Palm Sunday: Passover–Deliverance

Christ familyIllustration:  “Christ family,” by Marc Chagall, lithography on paper, 1959.

“Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household” (Exodus 12:3).

We take a break in our preparation for Passover to look again at the path we are walking. There is a great crowd gathered, and palm branches have been cut down and laid on the road. Jesus is coming into Jerusalem, preparing to celebrate the Passover. The crowd is jubilant, shouting their faith in Him as the Messiah, He looks at the crowd and knows that they will fall away. He is not their brand of Messiah. They are expecting a warrior king, a messiah who will bring earthly victory.

Jesus’ triumphal entry is reminiscent of the procession that took place at the first Passover. God sent fathers, husbands and sons out to find a perfect, unblemished lamb for the sacrifice. The blood of the lamb protected them from the death God had planned for Egypt. Now God himself brings in His own perfect and unblemished Lamb for the sacrifice. When this blood is shed, it will be painted on the doorposts of human hearts. As we look out onto the crowd, it seems appropriate for them to be joyful. They may not know it, but God is bring in His Lamb for them.

We turn back to our Passover preparations. On the Jewish Passover table today is a roasted lamb shank and a roasted egg. Both of these remind us of the lamb sacrificed to save the firstborn children of the Israelites in Egypt. The lamb shank reminds us that the temple has been destroyed and no more sacrifices are made there. Believers in Christ know that the perfect sacrifice, Jesus Christ, has been made.  He is sufficient, and no more sacrifices are necessary!

The shell of the egg is darkened by fire, just as the lamb was roasted. The shell is removed to eat the egg, and the pure and unblemished white inside reminds us to praise God that our pure, unblemished Lamb is alive again.

Prayer:  Father in Heaven, You are our Provider. Thank You for bringing Your Son, the Lamb, into Your house and covering our hearts with His blood. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  As you celebrate this Palm Sunday, remember that there are some who see the procession and do not understand its meaning. God’s Lamb was brought into His house for them too. Share this truth.

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Passover–Deliverance

The Israelites are eating the Passover LambIllustration:  “The Israelites are eating the Passover Lamb,” by Marc Chagall, gouache and oil on paper, 1931.

“Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, ‘Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you” (Exodus 12:21-23).

“Nothing is certain in this world except death and taxes.” Surely you’ve heard that saying. In just a couple of weeks, all across the United States, we are reminded that taxes are still pretty certain!  But at Passover we learn that death is not so certain.

The Haggadah picks up the story when Moses is grown.  He has heard God’s call and presented himself to Pharaoh with God’s demand:  “Let My people go!”  But Pharaoh’s heart is hardened, he did not free the Israelites, and plague after plague was visited on Egypt.  Finally, God Himself would pass through the land and slay all the first-born.  But first, He instructed His people to mark their homes with the blood of the lamb so that He would “pass over” and spare their children.

One of the elements of Seder is called karpas, usually a piece of parsley.  This represents hyssop, which was a leafy plant on a long stalk. The karpas is dipped in salt water, which represents blood, and is eaten. This tells the story of God’s instruction to dip hyssop into the blood of the Lamb and spread the blood on the “top and both sides of the doorframe.” God used this sign to pass over the homes of His children and spare them from death.

But death still followed us after that night, until the day on Mt. Calvary when hyssop diipped in wine vinegar, hyssop was raised again to a beam of wood on which blood was flowing. This was the blood of God’s Lamb.  By our faith in this Sacrifice, God has passed over us forever and given us eternal life.

Prayer:  My Lord, thank you for giving me the gift of life. Give me peace today knowing that all things are gifts from you. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  As we get ready for April 15, it is easy to moan about taxes and the government, and forget about the real issues of life and death that happen around us every day. Thank God for His gifts to you, even in his provision to pay taxes.

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Passover–Deliverance

Mother by the ovenIllustration:  “Mother by the oven,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1914.

“In the first month, from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening.  For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses. If anyone eats what is leavened, that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwelling places you shall eat unleavened bread” (Exodus 12:18-20).

This path we are on reminds me of the story of Hansel and Gretl. It is strewn with breadcrumbs–breadcrumbs thrown out of Jewish houses as they prepare for Passover.

Each element of the Seder meal is used to tell this story of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt, but first homes must be prepared. No yeast can be found in the home during Passover. For 40 days, Jewish homes are cleaned and the leaven is removed. Today, a little leaven is often taken to the synagogue and burned as a symbol that the home is free of yeast.

