Moses Chose to Suffer for Christ

August 19, 2018 Series: Hebrews Scripture: Hebrews 11:23-26 by Chris Strevel

Why Moses’ Choice Matters to Much

Any Wedge between Christ and Moses Dangerous

Some old heresies never fully die but lurk like carrion birds. They nest in cults and wait for the chance for better prey. The Old Liar hates the truth and looks for ways to deceive. Today he has revived the old heresy of Marcion, who hated what he described as the Old Testament God of wrath, whom he considered to be a sub-deity under the true God, a malevolent spirit. The Old Testament was his book, and the Jews were his people. Of course, he also hated much of the New Testament, which never forgets the unit of God’s covenant in Christ across the ages. He finally settled on a very small canon of Scripture – a part of a few gospels, little of Paul, some of Peter. Marcion’s heresy is being resurrected by some who drive a wedge between Moses and Christ, between the Old and New Testament. Their cry is “Let’s split the Testaments.” They really want to separate Christ completely from the Scriptures and reduce the Christian faith to an existential encounter with Jesus that is independent of the word.

The Old Liar is at work again. His emissaries may be articulate and have television audiences and multiple campuses. They may be deceived into thinking that they are doing God’s work, but the Scriptures put the lie to all schemes to separate Moses from Christ. Our present text states this very directly. By faith, Moses chose to suffer for Christ rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin. It is therefore impossible that Moses was anything but a servant of Christ, which our apostle has already taught (Heb. 3:1-6). Therefore, it is always incorrect to try to separate the Testaments, for only together do they reveal the full nature, historical scope, and finality of the atoning work and kingdom of God’s snake crusher, the Lord Jesus Christ. The whole Bible teaches one message: life and salvation through Jesus Christ, God’s promised Redeemer, with all his blessings through the single covenant of grace, with the law and the prophets being about Jesus Christ (John 5:47; Luke 24:27).

Weakens Our Witness in the World

Ignorance of Scripture is the only explanation why so many professing disciples would allow themselves to be led to separate Moses from Christ and Christ from Scripture. Together with Elijah, Moses stood with our Lord upon the Mount of Transfiguration. I suppose that our Lord did not get the message that Moses was serving a different god and proclaiming a different gospel, since he chose Moses to see his glory and bear witness to his person and work. What a testimony – that the law and the prophets are all Christ-centered, reveal his person and work in an ever-broadening river of revelation, and show us the way to believe upon his name and obey his hoy law! If we believe these wedge drivers, these men and women who wickedly separate what God has forever joined together, our witness will be horribly stunted in the world. To take but one example – what kind of King is our Lord Jesus Christ? This is not learned solely from the New but is powerfully expanded if we take the Old Testament witness to hear – a king with a kingdom that breaks in pieces all the kingdoms of man; a King to whom the kings of the earth must bring their gifts or be crushed; a King who saves us not to existential spirituality but to concrete, loving, joyful obedience to God’s law, from our hearts. If the church believed in this King and his saving reign, there would be no talk of men who are born dominated by sexual lusts for the opposite sex but learn to live with it. There would be only praise for the King who delivers men from their depravity and sets up his kingdom of righteousness in their hearts and lives.

Dulls the Antithesis between Christ and the World

Without the Old Testament – and let us understand clearly that this is Satan’s goal and the goal of all his deceived servants and theologians – Christ is not a historical figure but an existential one, whom does not speak to us objectively through his living word but to whom we relate through feelings and sentimentality and “leadings,” which are of course usually suggested by the spiritual guru advocating such views, for he has better feelings and ideas about Jesus than the rank and file. But if we are to separate Christ from Moses and the Old Testament, then the cross loses all its distinctiveness as the burnt offering required by the law, the substitutionary atonement promised in Eden, prefigured on Moriah, and institutionalized in the Temple. And if this promise of deliverance is not the whole goal of history, then apes, chance, and skepticism must ultimately prevail. Thus, we must maintain the authority, inspiration, and Christ-centeredness of the Old Testament, or the entire edifice of revealed religion and of redemption must come crashing to the ground. All that would then be left is either a cold tradition without any warrant or the seeker-friendly movement, with its group therapy and spiritual cheerleading, pop-music worship, and its ever changing theatricals pretending to be worship. There is nothing historical about this and related movements, for they have largely jettisoned the Old Testament and want to understand and present Jesus Christ completely untethered from his deep, Old Testament roots. And the net result will be that our witness to the world will grow dull, just another claim of “better morality” or a happier life. This is not true religion. It is not who Jesus Christ is.

