Sin corrupts the human heart, yes. But sin is also systemic. Sin corrupts institutions and cultures. We can observe it in oppressive structures like patriarchy. Yet it is so pervasive that often we are completely oblivious to our participation. Alternatively, we may be aware of systemic sin and simply choose to deny, deflect or justify the abuse of power and privilege we see. Only someone who is very privileged, very empathetic, and very powerful can save us.
As products of our society, we need to be aware of how we may be affected by cultural and systemic sins.
What is Systemic Sin?
“It is true that sin affects the heart of every human being. It is true. But that is not the only thing you can say about sin. Sin is able to affect institutions, peoples and cultures. Amen! And so, what we are going to see in this sermon is the reality of how systemic sin affects all of us. Because it affects us also in this city (Lagos). And if we are to develop properly as human beings, remember, because there are about 5 different ways we can do that, we need to also see that we – as products of our society – we need to be aware of how we may be affected by the cultural and systemic sins.
“I want to show you how you can identify systemic sin through three equations:
1. Privilege plus sin is equal to oppression.
2. Oppression plus people equals an oppressive culture.
And 3. An oppressive culture plus time equals systemic sin.
Alright? Now, this equation is at work in the familiar story of slavery in Egypt that Faye read to us (Exodus 1:8-22). Indeed, it is at work in all cases of systemic sin.”
Identifying, Opposing & Defeating Systemic Sin
“This sermon is going to show us how we can identify such sins, fight their existence and fight their existence without having them affect us and do so through the gospel. I should say this is not meant to be a comfortable sermon! So, let us go through it. We have titled it sin is systemic and there are 3 points. Identifying systemic sin. Opposing systemic sin. And then defeating it.”
To Defeat Sin, We Must Understand It
We will only begin to be victorious when we understand the essence of sin and fight it from its roots
Are you tired of constantly being defeated by sin? Are you surprised that it somehow always keeps getting victory over you? This is because we never fully understand sin and therefore underestimate it. Combating sin is crucial for Christian growth and we will only begin to be victorious when we understand the essence of sin and fight it from its roots.
This is the second in a five-part sermon series where we consider the biblical description of sin and learn how to be victorious over it. Pick up the other sermons here: The Anatomy of Sin – The Essence
Text: Exodus 1:8-22
Preached: 26 January 2020
Location: City Church, Lagos, Nigeria
We’ve been going through a series, and it’s a serious; the anatomy of sin. Today is going to be the second of that. So, I just want to pray before we start.
Lord we ask you for your presence to continue to be with us – spirit of the living God. We want to hear your voice; we do not want to hear the voice of a man. We pray that you would do your work as you speak. In Jesus’ name we pray.
It was indicated in the prayer but just the other day Pastor Lawan Andimi was beheaded by Boko Haram. Ropvil Dalep, as well, and shot by Boko Haram. And they were ushered into the presence of their saviour. These were heroes. As far as I know they never denied Christ. And they didn’t show hatred towards their captors. Sadly thought, they were not the first. This has been happening for a while. And so, when you think about the murder of Christians everywhere, how are we to think about what’s behind that?
Sin is Not Just in Our Hearts
Now of course last week we said it’s sin. Sin in the heart of people – and that’s true. And we saw how that sin came to be. We said we are also all born with this sin DNA. We saw how this started from the very beginning. There was a craft y serpent that deceived the first man and woman. But, the Bible from beginning to the end says a bit more about how this sin multiplies. It’s true that people are evil, but it says more about united sinful acts committed over time.
Revelation 17: The Woman on Many Waters
So, for instance, when you take the issue of the persecution of Christians, we can think about who in the book of Revelation the great prostitute. I just want to read some verses in Revelation 17 that tell us a little bit about that great prostitute. It says “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters” (Revelation 17:1). Notice that “by many waters”. Then “I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had 7 heads and 10 horns” (Revelation 17:3). “I saw the woman who was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people. The blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.” (Revelation 17:6) “The 7 heads are 7 hills on which the woman sits.” (Revelation 17:9) “Then the angel said to me the waters you saw where the great prostitute sits are peoples and multitudes, nations and languages” (Revelation 17:15).
