Tony Evans - Divine Encounters
Today I wanna look at an encounter with God's power, and this encounter with God's power comes in the context of a dilemma. So, a dilemma is when you're in a no-win situation. Anybody here every been in a dilemma? It's no win. I mean, any direction that you're look in is a lose-lose. You're in a dilemma.
The most noted story in Israel's history, the crossing of the Red Sea, which was its biggest celebrated miracle, happened when they were simultaneously in a dilemma. The most celebrated story, the one that's repeated over and over and over in the Old Testament, is the story of the crossing of the Red Sea. It's repeated in the New Testament when the author of Hebrews talks about the great hall of faith. In Hebrews chapter 6, he says that "without faith it's impossible to please God," in verse 6. And then he comes in verse 29 and he says: "By faith Israel crossed the Red Sea, and the Egyptian Army was destroyed".
And so, this is no small deal. But what I want you to catch today is that they had their divine encounter with God's problem in the context of a dilemma. So I wanna prepare you today for an encounter with God, but I also want to prepare you for a dilemma that provides the context for that encounter. Now, the background to this is very clear. Moses has come through the 12 plagues, the 10 plagues, and he's now leading the children of Israel out of Egypt. Pharaoh has responded now finally to Moses's call to, "Let my people go".
And so the people now are on their way out from slavery to freedom. They're excited, they're looking forward. They've been told that there's this Promised Land, this purpose of God that God is gonna take 'em to, and things are lookin' rosy. As they leave, on their way out, it says in verse 17 of chapter 13 that "God did not leave them by way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near". I want you to catch verse 18: "Hence God led them". So, watch this. Their dilemma is going to come about when God is leading them. Their dilemma is gonna happen when they're in the will of God. Their dilemma is going to occur when they're being obedient 'cause it says, "God was leading them".
Not only was God leading them into what would be a dilemma, it says, "God led them the long way around". He did not lead them in the short distance. Not only that, but, "God was going before them," verse 21 of chapter 13 says, "in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night". He's walking with them in every step of the way. And when they are doing this zigzag through the wilderness, it says in chapter 14, "Pharaoh will say to the sons of Israel," verse 3, "They are wandering aimlessly in the land and the wilderness has shut them in". And the wilderness will shut them in. So when he says, "And the wilderness shall shut them in," they're gonna be in a no-win situation that they can't get out of without comin' back toward us. And it says, "And God was leading them". He was leading them into a cul-de-sac, or what you and I would call, "A trap".
See, a lot of us figure God wouldn't do that. Oh, God does do that. And the reason God does that is 'cause only in those contexts will you see that he's God. Because the one thing about a dilemma is you can't get out of it. The one thing about a dilemma is you don't see an exit, and every direction you look in is a trap. When God is ready to move you to a new spiritual experience with him, he will regularly do it in the midst of a contradiction and a conflict. And that is their scenario. Verse 4 says, of chapter 14: "'Thus I will harden Pharaoh's heart and he will chase after them.'" Hmm, "to harden the heart" means "to make you more rebellious than you already were". "To harden the heart" mean "to make you meaner than you already were". "To harden the heart" is "to make you worse than you already were".
I think the verse says, "And God hardened Pharaoh's heart". Because when God is ready to give you a new experience with him, he will allow you to be put into a situation that only he can get you out of. When God is ready to make this move, doesn't matter who you know, what contacts you have, how much money you possess, or where you live, or the car you drive. When God is ready to give you a new experience with him, he will regularly trap you where you are. Verse 8 of chapter 14 says: "The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he chased after the sons of Israel".
And what frustrates me about God is he will make it look like he answered your prayer. Come on, anybody been there? It look like, you praisin' him. You all excited. You're ready to give your testimony, and then he go left on you. They finally get out of Egypt. They've been prayin' to get out of Egypt. He lets 'em out of Egypt. Then he hardens Pharaoh's heart to come after 'em. Looks like he changed his mind. "As Pharaoh drew near," verse 10, "the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them. And they became scared". It says, "They were very frightened. And so the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord".
Water here, Pharaoh and his chariots here, and they're closing in on the Jews. And so they are terrified. So they do what many Christians do. They cry out to God, "Help, help," while simultaneously complaining to man. Verse 11, "They said to Moses, 'Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, sayin', "Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians"? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.'"
So, the conflict that they are in, the Red Sea and the Egyptians, produces a spiritual conflict within them. Because on the one hand, it says, "They cried out on to God". But then on the other hand, it says, "They complained to Moses". So, I'm callin' on God, but I'm blamin' man. Not only that, but I'm confused 'cause a dilemma will confuse ya. They said, "Did not we tell you, 'Leave us alone'? We were happy bein' a slave in them cornfields. We were happy bein' a slave pickin' that cotton. We were just, 'Swing low, sweet chariot.' We were just happy slaves". Never mind that they had been crying out to God all the time for God to get 'em outta here.