Faith in the Family: Moses’ Parents (v. 23)

They Saw Something Striking in Him

The family of Levi was not yet marked out for priestly service, but at least this part of Levi had embraced God’s promise of deliverance. Amram and Jochebed, Moses’ parents, had the terrifying experience of conceiving and having a child during the infanticide era of Pharaoh. But by faith, they saw something in him. “Proper” is a word that means beautiful, good, striking, or notable. Fanciful interpretations abound – something of a glow that prefigured his shining countenance on Sinai is one suggestion. Perhaps the infant had an intelligent looking face or was very beautiful. This is not the main thing, and if it was central to the point being made, the Spirit would have told us. It is more to the point that it was by faith that they looked upon their child and saw in him God’s promise of a deliverer. Might this be the one? They could not allow their son to be killed. The situation was so bad that perhaps Amram suspected that this was the darkness before the dawn, and therefore to give up their son to a certain grave would be to deny God’s promise. Whatever they specifically saw in Moses or hoped he would be, they acted as they did by faith in God’s promise of deliverance and of a deliverer. Resting upon the Lord’s promise, they did all they could to preserve their child. Even when they made an ark of rushes and set him loose upon the Nile, they acted in faith. How else could they have released their son into God’s care unless they absolutely trusted that he would be faithful to his promises and keep their infant better than they could? Remarkable faith!

They Did Not Fear the King’s Command

Are we to assume that the majority of the Israelites did not take such pains to hide their infant sons? It is disturbing to think that many of God’s people feared the king’s command and gave up their infant sons or did not act in faith to protect them. This is likely not the direction in which we should go – assuming the opposite in the rest. But the faith of Amram and Jochebed was particularly settled and led to a bold course of action. They were not afraid of what might happen to them by not obeying the king, and they were not afraid to disobey his edict. God’s promise instilled them with courage and made them of “quick understanding.” They settled upon this plan to send Moses into the Nile not because they had given up but because they knew it was time to entrust their son more directly into the hand of God.

Their fearless obedience is the main thing being held up for our imitation. When men threaten, our best and only unbreakable shield is the promise of God. When persecution rages, or the majority of those around us do not fear God and vex us with their vanities and blasphemies, it is tempting to run to the hills or hide one’s light under a bushel or otherwise pray for the end of the world and escape from trouble. God’s word – renewing our minds (Rom. 12:2), settling our souls (1 Pet. 1:25), and turning back Satan’s fiery darts (Eph. 6:10-18) – is our sure protection and sharp sword. With what little revelation they had of God’s promise, Moses’ parents believed God’s word. Their actions resulted in the salvation of God’s deliverer. Never can we exhaust God’s blessing upon those that fear him and devote themselves to obeying him, regardless of the cost! The Lord delights in nothing as much as he delights in us when we obey his voice (1 Sam. 15:22)!

Faith’s Choice to Suffer (vv. 24-25)

Moses’ Mature, Deliberate Decision

Always God tells us that he honors those that honor him (1 Sam. 2:30). We cannot trace out his ways, but see only the shadow of them, but we have his promise (Job 26:14). How long Amram and Jochebed lived we do not know, but they certainly watched Moses’ upbringing as a son of Pharaoh’s daughter with interest and concern. Would Moses be faithful to the God of his fathers? They never lost their faith in God’s promise; God never forgot how they honored him. Parents must trust that God will honor their efforts to raise their children in his ways, even if for a time they seem lost to the world. Moses grew up with all the learning and wealth and power of Egypt at his fingertips. It is likely that he was the conqueror of Ethiopia, as Josephus wrote and some archeological memorials suggest. And yet, it is God’s usual plan – like father, like son; like mother, like son. He honors the faith of believing parents, for that faith is his gift and grace and power.

