Introducing ourselves says a lot about who we are. Hello, I am Ryan and I am … then we often follow it up with an occupation. Accountant. Doctor. Teacher. Student. Our identity is primarily tied to what we do. But does this truly reflect who we are? It is quite a materialistic, utilitarian understanding of identity. We are what we produce. The biblical answer is quite different.
Our value does not come from what we do. All human beings were created in the image of God. So all people have intrinsic value. Amongst all of humanity, there is something uniquely valuable about God's people. God's people are special. God has chosen some people to be his children. Our value comes from who God is, not what we produce or what we do.
So far in our Exodus sermon series "the Great Rescue" we have seen that God has called his people "his son" (Exodus 4.22). This is because God is creating for himself a new family. A big part of this Great Rescue story is learning that this rescue tells God's people who they are. Here's a better way of putting it: The Great Rescue story tells God's people whose they are. They belong to God.
God wants his people to remember the rescue. He wants his new family to have some family traditions. God wants us to remember whose we are. He wants us to remember the rescue. This is where our primary identity comes from.
We remember the rescue by 1. Being Godly and 2. Remembering God Keeps His Promises. 3. Remember the Greater Rescue.
1. Remember the Rescue: By Being Godly (verses 1 to 10)
"The LORD said to Moses, 'Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.'"
Israel are to consecrate, set apart, the firstborn to God. They belong to God. All of creation belongs to God, but God has requested a special setting apart of the firstborn.
Why the firstborn? I am not entirely sure, I think there is something particularly special about the first child in a family. The passage illustrates this point. It changes a wife to being a mother, and a man to being a father. They were not parents before, and this first child makes them parents. When you make your first sale at work, you are now a sales rep. Or write your first essay, you are a student. Teach your first child, you are a teacher. The first gives you an additional identity. God wants his people's primary identity not to be utilitarian, what they produce or what they do, but to ultimately to come from him.
"Then Moses said to the people, 'Remember this day in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the LORD brought you out from this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten."
No leavened bread? What does Moses have against a nice loaf from Hovis?
The answer comes from the New Testament, in 1 Corinthians 5.6-8. It is referring to blatant public sin occurring in the church. Let me read a few verses.
"Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth: live godly lives."
Leaven represents sin. Elsewhere, if you are a Bible reader, Jesus speaks about the leaven of the Pharisees. In Matthew 16 it comes up three times. In other translations, it's the yeast of the Pharisees. God's people are to live godly lives. They have come out of Egypt, out of slavery. They have left that sinful life behind. Unleavened bread represents sincerity, truth and godly living.
Christians too have been rescued out of a life of slavery to sin. We have been brought out. Let's not return there. Let's remember our rescue and not return to the house of slavery.
"Today, in the month of Abib, you are going out. And when the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall keep this service in this month. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the LORD. Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen with you, and no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory."
"No leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory." No leaven, no evil, no malice, no sin, anywhere. All ungodliness needs to be removed. Moses is saying, proactively searched out among the community of God's people. They are to make sure others are not sinning too.
Have you seen Marie Kondo on Netflix? The TV show where she's goes into people's houses and helps them get rid of clutter by asking them "does it spark joy?" We are not to be Marie Kondo and go into people's houses and get rid of all their private sin!
But at the same time, we are to be our brothers' keeper. We are our sisters' keeper. We are to be accountable to each other. There is a balance, isn't there? 1 Corinthians 5, the passage I quoted from about leaven and unleavened from the New Testament wants Christians to keep each other accountable, especially with blatant public sin.
Verses 1 to 3 speak about godly living individually and verses 4 to 7 speak about godly living corporately. We are to remember the rescue by being godly.
"You shall tell your son on that day, 'It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.' And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the LORD has brought you out of Egypt. You shall therefore keep this statute at its appointed time from year to year."
God's people need to tell their children about it. They are to write post-it notes to themselves. They are to get Scripture framed on walls and to have it as background images on their smartphones.
Like at Christmas, we tell everyone "Merry Christmas". For those that don't know it's Christmas, we need to explain it to them. Children need Christmas explaining. Children would have needed the Passover explained to them because they are the ones that don't know about the Great Rescue, the Passover. Every one of God's people at that time would have known about the Great Rescue apart from children because they weren't born or were too young.
Today, everyone knows in December Christmas happens. We wish people "Merry Christmas." The only people that need Christmas explaining to are very young children and perhaps people who grow up in countries that do not celebrate Christmas.
It's worth asking ourselves, who among friends and colleauges, needs the great rescue explaining to today? Quite a lot of people! This passage tells us to be proactive in telling people about the Great Rescue. We need to tell others about the Great Rescue, so they remember too.
To summarise the first point from verses 1 to 10, we need to remember the rescue! By being godly. Tell people so we all remember the rescue.
