[A local church graciously invited me to be their guest speaker last Sunday. This is the gist of the sermon.]
When I was a child I loved to read. As soon as I figured out that the squiggles the teacher was making on the blackboard were parts of words, I was off and running. I read everything I could get my hands on, but I especially came to love science-fiction. Jules Verne’s 20000 Leagues Under the Sea was amazing considering that he wrote about submarines in the late 1800’s. A rocket to the moon! I read this before Neil Armstrong set foot there, yet Verne was way ahead of his time (at least in fiction).
As an adult I began to notice that science-fiction themes eventually become a kind of social reality, too. Many ideas in science and society first find a home in s-f and eventually become part of the fabric of our social universe. Ideas about Gaia, a world-consciousness comprised of the minds of all organisms of a world, for instance, now inform ecological movements and even scientific work.
One fairly recent phenomenon in television s-f is becoming very popular: the retelling of old myths and fairy tales with a hip s-f upgrade. Anybody watching CTV lately may have at least seen promos for a show called Grimm. This is a modern remake of Grimm’s Fairy Tales set in 2012 Portland, Oregon. The main character is a descendent of the original Brothers Grimm, and it therefore falls to him to keep the monsters (that only he can see) under control.
Science-fiction longest running TV show was called Stargate SG-1. It featured an ancient artifact that could send people to other planets in the galaxy just by dialing it like a giant old-fashioned rotary dial phone. Every planet they went to featured some exotic remake of ancient gods or goddesses in new sci-fi alien format.
Believe it or not, Jesus also is responsible for introducing the remake of an ancient story, too. It was an ancient story of salvation that goes back to a promise made to the most important figure in Israel’s history.
God had promised Abraham that He would make a great nation out of his descendants. But first, they would become slaves in a foreign land until the Lord himself went to rescue them from bondage. Sure enough, they emigrate to Egypt under Joseph and eventually become slaves.
Most of us know the story. An Israelite baby named Moses set afloat in a reed basket and is “found” in the river by the daughter of Pharaoh. After being raised as a prince of Egypt, he sees mistreatment of a Hebrew by an Egyptian and takes matters into his own hands by killing the Egyptian. Far from being hailed by his people, he is spurned and must go into exile.
After 40 years, God calls Moses from a burning bush and tells him that the time has come for Moses to lead the people out of Egypt into the land promised to Abraham. After initial resistance Moses finally returns to Egypt and begins a prophetic ministry to the Israelites and to Pharaoh.
He prophesies 10 distinct plagues that fall on Egypt before Pharaoh relents and lets them go.
- Water turns to blood
- Frogs infest the entire land
- Gnats infest the land
- Flies swarm everywhere
- Livestock become diseased (except Israelites’ livestock)
- Painful boils on all the people (except the Israelites)
- Devastating hail
- Devouring locusts
- Death of Egyptian firstborn of humans and livestock (Israelites protected under the blood of the Passover Lamb on their doorposts.)
Imagine the effect on Egypt of realizing that Israel’s God knows each of them and even their cattle well enough to target all the firstborn. After this disaster Pharaoh finally seems to get the message that Israel’s God can do anything He wants, and he finally agrees to let Israel go. They leave with great rejoicing on the morning after the Passover meal and they camp at Succoth on the first night. The next two stops are at Etham and Pi-hahiroth. We are not told how long they camped at each place, but one would think that a people on the move from slavery would not waste time in one place when the slaver’s army has chariots. I believe they camped at Pi-hahiroth on the third night.
Pharaoh has second thoughts about letting them go, so he assembles his chariots and sets off after them. Pharaoh’s army meets them at Pi-hahiroth at the edge of the sea, cutting off their escape, at about nightfall. God interposes the pillar of cloud/fire between the two groups. Moses raises his staff to divide the waters, and the Israelites cross during the night. At some point in the night the Egyptian army also enters the dried-out pathway. At sunrise, after the last Israelites have crossed, Moses once again raises his staff and the waters return in place, drowning the Egyptian army.
In Israelite reckoning, days started at dark, so they technically left Egypt on the same day as the Passover meal was eaten. On the third night God dramatically completes their rescue at the Red Sea. At dawn the threat is entirely eliminated. After this event, they never have to worry about Egyptian slavery again.
