Monday, April 25, 2011

Lifeblood: from Exodus to Easter (1 Peter 1.17-21, Luke 24.2-23)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
April 17, 2011
Some Music Used 
Prelude: "This Joyful Eastertide" (Ferguson)
Hymn of Praise: "Thine is the Glory" (MACCABEUS)
Children's Handbells: "Gethsemane" (arr. Stults)
Worship Team: "You Never Turned Away" (Proctor)
Choir and Jazz Trio: "Agnus Dei, from 'A Little Jazz Mass'" (Chilcott)
Hymn of Praise: "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" (EASTER HYMN)
Worship Choir: "Stay with Us" (Hoyland)
Song of Praise: "Come, People of the Risen King" (Getty/Townend)
Worship Choir : "God's Son Has Made Me Free" (Grieg)
Offering of Music - worship team and choir: "Behold Our God" (Baird, Altrogge)
Song of Sending: "Let God Arise" (Tomlin, Cash, Reeves)
Postlude: "Toccata on 'Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands'" (Diemer)

Easter Music Mix (edited to approx. 10 min.)
follows list above excluding prelude/postlude

Lifeblood: from Exodus to Easter
Text: 1 Peter 1:17-21; Luke 24:2-23

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

A blessed Easter to you! In today’s service you have heard the re-telling of the Passion of Jesus in scripture and music. It is a bit unusual to back up to the betrayal, suffering, and death on Easter Sunday; typically we dwell on those somber things during Holy Week and it’s all celebration on Easter morning. But Easter morning is the culmination of all that has gone on before, and we wanted to remember what has led up to this joyful declaration that “Christ is risen!”

We wanted to remember because remembering God’s story and God’s faithfulness has been one of the recurring themes in recent weeks as we’ve worked through the epic Exodus story of plagues, Passover, and deliverance from slavery and death. In that story, too, we see a culmination in the Passover event; God has delivered and redeemed the Hebrew people from slavery and death to new life and promise. We’ve also seen that the Exodus story itself finds its complete culmination in Jesus, and in fact here on Easter morning.

So this Easter is all about the back-story: God’s past faithfulness pointing us to God’s present and future faithfulness; God’s one-time epic redemption in Exodus pointing to God’s once-and-for-all cosmic redemption on the cross; and God’s ancient, abiding covenant promise of a future and a home and overflowing blessing seen in the Resurrection of Jesus.

Today we will connect God’s story from Exodus to Easter, announcing the Good News that all this is not just ancient history, but God’s loving gift for all who believe, even today, even now.

The Exodus Story is Our Story


The main text for this morning is the one you just heard from 1 Peter, though I certainly am drawing on all that you’ve heard, including the one from Revelation. But Peter combines both the Exodus story and the Easter story into just a few verses. Let’s focus first on verses 18-19:
…you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. (1 Peter 1:18-19)
This choice of imagery and language leaped off the page at me after having spent some 10-12 weeks in the Exodus story. That Exodus story describes God’s people, enslaved for generations by the choices of their forefathers, who had no way out – no redemption. Peter begins this letter (1 Peter 1:1-8) contrasting silver and gold which tarnish and salvation that does not (nor is it at risk of theft like silver and gold). But I am also reminded of the silver and gold of the Egyptians, which are present but are anything but redemption for the enslaved Hebrew people. Rather, the silver and gold of the Egyptians are a symbol of both the pagan gods and the enslavement of the Hebrews. Later in Exodus, that same silver and gold, plundered from the Egyptians, becomes the basis for the golden calf, another false god created which cannot save.

In contrast, Peter describes the means of God’s redemption, both in Exodus and on the cross. It is the life-blood of a mediating sacrifice. In the case of the Hebrew people in Exodus, it was an unblemished and spotless lamb, sacrificed and prepared for Passover, and its blood applied to the doorposts and lintel of their homes to fashion an altar and atoning sacrifice to God for their lives. Peter uses that same description and imagery to describe what was accomplished by Jesus on the cross: his life-blood given as a mediating and atoning sacrifice for our lives, that God’s judgment might pass over us and onto Jesus himself.

