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Costly Deliverance

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, "This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire--with the head, legs, and internal organs. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord's Passover. On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord--a lasting ordinance. Exodus 12:1-14 Read the whole chapter.

Last Sunday we started in Exodus chapter 3 and looked a little bit at that call story of Moses with the burning bush and God saying, 'Moses, I've got a job for you to do. My people are in captivity. The Egyptians are being harsh and it's time for this to end. So I need you to go and be the one to work alongside of me to make that happen.' Our reading this morning, we've kind of fast-forwarded through a number of chapters but there's a lot of things that happen. We've got those 10 plagues that are brought upon the people of Egypt. Those 10 plagues in which God did things like turn the skies dark, turn the Nile into blood, to bring plagues of locusts and flies and frogs and other pestilences upon the people, boils and sickness. All of these were a battle of wills between God and Pharaoh. Pharaoh who considered himself a god and the God of the Israelites through Moses and his brother Aaron continued to deliver these messages to Pharaoh, 'Pharaoh, let my people go.' And Pharaoh hard-hearted Pharaoh kept saying no. So another plague would unfold. The people of Egypt paid the price. Pharoah stood firm in his convictions but God stood firmer in his desire and intention to lead his people to their freedom.

We come to this 12th chapter which in some ways almost seems like an interruption in the sequence of events that's been going on moving from one plague to the next. While it probably according to scholars took a period of months for these things to happen and unfold, we're going from Moses and Aaron saying, 'God says let my people go' and Pharaoh says 'no', a plague happens and the next and the next and the next. And they just keep coming. Then we get to chapter 12 and we have this institution of a ritual, a liturgy, it says 'alright there's one more plague coming and you need to get ready to celebrate it and do it in a way in which I prescribe. It's not like how the others have unfolded.' Now in the past in those first nine, Moses and Aaron would go make God's demands to Pharaoh. Pharaoh would say 'no' and then Moses and Aaron would say or do something that would cause these things to happen.

Now it wasn't because they had any power or ability of their own but rather God was working in and through them. But God's approach now is a little bit different. God speaks to Moses and Aaron and says, 'I've got a message for you to give to the people. Here's what they need to do to be ready,' But at that point, Moses and Aaron are told to kind of step back and let God take over from here. So what is it about this ritual, this meal, this way in which the people are called to celebrate, or remember? I think the biggest part of it is just that because honestly, myself included, I think probably for many of you this is not an easy text.

A former associate of mine use to say, when we get to passages like this, when we often read our scripture and then at the end of it, the person reading says "The word of God for the people of God" and everybody responds by saying "Thanks be to God". My associate Curtis would say, you know we get to these passages, we read them and we say "Thanks be to God" really that thanks be to God should have a question mark after it. Because this is a tough passage. It's a difficult one. We wrestle to make sense of it because it's bloody, it's violent, it's God ultimately putting to death all of the firstborns of Egypt. And it makes us step back and say, 'wait a minute, is this the God that we've heard about? Is this the God that we worship? Is this the God that we're called to love?' And yet we see history unfolding in the way that it did in the land of Egypt. Moses and Aaron when they were responsible for those other plagues are not told 'alright now get all of the people together and take up arms and go and slaughter the firstborns of Egypt.' God says 'I'll pass over the land and I'll make this happen.' Because it was going to take something drastic to get through to Pharaoh. And it did. Pharaoh relented. In fact later on, after the reading we had, it says that Pharaoh and all of the Egyptians leaders and officials, when the spirit of the Lord, the angel of death, whatever it was that passed over the land and these firstborns died it affected every household of the Egyptians, their livestock, their children. It cost them dearly. But that was the tipping point because it was at that point that Pharaoh devastated, overwhelmed, realizing that he was no god and in fact all of these gods of Egypt had no power to save them throws up his hand and says, 'go, take your people, go worship your god. And while you're at it, ask your god to bless me.'

So why this interruption in this story of saying, 'alright you need to get a lamb. It needs to be a certain age, needs to be perfect without blemish. You need to slaughter it this way. You need to prepare it and eat it this way. You need to be ready to go. You need to have your sandals on your feet. You need to have your staff in your hand. You need to be ready to go as soon as you eat this.' There was some urgency and God was sending the message that you need to be ready. But in that moment it was also God saying, 'this is going to change things forever. In verse 2 it says the months shall be marked for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. God says, 'Moses, Aaron, tell the people history is going to be forever changed. So much so that you're going to mark your calendar by this day, by this moment.' And again in chapter 14, at the end, it says this day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord throughout your generations. You shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance. This meal that they were commanded to prepare and eat was the basis for what we still call Passover. An event that happened over 3,000 years ago is a festival, a holiday, the holiest of days that Jewish people still observe and celebrate today.

