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Advent 2018 “Waiting” 12.2.18
My family has waited for a diagnosis…what is the medical issue?
Then we waited for a prognosis…will this treatment help?
We are waiting still in our family…for a number of things…I imagine everyone here is waiting on something.
Waiting is active, challenging work…waiting is faith testing, faith growing work.
We sometimes view waiting as a passive thing and very often we approach waiting in that spirit…but that is not waiting.
A good “waiter” at a restaurant is not passive but active.
The good waiter’s activity is “responsive waiting.”
When the patron needs water the waiter is standing by to fill the cup.
When the patron is ready to order the waiter takes the order and ensures the meal is properly prepared and delivered in timely fashion.
Waiting, when done well, is very hard work.
It is not hard to be busy, to do, to fill your hours with activity.
It is very difficult to “stand by” then when called upon, to act decisively and energetically, and then return to waiting.
When I was in Iraq I visited the gate guards in the towers protecting our base.
In my mind they had by far the hardest job.
They sat, 12 hours a day, 6-7 days a week…looking down a dirt road…guns ready…waiting.
Sounds boring?…very…but if an enemy tried to get through the gate, they were responsible to stop them…to protect us.
Imagine hour after hour, day after day…waiting…but waiting in a way to be prepared to act instantly and decisively.
The etymology of the word “wait” is a “watchman”
So waiting is more like a guard at gate, than someone taking a nap.
Waiting is never passive.
Waiting can be exasperating and it is humbling.
Waiting implies that we don’t get to decide when and how we act, the one we are waiting on gets to decide that.
“Important” humans don’t wait on anyone, others wait on them.
Military leaders, politicians, leaders of business…they all have a host of “waiters” at their disposal.
Their staffs “stand by” continually ready to serve the needs of those they work for.
The “important ones” act while others wait.
That is…until they are no longer important…then they are forgotten…and others take their places.
Jesus was a king who came as a waiter.
He said of himself: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) and “Therefore Jesus told them, “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right.” (John 7:6).
Human kings don’t wait, why should they?
The timing of events and actions is theirs to determine and to direct.
But Jesus, the King who came to serve and not be served, choose to wait on his Father’s timing.
He had the power to act when and how he wanted to, but he chose to wait.
Waiting is hard work, waiting is humbling work, and waiting is powerful work…waiting is what God has called you to do…a waiter is who God has made you to be.
“I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.” (Psalm 40:1)
This advent season, starting today…we are going to spend time thinking about our calling as waiters.
You and I are waiters…how we go about this calling is critical to how we will experience the life God has for us.
So we will look today at Exodus…a book of active waiting.
First: A big picture view of the setting:
Genesis the book of beginnings: Cosmos, human race, sin…and the beginning of the restoration plan of God through the covenant with Abraham…ends with an amazing story of God rescuing his people, putting them in a favored position in Egypt.
They are not a nation yet, just an extended family…but they are protected and provided for by God.
This whole promise thing looks to be a breeze…its going to be a short cut back to the Promised Land…back to the garden with God.
That might seem to be the case unless you go back and remember all the years that Abraham waited for the son of promise…he never had a settled home, wandered in tents his long years…he was an old man when the promised son was born.
-Think of his waiting…how many days he was just out there, sitting…nights looking at stars contemplating the promise…waiting.
No ipad, no internet…no books…just time…waiting…watching sheep grow wool.
I’ve never worked with sheep but I know it can be times of hard work…then lots of waiting…waiting for them to eat, then sleep, then eat, then sleep.
A lot like being the parent of an infant.
Then following Abraham’s wait was Isaac’s waiting and Jacob’s waiting…then Joseph…tied up in a slave caravan…waiting for an uncertain future.
Then, working as a waiter in an Egyptian official’s house.
Then waiting, as a prisoner, for a likely death sentence.
Then, finally…God put him in a favored position…and that’s where Genesis ends…things are looking good.
Exodus begins with things still looking good…all twelve tribes are in Egypt and they are having a lot of babies…they are filling up the land with them.
