This message is about the absolute necessity of instructing the next generation in the works of God.
It’s an interesting phrase, isn’t it? The works of God. We talk of the works of God because the Judeo-Christian religious tradition is a historical tradition. When I say historical, I don’t mean that the tradition goes back many years. I mean that it is a tradition which passes on the knowledge of historical events.
The meaning and content of the Christian message is rooted in, revealed by and communicated through actual events in history. To explain the Christian message to someone is to tell them a history. It does not begin with spiritual or moral ideals; it begins with historical accounts. If you want to understand Christianity, you have to learn history. “In the beginning God.” “Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King.”
The unique challenge of history is preservation. With time comes distance, and with
distance comes forgetfulness.
There are some events in our lives so important to us, that we can’t accept forgetfulness. We find ways to tell and retell some stories so that the memory is always fresh and real.
That’s why we buy posters at our favorite concerts, we pay ridiculous amounts of money to hang star charts of our anniversaries on the wall, we retell the birth stories of our children every year. There are some histories that are worth remembering. There are some things too valuable to let them be washed away with the flow of time.
For the Christian, there is nothing more valuable than the history of God’s works in
our world and in our lives through Jesus Christ.
We are going to talk about the necessity of preserving and passing on
the memory of the works of God in history.
Our text is Exodus chapter 13. The context is the escape of the Hebrew people from
their slavery in Egypt. Last week we looked at the life of Joseph and left off with the
reunion of his family.
In a time of severe famine, he brought his extended family to stay with him in the Egyptian region of Goshen. They were warmly received by the local authorities and they became immensely successful in their new home.
The family grew and, after several centuries of growth, a new leader emerged in Egypt who had no memory of the value of Joseph to the survival of his country. He lived in the present moment and knew only one value. Cash money.
This new Pharaoh harshly used the people until life became unbearable. At this point God begins to work in history in the life of a man named Moses. God speaks to Moses and communicates a plan to use Moses to save the people of Israel from their bondage.
Moses gathers the people to tell them the plan and goes to Pharaoh to demand freedom. Pharaoh says no and God reaches into the physical world to reveal his hand in the request and create some pressure for Pharaoh with a series of miraculous and painful signs.
After the first 5 signs we are told that Pharaoh hardened his heart and said no. After the final 5 signs, we are told that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he continued to deny Moses.
The final sign will be the one to break Pharaoh’s resolve.
God warns Moses that a messenger of death will be sent to strike down every first born in every home in Egypt and that the only way to escape the judgment is to sacrifice a lamb and cover the doorposts of your home with the blood.
Any home which obeys the warning and covers their home in the blood of the lamb will be passed over by the coming judgment.
Can you imagine being in Egypt that night?
Some of you in the room may remember a unique midnight in our own day. On December 31 st 1999, millions around the world anxiously watched the minutes approach midnight and the possible onset of global catastrophe in economic markets, health care technology and transportation systems. Many others watched the clock with ironic skepticism. It was a memorable night and we thank God that the skeptics were right.
The intensity of Y2K is nothing compared to the night of the Passover. Imagine being there.
In that day I’m sure that many flaunted their skepticism, while many diligently prepared a sacrifice and blood was carefully applied over many doors.
Everyone was watching the hour carefully. At midnight the screams began. Here’s
the account of what happened next in Exodus 12: 37-42
And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. A mixed multitude also went up with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds.
And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, or it was not leavened, because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.
The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. It was a night of watching by the LORD, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to the LORD by all the people of Israel throughout their generations.
About 3,400 years have passed since the people of Israel left the land of Egypt on the night of the Passover. Yet all over the world this April, young Jewish children will be watching with great interest as their parents act out the rituals of the Passover. It’s the oldest religious holiday in the world and shows no sign of disappearing any time soon. What’s all about? What can we learn from it?
The key word in our text is Moses’ first: remember.
