We are an Easter people! The God whom we worship is the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead! Alleluia, Christ is risen: he is risen indeed, alleluia!
God in the Old Testament is virtually defined not of course by what he accomplished through Jesus Christ but by what he accomplished through Moses. Our first two readings this morning were both about Moses. The first one told of his meeting God at the burning bush when he hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God; the second one told of the crossing of the Red Sea. At this service this is the only compulsory reading that we have to have each year from the Old Testament because the Jewish people recount it every year too at this time of Passover. How God, by the hand of Moses, led the Hebrew people out of slavery to freedom. The first of the 10 commandments begins:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land
of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” (Exodus 20.2)
This is the Old Testament definition of God, God is the God of the exodus and Moses is the dominant figure that we heard in the story, leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land.
So when the Jewish people sit down to eat the Passover meal at this time every year, when the bread is broken they remember Moses and the story of the exodus and the liberation of the Jewish people from oppression in Egypt and give thanks to God.
But when Jesus sat down with his disciples on the night before he died to eat the Passover meal he said:
“Do this in remembrance of me”.
God in the New Testament is not defined by what was accomplished through Moses but by what God accomplished through Jesus Christ.
God is now understood as the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead. This is the New Testament definition of God, God the liberator not from oppression in Egypt but from sin and death! Jesus is now thought of as a new Moses leading a new exodus.
The Gospel of Matthew in particular seems to portray Jesus as a new Moses; the struggle between Herod and the new-born baby Jesus is reminiscent of the struggle between Pharoah and the baby Moses; the flight into Egypt has Jesus start off his life as a child in the land of Moses; the Sermon on the Mount pictures Jesus on a mountain delivering the new ‘law’ of the Kingdom echoing the law given to Moses on Mount Sinai; and the whole Gospel of Matthew seems to have five blocks of teaching mirroring the five books of the Pentateuch.
But not only does the New Testament see Jesus as a new Moses but as a greater Moses, effecting a more total victory than Moses. The letter to the Hebrews puts it like this:
“Moses also was faithful in God’s household; and Jesus,
of whom I speak, has been deemed worthy of greater
honour than Moses.” (Hebrews 3.2-3)
How is it that the victory brought by God through Jesus Christ is greater than the victory brought by God through Moses? What is it that God has done through Jesus that is greater?
Because of the importance to the Jewish people of the story of their time in Egypt it is told with great care and delight. The build up of the oppression under Pharoah; the birth of Moses and his upbringing in the court of Pharoah; Moses as an adult fleeing to Midian after killing an Egyptian whom he saw beating a Hebrew slave; his meeting with God at the burning bush; his confrontation with Pharoah; the plagues brought upon Egypt until finally Pharoah does let his people go only to change his mind and pursue them to the Red Sea; there we heard how the waters parted to let the Israelites cross safely on dry ground only for the Egyptian army to find their chariot wheels clogged, unable to turn, so when the waters rolled back the entire Egyptian army is drowned!
Then we heard how Miriam took a tambourine in her hand and together with all the Israelite women, with tambourines and dancing, sang:
“I will sing to the Lord, who has triumphed gloriously,
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.”
But……..a fundamental question arises: who pays the price for Israel’s freedom? Pharoah and his army have to be destroyed so that Israel can be free:
“At the blast of your nostrils, the sea covered them;
they sank as lead in the mighty waters.”
Miriam sang. How does God feel about Egyptians lying dead on the seashore?
An old Jewish legend in the Babylonian Talmud was aware of this question:
“In that very hour when the Egyptians were drowned in the
sea, the angels wanted to praise God with a hymn. God,
however, praised be the holy name, shouted, ‘Human
beings created by me are dying in the sea, and you want to
rejoice?’” (E Moltmann-Wendel and J Moltmann,
‘Humanity in God’ SCM London 1984 p60)
When prophets subsequently promised the Hebrew people in exile in Babylon the new and final exodus into freedom, they developed various ideas about the ‘ransom’ that would have to be paid for Israel’s freedom. Is it far away people who will be sacrificed? Is it the people of Babylon who will have to pay the price? Who is to be defeated for the people of God to be victorious? And yet how can there be genuine joy in victory if the victory of the people of God is due to the defeat of some other group of people?
There is however in the Old Testament another answer to the question of who is to pay the price for Israel’s freedom.
The suffering servant songs in the book of the prophet Isaiah glimpse another way; in which God himself takes on the burden, and not just of Israel’s freedom from oppression but wider than that of human liberation from those deeper forces of sin and death.
God does this by sending his servant to pay the price, who liberates others by taking the suffering on himself:
“He was wounded for our transgressions,” Isaiah writes
“upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.” (Isaiah 53.5)
We are an Easter people and this is our Easter faith. The victory brought by God through Jesus Christ is a victory great than the victory brought through Moses because no people are vanquished by it, only death and hell; no people are defeated lying dead on the seashore, only sin and wickedness!
So let us take up our tambourines and with dancing, sing:
Alleluia, Christ is risen: he is risen indeed, alleluia!