The Exodus story and the Good Friday story are our story. Like the enslaved and bound-up Hebrew people of old, we are caught up in a slavery from which we cannot deliver ourselves. That slavery is a slavery to sin, disobedience, selfishness, idolatry, self-rule; however you want to describe it, a life that is not given to God is given ultimately to death. That’s how the Bible describes the human condition; that’s what needs “redeeming.” And only God can accomplish that. Not gold or silver, power or influence, intellect or strength; only God.

The Easter Story is Our Story

But Peter goes on to say that the Easter story is also our story. He writes of Jesus:
For he was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you, who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:20-21)
I appreciate Peter’s focus here, in several ways. First, this death and resurrection were not a last-minute or backup plan, but was God’s plan from “before the foundation of the world.” We likewise saw that God has a purpose for His people, Israel, one that was announced to Abraham years before. And it would not be thwarted or undone by human sin, disobedience, earthly power, slavery, or even the direct opposition of Pharaoh.

We also see that Peter, who has just highlighted the surpassing value of the cross as the means of God’s redemption does not stop there (at Good Friday). So often we stop there, at belief in Jesus dying on the cross. And it is the redemptive act that saved us! It is the eternal Passover event that set us free from slavery and death.

But listen to what Peter says next! This God, in whom we believe, is the one who “raised [Jesus] from the dead and gave him glory.” That’s Easter! God raised Jesus from the dead. God’s story is not just deliverance FROM death, it is redemption TO life. The Passover night was not the end of the Exodus story, but a new beginning for God’s people as He led them to the Promised Land.

Salvation through belief in Jesus’ saving death on the cross is not just the end of sin and death; his Easter resurrection is the beginning of a new life in Christ. Scripture is full of that language – rebirth, a new start, a new life, a second birth, being born again.

And here’s the last part of verse 21. That Resurrection is the basis of our faith and hope. Belief in the cross is largely a backward-looking thing. And there’s nothing wrong with that; it is commended and required! But that’s God’s past faithfulness. It was promised and it has ongoing implications and benefits for those who believe, but it is past. It is done; it is finished; it is accomplished!

But Easter resurrection – that is all that God has in store for us, for you, day by day, moment by moment, and for eternity. Faith and hope are present and forward-looking. Rooted in God’s past faithfulness, they are expressions of trust in God for today and tomorrow – that God is and will be faithful! God has a purpose for your life and invites you to discipleship, to a life of following after Jesus.

That’s why the Easter story is also your story and my story. Jesus didn’t just die for your sin; he was raised for your life and the living of it.

So the invitation that runs from Exodus to Easter, throughout all the Bible, is the same invitation Jesus spoke during his earthly ministry. And that is the same invitation I would speak today, to come, believe, and follow:
Come, whoever you are and wherever you’ve been – God knows and God wants you;

Believe, for God has ever been faithful and the blood of the Lamb has been shed to make things right with you;

Follow, for God has raised Jesus and there is new life and a new start, a new future with God and for God.
Amen.



Sunday, April 17, 2011

Smite the Enemy? (Exodus 12.23-32, Matthew 21.1-9)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
April 17, 2011
Some Music Used 
Prelude: "All Glory, Laud & Honor" (Phillips)
Hymn of Praise: "All Glory, Laud & Honor" (ST. THEODULPH)
Song of Praise: "Hosanna, Praise is Rising" (Brown, Baloche)
Special Music: "On My Knees" (Billy Howell)
Choir: "Lift Up Your Heads" (Pote)
Song of Sending: "Lord, Reign in Me" (Brown)

Smite the Enemy?
Text: Exodus 12:23-32; Matthew 21:1-9

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

For the past two weeks we have been in a kind of interlude in the Exodus story. We’ve been through the burning bush and the plagues, and just as we got to the announcement of the last plague, the story paused for a description of the two memorial events commanded by Yahweh: Passover and the Feast of Unleavened bread. Today we heard the end of that interlude, then the action picks back up in verses 28-29.