When Moses came of age, about forty years old according to Scripture, he threw in his lot with God’s people. The words he heard while at the breast of his mother, he did not understand them then, but they were seeds of life implanted in his soul. They grew and matured. Egypt’s finery and his own earthly prospects could not break the grip of God’s hand and covenant upon his life. A day of decision came – he refused to be called son of Pharaoh’s daughter any longer. Nothing compares to this in all the annals of antiquity – the prince of Egypt and likely its future monarch, choosing to suffer affliction with his enslaved people. He turned his back upon the finery and pleasures of Egypt. Unlike Joseph, he could not hold on to his Egyptian place and serve the God of his fathers. He would not be party to the injustice, so he must reject the overlords and throw in his lot with the sufferers.

This was not the decision of a moment. True, the slaying of the Egyptian taskmaster and the mocking response of his countrymen sealed his decision, but Moses made his choice by faith. He visited his countrymen; perhaps his aged parents also, and certainly his family members. He heard God’s promises to his people. He likely heard God’s promise to Abraham and warning of their afflictions in Egypt. Moses needed no calculator to determine that the four hundred years were almost up and that he was in a position to do something about it. He had much to learn before he could become the rod in God’s hand, but Moses rejection of Egypt was by faith, not by threat of death.

Moses’ Choice of Suffering over Pleasure

Perhaps more remarkable is that Moses chose affliction over pleasure. The Spirit thus confronts the Hebrew believers – this is the same choice before you. Unknown believers may think they are forgotten by God, that since their lives are unheralded and difficult, that their choices do not matter. Our decisions matter very much to the One who matters most – the living God. Did the Lord not honor Moses and guide him for the next forty years in the wilderness, and there prepare him to be the deliverer? How came Moses to that privilege? He choose affliction with God’s people rather than the temporary pleasures of sin. And note – sin has a certain pleasure. The old man of sin likes sin. Nothing pleases the flesh more than sin, to have its whims gratified and its cravings satisfied. Some believers are tempted to look back upon their lives of sin with a certain kind of relish, and honestly admit that sometimes they feel a strong draw toward the very tangible pleasure of sin. But we must choose self-denial and affliction or perish for pleasures that do not last and cannot satisfy. In the case of the Hebrew believers, affliction meant likely death. Would the pleasure of staying alive satisfy their consciences? Would not they feel inward reproach that they dishonored Christ to save their skins? If they or we can contemplate such baseness without horror, then our hearts must be empty of love for Christ.

A more challenging discipleship call is difficult to imagine. At present, direct persecution for us is a distant threat. Instead, we face a more pernicious threat to our faith and to our very lives – the unthinking standardization of pleasure and feeling as the twin canons of truth and determiners of duty. If this were not the case, why do men refuse to humble themselves and take up the cross, choosing instead to gratify the lusts of the flesh? Why do Christians choose entertainment and gaming over fellowship with the Lord in his word and prayer? Why do women insist upon not submitting to their husbands but complain and cajole and control until they get their way, their pleasure? Remarkable is the power of faith, that in the grip of God’s promise we can choose affliction and self-denial over pleasure. And this choice can be made even when the pleasure principle is the god of our culture, even as it was in Egypt, especially among the royals. But remember: where your treasure is, there will your heart be. And you will always follow your heart. Especially in a moment of temptation, your heart will choose to follow its true love. Be ready for the choice, child of God.

Faith’s Esteem for Christ (v. 26)

Christ before All Else

But how can we be ready? It sometimes seems that we are destined to make it to heaven barely, with so much worldly mire on our souls that they are saved “as if by fire.” Each of us should tremble over this choice faith makes – affliction over pleasure. How can this be? Can we really live this way today, when the battles are usually of a more private and family nature, only occasionally making it into the broader church and world? Moses shows us the way, and this is one very clear reason why we must not drive a wedge between him and Christ, between the law and the gospel, between the Old and the New Testaments. Moses made his choice because he esteemed the reproach of Christ to be a greater treasure than the riches of Egypt. Each morsel must be unpacked for our edification and salvation.

He esteemed or preferred or considered carefully – this was no whim or impulse. It was a deliberate decision Moses made, and we must make the same. We shall never make much progress in knowing Christ or find much joy in him unless we settle all our preference, affections, and joy upon him, upon having and knowing him, and following him wherever he leads. Moses esteemed or preferred reproach for Christ. We should not consider it to be impossible for Moses to have related his afflictions so particularly to our Lord Jesus. It is true that Moses did not then know his personal name, but it is equally true that our Savior said that Abraham rejoiced to see his day – the day of the Messiah, the day of salvation, and the day of the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15.

