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Looking Back, Looking Forward

Exodus  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Big Idea

Tension: How does God want Israel to look forward to their desert journey and ultimately their promised land?
Resolution: By remembering what God has done in the past in the Exodus.
Exegetical Idea: God wants Israel to look forward to their desert journey and and ultimately their promised land by remembering what God has done in the past in the Exodus.
Theological Idea: God wants his people to hope in the coming salvation by remembering what God has already accomplished through the death and resurrection of Christ.
Homiletical Idea: We look forward with hope by looking back to Christ’s work.


In a paper for the American Psychology association, a team led by Ryon C. Mcdermott set out to investigate the value of hope for college students. And what they found was that there were all these problems with college students: depression, anxiety, social anxiety, eating concerns (either eating too much or too little), hostility, substance abuse, and academic distress among others. And they found that all these problems basically were driven by two bigger issues. The one is what they call Attachment Anxiety. And someone who has attachment anxiety is living life looking for someone to cling to. They are like a barnacle in the ocean that is just looking for a ship to grab hold of. The other is what they called Attachment Avoidance. And someone who has attachment avoidance is someone who will not let himself get close. They are the lone wolf, and they have difficulties feeling attached to anyone. And both of these two, they go through serious problems with depression, anxiety, social anxiety, eating concerns, hostility, substance abuse, and academic distress. And what they found is that for both of these groups of people, the people who have a tendency towards codependency and the people who have a tendency towards isolation, in other words, these are people who cannot stand being by themselves and people who cannot stand being around other people, that the solution to both these things is hope. Because if you have hope, then you don’t have to trust in everybody else around you to fulfill all your needs. You don’t have to be codependent on another person. And if you have hope, you don’t have to try to figure things out on your own. You don’t have to have control over everything. Now here is the weakness of this study: they don’t tell you where to get hope. They say, hey here are some things that tend to be true, but they never say: This is how you can give hope and this is where you can get hope. So here we have this issue, we know that a lack of hope will lead to being overly attached on others or overly self-dependent, we know that either one of these problems will lead to depression, anxiety, social anxiety, eating concerns, hostility, substance abuse, and academic distress. So we know that having hope is how we prevent depression, anxiety, social anxiety, eating concerns, hostility, substance abuse, and academic distress. But we have no clue to find out where to get it. And the problem is that time is running out. With every passing generation, the suicide rate continues to rise. With every passing generation, the family continues to disintegrate. With every passing generation, we see debt increase, we see politicians come in and out of office always promising and never delivering, we see our jobs go away, we see our friends move on, we see our families disintegrate. And all these pressures rob us of hte places where we have put our hope and we have no idea hwere to find it.
So where do you find hope? Where can you find the peace that surpasses all understanding? Where do you find the strength to press on and press forward? Well the Israelites in our passage today had a similar problem. They had all these unknowns before them. They didn’t know how they were going to get into the promised land. They didn’t know how they were going to survive in the desert. They didn’t know how they were going to press on from hyear to year and generation to generation. ANd God steps in, and gives them hope. ANd what we’re going to see again over and over and over in our passage, is that God gives the Israelites hope for the future by showing them his faithfulness in teh past. God gives the Israelites hope for the future by showing them his faithfulness in the past. And we see this basically in 3 sections: 1) the feast of unleavened bread, 2) the dedication of the firstborn, and 3) the journey to the Red Sea.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread

