Friday, March 30, 2012

Stumbling Toward Victory - Exodus 12

    A train wreck.  That’s our goal today.  We’ve got three trains in action and moving toward this room.  The first train is the Passover passage - Exodus 12:1-13 - explaining the first Passover in Egypt.  The second train is the Palm Sunday passage - John 12:12-19 - explaining Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem.  The last train is more customized and personal.  It is the train of our individual lives.  Today, our goal is to guide all three of these trains into a cataclysmic collision that changes our lives.
    Each of these three trains actually carries the same theological baggage cars: wavering, death, and victory.  Looking in each car of each train will be key for crashing everything together. 

Exodus 12 - The Passover

1While the Israelites were still in the land of Egypt, the Lord gave the following instructions to Moses and Aaron: “From now on, this month will be the first month of the year for you. Announce to the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each family must choose a lamb or a young goat for a sacrifice, one animal for each household. If a family is too small to eat a whole animal, let them share with another family in the neighborhood. Divide the animal according to the size of each family and how much they can eat. The animal you select must be a one-year-old male, either a sheep or a goat, with no defects.
“Take special care of this chosen animal until the evening of the fourteenth day of this first month. Then the whole assembly of the community of Israel must slaughter their lamb or young goat at twilight. They are to take some of the blood and smear it on the sides and top of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the animal. That same night they must roast the meat over a fire and eat it along with bitter salad greens and bread made without yeast. Do not eat any of the meat raw or boiled in water. The whole animal—including the head, legs, and internal organs—must be roasted over a fire. 10 Do not leave any of it until the next morning. Burn whatever is not eaten before morning.
11 “These are your instructions for eating this meal: Be fully dressed, wear your sandals, and carry your walking stick in your hand. Eat the meal with urgency, for this is the Lord’s Passover. 12 On that night I will pass through the land of Egypt and strike down every firstborn son and firstborn male animal in the land of Egypt. I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt, for I am the Lord! 13 But the blood on your doorposts will serve as a sign, marking the houses where you are staying. When I see the blood, I will pass over you. This plague of death will not touch you when I strike the land of Egypt.

    Wavering.  Israel is a wavering people.  No matter what God does, they keep going back and forth between doubting and trusting, faithfulness and disobedience.  It starts before the Exodus. 
  • After Pharaoh refuses Moses’ first request, the people confronted Moses: “May the LORD judge and punish you for making us stink before Pharaoh and his officials” (5:21). 
  • After the 10 Plagues, after Israel left Egypt, when Pharaoh’s army started chasing them, Israel shouted: “What have you done to us?  Why did you make us leave Egypt?” (14:11).
  • After Israel had walked through the middle of the Red Sea with walls of water on each side, they complained about lack of food: “If only the LORD had killed us back in Egypt ... There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted.  But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death” (16:3). 
  • After God brought miraculous bread and birds from heaven, they complained of thirst: “Why did you bring us out of Egypt?  Are you trying to kill us, our children, and our livestock with thirst?” (17:3). 
And it goes on and on.  God does a miracle and wins their faith.  The people are happy and believe for a little while.  Then, they doubt and complain and disobey.  Their whole journey from Egypt to the Promised Land is a journey of wavering.
    Death.  Death hangs heavy over the Passover passage.  God is sending a plague of death - a punishment for Egypt’s resistance and a final blow to their trust in other gods.  But Israel can avoid the death -- if they trust in God’s method of deliverance.  Each family must kill a lamb and smear its blood on the doorposts of their houses.  The lamb will serve as a substitute for them.  The lamb takes the death that the rebellious people deserve.  The Passover lamb covers them with protection through its blood. 
    When the Plague of Death comes, the only difference between the Egyptians and the Israelites is the blood of the Passover lamb.  Egypt resisted God.  Israel resisted God.  Egypt was sinful.  Israel was sinful.  But Israel trusted God by trusting the process of the Passover lamb.

    Victory.  Exodus 12 is already hinting at victory.  This season will now be the first month of the year for Israel.  The Passover is a new beginning -- a radically, life-altering experience.  The Passover is a feast.  The family eats together.  They come to the meal ready to travel - with their traveling sandals, traveling clothes, and walking sticks in hand.  They come in the faith that God will start the Exodus soon.   They are prepared for God’s victory to come - ready to follow where God leads. 
    And this faith is rewarded.  God does “pass over” Israel when the Plague of Death comes.  Egypt’s first born children are killed, and Israel is set free.  This is the defining moment in Israel’s history.  They will never be the same again.

John 12 - Palm Sunday
12 The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors 13 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!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said:
15 “Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem.
Look, your King is coming,
    riding on a donkey’s colt.”
16 His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him.
17 Many in the crowd had seen Jesus call Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, and they were telling others about it. 18 That was the reason so many went out to meet him—because they had heard about this miraculous sign. 19 Then the Pharisees said to each other, “There’s nothing we can do. Look, everyone has gone after him!”

