Never Forget

1 “Observe the month of Abib and keep the Passover to the Lord your God, for in the month of Abib the Lord your God brought you out of Egypt by night. And you shall offer the Passover sacrifice to the Lord your God, from the flock or the herd, at the place that the Lord will choose, to make his name dwell there. You shall eat no leavened bread with it. Seven days you shall eat it with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction—for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste—that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt. No leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory for seven days, nor shall any of the flesh that you sacrifice on the evening of the first day remain all night until morning. You may not offer the Passover sacrifice within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, but at the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell in it, there you shall offer the Passover sacrifice, in the evening at sunset, at the time you came out of Egypt. And you shall cook it and eat it at the place that the Lord your God will choose. And in the morning you shall turn and go to your tents. For six days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a solemn assembly to the Lord your God. You shall do no work on it. – Deuteronomy 16:1-8 ESV

Moses has been reminding the people of their obligation to offer the appropriate sacrifices at the appropriate time and place. Now, he is going to elaborate on the particular feasts and festivals at which these various offerings were to be made.

All the firstborn males that are born of your herd and flock you shall dedicate to the Lord your God. You shall do no work with the firstborn of your herd, nor shear the firstborn of your flock.You shall eat it, you and your household, before the Lord your God year by year at the place that the Lord will choose. – Deuteronomy 15:19-20 NLT

The first, and most important one, was the Feast of Passover. This yearly celebration was instituted while the people of Israel were still in Egypt and was closely associated with the final plague: The death of the firstborn. On the night the very first Passover was held, God spared all those whose homes were marked by the blood of an unblemished lamb. This sign, placed on the doorposts of their homes in an act of faith, provided those inside with protection from the judgment of God. Their homes were “passed over” by the Death Angel and their firstborns were spared. And God had told the people that this momentous event was to be celebrated on an annual and perpetual basis for generations to come.

“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.” – Exodus 12:14 ESV

Passover began with the sacrifice of the lamb and the sprinkling of its blood, followed by a meal at which the lamb was to be eaten

“They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord‘s Passover.” – Exodus 12:8-11 ESV

The consumption of the lamb was to be followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a seven-day-long period of time in which all leaven, a symbol of sin, was removed from the homes and from the diets of the Israelites.

“For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses. If anyone eats what is leavened, that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwelling places you shall eat unleavened bread.” – Exodus 12:19-20 ESV

And Moses had instructed the people to faithfully observe this God-ordained series of celebrations and commemorations each and every year.

“You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. And when you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord‘s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” – Exodus 12:24-27 ESV

Now, some 40 years later, the Israelites were preparing to enter the land and Moses reminded them once again of their obligation to keep these important feasts and festivals. But it was essential that the Israelites not allow these holy days to devolve into nothing more than glorified holidays. They were intended to be commemorations or memorials of all that God had done for them. They were meant to be links to the past, reminding the people of God’s greatness and goodness. And as each successive generation found itself further and further from the original Passover, it was going to be essential that the memory of God’s gracious deliverance be retold and their gratitude for His kindness be rekindled.

That’s why Moses was so emphatic in his reminder that they keep these feasts. He knew that, once they arrived in the land, they would be tempted to leave the past behind. As they acclimated to their new home, they would find their former condition as slaves a distant and quickly fading memory. These feasts were meant to be reminders of God’s deliverance and a constant call to remain faithful to Him alone. The removal of the leaven would provide a visual lesson of the ever-present and pervasive nature of sin. It would always be with them. And while God had delivered them from slavery and provided the land of Canaan as their inheritance, they were to keep themselves holy and totally dedicated to God.

“Seven days you shall eat it with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction—for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste—that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 16:3 ESV

There is a sense in which God’s people are to live with their heads on a swivel, constantly looking back in an effort to recall the past and all that God has done, but also looking forward in faith, eagerly anticipating all that God has promised to do.

The apostle Paul was constantly reminding the churches to which he wrote of their past condition, prior to their coming to faith in Christ.

Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:11 NLT

He told the believers in Ephesus:

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!). – Ephesians 2:1-5 NLT

Looking back is an essential part of the Christian’s growth experience. If we fail to remember our pre-salvation condition, we will end up taking our faith for granted. The miracle of our spiritual transformation will lose its impact. The sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf will tend to diminish in its value. But if we recall the helplessness and hopelessness of our former condition, the grace and mercy of God will retain its glory and wonder.

God had miraculously and graciously liberated the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt. He had faithfully led them through the wilderness and placed them on the edge of the very land He had promised to give them as their inheritance. But it was going to be vital that they remember their past. These annual feasts and festivals were to be celebrations and commemorations. They were intended to be times of rejoicing and recalling, feasting and reflecting.

When it comes to the goodness and graciousness of God, forgetfulness is a dangerous tendency that is to be avoided at all costs. That’s why Moses was constantly reminding the Israelites to never forget. Because he knew that forgetfulness would ultimately lead to unfaithfulness.

When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.

“But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the LORD your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the LORD your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 8:10-14 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

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Broken For You.

26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same. – Matthew 26:26-35 ESV

break-bread-300x178Jesus and His disciples had gathered in the upper room of a borrowed house somewhere in the city of Jerusalem, in order to celebrate the Passover together. It was at this gathering that Jesus revealed the one who would betray Him: Judas. One of the original 12 disciples, Judas had already made a deal with the chief priests, agreeing to turn Jesus over to them in return for a bounty of 30 pieces of silver. And, when Jesus exposed Judas as the one who would betray Him, rather than repent and beg for forgiveness, Judas left the room, intent on doing what he had agreed to do.

Jesus shared some serious words of warning regarding Judas.

“…woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” – Matthew 26:24 ESV

Judas’ decision to betray Jesus was part of God’s redemptive plan. Jesus had been well aware of it and knew it was necessary for God’s will to be fulfilled. But Judas had made the willful choice to betray his master and friend. He put his own self-interests ahead of any devotion he may have had for Jesus. And, evidently, Judas had done a masterful job of disguising his true nature from the rest of the disciples, because when Jesus had announced that one of them would betray Him, they each wondered if he was speaking of them. But Jesus made it perfectly clear who the betrayer was.