Remember this day (1-3): The first thing that God tells them here is that they should remember. What should they remember, how God brought them out of the land of Egypt from the house of slavery. Moses specifically tells them to remember that God has brought them out with a “mighty hand.” He wants the Israelites to look back and to remember the might of God in slinging the 10 plagues at the Israelites. He wants them to remember his great works and wonders in the blood, frogs, the gnats, the flies, the livestock, teh boils, the hail, the locutsts, the darkness, and the firstborn. God does not want them to forget for a second his mighty hand, and how God has literally moved heaven and earth to bring salvation to them.
No unleavened bread: And God wants them to do this by not eating unleavened bread. Here, God is not saying never eat unleavened bread, but rather, during the feast of unleavened bread, they must never neglect it. The reason for this is that unleavened bread has a very distinctive taste. And every time they ate unleavened bread, they would remember the Exodus. Because it was unleavened bread they baked and ate on that night becuase they did not have time to wait for the bread to rise. And so God says, the way that you remember what I have done in the past, is by recreating those conditions, remembering what I have done for you. Because when they ate unleavened bread, they were trusting that God really would provide for them in the wilderness. They were trusting that God really would give them what they needed. So when God tells them to eat unleavened bread every year, he is trying to get them to remember that just like he provided for them in the wilderness, even now he will provide for them. He has saved them wiht a mighty hand, and with love he has nourished them. He will never stop providing for his children, this is what we remember in the unleavened bread.
God will bring them: (4-5) Now, notice here that directly following this, where God shows them everything that he’s done in teh past, he says, now here is what is going to happen in the future. Why? Because if they forget God’s faithfulness to them in teh past, they will not have faith in him for the future. If they do not remember how God vanquished the Egyptians, how will they have faith that God will vanquish the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, teh Hivities, and the Jebusites. How will they trust that God really will give them? In order to give them hope for the future, God remeinds them of what he has done in teh past.
They must not stop remembering (5-6): Now, here is what is important, God says even after this has all been done, even after I have brought you into the land you are wiaitng for and longing for, don’t stop remembering. Don’t stop remembering what I have done. keep this feast, in this t ime in this year, for seven days. Keep doing it, keep remembering. The reason taht God wants them to keep remembering his faith to them in the past is because there will never be a time in their future where they will not need to have faith. He wnats them to make this a yearly celebration because they will every year need to be reminded that God saves with a mighty hand.
You will teach your sons how to remember (8): ANd God continues, that they will need to teach their sons to remember in the same way. This is because their sons will need to remember. Their sons will need to know what God has done. Their sons and daughters, who were not aliv ein the Exodus, are going to need to remember the Exodus. The only way that can happen is if the parents pass this on.
As a memorial to your eyes and onto your hands (9-10): God says, not only this, but you will bind this to your eyes and bind it to your hands. Now, what exactly this is talking about is unclear. In early days, people in this part of the world would actually tattoo themselves with messages on their eyelids and on their hands. However, sometime in Jewish History, the practice of what are known as phylacteries developed, and that is where they would take peaces of leather or small pouches, and they would put bits of Jewish Scripture on the leather and in their pouches that they would wrap around their head and on their palms so that they could remember what God has done. So what exactly he is talking about is unclear, but what is clear is that God wanted them never to forget what he had done for them in the feast of unleavened bread.
Keep it every year

The Consecration of the Firstborn

When God brings into the land of Canaan (11): You will notice again that Moses sets out that they are headed towards the Promised Land. God here references the end that they are headed towards, he is going to bring them into Canaan. Notice here that God says he will keep his promises to them. He says, I am going to bring you into the land that I promised you. I am going to keep the promise that I swore. Now, here God is implying, “trust me. take me at my word. Believe that I will do what I say I will do.”
Set aside the first of the womb (12): So how can they have the trust that God will keep his promise? How can they trust that God will keep his promise? How can they take God at his word? Well, God answers that question by saying, “set aside the first of the womb.” God says whatever comes out of the first of the womb, the firstborn, of the womb, that is mine. I own it, I deserve it. Now, maybe you’re like, “Well, wait a minute, doesn’t that mean that they should will have to do this in the when they actually get into the land?” And not really. It’s more just talking about from this point on. So from now on God says, set aside the frist of the womb.
Redeeming (13) Now, God is not here advocating child sacrifice. In fact, we don’t even have to sacrifice every animal that is firstborn. Actually, whatever animal we don’t want to sacrifice, we should redeem with a lamb. Now, that seems cruel, and it will become evident why God wants them to do this in a second. But suffice this to say, anything that coems from the womb can be redeemedw ith a lamb. That a sacrifice, a substitute, a lamb takes the place of that. THat’s what that means.
The firstborn of Egypt (14-16): Now why do this? Because of the passover. Because in teh passover, every firstborn in teh family was threatened by the angel of death. And for the people of Israel, the firstbortn was only saved if he was what, redeemed with a lamb. That a sacrifice, a substitute, could take th eplace of hte firsborn, and be slain for that. So here we see something very similar. God tells them to recreate the circumstances of the passover. That is how they remember. They are to remember what it looked like, what it smelled like, what it tasted like. The substitution of the lamb for the place of the firstborn saved them in the passover, and it saves them after the future.
The firstborn of Egypt
Hope for the future comes from remembering God’s faithfulness in the past: See, what we see here again is that God wants to give them hope for the future, God wants to make them hopeful for his salvation in the future, God wants to give them the ability to look forward with certainty and confidence, so how does he do that? He reminds them of hsi faithfulness in the past. He reminds them of how he has saved Israel in the past, he reminds them of how he has ransomed them from Egypt. He reminds them of what God has done to bring them out of the land of slavery in the passover.
As a mark on your hand or frontlets...