The time of preparing the Jewish home is akin to the season of Lent. As they prepare by scouring the house and searching every corner for yeast, during the season of Lent we scour our hearts, searching every corner for the yeast of sin. Physical yeast is removed from Jewish homes, and spiritual yeast is removed from our hearts. Unleavened bread, or matzoh, is the bread of affliction, a bread baked in haste as the Israelites fled from bondage in Egypt. But it is also the bread that brings deliverance. Jesus, born in Bethlehem (which means “house of bread”), will also be both. For our sakes, He will be afflicted and we will be delivered.

Prayer:  Our Father, You know my heart. Forgive me for the things I harbor and do not readily give to You. Thank You for the pictures You have given in the Passover, and thank You for sparing me the death I deserve. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  Take advantage of this time to examine your heart and give to God anything that burdens you. He will assure you of forgiveness through Jesus, the Bread of Life.

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Passover–Deliverance

Moses is saved from the water by Pharaoh's daughterIllustration: “Moses is saved from the water by Pharaoh’s daughter,” by Marc Chagall, gouache and oil on paper, 1931.

“Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, ‘This is one of the Hebrews’ children.’ Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?’ And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Go.’ So the girl went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed him. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, ‘Because,’ she said, ‘I drew him out of the water'” (Exodus 2:5-10).

At Passover, there is a dramatic retelling of God’s faithfulness in the deliverance of His people. To tell this story, Jewish homes will use a Haggadah. The Hebrew word Haggadah simply means “the telling” and it is the “order of service” for the Passover meal (the Seder).  This meal will tell the story of the Passover.

God raised up a deliverer named Moses, whose ministry started at a very young age and in persecution. Moses was hidden because Pharaoh, the king, was trying to destroy the Jewish people. Pharaoh had grown wary of the Jews and sought to destroy them by having all baby boys killed. Moses was hidden in a reed basket and sent floating down the Nile river. Pharaoh’s daughter found him and named him Moses, which means “I drew him out of the water.”  Moses would grow to be the man to deliver his people from the bondage of their slavery to Pharaoh.

Is it any surprise that God has chosen water as the element that brings deliverance to His people? He would bring another Deliverer, draw Him out of the waters of His baptism, and through His ministry deliver you and me from the bondage of our slavery to sin. When Jesus was baptized, His public ministry began, and it will end soon with his death and resurrection. Because of that God has drawn us out of the waters of our baptism and could rightly call us by the name “Moses.” We are delivered, and are also used by God, through the teaching of His Word, to deliver others from their own bondage.

Prayer:  Lord God in Heaven, thank You for drawing me up from the waters of baptism and delivering me from sin. Show me today a person who needs to hear about this miracle. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  Your baptism is a wonderful miracle of deliverance by God. Tell the story of your deliverance to someone who is in need of this miracle, and pray for his or her deliverance.

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Passover–Deliverance

The Israelites crossing the Red SeaIllustration:  “The Israelites crossing the Red Sea,” by Marc Chagall, gouache and oil on paper, 1931.

“Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians'” (Exodus 6:6-7).

Our journey is coming to the end. We can see in the distance a hill at a crossroad outside Jerusalem’s walls.  We have seen much along the way but have much yet to see.  The next festival will be Jesus’ last. The preparation has been long, but this festival promises deliverance.

Pesach, or Passover is often considered the greatest of the Jewish festivals. It has been the defining event of the lives of the Jewish people, and is often used by God to describe Himself as the One who has “brought you by the hand out of the land of Egypt.” This festival is probably the best known of all Jewish festivals, and has been the subject of many popular movies. The events leading up to this festival are dramatic indeed. All of them point to the deliverance of God’s people from bondage and the promise of a new home.

This is the last part of Jesus’ journey to redeem you. He comes to deliver you from the bondage of sin. He comes with the promise of a new home, a home in heaven with many rooms. You are nearing the end of the Lenten journey, but much must happen before you come to the empty tomb. You must prepare for the Passover feast.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, give me new vision to stay on the path and walk daily with You to the empty tomb. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  Often toward the end of the journey, our weariness tempts us to stop even when we are so close. We have walked together for 36 days. Press on to the goal. It is at hand.

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Purim–Persecution

Abraham and three AngelsIllustration:  “Abraham and three angels,” by Marc Chagall, sketch and study, 1964.

