What started out to be a good thing, over time and before I really knew it, turned out to be a deadly and dark prison. How did that happen?
By God’s grace, you and I have said or will say these words. We’ll ask this question as we try to retrace our steps that led to our captivity. They have the sound of regret and sadness. There’s even some confusion in the questioning.
I say, “By God’s grace,” because it is by God’s grace that we are saved from our sin. Being saved from our sin means grappling with and understanding our sin. It’s recognizing it as sin; and it is seeing, by God’s grace, what led us to disobey God.
In his speech before the religious leaders, Stephen recounts the all-important story of how God raised up Moses and used him to lead the entire nation of Israel through the desert wilderness to the edge of the Jordan River.
How did Israel end up in Egypt? Not by chance! In fact, if you read Stephen’s speech in Acts 7:9-19, he tells you in short summary how the Hebrews became the slaves of the Egyptians. Freedom from a famine in one generation became the prison of the people in the next generation.
The fast that is associated with Lent serves many purposes and can be helpful on many levels. To be sure, one of those benefits is realizing that something good in my life has become a god. The very best version of myself is a lousy substitute for God!
“A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living,” (Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods).
Joseph blessed his family with the riches of Egypt in a time of need. Over time, that blessing became a curse. As thankful as they were to rid themselves of that curse and follow Moses out of Egypt, at some point in the unforgiving wilderness and in their worry, they wished they had never left Egypt.
That’s how sin and idolatry work. It becomes a familiar and manageable source of pleasure. It’s an impoverished mindset, but it’s something. When we are prisoners to sin’s Pharaohs, we barely have the faith or imagination to dream of something better. We can’t see the Promised Land.
Nevertheless, it is there!
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” (Hebrews 11:1). Like Abraham, people of the promise “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city,” (Hebrews 11:16).
To be people of the promise is to be the people of God. Keeping the promise requires our faith in God, not our best efforts. He alone will lead us out of prisons of our sin and shame.