The Fifth Sunday in Lent

Chris LandonSermon

Arbor House is a community of Northgate Free Methodist Church in Batavia, NY

We are going to start this morning, not with the Isaiah reading directly, but an earlier story. We are going to start this morning by talking about the exodus. One of my professors at NES, Richard Middleton, wrote a fantastic book entitled, “A New Heaven and A New Earth.” It is a book that was incredibly influential for me and was the reason that I chose to go to NES. In this book he is looking at the vision of salvation and restoration in a holistic perspective. That is, what does the Bible have to say about the restoration of humanity and all of creation? One of the points that he makes early in the book is that there is a story that gives us a framework or paradigm for understanding salvation in the Bible and specifically in the Old Testament. That story is, of course, the exodus. Middleton writes,

“The complex of events of the exodus was so central in Israel’s experience and memory that it decisively shaped much of the Old Testament, becoming the lens through which salvation is understood.”
Richard Middleton

The story of the exodus became the cultural moment that the people used time and again to understand their past and present with God. When they faced times of trouble they remembered the time that YHWH had delivered them and prayed that he would act in such a way again.

The story of the exodus, broadly understood follows a series of events that will help us to understand how it functions in the rest of the Old Testament and into the New Testament. The impetus for the story, the moment that sets in motion everything that follows is the enslavement of the Hebrew/Israelites. The people had gone down to Egypt during the time of Joseph to survive a famine that had hit the land. After some time there the egyptians, fearful of the Hebrews enslaved them. They were forced into manual labor for the Egyptians, including making bricks. Their slavery was cruel at the hands of the Egyptians. They were beaten, forced to do back breaking work. Their people, especially their male children were killed.

In the midst of their slavery they cried out to YHWH to deliver them. They called on YHWH to remember the promises that had been made to their ancestors to deliver them. Simply put, in the midst of their slavery they recognized that it was only through an act of YHWH that they could be saved and delivered.

… God historically acts on behalf of the marginalized, the poor, and the enslaved to rescue them from the nations and powers that enslave.

YHWH hears the cries of his people from the midst of their slavery and chooses to act. YHWH chooses to act, in part to fulfill the covenant that he had made with the ancestor of the Hebrew people, Abraham. But also because God historically acts on behalf of the marginalized, the poor, and the enslaved to rescue them from the nations and powers that enslave. YHWH acts as he often does by sending someone as a rescuer for the enslaved people. The rescuer in this case is the murderer Moses, the Hebrew raised by Egyptian royalty.

Sometimes we question why God chooses to act through certain people but there is only one case I can think of where God chooses to act through a perfect human, but we will get to that shortly. YHWH chooses Moses to be the one that he will act through to save the Israelites. Moses needs some convincing, and the help of Aaron, but he eventually is willing to go. Moses goes and he stands before pharaoh and says, “let my people go!” It is impossible at this point not to think of Charlton Heston. While it is a powerful portrayal, Moses was a Middle Easterner living in Africa, and Heston is a white guy so perhaps not the most accurate. Nonetheless, YHWH acts through this rescuer and does might things on behalf of his people, with the purpose of setting them free from the slavery that binds them. Another perfect example is the judges. Time and again the Israelites end up enslaved by some other nation and YHWH acts through a judge.

The exodus story shows YHWH’s battle against the gods of Egypt in the plagues, the mighty acts culminating in the death of the first born son. This act of God through the agency of Moses brings about what we often think of as the climax and conclusion of the story, the freedom of the people. The Egyptians having had enough set the people free, they change their mind briefly, but then the red sea changes it back for them. The point is, YHWH heard the cries of his people and sets them free from the slavery that binds them. We are tempted to think of this as the fullness of salvation, the freedom from slavery but this is only partially true. Surely a main element of the exodus story and the paradigm that it creates is the deliverance from slavery. It is at the same time not the only act of deliverance that occurs. That is because the exodus story does not end with them wandering off into the desert, now a free people. They are delivered from their slavery to be delivered to something.

The people, the Hebrews, were delivered from their slavery in Egypt so that they could also be delivered to the land that had been promised to Abraham, and so that they could be YHWH’s chosen people and a blessing to the nations. This deliverance of the people takes longer to be fulfilled as they wander through the desert for many years before they finally make it to the promised land. Also, Moses does not cross into the land with them. But I think it is fair to say that the moment they cross the Jordan into the land that YHWH had promised to Abraham is the end of the exodus story. The people had been delivered from their slavery and delivered to the land were they could be YHWH’s chosen nation again.

So to summarize the paradigm of salvation in the Old Testament, the exodus, follows this pattern: Slavery, Cry for Help, Sending of a Rescuer, Deliverance from, and Deliverance to or Restoration.

Middleton refers to this deliverance as restoration. The slavery of the people had taken from them their ability to be a nation that the other nations of the world looked to and were blessed by. Now that slavery has been removed and that status is restored.

So to summarize the paradigm of salvation in the Old Testament, the exodus, follows this pattern: Slavery, Cry for Help, Sending of a Rescuer, Deliverance from, and Deliverance to or Restoration.