26 “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.” – John 13:26-30 ESV

His departure must have left the rest of the disciples in a state of disbelief. It’s interesting to consider that no one among them attempted to stop Judas, not even the normally impulsive Peter. Judas simply left the room. and the meal continued.

What happened next takes on an even more serious tone when we consider that Judas was on his way to meet with the religious leaders in order to set in motion the betray and ultimate arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. He was about to set in motion a chain of events that would lead to the death of the Son of God. And as Judas made his way through the streets of Jerusalem with the words of Jesus echoing in his mind, Jesus addressed His remaining disciples.

He took a piece of unleavened bread, prayed over it, then divided it among them. And He announced, “Take, eat; this is my body.” In his gospel account, Luke adds, “which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19 ESV). It may be that, at this moment, some of the disciples recalled the words of Jesus spoken earlier in His ministry:

“…the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” – John 6:33 ESV

I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” – John 6:35 ESV

I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” – John 6:48-51 ESV

Jesus was about to lay down His life as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind. His body would be beaten, broken and bruised. He would have His life brutally taken from Him by those whose very existence were His doing. Yet, Jesus was commemorating for His disciples what was about to happen, so that they might always remember the source of their salvation. His death would be the means of their eternal life. No amount of good works would earn for them what Jesus was about to provide for them by the sacrifice of His own life.

And then Jesus took one of the cups of wine, prayed over it, and said, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28 ESV). Jesus, as if to emphasize what He had just said, pointed the disciples to the sacrificial nature of His pending death. His blood would be poured out, like the lambs used in the temple sacrifices.

It was John the Baptist who had announced at the arrival of Jesus at the Jordan River:

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” – John 1:29 ESV

Jesus was the consummate paschal lamb, the sinless substitute who would offer up His life as payment for the sin debt of fallen humanity. And as the author of Hebrews made so clear:

…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. – Hebrews 9:22 ESV

There was no other way. Jesus would have to die. His body would be broken and His blood would be spilled, because the just wrath of God against the sins of mankind had to be satisfied or propitiated. And the apostle John would later write, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 1:29 ESV). And John would go on to describe what Jesus did on the cross as an expression of God’s love for sinful mankind.

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. – 1 John 4:10 ESV

All of this had to hit the disciples like a lead weight. It was all so unexpected and unbelievable. It was not as they had hoped and dreamed. Their world was collapsing all around them, and it was about to get even darker as the night progressed. Jesus informed them that this would be their last meal together, but assured them that they would feast together again at a later date, most likely a reference to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

But with the Passover meal completed, they made their way through the dark night, out the eastern gate of the city to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus dropped yet another bomb on His already shell-shocked disciples.

“You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ – Matthew 26:31 ESV

Every single one of them would desert Him at His greatest hour of need. Under the coming persecution of the religious leaders, the disciples would scatter and hide. But upon hearing this pronouncement from Jesus, the always impulsive Peter said, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away” (Matthew 26:33 ESV). Those words would come back to haunt Peter. And Peter would make matters even worse for himself by refuting Jesus’ claim that he would deny the Lord three times.

“Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” – Matthew 2:35 ESV

He was well-intentioned. And he spoke for all the disciples. But none of them knew what was about to happen. They had no idea just how bad things were going to get in the next few hours. But Jesus did. And yet, He gave them a subtle, yet confident bit of news:

“…after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” – Matthew 26:32 ESV

Jesus knew that He would die, but He also confident that He would rise again. That was the Father’s plan. His death was necessary, but so was His resurrection. His death would be payment for the sins of mankind. But His restoration to life would be proof that His death had been sufficient and fully satisfactory to God.

This dark cloud had a silver lining. The events of the next few hours would be horrific for the disciples. They would be agonizingly painful for Jesus. But He faced it all with confidence and faith in His Father’s will. And what He was about to do, He did willingly.

“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:18 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Beginning of the End.

1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
    humble, and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” –  Matthew 21:1-11 ESV

jesus-christ-triumphal-entry-949744-wallpaperJesus was making His way to Jerusalem, a journey He had anticipated for some time and had warned the disciples about. It would be a trip with a two-fold purpose: To celebrate the Feast of Passover, but also to present Himself as the sacrificial Lamb for the sins of mankind. There was a festive mood on the roads and in the villages surrounding Jerusalem because of all the pilgrims who were making their way to the city in order to celebrate Passover. But there was another group who were excited for an entirely different reason. They were hoping to find Jesus.

55 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. 56 They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” 57 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him. – John 11:55-57 ESV

Not long before Jesus began His trip to Jerusalem, He had performed yet another miracle in the city of Bethany, just two miles from Jerusalem. It was there that He had raised Lazarus from the dead. And that particular miracle had created quite a stir among the people, causing many to believe in Him. But the religious leaders were not among them. They saw in Jesus, not a Messiah to be worshiped, but a radical to be exterminated.

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. – John 11:45-53 ESV

We know from John’s gospel account that, just six days before Jesus entered Jerusalem, He had returned to Bethany, where He shared a meal with Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Ever since Jesus had raised him back to life, Lazarus had become a celebrity. John tells us that “When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead” (John 12:9 ESV). But while Lazarus had become famous among the people, he had become infamous to the religious leaders. 

So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus. – John 12:10-11 ESV

So, Jesus’ entry into the city was filled with mixed emotions. The disciples would have been encouraged and excited at the reaction of the crowds. It would have been a good omen to them. Maybe this would be the day when Jesus declared Himself king of Israel. The crowds were made up of people who believed in Him and others who were simply caught up in the excitement of the moment. The religious leaders were filled with contempt and anxious to capture Jesus before He stirred up any more trouble.

