Monday, April 4, 2011

Preparations, pt. 1 (Exodus 12.1-13)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
April 3, 2011
Some Music Used 
Prelude: "A Trumpeting" (Wood)
Call to Worship (children's choir): "Dona Nobis Pacem"
Hymn of Praise: "Come, Thou Almighty King" (ITALIAN HYMN)
Solo: "Total Eclipse" from Samson (Handel)
Song of Response/Preparation: "Lamb of God" (Goetz)

Offering of Music: "My Faith Looks Up to Thee" (Osterland)
Hymn of Sending: "'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus" (arr. Austell)

Preparations, pt. 1
Text: Exodus 12:1-13

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**


Today’s text interrupts the long narrative we’ve been in for a number of weeks now. That narrative story will pick back up in two weeks, on Palm Sunday, but for two weeks now we have something more like instructions and explanations, which I think will give us a bit of a break from the intensity of the narrative we’ve been dealing with.

That is not to say this is any less important. In many ways, these instructions are more important because they are what connect the Exodus story to our story. Today we hear the instructions and rationale for the first Passover meal. Next week we will read about the command to remember and re-enact that Passover meal.

So let’s look at the instructions and rationale for Passover, then we’ll consider corresponding application for us as modern Christians.

There are several details I want to highlight in the instructions given for the Passover meal. First, though, note that there are two concurrent events that are bound together in this chapter, and will be memorialized as Jewish feasts in the years to come. One of those is Passover (vv. 1-13) and one is the Feast of Unleavened Bread (vv. 14-22). The people are instructed to use unleavened break in the Passover preparations, but they will also take unleavened bread with them as they leave Egypt, and it is for that reason that the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which we’ll look at next week, will memorialize the Exodus or departure from Egypt. The Passover, on the other hand, has to do with the passing over of the Angel of Death in the last plague.

So, there are two sets of preparation, two observances, and two events closely related to each other. Both make up the Exodus story, but are two parts of God’s deliverance of His people.

Instructions

These events are so significant that the first instruction in v. 3 redefines the calendar for the Hebrew people. The Passover/Departure event will henceforth be the New Year, marking the end of the old (enslavement and death) and the beginning of the new (life, hope, and the Promised Land).

And then the specific Passover instructions begin. The timing is based on the calendar at the time (v. 3), a date in the Spring, roughly this time of year. Each household is to find a lamb (v. 3). A small household was to combine with another so that one lamb would feed all those gathered (v. 4). The lamb was to be of a certain age and quality – one year, unblemished, male. This was the best of the flock, the first and best (v. 5). The animal was to be kept apart from the 10th until the 14th of the month, then all of them sacrificed at twilight (v. 6).

The blood was to be spread on the doorposts and lintel of the houses and cooked whole only over open fire, and served with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (vv. 7-9). And it was to be eaten entirely or leftovers burned up in the fire (v. 10).

Finally, seemingly at odds with the care and detail of preparation, when it was time to eat the lamb, it was to be done fully dressed and ready to go (v. 11), for going was what would come next. We will read later in this chapter (v. 29) that the Angel of Death struck at midnight, and shortly after that Pharaoh told Moses and Aaron to get the Hebrew people out of Egypt. And so, they were ready to go and left immediately.

Rationale

These preparations and details are all heavy with meaning, both for the Hebrew people at the time and for Christian readers and observers. The immediate and life-and-death meaning was that God was going to protect His people from death and judgment. The idea of substitutionary death which will be at the center of the Jewish sacrificial system is central here. That substitutionary death is even more significant for Christians, as explained in the New Testament, in 1 Peter 18-19 for example: “…you were not redeemed with perishable things… but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.”

For the Hebrew people, blood represented life, as opposed to the surrounding culture that put blood on doorposts to ward off evil spirits. They were not warding off an evil spirit, but responding in obedience (and more than a little fear!) to the Word of Yahweh. The blood of the lamb was them offering the life of the first-born of their animals in exchange for their own firstborn, a life for a life. One commentator noted that in obeying the Word of Yahweh the Israelites turned their whole house into an altar of sacrifice to Yahweh.