Why are we talking about the Exodus this morning, when the reading is clearly from Isaiah? It is not because I got distracted on the way to Isaiah and ended up in Exodus. It is because this passage in Isaiah has a very interesting relationship with the Exodus story.

The Isaiah story at the same time calls to mind the exodus story and then tells us not to think about it any more. The first two verses of the Isaiah story make references to the red sea crossing following the people being led out of Egypt. The mighty waters of the sea were parted and the there was a path created for the people to cross through. Isaiah then references the chariots and army that chased after the people. As the waters crashed back on them, Isaiah says, “They lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick.” The exodus story is a fitting story for the people of Isaiah’s time to remember. They are once again enslaved in the exile and wondering if this is the end of the chosen people of YHWH. But the exodus story would remind them, not only of their heritage and the great things that YHWH had done for their ancestors, but would also encourage them to follow that same path. It would encourage them to turn to YHWH in the midst of their slavery. David Davis wrote that this retelling of the the exodus story reminds them,

“The God who made a way is the God who makes a way.”
David Davis
“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that YHWH your God brought you of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.”Deuteronomy 5:15

Remembrance of the exodus is central to the identity of the Israelite and Jewish people. It is enshrined in the Ten Commandments, Deut. 5:15 reads, “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that YHWH your God brought you of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” We are quickly approaching one of the high holy seasons of the Jewish year, the celebration of the Passover as a season of remembering the exodus. We are going to host a Seder, a traditional passover dinner, here on Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter, in remembrance of the Last Supper before Jesus’ crucifixion which was a passover dinner. The exodus runs deep in the cultural and religious memory of Judaism and Christianity.

But then there is this very interesting statement in v. 18. I think this is one that is easy to take out of context and would make a great bumper sticker. “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.” If we read just that verse separated from its context then it could read as Isaiah telling the people to forget their former ways, that is, the sin that had brought them to where they are now. Or even, they should no longer dwell on the hardships that they had faced and instead look toward the future. But within the immediate context, the former thing that Isaiah is telling the people to not remember is the Exodus. “The exodus is deeply formational to our identity as a nation and it tells of the great things that YHWH has done for us, and don’t think about it anymore.” It seems to be a contradiction. And so it makes me curious why Isaiah would want them to forget such a formational experience.

One of the commentators that I read suggested, what I think is a good reason, and I think it makes sense given the context. They should not remember the exodus anymore because it had simply become a memory, and there wasn’t a hope for a new thing. Their memory of the exodus was limited to, YHWH did this great thing in the past for our people. And they stop there. So Isaiah tells them, speaking for YHWH, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Stop holding on to the memories of the past as relics of a distant age and recognize that YHWH is about to do something great! Where he once made a way in the waters into the wilderness, he is now going to make a way in the wilderness to a place of water and rest. And he is going to do it to deliver his chosen people. They will be delivered from the wilderness that they currently inhabit and they will be restored to a place of shalom. I don’t think that they are supposed to forget the exodus as if it never happened, but that they also need to look ahead to the new thing that God is doing. They need to recognize both the ways that YHWH has acted and the ways that YHWH is going to act.

We too must remember that the acts of God are not relics of the past. The Gospel reading reminds us, very pointedly, that in a few weeks we are going to be remembering the death of Jesus and celebrating his resurrection. In the gospel reading Jesus says, “She [Mary] bought [the perfume] so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.” This reminds us of the past act of God that is pressing down upon us, the death of Jesus. We should remember that historical moment, and the resurrection that follows it, because they are the central moments of our faith, the ultimate act of restoration of God’s people. But it is not a moment that is a relic of the past. As we remember and celebrate Easter it is with the recognition of, as God did once on the cross, he is doing now and is continuing to do. The deliverance of sin that occurred over that weekend two thousand years ago, still happens today and is pointing toward a fuller restoration in the future, when heaven meets earth and all of creation is restored.

We too must remember that the acts of God are not relics of the past. The Gospel reading reminds us, very pointedly, that in a few weeks we are going to be remembering the death of Jesus and celebrating his resurrection.

But we must always keep in mind the exodus. The people were delivered from their slavery in Egypt but that was only half the story. The people were also delivered to the promised land, they were restored as a people for the purposes of God. The same is true today, we often speak this time of year about the forgiveness of sins. We talk about the resurrection being that act that breaks the bonds of sin. We also must keep in mind that the restoration of humanity that occurred on the cross and in the tomb also restores us to something. As it was with ancient Israel so it is true with us today, we are restored to our purpose of being God’s representatives in creation as the church.

Pastor Marsha spoke yesterday to the Bible Quizzers about memory and how important it is to remember, namely the biblical story. We should remember the biblical story, the story of salvation, the story of the exodus, the story of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. And we should remember them as guides for the present and as a revelation of what God is doing among his people and in his creation now. And then lastly, they should serve as a guide for us as we seek to live out the restoration that we have received as the representation of Jesus in creation.

About the Author
Chris Landon

Chris Landon

Chris Landon is the Pastor of Word and Table at Arbor House. He has served at Arbor House since 2016. He is also the Camp Manager of Covenant Acres Campground and Retreat Center. Prior to that he was an Assistant Pastor at Gowanda Free Methodist Church and Youth Pastor at Ransomville Free Methodist Church.