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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Gloom, Despair and Agony On Me.

Then Joseph brought in Jacob his father and stood him before Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How many are the days of the years of your life?” And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning.” And Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from the presence of Pharaoh. Then Joseph settled his father and his brothers and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. And Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their dependents. – Genesis 47:7-12 ESV

I have a difficult time reading this passage without thinking of the old song by Buck Owens and Roy Clark that gained fame on the TV show, Hee Haw. The song was entitled, “Gloom, Despair and Agony on Me.” The opening stanza reads:

Gloom, despair and agony on me
Deep, dark depression, excessive misery
If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all
Gloom, despair, and agony on me

That seems to be the very sentiment of Jacob as he and the Pharaoh meet for the first time. When asked how old he is, Jacob states, “All the years of my travels are 130. All the years of my life have been few and painful; the years of my travels are not as long as those of my ancestors” (Genesis 47:9 NLT). The English Standard Version translates the Hebrew word, ra` as “evil”, but it can actually refer to pain, difficulty, and sorrow, which makes more sense given the context. The New Living Translation provides what would appear to be a much better rendering of Jacob’s thoughts. First of all, it’s interesting to note that Jacob viewed 130 years of life as a short time. But he was comparing it to his grandfather, Abraham, who had lived to be 175-years old. His own father, Isaac had lived to be 180. So Jacob considered himself to be a young man. But he described the years of his life as anything but enjoyable. They had been full of gloom, despair and agony. Jacob seemed to see his life as having been full of deep, dark depression and excessive misery. Which is sad  to realize when you look at how God had been a part of his life all along the way. There is no doubt that Jacob had experienced difficult times in his life. He had seen his fair share of sorrow and gone experienced more than a few setbacks and disappointments, but in general, he had lived a blessed life. He had a large family made up of many wives and sons. He had large flocks and more than enough wealth to live comfortably. Yes, he had been cheated by his uncle and forced to work for him in order to gain the hand of his daughter, Rachel. But God had blessed Jacob and he was able to leave his uncle’s employment a wealthy man. He was also able to return home to Canaan and be welcomed with open arms by the brother he had cheated many years before. Their relationship was healed and Jacob’s place in the family was restored. And while Jacob had endured the loss of his youngest son, Joseph, he had just recently experienced the joy of finding him alive and well in Egypt. Not only that, his son was the second-most powerful person in Egypt and had arranged the relocation of Jacob’s entire family to the fertile land of Goshen.

But all Jacob could see was the negative. His life had been short on years and long on misery. He was an unhappy camper. Even when Jacob had received news that Joseph was still alive, all he could muster in response was, “Enough! My son Joseph is still alive! I will go and see him before I die” (Genesis 45:9 NLT). And when the two of them were reunited, Jacob greeted Joseph with the cheerful words, “Now let me die since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive” (Genesis 46:30 NLT).

To say that Jacob was a negative person would be an understatement. Here he was seeing his long-lost son for the first time in decades and all he could muster by way of response was, “Now let me die!” He had been given safe passage to Egypt and escape from the famine in the land of Canaan. He had been awarded prime pasture land in Egypt to care for his flocks and family. He had been welcomed with open arms by Pharaoh himself and had a son who was powerful and influential. Nowhere in any of this does Jacob express gratitude for God’s goodness. He does not offer God any thanks for His providential hand in his life and the gracious return of the son he had long thought dead.

The text records:

So Joseph settled his father and his brothers. He gave them territory in the land of Egypt, in the best region of the land, the land of Rameses, just as Pharaoh had commanded. Joseph also provided food for his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household, according to the number of their little children. – Genesis 47:11-12 NLT

This was all the result of the sovereign, merciful, gracious work of God Almighty. Jacob and his family were smack-dab in the center of the will of God. They were right where they were supposed to be. But rather than focus on the goodness of God, Jacob seemed to be fixated on what he believed to be the difficulties of his own life. Life on this planet will always be marked by peaks and valleys, ups and downs, joys and sorrows. The great king, David, had to endure years of pain and suffering as he ran from the anger of Saul. He had been anointed king of Israel, but would have to wait years before the throne was actually his. David wrote Psalm 59 during the time of his life when Saul had sent soldiers to watch his house in order that they might kill him. And while this was a difficult time for David, he was able to write:

But as for me, I will sing about your power. Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love. For you have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress. O my Strength, to you I sing praises, for you, O God, are my refuge, the God who shows me unfailing love. – Psalm 59:16-17 NLT

How easy it is to view our lives through a lens clouded by doubt, despair and a fixation on difficulty. How many times have we expressed words similar to those of Buck Owens and Roy Clark?

