Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek
Before we dive into the sermon, let me mention a few things we’ve been saying over the last few months. I know with summer vacations not everyone is here each week, and we certainly want everyone to feel included.
Next week is the Abbott’s last Sunday at church. Jason has been a pastor here for seven years. He’ll begin pastoring a church in Chicago later this summer. Next Sunday he’ll preach the morning sermon, and in the evening we are inviting everyone back to celebrate the Abbotts. At 4 pm we’ll have an open house with a jumping castle for kiddos. At 5 pm, we’ll serve dinner. The church is providing the meat, but we’d ask people to bring sides and desserts. I think RSVP’s are requested just to gauge numbers. At 6 pm, we’ll head into the sanctuary to encourage and pray for the Abbotts as they leave. Next Sunday morning or evening would be a great time to give them a card or gift or whatever you’d like to do to show appreciation for their ministry here.
Related to his transition on staff, we’d love your help thinking wisely about how we go forward. We created a survey about the health of our church we’d love for you to fill out. The pastor-elders feel this would be a good time to see what things are going well at our church and what areas might need some attention. It’s very short; it will take you less than ten minutes to fill out. They are in the foyer. We’ll be emailing out copies as well.
Finally, on July 21—so a month away—during the church services and afterward in a congregational meeting, we’ll be talking about how we plan to go forward with some role changes here for our existing staff and what the job description might look like as we rehire in the fall.
I wanted to pause and share all of that with you because it’s important. In this transition, we’d love for our church to take steps forward, not backward, which means we need all of us to be thinking about how we might individually step forward.
Now, this last week was Vacation Bible School. Thank you to everyone who helped and to everyone who sent children this way. At our church we typically spend time on Sunday mornings teaching through books of the Bible one passage at a time. But this week, we thought it might be nice to break from that pattern to teach through a part of the same book of the Bible that the children were looking at all week. And that book is the book of Exodus in the Old Testament. Exodus is the second book of the Bible, and while the events in Exodus occurred many years before Jesus, the themes in the book of Exodus prepared the people of God for their savior. And as we look back to Exodus, I hope that we will be encouraged at the Savior we have in Jesus.
If you have a Bible you can follow along with as I read from Exodus 12:1–14. The words will also be on the screen. The passage we’ve chosen to teach is the description of the Passover meal, which I hope to explain. I’ll read the passage, and then we’ll pray that God would be our teacher, and we’ll study it together.
1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you.3 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. 4 And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, 6 and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.
7 “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. 8 They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. 10 And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 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. 12 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. 13 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.
14 “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.
For the last five or six years, I’ve had a strange relationship with food. Out of nowhere, I began to get mildly sick all the time. We didn’t really know why. Then the mild sickness turned into the feeling like I was dying, and we still didn’t know why. Around four years ago it seemed like the culprit was probably food allergies—like lots and lots of food allergies. I’ll spare you the details, but things are much, much better now. I probably am allergic to a few things, but if I take certain medications and avoid just a few things, I do pretty well. I’ve gained back the 25 pounds I lost, which, in my case, I was actually trying to gain weight. I know that’s weird.
All this to say, I’ve had a strange relationship with food. But one of the most difficult aspects was realizing the way food isn’t just food. There is a strong social component to food, and that’s a good thing. We celebrate with meals. We grieve with meals. We hang out and catch up with old friends over meals. We make new friends over meals.
And some meals are more memorable than others. I know you’re supposed to remember your wedding meal, but that day was such a blur that I really don’t remember much about the food. But I do remember celebrating my two-month anniversary with my wife. I know, celebrating a two-month anniversary is a little strange, but newly married couples are a little strange. We went to a super fancy steak restaurant in St. Louis that I’m sure I couldn’t afford today. But we had no kids and two engineering jobs, so we celebrated our two-month anniversary. I still remember exactly what I ordered. It was fantastic.
I also remember going to Brazilian BBQs with my father and two brothers. For a few years in a row, we would go on Christmas Eve. At a Brazilian BBQ you don’t really order. It’s like a glorious meat-buffet brought to you by servers while you sit. I know “meat-buffet” doesn’t do it justice because you’re not thinking delicious enough. But anyway, they give you these cards, and on one side it’s green, and the other is red. When you want delicious meat carried to you, cut and placed on your plate, you leave the green side up. When you don’t, you go red. I have the best memories of my brothers and I trying to stay green as long as possible not wanting to be the first one to flip to red. It’s a good thing this sermon isn’t about gluttony.
