OK folks, just imagine this: Someone tells you something that you don't want to forget – it might be an arrangement to meet up or something you promised someone you'll do – What are you going to do… to make sure you don't forget?
I asked our staff team here at church that question earlier on in the week and here are a few of the things they said – I wonder if you can relate to any of these:
- "Write it on my hand."
- "Write it down." – presumably somewhere other than their hand.
- "Send myself emails."
- "Put a note on my phone" – "Hey Siri, remind me to take the bins out at 9 o'clock tonight."
- "Leave it by the door"
- "Ask my husband: 'Will you remind about this...'"
I have to say I so often remember things I'm supposed to do just as I'm dropping off to sleep – and I can't be bothered getting up. So, my failsafe method is to take a book from my bedside and drop it on the floor by the bed. So that when I wake up in the morning I will wonder why it's there and remember!
That's the theory, but what actually tends to happen is that I will wake up bleary-eyed and stumble out of bed, stub my toe on the book and wonder who on earth has been so stupid as to leave a book on the floor beside my bed! I tell you – it never works!
But no matter how weird or wonderful our reminders are I suspect that none of us have ever:
- Sacrificed a lamb…
- Or held a flatbread festival for a week…
- In order to remind ourselves about something important.
But that's just what we've got going on here in Exodus 12 and 13. Maybe you thought some of the things we did here at church were a bit weird – like those Baptisms we had earlier on!
As we read through the details of the Institution of the Passover and the hasty attempts of God's people to make bread without yeast in Exodus 12 – I tell you Mary Berry would have been having a fit if she saw these guys not proving their dough, wouldn't she? So might we! It all looks a bit nuts! We might even wonder if it's a bit of a downer to look at this on our 3rd Anniversary of all times.
But everything that is going on here was specifically designed by God to make the Israelites remember three things… three words that should never be forgotten by them… and thousands of years later, through the lens of Jesus Christ, by us too.
The first word is…
As God is in the midst of rescuing his people from Egypt. The Israelites have not been there on holiday!
No! The Egyptians have:
- made them live in forced labour camps…
- oppressed, belittled and beaten them…
- and tried to reduce their numbers by throwing every son born to an Israelite woman into the River Nile.
But now God has stepped in to bring decades of Egyptian cruelty juddering to a halt. As after sending a series of plagues as warning shots across Pharaoh and the Egyptians bows – God sends a final and fitting judgement on them that takes the life of their sons. Their firstborn sons are struck down by the Angel of Death and the Israelites are only saved by killing a lamb and dabbing its blood on the doorposts of their houses. So Pharaoh summons Moses and Aaron in the middle of the night and says: "Go! Get out! Be gone the lot of you!" And they are finally set free from Egypt.
As they leave they do not go empty-handed – as the Egyptians in verse 35 and 36 give them: "silver and gold jewelry and clothing." While God had promised back in Genesis 15 that they would be given recompense for all their losses – these are not going-home gifts. They're not party bags. It is plunder – end of verse 36: "Thus they plundered the Egyptians." This is the spoil of battle as the Israelites are leaving as victors.
We have seen over this whole saga that what has been going on in the background is a battle of powers – who is stronger: The gods of the Egyptians or the LORD himself? Well it is the LORD whose hand is mightiest!
And this is the main point here. It is very clear and we mustn't miss it – Pharaoh may be ordering, Moses may be instructing – but it is God who is doing all this.
Have a look at verse 50 : "All the people of Israel did just as the LORD commanded Moses and Aaron. And on that very day the LORD brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt..."
This rescue has happened because… because God has made it happen.
And it happens exactly when God said it would – verse 40: "The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt." Which is significant because – again – back in Genesis chapter 15 God had said his people would be enslaved and mistreated for 400 years in "a country not their own".
In other words – the writer wants us to see they are leaving bang on time. They are leaving when God said they would.
And folks this is a wonderful reminder – I feel we need to be reminded of this… that God is never ever late.
We are! We are all the time, aren't we?! Just think of one example when you were late this week. I suspect most of us can think of more than one. But if you're struggling, I can think of one – it was probably about an hour ago when this service was due to start! We are often late because… we are not in control. But God is not like us! He is always in complete control. Our hands are weak… His hand is mighty.
And so folks when it feels as if God is not delivering the goods in your life – when it feels as if God has not turned up when he should've done – it's because our timing is out… or our understanding is wrong. It's not that God didn't get our memo... it's that we didn't get his.
God has brought deliverance for the Israelites exactly as and when he said he would.
After deliverance, comes…
Because in Exodus 12 the Israelites were not the only ones to leave Egypt. Have a look at verse 38 – the writer tells us: "A mixed multitude also went up with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds."
As they left Egypt a whole gang of people joined them. And amongst them, there were undoubtedly some Egyptians and perhaps also those from other backgrounds and races who had also been slaves in Egypt – who had heeded God's warning shot and turned to his people for refuge.
You see, anyone can become part of the people of God! Look at verse 48: "If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land."
In other words, if anyone from this "mixed multitude" wants to become one of the Israelites... they can! They had to go through circumcision – which was a sign of being a member of the people of God in the Old Testament.
And folks it's the same for us – not exactly the same all the blokes here will be relieved to hear! For us the sign that we are part of the people of God is baptism – which is why I baptised Fazi, Maggie and Tom earlier on.
But the point here is: these acts of remembrance confront you with a decision point. They make you ask: "Well what about me?"
- For God's people, it asks us afresh: "Am I trusting in Christ… today?" It's all well and good saying: "Well I know I put my faith in God back in 1989" – or whenever it might of been for you – but the point is: Are we putting our faith in Jesus this year, this month, this day?