    Wavering.  The wavering is not so obvious in this passage.  It sounds like total praise.  But there are hints.  Although the disciples are enjoying the celebration, they don’t fully understand what’s going on (John 12:16).  And the people are there celebrating Jesus primarily because he raised Lazarus from the dead (12:17-18).  Who knows what he’ll do next?  This is the best show in town. 
    They wave palm branches and form a welcoming parade.  They shout beautiful and true praises: “Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the LORD!  Hail to the King of Israel!”  (12:13).  They were quoting Old Testament prophesies about the Messiah.  They were fully orthodox and right.  Jesus was - and is - the Messiah, and they were right to sing his praises.
    But just a few verses later, John tells us, “despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him” (12:37).  A few days later, the same people who shouted “Hail to the King of Israel!” would be disappointed in Jesus that they rejected him as king and shouted “Crucify!  Crucify! (19:5-15).

    Death.  Jesus comes into Jerusalem riding on a young donkey.  That is certainly not very kingly.  Kings should ride majestic stallions that prance and gallop into battle.  Donkey’s wobble and worble.  They are essentially pack animals, and the only people who ride them are those who can’t afford something better.  Jesus is hinting at the essence of his Kingdom.  He will be a gentle humble King.  He will be approachable and vulnerable.
    Jesus will be so vulnerable in fact that he will allow his own people to reject him and to nail him to a cross.  They laid down palm branches and coats for him to walk on.  Jesus will lay down his life to set them free.

    Victory.  The victory of Palm Sunday is hollow.  The crowds shout and praise, and everything they say is true.  But Jesus knows that they will turn against him.  Yet even this half-hearted, misdirected praise points toward the truth.  Jesus IS in fact the Messiah, the King of Israel.  Jesus is in fact the one who will set Israel free.  Jesus will redeem and transform his people more powerfully than any of them can imagine.  Jesus victory will come through death.  By dying and raising again, Jesus will defeat death and sin and all our wavering doubt.

Our Lives
    Wavering.  We also waver.  Consider the difference between Sunday and Monday - or better yet, the difference between Sunday and Thursday or Friday when the pressure is on to finish all our work.  Consider the difference between the songs we sing in worship and the lives we live through the week.  Consider the many prayers, the many repentances, the many desperate requests that God will change us, and our failures, doubts, and sins.  We too are wavering people. 
    We live in the tension between God calling us forward and the world calling us away.  We live in the tension between what God wants for us and what we want for us, the tension between our best selves and our worst selves.  We want to be completely faithful - most of the time; and we are faithful - some of the time.

    Death.  We experience death in so many ways.  When Adam and Eve took that first bite of the forbidden fruit, they had no idea how terrible an inheritance they were giving us.  Our loved ones die.  Our dreams die.  Our hopes die.  We die. 
    God is the source of all life, and any time we separate from the Ultimate Source, we experience at least a little death and destruction in our lives.  Paul tells us famously in Romans: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), and we get that paycheck with frightening regularity. 
    Death is a permanent part of our lives, but it doesn’t always have to be the kind of death that comes from sin.  It can be a death that we choose in another way.  We can pick up our cross daily and follow Christ.  We can die to ourselves and to the law.  We can die to trying to prove ourselves.  We can die to earn our way to God.  We can die to trying to make our name in the world.  We can die with Christ.  As Paul said, “I died to the law ... so that I might live for God.  My old self has been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:19-20).
    Christ died for us, and we can die for him.  Christ died in our place, and we can die daily with him. 

    Victory.  I didn’t give you that whole verse from Paul. He said, “My old self has been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in  me.  So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).  And again, Paul is helpful with his letter to Romans: “For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism.  And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the FAther, now we also may live new lives” (Romans 6:4).
    It is true that we waver.  It is true that we deserve death.  It is true that we experience death in many ways here in this life.  But it is also true that we can live through Christ.  We can live new lives through Jesus who sets us free.
    The Israelites celebrated the first Passover in Egypt.  While they were still slaves, they came to the table in their traveling clothes, with their bags packed, with their walking sticks in hand - in faith that God was in the process of setting them free.  We also come to the Table - the Lord’s Supper - trusting in Christ’s death and trusting in Christ’s life.  We come with the faith that even now, Christ is setting us free.
    When people criticized Leo Tolstoy because of his wavering faith and life, he said that he was walking the road of faith like a drunk man.  He knows the road home, but he staggers from side to side, from ditch to ditch, but always he is moving in the direction of home.  Church, we may be like drunk men - staggering and wavering - but we know the way home.  Today, let us stagger and stumble forward toward Christ, who sets us free.  No matter how much you stumble, never give up going home to Christ.

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