But then a new Egyptian King who has long forgotten what Abraham’s great grandson, had done for them…starts to get nervous about how these people are multiplying.
So he enslaves them…and they multiply
So he makes their lives miserable…and they multiply
So he concocts a plan to assimilate them…kill all the baby boys…and soon they will cease to exist as a people group.
All this takes a very long time…lots of waiting…waiting to God to get on with the promise.
But finally, God is on the move again (he has of course been moving through all of it…but the story line picks up)
Moses, the deliverer is born.
Sounds exciting…but think about it.
“God we are suffering here, oppressed and now they are killing our children…you must act now!”
He does finally act…a baby is born…”This is your plan…a baby…after all this time we couldn’t get a full grown general?”
“What kind of rescue plan is this? The baby has to grow up…God where is your sense of urgency?”
So he grows up, he’s ready to lead…42 years old, a part of Pharaoh’s household, in his prime…finally, things can start happening.
But wait, Moses gets mad and kills a guy and then runs off to Saudi Arabia…what in the world?
Then he stays there a long time…40 years…till he is 82.
Way past retirement age for General officers…a baby, then an old guy…this is the plan?
But there he is minding his business for 40 years…having kids, tending sheep…living his life.
Then finally the story line picks up again…Moses is way out in the boonies, on the back side of a mountain in the wilderness and then he encounters God…and God commissions him to return to Egypt to rescue his people.
So God calls his general to lead his people…but he’s not in military school, training in warfare…he is way camping in the wilderness…training to wait.
Waiting on sheep…and waiting to hear from God…this is exactly the kind of training he will need.
Ex. 2:23-24During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.
God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.
When Scripture speaks of the Lord “remembering” it means he took action…it doesn’t mean he recalled what he had forgotten.
Then he told Moses
Ex. 3:7 The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.
Again “Have seen” doesn’t mean he just now noticed…it means it is now time to act.
So Moses returns to Egypt, finally the waiting is over…but things get worse before they get better.
The King really makes things miserable for the people…and they blame Moses.
Ex. 5:22-23Moses returned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”
These waiters are disappointed once again…because they are being made to wait.
So here are the questions that the waiting would have evoked (and still does for us today)
- Does God care?
- Why would he allow his people (me) to be in this situation?
- Is there any hope? Do I have a future?
- If God is good and powerful…if so why doesn’t he act?
**Taken from the “Story of the Old Testament” by David Talley
He does act…ten plagues in all.
The plagues were directed at the false gods of the Egyptians
These false gods represented the different realms of nature…and in the plagues each of these gods was cut down to size.
God was showing Israel his power and he was giving Egypt an opportunity to know him as well.
It seems some did come to know him: Exodus 12:38 “A mixed multitude” left Egypt.
The book of Exodus ends with the people hanging out at Mt. Sinai…they were there about a year…waiting…waiting for instructions for how to worship God…and how to treat one another.
After leaving Mt. Sinai, they took about a year to get to the border of the Promised Land…it took that long because they moved when God said move and stopped when he said stop.
Its only about a two week walk from Sinai to to Promised Land…In Deut 1:2 Moses said 11 days to be exact…but that is if you are just walking and not waiting on God.
But all this was more “waiter” training…life not about just getting somewhere…it is learning to know and trust someone…God…DO YOU KNOW THIS IS TRUE ABOUT YOUR WAITING AS WELL?
Then when they arrived at the border…they chickened out and it would be another 38 years before they would get in.
Most of that 38 years was spent camping…they were waiting again.
We often have in our minds the Exodus is this 40-year long walk…it was a long wait
IF f you walked about 1.5 miles a day for 40 years you could walk around the earth at the equator.
Most of the 40 years…almost all of it was waiting on God.
It was a forty-year wait…after a 400-year wait….followed by waiting.
The Old Testament period ends with the people of God waiting again…they waited for 70 years in Babylonian exile (after the failure of the kings).