What I’d like to focus on today is the question, “What is Passover about?” This is the same question raised in verse 26 by the children, and it is incorporated in family Passover meals even today. As I was pondering the answer to that question some months ago in preparation for this series, I realized that the question raised here is fundamentally the same question raised by the events of Palm Sunday. So, we will also ask the question, “What is Palm Sunday about?”

After asking those two questions we will return to the Exodus 12 text for some words of application and challenge.

What is Passover About?

There are longer ways to answer this question, but we’ve already gone through the symbolism of the various parts of the meal. We are also going to have a “Jesus in the Passover” service this Thursday night, and we will explore the meaning of Passover in greater detail.

Today I want to focus on a particular way of answering the question, “What is Passover about?” In verse 26, the children ask this same basic question, “What does this rite mean to you?” Let’s look at the answer given from Yahweh to Moses in response: “You shall say, ‘It is a Passover sacrifice to the Lord who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but spared our homes.’” (v. 27)

First of all, it is a sacrifice to the Lord – an act of worship, remembering, and thanks. We’ll see that this is where we end up as well.

But look at what comes next. What did the Lord do that we remember and for which we give thanks? Yahweh “passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians…” So here’s the basic choice – and I’m not sure it’s an easy or clear one. If you were a Hebrew father or mother, enslaved for generations to the Egyptians and suddenly about to be set free, how would you answer your child’s question? Will Passover be about the Lord smiting the Egyptians? Or will it be about freedom and a new start? Would you focus on vengeance and judgment or on mercy and grace?

The wording of the answer in verse 27 has the focus on worship and then on the mercy and grace of deliverance. Smiting the Egyptian slave-masters is subordinate to that and simply part of the context and story, not the center of the memorial meal. But, how hard would that be to get right!

What is Palm Sunday About?

That dynamic of choosing to worship God for His mercy and grace rather than the possibility of vengeance and judgment is also the dynamic of Palm Sunday. We heard that story as the call to worship today. Jesus was fulfilling all the Messianic prophecies, specifically one about riding a colt through a certain gate of Jerusalem. The crowd celebrated and received him as a potential Messiah, shouting the Psalm-cry, “Hosanna!” (“Save us now!”).

For several generations there had been a growing Messianic hope – that God would send the heir and descendant of the legendary King David to come and once again make Israel a great nation. This God-anointed king would take on the Roman conquerors and throw them off, restoring Israel to a place of prominence and power. The people were looking for a certain kind of vengeance and judgment on the empire that had been oppressing them for generations, not unlike the way Egypt oppressed Israel in the days of Moses.

But we know from Jesus’ teaching that he was not THAT Messiah, though he was God’s anointed one. But he came teaching about a different kingdom – not an earthly one, but the Kingdom of God. And he came preaching mercy and grace, a new birth and a new start for even the most outcast of people.

And so, those Palm Sunday worshipers were faced with a similar choice. Would they shout “Hosanna!” for the sake of vengeance and judgment against the Roman Empire? Or would they shout “Hosanna!” as a prayer to God to show them mercy and grace and to provide a new start like the Hebrew people of old experienced in the Exodus?

Rise Up, Worship, and Bless (vv. 31-32)

These two stories, with their similar dynamics, touch on a question that is not far from our own experience. Do we seek to use God primarily to smite our enemies or to lead us in our new life as Christ-followers?

Well, put that way it’s a no-brainer, right? I’m guessing no one here actually wants to smite any enemies. Or you certainly wouldn’t admit to it if you did. But, let’s press on that a little. In both the Exodus and the Palm Sunday story the people were in the midst of conflict, oppression, struggle, and discouragement. Are there ways in which we desire God’s vengeance and judgment in the here and now? While we would be slow to name someone as a literal “enemy,” do you have enemies by some other name? A boss? A bully? An employee or co-worker? That cranky parent on your kid’s soccer team? The teacher that seems so inconsistent and unfair? Foreigners? Young people? Old people? The poor? The rich? That OTHER political party from yours?