Who is this woman? Before you think it’s just an individual woman – no that is not what is happening. When you look at this book of Revelation that uses pictures to build, to convey to us, greater realities, you notice that this woman who is sitting on the beast – who has 7 heads and 10 horns – is also sitting on many waters. Now the beast that she is sitting on we are introduced to in Revelation 12 and 13. That beast was instigated by a red dragon. Do you know who that red dragon is? I will tell you. The red dragon was the crafty serpent in Genesis chapter 3. Now there is another part of this evil entity that was crafty as a serpent, but now we see as a ferocious red dragon. That ferocious red dragon is able to… he was able to bring together a particular beast. In fact, two beasts, one from the sea, one from the earth. But the one she is riding on is one with 7 heads and 10 horns. But notice that this woman is doing something. Not only is she riding the dragon, she is also sitting on many waters.
The Goal of the Dragon: To Destroy God’s People
Now we know the goal of the dragon that we see later. But we also see here that she is riding that dragon to do what? With the goal of destroying God’s people. Can you see it? In verse 6. She is drunk with the blood of God’s people. And how is she achieving that? Somehow through the dragon, but she is sitting on many waters. But what is the many waters? Peoples, multitudes, nations, languages of the world. Now time will not permit me to say too much, but the beast at that time is really the city on hills. Which is Rome. And so, at that time that beast was being referred to as the Roman Empire. And so, it was this spiritual entity that used the means of the Roman Empire, which was over many languages, many peoples. She was using this ferocious Roman Empire to be able to destroy God’s Holy people. Do you understand? In other words, this woman had been able to infect different peoples, infect and institution. Peoples, but the entire institution.
Sin Affects Institutions, Peoples & Cultures
What does this tell us? It is true that sin affects the heart of every human being. It is true. But that is not the only thing you can say about sin. Sin is able to affect institutions, peoples and cultures. Amen! And so, what we are going to see in this sermon is the reality of how systemic sin affects all of us. Because it affects us also in this city. And if we are to develop properly as human beings, remember, because there are about 5 different ways we can do that, we need to also see that we – as products of our society – we need to be aware of how we may be affected by the cultural and systemic sins.
And so, this sermon is going to show us how we can identify such sins, fight their existence and fight their existence without having them affect us and do so through the gospel. I should say this is not meant to be a comfortable sermon! So, let us go through it. We have titled it sin is systemic and there are 3 points.
1) Identifying systemic sin. 2) Opposing systemic sin. 3) Defeating systemic sin. Identifying systemic sin. Opposing systemic sin. And then defeating it. Alright so let’s start with the first one: Identifying systemic sin.
Identifying Systemic Sin
Now, as I said last week, other than being extremely talented in football – I am saying myself – also I did a lot of singing at some point. But I was too good for the choir that I had to stop singing there. Some of you know me as a very good storyteller as well. But you know I don’t want to start toting all my qualities! But I did once have a life in… doing mathematics. I like mathematics. I still like numbers. I like equations as well. And so, because of that, with this first point I want to show you how you can identify systemic sin through three equations. Alright? Three equations. So, for those of you who did not like maths, now is the time to close your eyes. Alright. Three. Let’s bring it up.
Three Equations: The Roots of Systemic Sin
1. Privilege plus sin is equal to oppression. Privilege plus sin is equal to oppression.
2. Oppression plus people equals an oppressive culture. Oppression plus people equals an oppressive culture.
And 3. An oppressive culture plus time equals systemic sin. Alright? Now this equation is at work in this familiar story that Faye read to us (Exodus 1:8-22) and is at work in all cases of systemic sin. Let us start with the text.
Now we are at the beginning of the book of Exodus. We didn’t read the first 7 verses, but what it tells us is after the end of the Book of Genesis Abraham had his son who was Isaac. Isaac had two sons. But the election line was through a guy called Jacob whose name was eventually turned to Israel who had 12 sons. And one of them, called Joseph, went into Egypt. He became the Prime Minister of Egypt and then brought the whole family of Abraham’s line into Egypt. There were 70 of them.
Now over a period of time – 100s of years in that place – they multiplied. They were fruitful and they multiplied. They became a huge group of people and then there was a Pharaoh that came to power that did not know Joseph. That is how verse 8 starts. “A new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.”
The Power of Privilege in Pharaoh’s Egypt
Now what we find in this context is, 1. The Egyptians were more privileged than the Israelites. Why do I say that? For instance take Lagos. The Yorubas are more privileged than the Igbos – can I get an amen? Because this is your Yorubaland – alright let’s take that back. Alright? Igbos are welcome. Hausas are welcome. Lagos does not belong to anybody! Alright? So they say. Alright! But you couldn’t tell… the way we come together in Lagos is not… they knew the distinction between those who were Egyptians and those who were not Egyptians – do you understand that?
