Years ago, when I was young, I was helping my Dad and our hired men move some equipment home from some fields of ours that were about 10 miles from home. I was driving one of our 3-ton grain trucks which had a 5-speed manual transmission. Most of the trip home was uneventful, but 1 mile away from home, I turned a corner and instead of downshifting before the corner and then going up through the gears as I should have done, I simply left the transmission in 5th gear, coasted around the corner and then let the engine lug its way back up to full speed. By the time I turned into our yard, the engine was making a terrible racket and the truck died on the driveway. Steam poured out from the engine when we opened the hood. A later diagnosis by a mechanic indicated that the engine was shot and needed to be replaced at a cost of about $2,000. This was in the early 1970’s and that sum of money would be equivalent to about $9,000 today.
Later, my Dad asked me what I did and after I told him, he said, “Don’t do that again.” which is what men say to each other when they mean “I forgive you.” He paid the bill to replace the engine and I never heard anything more about it.
It always costs something to set someone free.
I invite you to turn now, if you have a Bible or a Bible app, to Exodus chapter 12. And the backstory to this passage is that the Israelites, through no fault of their own, ended becoming enslaved and were threatened with genocide by the Egyptians. So God sent a series of plagues which were designed to bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. If you want, you can underline or highlight the phrase “I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt” in verse 12. You may remember that the word “judgment” means “to set right”. And for God to set right the ancient super power of Egypt, He had to overturn the injustice of slavery, which was the foundation of the Egyptian economy, and He had to reveal the counterfeit nature of Egypt’s false gods and demolish their power. Egypt’s power came from an unholy source and was therefore demonic, and that power needed to be shattered to set free both the Israelites, and the Egyptians.
The sixth plague, the plague of hail, which did not fall in the area where the Israelites lived, was different from most of the other plagues in that the Egyptians who believed what Moses said were given an opportunity to take an action step of faith and reduce their losses by bringing their livestock and servants in from the fields and putting them under shelter to protect them from the hail that was to come. Faith always means responding to what is declared by taking an action step that is consistent with what one hears and believes. The tenth and last plague was similar to the sixth in that it also offered a way out through an action step of faith. But this plague would be universal throughout the land of Egypt. This time, everyone, even if they were an Israelite, would need to take this action step of faith in order to be protected and set free.
It always costs something to set someone free. And the cost of setting the Israelites free was paid for by God. He gave instructions that each family was to set aside a year-old lamb without defects and take special care of it for four days. Then on the fourth day, the lamb was slaughtered at twilight and its blood was spread with a hyssop branch on the vertical side posts and the horizontal top post of the door of the family home. It was in the family home that each family ate the special Passover meal that God instituted for the children of Israel and no one was supposed to leave the home until morning. And so, while each family remained inside their blood-marked house, God traveled throughout the land of Egypt and struck down the first-born of both people and animals, but at each house marked with the blood of the lamb, he passed over. It always costs something to set someone free, but God paid that cost by providing the blood of those lambs.
The Passover is the greatest story of redemption in the Old Testament. But the Passover lamb that gave its life and its blood to set the Israelites free from bondage points forward to a greater Lamb who made a greater sacrifice to set countless more people free in a much greater way.
For each one of us, whether we realize it or not, is in bondage in three ways. First, we are in bondage to the sinful nature that we have inherited from our first parents. We can not help but sin to some degree in everything that we say, think and do. Second, we are in bondage because of the guilt and shame we have as a result of the bad that we do and the good that we do not do. We are condemned by our guilt and shame and that condemnation overwhelms us. Third, we are in bondage because we are estranged from God and from each other. Cut off from the only true source of life and lacking life-giving connections with others, we fail to flourish and be fruitful.
There is always a cost to set someone free, and that cost is always paid for by the innocent party. All the bad that we do and the good that we withhold creates a debt to those that we have hurt and that debt must be paid in order for there to be forgiveness, healing and restoration. Through my actions, I created the debt of the cost of replacing that motor, but my Dad, who was innocent, paid the cost of that debt so I could be set free.