And it’s interesting to note that Jesus did not enter the city silently and clandestinely. He most certainly knew what the Pharisees and scribes were up to. He had already predicted His own betrayal and arrest. So, why did He choose to enter in such a blatantly conspicuous way? Jesus was simply fulfilling the prophecies concerning Himself as found in the Old Testament Scriptures. He arranged for His disciples to retrieve a donkey and its colt that they would find tied and waiting in the city of Bethpage.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
    righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey. – Zecharaiah 9:9 ESV

Everything that happened from this point forward was proof that Jesus was the Messiah, the one whom God had promised would come. And the people, either knowingly or ignorantly confirmed His identity, when they shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9 ESV). The word, “hosanna” literally means “save us now.” Their designation of Jesus as the Son of David was a Messianic title. They were declaring Jesus to be the long-awaited Messiah and King of Israel. But did they really believe what they were saying? Were their cheers and words of declaration the result of true belief or wishful thinking. Luke records that the Pharisees demanded that Jesus rebuke the crowds for what they were saying, but Jesus simply said, ““I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 11:40 ESV). This was a God-ordained event, designed to give further proof that Jesus was who He had claimed to be. We will see that the majority of the people who placed palm branches before Jesus and declared Him to be the Son of David would later cry out for His crucifixion.

Matthew tells us that the city of Jerusalem was “stirred up” because of Jesus. The Greek word he used is seiō and it means to be agitated, shaken, or rocked. His arrival was like an earthquake, shaking the entire city to its core. And, as we will see, Jesus was not done yet. This was not going to be a quiet, covert period in Jesus’ life. Things were building up to a head. The tension was mounting. His entire earthly ministry had been pointed to this moment and we are going to see the spiritual battle that began with His temptation in the wilderness three years earlier come to a final, decisive conclusion.

The crowds were indecisive as to His exact identity. While some declared Him to be the Son of David, others said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” But by the time His stay in Jerusalem was over, there would be no question that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Healthy Fear of God.

15 And the Lord said to Joshua, 16 “Command the priests bearing the ark of the testimony to come up out of the Jordan.” 17 So Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.” 18 And when the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord came up from the midst of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up on dry ground, the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and overflowed all its banks, as before.

19 The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. 20 And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. 21 And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, 24 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” 

1 As soon as all the kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the people of Israel until they had crossed over, their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel. Joshua 4:15-5:1 ESV

On the tenth day of the first month. The placement of that calendar notation may seem a bit odd or out of place, but it is actually quite significant, providing us with an important time marker. It lets us know that it had been 40 years to the day since God had told Israel to prepare to take the Passover, in preparation for their departure from Egypt.

1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household.”Exodus 12:1-3 ESV

This day was already a memorial for the people of Israel, commemorating their deliverance from slavery in Egypt by the hand of God. God had told the Israelites that their keeping of the Passover each year on that day was to act as a reminder and a teaching opportunity.

26 “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord‘s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” – Exodus 12:26-27 ESV

Now, they would have another reason to remember the tenth day of the first month, and another story to tell their children about the greatness of God. Not only had He delivered them from captivity in Egypt, He had brought them into the land He had promised to give them. They were no longer slaves, but freemen. Rather than live as captives, they were to be conquerors, possessing the land promised to them by God by the very power of God.

Notice the similarities between what God told the people of Israel regarding their keeping of the Passover and what Joshua told the people about the stone memorial.

21 “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over… – Joshua 4:21-23 ESV

In Egypt, God passed over the houses of the Israelites. At the Jordan, Israel passed over the border of Canaan on dry ground. In Egypt, God had spared the Israelites from death because of the presence of the blood of the lamb sprinkled on the doorposts and lintels of their homes. At the Jordan, God had provided a path to a new life through the presence of the ark, the symbol of God’s covenant faithfulness. And as soon as the feet of the priests stepped out of the Jordan and onto the western shoreline, the waters returned and overflowed their banks. God had faithfully kept back the waters until each and every Israelite had passed over. He had delivered them safely into the land of promise.

And Joshua provides two important reasons for this miraculous provision by God. First, “that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty.” This was to be a witness to the nations who occupied the land of Canaan. News of this miracle would spread. The drying up of the waters of the Jordan would not have gone unnoticed by others who lived in the land and who depended upon its waters for their well-being. We are not told how long it took the Israelites to cross over the Jordan, but however long it took, those living downstream would have noticed that the river had dried up at a time of the year when it should have been overflowing its banks. And in the very next chapter we see that the news of this miracle had its intended impact on the inhabitants of the land.

…their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel… – Joshua 5:1 ESV

But Joshua lets the people know there is a second and even more significant reason for the miracle they had just witnessed: “that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” God had just revealed His power. He had displayed His sovereign control over the elements. Just as He had dried up the waters of the Red Sea 40 years earlier, He had dried up the waters of the Jordan. Nothing was too difficult for Him. And they were to fear Him. But it’s essential that we understand what this fear of God entailed. It was not to be a fear of Him, in the sense that they were to cower in His presence or live in fear of His wrath. The fear of God is an expression that communicates faith in God. It is a experiential understanding of His power and provision. God had just done a miracle on their behalf. He had just performed an inexplicable act of divine deliverance, and it was to produce in them a healthy reverence for Him and an emboldened faith in Him. So that, the next time He spoke, they would readily listen and quickly obey. Their God was powerful. Their God was faithful. And there was no other god like Him. The gods of the Canaanites and Amorites would prove no match for God Almighty.

Many years earlier, long before the Israelites had made it into the land of promise, Moses had given them a powerful reminder concerning the fear of God.

12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good” – Deuteronomy 10:12-13 ESV

The fear of God was to have an outward expression. It was to be visible and tangible in nature. And it was to be characterized by obedience and faithfulness.