Gloom, despair and agony on me
Deep, dark depression, excessive misery
If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all
Gloom, despair, and agony on me

But the goodness and greatness of God should overshadow our gloom, despair and agony. The unfailing love of God should outweigh our excessive misery. And the providential care of God should be more than enough to replace our need for any kind of luck, good or bad.

Ehpesians 2:11-18

Without God. Without Hope.

Ephesians 2:11-18

In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. – Ephesians 2:12 NLT

As believers, it’s sometimes easy to focus on our status as God’s children, member of His family and heirs of His kingdom. And there is certainly nothing wrong with dwelling on that reality. We have much for which to be grateful and our status before God because of what Jesus Christ has done for us is something we should never take for granted. But Paul also wants us to have a firm grasp on that from which we have been delivered. There is a benefit to focusing on our new-found standing as forgiven and righteous sons and daughters of God. But there is also a real benefit to remembering our pre-conversion condition. Paul writes, “Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts” (Ephesians 2:11 NLT). The Greek word Paul uses is mnēmoneuō and it means, “to be mindful of, to remember, to call to mind.” We are to call to mind and reflect on what our condition was like before coming to Christ – and this is something that is true of each and every believer in Christ, regardless of their background. Paul is writing to Gentiles or non-Jews, and he tells them that they were at one time “outsiders” or those who lived outside or excluded from the Hebrew people. They were viewed as “uncircumcised” and, therefore, inferior. They lacked the physical mark that would have set them apart as God’s chosen people. Not only were they not Jews, they were apart from Christ and completely separated from God. They were God-less and hopeless.

In a way, as Gentiles or non-Jews, they were doubly cursed. They were outsiders when it came to national identity. Only the Jews were considered the people of God. Only the Jews had been hand-picked by God as His prize possession. And God had not chosen them because they were special or somehow deserving of His favor. In fact, it was just the opposite. “The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the LORD rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8 NLT). God had chosen the Israelites, in spite of them, not because of them. And yet, the Gentiles were not included. They had no clue of the promises God had made to the Israelites, and even if they did, they were not included in them. On top of that, they didn’t know Christ. So they were non-Jews and non-believers. As a result, they were enemies of the Jews and enemies of God. They were without hope in the world. Not exactly an encouraging statement.

But…

Here Paul goes again. There is good news to go with the bad news. “But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13 NLT). Just when things couldn’t seem to get any worse, they get amazingly better. All because of the death of Jesus Christ. These hopeless, helpless, God-less individuals had been made right with God, brought near to Him, because of what Jesus had done for them. The truly amazing thing is that God has not just reconciled men to Himself, He has reconciled men to one another. Because of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. even Jews and Gentiles, in spite of their long-standing animosity for one another, were now able to unified through Christ. “He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups” (Ephesians 2:15 NLT). God replaced the requirement of the Law with the gift of grace made available through His Son’s death. God leveled the playing field. He removed any requirement for salvation other than faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ. Now Jews and Gentiles can have a restored relationship with God and with one another, through the redemptive, reconciling work of Jesus.

The truly incredible thing is that every single one of us, Jew or Gentile, were in the same boat at one time. None of us could have saved ourselves. The Jews, who had the Law, couldn’t keep the Law. The Gentiles, who had not been given the Law, were still condemned by the Law, because it was the revealed will of God for all men. So we were all God-less and hopeless. And yet, God, in His great mercy and grace, brought us near to Him through the death of His own Son. Christ’s death in our place restored us to a right relationship with God. And none of us deserved it. “Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us” (Ephesians 2:18 NLT). That is a reality we should never forget. The Good News is great news because the bad news was so devastatingly bad. God has done for us what we could never have done for ourselves. He made possible the impossible. And that is something we should never forget.

Father, give us strong memories. Never let us forget all that You have done for us. Never let us gloss over just how bad things were when You revealed Your Good News to us. My gratitude increases every time I recall the gravity of my condition before Christ saved me. I was God-less and hopeless. And I was powerless to do anything about it. But You did what I could not do. You provided what I could not provide on my own. You accomplished the impossible and provided the unattainable. Thank You!  Amen.

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