Once we get started, they come easier and easier.

And what did Jesus teach about enemies? To love them… really, Jesus?

In Passover and Palm Sunday, the text may not go that far, but it does summon our focus and prayers and praises beyond vengeance and judgment to mercy and grace. Both texts and stories are about God delivering enslaved and bound people into a new life. The Good News of Exodus and the Good News of Easter is not about crushing earthly enemies, but about a new start and birth as children of God.

That’s significant; that’s a lot to take in and live out. My prayers and praises are to be focused on God’s mercy toward me and the gracious re-start He has given to me.

But that’s not all. In fact, that is just the start, the “delivery moment.” Look back in Exodus 12 at vv. 31-32:

“Rise up… and go, worship the Lord… go, and bless me also.”

The Lord was speaking to Moses and Aaron, and all the sons of Israel, but these are also the Lord’s words to us, not unlike the Great commission.

Why have we been delivered, saved, and given a new life and a new start?

It is so that we might rise up, go worship (serve) the Lord, and bless the Lord as we go.

That’s ultimately the PURPOSE of Passover and Palm Sunday. God has saved us for a purpose and that is to get up and get out. Our new start and new life are as followers (servants/worshipers) of the Lord. We are to be a “blessing people,” speaking and extending not the vengeance and judgment of the Lord, but the mercy and grace we have experienced ourselves in Christ. We are blessed to be a blessing.

This is what Jesus meant by “love our enemies.” This is what Jesus meant by “Come, follow me!” This is why we reach out beyond our walls in Christ’s name, seeking to be a good neighbor in this community and beyond. God has rescued us for a reason and that is to bless His name through serving Him in the world.

Jesus would later say, “Come, believe, and follow me.”

Hear God’s Word from Exodus: “Rise up, get out, go serve the Lord, and go bless the Lord in all you say and do!” Smite your enemies? No; bless your enemies in the name of the Lord. Amen.



Sunday, April 10, 2011

Preparations, part 2 (Exodus 12.14-27)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
April 10, 2011
Some Music Used 
Prelude: "Holy God, We Praie Thy Name" (Miller)
Song of Praise: "Holy is the Lord" (Tomlin, Giglio)
Hymn of Praise: "Blessed Assurance" (arr. Austell)

Offertory: "The First Song of Isiah" (White)

Hymn of Sending: "'O God, Our Help in Ages Past" (ST. ANNE)

Preparations, pt. 2
Text: Exodus 12:14-27

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

Last week we noted that much of Exodus 12 interrupts the story that runs through Exodus 1-11 and picks back up at the end of chapter 12. This interruption inserts instruction and explanation about Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, both of which remember and celebrate the events taking place at this very point in the story.

We also noted that these two Jewish memorials are back to back, because they point to primary components of God’s Exodus-delivery of Israel. Passover remembers and describes God’s passing over of the firstborn of the Hebrews, sparing them from death and judgment. The Feast of Unleavened Bread, described in today’s text, remembers the period of departure in which there was no time for yeast or bread to cook… only flatbread as God’s people moved on their way.

Last week we focused in on some of the meaning and symbolism of the Passover meal instituted in this chapter. Today, particularly since the meaning of the unleavened bread is pretty straightforward, I want to focus on the importance of remembering God’s past faithfulness, which is one of the reasons given for these observances. We’ll see that these acts of remembrance are not mere ritual, but serve purposes related to both faith and family.

Remember and Re-Enact

Words of remembrance and commandment appear frequently throughout these verses: memorial (v. 14), celebrate (v. 14), permanent ordinance (vv. 14, 17), holy assembly (v. 16), observe (vv. 17, 24, 25), and rite (vv. 25, 26). Several appear more than once. Clearly, the Lord wants His people to remember what happened – so much so, that it becomes one of their early commandments, and one that is lasting. Remembering these events is a permanent ordinance or commandment.