The Journey to the Red Sea

God leads them through the wilderness because they are not ready for war: So Israel sets out from Egypt. Now, it is interesting, because instead of leading them to the land of Canaan by what was called the King’s highway, he instead decides to lead them down by the Red Sea. And we can even see, God says, I am doing this so that if they see war and they get afraid, they cannot go back. Now some people think that well, God was doing this as a concession to their fearfulness, but I am not sure that is what is going on here. Because God leads them to the place where he is going to do the greatest miracle of the entire book of Exodus. God is actually bringing them to a place where they will have the chance to experience hsi faithfulness.
Moses brings the bones of Joseph: Now you will notice hwo God gives them hope for the future. He has Moses bring out the bones of Egypt. It was probably in a sarcophogi or some kind of casket. and they are carrying Joseph with them. ANd the reason is that Jospeh had prophesied before his death that God would visit them and bring them out. And caryring Joseph alongside them was a visual reminder that God has not forgotten about his people. it is a visual representation that they have with them that God has not neglected them or spaced it, or forgotten them. No, God has kept his word to Joseph and to Moses. To give them hope for the future, God reminds them of his faithfulness int eh past.
The Lord goes before them, : And you will also notice that GOd goes before them in a pillar of fire and smoke. Now, what’s important to this is to see the connection this has to the Abrahamic covenant. You see, way back in the book of Genesis, 15, God made a covenant with Abraham. And what he made was called a suzereign vassal treaty. And what he did is he took a number of animals, and he laid them out in a straight line. ANd he cut them in half from head to toe. And this is how they would make a covenant, is two parties would walk through the middle of these two animals. And as they were walking, they would point to the animals and they would say, “May such be unto me if I do not keep the covenant.” NOw, when God makes this covenant with Abraham, he walks through with himself, as if to say that he would hold up both his end of the covenant and Abrahams. You see, God’s covenant with his people is all of grace. God both keeps the covenant, and takes the curse on his own son when the covenant fails. Now, here is what is important, is in the covenant that God made with Abraham, he walked through as a smoking fire pot, and a blazing torch. Do you see the connection to Exodus? In Exodus God moves before them as a pillar of smoke and a pillar of fire. In Genesis, God made the covenant with Abraham as a smoking firepot and a blazing torch. To lead them in forward, God reminds them how he was faithful in the past. To give them hope for the future, God reminds them of his faithfulness in the past.
You see, Christian hope is never centered in ourselves, and its never centered in others. Christian hope is centered in Christ. Because in order to have hope for the future, in order to trust that God will provide for us in the future, in order to trust that God will forgive my future sins, in order to trust that God’s presence really is with me, God reminds us of the past. You see, our hope that we have as Christians is based totally and truly in what God has already done. We see this throughout the New Testament. In fact, in the New Testament we see that we get hope by remembering the death and the resurrection of Christ.
Death: For example says this...
Resurrection: And says this....
You see, we in order to give us hope for the future, God reminds us of his faithfulness in teh gospel. And that is really the big idea of our sermon this morning: in order to give us hope for the future, God reminds us of his faithfulness in the gospel. In order to give us hope, to give us light, to give us hope for the future, GOd reminds us of his fiathfulness in the gospel, in the cross, in the resurrection. Dear friends, we can have hope for teh future by looking back to teh gospel. Because Christ has died, we know that no matter what the world throws at us, no matter who condemns us, no matter who shames us, no matter who ostracizes us, no matter who curses us, no matter who blesses us, no matter what the world says, there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And we can have hope for the future because in a world that is decaying, in a world where our bodies are falling apart and giving up, in a world where our jobs are letting us go, in a world wehre there is nothing and no one who is permanent and dependable, we have been born again to a living hope, we have a new world coming. And noone can take that hope from us. In order to give us hope for the future, God reminds us of his faithfulness in the gospel.
