This story-oriented recovery book unfolds the back-story of redemption in Exodus to show how Jesus redeems us from the slavery of abuse and addiction and restores us to our created purpose, the worship of God.
About the Author
Mike Wilkerson is the founder of the Redemption Group Network, which helps churches build ministries that shine the redemptive love of Christ into the darkest corners of people's lives. He is also the author of Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry.
Read an Excerpt
WHEN YOU SUFFER, GOD IS NEAR
Sarah was conceived in adultery. Two years later, her mother had another girl by her husband. This is when she confessed to the adultery and revealed that Sarah was not her husband's daughter. He exploded in rage, nearly drowned Sarah, and forced her out of the house. Sarah was two years old.
The few years Sarah lived with her grandmother were happy ones: playing, singing songs, and going to church. But Sarah was returned to her mother's home at the age of five when her grandmother died from cancer. While Sarah lived with her grandmother, she'd had no contact with her mother or stepfather, and in the interim they'd had another child and adopted two more. Sarah's siblings didn't even know she existed. Her return forced her mother to tell the truth about their older sibling from an adulterous relationship.
Sarah was an outcast in her own home, and her stepfather treated her like an animal. If she angered him, he might force her to eat her food on the floor from a dog dish or lock her out of the house. Once, when she was in first grade, he locked her out for a whole week without food, water, or a change of clothes. She slept outside in the grass and awoke each morning to walk alone to the school bus, her hair matted with dirt and leaves. At least at school she could escape to a place where she felt human. But she couldn't escape for long. There was always more pain waiting for her when she returned home.
And it got worse.
She remembers the burning hatred in her stepfather's eyes as he entered her bedroom that first night. He raped her, not just that night but nearly every night for the next five years. Even this was not the worst of it. Sarah's stepfather beat her, tortured her, and sold her to other men. Sarah lived in a constant state of torment.
Sarah didn't deserve this suffering, and she was overwhelmed by it, helpless at the hands of evildoers. For those unsure about the actual presence of evil in the world, hers is the kind of story that leaves us without a doubt.
After hearing Sarah's story, some of us might conclude: "Well if that's suffering, then I haven't suffered at all; so what does this have to do with me?" While we don't all have stories as horrific as Sarah's, we still suffer in many ways, sometimes at the hands of others, sometimes not. All suffering takes its toll. Here are a few more examples.
I talked to a friend just a few weeks ago whose doctor had expressed concerns about some possible early symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Before he could make it to the CT scan to confirm a diagnosis, he awoke with severe abdominal pain and required emergency surgery. He's been in bed for weeks recovering. And what awaits him when his body heals? More tests for MS.
In January of 2010, a massive earthquake struck the already impoverished nation of Haiti, burying many under piles of rubble and leaving many more wounded and homeless. It was the largest earthquake in the region for some two hundred years. Death tolls quickly climbed into the tens of thousands, with an estimated third of the nation's population affected; estimates on the final toll soared into the hundreds of thousands. Yesterday at church, I prayed with a woman who was in tears as she explained that she'd always dreamed of being a mommy but has been unable to conceive.
I recently spoke with a man who lives with a mental illness that runs in his family; it affects him every day as he struggles with depression.
Another friend was devastated when she found out about her husband's addiction to porn. He wasn't the man she thought he was, and he'd been lying to her for years.
We haven't all experienced extreme physical abuse at the hands of a father, like Sarah has. But I've counseled enough people to know that absent, neglectful, and impossible-to-please fathers leave lasting, emotional scars on many of us.
Jeff was about the most likeable kid you could meet. Friendly and outgoing, he was born with a natural gift for connecting with people. Incurably yet forgivably talkative in class, even the disciplinary teachers fell into conversation with him. Jeff's father did a lot of "guy things" with Jeff's older brother, like hunting and playing ball. Jeff figured he'd be included once he got older. But the years passed and the rejection continued. Jeff faced daily disappointment as his father pushed him away. More than once Jeff heard his father say, "Get away from me. I don't like you. You remind me of myself." He was six years old. What is a little boy supposed to do with that?
Betrayal, tragedy, illness, abuse, neglect — suffering comes in many forms. And when it comes to you, me, Jeff, and Sarah, we share something in common — pain.
A friend of mine recently lost his wife to cancer. I was sharing with him about some hardship of my own and then stopped myself, thinking, My concern must sound so trivial to him when he's lost his wife! Knowing why I hesitated, he drew me back into the conversation and said, "This is the pain club. Even if your pain is different from mine, it's all pain." He wasn't saying all pain is equal, but what he was saying is that pain makes us aware that we need mercy and long for compassion.