So, as much as the Hebrews were sort of there in Egypt, there was no more Joseph. Again, people have forgotten about Joseph. 100s of years had passed! So, at least as far as you think about the owners of the land, the Egyptians were more privileged than the Hebrews. Do we agree? But then there was even someone that was even more privileged than the average Egyptians – it was Pharaoh. Because notice it says that this Pharaoh, this new king, had come to power. In other words, he had power over the Egyptians, but also over the Hebrews. He was doubly privileged as an Egyptian that was in power.
The Beginning of Slavery
But with this privilege what happened? He had a sinful motive. In verse 8 he says that… verse 10, he says “let us deal… we must deal shrewdly with them.” That is them are the Hebrews. And so this sinful motive, mixed with his privilege, led to what? Oppression. Look at verse 11. “So they put slave masters over them to oppress them.” And so you have your first equation there. The privilege plus sin has now led to what? Oppression. Let’s move on.
Now though it was moving to oppression, Pharaoh needed to put the same oppressive motivation they had, he was now going to spread it. In fact he created a whole new economy and brought employment. But it was two different types of employment. Because as you see in verse 11 the oppression that came was going to – sorry in verse 13 and 14 – the Israelites, the Hebrews, were put on the harsh labour. So they had labour. But then he created another form of employment. He took some of his own people and he gave them work. He called them slave masters. And so now the oppression is not just with Pharaoh – it has now gone to Pharaoh’s people. These slave masters. And what did that do? Well in verse 13 they said they worked them ruthlessly. In verse 14 again it says “in all their harsh labour the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.”
Slavery Becomes a Cultural Norm
So, you see what has happened. The oppression started with Pharaoh, but now it has come down to numerous of his people – these slave masters. And now all of a sudden there is a culture that is developing. You say, “well it was only to a small group of people.” Well look at verse 22. It wasn’t just the slave masters. In fact Pharaoh gave this order to who? Look at the verse. Pharaoh gave this order to who? “All of his people.” That’s what verse 22 says. Verse 22 says then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people.” So now you have a system such that all the Egyptian people have now taken the same oppressive mindset and now they are exerting it on all the Hebrews. It has moved from just being oppression in the mind of their ruler, to now being and oppressive culture with the people. What do you have there? Equation 2 which says that oppression plus people – multiplied to a lot of people – leads to an oppressive culture. Let’s move on.
80 Years of Oppression
But this went on for a long time. In fact if you go to verse 23 of chapter 2 – if you go there it tells us that this went on for a long time. How long was that time? Well if you read the whole of Exodus chapter 2 but you then look at how Stephen, when Stephen is giving his take of this in Acts Chapter 7 and I read from verse 3 to 30, you put it with Moses’ life. How long Moses spent in Egypt? Because Moses was one of those children that was born – and he shows us that Moses was 40 years when he fled Egypt to Media. And then Moses spent another 40 years in Media before he went back to Egypt. How long is that now? And then in verse 23 says after a long time that Pharaoh died the cry of that people went up to God. So this happened for 80 years. The oppressive culture now had happened for 80 years.
Do you know what 80 years is? First of all let me tell you can’t answer that question because there is only one person in this congregation that is 80 years. Mama Sipasi! She is the only one. So you don’t know what 80 years is. But here is what you know. 80 years is more than your life. In other words there were Egyptians and there were Hebrews that knew nothing else but slavery between Egyptians and Hebrews. Do you understand that?
Every Layer of Society is Affected
So slavery would have mixed into every fabric of their society. It would have mixed into every form of their systems. Their people whose father was a slave master and the father’s father was a slave master. What do you think their grandchildren are going to be brought up as? Slave Masters – exactly that is the family trade.
And so, when you have a culture that has been transported over a period of time all of a sudden the oppressive sin of that culture works its way into every nook and cranny of that society. That is when sin is systemic. In fact you breath and drink the water. You don’t even know! You wouldn’t even call it oppression! You will go and visit your friend Festos and say who is that? “Oh it’s my slave. He’s just working outside there.” And you would think… and they would say look Festos is a good man – he is a good slave master. Because when his slaves do wrong he only flogs them 5 times.
The Sinful Exploitation of Privilege
It’s in the culture. And so, the third thing. Oppressive culture plus time equals systemic sin. You see what was going on here was the sinful exploitation of ethnic privilege. You had the Egyptians. You had the Hebrews. They were different ethnicities. One had privilege over the other and it was the exploitation of that privilege that was at work here in Egypt.
