In surveying the religious landscape of society, Church historian David Wells has argued that God rests lightly on our shoulders today. He means God is not very weighty, and the gospel has become moralistic. By moralistic, we mean it has been reduced to good advice rather than the good news the Bible teaches about the gospel.

If that confuses you, it might become clearer as we look at our text. Moses has approached Pharaoh with the Lord’s request that Israel be released to go into the wilderness in order to worship the Lord. Pharaoh’s response is one of defiance and anger. It sparks his passion in such a way that he orders the Israelites to be given an impossible work load. They are to continue to provide the same number of bricks, but now they will be given no straw. They must scavenge their own straw.

We read of the people scattering all over Egypt to gather stubble (what is left over in the fields) but the time and energy it requires prevents them from making their quota of bricks. As a result, the foremen of Israel are beaten. Their response is to appeal to Pharaoh for understanding. They receive an angry retort and are sent back with no hope. He is hard, pitiless, and inflexible. Upon seeing Moses, they accuse him of sealing their deaths with his words to Pharaoh.

One doctrine we find in this passage is that sin is a hard master.  We will look at it by way of analogy to temporal slavery. We are so accustomed to temporal liberty that we take it for granted, but in the context of history, it is an uncommon thing for men to have freedom. The majority or masses have suffered from some form of oppression or slavery through the ages.  Israel had been in bondage for 400 years at the time of our passage.

The Bible teaches that if physical, temporal slavery is misery, then slavery to sin is worse. On the other hand, if temporal liberty is a blessing, how much more is gospel liberty for both body and soul? When we speak of the gospel being reduced to moralism, there is a simple way to understand this. It means sin is taken too lightly.

Jesus said that whoever practices sin is a slave to sin. Paul in Romans 6 teaches us that whomever we offer ourselves to is our Master, and to him we are slaves. These references to being enslaved to sin are not hyperbole. Rather, they are literal.  Sin is depicted as a power greater than its slaves. It is a hard master.

In Proverbs you often have the depiction of a sluggard. The sluggard loves idleness, but his sin becomes inconvenient when the house is falling in or the garden isn’t producing. The neighbors look down upon him, and he has a host of others problems connected to his sin. Yet the pattern continues. He does what sin commands.

Or take the story of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus for eternal life. When told to leave his money, he could not. Note this: he would not leave it for eternal life. The point is he was enslaved to his money. Worse, he imagined he kept God’s law. He was demonstrably enslaved to sin and yet did not believe it.

From yet another angle, Jesus teaches us about a man who gets rid of one devil only to have seven others occupy its place. Think of someone who frees himself from an addiction or a pattern of sinful behavior. Yet they become insufferably vain and self-righteous. They haven’t escaped the power of sin at all. They are quick to think that someone in a low condition has brought that misery upon themselves. That, of course, is often true. What they don’t see is they are in a worse condition than before.

The point Jesus makes with this story and the whole of the gospel is that there is only one liberator. Every man and woman is enslaved to sin, and cannot help but sin. It shows up worse in some than others. The only “free” people from sin are those who rest in the bosom of Christ. The good news is he can free you… from guilt, shame, death and judgment. All things you have earned by sin.

Pharaoh was inflexible and unmerciful because he was full of sin. He knew what it was to hate and be hated. Paul tells Christians in Titus 3 they were delivered from the same disease. It is why the gospel is good news.  Because in reality God does not rest lightly on our shoulders.