So, let me give you something you must do when you're caught in a dilemma and God himself is confusing you. You must appeal to someone, if you cannot appeal to yourself, who has a spiritual perspective. See, if you confused and you only talkin' to other confused people who do not share a proper view of God, then all you're going to do is reinforce the frustration of your dilemma. If God has allowed you to be there because you're in the will of God, even though you are confused, then God alone has to give you clarity. And so, even though they were complaining about Moses, only Moses could give them the proper perspective because Moses was in touch with God.
So Moses said to the people, 'cause they're cryin' out to God and complainin' at the same time,so Moses says to the people, "Do not fear," okay? "Stop worrying, be calm. It's gonna be okay". "Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord". So he brings in a spiritual perspective to their human dilemma. "Which he will accomplish for you. The Egyptians whom you have seen today you will never see them again". The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent. The Lord will fight for you while you are silent, not while you are talking. What he was referring to was the complaining they were doing, not the crying out to God, but the complaining.
God will fight for you while you keep silent. They were now in the position of submitting the spiritual authority. You must have spiritual authority in your life, spiritual people to whom you can appeal when you don't have spiritual answers yourself and all you can see are the circumstances. Ah, verse 15, "Then the Lord said to Mo". "The Lord said to Moses, 'Why are you crying out to me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward.'" He says to Moses, "Why are you crying out to me? Tell Israel to go forward".
Now, the problem with that verse is there's nothing stated about Moses crying out to him. There's no statement about Moses crying. It said, "The people cried out". But then God turns to Moses and says, "Why are you crying out"? 'Cause, see, when you're in the pulpit, you know the right things to tell the people. "Why are you cryin' out to me, Moses? You're strugglin' like the people". Says, "What I want you to do is tell people, 'Now it's time to move.'" "Tell them to move forward".
Now, here is a principle. He had just said, "Stand still, do nothing". But now he gets another message that says, "Tell 'em now to go forward". So here it is. When God puts you in a dilemma and there is nothing that you can do or should do, you do nothing. When God hasn't given you something to do, that means there is not something he wants you to do yet. But now he tells them to move forward. It says, "By faith they crossed the Red Sea".
Remember, faith is in your feet, not in your feelings. Hebrews 11:29 says: "They did it by faith". Because faith often has to operate when fear is present, okay? Faith does not automatically eradicate fear, but faith, when it is operating, overrides fear because fear immobilizes. Faith moves, even when you are fearful. But when he gives you something to do, you move. He says, "Tell the people to move," and so the people move. "Moses, lift up your staff". He lifts up the rod, now called, "The rod of God". He says, "I will," again, this word in verse 17, "harden the heart of the Egyptians". "I'mma make 'em harder. I'mma make 'em hate you more. I'mma make 'em come after you worse than before".
"So that they will go in after them, and I will be honored through Pharaoh and his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. "So Moses stretches out his hand with the rod," verse 21, "and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong wind all night and turned the sea into dry land so the waters were divided. The sons of Israel went through," verse 23, "then the Egyptians took up pursuit". To see a sea open up, the water wall on both sides, this whole army of almost 2 million people walking through, and you go in there after them. You got to be crazy. But they were made crazy by God hardening their heart.
So God may be hardening the heart of your coworker, makin' them treat you bad worse. He may be hardening the heart of your boss, making him treat you worse, or that person in your life, or that circumstance. See, that's why you gotta be in the will of God, because when he makes it worse, he's using it. "I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and the Egyptians will come after you". The result of all of this is in the last verse of the chapter. It says in verse 31: "When Israel saw," say, "Saw". See, not - they ain't heard, they saw. "When Israel saw the great power which the Lord had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses".
Why does God put you in a dilemma when you're in his will? So you can see somethin'. Says, "When the people saw". Says, "When they saw the power of the Lord". They encountered God's power. You know what those people were sayin'? They said, "Take us back to Egypt". You know what God was tryin' to do? He was tryin' to deliver them from somethin' in their past. Egypt was their past. But you can get so used to yesterday that when the day goes bad on you, you wanna go back. He says, "I'mma deliver you from yesterday because I have a different tomorrow. But for me to deliver you from yesterday to take you to a different tomorrow, I'm gonna create confusion today".