Please don't miss the point: This isn't a who-has-the-saddest-story competition with compassion as the prize. The point is this: whether our misery is big or small, we all find ourselves under the fountain of God's mercy. But finding ourselves in that fountain begins with being honest about our suffering. So as we dive into the story of the Israelites suffering in Egypt, I invite you to honestly face the suffering in your life — whatever it looks like — and find a way to put yourself in their shoes.
GOD'S PEOPLE PLUNGED INTO DARKNESS
In the opening chapter of Exodus, we find the Israelites in Egypt. Some four hundred years earlier, Jacob, Joseph's father, brought his family to Egypt in hopes of surviving a famine. They remained in Egypt for many generations, multiplied, and in fulfillment of God's promise to Jacob's grandfather Abraham, they became a great people (Gen. 15:1–5; Ex. 1:7).
Their abundance in the land was a sign of God's blessing, and Joseph was responsible for saving the land from famine (Genesis 41). If it hadn't been for his godly wisdom and administration of Egypt's food stores, Egypt itself would have been crippled. So not only had God saved his own people by bringing them to Egypt; he had saved Egypt by sending his people. Egypt knew this, and they remembered Joseph and honored his family.
But then a new king arose in Egypt, and he did not know Joseph (Ex. 1:8). This doesn't mean he'd never heard of Joseph, the national hero; it means he refused to acknowledge Egypt's debt of gratitude to Joseph, and, by extension, he refused to see the Israelites (Joseph's people) as a blessing to the land. All loyalties were forgotten, and the Israelites were suddenly in danger in the only homeland they'd ever known. As the king of Egypt, Pharaoh should have been the one to provide peace, protection, and provision for the people in his land. But this Pharaoh grew fearful of them, and angry. He turned on the Israelites and incited the Egyptians against them with his propaganda (vv. 9–10).
Pharaoh plunged the Israelites into darkness and beat them into ruthless slavery (vv. 11, 13–14). They were oppressed, abused, and enslaved. They did nothing to warrant such treatment — they were innocent. And it wasn't just one act of harm but the systematic oppression of a whole people through slavery, racism, and genocide (v. 22). According to scholar Nahum Sarna, the Israelites were "organized in large work gangs; they became an anonymous mass, depersonalized, losing all individuality in the eyes of their oppressors."
Some would have been forced to work the fields where the toil was exhausting and the results were small, despite high expectations and harsh punishments for low yields. Imagine this scene: a field worker's harvest is half taken by worms and half by a hippopotamus, and then thieves steal whatever scraps are left. The slave masters then come to collect, with palm rods in hand. One Egyptian writing aptly illustrates their plight:
They say, "Give us corn" — there is none there. Then they beat him as he lies stretched out and bound on the ground, they throw him into the canal and he sinks down, head under water. His wife is bound before his eyes and his children are put in fetters.
The very land of salvation became their death sentence.
Imagine what it must have been like for the Israelites who were alive at the time of the enslavement. They were used to living peacefully there and would have been shocked by the initial blast of Pharaoh's hateful racism as all the safety, comfort, and freedom they'd known were ripped from them and replaced with chains and back-breaking labor.
Now think about Sarah's story. She knew about displacement and betrayal when she returned to her mother's home and was met with her stepfather's hatred and violence. You may be able to relate to this too if you've been stung by betrayal or abuse.
Now imagine being born into slavery and never knowing freedom at all. For the Israelites, Egypt was a place of pain from the cradle to the grave. They plodded through an exhausting life that ended in an unnoticed death, just one more nameless body spent and discarded. Sarah can relate. She never knew the love of an earthly dad but only the violence of a hateful stepfather. You too may have been born into an unsafe or dysfunctional home, or trained to believe lies from an early age.
The Israelites were under a fog of unyielding oppression: daily suffering was as far as the eye could see for as far as the memory could recall and as far into the future as the mind could imagine. They groaned bitterly and cried out to God for rescue. How hard it must have been to see their experience fit within God's grander story. Or was there a grand story at all? We can imagine, from their vantage point on the ground level — under the fog — that they felt abandoned by God in Egypt.
The opening scenes of Exodus don't present the reader with a present, active God. This is probably a reflection of the Israelites' experience — God seemed absent. The most active character in this part of the story appears to be the evil Pharaoh. Where was God? How long did the Israelites have to suffer before God would intervene?
