When I decided to attend Manhattan Christian College, I knew only one other person; one of my pastors had a daughter who attended MCC, but that was it. So, in the guy’s dorm, I was alone. I knew no one.
To make matters worse, I was a momma’s boy. I make no apologies for that; I remain a momma’s boy (though to a lesser degree). At college that first week, I was so homesick.
All of this—not knowing anyone really and being more homesick than I’d ever been—really did a number on me. I almost left and moved back home; honestly. I was that close.
And then my RA, Cory Kitch, came to the rescue. It was my birthday that first week of college (which didn’t help matters), and knowing I was homesick, he ordered a bunch of pizzas and threw a party. Cory did make one crucial mistake: he put one of the Star Wars movies on thinking I’d enjoy that (he was very wrong—couldn’t have picked a worse movie for me).
Star Wars aside, Cory really did help me feel like I belonged. That was the genius of the boy’s dorm. Third Floor South (3FS) was the floor for all the misfits. We weren’t jocks or musicians or intellects; we were leftovers (“Do you play soccer?” “Nope” “Basketball? Nope.” “Are you a musician?” “Ha, no.” “Are you study-intensive?” “Nah...”)
So they put us all together. And it worked.
A bunch of square pegs found a place they belonged. I had not been alone in feeling like I didn’t belong. Turns out I belonged with a bunch of others who didn’t belong anywhere else either. I found my place, settled in rather comfortably, and truly belonged.
>There’s something about belonging; feeling as if you belong where you’re at is powerful. And to know where you belong, to know that you belong with this certain group of people is huge.
Belonging is a major part of one’s identity. And this had been missing for the Israelites. For several generations, they had been slaves in Egypt. They had forgotten this part of their identity. Their sense of belonging had been ripped away from them.
The Israelites need to know, they need to be reminded who they belong to (to whom they belong).
They don’t belong to Pharaoh, though Pharaoh and the Egyptians probably thought of the Israelites as their property, their possession.
They don’t belong to Pharaoh, no matter how it might seem; they belong to God—always and forever. God gives them several reminders about their belonging, because belonging is so important.
>If you have your Bible (and I hope you do) please turn with me to Exodus Chapter 13. And if you’re able and willing, please stand with me for the reading of God’s Holy Word; out of reverence for Him, we stand ready to hear from Him. Exodus 13:1-2, 11-16:
1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether human or animal.”
11 “After the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites and gives it to you, as he promised on oath to you and your ancestors, 12 you are to give over to the Lord the first offspring of every womb. All the firstborn males of your livestock belong to the Lord. 13 Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem every firstborn among your sons. 14 “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt. This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’ 16 And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”
May the Lord add His blessing to the reading of His Holy Word!
Our text for this morning begins with one of those church-y words: consecrate.
Consecrate to me…says the Lord.
A good definition for consecrate is “make holy by giving to God.”
The Lord, then, is telling His people to give to Him the firstborn child and firstborn animal.
But why? What interest does the Lord have the firstborn child and firstborn animal?
Why does the Lord want them consecrated to Him?
Because they belong to Him. They, and all they represent, belong to the Lord.
2 “Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether human or animal.”
12 you are to give over to the Lord the first offspring of every womb. All the firstborn males of your livestock belong to the Lord.
The Lord makes clear that all the firstborn belong to Him. And then Moses relays to the people that the first offspring of every womb belongs to the the Lord.
Consecration is about belonging; these firstborn belong to the Lord.
“God, here and elsewhere claims ownership of the firstborn of humans and animals, which their families were required to present to Him as His property.” - Douglas K. Stuart
We know that it’s not just the firstborn that belongs to the Lord; they all belong to Him.
But by consecrating the firstborn generation after generation, they are reminded of that truth: “We all belong to Him.”
The firstborn represents the whole family.
In the ANE, in the time of the OT, this was especially the case. The firstborn represents the whole.
Likewise, the firstfruits of a crop represented the whole crop; the firstfruits were offered as a sacrifice in recognition that God provided all of it.
This is why we bring the firstfruits of our paychecks and give it to the Lord. It’s not that the Lord owns only that first 10%, rather, He owns all of it; the firstfruits represent the whole. We put this money in the offering plate, we write that check and we’re reminded that it all—every dime—belongs to Him.
You understand what a representative does (or should do). Politicians don’t often illustrate this well.
But, think about a football team or basketball team and their team captain(s).
Have any of you ever been the captain of a team? Barrett was never the captain of any team. The captains were almost always my friends, Lane Little and Adam Melichar; the superior athletes and undisputed leaders of the team.
The team captain represents the whole team. They walk to the middle of the field, call the coin toss, elect to kick or receive. Their decision is a decision made on behalf of the whole team.
A representative stands for the whole.
If the firstborn of every womb—human or animal—belongs to God, then everyone belongs to God.
“They belong to me,” says the Lord—because He brought them out of Egypt.
What happened to Egypt’s firstborn?