But there have been other kinds of sinful exploitations of certain kinds of privileges. Take, for instance, what is racism? It’s the sinful exploitation of historical perceived racial privilege. I say historical perceived because it is not that there is, actually, something more advantageous. But, as things developed over that time, certain races had certain kinds of advantages. What’s religious persecution? Well religious persecution is the sinful exploitation of religious privilege. What is elitism? Elitism is the sinful exploitation of socio economic privilege! And so when you have people who are wealthier, who have a certain status above certain people, they are the ones who can talk to those people anyhow – and the other ones can never talk to them the other way round.
What’s Elderism? You should know this one eh? It is the sinful exploitation of what? Of age privilege. Once you are older than somebody you are always right! You might as well say – I know that person, he never tells lies. You are like – that is such a lie! Are you my elder brother? But one that really grips me is patriarchy.
Patriarchy: The Sinful Exploitation of Gender Privilege
What is patriarchy? Patriarchy is the sinful exploitation of gender privilege. Let me give you a definition. Patriarchy is a socially oppressive system that exploits male privilege with the goal of maintaining male dominance in a society through the direct and indirect exploitation of females by denying them reasonable opportunities for growth at best. And subjection to various forms of abuses at worst.
I’ve been reading a book – it’s one of the most difficult books I’ve had to read in my life. It’s called ‘Scars Across Humanity’ by a Christian woman called Elaine Storkey. It demonstrates how male privilege works with sin. Male privilege works with sin and how it affects women globally. She writes chapters on – listen to this – she writes different chapters on these things. On these forms of female oppression. She writes chapters on selective abortion – to show she starts from the very beginning – to female genital mutilation. To child marriages, to honour killings, domestic violence, trafficking and prostitution, rape and then war and sexual violence. If you hear the stories – if you see the statistics – you will… you cannot read that book without shedding tears.
The Shocking Truth of How We Value Women Today
You see it’s true that sin is in the heart of people. Yes. It is true. But it’s not merely that. If I take this quote that she put it’s a staggering quote. Listen to it: “as the statistics calmly tell us, acts of violence to women aged between 15 and 44 across the globe, produces…” remember what she said: “acts of violence to women aged between 15 and 44 across the globe, produces more deaths, disabilities and mutilation than cancer, malaria and traffic accidents combined.” She then says “the truth is that violence of such a scale could not exist were it not structured in some way into the very fabric of societies and cultures themselves. It could not continue if it were not somehow supported by deep assumptions about the value of women or some justification of the use of power.” Are you hearing this?
Do You Want to Be a ‘Daugher-in-Law’?
You say – “ah, well you know.. it’s across the world, maybe it’s not happening here?” Hmmm… Just think – if you are saying that – just think if you are a Yoruba woman married to a Yoruba man, and now you are become the daughter-in-law. As I am saying that women are already shivering. Somebody said recently on Instagram – they put this on their Instagram thread. It says “you know what happens – like me now – take me now… When, “just before I got married”, it was a woman. “Just before I got married when I went to my future wife’s home – when they heard I was coming – they got me the house of the best person of their household to stay in. They got me a car, right? So that I could move around. Then when I came in I sat down on a special chair. I got special food. It was almost amazing – all the aunties came. They looked after me! Now that we are married, guess what? If I say I am landing they say “Ah! Femi’s coming! What food would you like to have?” I am going to my in-law’s house. I am married to their daughter – so I deserve special treatment. Because when you go to your in-law’s house, when you are married to their child, you deserve special treatment.
What about the daughter-in-law? When she is going, when she goes to the in-law’s house… you know what the first thing is? When you ask – are you eating? They say yes – now go and cook food for us. In one post it said the husband’s sister was – she posted it on social media – she was angry that this sister-in-law, she was a “stupid girl”. She said that this sister-in-law saw how uMa – that is the husband’s mum – the husband’s mum was sweeping and the sister-in-law passed as the mother was sweeping. Can you imagine what kind of stupid girl that is? To which you want to say “wait, wait, wait. Where were you now when your own mum was sweeping?”
If that kind of thing happens do you know what happens? They call a meeting. They call and ask her “what is wrong with you? Don’t you have home training?” Then they chastise the husband for not training his wife well. Imagine? The man is meant to train the wife. Just saying. They say “don’t you know how to be a good woman?” Do you see the double standards? And we don’t… we sit and we just say “it’s part of our culture.” Exactly – it’s an oppressive culture.