Those who lived through that night would never forget it. The power and the presence of God in their midst would never be forgotten. But after them would come another generation who had not lived through it. The Passover was not just for the living, it was an event which would define the identity of all who would come.
Dr. Joseph Turner of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies describes how the observance of the Passover has impacted Jewish history:
“the Passover seder embodies the essential cultural and educational mechanism that has guaranteed the continuity of Jewish existence throughout the generations.”
-Dr. Joseph Turner
The Passover tradition has been wildly successful in preserving the memory and identity of the Jewish people.
There are three things we will see in the institution of the Passover:
- The next generation was taught the works of the LORD in living color.
- The next generation was taught the works of the LORD in their homes.
- The next generation was taught the works of the LORD by the broader community.
First: in living color.
The Passover was not simply the reading of a text. It was a vivid, tangible expression of a historical event.
A. It was seasonal.
“Remember this day.” 13:3
“You shall keep this service in this month.” 13:5
Abib – literally means “green” or fresh ear, referring to grain. It corresponds to our
April – the time of year when winter has thawed, and the earth is green again. As
Advent is embedded in the seasonal experience the wintry nights of December, so
the Passover was embedded in the seasonal experience of the greening of Spring.
B. It was verbal.
“you shall tell your son on that day” 13:8
“and when in time to come your son asks you, “what does this mean?” you shall say
to him . . .
The assumption is that the rituals and the enthusiasm applied to them is vivid
enough that the children who watch will ask questions. Their imagination will be
sparked and they will look for the meaning behind the symbols. That’s when the
parents begin to teach their children.
C. It was tangible.
“seven days you shall eat unleavened bread” 13:6
“On the first day you shall remove the leaven out of your houses.” 12:15
Central to the Passover observance is the removal of leaven from the home. The night before the Seder meal, Jewish families begin a formal search for leaven in the home. It is done by candlelight or with a flashlight. The search is made with a wooden spoon and a feather, the feather for dusting small particles out of their hiding places, the spoon which collects the crumbs can be burned. The kitchen is scrubbed down to the cracks and seams in the countertops to remove all trace of leaven. Utensils that have been used with leavening agents are set aside for the week. Over time a tradition developed of hiding ten pieces of bread throughout the house to ensure a clear image of removing and purging. The morning of the Seder the leaven which has been gathered in a cloth bag is burned. Throughout the process special prayers are recited at appointed times. It was a visual and physical experience.
The reason for all of this is given in verse 9 and repeated in verse 16.
“It shall be a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes”
This terminology is confusing to us. But it is easy to understand. To place something on the hand or the forehead between the eyes is to ensure that it will be continually visible.
In response to this passage and similar ones in Deuteronomy 6 & 11, Jewish leaders developed the tradition of wearing passages of Scripture on their hands and their foreheads. A small container we call a Phylactery, with 4 compartments is filled with four texts of Scripture and worn on the forehead.
The point is that the history of Passover would be remembered with physical symbols which would seal the lessons in the imagination as well as the mind.
This what James Smith calls an “aesthetic of meaning”.
Two interesting notes about this:
There’s a danger in visible demonstrations of faith. In Matthew 23, Jesus brought up this practice among the religious leaders of the day as an example of the sin of using ostentatious displays for a sign of superior religiosity. The remembrance of the works of God should be tangible in our lives but should not be ostentatious or self-serving.
Another interesting note is that the coming of the anti-Christ foretold in Revelation would involve a mark on the right hand or forehead as a test of faithfulness to the regime of the anti-Christ. There’s something very important for us in this. One way or another, you’re going to have something at the forefront of your thoughts in this life.
This is why it’s so naively dangerous when young parents proclaim that they will not impart any religion to their children but let them decide as adults. If you don’t instruct your children, there are others who would be happy to fill the void.
D. It was personal.
“It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.” 13:7
Those in Egypt who took God seriously with great trembling took pains to do exactly what God had asked. They demonstrated reverence and faith in their individual obedience.
