A sermon on Exodus 11-13:16 given by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD on August 16, 2020, the ninth Sunday after Pentecost. This is the fifth sermon in an ongoing series on the book of Exodus.
I. Telling the Story
If you’ve seen The Passion of the Christ, you might remember the haunting scene with the two Marys in it: Mary Magdalene and the Mary, the mother of Jesus. It’s nighttime, Good Friday eve, and Mary Magdalene whispers to the Mary: why is this night different from all others? To which the Mary replies: “Because once we were slaves and we are slaves no longer…”
Those words are from the Passover Haggadah, which is still celebrated every year at Passover by Jews around the world. Haggadah means “to tell.” It is the recollection of God’s deliverance out of Egypt and the particular, powerful, peculiar way in which this rescue was accomplished. Through Jesus, it is a story that Christians everywhere share in. In fact, when we come to these chapters in Exodus, really we’re looking at the greatest (true) story ever told. It touches the human condition in a way that no other story can. In fact, I would argue that elements of this story being retold all the time.
II. Sacrifice & Substitution
What do I mean by that? The central of the story is substitution and sacrifice. How many of the last fifty years of top movies have had those elements in them? I bet all of them do in some way or another. Let me just name four – Avatar, Titanic, Star Wars, Avengers. We could go on and on and on. Why is this? Well, I think it’s because all our best loved dramas borrow liberally from the drama of the Cross – God’s drama. It is, at Lewis put when he wrote Aslan’s death, the deeper magic of God. The exchange of one person for the other is at the very heart of God. This was his saving purpose in Christ Jesus before the world began.
Tim Keller gives one storyline example that has probably been repeated hundreds of time in movies and books. From The Reason for God: “Imagine you come into contact with a man who is innocent, but who is being hunted down by secret agents or by the government or by some other powerful group. He reaches out to you for help. If you don’t help him, he will probably die, but if you ally with him, you – who were perfectly safe and secure – will be in mortal danger. This is the stuff that movie plots are made of. Again, it’s him or you. He will experience increased safety and security through your involvement, but only because you are willing to enter into his insecurity and vulnerability…how can God be a God of love if he does not become personally involved in suffering the same violence, oppression, grief, weakness, and pain that we experience? The answer to that question is twofold. First, God can’t. Second, only one major world religion even claims that God does.” (pgs. 201-202)
And so it is that the lamb’s blood is put on the lintel and door post of every Israelite in Egypt. The lamb is not an end in and of itself – how could a lamb be a substitute for a human life – but the lamb, as a shadow of good things to come, proclaims that there is one who is coming who will be the perfect sacrifice. And that God’s intent, in giving the Passover, is that when he arrives, when the substance replaces the shadow, when the man darkens the doorway of this world, we should be able to recognize him. And so John the Baptist cries, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
God’s self-substitution for our sin – Christ in our place – is gloriously and wondrously at the center of the Scripture. That this sacrifice is at the heart of Christianity is not a liability to managed, but a glorious reality to embrace and proclaim.
III. Universal Need
One of the wonderful effects of proclaiming this reality is that it keeps us humble. The Israelites were not saved because they were better. The were saved because God is good and merciful. Here’s how Tim Chester puts it, “The Israelites had to daub the blood on the doorposts precisely because they were as guilty as the Egyptians, and so needed a substitute to die in their place if they were to avoid the judgment of death. The blood is daubed around the doors not because God can’t tell who is inside the house, but because he can! He knows there are sinners inside.” (Exodus for You, pg. 88)
Can you imagine, if, on the morning after the Passover, one of the Israelite dads came out of his place and said, well I know why God spared my place…it a great looking house!
The family of God is full of brothers and sisters who stand on level ground. There are no gradations in the Body of Christ. There are no amateurs and no professionals (pastors included). Only forgiven sinners made saints. Does the way that we treat one another in the Body proclaim this reality?
And understanding that this is the heart of Christianity helps us remember that we are not here because are better than others outside the Body. We did nothing to draw God to ourselves. We had no power to liberate ourselves from sin and death. But God did. Remembering the Passover Lamb, who points to our Passover Lamb, brings us back, again and again, to the level ground at the foot of the Cross.
From that great hymn, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus”
Upon the cross of Jesus,
mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One
Who suffered there for me;
And from my stricken heart with tears
Two wonders I confess
The wonders of redeeming love
and my unworthiness.
I take, O cross, thy shadow
for my abiding place:
I ask no other sunshine than
The sunshine of His face;
Content to let the world go by
To know no gain nor loss,
My sinful self my only shame,
my glory, all the cross.
IV. Shared Identity
The people of Israel were to eat the Passover Lamb, sharing in it together, and this was to be done for all generations. Chapter 13:8-10 is especially important. As they ate also the unleavened bread together, the fathers were told, “You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ 9 And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt. 10 You shall therefore keep this statute at its appointed time from year to year.”
First, when each successive generation of Jews came together to celebrate the Exodus, they were there! They were sharing in God’s redemption as if they were in Egypt on the night it happened. In the Passover, time, history and eternity collide as God delivers.
How much more then in fulfillment of the Passover, the Lord’s Supper? In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus says to us this is my body, this is my blood given for you. Take, eat. Drink. Share in me. And please understand – when Jesus says do this in remembrance of me (Luke 22:19), the Greek (anamnesis) means far more than just the recollection of a distant memory. It more like, do this and I will be there – with you, in you, feeding you, nourishing you. In Holy Communion, there is a real, intimate sharing in Christ person and work – a real presence.
Second, please notice here: chapter 13:8-10 assumes that children will be part of the meal. This is part of the rationale for baptizing the children of believers. It was unthinkable that children should be sent away during the Passover meal. They are at the table, too.
Why? So that as they inevitably ask, why are we doing this? We may answer them, because we were once slaves, and are slaves no longer. You see, there is a back and forth a question and answer. A formation in faith.
You see, I believe that God intends for our children to be formed at the Table. We may tend to undervalue the power of ritual and ceremony, but the God the Scriptures does not. Our culture, also, does not. How many times have been in the middle of trying to watch a free movie or kids’ show off some app, only to have to sit through the same advertisement ten times! Our culture knows the power of repetition to form and disciple. Do we?
So come today. Come find your sacrifice. Come be covered in the blood of the Lamb afresh. Come to level foot of the Cross. Come to the meal shared by all God’s people – in heaven and on earth. Amen.