Signs of a Patriarchal Society
Another side comment – in fact let me give you some signs of the presence of patriarchy in a society.
Denial. We act as though we don’t know it is – women are fine. “Ah women are fine! Look at the shoe I bought for her. You see those things?” The value of the woman is according to the shoe or the car that you bought for her. But it was you that bought it for her. Showing that you really do own her. So, we look the other way or we minimise the issue.
Deflection. Deflection here is that we minimise the problem and the majority issues – I will get to that in my second point – but we maximise the error. Where we report an issue we try to find the error in the person’s testimony. We over-blow that, and by doing that, we deflect against the real issue that is there.
Selective disdain. If a guy should disrespect you, you say “ah! Now well look at this person just disrespected me.” If a woman should disrespect you “can you imagine – a woman!” No – a person. You are disrespected by two persons. Why can’t a woman disrespect you? Do you have self-respect? I am not trying to say disrespect is a good thing, by the way. I am saying it’s the selective disdain.
Oblivious participation. You won’t even know. You are driving on the road, “who is this person driving now? Who is this person driving here?” You have a look you say “it’s even a woman.” But you don’t know that that is part of your participation! You just said it! I have no evil intention in my heart – it’s true! That shows you the presence of the thing there. There is no evil or particular motivation, but you are drinking from the water that is available in our society.
Lack of authoritative redress. That is the laws that we have are not up to date. Victim blaming and shaming, demanding impossible evidence, high female illiteracy levels. Let me give you a scenario. And this one happens because… the thing is that with all of these things, the one that hits me the most is domestic violence.
“But Why Doesn’t She Just Leave?”
Domestic abuse and violence. Take this for instance. People often ask this question. “This woman has been complaining about her husband emotionally abusing her; physically abusing her. Are we sure it’s true? You know why? Why is she still staying? Why is she still staying?” If you are asking that question permit me to help you with your ignorance.
Imagine a culture where from the very beginning people have 3 children, or 4 children. One guy, three girls. And they say “the most important thing is for the guy to be educated. The women have to learn how to be good wives.” So, the women are now denied education. Right? The guy is given an education. What a woman needs is a husband who is well educated. So, by the time she is 16 they’ve made a pact.
You see all the different elements: high female illiteracy. So then there is a forced marriage and she now goes to this man’s house. This man beats her. I can’t remember which country it was but 90% of men said “it is permissible for a man to hit his wife if she burns the food.” So this man now constantly abuses her. Let’s say it’s in a modern society like Lagos – he is constantly abusing her, telling her she is not good enough, telling her all of these things. And then she stays with the person who continues to abuse her – she tells her friends but she says she does not think she can go.
Reactions An Abused Wife Can Expect from Society…
If she goes what is going to happen? If she wants to report abuse, about the abuse, where is she meant to go, let me ask you? The police? Let her go to the police. The policeman himself beats his own wife. How do you think he is going to look at this madam? “If happens to everyone – you too.” Like some men, I have seen this before many times, some men – you have probably heard of this thing – so a man cheats on his wife, and they blame the wife. Because she is not emotionally satisfying her husband.
So the policeman says “madam. Let’s go home. A broken home is no good. Do it for the children.” So the police don’t want to take it seriously. But if you find one policeman who eventually takes it seriously, let’s take it to the courts. Have you looked at the laws? Where are the laws for emotional abuse? There is absolutely nothing there. Who is going to represent her? They also have a son – who also has three wives that he beats regularly. But he does provide them with trips to Paris and whatever. Who is going to represent them? Oh, by the way if she can get a good lawyer, who is going to pay for it? The woman that doesn’t have a business, that for 10 years the husband has said she cannot work?
But OK maybe, maybe the people, the leadership in the Church – the church is going to pay for it and the Church is going to help her with the divorce. Except the Church says that the Bible says that you can never, ever divorce somebody.
Which family is she going to go back to? The family that are going to say “no. We have taken you to your husband’s house – go back there.” So, you are now saying this woman – that has no redress in the courts, cannot go to the police, this woman has no money, she cannot rent anything, she cannot go to her parent’s house, she can’t go to the Church, she can’t go anywhere. Where do you think she would go? And you are asking the question “why stay?”
At this point it is not just the sinfulness of someone’s heart that is working against her – it is an entire system. And that system needs to come down. That takes me to my second point: Opposing systemic sin.