They waited in a diminished Jerusalem and with a diminished temple…not even a nation…they were living under Persian rule…then Greek, then Roman rule…they were waiting and then waiting.
Hebrews says this about some of our spiritual ancestors…
Heb. 11:13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.
Then in the fullness of God’s timing, Jesus arrived…as a Baby.
Who would grow in about 33 years to be a man who would die to rescue us.
Now…we actively wait again…in so many different ways…we wait.
Imagine with me now…you are a slave in Egypt and you hear for the first time of the great promises of God made to Abraham.
And you believe them…God has made those to you.
How exciting that would be!
You might, for the first time in your life, have hope.
Maybe you will experience the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living…a life outside of miserable slavery and a murderous monarchy.
Perhaps your waiting and suffering have purpose.
Perhaps your waiting will soon come to an end.
Maybe you put a calendar up and began to mark the days until God’s promise is fulfilled in your life.
People who deploy have these calendars.
You can get apps…they are red until you get to the halfway point then they turn green…more than halfway home!…they are also called the Donut of Misery…until they are mostly green…then the Donut of Hope.
For you there in Egypt…the days are long and hard but each night, with joy, you mark off another day.
Each day you mark off means the great day of release is getting nearer.
But…the days began to drag on…they pile up.
And the doubts pile up with the days…will I wait forever, do I wait in vain?
That initial burst of excitement dissipates into the dust of your daily grind.
Days turn to years and years to decades.
Then your final day on earth dawns, your very last chance to experience God’s great promise and then the sun sets on your final day and you die a slave in Egypt.
Now for the question…did God rip you off?
Were you cheated, lied to…given over to false hopes?
Where his promises not for you after all? Let’s go back in our narrative…and rewind the story.
Somewhere after the early days of excitement and before the days of despair…your mind took a different turn.
You had a calendar…but it focused on a single day…today…sure you hoped for a future day but you lived more fully in today.
This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.
There in those individual days of waiting…still looking to the future and the anticipation of freedom you find that your heart is becoming more and more drawn to God himself…the God of the promise.
Your thoughts and feelings of what God will do cause your mind and heart to more and more contemplate God himself.
God himself is becoming your hope.
You speak to him and he speaks to you, even as you make bricks for Pharaoh’s projects.
You might still mark your calendar looking to the future but you also began to write on the calendar what God said to you and did in and around you today.
You find that you would truly love to see God move among his people in your lifetime and bring about the great rescue…but you are becoming a person of deep contentment in God…becoming…not there yet…but closing the gap.
Life has become about God, not what God might or might not do in your life.
All that God does is that we may know him…all that he doesn’t do…that we want him to do…is that we might know him.
Whether you die in Egypt or experience the exodus or make it to the land of promise…either way, you are already free.
Waiting is work and your labor in the Lord is never in vain. “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:58)
Maybe you once believed God (let’s jump out of character…we are no longer Israelites, we are just us)…you trusted him with your life…you believed his promises…but now you are disappointed or confused with how things have turned out.
Your life has not gone as you expected…were his promises lies? Did you misunderstand him? Does he not love you? Have you not been good enough for him to be good to you?
The waiting has worn you down…the doubts are piling up along with the days.
God’s purposes in human history and in your life…have always been that we would know him.
Waiting creates pain…we wait to feel better, for relationships to change, for the weekend to come, for kids to grow up, for kids to find their way.
Some of us have waited for a diagnosis for loved ones…then for treatment to work…then for death to come…then we wait to see them again.
We wait for a better work situation, for a different job, for graduation, for Christmas.
It seems that we wait to wait to wait.
Some have looked at the waiting and have concluded…it is all so empty…there is nothing but the wait…I’ll just end my life now…just skip to the final wait of death.
But waiting is only empty when it is void of experiencing God
When we understand that knowing him is the purpose of everything…then we understand that includes the waiting…the purpose of the waiting is to know him.
Because in truth, what we are ultimately waiting for is to see him, to be with him.
The waiting is more painful and becomes empty…when we stop waiting for him…and wait for something less than him.