Parents weren’t told to explain how God saved Israel, they were told to explain “what the Lord did for me.”
If it’s not personal, your children will know it. They will see it. They will see that is just ritual. If the retelling of the works of God does not have a personal element – what God has done for me – it will quickly move from living faith to merely historical or cultural tradition.
Dr. Turner describes the effect of this personalized instruction:
“In every generation one is obligated to see himself as though he [too] came out from Egypt. . . . The point is not that the Jews of later generations directly experience what their forefathers had already experienced at the time of the exodus. This would be impossible. But rather, the story of the exodus, as told by the previous generation, must become so much a part of the later generation’s consciousness that the later generation could not possibly conceive of itself, as it does, without recourse to the realization that its present existence and character is in some way the product of the fateful events that happened previously, which are subsequently told and retold throughout the generations.”
-Dr Joseph Turner
We evangelical protestants can be allergic to rituals and liturgies. We suspect everything that smells of formalism or empty tradition. Yet there is something here for us to learn – the works of God are for the imagination as well as the mind.
The next generation must be taught the works of the LORD in living color and they must be taught the works of the LORD in their homes.
Second: At Home
The home by home involvement in the works of the LORD was essential to the original experience of the Passover.
“every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for the household.” 12:3
Each house was saved from judgment only as the fathers of the homes took responsibility for the involvement of their households in the obedience God required.
It was also primarily the responsibility of parents to pass on the memory and significance of that original event.
“You shall tell your son . . .” – Exodus 13:8
Your kids’ knowledge of and participation in the works of the LORD begin with you, parents. This is clear in the Old and New Testaments:
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Not only do we teach our children the great works of God in history, we also teach them the stories of what God has done for us.
You may say, that’s great for you to say. What if I don’t know what to do? I’m not a pastor, I’m not a teacher. This is really about priority isn’t it? I mean look, if we can spend hours on Pinterest learning how to make a snack stadium for a SuperBowl party, we can invest a few hours learning how to creatively invest in the salvation of our children, can’t we?
I’m going to get real convicting for just a moment. When we fail to invest in the education of our children in the works of the LORD it’s not a matter of “I don’t know how”, it’s a matter of “its not that important to me”.
Parents, what do you have going on that is more important to you than your children? What is more important in the lives of your children than the work of God in their lives?
Finally, the next generation must be taught the works of the LORD by the community as a whole.
Third: In Community
It’s a community project – the faith of the children is a work for everyone to share. “the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.”
We see this in Deuteronomy 31:10-13:
“At the end of every seven years, at the time of the year of remission of debts, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place which He will choose, you shall read this law in front of all Israel in their hearing. “Assemble the people, the men and the women and children and the alien who is in your town, so that they may hear and learn and fear the LORD your God, and be careful to observe all the words of this law. Their children, who have not known, will hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live on the land which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess.”
The knowledge and faith of the next generation is a burden for the entire community to share. It’s a joy for the entire community to participate in.
When you see a toddler running around at church or distracting everyone at community group – look at them as God does, the next generation to be formed in the works of God.
When you pray for one another, make sure to pray for each other’s children.
Is the point of this sermon that all of you should suck it up and go home and do better? No. You probably should do that, but that’s not the ultimate point. The point is that we fall short. Our lives are often polluted by the leaven of sin. But our failures are not the end of the story.
An ancient preacher named John Chrysostom pointed out something about leaven.
“In the case of material leaven, the unleavened might become leavened, but never the reverse.” A drop of leaven effects the whole loaf and cannot be removed. Sin and failure can be the same. But in Christ, something changed. Through the substitution of Christ on the Cross in our place, there is a new law. In Christ, “there is a chance of the direct contrary occurring.”
As we seek shelter under the blood of Christ we are preserved from the judgment our failures deserve and our freed to enter a land of grace and mercy.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown