The sermon comes to us from Cameron Hughes:

If you’ve ever been white-water rafting, you know that one of the first things the river guides teach you is what to do if/when you end up getting tossed overboard. There’s an inherent danger in sending a rubber raft full of city slickers down a river full of rushing, crashing water and lots of pointy rocks, and the river guide is typically the only person on the raft with any degree of training. Not being able to leave the raft to grab the one gone overboard, the rescue advice typically involves this phrase: “We’ll toss you the rope, but you have to be an active participant in your own rescue.”

While that may be sound advice for white-water rafting, it couldn’t be further from the truth in the Exodus story of the crossing of the Red Sea. The Israelites have absolutely nothing to contribute to their own deliverance.

The story of the Exodus is the defining story of the Old Testament. Writers throughout the Old Testament return to the Exodus over and over again to define who they are and who God is: “I am your God who brought you out of Egypt.” And just who is this God? Well, at this point, the Israelites themselves aren’t quite sure. Moses just found out a few chapters ago, and he still has his doubts. The story goes that after 430 years in slavery to the Egyptians, the Israelites no longer knew the old stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Chapter 2 says they “groaned under their slavery” and that this cry (though seemingly addressed to no one in particular) “rose up to God,” and “God took notice of them.” After 10 long plagues, the Pharaoh lets the Israelites go, only to change his mind and send his army in hot pursuit. Caught between the advancing chariots and the churning water, God tells Moses to stretch out his hand, splitting the water in two and leading the Israelites through without so much as a damp sock. God then closes the waters over the Egyptians to drown them, and their bodies wash up on the shore for the Israelites to see. Moses then leads the Israelites in a song that celebrates the watery death of the Egyptians in no uncertain terms: “horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”

The KJV renders the much-quoted Exodus 14:14 as “the LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.” In other words, ye shall be dumbfounded, speechless. And indeed, the Israelites do not speak again until the jubilant song of chapter 15 that celebrates the defeat of the Egyptians. If I’m honest, I find this apparent gloating a bit distasteful. Wouldn’t it have been enough for the Israelites to simply escape the Egyptians? This is where we who think ourselves respectable, educated, and civilized would do well to remember that the Israelites were an oppressed people. The sight of the Egyptians’ defeat was not one of barbaric bloodshed but triumph over a previously insurmountable enemy. This band of former slaves could never have hoped to defeat their rich and powerful former masters. God’s unequivocal defeat of the Egyptians ensures that what happened on the banks of the sea was not merely an escape, but deliverance.

What does this bizarre story have to do with Christians today? For one thing, it shows us that God has been in the business of saving for a long time. While the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is God “doing a new thing” in salvation history, it is by no means the beginning of the story of salvation. The Easter Vigil proves that — all nine readings are from the Old Testament. God has always been working salvation. The movement of the Israelites through the waters of the Red Sea was not merely a flashy escape plan. It was a movement out of bondage into freedom, out of a land of death and into (eventually) a land “flowing with milk and honey.”

This is not an escape but a victory. The Israelites didn’t outwit the Egyptians. They certainly didn’t out-muscle them. They were in no way an active participant in their own rescue. God defeated the Egyptians for them. God brought the Israelites out of their bondage. God completed the victory while they stood speechless.

What has happened on the cross is not merely our escape from God’s wrath, but God’s victory over sin and death. Christ has trampled down death by his own death and brought us through the waters of baptism to the other side where we stand speechless. Escape would not be enough to claim victory. If Christ had merely died and not risen, our redemption would not have been wrought. But by defeating the very powers of sin and death — our proverbial Pharaoh and Egyptians — He has affected a full, final victory in his resurrection. Now we break our dumbfound silence. Now we join with Moses and Miriam in declaring, “The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” Alleluia!