20 “You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. 21 He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. 22 Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.” – Deuteronomy 10:20-22 ESV

The Israelites were to fear God, because He was their covenant-keeping, miracle-working, grace-bestowing God. The Amorites and Canaanites would learn to fear God, but for completely different reasons. They were going to learn that He was God, and they would come to fear His power and presence, but they would never bow down and worship Him as their God. But for the Israelites, their interactions with God were to produce a reverence for Him that would increase their dependence upon Him.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Scarlet Cord.

Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. 10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. 11 And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. 12 Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign 13 that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” 14 And the men said to her, “Our life for yours even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours, then when the Lord gives us the land we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.”

15 Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall, so that she lived in the wall. 16 And she said to them, “Go into the hills, or the pursuers will encounter you, and hide there three days until the pursuers have returned. Then afterward you may go your way.” 17 The men said to her, “We will be guiltless with respect to this oath of yours that you have made us swear. 18 Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household. 19 Then if anyone goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we shall be guiltless. But if a hand is laid on anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head. 20 But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be guiltless with respect to your oath that you have made us swear.” 21 And she said, “According to your words, so be it.” Then she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.

22 They departed and went into the hills and remained there three days until the pursuers returned, and the pursuers searched all along the way and found nothing. 23 Then the two men returned. They came down from the hills and passed over and came to Joshua the son of Nun, and they told him all that had happened to them. 24 And they said to Joshua, “Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands. And also, all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us.” – Joshua 2:8-24 ESV

ScarletThreadRahab had a fear of Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, yet had never met Him or worshiped Him. She had only heard about Him. She told the two spies that word of His mighty acts, done on behalf of the people of Israel, had made their way all the way to Jericho. They knew about the parting of the Red Sea. They had heard about the destruction of Sihon and Og. And these stories had made an impact on the people of Jericho. She told them, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you” (Joshua 2:9 ESV). All of this was in direct fulfillment of the promise that God had made to the people of Israel.

“I will send my terror before you and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you.” – Exodus 23:27 ESV

Notice that it was God’s reputation that had made its impact on the people of Jericho. Rahab made it clear that their fear of the Israelites was based on the power of the God of the Israelites.

“…there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” – Joshua 2:11 ESV

The God of the Jews had struck fear into the hearts of the people of Jericho. But it was because He acted on behalf of His people. He was the power behind their military success. He was the one who was going before them and fighting their battles for them. Rahab was convinced that this God had given the land of Canaan into the hands of the Israelites and there was nothing she or anyone else in her well-fortified city could do about it. Except ask for mercy. Which she did. She pleaded with the two spies to reward her willingness to protect them by sparing the lives of her household. What Rahab did at that moment was an act of faith. We know so, because of what the author of the book of Hebrews tells us.

By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. – Hebrews 11:31 ESV

While Rahab made it clear that the fear of God had melted the hearts of all the people of Jericho, she was the only one who turned to God in faith, asking His representatives to show her mercy. While the king of Jericho was busy sending his soldiers to capture the two spies, Rahab was busy begging for her life to be spared. She knew she deserved death, but was trusting that the God of Israel would spare her life. So, she asked the two spies for a sign or symbol to assure her of their intentions to extend mercy to her and her household. And the sign they gave her was a scarlet cord or string, which she was to tie in the window of her home. We know from the passage, that her home was located inside the wall that surrounded the city, and the window was the same one through which she allowed the two spies to escape. By placing the scarlet cord in her window, it would act as a sign, telling the Israelite forces to spare all those inside that home. But it also exhibited her faith, not only in the word of the two spies, but in their God. And the spies made it clear that Rahab must gather all those whose lives she wished to protect from destruction and bring them into her home. As long as they remained there, they would find protection. But if they left for any reason, their blood would be on their own hands. The scarlet thread was their guarantee of salvation.

This story should conjure up images of the first Passover. As God was preparing to bring His tenth and final plague upon the people of Egypt, He commanded Moses to have each household among the people of Israel select a one-year-old, unblemished lamb. They were to take that lamb and sacrifice it, sprinkling some of its blood on the doorposts and lintels of their homes. And God told the Israelites, “The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. 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” (Exodus 12:13 ESV). The people of Israel had to step out in faith, obeying the word of God and following His command to sprinkle the blood on their doorways. Then they had to gather in their homes and wait to see what God would do. And God warned them that no one was to leave their homes until the morning. They were to stay within their homes, protected by the blood of the lamb and under the promise of God.

The scarlet cord in the window was a similar sign of God’s power to save. It was to be a reminder of God’s willingness to “pass over” Rahab’s house and to spare all those who had sought shelter behind the simple red thread hanging in the window. What makes this story so amazing is that it reveals the incomparable ways of God. That the two spies sought shelter in the home of a prostitute is amazing enough. But that her home just happened to be within the wall of the city with a window that provided a way of escape should not go unnoticed. And that this sinful woman, by even the pagan standards of Jericho, should exhibit faith in the God of Israel, ought to jump out at us. And as we saw in yesterday’s study, Rahab had already been preordained by God to be in the lineage of Jesus, the coming Messiah and Savior of the world. Nothing that happened that day in Jericho was a case of happenstance or chance. This was all the work of a sovereign God who had already orchestrated the order of these events long before they happened. It was He who had prepared the heart of Rahab, placing within her the fear that motivated her faith. It was He who directed the two spies to choose her home as their place of refuge. It was He who prompted the spies to act as His agents of salvation, offering Rahab a sign or token of His mercy in the form of a simple scarlet cord.

Rahab helped the spies escape. She tied that cord in her window and she gathered her family members. Then she waited. And she trusted. She risked death so that she might experience life. She stepped out in faith and placed her life in the hands of a God she had never met and based on the words of two men she knew nothing about. And it was the scarlet cord hanging in her window that gave her hope. And the apostle Peter reminds us:

18 you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 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 1:18-21 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Our Invisible God.