Finally, verse 12 adds an explanation to the final judgment of the Passover and what we talked about last week. God’s judgment wasn’t just against Pharaoh or the people of Egypt, but against the so-called gods of Egypt. Jewish tradition even includes the breaking of Egyptian idols as part of the last judgment. It is in the context of explaining again the last plague that Yahweh gives the rationale for the Passover preparations: “The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” (v. 13)

The Hebrew people lived in a different place (Goshen) than the Egyptians, and Yahweh had spared them from the plagues previously. So this was different than that. Yahweh was requiring active obedience and faith from Israel, and their actions were full of meaning and significance.

Finally, part of the preparation and observance of this Passover meal was to be fully dressed and ready for departure. That struck me as unusual, but also requires obedience and faith that Yahweh was indeed about to deliver them out of Egypt.

Obedient Preparation

Besides the meaning-rich symbolism of the Passover preparations and meal, what really stands out to me in this account is the level of detail and preparation needed when departure was imminent and necessarily hasty. The context and haste is not hidden – the people are to be dressed, packed, and ready to go. And yet into the whirlwind of plagues, preparations, and imminent departure come these rather meticulous and ponderous instructions. The instructions are not unusually tedious – certainly not waiting for the bread to rise is faster than doing so. I don’t really know whether roasting the lamb whole was faster or slower than boiling it – it seems a little slower. But my question would be, why stop and take time to do any of this. If the people just needed food, there were quicker meals to pack. If they just needed instruction, that seems like a quicker thing than choosing an animal, waiting four days, then following food prep directions to the letter.

Clearly there is more going on here than matters of expediency or explanation. One of those things is obedience. Yahweh has spoken and these preparations seem to be as much about obedience as anything else. Surely they were ready to do whatever Moses said, after 9 plagues and the promise of the final deadly blow. But why would Yahweh give these specific instructions?

It seems clear in hindsight that the Passover preparation was pointing to things beyond what the Hebrew people could see, touch, or understand. They did hear about the impending judgment, but to understand substitutionary atonement or the way God would deliver (either immediately or much later through the Messiah) had to be a matter of faith.

Listen to 1 Corinthians 5:7-8a, which makes that very connection: “Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump (a new life in Christ!), just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast....”

I want to pause here to invite you to a special service during Easter week this year. On Thursday night, April 24, we will have a service of teaching, worship, and communion around the Exodus 12 Passover meal. Steve Tilles, from Light of Messiah ministries in Atlanta will walk us through the Passover meal and explain even further these same instructions we’ve heard today. But he will also explain how Jesus connected the Passover meal to the Lord’s Supper, instituted on the night before his arrest. And we will gather around the Lord’s Table for shared communion together.

Finally, I want to observe in today’s text one more dynamic that is very relevant to us today, and that is the matter of faithful obedience to God’s Word, even when it doesn’t seem efficient or obviously understandable. We may not be awaiting a midnight flight from enslavement in a foreign land, but we lead busy lives and have pressures and deadlines pressing down on us from all sides. And there is something out of step about God’s Word and lives of obedience to it. In the midst of seven day work weeks, God has commanded a day of rest. On a day we could be sleeping in, watching sports, or seeking entertainment, God commands us to come together in a place like this and study an ancient document surrounded by music, prayers, and creeds that seem very non-2011. In the midst of the most challenging times, when we probably should be scrambling for answers, help, or a way out, God invites us to be still, quiet, and speak to Him in prayer, asking for help and hope we may not even understand.

These examples (and more) describe the texture and tempo of the Church as we gather out of the world to hear and respond to that Word, and then are sent back into the world on the wings of the Holy Spirit. That is why God’s Word is at the very center of our life together at Good Shepherd. I invite you to respond in faith and obedience to that Word as we continue on today to the Lord’s Table, where Jesus is identified as the Lamb of God. Amen.




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