Hye-Ja been taking us through the Lectionary and reminding us of some remarkable people.
People who played major roles in events of world history, and especially in Jewish history which led into Christian history.
The record of these people has been given to us without any glossing over the nature of them. We are left asking if we can call them heroes! Leaders, yes, heroes perhaps but with all their faults.
We were reminded of Abram, renamed Abraham, the first to be called a Hebrew, who was given promises he and his wife, Sarah, found hard to believe. Wonderfully, he had faith in God and in time we saw God’s promises to him fulfilled.
He had two sons. Ishmael who was given a promise of his own and became the origin of the people we know as the Arabs. Eventually, a significant descendent of his was Mohammad, founder of the religion of Islam.
His other son was Isaac, destined to be the one through whom God would fulfill his promises to Abraham. There has been ongoing tension between the Arabs and the Jews all along since those days.
Isaac also had two sons, twins, between whom there was also tension!
There was the first-born, Esau, to whom a freshly prepared meal was more important than his birthright as the eldest son and sold it to his twin, Jacob who, with his mother’s connivance, gained his father’s blessing.
Esau’s descendants became known as the Edomites and, although Esau seemed to have been forgiving towards his scheming brother the familial tension remained.
Being a schemer seems to have run in the family because his uncle managed to marry off both his daughters to Jacob, who’s favourite was Racheal.
By way of his two wives and their two servants Jacob had 12 sons. Jacob was named Israel by God and his sons’ descendants became the 12 tribes of Israel.
His 11th son was Joseph the dreamer and dream interpreter, a skill which led to him offending his brothers. His brothers sold him off and he was taken to Egypt and made a slave there. However, it was these same skills which eventually saw him established as the ruler of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself, and saved not only Egypt but also his whole family from the devastation of a famine.
The brothers brought their father, Jacob, to Egypt where they could all live under the protection and provision of their highly successful brother.
The Hebrews thrived and grew in number. 300 years after not only Jacob but also Joseph and his brothers had died there was a different Pharaoh who knew nothing of Joseph but was very concerned about the great number of Jews who were living so successfully in his country, albeit as foreigners. His solution was to round them up and recruit them as slaves, made to work extremely hard and under harsh conditions.
To reduce the population growth of this threatening group, Pharaoh ordered each new Hebrew baby boy to be killed. The midwives undermined this ruling and one of the young Hebrew mothers took her own steps to protect her son.
One of the Hebrew babies born around this time was the next major figure in our history, Moses. To save him, his mother put him in a waterproof basket and floated it onto the river where the baby was found and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter.
Moses lived the next 40 years of his life in the courts of the Pharaoh and then, trying to defend a fellow Hebrew, killed an Egyptian. The next 40 years he spent keeping out of the way, tending sheep.
Now, when he was 80, God called him into his special purpose in life, which was to confront Pharaoh and demand on behalf of God that he “let my people go”, a demand Pharaoh refused. There followed a series of confrontations and plagues but each time Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. Despite the terrible suffering of the Egyptian people time and again Moses’ demands were refused until the terrible climax, the night on which the first-born male, human or animal, was to die.
This was such a calamitous event that even the hard-hearted Pharaoh was glad to see the end of the Hebrews and ordered them out of the country. Of course, he changed his mind and sent his army after them.
The Hebrews fled until they reached the Red Sea which opened up to make a path for the Hebrews to cross but then closed back to drown the following Egyptian army, which lead Moses, his sister Miriam and the people into songs of celebration.
What a history! What a story! You could make a book out of it! Actually, they did. There have also been movies and musicals written about it.
But do you really believe it all happened? Or is it a legend, a myth, a fable with a message?
The night before the Hebrews were to head out they had a special meal together, a meal which became known as the Passover meal. It was prepared simply and quickly, in haste. Unleavened bread because there was no time to allow the yeast to rise. Bitter herbs to remind them of the bitterness of their slavery. A lamb slaughtered and roasted with its blood smattered on the lintel of their doorway. An angel was to bring about the death of the firstborn, as promised by God as a final sign to Pharaoh. The angel would see the blood on the Hebrew doors and pass over that house, sparing them of the threatened loss.
Still today the Jews celebrate the Passover meal and the meal involves the whole family, especially the children.
Usually the longest of the 15 steps during the meal is the re-telling of the Exodus narrative. It’s now that the youngest child at the table asks the four questions which all revolve around the basic question, “Why is this night different than all other nights?”
At the very first Passover meal it was established, “On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’”
Every year they repeat this not as a commemoration of a legend but to remind themselves that God himself led them out of slavery and by way of more than one miracle on to the promised land.
They are to remember that they are a special, chosen people, mightily rescued, led and kept by Almighty God who acts on their behalf. To the Jews this is no mere message, a myth with meaning. It is an actual and memorable part of their history.
There are some who can give you a possible technical, scientific explanation of such a miracle. Others see philosophical, psychological, moral messages of emancipation, freedom and equality. But to the Jews it is part of their history.
On the eve of Jesus’ crucifixion he met with his disciples in an upper room and there they celebrated the Passover as genuine Jews should. As they did this, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion. When we take the Lord’s supper together we are celebrating the death of Jesus on the cross on our behalf and, after all this time, celebrating the wonderful way God rescued the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt and celebrate that he rescues us from slavery to sin.
There are those who would like to re-interpret the Bible and avoid what they see as the embarrassment of miracles, such as the miracle of Jesus’ death and especially his resurrection.
But to do this loses the wonder of the story. It loses the meaning of the story and it loses the power of the story. It raises the question that if one part of the Bible isn’t true then is any of it true?
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul raises this point when he emphasises the truth and reality of Jesus’ resurrection:
1Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
This wonderful miracle really happened. When Paul wrote this he could say to his readers – go ask these people. They were there. They saw it. It’s real and true.
And it’s really important. He went on to say,
12But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
If the Bible isn’t true and Christ was not raised from the dead then Christianity and its gospel is useless, and so is your faith. We are false witnesses about God and telling lies about him. There is no hope for us and we are to be pitied.
But it IS true!
Which is why we celebrate, just as the Hebrews did!
They celebrated the miraculous way God led them and rescued them, and so do we!
Praise God for the Bible and the glorious truths it tells us of and reminds us of.
Praise God for his persistent, loving, powerful care and provision for us.
Praise God for Jesus our Saviour who was crucified in our place and was raised from the dead victorious as our leader and king.
Praise God it is all true!
Hye-Ja been taking us through the Lectionary and reminding us of some remarkable people.