Opposing Systemic Sin
If you are saying “this seems more than just human!” Yes. You are very correct. It is more than just human. You see, when you look at the slavery in Egypt you can say “well, it’s Pharaoh” you can say all of those things – it’s true. But if you read the Psalms in Psalm 74, if you read Ezekiel in Ezekiel 29, what he says is though we see what is happening humanly, we also know that there are spiritual entities – diabolical entities – behind it. In fact he calls it The Leviathan – the monster of the sea. And so in Psalm 74:13-14 it says “it was you who split open the sea by your power; you broke the heads of the monster in the water. It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan and gave it as food to the creature of the desert.” So he is talking about what happened at the Red Sea, and he is saying the monster was in Egypt.
He is even more specific with Pharaoh in Ezekiel 29:2-3. “Son of man, set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt and prophesy against him and against all Egypt. Speak to him and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “‘I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, you great monster lying among your streams. You say, “The Nile belongs to me; I made it for myself.”
The Diabolical Power Behind Sin
So, when you talk about Patriarchy, don’t just look at is as men. There is a diabolical power behind it. But I want to tell you something – why face it? do you know why you should face it? Secret, just a secret… oppressors are also fearful. They are scared. They are not as powerful as you think.
Look at verse 9 again. What motivated Pharaoh to bring about slavery? “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.” (Exodus 1:9-10) What motivated him was not because he was powerful, it was because he was weak!
Abusive husbands are what? Weak! Bullies are always weak! It is because they have privilege that they exploit the privilege to mask their weakness and stay in control. So, in other words why should you oppose them? Well first of all we are called to be agents of good to fight against evil. But here’s the point, the agents of evil are scared. That’s why we don’t back down.
4 Ways To Oppose Systemic Sin
So I want to give you 4 different ways through which we can oppose them. Don’t deny it. Pray about it. Manoeuvre around it. Directly oppose it.
1. Don’t Deny It
Now, though he was brought up in Egyptian royalty – because Moses was taken by Pharaoh’s daughter – Moses did not deny the plight of slaves. Look at chapter 2 verse 11: “One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labour. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people” (Exodus 2:11-12). You know eventually he fought that guy and killed him. In other words Moses was aware of it.
Listen guys, the privileged far too often deny the systemic oppression of victims. And one of the chief ways we do this is somebody will now come and say “don’t you know that men too are suffering?” All these families know it. “Don’t you know that men too are suffering?” To this I want to say it’s true! In fact I can tell you that I am sure there will have been some Hebrews that were enjoying! You know later during the Roman Empire we had people called tax collectors. Tax collectors were Jews. They were just Jews that were working with the Roman system – and that is why they hated them. So, there would have been Jews in this Slavery Economy that would have been enjoying. And I am sure if you look hard enough you will have found some Egyptians that were also suffering. But that does not deny the fact that in general, in general, the plight of the Hebrews as a whole was worse – was far worse off – than Egyptians.
Listen, it’s for no reason that we do not have a category of study called selective male abortions. It’s for no reason that nobody talks about MGM. What’s MGM? Male Genital Mutilation. Have you ever heard of that? Precisely. Because it doesn’t exist! It’s for no reason that most people, we don’t talk about male domestic violence. There are no categories. The reason is because they are nowhere near as rampant. Stop denying it by deflecting. Because listen, the silence of friends hurts more than the words of enemies. The oppressed need empathy. They need the empathy of the concerned privileged, not their unreasonable scrutiny.
2. Pray About It
Second, Pray about it. Let’s go to Exodus 2:23-15 you hear that the groan of the people came up to God. And because of that God was moved to respond. You see we need activist mindset in intercessory warriors. We are far too comfortable when it comes to praying. It’s not by jin-jin prayer – just speak a silent word and God hears you. Have you ever heard of the importunate woman?
Let me tell you something, you can criticise my theology I don’t care. There is the effect of jin-jin prayers – there is. Elijah was the a fervent prayer – the effectual fervent prayer of the righteous what? If you like you can come and meet me outside after that. But if you have been suffering slavery for 80 years – 80 years! Will you go “oh Lord God will you deliver us from this slavery?” And say he just hears the word? The groan moved Him.
Activist. Activist-minded intercessory warriors. In every generation we need unceasing prayers against injustice. And then you ask me “for how long?” I say as long as there is injustice present. And until something happens. But we’ve prayed for so long! Continue to pray. You know that we don’t stop praying as long as there is something to pray about.
