Bible Text: Exodus 7:8-13 | Preacher: Pastor Steve Wilbraham | This summer we are spending time in the book of Exodus where God promises to deliver his people from slavery in Egypt. Moses, having grown up in Pharaoh’s court only to have to flee for his life to Midian, returns many years later to Egypt at God’s command to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. When he returns, he first speaks to his fellow Israelites. They are skeptical of his claims that he has met with the Lord and been told that God will deliver his people. So, he performs three miracles God has given him, the staff which becomes a snake, the hand which becomes leprous, and the water which becomes blood. These miracles were received by the Israelites, their faith was strengthened, and they believed God’s word to them.
Then Moses went to Pharaoh and, as we saw last week, things didn’t go so well. Pharaoh refused to honor God or to obey God’s command to let the people go. Further, he increased the work load of the Israelites, to the point that they began to complain to Moses that things were now worse than before. God and Moses have a talk, and God reassures Moses that everything is under control. Then, God sends Moses back to speak a second time to Pharaoh. We pick up the story in Exodus 7:8-13
Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Pharaoh will demand, ‘Show me a miracle.’ When he does this, say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down in front of Pharaoh, and it will become a serpent.’” So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did what the Lord had commanded them. Aaron threw down his staff before Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a serpent! Then Pharaoh called in his own wise men and sorcerers, and these Egyptian magicians did the same thing with their magic. They threw down their staffs, which also became serpents! But then Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. Pharaoh’s heart, however, remained hard. He still refused to listen, just as the Lord had predicted.
“Show me a miracle.” Impress me. Convince me that your God is bigger than my gods. Prove to me that your way is better than my way. When Pharaoh sees the miracle he’s not impressed; he simply calls for his own magicians to come and do the same thing. I imagine that when that happens Moses’ face falls a little, and Pharaoh’s lip curls. He’s not convinced by one little snake. But then God’s snake swallows up Pharaoh’s snakes. There are many kinds of power at work in our world, but worldly power, though real, will not last. Whether immediately, as with the snake, or ultimately, as with the judgment at the end of time when Jesus returns, only God’s power will remain.
“Show me a miracle.” Does the miracle of the snake soften Pharaoh’s heart? Does the miracle cause him to move from unbelief to belief, from refusal of God’s command to obedience, from seeing himself as the lord of his life to acknowledging God as the Lord of all? No, it does not. For those who would argue that the miracle doesn’t produce faith in Pharaoh because his own magicians were able to do the same, we simply need to point to the plagues that follow for, beginning with the third plague, they fail to do what God has done. Plague after plague God performs his miracles before Pharaoh, but his heart remains hard. “Show me a miracle” was answered time and again, but it never caused Pharaoh to turn to the Lord.
So, why did the Israelites accept the snake sign as being from God while Pharaoh rejected it? Because the sign, and this is true for all God’s miracles, does not produce faith but rather affirms the faith or lack thereof already present in the heart of an individual. The Israelites believed because of what was already in their hearts, their faith in the God of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Pharaoh did not believe because of what was already in his heart, a hardness toward God that no amount of miracles in and of themselves could soften. Only the Spirit of God can soften a heart and make it receptive to the truth of God.
Jesus affirms this truth about faith and miracles in his conversation with some religious leaders in the twelfth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. They have come to him demanding a miraculous sign to prove himself to them. The fact of the matter is that Jesus has been performing miracles for quite some time now – healings and feeding large groups of people and casting out demons – but the miracles have not caused these religious leaders to have faith in Jesus. So, Jesus tells them that he will perform no miraculous sign for them except for the sign of the prophet Jonah, by which he means his death, burial and resurrection. This display of the power of God will be not just for these religious leaders, but for all people in every place and time. For those who, like Pharaoh, say with an unbelieving heart, “show me a miracle,” the resurrection of Jesus will be dismissed. But, for those with a believing heart, the resurrection will become the primary display of God’s power that will ground our faith in the awesome majesty and supremacy of the creator of the universe.
Miracles affirm and strengthen the faith of those whose hearts have been born again by the Spirit of God, even if that faith is as tiny as a mustard seed. In another New Testament story in Mark chapter nine, a man with a demon-possessed son comes to Jesus and says, “Help us, if you can.” Jesus replies: “What do you mean, ‘If I can?’ Anything is possible if a person believes.” The father cries out: “I believe, help my unbelief,” and Jesus casts out the demon from the boy.
How often do you and I say to God, “Show me a miracle”? Speaking not out of a hard heart which has rejected God but out of a heart that believes and yet recognizes areas of struggle, of doubt, of unbelief, we are asking God to strengthen our faith. Is all we will accept another form of the snake miracle, something so spectacular and out of the ordinary that we are dazzled by it, or will we accept the truth that God is constantly at work in the world and in our lives, performing his wonders? After all, is there anything more miraculous than our salvation? Is there anything more amazing than the Son of God dying on a cross for us and then being raised from the dead, ensuring that we will live forever with him?
Faith recognizes that God is at work both in the natural and in the supernatural, and in that recognition our faith is strengthened. It can be scary to step out in faith and believe that God will do the seemingly impossible – Moses certainly struggled with having to go before Pharaoh. It can be hard to affirm faith in the face of a world which denies the existence of God, let alone miracles. But, just because faith can be scary and hard, that doesn’t make it wrong. God’s miracles are happening every day, all around us. Broken relationships are reconciled, heartfelt prayers are answered, those who are weak are given new strength, the lost are found, and the followers of Jesus Christ are on their way to a new reality where every moment in God’s presence will be amazingly miraculous.