Sermon by Rev. Nollie Malabuyo | Preached by Rev. Lance Filio
Beloved congregation of Christ: I mentioned a few Sundays ago after Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) devastated a large part of the northern Visayan provinces that some people wondered where God was during those hours. Was he sleeping? Was he busy with other more important places, like Israel and the Middle East, United States and China? Even Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte declared that God forgot about this part of the world called the Philippines.
Remember Elijah’s battle with Baal’s prophets at Mount Carmel? When the false prophets failed to evoke any response from their idol-god after many hours crying out to it, Elijah mocked them and their idol-god Baal, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened” (1Kg 18:27).
Today, many unbelievers mock Christians in the same way, saying either that God does not exist, or he’s sleeping, uninterested, or busy with other things. They ridicule us, saying, “Enough of your good works, because your holiness has gotten you nowhere. Instead, he punishes you for your sins!” Is God really deaf or hard of hearing when we cry out to him in our sufferings and distress? Is he sleeping through all the persecution and martyrdom that his church is going through?
This is what the people of Israel must have felt after they groaned and cried out for 400 years under the ruthless Egyptian yoke of slavery. Generation after generation, they prayed to the God of their father Abraham to send them a deliverer from their misery. But all to no avail, until the time came when God heard their cry, and he answered them by raising up his servant Moses as their redeemer from Egypt.
This Lord’s Day, our theme is, “God’s People Groaned and Cried Out” which we will meditate upon in two points: (1) “The Reason Why They Groan”; and (2) “God’s Response to their Groaning.”
The Reason Why They Groan
Last week, we looked at the story of the birth of Moses, and how his life was preserved. The next events in his life are well-known. The Pharaoh’s daughter rescues him from the river and raises him as her own son. He then sees the ruthless slavery of his people, and kills an Egyptian taskmaster. He flees, lives in Midian where he marries Zipporah, and has a son by her named Gershon.
We know from Acts 7:23 that he was 40 years old when he kills the Egyptian taskmaster. And from Acts 7:30, we learn that he spent 40 years in Midian before God appeared to him in a burning bush in the wilderness of Sinai. So from these texts, and from Exodus 7:7, Moses was 80 years old when he went back to Egypt to confront Pharaoh.
This is where our text starts:
During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew” (Ex 2:23-25).
After those 40 years in Midian, the Pharaoh of Egypt died, but the people of Israel still suffered because of their hard labor in slavery. So they groaned and cried out to God for help even more. This was just the beginning of the history of Israel’s groaning and crying out to God.
During the time of the judges, they groaned under the oppression of the Canaanites, “For the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them” (Jgs 2:18). The prophet Jeremiah groaned because of the destruction of Israel and its temple and their exile into slavery in Babylon, “Woe is me! For the Lord has added sorrow to my pain. I am weary with my groaning, and I find no rest” (Jer 45:3). God also told Ezekiel that he should groan because of this exile, “As for you, son of man, groan; with breaking heart and bitter grief, groan before their eyes” (Ezk 21:6). Micah also told the people, “Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in labor, for now you shall go out from the city and dwell in the open country; you shall go to Babylon” (Mic 4:10).
God’s people groaned not only because of national tragedy. They also groaned because of personal sufferings. Job groaned because of his misery, “Today also my complaint is bitter; my hand is heavy on account of my groaning” (Job 23:2). The psalmist as well, “I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart” (Ps 38:8).
Physical sufferings can also make one groan. In Job 24:12, “From out of the city the dying groan, and the soul of the wounded cries for help.” A man who is “mortally wounded” also groans. Another synonym for groaning is “lamentation,” as in “lamentation and bitter weeping” for the dead children of Rachel (Jer 31:15). Also, when Israel is judged, there will be great lamentation in the whole land (Am 5:16).
Knowledge of one’s sin can also make one groan. The psalmist groans because of his afflictions arising from his sins, “For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away” (Ps 31:10). In his prayer of repentance, the psalmist groans, “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long” (Ps 32:3). When David faced terrible circumstances, he “moaned” greatly, “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears” (Ps 6:6). Another synonym is “sighing,” “O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you” (Ps 38:9). Therefore, not only physical difficulties, but also spiritual distress can cause a sinner to groan or sigh.
The people of Israel groaned from their very beginnings in Egypt, to the Judges, down through the Babylonian exile. In exile, Nehemiah groaned in prayer before the LORD after he learned of “great trouble and shame” of his people back in Canaan, “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (Neh 1:3, 4). Nehemiah knew the LORD has promised to Isaiah that one day, Israel will be restored from the exile and the Consolation of Israel will come (Is 40:1-2). And the 70-year exile is about to end, as Jeremiah prophesied.
God’s Response to Their Groaning
But even after they were restored to the Promised Land, the Jews knew that the Messiah promised by God hasn’t come. After they settled back in the land, a whole new series of tyrannical kings ruled over them: the Greeks, the Seleucids, and then the Romans. So when we come to the New Testament, the Jews still groaned and longed for the Consolation of Israel to come.
