Walking and Working in our Wilderness

The season of Epiphany begins with an underhanded Herod and the visit of the “wise men,” Magi, to the infant Jesus.  In a way, Herod is like the Pharaoh of ancient Egypt, who stood in God’s way, attempting to keep His children enslaved.  So, the Exodus is more than a historical event, also serving as a foreshadow of our Epiphany Lord.

The Magi arrive in Jerusalem, wondering where the King of the Jews is.  In reaction, Herod hatches a murderous plan to thwart the will and purpose of God.  Like Pharaoh before him, Herod emerges as an insurmountable obstruction to God’s design for His Messiah to fulfill our salvation.  Not so, for our God is faithful, and He will not relinquish His saving resolve—no matter who may oppose Him.

In the burning bush, God appoints Moses to lead His people into freedom, fulfilling His promises.  Earlier, Moses lived in the regal splendor of Pharaoh’s palace, but he needed to be closer to his people to do God’s bidding.  So, to set them free, Moses will become one with his people.  So also did Jesus, who left the halls of heaven to unite with us in our humanity.  Only when He became a captive like us, can we become free in Him.

To save us, Jesus must make a new start.  The eternal One, from before time began, became incarnate and entered the wasteland of our sins.  In Jesus, God sent a Savior to carry out His work of grace and freedom, for us, for those bound in bondage by our failings and death.

In a preview of the foretold Messiah, Moses tells Pharaoh, “Let my people go!”  The Exodus journey commences.  The reliable and rescuing God vanquishes Israel’s oppressors through a tenfold judgment, freeing them from the shackles of a global superpower. 

To bring this about, God institutes His Passover.  Discern how God initiates the release of His people.  “Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, ‘This month will be the beginning of months, the first month of your year’” (Exodus 12:1-2).  The liberation of God’s people ushers in a different calendar for them.  For them, life begins with their salvation. 

In this new way of counting time, God frees the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, all to guide them to a homeland in Canaan.  Along the way, the Almighty opens up the Red Sea and His chosen cross to the other side.  In burning fury, Pharaoh’s chariots pursue, but Yahweh crashes the waters down, wiping out the enemy (Exodus 14:1-29).  Soon after, God brings His weary people to the safety of Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:1).

Like no other event in early biblical history, the people’s exodus from Egypt emerges in the Bible as the model of redemption.  Still, despite everything God does for His people, they rebel against Him, delaying their entrance into the Promised Land. 

Take in how the Apostle Paul describes this ancient deliverance as a pattern for our lives—now.  “All passed through the sea, through which they were baptized into Moses, in the cloud and the sea.  All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from the spiritual Rock, which accompanied them.  The Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:1-4).

“Now these things happened to them as an example, to instruct us who live at the end of the age” (1 Corinthians 1:11).  Like them, so also with us.  Through water, God baptizes us to become His people.  Like all Israel partook of Christ, we also do so in His Supper.  So, what becomes our Promised Land?  The eternity of Heaven. 

On our journey, we, too, face our problems, which can vary from the dreary to the catastrophic.  One such challenge we face as a congregation is the repair of our old building, as we are now forced to do everything in our multi-purpose room.  In this event, we can find a picture of our trek toward the Land of Promise awaiting us.

The church’s building, damaged by destructive winds and weather, part of the aftermath of the fall into sin, represent our sinfulness.  So, as 1 Corinthians reads, we “clean out the old leaven to be a new batch of dough, since [we] are unleavened.  For Christ, our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7). 

Read the “Ten Commandments.”  In them, you will find God doesn’t refer to them as “commands” (except to honor your father and mother).  No, He calls them His “words.”  “Then God spoke all these words…” (Exodus 20:1).  The first “word” from God is not what we need to do.  No, He first does for us, “I AM, the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2).

In God’s ordering, we are to conclude, “Why follow another God?  For our salvation is in the true God, not the false ones of our making.”  So, our entire life with God takes place in the watery wake of what He first does for us.  Only He rescues us from our servitude of sin.  What follows, is what we do as His people, the result, not the cause of our rescue.

So, we approach this with the Lutheran question, “What does this mean”?  This: A theology hides inside ordinary life.  To serve God, you don’t need a call to the “mission field” or “the ministry,” though many are.  No, we live our Christian lives in the everyday happenings of life—family, work, community, and church—where God places us to live and serve.  Now, if these appear too low-key and unspectacular, this stems from our desire for the wrong type of “glory.”

To save us, God becomes present for us in the common and physical, like in His humble incarnation: spoken words, water, bread, and wine.  The Jesus for us becomes the Jesus in us.  So, our saving God is also present inside us—and through us.  Ordinary tasks now become supernatural, whose character is visible only by the eyes of faith.  In Christ, all our deeds, done in faith, turn holy because He makes them righteous, as we serve another.

So, in our wilderness, the task now given us of rebuilding becomes holy.  For this is not for self-gain (or should not be) but for service to our neighbor.  How so?  Doesn’t Jesus want a place to exist where He can descend to His people in His Word and Sacrament?  Yes! 

Still, why bother?  For the splendor of a worship space doesn’t bring about Jesus’ presence.  True, but the sanctuary should be so furnished to show He is with us to save!  The beauty within a church doesn’t cause Jesus to be present, but its construction and surroundings testify to what we believe—He is present when we gather in His name.

Read about all the beautiful objects and architecture God commanded to be in His Old-Covenant Tabernacle.  Now, we understand a bit more about God.  Though He dictates no such beauty and artwork for us in the New Covenant, the same God who saves us places value on such.  So, how can we choose to do otherwise? 

In the twists and turns of our travels and toil, we repent of our many sins.  In repentance, we turn away from the fallen past to live in newness of life, the life which is ours in Christ.  The damage in our old building can also symbolize this for us, replacing and restoring what is bent and broken.  Like virtuous deeds are to supersede our sin, so the ongoing construction replaces what a fallen creation brought to ruin.

A saving God refuses to relinquish victory to His opponents and the enemies of His people.  Grace will speak the final word.  Evil adversaries will not steal away God’s grace, opposing His divine intent and purpose.  Though our hands do not create this goodwill of God, He does call us to be participants in this, like He also calls us to be His people.

So, “straining forward to what lies ahead, press on toward the goal, to pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).  Amen.

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