Christians observe a sacred meal commemorating Jesus’ death. Depending on your tradition, it is called the Lord’s Supper, communion, or the eucharist. On his final evening, Jesus instituted this meal using two elements from the Jewish Passover meal–bread and wine. The Jewish Passover is a remembrance of God’s liberation of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. Specifically, it refers to the last of the ten plagues God sent against Egypt, when the Angel of Death passed over the homes that had the blood of a lamb on their doorframes but killed all the firstborn sons in homes not protected by the lamb’s blood. Jesus connected his coming death to this Passover story, that those covered in his blood would not know eternal death. After the stories of the plagues and the exodus, the description of the Passover festival, and the crossing of the sea, Exodus 19 tells of the Hebrews’ arrival at Mount Sinai as the end of this rescue operation and the start of a covenantal relationship between God and Israel.
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God Saved the People from Bondage (Ex 19:4)
God begins by emphasizing his liberation of the people, that he rescued them on eagle’s wings and carried them to himself. They had been enslaved in Egypt. God appeared to Moses and told him that he heard the Israelites’ cries and groans, so God was sending Moses to liberate them. The ten plagues of the exodus were an undoing of the creation story in Genesis 1. At creation, God took the dark, chaotic waters and brought life and order out of them. In the exodus, however, when Pharaoh refused to release the people, God unleased a series of plagues that took the ordered life of the great empire and brought it crumbling down into chaos and disorder. Like Genesis 1, the plague stories begin with chaotic waters (the Nile turning red and killing fish). While Genesis 1 ends with the creation of human life as the culminating act of order out of the chaos, the end of the exodus plagues is not life but death, the death of the firstborns.
With this, Pharaoh lets the people leave, then changes his mind and chases after them. The chaotic waters return once again in the form of a sea of water separating the people from any hope of escape as Pharaoh’s chariots bear down upon them. Yet God saves his people by simultaneously bringing order and salvation to them while bringing chaos and destruction to Pharaoh’s army. First, God separated the darkness from the light (with Egypt in one and Israel in the other), just as in the first day of creation. Then, the wind/Spirit of God hovered over the waters until land appeared (like day three). God created a way for his people to find life through the midst of the chaos, as he protected them. When the Egyptian army pursued through the waters, God removes his protective presence, and the waters returned to the chaos they had been before. The army lay dead and God’s people stood liberated and free. This is what God reminds them of as they stand at the mountain of God, the very place where Moses first received his calling to rescue the people. Now, however, God extends this call to all the people assembled before him, to those he had redeemed.
God Invited the People to Serve (Ex 19:5-8)
Now God invites them into a relationship with him. After reminding them how he redeemed them, he makes a covenant with them. If they fully keep the instructions he will give to them, then God offers them a unique relational status. Notice they are rescued first, then they are invited into covenant. This is a pointer to the fact that salvation is not based on our works but rather it is a free gift of God. God liberated the people. Now he invites them to show their thankfulness to him for that liberation by keeping his covenantal instructions. If they fully obey this covenant, then out of all the nations they will be his treasured possession. If they fully keep these commandments, then out of the whole earth they will be a nation set apart as a kingdom of priests. When the people hear this offer, they reply, “we will.” We will keep this covenant fully and fully obey these instructions. Unfortunately, the history of the nation demonstrates they do not.
God Called the People to Consecration (Ex 19:9-25)
To prepare for this covenant, God told the people to consecrate themselves for two days. They were to wash their clothes and avoid sexual relations. That is, they were to cleanse themselves and disrupt the daily routines of life in preparation and expectation of something new and marvelous. They were also asked to treat the mountain as holy (that is, to treat it as set apart). Anyone setting foot on the mountain was to be put to death. They were to respect God and not think they were on equal footing with the divine. This was his mountain at the moment. He was about to set foot upon it so they should respect it.
On the third day, the Lord would descend from heaven upon the mountain and pronounce the covenant. God promises Moses that God’s actions would result in the people realizing that Moses was indeed God’s chosen leader so that they would place their trust in him. Anytime Christians sense God’s call to a new venture–whether the calling of a new minister, the start of a new ministry, or a new pursuit within one’s family or one’s personal life–we should prepare ourselves through prayer and consecration. We should ready ourselves to listen for the voice of God and to accept his call.
God Pointed Toward His Ultimate Plan (Rev 5:9-14)
As we observed above, the people were called to fully obey the covenant yet none of them over the centuries was able to do so, save one. Jesus kept the covenant fully and he did so for all of us, whether Israelite or not. Jesus was the firstborn over all creation (Col 1:15) who voluntarily became Egypt’s firstborn to die in our place. He was the Lamb whose blood covered us and so allowed death to pass over those who accept his sacrifice. In the Revelation, the Song of the Lamb picks up this imagery from Exodus 19 alongside the imagery of Jesus as the Passover lamb. Jesus’ blood purchased us and so now we have become his treasured possession. No longer is this treasured possession one people “out of all the nations.” Rather, in Christ, we who are “out of every nation” are now one people, the people of the Lamb. We are called to serve him as kings and queens and priests. We are to serve God by serving our fellow human beings even as we represent him to the world. We are not saved for our own benefit. We are saved to serve.
Each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we should recall the words of Jesus. He said the bread was his body broken for us. As we partake of the bread, we should dedicate ourselves to acts of service that will honor Jesus by restoring his body and making it whole. What person do you know who needs to become part of Jesus’ body today? Will you consecrate yourself to service for that person, to witness to your Lord and Savior who died for them? Jesus also took the cup and said it was his blood poured out for us. As Jesus gave his life for us, we are called to pour out our lives in service to him and to others. Who in your sphere of influence needs your service today? How will you be Jesus’ priest to that person? Jesus set us free to serve. May we serve one another because he first served us.