- For those of you who've been drawn into the church, but are not yet believers – it begs the question: Are you in or are you out? Are you trusting in the work of God's sacrifice or are you not?
Maybe some of you here this morning come regularly to St Joseph's and you're still trying to figure out the Christian faith. Others – maybe you're just here for the ride. It's a nice habit, you like the people and enjoy coming – and we enjoy having you! You are always welcome!
But know this: there will be things that we do here that will push you to a decision point.
Maybe some of the words that we sing will make you think: "Can I sing this or not? Do I really believe this or not?" When we stand and affirm our faith using the creed – that maybe a moment for some of us to think: "Do I believe this? These guys around me do, but do I?" And perhaps above all when we take communion – it poses that question too: "Jesus is for you – are you really for him? Seeing him, savouring him, treasuring him, obeying him? Hanging out with God's people will not make you part of God's people. You do need to make a decision.
Beyond that is our final word:
When I was at school my mum stitched labels into every item of my school uniform. Did anyone else have a mum who did that?
These days folks just seem to use a Sharpie – But back in the day, my mum would lovingly hand stitch little labels bearing my name – "Kenneth Matthews" – onto my school shirts, jumper, trousers, PE kit and even my underwear! Why? So that nobody could be in any doubt that those vests and baggy Y-fronts belonged to me! Those little labels marked out all of my kit as belonging to me and that they existed for my service.
That's actually what God is telling the Israelites about themselves in Exodus chapter 13: "You belong to me!"
As they are in the midst of making their escape from Egypt we get a break from the action – it's like God presses the pause button and says – verse 1: "Consecrate…" – which is a rather crunchy word I suspect not many of us have used this week. But it basically means: "To set apart – to dedicate or devote for a particular person or purpose."
"Consecrate to me all the firstborn." God says, "Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine."
Now as we read on and get further details in verses 12 and 13 we discover that it is actually the firstborn males of both human and their animals that are to be consecrated.
The significance of this is that in those days the firstborn son acted like the representative of the family – like a captain represents their football team when he goes to the centre circle for the toss up at the start of a game.
And their animals were where folks kept their wealth – So If you wanted to figure out how rich you were in those days you didn't go online to check your bank balance, but you went to your grazing pasture… to check your flocks.
So when God says, "consecrate to me all the firstborn" he is actually saying: "Set apart – devote to me – your firstborn son as a representative for the whole family and the first born of your animals to represent your wealth. Because all that you are and all that you have belongs to me."
You see the message? We belong to God! What has been saved by God, now belongs to God. And that should radically affect how we look at and label everything we are and all that we own. So I could empty my pockets here:
- My phone – which has my diary on it. And every minute on it is not my own. It's Jesus time. Is that how we think? Or do we go, "No it's for me and what I want. So I'll come to church or midweek group or help at that event if it suits me."
- My house and car keys – Do you own a house? It isn't yours – it's God's and he's entrusted it to you for a while. Will you use it in a way that will make him smile?
- This car – It's not my car. It's Jesus' car. It should be cleaner! But how I use my car, whether I keep the speed limit shows whether I think it's mine or his.
- My wallet – who does it belong to? It belongs to the God of heaven.
Folks, the fact that we belong to God is to be stitched into our lives in the same way that my name was stitched into my school uniform. That's why God is giving his people these rather strange but significant reminders of who he is and what he has done for them. So they won't ever forget!
But also… so that others will ask questions. Do we see that in Exodus 13.14: "And when in time to come your son asks you, 'What does this mean?'"We see this again in Exodus 13.8 and Exodus 12.26.
The life of the Israelite household was designed to elicit enquiry from the young.
It's not hard to imagine – Mum would bake bread as flat as a pancake all week or Dad would bring home a lamb and slit it's throat. I think that would make the kids ask a few questions, don't you? If you have any doubts then go home and try to execute the Nibbles the Hamster. The kids will definitely ask some questions then!
You see faith is to be taught to the young as they ask the question "why?"
- "Why do we give so much of our money away?"
- "Why don't we have a swanky new car like all of my friend's parents do?"
- "Why can't I have my own iPhone like my mates do? Or watch the same films, play the same games and have the same social media accounts that they do?"
- "Why are we always having folks round for meals? My friends don't have random strangers coming round for food!"
- "Why do we have to read the Bible and pray at bedtime? And talk about it at the breakfast table? And go to church every week?"
- "Why am I being brought up in this strange household that doesn't live like 21st century Newcastle does?"
Folks, it's brilliant that we have such good children's and youth groups here at church on Sunday mornings. But faith is taught to the young just as much – if not more – in the home as they watch how we live our lives… and ask the question "Why?"
We need to have answers to their questions – but the short answer is: "Because God saved us… we belong to him."
And as I close, let me acknowledge that this might be the question you're asking this morning: "Why? Why would I want to belong to him?!"
Well time and time again in the New Testament we read verses like Titus 2.14 – which says: "Jesus Christ gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own… eager to do what is good."
When we grasp the significance of Jesus rescue of us – we grasp not only that we belong to him, but we will want to belong to him. Jesus has…
- He has saved us from sin and death and Satan.
- He has given us the certainty of sins forgiven.
- He welcomes us into his family…
- All of grace and love and kindness
And so you and I should be people who go: "You know who I want to belong to? I want to belong to him because he loves me and look what he has done for me? Where else would I want to be?" We really should want to belong to Jesus because he is the best master we could ever have. It is for our best to belong to him.