That 10th and deadliest of the plagues the Lord visited upon Egypt claimed the lives of all the firstborn in Egypt. But the Israelites were spared.
Here, now, we have the Lord claiming the lives of all the firstborn among the Israelites, just in a different way.
The Lord isn’t going to wipe-out or destroy the Israelites. But He is going to make a point.
“They belong to me,” says the Lord.
So He tells His people to give over to Him the firstborn. The words give over can be translated pass over.
Verse 12: You are to pass over to the Lord the first offspring of every womb.
The Lord couldn’t be more clear; just as He passed over the Israelites in the 10th plague, now the Israelites are to pass over their offspring to Him.
They are to offer the firstborn of the livestock to the Lord—sheep and cattle, for instance, would be sacrificed. The firstborn of the Israelites is not to be sacrificed, but to be redeemed. Same goes for the donkey.
Make whatever spiritual or attitudinal comparison between humans and donkeys you’d like, but understand: they were both to be redeemed—that is, an offering was to be made in their place.
You don’t eat a donkey like you could the majority of your livestock. It was an animal used for work but not for eating.
A firstborn animals could not simply be kept from God for one’s own use—either for working or for eating. It belonged to God, so if it wasn’t redeemed (if an offering wasn’t made in its place), it must be destroyed: break its neck.
Instead of sacrificing the firstborn Israelite, a lamb would be offered in its place; five sanctuary shekels could also be paid in exchange.
This is an action reflecting God’s right of ownership; it’s expressed in a spiritual attitude of submission.
Joseph and Mary took the baby Jesus and presented Him in the temple, making a sacrifice:
22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
The people of God expressed their belonging by sacrificing the firstborn of their livestock and by redeeming the firstborn of their offspring (lit: buying back with the payment of a substitute).
This was the Lord’s plan. These are His instructions, because all of this is preparation.
This is the Lord preparing His people for the death of Christ on their behalf.
Granted, the Israelites who are getting ready to wander in the desert for 40 years don’t grasp this fully (only just vaguely), but everything they’ve been through is a picture, a glimpse, a hint of something better to come.
They’ve been “redeemed, redeemed, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.” They’ve been bought at a price, purchased from slavery. A substitute has effectively taken their place.
We talk “substitutionary atonement” in our middle school Sunday School class often, because why wouldn’t you?
You kids are smarter than most people realize. You can understand complex technology and intricately drawn-up football and basketball plays scribbled by a coach on a clipboard; there’s no sense dumbing-down theology for you.
This is why we talk “substitutionary atonement” all the time.
Kids know all about substitutes. They regularly have substitute teachers at school.
Some subs are good. Some not so good. Some might be great, but still not as good as the teacher they’re subbing for. No sub is an effective substitute for Mrs. Gayman, this I know.
There are plenty of bad substitutes in this world.
Nothing diet tastes half as good as its un-diet counterpart. Think about it.
Who prefers frozen yogurt to ice cream?
It’s an ineffective substitute.
Or what about gluten-free “pizza crust”?
Meghann’s mom made a “pizza crust” out of cauliflower. It tasted pretty good, but it wasn’t “pizza crust.” Now, I love cauliflower. Cauliflower it up! Cauliflower all the way—but don’t call it “pizza crust” because it’s not pizza.
Invite me over for cheesy cauliflower flatbread whatever, but don’t entice me with pizza and give me that. It’s not pizza!
It’s an ineffective substitute.
The Lord instructs the Israelites to offer a substitute for the firstborn, as a recognition of their belonging to Him.
He accepts their substitute of lamb and/or payment; their redemption is sufficient. They pay a price for their firstborn. And the Lord is satisfied.
All of this points to Jesus and the redemption He would make. Jesus, our substitute, came and took our place, paying the price for our sins and sinful condition. He offered Himself in our stead; He bought us back. And the Lord was satisfied.
Writing to some of the earliest Christians, the apostle Paul borrows some language from Exodus. Twice (1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:23) Paul tells the early church: You were bought at a price!
This is our story. You, Christian, were bought at a price. Jesus picked-up the check and paid it in full.
You were bought at a price and you are not your own. Just like the Israelites, you belong to Him.
You’re free from your slavery to sin, but now you are to serve Him. Jesus is your Lord, your Master.
This means that you cannot go on doing whatever you please. You are not your own. You’ve been purchased with the precious blood of Jesus. Paul says, You were bought at a price, and continues saying:
20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
You, Christian, belong to Him. The Israelites belonged to Him. This is why they consecrated the firstborn, why they were to give over to the Lord or redeem (buy back) the firstborn.
>All this sacrificing would, no doubt, get the attention of inquisitive young children.
Every time an animal gave birth—a sacrifice. Every time a mother gave birth to her firstborn child—to the temple they would go, to redeem (buy back) the child.
“What does this mean? Why do we do this?” Kids ask these questions all the time.
The young child watched his mother preparing the Easter ham. She got it all ready, making a brown sugar glaze and affixing pineapple rings atop the ham.