Then the king’s scribes were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month, and an edict, according to all that Haman commanded, was written to the king’s satraps and to the governors over all the provinces and to the officials of all the peoples, to every province in its own script and every people in its own language. It was written in the name of King Ahasuerus and sealed with the king’s signet ring. Letters were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with instruction to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. A copy of the document was to be issued as a decree in every province by proclamation to all the peoples to be ready for that day. The couriers went out hurriedly by order of the king, and the decree was issued in Susa the citadel. And the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was thrown into confusion. – Esther 3:12-15 ESV

What began as one man’s act of civil disobedience has suddenly escalated into a royal edict officially sanctioning genocide. Through the casting of lots, a date had been selected on which the total annihilation of the Jewish people would take place. The fateful day was  less than a year away, on the 13th day of the month of Adar. Now it was just a matter of letting the rest of the kingdom know what Haman and the king had determined to do to the Mordecai and every other Jew who lived in the lands of the Persians – “all Jews—young and old, including women and children—must be killed, slaughtered, and annihilated on a single day” (Esther 3:13 NLT). This devastating news was to be disseminated via mail. Couriers carried the king’s decree to the far reaches of the kingdom, providing the cold-hearteds detail in clinical-like language. And as a somewhat sadistic form of incentive, the news was relayed that “The property of the Jews would be given to those who killed them” (Esther 3:13b NLT).

This was not going to be a case of the royal army waging war on the Jews. King Ahasuerus was not sending his troops to do this dirty deed. He was assigning the job to all the people in the land. This was going to be an empire-wide, community-based affair. Everyone was expected to do their part. And just so there was no confusion as to what the expected outcome was to be, the edict carried very precise terms. They were expected to “to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate ” all the Jews. Isn’t it interesting to note that this was basically the same instructions that had been given to King Saul of Israel when God told him to wipe out the Amalakites.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, “I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” – 1 Samuel 15:2-3 ESV

Saul had been clear instructions as to what to do, but he failed to follow through on God’s command. Now, years later, the tables were turned and Haman, an Amalakite, was ordering the complete destruction of the Jews – every man, woman, and child. Saul’s failure to obey was going to come back and haunt the Israelites, in a major way. In a single day, the entire Hebrew population of Persia was to be wiped out and their goods plundered. It was to be an empire-wide, mass extinction of an entire people group. All because one man had his pride hurt.

And while the couriers carried this dark news throughout the realm, Haman and the king “sat down to drink.” They celebrated their joint accomplishment with a drink or two, and most likely toasted their lightning-like response to this threat to the kingdom. The amazing thing is that the date set for this slaughter to take place was nearly a year away. Why was it so necessary to get the news out so quickly? Why was Haman so driven to have this edict disseminated in record time? It would appear that he simply wanted to make Mordecai and the Jews discover the news as soon as possible in order to prolong their agony and force them to live with a sense of dread for as long as he could. We are told that as news of the king’s edict spread, it threw the city of Susa into a state of confusion. People couldn’t believe what they were hearing. The Jews had not been a problem. What was prompting the king to issue a decree of this magnitude and why were they being required to play a part in the murder of innocent men, women and children?

In verse 12, we read, “the king’s scribes were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month (NIssan), and an edict, according to all that Haman commanded, was written.” This is significant because the Jews were to begin their celebration of Passover on the 15th day of Nissan. So just two days prior to their annual festival of Passover, the Jews were to receive the devastating news that they were to be wiped out. The irony of this would not have gone unnoticed. Passover was a celebration of God’s miraculous protection of the people of Israel when the death angel passed over the homes of all those who had sprinkled the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts and lentils of their homes (Exodus 12:7). As part of the Passover celebration, they would have selected their own lamb on the 10th day of Nissan, the very same day that Haman had cast lots to determine a day for the mass slaughter of the Jews.

The timing of all of this is far from coincidental. There is something far greater going on behind the scenes. If you look carefully you can begin to see the puzzle pieces coming together and forming an increasingly clearer image. Esther’s rise to prominence. Haman’s promotion. Mordecai’s place at the gate of the king’s palace. His discovery of the plot to kill the king. And his refusal to bow down to Haman. The seemingly random alignment of the dates. And on top of all that, the fact that he was a Jew and Haman was an Amalakite. These are not mere cases of coincidence. They are subtle insights into God’s invisible, yet undeniable role in the affairs of men. While Haman and the king celebrated, the citizens of Susa wrestled with confusion and anxiety. And the Jews were left to wonder where their God had gone. Yet the hidden story is that God was far from absent. As in the days of Moses and the Exodus, God was about to rescue His people. Just when everything looked hopeless, God was going to show himself fully in control and completely worthy of His people’s trust.

Faith: Belief In Action.

By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. – Hebrews 11:28 ESV

The author of Hebrews skips over a large section of the biography of Moses, going straight from his departure from Egypt after killing another Egyptian to the days just prior to his second departure, this time leading the entire nation of Israel into the wilderness. The account in Hebrews leaves out large, seemingly significant sections of Moses’ life, including his call at the burning bush, his somewhat reluctant return to Egypt, his encounters with Pharaoh, and the first nine plagues. From the moment God called Moses in Midian and told him he would be the deliverer of God’s people, Moses had to have faith in the word of God. When God had appeared to him at the burning bush in Midian, He had told Moses:

Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.– Exodus 3:7-9 ESV

This would have been good news to Moses. But then he heard the rest of God’s plan. “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10 ESV). Moses was reluctant, even resistant, to God’s plan. But God told him, “I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12 ESV). God had given Moses a promise, an assurance that he was the one to do the job. God would be with him and God would bring he and the people of Israel back to this very same spot – Mount Horeb, also known as Mount Sinai. God went on to tell Moses the rest of His plan.

