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Apr 9 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

April 8, 2018 – Exodus Chapter 13

What to Do with the Past

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Dedicate to me every firstborn among the Israelites. The first offspring to be born, of both humans and animals, belongs to me”
So Moses said to the people, “This is a day to remember forever—the day you left Egypt, the place of your slavery. Today the LORD has brought you out by the power of his mighty hand” 
Exodus 13:1-3 

Intro: The Book of Exodus has an odd way of telling its story

After ten chapters of conflict and suspense, we come to the final showdown
– but instead of rushing into it, the action is interrupted with an interlude
(Ex. 12:43-13:16, which highlights Passover, the feast of unleavened bread and the dedication of firstborn males)
• this is hard on us Attention Deficit readers
• we feel bogged down with this “boring” stuff
– but the magic of Exodus is, that it is not merely telling a story
• it’s helping us to write a story – our own stories
• or perhaps more accurately, to re-write our personal narratives

So what part of our stories are we working today?
– chapter 13 has us looking at the past and what we can do with it
• preparing this message I was tempted introduce it with a poem
◦ something Dr. Seuss-like, “Oh the Fun we Can Have with Our Past”

Oh the fun we can have with our past!
We can grieve it and leave it
Or hold to it fast.
We can strum it and drum it
And have us a blast!
Oh the fun we can have with our past!
Make it a chain,
Pretend it’s a train
A chain on a train,
Oh what a pain!
We may claim it or blame it
And see how long that will last.
Oh the fun we can have with our past!

• however, I realized my time would be better spent reading commentaries
– verses 1-2 are God gives instructions to Moses
• in verses 3-16, Moses delivers God’s instructions to the people

Some things from the past we must never forget

This is a day to remember – there are defining moments in life
– turning points – we wouldn’t be here today if not for what happened back then
• in our spiritual journey, this include our God-encounters
◦ God was disappointed with Solomon because he forgot their encounters

The LORD was very angry with Solomon, for his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice (1 Ki. 11:9)

• if I refresh my memories of those events, I am reassured and encouraged
– “remember” is “to be mindful of,” to hold in our thoughts
• in a sense, remembering is to make presence in the here and now

Of course, the “day” Moses was talking about was long time ago
– but this is important too
• the first thing Moses said at the burning bush was, “Who am I?”
◦ this was a rhetorical question that implied, “I am a nobody”
◦ this a typical response to God’s call
“I am a nobody and come from a family of nobodies” (cf. Jdg. 6:15; 1 Sam. 9:21)
• I may have some special or cherished memories,
◦ but there’s nothing in my background big enough to produce greatness
– do you see what God is doing here?
• he ties us to a past that is bigger than our own
◦ it is not only my past that defines me,
◦ but God’s past, and his past with his people
• our story is a continuation of this much larger story
◦ our past includes the life of Jesus and all that he did and taught

How will we remember this past? with rituals and reminders
– that’s what this “boring” part of the chapter is about
• Moses repeats God’s instructions for an annual memorial
◦ this will refresh Israel’s collective memory
• but God adds another ritual that will refresh personal memory
◦ and this will occur with every birth of a firstborn male
Dedicate means to set apart as holy
◦ God marks a person or object, so that it belongs to him and one else
– those are the rituals
• the reminders bring us to our next point

Some things from the past provide an education (14-15)

Verses 8-16 are framed by four statements:
– tell your children, left Egypt, a mighty hand, and wear it
(on your hand and between your eyes)
• we have already gone over the importance of passing the story on
• so let’s look at that part about wearing it

This ceremony will be like a mark branded on your hand or your forehead. It is a reminder that the power of the LORD’s mighty hand brought us out of Egypt (v. 16)

– in scripture, body parts refer to the functions they perform
• for example, “in the eyes of God” means “in God’s sight”
◦ eyes represent the entire range of sight, physical and mental
◦ perception of things, focus of attention, insight, understanding and so on
• the hand is a person’s power to do things
◦ the active agent of the will

What God wanted was for his revelation to be the major influence in the lives of his people

The dedication of every firstborn male to God would be a reminder they touched with their hands and kept in front of their eyes. The point is that repeating specific actions that were outside the normal chores for maintaining their lives would affect:
• How they viewed their world and themselves in it
• Everything they did and they went about doing those things
God was telling them, “Look at everything through this lens and handle everything with this knowledge and understanding in mind.”

– God wants to get his truth into our bodies
• and to do so in a way that changes and shapes us; that reaches our hands and feet
– so when the children ask, “What does this all mean?”
• the answer is, “Because this reminds us who we are and to whom we belong”

Some things from the past we carry with us, but not forever

We return to the story in verse 17 – Israel begins the journey into the wild
– verse 19 recalls a scene from Genesis – Joseph’s dying words (Gen. 51:25)
• his brothers swore the oath, but their descendants had to fulfill it
• we owe specific obligations to the past
◦ but once we’ve fulfilled them, we can lay them to rest

Imagine not only the obligation but also the misery Joseph would have laid on Israel of he had said, “Take my bones back to Canaan and make sure you bring them to the temple every Sabbath and with you for ever festival, holiday and family reunion”

– some people become slaves to religious traditions
• a tradition is not the same thing as a commandment

Jesus replied, “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God?” (Mt. 15:3)

• it is not only traditions we are eventually able to lay aside
◦ Paul wrote,

Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian (Gal. 3:24-25)

◦ if you’re carrying a religious burden that’s crushing you, discern whether or not it is time to lay it down

Some things from the past we totally abandon

Two times in this chapter Moses refers to Egypt as the place of our slavery
– in other words, the place and the condition of their lives in that place
• and both, they were to leave behind forever
• there is a passive forgetting of the past, but also an active forgetting

. . . I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us (Php. 3:13-14)

– the majority of our daily activity is habit
• this includes habitual thoughts and emotions
◦ “forgetting” them means first becoming aware of them
◦ then working to un-wire them from our brains and bodies

I think some people are surprised to hear that everyone has addictions
– I do not mean our facetious addictions “to chocolate” or reruns of “I love Lucy”
• with every thought or action, chemicals are released in our bodies
◦ neurochemicals in brain and hormonal chemicals in the bloodstream
◦ these chemicals produce specific feelings
• some people get their high from shop-lifting, others from gossip
(for others, it’s a job requirement – adrenaline to maintain creativity or reach daily deadlines)
◦ the more we engage in the same the more it is engraved in the brain and body
◦ and the more we become addicted – even though the high diminishes
– we need help with our addictions
• we need someone to give us a hand
• and four times in this chapter we read that God rescued Israel with his mighty hand
◦ I cannot emphasize strongly enough the strength we receive from God Spirit to spirit

Conclusion: One last lesson about the past

The LORD went ahead of them. He guided them during the day with a pillar of cloud, and he provided light at night with a pillar of fire. This allowed them to gravel by day or by night. Exodus 13:21

Our way is into the future
– God does not mean for us to be stuck in the past
• or to regress to a former stage in life

Years ago, I bumped into a friend of mine whose devotion to God I admired
– but she surprised me when she said, “Fundamentalism will never work for me again”
• I was shocked at first, but later on I realized how true it was for me
• in fact, it brought me a sense of relief and freedom
– in verse 17, God saw that the way forward was going to be difficult for Israel
• so he softened it a bit to help them succeed
• God’s leading is not always so obvious as the pillar of cloud and fire
◦ but he is nevertheless mapping our way as well
◦ and each day his will unfolds in our lives a little more

The past plays a significant role in who we are
– and thank God for the ministry of Jesus within us
• he reconciles us to our past, redeems our past,
• he gets us past our past, and rewrites our past
◦ by providing us with a new “personal narrative,” he changes how the past affects us
– the past is significant for telling us who we are, but it isn’t everything
• and it is not the ultimate determinant influence
• our future can have an even greater influence on our identity
◦ this is what it means to know who you are:
◦ to know where you’ve come from and where you’re going (cf. Jn. 8:14)

It is for our the sake of becoming new persons,
the formation of new identities in Jesus Christ,
and it is for our futures, our destinies
that we make use of some things past
and leave other things behind–

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