The Power of Prayer in East Germany
Let me tell you a story. It’s about East Germany in the ‘80s. It was especially hard to be a Christian under one of the most repressive regimes in the world – Communist East Germany. Most people on minimum wages were cynically supplemented by daily bottles of Vodka from the Government. And with almost nothing to do after work but drink the stuff – resulting in those brought up under it belonging to a broken generation of men, reduced to alcoholic dependency on their jobs. What a terrible place to be in: Germany behind the iron curtain, the Berlin Wall.
But in 1982 a Pastor named Christian Führer called people to pray for peace every Monday night. At the start there were often less than a dozen people. But they persevered. 7 years later in 1989, 8000 people crammed into the church. Outside in the streets and in other churches there were as many as 70,000 people – the largest impromptu demonstration ever witnessed in East Germany since it had been formed after the Second World War. With so many people expressing their protest in prayer the State was preparing for anarchy. In fact they had threatened to shut down the prayer rally that very night with whatever means necessary. So much so that doctors were setting up emergency clinics, expecting a blood bath.
Surely this was crazy. Attempting to fight military hardware with prayers? Or perhaps, looking at the crowds cradling candles like stars, and for a moment their voices all crescendoed, perhaps it was the authorities who were crazy to fight prayers with guns? One way or another they would soon find out. Surprisingly, the police never opened fire. Within a week the peace prayer rally had grown to 120,000 and the East German leader had been forced to resign.
Within a fortnight the prayer rally had attracted 300,000 protestors, and within a month, 4 weeks later to the day, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. Some journalists and historians have identified this prayer rally as the tipping point in the fall of East German Communism. A remarkable acknowledgement for a movement that began so quietly 7 years earlier with a handful of people at a prayer meeting. One communist official made an extraordinary, unguarded admission to a journalist: “we were prepared for every eventuality” he said “but not for candles and not for prayers.”
A great theologian, Karl Barth, once said that “to clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.” We know that God answers prayers. How long do we pray? Until something happens!
3. Manoeuvre Around It
Third, manoeuvre around it. You see the oppressed need to be deft in manoeuvring around oppressors. Like these Hebrew women did with Pharaoh. When Pharaoh told them to kill they didn’t kill, but they went to Pharaoh and they said “Ah! These Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women – they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” Did they lie to Pharaoh? He deserved to be lied to! OK no.
You see… they feared God more than they feared Pharaoh. But, they also knew that sometimes you are more effective not by direct engagement, but by deft manoeuvring. Sometimes, powerless and outnumbered women in organisations – where you feel that you are marginalised because you are a woman – you have to be deft in the organisation. You work through the structures of the system patiently to rise to power before you can effect change. Rather than going around making noise about injustice and you lose your job before your first promotion, and the opportunity to effect any change.
You may have to endure, but when you endure and you get some power, you get the power and then you empower women coming after you. And the more those women come into power, and the more their voices are heard, the more that system of oppression within the organisation can come tumbling down. Sometimes you have to be strategic and deft to be able to manoeuvre round this system. Are we together?
Women in abusive relationships. If you have entered an abusive relationship and it’s already been one or two years, and you don’t have an education, try to get one. If you don’t have any business, try to get one. Open your own account. Because if you don’t, the person that is controlling you – the one who controls your pocket – he will also control your living.
4. Directly Oppose It
Finally, directly oppose it. Now the fact that some people… not all people are called to confront the system directly, doesn’t mean that no-one is. Notice, Moses, who became the human deliverer, he did not spend one day as a slave. Do you notice? And yet Moses was Hebrew. In other words Moses was like them on one hand, and Moses was unlike them on another hand. He was privileged. Moses was privileged and Moses understood that privilege is given for service, not exploitation.
Thus to fight the patriarchy on the one hand we need women who have already been empowered from the outset. Intellectually empowered. Financially empowered. Whether by inheritance or something. Those women should be at the forefront of helping other women that don’t have voices. Do you understand me? Because they are women like them, but they are unlike them in that they are not disenfranchised. But even more importantly – and listen to this – even more importantly, if you want to see an effective fight against patriarchy, do you know who you need? Men!
Unlike women because you are not women. But like them because both of you are created in the image of God. Listen. Unless those who are in the privileged class oppose the system that supports them and they benefit from, you will not see any breakthrough.
Blacks needed non-racist whites. The poor need emphasising elites. Women need men to step up – stop denying – rise up and fight the patriarchy that serves them. And that’s why I have to say to women – and those who have a feminist bent, and there are different forms of feminism, whatever – men are not your enemies.