Every time, we sin, we not only hurt ourselves and others, we hurt God by our hurtful actions against those who bare His image, we hurt God by our disrespect towards His glory and His character, and we hurt God by our disregard for his wisdom as our Creator. But God, the innocent party in this whole matter, has decided to more than pay the full cost of our debt so that we can be set free.
In the first chapter of his biography of Jesus, the apostle John records for us the words of John the Baptist who pointed towards Jesus and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Today is the first Sunday of the season of Lent, that time of year during which we reflect on Jesus’ journey towards the cross and what that means for us in our everyday lives. On a long-ago Sunday, as lambs without blemish were being selected for Passover, Jesus, the one perfect human being rode into Jerusalem as people cried, “Hosanna! God save us!” The ultimate Passover Lamb was singled out. Four days later on Thursday, as the Passover lambs were being slaughtered, Jesus prepared to eat the Passover with His followers for the last time. Passover began at sundown that day, and before the next sundown, Jesus gave up His life and His blood so that the angel of death will pass over us, instead of striking us down forever. Jesus’ blood was spread on the vertical and horizontal posts of the wooden cross, marking our place of safety and refuge. A hyssop stalk was used to offer Jesus a drink of wine vinegar as His lifeblood drained away from Him. With His last bit of strength, Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” And with that He gave up His life and died.
If that were the end of the story, it would be a sad tale indeed. But the really, really good news is that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day that followed. His payment for all the sin in the world was so full and so complete that death no longer had any hold on Jesus. His resurrection is a declaration of victory! All of our guilt and shame has been taken away from us, God no longer condemns us and Jesus has given us a loving and lasting relationship with our heavenly Father.
However, as good as that news is, it is nothing more than pleasing information unless it is followed up by an action step of faith. God gave the Israelites Good News of how He was going to preserve them and set them free. And yet the freedom that God promised did not happen unless the Israelites’ faith moved them to apply the blood of the lamb to the doorposts of their home. Then, and only then, were they protected and set free.
You can know all about the forgiveness that Jesus wants to give to you, but it will all mean nothing until you apply that forgiveness to the doorposts of your heart and live as if it is actually true. Because of Jesus, God does not condemn us. God forgives us, God loves us, and God adores us. And yet far too often, we talk to ourselves and we treat ourselves as if none of those things were really true. So even though God has set us free, we do not really live free. And then, because we are still in an imaginary bondage, we can never set other people free either. We can never love others, that is, we can never want what is best for them, because we don’t really believe that God really wants what is best for us.
And so my challenge for you, for the next week and beyond is to live every moment of every day as if you really are forgiven and as if you really are loved by God. Now you might respond to me by saying, “But I don’t feel like I’m forgiven. I don’t feel like I am loved.” And I would say to you, “Your feelings are not the final decider of truth. God is. So who are you going to believe, your feelings or God?” If you must, fake it until you can make it. Because faith is not trusting in your feelings or your past experiences. Faith is trusting in God, and only by trusting in God will you be free.
This past Friday, March 3, was the twelfth anniversary of the murder of four Mounties near Mayerthorpe, Alberta. One of those Mounties was Peter Schiemann, the son of Pastor Don Schiemann who was, at the time, the District President of the Alberta-British Columbia District of Lutheran Church-Canada. In an interview a short time after his son’s death, Pastor Schiemann said that he bore no ill will towards the man who took his son’s life. Let’s think about that for a moment. What did it cost Don Schiemann to forgive that man? It cost the life of his son. That was the price that he had to pay to forgive the man who killed his son. How can someone do that? There is only one way. Don knew then and he still knows today that both he and his son, Peter, have a heavenly Father who loves them and has forgiven them, even though it cost the life of His Son. Don knows that he and Peter have been set free by God the Son, Jesus Christ, and when the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36) Amen.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove on March 5, 2017.)