So… in the Exodus/Passover story we have three days of wandering on the way out of Egypt, followed by a final victory at dawn. Does anything about that pattern of three days followed by a dawn victory seem familiar?
The Apostle Paul has this to say about the crossing of the Red Sea, “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. … These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come.” (I Corinthians 10:1-4, 11)
While in the context of his letter Paul has in mind the many corrective measures God used on Israel in the wilderness, his mention that Christ was involved in the entirety of the events is significant. If He is the one who saved Israel in Egypt, then something about how He did so in the Gospels should have stood out to His people.
For one thing, Exodus 13:21 tells us something about the pillar of fire and cloud. God went ahead of the Israelites in the pillar of fire. The night of the crossing, it was the fire that Israel saw behind them as they crossed the Red Sea. Paul says that Christ followed them! If Paul is correct, Christ was in the fire. He also sent the wind ahead to carve out the path before them in the sea.
In the aftermath of the exodus God sets up a ceremony on Sunday during the Passover week. Why an offering of the “firstfruits” at sunrise? Lev. 23:10
There doesn’t seem to be a connection… unless this dawn firstfruits harvest ceremony during Passover week referred back to an event during the Exodus. Exodus 14:27 tells when God closed up the sea again: at daybreak. It was as dawn that the Egyptian army was destroyed once and for all in the sight of Israel!
On what day were the Israelites truly assured of victory, the day they left or the day the Egyptian army was destroyed? The latter, of course!
Jesus is the “rock” who led Israel through the Red Sea and permanently destroyed the threat of Egyptian slavery. With His death and resurrection He now permanently destroys the threat of death for His followers. The deliverance of Israel from Egypt was the forerunner of a far greater deliverance – that of the whole human race – from sin and eternal death.
First, a lamb is slain, and three days later the great enemy is completely and publicly defeated. Pharaoh’s chariots were not able to bring them back into captivity. Nor was even the mighty Roman Empire was able to keep Jesus from defeating their mightiest weapon: the fear of death.
It makes sense for Jesus Christ, who is the Saviour of Israel, to follow the pattern He set out in His original saving act for Israel. He dies with the Passover lambs and is risen from the grave in the full view of Israel at dawn, just at time the Red Sea had come crashing down on the Egyptian army’s chariots.
God had planted a seed in Abraham and harvested a nation on the day they crossed the sea.
God had promised that Abraham’s “seed” would bring blessing to the nations.
Jesus is the “seed” promised to Abraham according to Paul in Gal. 3:16-29.
Jesus presents Himself as risen just as the wave offering is being made at the Temple. Jesus then becomes the firstfruits of the resurrection as mentioned in 1 Cor. 15:20-26, where the Apostle Paul says,
“20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
The harvest could not begin until the firstfruits had been accepted by God. Jesus’ resurrection marks the beginning of the harvest of a people for His eternal kingdom into His resurrection. The story of salvation is consistent in both Old and New Testaments if you have the eyes to see it.
Jesus has opened up the Red Sea before us. We don’t have to be afraid of the forces of the Evil One.
The final day of the countdown from the firstfruits wave-offeing is the day called Pentecost in Acts 2. Have you ever wondered why Pentecost was accompanied by tongues of fire and the sound of a mighty rushing wind?
Again, think back to the Red Sea. From the perspective of Israel, they could see the fire behind them. They could hear the wind before them. Fire and wind – the agents of their salvation from Egypt.
Psalm 104:4 Remembering that the word translated as “angels” in some translations refers generically to messengers and not necessarily only to supernatural messengers, God makes the wind His messengers and flames of fire His servants. He uses wind and fire in the exodus as His agents of salvation. Why not use wind and fire at Pentecost?
Heb. 1:7 In this passage the writer reverses the order of wind and messengers as well as flames of fire and servants. (Remember that the word for “wind” in both Hebrew and Greek versions is variously translated as wind, breath or spirit according to context. Wind makes the most sense in this context. This ends up with God making His messengers winds and his servants flames of fire. That which empowers God’s people is what God’s people metaphorically become: wind and fire.
Jesus is in the fire, and He sends the wind of His Holy Spirit to carve out our path. Will we be His messengers and servants?
Will we live by His fire and His wind?