The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Deuteronomy 26:1 “Then it shall be, when you enter the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you take possession of it and live in it, 2 that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground which you bring in from your land that the Lord your God gives you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place where the Lord your God chooses to establish His name. 3 And you shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, ‘I declare today to the Lord my God that I have entered the land which the Lord swore to our fathers to give us.’ 4 Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it before the altar of the Lord your God. 5 And you shall respond and say before the Lord your God, ‘My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt and resided there, few in number; but there he became a great, mighty, and populous nation. 6 And the Egyptians treated us badly and oppressed us, and imposed hard labor on us. 7 Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our wretched condition, our trouble, and our oppression; 8 and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, an outstretched arm, and with great terror, and with signs and wonders; 9 and He has brought us to this place, and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 And now behold, I have brought the first of the produce of the ground which You, Lord have given me.’ Then you shall set it before the Lord your God, and worship before the Lord your God; 11 and you, the Levite, and the stranger who is among you shall rejoice in all the good which the Lord your God has given you and your household. (NASB)
Patrick was born in Britain around 386 AD to a pious and well-known Roman Catholic family. His father was a deacon in the church, and his grandfather a member of the clergy. Even so, Patrick was not raised with a particularly strong emphasis on religion or education. When he was sixteen, Patrick was captured by pirates and sold into slavery to tend sheep. During his slavery, Patrick cried to the Lord in prayer for rescue. After seven years of slavery Patrick escaped and soon became a free man. He used that freedom to serve the Lord. He was ordained a bishop and returned to island where he had been held as a slave to shepherd a small community of Christians and spread the Gospel to unbelievers. At first he was greeted by some resistance, but he kept on preaching and and soon he was baptizing many individuals and families.
Patrick began his life free, then he became a captive and a slave. A slave, under the whip, alone, and far from home, his faith grew stronger. St. Patrick and the Israelites had a few things in common. His experience taught him to empathize with those who were oppressed and lived in slavery like the Israelites of old.
In the Old Testament lesson, the Lord God commanded Israel saying that when they entered the promised land they were to believe certain things, do certain things, and say certain things. Through these rites and observances called worship the children of God would remember who He is, what He had done for them, and who they are and what they are suppose to be. The Lord God tells them to recount their journey from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.
They were to do this in order to honor Him and to pass salvation history to their children and their children’s children. In that way generation after generation would know the Lord their God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and to see these things as a foreshadow of what would come in Jesus Christ.
“Then it shall be, [the Lord God told His people] when you enter the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance…2 that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground which you bring in from your land that the Lord your God gives you, …and go to the place where the Lord your God chooses to establish His name…5 And you shall respond and say before the1 Lord your God…” (vv 1, 2, 5).
As the Israelites are about to enter the promised land, the very first instruction given to them by the Lord God is to worship (that is, to go to church). God commands His children to worship Him and to bring sacrifices to the place where He will “establish His name.” To “establishes His name” means that the Lord God is revealing Himself to His people. He is staking out a relationship with particular people, at a particular time, and in a particular place. Scholars call this the scandal of particularity. Here and elsewhere in the Bible God is claiming an utterly unique relationship with the people He adopted by His words and deeds.
Forty plus years earlier, God sent Moses to deliver Jacob’s descendants out of Egypt when He spoke from the burning bush. Exodus 3:13-14 “Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”.
The God whose name is “I AM” had freed the Hebrews and was brining them into the land He had promised their forefathers. Now it was their duty to remember, to trust Him, and to pass down through the generations salvation history. God even gives them some of the words they were to say. The Lord God was giving them a liturgy to go with their worship and sacrifices.
They were to say, “My father . . . went down to Egypt and resided there [and] became a great, mighty, and populous nation. 6 And the Egyptians treated us badly and oppressed us . . . Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and . . . brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, an outstretched arm, and with great terror, and with signs and wonders; and He has brought us to this place, and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (vs. 5-9)
This act of delivering them out of the hands of the Egyptians and eventually from extinction as a race, and giving them the promise of a Greater Deliver was to be their identity. He was their great I AM, Yaweh (Lord) Elohim (God) and they His children–Israelites.
Deuteronomy 26 is likely the inspiration behind the Psalm 105, which was written to be used for the worship in the temple. The Psalm tells the story of how they became slaves in Egypt and what God did to free them.