“But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand.  So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.” – Exodus 23:19-22 ESV

So Moses went. And everything went just as God had said. All the way up to the point to which the author of Hebrews refers in verse 28 of chapter 11. There was going to be one last plague that God would bring on the land of Egypt. And while the first nine had been troubling and even devastating at times, the last plague would be deadly. God warned Pharaoh through His servant Moses, “Thus says the Lord: ‘About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle’” (Exodus 11:4-5 ESV). While God had protected the people of Israel from most of the other plagues, this one was going to be nation-wide and non-discriminate. All the first-born males throughout the land would die, of both man and animal, including the firstborn of the Jews. Unless they followed God’s directions. On the tenth day of the month, every household was to select a lamb – a one-year old, unblemished male lamb. They were to “keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight” (Exodus 12:6 ESV).

“Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord‘s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. 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. – Exodus 12:7-13 ESV

The people of Israel were instructed to take the blood of their lambs and sprinkle it on the doorposts and lentils of their homes. This final step was essential for their salvation. God had told them, “For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you” (Exodus 12:23 ESV). The blood of the innocent lamb would protect them. But it required faith and obedience. Of all the plagues, this one hit the closest to him – literally. If the people of Israel failed to follow God’s commands, they would suffer the same fate as the Egyptians. Their protection and preservation required faith and action. And Moses led the way. He placed his faith in God and did what God had told him to do. The whole scenario had to have sounded bizarre to Moses. There was no precedent for killing a lamb and sprinkling its blood as a form of protection from death. The sacrificial system had not yet been given. This would have been a costly command, because as shepherds, the people of Israel put a high value on their livestock, especially one that was one-year old and without blemish. A male lamb would have been prime breeding stock. God’s plan probably sounded far-fetched and fairly sketchy to most of the Jews. They most likely had doubts as to whether it would work. You can imagine their fear and dismay as the “destroyer” passed over the city that night and they heard the cries coming from the homes of all those who had lost a firstborn. They would have wondered if the blood would work. But as the dawn came, the thing that saved them was not the quantity or quality of their faith, but the presence of the blood. The Lord looked for the blood. It was the blood that saved them, not their faith. It was God who protected them, not their faith. Their faith was simply an instrument through which they expressed their trust in God. Moses and the people had to put their faith in God’s plan of salvation. And when they did, it worked. 

It was Moses’ faith in the word of God that ultimately convinced the people of God to sprinkle the blood on their doorposts and lentils. He believed God. His faith was influential and infectious. By faith he obeyed the command of God. By faith he instructed the people of God. His faith in God was instrumental in saving tens of thousands of firstborn Israelites. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood. His faith showed up in action. He took God at His word and took steps to obey God’s word.

 

Exodus 11-12, Mark 3

The Passover.

Exodus 10-11, Mark 3

“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.” – Exodus 12:13 ESV

One last plague was to come. God was almost ready to complete His plan of redeeming His people from slavery in Egypt. He had promised Moses that Pharaoh would not only let the people go; he would force them out, and the people of Egypt would give them all kinds of treasure as a parting gift (Exodus 6:1; 3:19-21). The timing was perfect. The seeming delays and constant mood swings of the Pharaoh were all part of God’s plan. It was all building to a crescendo, when God would divinely judge the people of Egypt and graciously spare the people of Israel. This moment would not only be remembered by God’s people, it would be celebrated and memorialized for generations to come. They would tell their children of God’s mercies and His miraculous provision and protection. They would commemorate this day annually as a reminder of God’s redemptive power and undeserved mercy and grace.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Every event in this plan had a meaning and a purpose. Every plague was chosen by God for a specific reason. Every seeming delay was intended by God. And yet, it must have been so frustrating to the people of Israel to wait and watch as the Pharaoh continued to change his mind and renege on his promises. It would have been so easy for them to see every delay as a disappointment. They could have easily begun to doubt the power of their God and the reality of His promise. But God knew what He was doing. He told Moses, “Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 11:9 ESV). This last plague was non-negotiable. It had to happen. It was going to provide a foreshadowing of yet another event to come. When you think about it, God could have forced Pharaoh to let the people go at any step along the way. But over and over again, we read that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Why? Because the last plague was the most significant one. The Passover had been God’s intention all along. The lamb had to be slain. The blood had to be shed. Judgment had to come. But God was going to provide a way of escape – through the sacrifice of an innocent, unblemished lamb. How absurd this must have sounded to the Israelites when they first heard it. This must have come across as the most unlikeliest of plans. But it was God’s plan and it had to be obeyed to be enjoyed. The lamb had to sacrificed. The blood had to be sprinkled. The meat had to be consumed. And it all required that the people believe that God was not only bringing judgment, but that this strange plan was His means of escaping that judgment. The death angel passed over every house in Egypt, including those of the Jews. And in every house where the blood of the lamb was sprinkled on the door post and lintels, the occupants would be spared the judgment of God. It wasn’t enough just to be an Israelite. The blood was the determining factor. The writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). Without the shedding of blood, the Jews would have experienced the same loss and grief as the Egyptians. It was the death of the lamb that provided life. All of this pointed to the coming of Christ as the ultimate Passover Lamb. Paul reminds us, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7 ESV). We have been provided redemption from slavery to sin and escape from death “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19 ESV). This was God’s plan. And today it makes no more sense to many people as the plan given to Moses meant to the people of Israel. When Jesus appeared on the scene, and announced Himself as the Messiah, He was met with incredulity and disbelief. He seemed an unlikely Savior and an unimpressive king. And yet, He was God’s plan. He was God’s only plan. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

Both the Jews and the Egyptians were equally dependent on the blood. I am convinced that had an Egyptian heard Moses’ instructions to the Jews and followed God’s plan of salvation by sacrificing a lamb and sprinkling its blood on his door, he would have enjoyed God’s mercy. The death angel passover over every home, and all he was looking for was the blood. He was not concerned about the inhabitants of the home. He was not just looking for Jewish homes. He was looking for the blood of the lamb. Had any individual, Jew or Egyptian, had the faith to believe God’s plan of salvation and followed God’s instructions, he would have been spared God’s judgment. This is in perfect keeping with God’s plan of redemption as revealed in the New Testament. The salvation provided by Christ’s death on the cross was made available to all – both Jew and Gentile. The key was the blood of Christ and the faith of the individual. Paul made this clear in his letter to the Galatians. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slavenor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:27-29 ESV). As in the Exodus, the presence of the blood was the determining factor. Faith in the substitutionary nature of the lamb was essential. The blood shed, but not applied would have been ineffective. Christ’s death, not believed in and personally accepted as payment for my sins, would fail to be beneficial for my salvation.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