2. Remember the Rescue: (By Remembering) God Keeps His Promises. (verses 11 to 16)
God has a perfect record of keeping his promises. In chapter 12, we saw that God kept his promises. There was wailing heard throughout Egypt (Exodus 12.29-30). There was great loss and grieving. And if you were here at the beginning of the series, in chapter 1, we saw the reverse happened. Israelites lost their firstborn because Pharaoh wanted to get rid of all the male children. In chapter 12 there was a great reversal. All the Egyptians lost their firstborn. All of God's people were rescued from them.
We learn an important lesson: life comes through death. God again delivered on his promise. But God had not completely fulfilled all of his promises: God's people still needed a home, a land to live in.
"When the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as he swore to you and your fathers, and shall give it to you"
"When... shall..." It is in the future. God keeps his promises to his people. God does eventually bring Israel into the land of Canaan, he kept his promise.
How can we trust people? You pay for a product online, what guarantee are you going to get it? What guarantee it is going to work or fit for purpose? We don't want a dud product. The best way of avoiding some dud products is a track record. If someone has a good reputation, many reviews, it means they are trustworthy. God's track record is perfect. God keeps his promises, he is trustworthy.
As Christians, we know even more that God keeps his promises. Jesus, a greater prophet than Moses was promised and he came and he rescued us. We can trust God more now than God's people just after the great rescue in Exodus because we can see so much more of God's track record. We have whole of the Bible.
"you shall set apart to the LORD all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn of your animals that are males shall be the LORD's. Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem."
God keeps his promises and he wants us to respond with thanksgiving. We are also to respond with thanksgiving. The biblical principle of tithing to God with thanksgiving is a logical application of this passage.
"And when in time to come your son asks you, 'What does this mean?' you shall say to him, 'By a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all the males that first open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.' It shall be as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes, for by a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt."
We are to tell all people who ask. We are to write it down everywhere: God keeps his promises! This is how we are to remember the rescue, by remembering that God keeps his promises and telling all those who ask.
3. Remember the Greater Rescue
We are working our way through Exodus in this sermon series. We are going to see in a few weeks, that as God is giving Moses the ten commandments on top of the mountain. God's people are at the bottom of the mountain forgetting the rescue and forsaking God and end up making a golden calf and saying the golden calf rescued them! We don't get very far through Exodus before we realise God's people don't remember the rescue, won't remember the rescue, can't remember the rescue.
This becomes more and more obvious as we work our way through the Old Testament. God is faithful and keeps his promises, but his people forget the rescue, forget the promises and forget their God.
There is a Chinese idiom which accurately describes Israel's reputation by the end of the Old Testament: 身败名裂; broken body and torn name. They have completely failed to live as God's son and dragged God's name through the mud.
With Israel's broken body and torn name, they needed a rescuer. We learnt that life comes through death. Israel was rescued by a lamb, but this rescue pointed forward to a greater rescue, and the death of a greater lamb.
In the New Testament, the last meal Jesus had with his disciples is in all four Gospels, which the authors connect to Jesus' death and resurrection. On first look, there is no lamb at that Passover meal. Not on the table, but at the table. John 1.29 says,
"Christ is the lamb of God."
I have so many quotes to John, because we are going through John in the Mandarin Fellowship this year, but also because there are so many references to the Passover in the fourth Gospel. Ten explicit mentions of the Exodus rescue in John's Gospel.
It is not just Israel that struggled with sin and needed rescuing. By nature, we are all slaves to sin. But on the cross, God defeated the enemies of the sin and the devil. Then we find out the great irony of the Bible: that God's firstborn Son was not protected as was Israel, but he himself became the sacrifice. In his death, God's firstborn Son bears the wrath of God. Three days later he rises from the dead, so that all who believe in him can also rise from the dead for eternity. The people of God are not naturally the firstborn, but we become the firstborn through our union with Christ. All who are in Christ, become God's children.
The most obvious application of remembering our rescue is of course celebrating the Lord's Supper. The main thing about the Lord's Supper is: we are remembering our rescue through Christ. We remember the rescue as Christians every time we take the Lords Supper, every time we witness baptisms, every time we say confession at church on Sundays.
Remembering the rescue has lots of other applications. It must involve regular attendance at church. How is your church attendance? Coming to church is one of the best ways of remembering the rescue.
After the Mandarin sermon every week at the Mandarin Fellowship we have discussion questions. Although we don't have that tradition here, two discussion questions we could ask each other this evening is: 1. How can we individually remember the rescue? And 2. How can we corporately remember the rescue?
Imagine if we all started to remember the rescue. Weekly church attendance would increase, wouldn't it? The Lord's Supper would become a much more important event in our calendars. Confession wouldn't be skipped over because we are so familiar with the words.
So, let's remember the rescue. And, remember the greater rescue of Christ on the cross.