The moment you categorise all of them as your enemies you may just have turned against your ally. What you need is to convince. We need to be united together. Men who see the issues you need to come together for us to come against this system. And this is not for the men who are here… I mean man – I love being a man! If God was to ask me what I want to come back as in another lifetime I would say “I want to come as a man.” So, I don’t hate my gender. But for the flourishing of my gender I need the other gender to flourish as well. And so we must directly oppose it.
Defeating Systemic Sin
That brings me to my final point. Defeating systemic sin. With all the things that I have said, we need an abolition of all oppressive systems. But what really this means is that we need the destruction of the system, we need deliverance for those under it, and we need transportation to something better!
We Need a New Order
In other words what we really need is a new order. What we need is a new kingdom! Where the oppressed and the oppressor are restored through justice. And when I say restored I mean the oppressed needs healing and renewal and the oppressor needs forgiveness and change – if they are repentant.
And although those 4 steps I just mentioned are really important, incremental change cannot eventually bring a total new order. What you need is a deliverer to deliver us and take us to that kingdom. When God sent Moses to Israel he was that deliverer. He was privileged, he was empathetic and he was powerful. And the task that god gave Moses was to not just break slavery but it was to take them, where? To take them from the kingdom of slavery to where? The promised land.
We Need a Deliverer
Well as empathetic as Moses was, Moses was never a slave. As privileged as he was, Moses was never an Egyptian. As powerful as he was – when he devastated the whole of Egypt – Moses could take the people out of Egypt but he could not take Egypt out of them. So that when they got to the Promised land the very people that were delivered, they set up oppressive systems as well.
Moses did not have the power to change their hearts. Moses did not have the power to give the oppressed justice that they needed. Because Moses was pointing to another deliverer. Now who is that? I present to you Jesus Christ on a cross and with a crown.
Someone Privileged, Empathetic and Powerful
You know why? Remember the deliverer that we need has to be what? He has to be privileged, he has to be empathetic and he has to be powerful. Listen, you don’t get more privileged than Jesus. Because Jesus was not just more financially privileged, was not just more socially privileged, he was not more ethnically privileged, Jesus was divinely privileged! He is God. And with that privilege what did he do? He saw the real need – what you do with privilege is not to exploit, it is to serve. The Son of Man did not come to be served but he came to serve.
We Need Jesus
But Jesus is very empathetic as well. Because although he is divine, he became a human being. He was misunderstood, mischaracterised. He was persecuted he was rejected. And guess what? He suffered under a corrupt judicial system, a sham trial and he was killed in the most repressive way. Because the cross was the Roman Empire’s way of saying “if you ever cross us we will put you on a cross.” Don’t you see? Don’t you see the empathy? The cross tells you something if you are an oppressor or the oppressed.
The cross tells you, if you are the oppressed, that God cares. If you are the oppressor he says that he is angry against your sin. The cross says that he feels the pain of the oppressed, but he also atones for the sin of the oppressor. The cross says that he suffered the consequences not only for the wickedness the oppressed received, but for the sin and the wickedness that the oppressor gave. Are you looking for justice? The cross is your justice. Justice for the oppressed and justice for the oppressor.
Jesus Broke the Power of Fear & Death
Listen to what Hebrews 2:17 says “For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”
“But if this system could defeat Him, if this system could kill him, he is not powerful.” But you see Jesus is powerful. Oh so powerful! So powerful because in that very death and the resurrection he eventually broke the power of the dragon. You see by enduring the most oppressive system of all – which was death – and rising from the dead. He conquered death through death itself. Jesus rose from the dead. And by conquering death by rising from the dead he rose to be enthroned in heaven, and now the kingdom that you are looking for, Jesus has started it. And the power of that kingdom brings healing to those who are oppressed. And you have the power to change the oppressor, because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.
You no longer have to fear being identified by your oppression. You no longer have to fear being identified by your sin if you repent. This is how he puts it in Hebrews 2 14-15 “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”
Jesus Redeems the Equation
What if Jesus were inserted into the equation? I think Jesus would redeem it. Because privilege plus Jesus equals service. Service plus Jesus’ people – those in the kingdom, the oppressed that have been healed, the oppressor that has been forgiven and changed – it will lead to a just culture. But as we wait for his coming; as we look forward to his coming, the just people plus Jesus’s time will equal God’s kingdom.
Let us bow our heads and pray.