When the angel appeared to Zechariah the priest and promised him a son, he knew that his prayers for a son had been heard by God, “your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John’” (Lk 1:13). And this son will not be the usual son born of Jewish parents. He “will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways” (Lk 1:76). Zechariah knew that the Messiah is about to appear. So in his song called the Song of Zechariah (Benedictus), he prayed “that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear” (Lk 1:70-74).
Zechariah’s prayer reminds us of the prayer of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. They groaned and cried to God for redemption from their hard labor. And after 400 years, the LORD finally responded to their pleas. How did he respond? Our text says,
And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew” (Ex 2:23-25).
There is a progression in his response. First, he “heard their groaning.” This doesn’t mean that God heard them, and he did not react. Obviously, God is the Almighty, All-Knowing God, and nothing is hidden from him. He hears everything that happens in heaven and on earth. But his eyes and ears are especially focused on his chosen people, his holy nation, his special treasured possession out of all the peoples of the earth.
Second, after he heard, he “remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.” What is this covenant? He promised to Abraham two things: a great number of descendants, and land that they would possess. And out of these innumerable descendants will come a “Seed,” who would pave the way for all the nations of the earth to be blessed by God.
Remembering his covenant with his people is a major theme in Scriptures. Although not explicit, this remembrance goes all the way back to Genesis 3:15, when God promised Adam and Eve a Seed who would crush the serpent’s head. Throughout Biblical history, this was God’s purpose: to redeem his people from slavery to sin under Satan’s power. After the flood, God remembered Noah and promised to remember his covenant with Noah with a rainbow every time he sends rain upon the earth (Gn 9:15-16). As in the time of Moses, Jeremiah prayed to God on behalf of the exiles, “Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake; do not dishonor your glorious throne; remember and do not break your covenant with us” (Jer 14:21). So God promised again to Ezekiel, even after Israel broke his covenant, “yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant” (Ezk 16:59-60).
Tell about Promise Keepers. There is only one Promise Keeper: God and Christ alone.
This is why we sang Psalm 105, for it says there, “He remembers his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations” (Ps 105:8, 42). Not only does he remember, but he remembers his covenant especially “for their sake” (Ps 106:45), for their benefit, for their blessing. So that he would fulfill all his promises to them.
Third, after he remembered his covenant, “God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.” He saw his people’s sufferings and hard labor. He saw their misery. He saw how they were unjustly and ruthlessly treated. He saw their shame and the Egyptians’ mocking. He saw their lack of basic needs: sufficient food, shelter and clothing. After 40 years of wilderness wanderings, Moses summarized to the people what God saw in Egypt, “and the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression” (Deu 26:7).
This is why when Zechariah heard the angel’s promise of a son who would prepare the way for the Most High God, he exclaimed in praise of God, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David” (Lk 1:68-69). The Lord has visited his people and saw and heard their longing for the Messiah to come and comfort them. Not only did he see their sufferings under the cruel Roman rulers, but he also saw their sin and misery. So God promised to send them a Redeemer who would give them the light of salvation, “because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high” (Lk 1:78).
God knew that there is only one way to save his people, and that is by sending his only-begotten Son who covenanted with him to come down from heaven and assume human flesh and blood and atone for the sins of his chosen people.
So when Peter preached to the Jews, he said, “You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness” (Ac 3:25-26). God remembered his covenant with Abraham, and he sent his Servant Jesus Christ to save his people from sin and to be a blessing to all the families of the earth.
Brothers and sisters: It is not only us who groan under the weight of our sufferings and sins. Our Lord Jesus Christ also groaned, like all other human beings. Christ was born 2,000 years ago in full human flesh and blood in order that he may give us rest and comfort from our “groaning.” We groan physically, mentally and spiritually. Jesus “groaned” in being “deeply moved” by the death of his friend Lazarus (Jn 11:33). Jesus “sighed” over the hardheartedness of the people because of sin (Mk 7:34; 8:12). This is why Paul says that under the curse of sin and death, all mankind and all creation “groan,” waiting for the promised redemption (Rm 8:23). In our earthly existence, we all groan and long for our complete redemption from this sinful condition, “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling” (2Co 5:2, 4).
But his worst groaning was when he hung on the cross, dying a most cruel and shameful death. The psalmist David, prophetically wrote about his sufferings on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest” (Ps 22:1-2). God the Father did not answer him, did not give him rest, so that he may finish all the work that he set out to do on this earth in his First Advent.
So do not despair when afflictions come. This is great comfort to our brethren who are suffering in the typhoon-devastated Visayas. God is not sleeping. He hears theirs cries, their groanings. He remembers his promises. He sees them. And he gives them comfort through his Spirit, and through their brothers and sisters in Christ from other parts of the Philippines and the world. God has not forgotten them or forsaken them.
For all of you, this is also great comfort. When jobs are hard to find. When there is not enough on the table to eat. When our bosses are like the ruthless Egyptians. When our relationships are on the rocks. When our children stray off the godly path. When a terminal disease strikes someone in the family. When economic disasters come. When everything goes wrong and all things seem to be crashing down on us.
God is still our Consolation, our Comforter, the Desire of Nations. Israel waited for her Consolation for hundreds of years. We have been waiting for our Lord’s Second Advent. Let us remember this Advent Season that one day, all our groaning and crying out will end when our long-awaited Lord Jesus Christ will return in glory.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.