So how does God remind us of his faithfulness towards us? In other words, how does God want to give you hope? Let me give you 3 ways.
At Church: The first way that I wnat to show you that God reminds you of his fatihfulness is by coming to church. says this… you see God says hey, don’t forget to meet together as is the habit of some. Now notice why he says this: encouraging one another all the mroe as the day draws near. Now, her3e is what I see happen all the time. People are feeling frustrated or depressed or discouraged on Sunday morning, so they just don’t come to church becuase they don’t feel like it. Then throughout the week, they are frustrated, and depressed and discouragd all week. And then they don’t come to church the next Sunday. ANd it becomes this cycle of depression and frustration when to get out of the cycle, to really get God’s hope, to really get God’s encouragement, is by coming to church. The reason that God wants you to come to church every single week, even when you don’t feel like it, is because he wants to encourage you. You say, “Well I dont’ feel encouraged.” You never know how a song, or something that is said in teh communion reflection, or something in the sermon, might encourage you later in teh week, even when you don’t feel encouraged right when you leave. Coming to church gives us hope, because in church we remind each other of all teh good things that God has done for us. We sing to one another of GOd’s praises. We confess and receive forgiveness togehter. We partake of the Lord’s supper, a weekly memorial to God’s good work, we hear God’s word and respond. There is nothing else during the week which has as much potential to encourage you, to lift you up, to give you hope as church every single week. You are shooting yourself in teh foot when you don’t come.
In His Word: Another way God wants to encourage you is through his word. ONe of hte low points of Jesus’ ministry comes in . And Jesus has just fed the 6000 and they want him to come and be their king, and Jesus says, “hey now, I’m not sure you know what you’re asking. I am the bread of life.” And at this point many of his disciples left him. And Jesus turns to his disciples and he says, “Are you going to leave too?” And Peter says, “Where shall we go, for you have the words of eternal life.” Dear friend, are you feeling frustrated, are you feeling discouragd, are you feeling depressed? The Words of eternal life are in your hand. Read it, soak it in, saturate it, get an audio bible and listen to it. God has given to you sustenance for the soul take it and be fed by it. In there, God will remind you of all the good things he has done, all the ways he saved Israel, all the ways he has save dyou, all the ways he has cared for people. And though the way is dark, God will give you light for the path home.
In Prayer: Another way God I believe wants to give you hope, is through prayer. says this… now maybe you say, “wait a minute, how is praying reminding ourselves,” and that’s a good question. If your prayer is only about you and stuff that you want, then its not. In other words, if you approach prayer like reading your wishlist to Santa, then prayer iwll not give you hope. But if you begin your prayer by saying, “The Lord is at hand,” or if you begin your prayer by saying, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name” what you are doing is you are reminding yourself of eveyrthing that GOd has done for you. You remind yourself of all of God’s character and faithfulness and attributes. Then when you pray to him, you can trust that inwhatever God has for you in the future, whether he says yes to your prayer or no, that he will never leave you nor forsake you and that he will never do ill towards you. This is why says “Be still and,” what? “Know that I am God.” When we are still in prayer, when we calm our hearts before him, we are reminding ourselves that God is on the throne, God is in control, that God is God and we are not. And our anxiety, and our hopeless ness, and our fears and our nervousness, they will melt away like the ice in spring.
Dear friend, are you here today and you do not have hope? Are you here today and you are feeling anxious and worn out and weary and tired? Are you here today and you do not know if you can find the strength to face tomorrow? Look at all that he has done for you. Look at all that he has accomplished. Sit here and soak in his putting forth his son as an atonement, a sacrifice, a substitute for your sins. Sit here and marvel that he has brought forth his son from the grave as a new sprout, a new root, a new plant in the presence of hte Lord. Sit and be amazed. And see hope grow. Let’s pray.
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