I no more deserved God’s salvation than did the Jews of Moses’ day. They were not spared because they were special. They were not passed over by the death angel because they were more holy or righteous than their Egyptian neighbors. Their salvation was God’s doing. It involved the sacrifice of a substitute – an innocent lamb. Their guilt was covered by the blood of another. And the same is true of me. I must never assume I somehow deserved salvation. I must never think that I was in some way more acceptable than someone else. My guilt was just as great as the next person. My sins were just as worthy of death as anyone else. But because I placed my faith in the blood of Christ, shed for me, I was passed over. I escaped death and have experienced new life. A highly unlikely and extremely unbelievable plan, but it was God’s plan all along. It didn’t require that I fully understand it, but that I simply trust God for it. When Jesus came, His own family thought He was crazy. The Scribes and Pharisees thought He was demon-possessed. Only the demons themselves seemed to recognize Him for who He really way. He was an unlikely Savior. He was not what anyone was expecting. “He came to his own,and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13 ESV). I am a beneficiary of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I live because He died. I am a child of God because the Son of God died in my place.

Father, thank You Father for passing over my sins because of the presence of the blood of Christ. Thank You for Your matchless plan of salvation for mankind that provided a means of escape that had nothing to do with my worthiness. You provided the Lamb. He provided His blood. And I enjoy the benefits of forgiveness of sins, assurance of salvation and the rights that come with my position as Your child. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Day 115 – Matthew 26:20; Mark 14:17; Luke 22:14-16, 24-30; John 13:1-20

An Example To Follow.

Matthew 26:20; Mark 14:17; Luke 22:14-16, 24-30; John 13:1-20

“I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.” – John 13:15 NLT

There is so much going on in this scene. As Jesus eats the Passover meal with His disciples one last time, the occasion is overflowing with symbolism. Here was Jesus, the real Passover Lamb, taking this meal one last time with His disciples. He knows what lies ahead, and it is an emotion-filled time for Him. He knew that He was the fulfillment of all for which the Passover celebration stood. In just a few short hours, He would be offering up His life as a sinless sacrifice. He would be shedding His blood. He would be dying for the men who were sharing that last meal with Him. Jesus had a mission to accomplish. He had a final task to perform before His job was complete. “Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God(John 13:1-3 NLT).

One of the things we must recognize in order to understand the significance of this event is the critical nature of purity and holiness to the Passover celebration. A great emphasis was placed on cleansing. The two disciples who were sent to prepare for the meal would have spent a great deal of time ceremonially cleansing the room in which they were to take the Passover meal together. Everything in the house would have been cleansed. All leaven would have had to have been removed from the house. Each man would have had to ceremonially wash his hands before eating the meal. But the disciples had evidently missed one thing: No one had washed their feet. Why? More than likely because there was no household servant to do it. They were in a borrowed room. Normally, a household servant or slave would have performed this demeaning task. So when they entered the room, they simply overlooked this detail. More than likely because each of them were too prideful to do it themselves. That’s what makes what happened next so significant. “So he [Jesus] got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him” (John 13:4-5 NLT).

Jesus did what they would NOT do. Here was their leader and master, their teacher and their self-confessed Messiah, stooping down to do the one task that none of them would do. He humbled Himself and slowly, methodically went from disciple to disciple, washing their filthy feet. Peter, probably embarrassed, tried to keep Jesus from washing his feet. He protested, “No, you will never wash my feet!” (John 13:8 NLT). But Jesus told him, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me” (John 13:7 NLT). Upon hearing this, Peter demands that Jesus wash his hands and head as well! But Jesus told him that was unnecessary. His feet were what needed washing and Jesus was taking care of that neglected, but essential oversight. Purity, cleanliness and holiness were essential to the Passover meal, but these men had neglected something important. All out of pride.

Peter didn’t understand. None of the disciples did. This was an illustration. Jesus was acting out for them what it was He was about to do for them in just a few hours. He was going to serve them in death. He was going to sacrifice Himself on their behalf. All so that they might be fully clean. Jesus was demonstrating for them the kind of attitude or mindset that He wanted them to have. He was showing them the true nature of His Kingdom. It would be one of servant leadership. It would be marked by humility and not pride. It would be characterized by humble, sacrificial service. Paul reminds us, “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:3-8 NLT). Jesus Himself had said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NLT).

Jesus came to serve. He came in humility. He came to sacrifice Himself on behalf of others. He came to provide cleansing. He came to make us righteous and acceptable before God. The true significance of what Jesus was doing would hit them later. “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important that the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them” (John 13:12-17 NLT).

All of these men, except for Judas, would eventually do just as Jesus did. They would end up serving others. Fifty days after Jesus death, resurrection and ascension, the Holy Spirit would descend and fill these men with power, equipping them to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. They would suffer greatly for the cause of Christ. They would sacrifice their time, energy and talents to make sure that the Good News was spread around the known world at that time. They would be persecuted, misunderstood, arrested, beaten and, in time, each of them would end up sacrificing their lives so that others might be cleansed. They would end up as martyrs for the cause of Christ. They would do as Jesus had done. This was not about the washing of feet. It was about humility and selfless service for the cause of the Kingdom. It was about purity, cleansing, and holiness. It was about the need to ensure that all men received the cleansing made available to them through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. We cannot afford to let our pride get in the way. We can’t let embarrassment or ego prevent us from doing what needs to be done. We must have the mind of Christ. We must share His attitude of selfless, sacrificial service and an unflinching willingness to do the will of our Father.