Passover is not distant and foreign to us, but in fact, it marks when our Easter falls because if you remember the story of Jesus' passion and all of those things that we do during Holy Week. Maundy Thursday was when Jesus washed the disciples' feet. But it was at that meal where he was celebrating the Passover with his disciples just a few days before the resurrection. It is this meal that it's celebrated in Jewish households each year where every part of the meal, if you've ever witnessed or heard about or experienced a Seder meal. That's what they call the meal that they celebrate at Passover, every element, everything that happens has a story, a meaning, a purpose behind it. There are liturgies that the families use. The children are asked questions and respond. Why do we do this? What makes this night different from other nights? And they go through this reenactment, this retelling of this story.

I think that's a big part of why God does this. He wants them to remember. He doesn't want this to become a romanticized, 'oh yeah, wasn't that wonderful? Everything was perfect.' He doesn't want them to forget. The truth is that throughout the Scriptures, often for the people of Israel, there's a lament: Once we were slaves in Egypt but now we are not. We hold on to this promise even as Christians in our communion liturgy, that opening portion that I say talks about what when we were slaves you delivered us from our captivity and made a covenant to be our sovereign God. God's covenant, God's promise was the people of Israel and yet we too are participants in that work that act, that liberation that God brought for his people.

We don't celebrate this meal in the same way. This meal, this story, this lesson that we find here, though a difficult one, though a challenging one teaches us two very important things. First, it is God who delivers. It is God who frees slaves. When God's people were slaves in Egypt, God intervened. They were slaves for 430 years. But it was God who ultimately and eventually led those people to their freedom. It was God who through that act laid the foundation for the future of their faith. Because the people would look back and say 'oh yeah, we were once slaves but now we're not. And God is the one that made that possible.' We too share that story but we too need to recognize that God continues this work of deliverance. God delivers communities. God delivers individuals. God breaks the bondage of addiction and pain and cycles of persecution, delivers people from oppression and abusive relationships. God delivers us from sin that continues to plague our lives. God doesn't want us to forget those things. So if it is God that delivers, we also need to recognize from this story the deliverance often comes at a price. But God is willing to pay that price.

Now we look at this lesson and say 'well it's clearly the Egyptians that paid the price. And yet for God to step into the fray and say 'you know what I'm going to do what it takes at all costs to bring my people to freedom.' And God does. But as Christians, we look back at this story just not as history of something that happened long ago and doesn't have a whole lot to do with us. But rather we see this as setting the stage to help us understand this God who brings liberation and is willing to pay a hefty price. You see Jesus is often referred to as the Lamb of God. In the Gospel of John chapter 1 verse 29 when John the Baptist sees Jesus coming along he elbows his disciples and says, 'look the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.' Paul picks up on this theme referring to Jesus as the Lamb that comes again. This Lamb in Exodus is sacrificed that the people might live. God in his love for us recognizing our bondage and slavery to sin and death paid the ultimate price by sending his son Jesus to break those bonds to set us free, to liberate us. We have our ways of remembering at that last supper that Jesus celebrated with his disciples, that meal that they had celebrated for generations even at that point, Jesus gathered with them around the table and the things that were before him he took and he lifted up. He reinterpreted them said "This is my body. This is my blood." Just as the Israelites ate the lamb that was roasted and smeared the blood on the doorposts of their homes that they might be saved, Jesus says 'this is my blood of the new covenant. This is my body given for you. Do these things in remembrance of me.' Just as the people of Israel were to not forget what God had done, we too are called upon to never forget the cost that God has paid through his son Jesus. That we might live. That the bonds of sin and death might be broken forever. God establishes this new covenant through his son Jesus. It mattered 2,000 years ago to those first disciples and most especially when that stone was rolled away from the tomb. It matters to us each and every day. Each and every moment that we continue to live in and profess our faith in Jesus Christ, we continue to acknowledge and remember and thank God that there was no price too high that we might be set free. That we might live. God has paid that price for each and every one of us. Thanks be to God that he loved us that much.


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