These promises were passed forward from father to son. Moses knew about Abraham and came to share Abraham’s faith. Moses’ parents had this faith. Moses came to understand that his choice to forsake Egypt’s pleasures was a choice for Christ and his afflictions. Moses knew everything in Hebrews 11 up to this point – Abraham and his search for God’s city, his faith in the Messiah, the visit of the Angel of the Lord, Isaac’s ram in the thicket on Moriah’s heights, Joseph’s desire for his bones to be carried to Canaan, which was a type of heaven and God’s eternal kingdom. Moses knew that the destiny of Israel was inseparable from God’s purpose to save the world. So, yes, Moses was what we now call a Christian. He proposed no different way of salvation but faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He knew no justification except by faith in the Messiah’s perfect obedience and the heart circumcision he performs by the Spirit (Deut. 30:6). He knew no way of relating to God acceptably but through obedience. He knew Christ to come and settled all his hope and life upon his Savior.

It must be the same with us, or we shall always be the world’s fools and be miserable because our hearts are divided. We must settle everything upon Christ, establishing all our happiness in knowing and serving him, and seeking always to be found in him and to live unto him, in his power and fellowship. Such commitment will subject us to the world’s mockery, the enticements of the flesh, and Satan’s stalking suggestions. We must be ready for the conflict. It is easier to trust oneself and choose pleasure. Is heaven real? Is Jesus real? Would it not be more prudent to get what I can now and deal with the future when it comes? Not if doing so means I turn my back upon Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He is the desire of the ages. All the best, the wisest, and the bravest have preferred him to the world and its pleasures. Will we rightly esteem him so that we are willing to forfeit our American birthright of entertainment, sexual gratification, and easy money so that we can come out for Christ, stand for our Lord, and enjoy our Savior? I pray earnestly that we shall make Moses’ decision and have his esteem for Christ. Perhaps the lack of love for Christ and desire to find a way to synthesize the Christian faith with the world’s thought are the real reason many drive a wedge between Christ and Moses. Moses is too challenging in his love for Christ, too devoted, too absolute for an age that fears to be too dogmatic about anything. 

Eye Forward on the Reward

Moses kept looking at the reward – yet another remarkable and constant attribute of faith – that it sees the invisible and settles all its prospects upon God’s promise of everlasting blessedness in his city. The imperfect verb tense stresses Moses’ continual looking. Any number of times, he might have turned back during the plagues and Pharaoh’s heart hardening and threats. He might later have turned back at the murmuring of such a stubborn people. It is a wonder that with Moses’ burdens that he did not simply lie down by the side of the road and die. He kept looking at the reward. What could this have been? The wilderness wanderings were no reward; he died without having entered the land of promise. Forty years he suffered along with his people, when they might have been enjoying the fruits of faith. He kept looking at God’s promised reward, his city with foundations, life with him forever, the day of Christ and of full redemption. Moses believed these promises, and in all his afflictions and wandering and waiting, he did not take his eyes off what God had promised to him.

I seriously wonder whether the heaven’s being opened to Stephen are not in fact the true state of an active, Christ-centered faith. Not that we shall in this life literally see the heavens opened and Jesus standing at God’s right hand, but we know that this is where our Savior is, interceding and reigning over all things for our sake, gathering all things under his headship. We have “exceeding precious promises” of life with him forever in the new heavens and earth. And yet, so many turn back, or draw near to his church but halfheartedly, or try to find a way to blend God with what they want and worldly desires. This is nothing but to take our eyes off the reward. We must keep it before us. God’s heaven, city, and fellowship will buttress a weak will, reignite a cold love, and embolden a fearful heart. Few, too few have lived this way, but it is God’s offer. He offered it to the Hebrew believers. Take the Lord at his word. Set your eye on the prize of his upward call in Christ. Settle all your happiness on him. Choose him before everything else, even if that choice means affliction and suffering. Learn to see every little choice as contributing to your earthly peace when you walk with him and your heavenly joy when you see him as he is. Let him be your treasure, and your heart will follow.