It may be too easy for us to take comfort in their place in God's story. From a distance, we have the advantage of seeing the big picture. The Israelites were multiplying in Egypt — an evidence of God's promise (Gen. 46:3; 47:27; Ex. 1:7). God in his sovereignty thwarted Pharaoh's plan, and the more the Israelites were in threat of extermination, the more they grew (Ex. 1:12). Not only that, but God had told Abraham that his offspring would endure a season of sojourn and slavery in Egypt and that he would deliver them (Gen. 15:13). We know that though God seemed absent, he wasn't really. We know that though Pharaoh seemed to have the final say in determining the fate of Israel, he didn't.
But when you're in the thick of it yourself, as the Israelites were, those truths so easily grasped from a distance can be elusive. The questions we ask in the midst of suffering aren't mainly intellectual ones about God's relationship to evil and evildoers; they are emotional ones such as, "How can I trust a God who has the power to make it stop, but doesn't?" Who is this indifferent God who makes such grand promises and then watches as his people are treated so unjustly? Does he feel anything at all when he hears their wailings? Or does he just stand back at a distance, letting random events, the plans of evil men, and the forces of nature take their course?
SARAH'S WRESTLE WITH GOD
By age fifteen, Sarah had endured more violence at the hands of more men than she could count — or remember. Intentionally hardening in her anger, she wore black makeup, dyed her hair blue, and hated everyone. One of her favorite hobbies was arguing against the existence of God. Being a smart girl, she usually won.
Then in high school, two boys who were friends — the only nice and "normal" people she knew — began talking to her about God. They weren't skilled in debate like she was, but they weren't phased by her anti-God tirades either, and they kept being kind and inviting her to come along to their youth group at church. (One of their peers there, they thought, would be much more capable in the debate.)
The first night at youth group, she showed up and, per usual, got right into the argument. But then something unexpected happened. During a time of singing worship songs, she felt the palpable, undeniable presence of God. Her next feeling was holy terror: she had been the enemy of this present and powerful God, persuading many that he didn't even exist. She now knew beyond doubt that he did.
That night, she went home and read her Bible. Gripped by the newfound truth of God's existence, her desire to know about him was insatiable. Yet while this truth answered some of her questions, it also opened new ones: he was there, but he didn't seem good — at least not to her. Why had he so messed up her life, she wondered? It was as if God knew full well what she was going through; yet, despite having the power to stop it, he didn't seem to care. It was as if her cries for help fell upon deaf ears.
THE GOD WHO SEES AND KNOWS
Why did God wait some 430 years before delivering Israel? We don't know, but the fact that he did wait doesn't contradict his wisdom, goodness, and mercy. When he breaks onto the scene, we are left with no doubt about what he is like: he hears the cries of his people and is filled with compassion.
The people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel — and God knew. (Ex. 2:23–25)
God's knowing here deserves some unpacking, because the significance of this language would have spoken volumes to the original readers. It is more than mere awareness of their situation; it conveys deep, personal, intimate knowledge and pity for his people. He was paying attention to his people. He grieved that they have been denied their basic dignity as his image bearers. Commenting on this passage, William Edgar says:
To be known by God is to be loved, to be in the best place you could possibly be. This is because God now bears the burden, not the people. Knowledge here means full acknowledgement and commitment to intervene.
This passage reveals God's character in his commitment to intervene. Just as knowing here isn't mere awareness, so also remembering his covenant isn't mere recall; it is movement into action. These were his covenant people; Pharaoh would not ultimately have his way.
God is not a silent, detached, distant, dispassionate deity. He hears his people's cries. He knows their suffering. He will keep his promise. He will rescue them.
He spoke to Moses from the burning bush and said: "I have surely seen the affliction of my people. ... I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land" (Ex. 3:7–8).
In the exodus story, God rescued his people by sending a redeemer, Moses, who was one of them. Moses prefigures the ultimate Redeemer, God himself, becoming one of us, in the man Jesus Christ. He came down to bring us up. Jesus is the ultimate expression of God's compassion for his people and the ultimate guarantee that God really does understand your pain. Jesus lived the kind of pain you are experiencing right now.
Jesus was made like us in all the frailty of humanity (Heb. 2:10, 17–18). He endured the hostility of sinners (Heb. 12:3). He was despised and rejected, a man of sorrows who has borne our grief: he was wounded, crushed, spit upon, and oppressed (Isa. 53:3–6). He knows the agony of betrayal from those closest to him, his own disciples. He knows the chill of abandonment (Ps. 22:1; Matt. 27:46).
