you look at the wounds of Jesus, you start to appreciate the awful judgment that Jesus went through to deal with sin, so that they can escape the wrath of the holy God – who hates sin!
It is that emotional experience that will lead you to sing!
Yes, judgment was right. Judgment was fair. Judgment was just.
But what an amazing thing – that Christ has given us a salvation – through his death on the cross.
c. God will lead and plant his people (Exodus 15:13-18)
Now Israel are out of slavery to Egypt, but not yet home! Just like Christians today are out of slavery to sin (because of Jesus’ work on the cross) but not yet home – there is a journey to heaven.
They rejoiced that God who has saved them could be relied on to lead them – and to plant them in the Promised Land.
13 ‘You will lead the people you have redeemed with your faithful love;
You will guide them to your holy dwelling with your strength.’
There’s a confidence that they rejoice in – that God will lead his people. Are you someone who is saved – saved from the judgment! Saved by the work of Christ on the Cross!
Then rejoice like these people back then, that God will give you guidance … and sing about it!
And where is God guiding you to? Where is he going to plant you?
Well, God has a plan and God has a place… God is taking them to the Promised Land – there’s a hint of Jerusalem and a temple in Jerusalem.
17 ‘You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your possession;
Lord, You have prepared the place for Your dwelling;
Lord, Your hands have established the sanctuary.
18 The Lord will reign forever and ever!’
Of course for us today, it’s not that God is going to plant us in Jerusalem, but is guiding us/leading us – and we can be confident of this – all the way to heaven … and it is there that the Lord will reign forever and forever.
That is what the people sang – with emotion, with exuberance, with excitement and with relief.
They sang of the character of God. They sang of God’s great activity of salvation and judgment.
And they sang of him leading them, guiding them and planting them in heaven.
4. Who did they sing to?
Who did they sing to? Who should we sing to?
a. We should sing to each other (Exodus 15:20-21, Ephesians 5:18)
Look at sentence 20.
20 ‘Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her with their tambourines and danced. 21 Miriam sang to them:’
The exercise in singing – is a horizontal exercise. She is singing to them. She is communicating to them.
And so, when you and I sing together, we are singing to each other. One of the things that I like about the fact that our rows are not straight in church but are slightly in the round – that we are not just singing to the front wall, but we are singing to each other. We are dealing emotionally together – processing the sense of the even greater salvation – the even greater judgment of Christ on the cross. When you singing you are singing to me and I am singing to you.
Don’t just stand there morose. Get your tambourine and dance. It is a great thing – the character of God – the saving work of God.
Does the New Testament say this too? Yes!
Ephesians 5, sentence 18:
18 ‘And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit: speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.’
There’s a command from God. Be filled the spirit. It is a passive instruction. It is God doing it to you.
It is God giving his spirit to you.
If you have God’s spirit…. and God’s spirit is working in you – then you will be speaking to one another, communicating with one another… in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.
Yes I suppose someone who isn’t a member of the people of God can sing the words. But if you were to sing the words and mean them you really need God’s spirit to sing these words and mean them.
b. We should sing to God (Exodus 15:1, Ephesians 5:19)
But what we do is not just horizontal. Look at chapter 15, sentence 1:
15 ‘Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord. They said:
“I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted;”’
God was listening. They were singing to God. And we are singing to God.
18 ‘And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit: speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music from your heart to the Lord.’
It is not just a horizontal thing – it is a vertical thing as well. We are singing and making music from our hearts to the Lord. It’s from the heart to the Lord. The important thing there is the heart.
You might be able to produce the most beautiful notes. But it must be from the heart.
And God knows the heart. God can see your heart!
5. Will you sing to each other and the Lord of God’s character, salvation, judgment and the future we share?
So will you sing? Will you sing to God and to each other? Will you praise him? Will you praise him for his character – will you praise him for his action of salvation? And will you praise him for his action of judgment? And will you sing – excited, anticipating the future that God is leading/guiding us to? Will you sing to give courage? Will you sing as an expression of unity? Will you sing of the future we share?