And then she took a large knife and cut-off one end.
“Mom, why did you cut off the end of the ham?”
“Well, I don’t know, I guess. That’s what my mom did…never thought about it.”
So she picked up the phone and called her mom, “Mother, why did you always cut-off the end of the ham before you put it in the oven?”
“Well, sweetie, I cut the end of the ham because my pan wasn’t big enough. Why do you ask?”
Sometimes we do things for no good reason or without thinking.
This, though—the sacrifices and acts of redeeming the firstborn—all this was for good reason; every time they did this they would be thinking about why they did this.
When children asked their parents, “What does this mean?” they had a very clear answer:
“This is directly linked to the Exodus.”
“We do this now because of what the Lord did then.”
The reasoning was clear; the explanation was laid out for them:
14 “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt. This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’
“What does this mean?”
“This means our identity is that of God’s chosen people who were rescued from slavery in Egypt and rescued from the death of the firstborn by faith in Yahweh. We keep showing that faith by dedicating all firstborn children and all firstborn male livestock to God. When we do all this, we are doing something that reminds us of His powerful deliverance from Egypt.”
“What does this mean?”
“It means we belong to Him, to the One who performed these great wonders in Egypt. We are His and He is ours. This is why we sacrifice to the Lord.”
>We belong to Him, as children to a Father.
Twas the Lord’s work—His mighty hand—brought the people out from slavery; none of this was owing even a little to the people.
With a mighty hand (vv. 3, 9, 12, 14, 16), the Lord brought His people out.
With a mighty hand, the Lord just walloped the Egyptians.
The people of the Lord are soon to sing about this; about the Lord and His powerful, mighty hand:
6 Your right hand, Lord, was majestic in power. Your right hand, Lord, shattered the enemy.
His is a powerful and mighty hand. We, as His people, are to entrust ourselves to Him, placing our hand in His.
This, here, is a picture of God as our Father.
Do you have a memory from childhood of holding onto your dad’s hand? Before you crossed the road or as you were walking through a crowd?
Do you remember what it was to reach up for that big, strong, loving hand as it was reaching down to take hold of yours; your much smaller hand taking hold of his, maybe only able to wrap your fingers around one of his, his hand enveloping yours...
Security, safety, strength, assurance. With your hand in his, what could come against you? In his hand, you were protected, at peace, comforted, not a care in the world. As a child, it’s almost instinctive to reach for our father’s hand—we just knew we were okay at that point...
This is the mighty hand of our good, good Father who brought us out of our own slavery and redeemed us. “We have a Father; He calls us His own. He’ll never leave us, no matter where we go.”
“We are His children by creation, which gives Him the right to receive all our praise. But we also belong to God by salvation, which was the point of the ritual for redemption. God not only made us, but He also saves us. This gives us all the more reason to give our whole lives to His service. God is our rightful Father both by creation and by redemption.” - P.G. Ryken
To Him we belong, now and forevermore. We are His children; we are meant to cling to Him, to reach-up and grab hold of His mighty hand and trust Him to do what a perfect Father does.
Our tiny, powerless hand in His mighty hand is a clear sign of belonging.
We belong to Him and He is holding onto us, working for us; striking the enemy and comforting us at the same time.
>The Lord, good and gracious, wants His people to know they belong to Him—this is why He gives these regulations and instructions, so they know, so they know, so they know they belong to Him.
There’s nothing more I want than for you to have a sense of belonging.
I pray that you would feel like you belong here with this small part of Christ’s Church, that would feel welcome and loved.
Even more, I pray that you would grasp your true belonging.
If you’ve put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, you belong to the Lord. You are His dearly loved child. You’ve been redeemed, bought with a price. He has pulled you out of slavery with His mighty hand. You belong to Him, so live like you belong to Him.
Honor Him. Give Him all your praise. Trust in Him. Fear not. Spend your life serving Him and telling others about Him. If you know what it is to belong—to truly belong—you want everyone to experience that.
I know there are some of you here today who haven’t, by faith, placed your hand in the Lord’s as an act of childlike faith and dependence.
I know there are some who don’t know what it is to belong to Him.
Listen, friends, to the Good News: though you are full of sin, held captive by sin and Satan, Jesus has accomplished all that you need. He came to stand in your place, taking your sin, bearing your shame, absorbing the wrath of God that you deserve, dying your death.
When you put your hand in His, when you give over to Him your life, He washes you clean, making you whiter than snow.
And He stands victorious and presents you before the Father. At the instant you put your faith in Him, Jesus boldly and forever declares: “They belong to me.”
Put your faith in Him today. Put your hand in His mighty Hand. There’s no better belonging than belonging to God the Father as His dearly loved child. And there’s no way to belong apart from Jesus.
Friend, I pray you know you belong to Him.
If you haven’t, I pray you, by faith in Him, come today and find your belonging in Him.
And then, as His dearly loved child, you can sing, along with all those who belong to Him:
“Redeemed, redeemed, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb; redeemed, redeemed, His child and forever I am.”