Israel spent 40 years journeying, 400 years in captivity…they were waiting on God’s promises to be fulfilled…they often failed to see that God wanted them to experience him personally in all it.
All of it was waiter training…training them to trust and obey…to love him.
Let’s conclude with the real highlight of Exodus and make application to our lives.
A very important feature of the Exodus experience is easy to miss because it can be lost in all the rituals and details of the building of this thing called the Tabernacle.
It was this elaborate tent type mobile structure that God gave very specific details as to how it was to be built.
It has tons of symbolism…much of it points back to a certain garden…where God dwelt in person with his people.
It was beautiful with all kinds of woods and precious metals…shaped to look like pomegranates and flowers and trees…but of course what made it special…like the garden it symbolized was God’s presence dwelt there in the midst of his people.
In the middle of the structure was an ornate box called the Ark of the Covenant…again tons of symbolism…but it was ground zero for God’s presence.
So…they built the Tabernacle according to precise specifications…because we don’t get to make up ourselves how will worship God and who God is.
Then a year to day after leaving Egypt…they set the thing up…and “plugged it in” if you will and God powered it up…he showed up in a physical way.
His presence was with them again.
So they had come full circle (almost)
Mankind had been expelled from God’s presence in the Garden.
And now God dwelt again with his people in this “mobile Garden of Eden.”
But it would not be until Jesus cleared the way with his death…that people would have direct and daily access to God’s presence…like the first couple did.
Let me read of when God powered up the Tabernacle and dwelt with his people.
Ex. 40:34-38 Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out — until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels.
The way the Israelites had been organized by God for their travels…had this Tabernacle in the center…a huge group of people…with God in the center.
When God powered up the Tabernacle…they waited, when he powered it down they walked.
Their long walk was really a long wait.
We are waiters…we wait on God…because he wants to be known.
What are you waiting for before you will be happy, content, joyful, and purposeful?
What is the “if only” that you believe to be true?
If only this happened, or this would stop happening, or this day came…if only…then I would be happy, or content.
Have you figured out that’s real yet?
We will live and we will die as waiters.
Will we embrace the waiting…because we understand that all of life is to know him?
You are waiter. How are you doing with that?
Some days and some situations you probably do better than others.
If you want to close the gap on faith and love then you must do an honest evaluation of how your waiting is going…advent is a great time to do that.
*As you hurry through the next 23 days…pay attention to the direct of your heart’s affection.
If you find that you are responding the same ways in your thoughts, emotions and choices now that you did a year ago, and those choices do not reflect Christ then you are not closing the gap.
Do not despair, be honest and take the reality of who you are right now to God…and to your close friends.
We need help to wait well…God has given us resources to help us.
His word, His Spirit, His people…all there to empower us to have his perspective.
Now as you employ God’s resources in your life you must also fully embrace waiting.
Waiting on God is critical to becoming like Christ.
Remember, waiters are never passive they are always vigilant, active in their waiting. Passivity is the opposite of real waiting.
Waiting implies something anticipated in the future.
People do not wait for nothing, they wait for something.
You are to wait on God.
As you wait on God you are simultaneously experiencing God.
The beauty of being a waiter for the King is that even in the waiting, and maybe especially in the waiting, we experience God’s presence, power, and beauty.
When God showed up and filled the Tabernacle…Israel waited.
When his presence “lifted” then they moved…notice that it was in the waiting times that God’s presence was most evident.
We most often believe that the waiting is when he is most absent…we have it backwards.
You are waiting on God. You are not merely waiting on God to “do” something, you are waiting on him.
I’ll finish with a poem written by King David…Israel’s best king before King Jesus.
This poem is a poetic testimony of his own trials of waiting…notice the back and forth between struggling with the wait and understanding God’s purpose in the wait.
Psa. 27:1-14 The LORD is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident. One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the LORD. Hear my voice when I call, O LORD; be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, LORD, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, O God my Savior. Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me. Teach me your way, O LORD; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, breathing out violence. I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.