Father, I want to have the same attitude that Christ had. I want to see my pride increasingly diminish so that I might do as Jesus did. I want to learn to serve selflessly, even doing those things that no one else will do. I want to serve in ways that mean I don’t get any credit and I don’t receive any accolades. Jesus did the unthinkable. He did the distasteful. He lowered Himself and did what no one else could or would do. May I be willing to do as He did. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Day 97 – Matthew 21:1-9; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19

The Background To His Entrance.

Matthew 21:1-9; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19

The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted, “Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hail to the King of Israel!” – John 12:12-13 NLT

The Triumphal Entry of Jesus. Like His birth, Last Supper, crucifixion and resurrection, this is one of those moments in the life of Jesus that has been seared into our memory. It has taken on the quality of a Hallmark card, complete with the idyllic scene of Jesus sitting on the small colt of a donkey, surrounded by an adoring crowd of people waving palm branches and shouting His praises. We don’t doubt that it happened, but it has become so familiar a scene to many of us that we no longer look at it with any sense of credulity or wonder. When I read the account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem I can’t help but ask, “What is really going on here?” Even as a young boy, I would wonder why these people were so excited about Jesus coming into Jerusalem, when none of them ever seemed to believe in Him before. Why were thousands of people suddenly hailing Him as the King of Israel and acknowledging Him as the Messiah, “the one who comes in the name of the Lord”?

As is always the case when reading Scripture, context is essential. But many of us have been raised on a steady diet of Bible stories lifted out of context and forced to stand on their own as isolated little vignettes, each carrying their own moral message or story line. But the Triumphal Entry did not happen in isolation. It was part of a series of events that were all working together to help set the stage for the final days of Jesus’ life on this planet.

To understand what was going on in the streets of Jerusalem that day, you have to back up to the first part of chapter 12 of the book of John. There you will discover that six days before Passover, Jesus had been in the village of Bethany. He was there to visit the home of Lazarus, the man He had miraculously raised from the dead not many days before. This event had caused quite a stir. Those who had come to mourn the death of Lazarus, and then witnessed him walking out of the tomb alive, couldn’t help but be impressed with this man called Jesus. News spread quickly. John tells us, “Many of the people who were there with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen” (John 11:45 NLT). But when the religious leaders heard what had happened, there response was to begin to plot the death of Jesus. This was the last straw for them. Jesus was garnering far too much attention. He was creating too much of a distraction and causing too great a disturbance to their way of life to be ignored any longer. This all took place in the village of Bethany, located just about two miles east of Jerusalem. John also tells us that since it was almost time for the Jewish Passover celebration, people from all over the country were arriving in town early in order to go through the required purification process for Passover. There would have been millions of people flocking into Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, looking for places to stay during the Passover celebration. Bethany, being so close to the city, would have been a likely stopping point for many of them. Because the fantastic news of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead had been spreading like wild fire, these visitors to Jerusalem were all looking for Jesus. John tells us, “They kept looking for Jesus, but as they stood around in the Temple, they said to one another, “What do you think? He won’t come for Passover, will he?” (John 11:56 NLT). The Pharisees and leading priests had spies out looking for Jesus so they could arrest Him. But Jesus had left the region for a time and chapter 12 records His return just six days prior to Passover.

He had dinner with Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. It was Mary who anointed the feet of Jesus, a sign of gratitude for what He had done for her brother Lazarus. While Jesus acknowledged that this was in preparation for His coming burial, there is no indication that Mary had this in mind when she did what she did. John tells us that when news of Jesus’ arrival got out, people “flocked to see him and also to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead” (John 12:9 NLT). The crowds gathered and the religious leaders plotted. Now they decided to kill Lazarus as well, probably in an attempt to eliminate the evidence to Jesus’ miracle. The fact was, Lazarus had become a celebrity and a walking witness to the Messianic claims of Jesus. He was living proof of Jesus’ power and was not afraid to talk about it. John tells us that it was the very next day, right after Jesus’ dinner at the home of Lazarus, that He instructed His disciples to find the colt and prepare for His entrance into Jerusalem. The key to understand what went on that day is found in verses 17-18 of John 12. “Many in the crowd had seen Jesus call Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, and they were telling others about it. That was the reason so many went out to meet him – because they had heard about this miraculous sign” (John 12:17-18 NLT). It was the raising of Lazarus from the dead that guaranteed Jesus’ a huge welcome that day. It was also His raising of Lazarus from the dead that guaranteed that the religious leaders would determine to kill Him. This amazing, miraculous, awe-inspiring event, which should have been more than enough proof to support Jesus claims to be the Messiah, would set in motion His ultimate death. The people waving palm branches and shouting praises that day didn’t really believe in Jesus. They were enamored with His miracles. The religious leaders weren’t impressed with Jesus’ power, they simply wanted to eliminate His presence. Back in Luke 16, Jesus told the fictional story of the rich man and a poor beggar named Lazarus. I think Jesus chose that name for the beggar for a reason. At the end of that story, Jesus has the great patriarch of Israel, Abraham say, “If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31 NLT).

Now, not long after raising Lazarus from the dead, and just days after His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, Jesus would be rejected, tried and crucified. His message and His miracles would be forgotten. His claim to be the Messiah would be ignored. Their own assertion that He was “the one who comes in the name of the Lord” and their shouts of “Hosanna!” would turn to screams of “Crucify Him!” But the raising of Lazarus made possible His rousing welcome by the people and guaranteed the blood-thirsty response of the religious leaders. It was all necessary for God’s plan to be fulfilled and Jesus’ mission to be completed.

Father, it is incredible to read the details required for Your redemptive plan to work the way it did. So many things had to happen at just the right time and in just the right way for everything to line up the way it did. So many individuals had to be involved, many of them in ways they were totally oblivious to. Judas had to betray Jesus. Peter would have to deny Him. Lazarus would have to die. Mary would anoint Him. The people would wildly welcome Him. The disciples would desert Him. But it was all part of Your divine redemptive plan. What an amazing God You are! Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org