In Deuteronomy 26, the worshiper was to bring his offerings to the priest, the worshiper and say, “‘My father was a wandering Aramean . . .” Some translations translate the Hebrew this way. “A Syrian ready to perish was my father.” Kretzman writes that this “a reference to Jacob’s journey to Mesopotamia and his subsequent wanderings in the Land of Promise.”
They were also instructed to recount the harsh treatment their ancestors received in Egypt. They lived under the whip and from time to time, a Pharaoh would “thin the herd” by killing the first born son of every Hebrew family.
In the fourth century, Cyril of Jerusalem taught Christians that Pharaoh was an image of Satan. Satan is an oppressor. He is the chief enemy of the children of God. He seeks to strip Christians of their salvation and freedom and make them slaves in his kingdom. “The old evil Foe Now means deadly woe Deep guile and great might Are his dread arms in fight.” These are not just lyrics of a historic hymn. This is a description of the old evil foe’s constant war against Christians and the church.
At the time of Moses, Egypt was one of the world’s super powers. It was wealthy, powerful, and technologically advanced. For the Hebrew slaves in Egypt there was no hope of rescue, except from a God they did not really know. A few stories had been handed down from generation to generation, but they did not know the Lord God.
All they could do was cry out to a God they did not know. They were to say, 7 “Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our wretched condition, our trouble, and our oppression.”
The holy land of Canaan was promised to Abraham 680 years before his descendants would enter the promised land. In that 680 year Abraham and his descendants had fallen into sin time and time again. Abraham himself sinned often. Jacob tricked his father for the inheritance that belonged to his brother Esau. The sins of Jacob’s eleven sons led Joseph and the Israelites into Egypt where they eventually became slaves for 430 years.
There we times when it looked like God had forgotten them and the promises of their own land and freedom would go unfilled. God always keeps His Word thought. So God sent Moses to Pharaoh with His direct command: “Let My people go!”
After ten plagues, Pharaoh’s hardened heart, then the death of the firstborn son of every Egyptian family, and the Passover blood around doors of the Hebrews’ homes—Pharaoh let the people go. Then Pharaoh made a deadly mistake. He changed his mind. He pursued the Israelites to the banks of the Red Sea. But Israel’s God was in the outstretched arm of Moses. God divided the water on the left and on the right so that Israel passed through on dry ground. Pharaoh’s army and chariots pursued them, and, again, through the outstretched arms of Moses, God let the water return to its place and drowned the Egyptians.
Exodus 15 record the song the Hebrews sang recounting their exodus. Verses one and two, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”
God had delivered Israel out of Egypt and was bringing them into the Promised Land. This is the greatest redemptive act of God in the Old Testament. All this was a foreshadow of the Greatest Redemptive act of God in all history and all mankind.
In his Catechetical Lectures around Cyril of Jerusalem 350 AD rightly likened Moses being sent from God to Egypt to Jesus being sent from God into the world. He compares Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt to Jesus rescuing the world from sin. He likens the blood of the lamb painted on the doorposts of the Hebrews in Egypt to Jesus Christ shedding His blood on the cross to crush Satan’s tyranny. Ultimately, Cyril compares Israel’s deliverance through the Red Sea to God’s people being delivered from sin and death through the waters of Holy Baptism. 1 Corinthians 10:2 “They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”
While with the outstretched arm of Moses, God delivered Israel from that an evil Pharaoh. With outstretched arms God in the flesh hung on the cross, the Son of God took the place of us all. With outstretched arms, Jesus hung on a cross and cried out, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34), and we are released from bondage to sin and eternal death. With outstretched arms, Jesus bleeds a blood that washes us clean and opens the doors of paradise, a promised land in which we will live forever. With outstretched arms, Jesus delivered us from the devil.
This is what lent is. We cry out to the Lord, the God of our fathers and the Lord hears our voice and sees our “our wretched condition, our trouble, and our oppression.” During Holy Week we watch His only begotten Son in the flesh take our wretchedness, trouble, and oppression unto Himself so that we will be delivered from sin, death, and the power of the devil.
Lent is a microcosm of life’s journey—from font to grave. Lent though only lasts for a moment. Easter lasts forever. Lent is our journey and baptism your Red Sea. So it begins—our Lenten journey.
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.