He even knows the loneliness of suffering. In the garden of Gethsemane, knowing he would soon fall into the hands of those who would crucify him, Jesus said to his disciples, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me" (Matt. 26:38). He said this to his closest two disciples, the two people on earth who would surely stand by him if anyone would. Then he fell on his face and cried out to the Father. When he arose, he found those two men — his closest friends — sleeping. While he was in agony, anticipating further agony in crucifixion and separation from the Father to the point of sweating blood, they were taking a nap (Luke 22:44). Not even Jesus' closest friends proved compassionate that night.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Redemption"
Copyright © 2011 Mike Wilkerson.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Mark Driscoll 11
1 When You Suffer, God Is Near 41
2 Bricks without Straw: Hoe Long, Oh Lord? 55
3 The Passover: At Your Worst, God Gives His Best 67
4 Crossing the Red Sea: Into a New Life Free from Shame 87
5 Demanding Manna: The Subtle Significance of Everyday Desires 103
6 The Golden Calf: Volunteering for Slavery 119
7 The Covenant-keeping God: Our Only Hope for Lasting Change 139
8 Is God Your Promised Land? 157
Epilogue: The Redeemer's Mission 171
Appendix: Religious Addiction 175
General Index 197
Scripture Index 203
What People are Saying About This
“This is a wonderful piece of gospel work. It is case-study rich, evidencing lots of wisdom in the ways of people who suffer. It is theology rich, exegeting in a very practical way the transforming power of the gospel and all the ways we are tempted to distort or minimize it. This needs to be published and distributed widely. I know of no other work that does what Wilkerson has done. It surely does advance the cause of applying the gospel to brokenness of this generation. Well done!”
Paul David Tripp, President, Paul Tripp Ministries; author, New Morning Mercies and My Heart Cries Out
“Some support groups support without challenging people to be different. This book is a resource for a different kind of support group, a Redemption Group. Backed by good scholarship yet accessible to all Christians, it brims with great stories of redemption and keen insights into the souls of broken sinners, challenging readers to follow the Christ who can set people free.”
Eric Johnson, Lawrence and Charlotte Hoover Professor of Pastoral Care, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Director, Society for Christian Psychology
“Pastor Mike Wilkerson has penned a truly unique contribution both to small group literature and to the Christian ‘recovery’ movement. His gospel-centered focus using the Exodus theme of redemption provides an unparalleled biblical approach to facing our past face-to-face with Christ. The combination of gripping real-life vignettes, biblical narratives applied to sin and suffering, and the thought-provoking discussion-application guide makes Redemption the premier all-in-one book for small group recovery ministry.”
Robert W. Kelleman, Vice President of Strategic Development and Academic Dean, Faith Bible Seminary; author, God’s Healing for Life’s Losses and Grief: Walking with Jesus
“Every genuine pastor and counselor prays to walk with the Savior freed ‘from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul’ (1 Pet. 2:11), enjoying a fuller measure of abundant life in Christ each day. Every genuine pastor and counselor prays to see his precious flock walk the same road. Redemption provides a guide for the journey, bringing the richness of the exodus story to bear where we all live, feeding the gospel morsel by morsel to our souls, and helping us behold more of Christ along the way. I commend this resource to every pastor and counselor who prays for Spirit-wrought transformation in the hearts of people.”
John Henderson, Associate Pastor, Del Ray Baptist Church; Executive Director, Association of Biblical Counselors; author, Equipped to Counsel
“This important book places the powder keg of gospel truth where it is most needed: on the frontline of pastoral ministry. A mixture of clear writing, real-life stories, and faithful Bible exposition makes this a powerful resource in the fight for redemption in the lives of those we are called to serve.”
Joel Virgo, Lead Pastor, Church of Christ the King, Brighton
“By God’s grace, Pastor Mike Wilkerson gets it. He is a pastor who does not mind getting his hands dirty in the lives of people who are hurting and broken. But then he takes sufferers and sinners alike to the life-giving cross of Christ. Organized around the powerful story of the exodus, this book will point you to the marvelous Redeemer and his life-changing grace. Redemptionjust think of it. In this book, Mike will help you think of it a lot. And you will be glad he did. I certainly was.”
Steve Viars, Senior Pastor, Faith Church, Lafayette, Indiana; Director, Faith Legacy Foundation; author, Putting Your Past in Its Place
“So many tools for recovery groups deal only with wounds and desires, appealing to ‘the god you envision’ and boil down to self-help programs. Redemption goes to core issues and shows how following the pattern of the exodus can redeem struggling people from their ‘Egypts,’ such as addictions and trauma. Because it takes us down biblical pathways in very applicable ways, it is an outstanding tool for ministry.”