So I want you to look at your dilemma that you're either in or that you will face differently. If you're not in the will of God, get in the will of God so they can turn it into something he can use. If you're not walking by faith, but only walking by sight, begin to walk by faith and no longer live a life of complaining, acknowledging the reality, but not blaming man for something God has done. Because you now have this bigger view of God who wants to show you his power so that he can blow your mind in a catch-22. And some of you have heard this story because you've been here for a while. But the newer people may not have heard the story.
And so I wanna conclude my time with telling you one of my dilemma moments. We were meeting at a school in the early days of our ministry. We did not have a permanent home at that time. We were meeting at this school, and the school board said we could no longer meet there. We would have to, in a couple of weeks, find another place to have worship. We were in a catch-22. We were in a dilemma. What would we tell the people? We went back to the school board and asked them for an extension of time. They said, "They do not think we can get it because there were too many board members with this whole thing of church and state that were against the church meeting in a school". But then they said, "But we will have a final official vote". But the person who we talked to said, "Let me tell you now, there are too many people against you".
So we were caught in a trick bag. We were caught in a dilemma. We were up a tree. We were in a creek. We were between a rock and a hard place, and there was no human solution. All we did was call on God to intervene and to do something that was out of our hands. It was now the day of the vote, and we knew the votes were against us. We had been told that by an insider. The meeting was supposed to happen at a certain time, but the time went on and on and on. I guess we're sitting out there close to 2 hours, when it should have been finished in 30 minutes, waiting for a decision.
Finally, a lady comes out of the meeting. She says, "I am sorry it's taken so long, but two of our board members are missing. They have not yet gotten to the meeting. So we tried to wait for them so we could have a full council vote, but they have not showed up, and we have decided to go ahead with the vote. We went ahead with the vote, and by one vote you have gotten approval to stay in the school," by one vote. When she finished coming out, the two who were missing rushed in. The two who were missing rushed in, but the vote had already been taken.
Ah, but that's not the good part of the story. The good part of the story is why they were late. These two decided to ride together. When they decided to ride together, they got off of Polk and 67, and there was an accident at the light. The accident at the light held up traffic for almost two hours where the traffic could not move. So, within that two hours, the vote was taken. So, by the time the traffic got cleared away and they rushed in, it was too late 'cause God had already set up a block.
The story in Exodus chapter 18 says that "the cloud and the pillar of fire went from in front of the Jews and went to the back of the Jews to create a block so that Pharaoh's army could not get to them until they crossed over". So, what God did was he took the angel of the Lord and he left from in front of, He went to the back of, He went down to Polk and 67, allowed an accident to occur at just the right time for just the right amount of cars in order to block what God's purpose was. He created a dilemma. Now, the good news of that for you is that I have never forgotten it.
So, anytime now we run into a dilemma, I remember what happened at the end of the 1970s. Anytime we run into a problem, I remember that "God is the same yesterday, today, and forever". I remember to tell you, "Let's move forward when God says, 'Move,' even though we don't see how it's gonna work out 'cause the God who can create an accident at just the right time can do whatever he decides to do in the dilemmas in our lives as long as we're in the center of his will". Come on and praise him, somebody, because he's worthy, because he wants you to see him for yourself in the dilemma of your life.
Sometimes it looks like God is taking his time, and too much time at that. You've been praying. You've been trusting. You've been obeying. And nothing is happening. But one of the truths of Scripture is that God allows us to encounter him and his promises as he prepares us to run smack dab into a fresh encounter with him. When God makes us wait, he is preparing us for the promise, but he's also preparing the promise for us. And what he wants in that moment is a divine encounter with him.
This is exactly what happened when God told Abraham to offer up Isaac in Genesis 22. God was preparing to fulfill a promise, a promise that took many years to come to fruition, but God wanted to first give Abraham an encounter with him in the sacrifice of his son. And for that encounter to happen, it involved a series of contradictions, things that don't make sense. "Sacrifice my own son when you said he was gonna be the promise? It doesn't make sense". When God's promise is delayed and when it looks like it's about to be fulfilled and then a contradiction occurs, that's time for a divine encounter. God wants to show you in something that doesn't make sense how much he makes sense in keeping his Word, even though you had to wait to see it fulfilled.
And the key to understanding this encounter that God had with Abraham and that he wants to have with you and me is the phrase, "Now I know that you fear me". You see, God wants to know that we trust him, even when trusting him is the last thing we wanna do. So, if your trust is wavering and you've been waiting too long, you're close to the moment of your divine encounter. Don't give up. Keep on going. And as Abraham said, let's watch and see the Lord provide the solution to this problem. God has a ram in the bush for you like he had a ram in the bush for Abraham.