“In every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict reached, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a feast and a holiday. And many from the peoples of the country declared themselves Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen on them” (Esther 8:17).

The rest of the story, while a continuing story of persecution indeed, is also laced with wonderful ironic twists.  Human cast the pur, or “lots,” to determine a day to carry out his plan and he builds a gallows upon which to hang Mordecai.  He ends up leading Mordecai through town in a procession of honor ordered by the king.  Finally, Haman himself is hanged from the gallows he built in rage against Mordecai..  A prophecy spoken by Haman’s wife came to pass, and remains in the air for future generations:  “If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him” (Esther 6:13b).

Someone should have told him that a lot earlier.  Perhaps Haman’s wife understood the covenant that God gave His people through Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).

Even though Satan leads the persecution of God’s people, you can know that God’s promise still holds true.  Even though Jesus hung on the gallows built by the are of human sin and died, it was no victory for Satan.  It was his end.  Jesus rose from the dead.  Human and Satan both are destroyed through Jesus Christ, the blessing God promised to Abraham.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, thank You for Your blessing.  In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  How are you likely to react to those who curse you for your faith?  Rest in the assurance that God’s blessing is for you and those who curse you will be accountable to God.

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Purim–Persecution

Illustration to Nikolai Gogol's %22Dead Souls%22Illustration:  “Illustration to Nikolai Gogol’s ‘Dead Souls’,” by Marc Chagall, etching on paper, 1923.

“If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be granted me for my wish, and my people for my request” (Esther 7:3).

Esther gave heed to Mordecai’s request and his admonition that she must use her royal position on behalf of her people.  Esther chose the path of faithfulness to God’s people.

On any given path you walk, there are choices to make. Some choices are more difficult than others. For Esther, the path she chose is a harrowing one indeed. The easier, more traveled path beckons her to keep her secret. But the path less traveled calls her to reveal herself and place herself on the mercy of the king. She approached him with trepidation but nevertheless, interceded for her people to her king. The path she traveled has made all the difference. Her intercession is accepted and the king spared the lives of her people. She is favored and lived.

Esther may have been afraid, but she was also very smart.  She invited the king and Haman to a banquet she prepared especially for them.  At the banquet, after King Ahasuerus had drunk a little wine, Esther made her request.  First, she requested that the king spare her people.  Since he loved Esther, he readily agreed.  Than, Esther identified Haman as their persecutor, revealing herself as a Jewish woman.

The path you follow is the path that Jesus has walked. He also had to reveal Himself to people who threatened to kill Him.  He is the Messiah, the Son of God. He also approached the King, as He cried out in the garden of Gethsemane to be spared. We lived under a death sentence for our sins, but as Esther interceded for her people, so Jesus interceded for you and me. Our death sentence is not simply an agreement made between men and easily changed. Our sins are crimes against a just God, who demands a payment. And the One who intercedes says, “Father, take My life for them and may their penalty be forever paid.” Just as Ahasuerus was moved by love for Esther, so God is moved by love for His Son and all of His children. He allows Jesus to die, and in His mercy lifted our death sentence.  God raises His Son up from death as the first of His children to be resurrected, giving us a promise of life to come.

Prayer: Dear Lord, You know my struggles and the weakness of my flesh. Help me today to see Your choices for me, and to live according to them. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the Path:  What choices are you struggling over? Often the easier solution is not the better one. Pray that God would guide you today through your Intercessor, Jesus.

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Fifth Sunday in Lent: Purim–Persecution

DeathIllustration:  “The deceased (The Death),” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1908.

“All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law–to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live. But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days” (Esther 4:11).

Haman is certainly an evil man to devise such a plan to kill all the Jewish people in the Persian kingdom. It is traditional during Purim that as the book of Esther is read, when Haman’s name is mentioned, the people listening yell loudly, shake noisemakers and stamp their feet to cover the sound of the name. Often we will even put an H on the bottom of our shoes as we stamp our feet, symbolically stomping the memory of Haman away. While this makes the reading of the story more fun, it truly does nothing to combat the persecution that Haman plots, nor does it do much to remove his name from history. Action must be taken. Mordecai knows this too.

Mordecai put on sackcloth and ashes and walked throughout the city mourning very loudly to draw Esther’s attention. When she noticed him, he was prepared. He laid the whole plot out for her, even to the point of having a copy of the king’s edict delivered to her with a request to intercede with the king. But to intercede put Esther’s life in danger. No one approached the king without being summoned–the penalty was death! Mordecai’s response to Esther’s fear was concise. “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14).