Gerry Breshears, Professor of Theology and Chair of the Center for Biblical and Theological Studies, Western Seminary; coauthor, Death by Love: Letters from the Cross
“Praise God for Redemption, which is a gift to the body of Christ. God’s story of redemption, which serves as both the source and framework of the book, is applied directly to the sin and suffering we all face both in and out of the church. It is, therefore, a great example of practical theology. This is a resource that enables reproducible training and ministry in any church and with all of God’s people. I wholeheartedly commend Redemption to anyone who is on the front lines of gospel ministry in the church and has a deep desire and vision to equip the saints for the work of ministry.”
Robert K. Cheong, Pastor of Care, Sojourn Community Church, Louisville, Kentucky; Council Board Member, Biblical Counseling Coalition; author, God Redeeming His Bride
“As a church, we have implemented the message and dynamics of this book with all the leaders in our church. It has led to a renewal on a massive scale. On each page of the book, Jesus is presented as the healer of every situation, helper of every circumstance, and advocate for every sinner. I recommend Redemption to every church pastor, leader, and sinner who wants to meet the healing of the gospel of Jesus on the other side of the Red Sea.”
Ethan Burmeister, Core Community Church, Omaha, Nebraska
“The strength of Redemption is that it’s rooted in the sufficient and transforming work of the gospel, using exercises and strategies to effect real change, and the process takes place in the context of authentic community. I have recommended, and even required, clients to go through the Redemption group process, and have seen life changing transformation in weeks that would take months to years in individual counseling. I have been waiting for something like this for a very long time!”
Elisa Hope, licensed mental health counselor
“As a leader involved in a Christian recovery ministry, Redemption has proven to be extremely powerful! Using it to lead meetings has given me a unique opportunity to share the 'good news' with believers and nonbelievers. I have seen tremendous breakthroughs in reaching and dealing with core issues such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, and addiction as participants identify with the book and hear of God’s love for his children.”
Mitch Thompson, Director, All The Way House Ministries, Delray Beach, Florida
“We need this book. God’s grace is on full display in it as it begins and ends with the good news of God’s story of redemption throughout all of Scripture, which culminates in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Redemption proclaims the faith, hope, and love we need and can offer to others. It is a gift to all who are suffering because of their sin and the sins done against them.”
Justin S. Holcomb, Episcopal Priest; Professor, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; coauthor, Rid of My Disgrace and God Made All of Me; editor, Christian Theologies of Scripture
“The Holy Spirit used the Redemption curriculum to set me free from years of enslaving sin. And since then he’s given me the privilege of leading men through several quarters of Redemption Groups. Each quarter, Jesus faithfully ministers compassion, conviction, and grace as he calls each participant to take part in his redemption story. The Redeemer is rescuing his people from captivity, transforming us into worshipers who look more and more like him.”
Greg, Redemption Group leader
“I had many fears about my future, living with the effects of the sin that was committed against me. As I read Redemption, I was blown away that the book put into words my unidentifiable worries and fears and addressed each issue with godly truths over and over.”
“Alongside the Bible, Redemption was one of the most helpful and practical resources for applying the atonement of Christ to the darkest and most hidden parts of my life. Through reading it, overwhelming shame and fear that had led to my deep desire to end my own life was flushed out as the gospel was revealed more clearlyChrist died for me!”
“When I first picked up this book, I read and re-read chapter one over a hundred times. Coming from a childhood of traumatic sexual abuse, I related to the Israelites’ slavery and desperate cries for help. Though God seemed absent (both to them and to me), he identifies with my pain. Realizing God’s covenant love for me brought healing to my wounded heart. He is the God who sees and knowsand I can call him my Abba.”
“After spending a decade in habitual sin and idol worship, including lust and homosexual prostitution, God showed up in my life. I was destroyed. I didn't know where to turn. Through the work of a church deacon and Redemption, God saved me from drowning in waves of torment and emotion. The eight weeks of the book followed me through the stages needed to put me back on solid ground. It helped me to realize my identity is in Christ alone, that he will never abandon me, and that God is love, true love that never lets go. Redemption was the map I needed to see that Jesus’ death had paid for all my awful sin and I am now God’s adopted son, bringing amazement I feel to this day. Should you need to help others broken and struggling with the intensity of sin, Redemption will be a great help in a time when people need it most.”