What also stands out is that these memorials are not just verbal or internal, like reflecting on the past. Rather, these events are re-enacted symbolically through the Passover meal and through the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread. There is something tangible and visceral – something memorable – about re-living the past in this way.

The closest things we have to this are the Christian sacraments: the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. In each, something present is happening, but we are also re-enacting the past in a tangible, visceral way. The Lord’s Table is rooted in this same Passover meal, and points back to the body and blood – the sacrifice – of Jesus Christ, the unblemished Lamb of God. So also Baptism points back to the baptism of Christ, the saving work of Christ, and the new life we have through Him. These, along with these Jewish memorials, are a way of bringing God’s faithful past into our present such that we can worship God freshly in the here and now.

Indeed, today’s text ends with just that: “the people bowed low and worshiped.” (v. 27) 

Sustained Trust in God’s Future (rooted in God’s Faithful Past)

In addition to leading us into worship in the present, one of the very significant aspects of this kind of remembering and re-enacting of God’s faithful past is that it points us towards God’s future. And in doing so, it requires a kind of sustained trust in God to hold our future.

The part of the text that highlights that is verse 25. The Lord instructs the people to observe Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread – to “never forget,” as it were. And part of this permanent command means, “Whey you enter the land which the Lord will give you, as He has promised, you shall observe this rite.” (v. 25) Now they didn’t know at this point that it would be 40 more years before they reached that land, but they did know that it lay in the future. And the Lord was telling them that there was a connection between God’s faithful past and God’s faithful future.

Think about that in terms of our own sacraments. We baptize the infant children of believing parents, not because that infant has a spark of saving faith, but because God has been faithful in the past through Jesus Christ, who died once and for all for the sins of the world. And those Christian parents and the surrounding congregation are remembering and re-enacting Christ’s saving act as an obedient act of sustained trust in God’s future for this child – that God will continue to offer grace, life, and salvation through Jesus Christ.

We come to the Lord’s Table to remember and re-enact our Lord’s death until he comes again – those are the last words I say before we eat the bread and drink from the cup. God has been faithful in the past, and we are trusting Him to meet us in the present and be faithful in the future.

Such is the power and the value of remembering and re-enacting the mighty deeds of the Holy One of Israel! 

Generations

And finally, what is such a strong component of this text: we are to hand on this faith to our children through the remembering and re-enacting of God’s story. The Lord explicitly says that these commands to remember and re-enact are “for you and your children forever” (v. 24). It is such a moving and vivid verse, included to this day in the Jewish Passover: “When your children say to you, ‘What does this rite mean to you?’ you shall say, ‘It is a Passover sacrifice to the Lord who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but spared our homes.’” (v. 26)

Because God commands it and precisely because remembering God’s faithful past does point to our future, we are to share these stories with our children and their children. These memorials, which could just sound like more religious ritual, is really an invitation to worship the Lord and share faith in the Lord with our children.

Now, you may be wondering if specifically observing Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are such a big deal, why don’t we do this with our own families? I would answer that we do. What those memorials point to are one event in human history – the Exodus – and Christ has kept and fulfilled those feasts along with the later Law of Israel through his own obedience and once-and-for-all Exodus-deliverance through salvation on the cross.

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not just parallel examples of ways we remember and re-enact God’s past, present, and future faithfulness; they are the two ways our Lord Jesus has commanded us to remember, re-enact, worship, and pass on God’s story in our lives and with our children.

Exodus 12 highlights the importance of remembering and re-enacting what God has done, both for us and for our children (and, I would add, for the watching world). That same chapter underscores for us the importance and significance of our own Christian sacraments of remembering and re-enacting, commanded by Christ, and at the heart of Christian worship and witness.

At least monthly, we have the opportunity to come to the Lord’s Table and remember and trust in God’s faithfulness. And every time we see a baptism (or water for that matter!), we are invited to remember our own baptism and renew our trust in God’s faithfulness.

That is the Good News of today’s text: God has been faithful; God is faithful; God will ever be faithful; live and share that Good News! Amen.

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.