But as memorable as those meals are, most meals are forgettable. You probably don’t remember what you ate last Tuesday for lunch. Maybe if you look in your phone and your calendar, you’ll remember what lunch appointment you had or what you were doing that day, and it might jog your memory about what you ate. But surely you don’t remember what you had for lunch on the second Tuesday in February. It’s just too long ago to remember because most meals are forgettable.
But, again, some meals are not forgettable, and the issue isn’t merely time, like if a meal was last week you remember, and if a meal was a long time ago, so you forget. For example, you probably remember what you had for Thanksgiving when you were ten, or ten-ish. Though it might have been many years ago, you remember the people and the food and the home.
We tend to remember ritual and repeated meals, like Thanksgiving or Christmas. And not only do we remember certain ritual, repeated meals, but it’s also true that certain meals help us remember. Without ritual meals, like Thanksgiving or anniversary meals, we tend to forget things that are important to us. Our Creator knows we are people prone to forget where we put our keys or wallet or what time volleyball practice ends and what day the trash comes. And God knows we are prone to forget him. This is why God has created certain ritual meals for his people. There are things too important to be forgotten, so God established meals to help us remember.
I’ve been reading the Bible for many years, and I hope to keep doing that for my whole life. But as someone familiar with the Bible, I haven’t gotten so used to it that I no longer realize that it’s a huge book. I try to read the Bible cover to cover each year. At about 20 min a day, it does take all year.
But we might be able to summarize the Bible, this huge book, in three meals—not breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but Passover, the Lord’s Supper, and the wedding feast at the end of time. In these meals—Passover, the Lord’s Supper, and the wedding feast at the end of time—God helps us remember things too important to forget.
Exodus & Passover: Getting into and out of Egypt
This week over one hundred children each night gathered at the church for singing and silliness, but also for the story of God’s love for his people that is on display in the story of the Exodus. Let’s talk about that story. Exodus has disasters and deliverance. It has oppression and injustice. It has dark magic from Egyptian sorcerers and miracles performed by God through Moses. The book has singing and dancing and food. It’s no wonder the story made a good story to highlight at Vacation Bible School with one hundred children. And it’s no wonder it’s captivated the attention of adults for three-thousand years.
The first book of the Bible opens with God creating a good world. Adam and Eve, our first parents, fell into sin, and everyone now experiences the world in a broken way, a way in which we are always both victim and culpable; there’s a brokenness out there, and there’s a brokenness in here. Throughout the book of Genesis, God strives with his people, particularly the one family line of Abraham. But at the end of the book of Genesis, what looks like a tragic situation of famine, turned into something wonderful. A great-great-grandson of Abraham named Joseph is a powerful man in Egypt, and in Egypt, there is enough food for all of the family of Abraham. So they move to Egypt.
The book of Exodus picks up that story. Except now 400 years have gone by. In the first chapter we read this:
8 Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.9 And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us.10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” (1:8–10)
The Israelites are too many, so Pharaoh enslaves them. The book of Exodus tells the story of how God’s people got out of this predicament, how the Israelites were freed from slavery. I won’t retell the story in great detail, but the outline goes like this: God raised up Moses as a leader. Through Moses and crippling plagues, God entered into a hostage negotiation with the most powerful man of the most powerful nation on earth: Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt.
These plagues are interesting. The Nile River bleeds, the land swarms with flies, the ground is covered with frogs, and the sky is filled with flaming balls of fire. Sky, land, and sea are decimated. “Let my people go,” God says to Pharaoh. And each time Pharaoh says, “No.” Until he doesn’t.
It’s helpful to think about these plagues as pressure points, each time becoming more and more painful, not to be cruel but as the attempt to wake up Pharaoh and wake up the Egyptians to the reality that God is God, not Pharaoh or any other god of earth, sky, or sea. Parents often do something similar. You love your children, but sometimes you have to find the right punishment so that they feel the weight of their sin appropriately. There comes a time when timeouts don’t work. You have to take away desserts or playtime with friends or the car keys or prom. As cruel as that could sound, you’re not trying to be cruel. You love your child. And God loves his people, and he loves the Egyptians in a sense too, wanting them to wake up to the reality that only God is God.
But Pharaoh is hard of heart and slow to learn. So there is the final plague. I want to reread two verses from what I read before at the start of the sermon. Look again with me at Exodus 12:12–13.
12 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. 13 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.