Mordecai knew the promise of God:  the Deliverer will come regardless of our actions. But God desires to use us, and puts us in the right place to be used. Esther did intercede for the Jewish people and they were spared. But death will still claim them if they do not have faith in the Deliverer. Jesus came to deliver all people once and for all from the threat of death.

Prayer:  Dear God, thank you for placing me in the right place to share Your Truth.  Give me courage today to be your servant. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:   Has God placed you in a position to share the truth of God’s deliverance with someone today? Please do not remain silent.

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Purim–Persecution

An angel painterIllustration: “An angel painter,” by Marc Chagall, gouache and watercolor on paper, 1928.

“Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, ‘There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king’s laws, so that it is not to the king’s profit to tolerate them. If it please the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed, and I will pay 10,000 talents of silver into the hands of those who have charge of the king’s business, that they may put it into the king’s treasuries'” (Esther 3:8-9).

The road we walk is often shadowed in betrayal as well. Betrayal is expressed in many forms, but Purim is a festival that tells a story of betrayal that takes shape in a murderous plot to eliminate God’s people.  The plot begins with a plan to murder the king.

With Esther in the king’s court, Mordecai, with continuing concern for her well-being, is sitting at the king’s gate. It was likely his only opportunity to interact with his beloved niece. While sitting there, he overhears a plot to kill Ahasuerus, and alerts the king. Mordecai’s role in saving the king’s life is recorded.

Soon after, King Ahasuerus honors another man in his kingdom named Haman.  The king commands his subjects to bow down to Haman in honor. But Mordecai, as a Jewish man, refuses because only God is worthy of praise and worship. Haman is enraged and devises a plan to kill all the Jewish people in the land. The king, not knowing that his beloved Queen Esther is Jewish, signs the decree to kill the Jewish people.

It is unlikely that your life is endangered because of your faith, though in many places throughout the world Christians are being murdered for their faith in Christ. In Syria, Iraq, much of Africa and parts of Asia it is dangerous to be a Christian. But there the Church is growing faster than anywhere else. Your life is in danger too. If not your physical life, then your eternal life. In countries where it is “safe” to be a Christian, people are not in worship, and future generations are not raised in the Christian faith. Faith in Jesus prompts a desire to worship God and be an active witness to His glory.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, I confess that in my comfort, I sometimes forget the gifts You have given me. Quicken my heart to confess Your name and worship in Your holy house. Protect the faith of those who risk their lives by professing faith in You and deliver them from danger.  In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  Tomorrow is Sunday. Call a family member or a friend and encourage them to worship with you.

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Purim–Persecution

White CrucifixionIllustration:  “White Crucifixion,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1938.

“The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti (Esther 2:17).

The warfare between Ahasuerus and Vashti does not end in harmony. Though God is grieved when His children hurt each other, He is able to use the evil for His purposes. Ahasuerus grows lonely and desires a new wife, and there in Persia lives a young Jewish woman named Esther. She is a victim of the exile, and is living there with her uncle Mordecai, who is caring for her in the place of her parents who have died. She is beautiful and Ahasuerus chooses her to be the new queen. On Mordecai’s advice, she does not tell Ahasuerus that she is Jewish. Perhaps Mordecai desires better for his charge than he can provide, and fears that if Ahasuerus learns of her ethnic identity, she will be discriminated against and persecuted.

Jewish people have lived for centuries with the fear of persecution because of their faith and ethnic identity.  Haman’s plot, Syrian conquest, Muslim invasion, Spanish Inquisition, English Crusades, Russian pogroms, and Hitler’s Final Solution. All efforts to destroy God’s people. But God has reigned over evil, and has preserved His people. The root of faith has been guarded zealously by God, who patiently waits for his people to realize  that He has sent the Messiah for them.

There are many who would persecute those who believe that Jesus is the Messiah as well. The Pharisees, the Romans, the Muslims, Stalinists, and “modern society.” Persecutors try to deny God’s people the faith that God has given them.  But God reigns over this evil, too. The root of faith nourishes all who believe in Jesus, gentile and Jewish. And in the face of persecution, the root sustains faith and gives strength.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, guard my faith in the presence of persecution. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  We have many opportunities today to deny our faith in the face of discrimination and derision. It has become politically correct to support activities that defy God’s Word. But politically correct is neither political, nor correct. It is spiritual and a denial of truth.

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