God instructed that anyone who wanted to be saved needed to trust him. And the way they showed their trust was putting the blood of a lamb on the doorposts of their home, and for those who did, God would pass over the house, hence the name of this ritual meal.
This event was so significant that it birthed a nation, a nation of people saved by the Lord. For more than a thousand years they marked their new year with this meal, celebrating it year after year after year, from generation to generation to generation, eating a lamb and remembering the way they God saved them, which was symbolized by the lamb dying in their place.
We don’t have time to talk about the Red Sea and the manna and the Promised Land. We’ll leave that for another day.
The Two Other Meals: The Lord’s Supper and The Wedding Feast
I said at the beginning that you can describe the story of the Bible in three meals. The first is the Passover meal. The next is the Lord’s Supper.
There was a man who came before Jesus to get people ready for the Messiah. His name was John. He was the forerunner for the Messiah. He got people ready for Jesus by helping them understand who Jesus would be and what he would do and how he would save his people. He is described as the voice of one crying in the wilderness preparing the way of the Lord (Isaiah 40:3; John 1:23).
When my wife and I got married, we had “wedding criers” come down the aisle before she walked down the aisle. Friends of ours had three little boys and they were our wedding criers. They walked down the aisle holding a sign, ringing bells, and shouting, “The bride is coming.” However, at the wedding rehearsal the boys shouted, “The pirates are coming, the pirates are coming.” We didn’t correct them for the wedding.
Do you know what John cries out when he sees Jesus? John shouts, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). That doesn’t mean as much to us as it did to them because we haven’t been celebrating Passover each year for 1,400 years. We’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving for a while, although it doesn’t mean much to point at someone and shout “Behold, the Thanksgiving turkey.” I have no idea what that would mean.
But it means something to shout, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” And that’s what Jesus did. On the night before he went to the cross, Jesus ate a meal with his disciples. Any guesses what that meal was? It was the Passover meal. But he changed it. He made it about himself. This is my body broken, he said. This is my blood spilt, he said. This is crazy. It would be like us changing the pledge of allegiance and making it about us, not the United States. That would be crazy. And it was.
But Jesus, in shedding his blood and having his body broken, died in place of his people. His people were sinners, and someone had to pay for their sins for God to “Passover.” Sometimes when I explain this to my children, I say that Jesus took our spankings for us. We deserved them, but he took them. Every time we’ve stolen something that wasn’t ours or withheld something when we should have been generous but weren’t; every time we’ve shaded the truth in our favor, that is, told a lie; every time we’ve looked with lust; every time we’ve put things before God, we sinned. But Jesus absorbed the wrath of God as our Passover Lamb, so that we don’t have to absorb it. And he rose again on the third day. We remember all this in the ritual meal of the Lord’s Supper or communion, which we take here every few weeks.
And the Lord’s Supper points forward to another meal. At the end of time, there will be a wedding feast where God’s people will celebrate forever with him. I tend to believe that I’ll be able, finally, to eat cheese again at that meal. But more important than cheese and good food and good drink will be friends and family and healthy bodies and no more sin and brokenness and injustice. And more important than all of those will be our relationship with God.
What Does Freedom Mean to You?
As I think about the Passover, as much as I identify with the Israelites, I also identify with the Egyptians. When I became a Christian in college, I was building my life on three things: academic success, athletic success, and a relationship with a long-time girlfriend. Over the course of one year, they all seemed to fall apart, like there was a plague on them. I wouldn’t have described it like this at the time, but in hindsight, I see the way these three became god-like to me. And the Lord was freeing me from false worship of success and relationships.
The Bible says that it is “for freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). But the freedom God offers is not the freedom to live however we want. In a broken world, where even our wills and passions are broken, to live however we want to live is also a kind of slavery. The kind of freedom God has in mind is something so much better. God’s freedom mean living the way he designed us to live, happy and whole and in right relationship with him and his people and his world, which is the way we will live forever if we trust him.
A week after Vacation Bible School, we might have some visitors who have never thought about this before or thought it about it in this way. Just know that our church would be delighted to help you better understand Christianity. We have plenty of time for that. The Bible is a big book, but there are lots of people here who could help you understand it.
One application for those of you who have been Christians for many years, perhaps you could re-tell the story of the way God saved you as you share a meal with others. That’s what the Passover meal was, in a sense, a re-telling of what God had done to save and change his people. Tell your Passover story, the story of the way the punishment of God fell upon him, instead of you, and now you are being changed.