Growth in this world is a product of divine providence and human responsibility. I
once spent a considerable amount of money on a rose that I had admired for a long time. Every
time I frequented my favorite nursery I made my way to this specimen. I would pause, admire it,
but back-pedal away as the price-tag startled me into reality.
But one day I came into a windfall — a wedding of a nonmember and a very generous
honorarium — and I decided to spend the gift on the exquisite rose bush. I brought her home as a
doting father might bring home a new baby from the hospital. Long before that moment of
arrival I had decided on the perfect location. I dug the hole, amended the soil, placed the “young
lady” in her royal palace, and covered with the perfect mix of soil and mulch. The beautiful rose
of my affections was now mine!
All I had to do was: water it, fertilize it, ensure that it wasn’t blocked from the sun’s
rays by too much shade from nearby tree limbs, feed it rose food, prune it, remove the dead
stalks, spray regularly for disease, and, then, pray for the sun and the rain. The bush died a quiet
death and so far no charges have filed against me for rosarian homicide. But if I had gone to the
bar of justice, the judge might have leaned over and told me, “I have no doubt that you loved her.
Yet, you must have known: a rose needs care! God gave the rain and the sun. The Creator gave
the divine impulse to the root system and the stem and the bud, but God put it in the garden for
you to tend. And you, dear Sir, did not do your part. Get this man out of my sight!”
Okay. Well, perhaps that is just a bit melodramatic. But “a rose by another other
name,” as the Bard once said.i
The truth is God gives us a great responsibility to tend the garden — not only with our
roses, but with human beings. As God’s people, the church, we’ve been given a command to go
and all the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and the
Holy Spirit. That process of “making disciples” is one that involves all of us together, as well as
each of us individually. But how does faith come to our children? And how does faith grow to
maturity?ii These are but a few of the questions that are answered in the text that is before us
In Exodus 13 the Lord gives Moses a command. He has instituted Passover and now
adds the Consecration of the Firstborn and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. These are the last
great commands of God before the children of Israel actually begin their exodus through the
wilderness towards the Promised Land. We all know that the last thing said is often the most
important. While nothing is more or less important in the economy of God’s words, He does
emphasize certain things and he does so here.
It is clear that God wants Israel to remember and to pass along His great saving act to
the next generation in order that faith will continue in the world. We know, now, from the more
panoramic view of the Bible, and the birth of Jesus Christ, His life, His ministry, His death on the
cross, His resurrection and ascension, that faith needed to be implanted in the next generation
and needed to mature so that his Savior could come and bring God’s salvation to the ends of the
earth. What is also clear is that God has a plan for each of us — individuals, families communities, our churches — that allows faith to be implanted and to grow and mature so that his salvation will not only go to the ends of the earth but will go to the end of time.
This is where Exodus chapter 13 helps us. For in God’s instructions to the children of
Israel just prior to the inauguration of their great exodus from Egypt, He supplies us with the
biblical pattern of how faith begins and faith matures. This pattern is as solid today as it was
5000 years ago. This pattern is God’s divine pattern of salvation that has tremendous implications
for our churches, our families, and even the way we rear our children. Now, what are the steps in
Consecration (13.1-2 “Consecrate to me …” v. 1)
God told Moses to consecrate the firstborn. Iain Campbell commented on this passage:
“The consecration of the firstborn was a reflection, once again, of the total commitment of
the people to the God who had redeemed them. The relation between redemption and
consecration — between salvation and holiness — is explained in the passage that follows,
in which the redemption from Egypt and the rituals surrounding the Passover are in the
The firstborn emphasis here emphasizes God’s concern over the first things in life.
This is not meant to establish rules of primogeniture or any other genealogical implications. The
concept is a spiritual one. The firstborn points to consecration. And consecration is the response
of redemption. Therefore, we who have been redeemed by God in Christ Jesus consecrate
ourselves, our children, our everything, to Almighty God out of love and gratitude for His
redemption. As we grow in our lives and should God grant us a mate and children, we consecrate
those children to God as the response of a grateful heart to a Redeemer. And faith in our children
begins with consecration of the child at his or her birth.
When I was little I had gone through quite a lot by the time of I was five years old. But
some of the hardships that I knew became opportunities for my Aunt Eva to tell me, “Son, I don’t
know why these things have happened, but I know God has set you apart for Himself.” So, early
on the concept of consecration began to form my self-identity. This is key with our children.
Each time a little one is baptized in our church it is an opportunity to remind our children that
they, too, were consecrated to God. “God has set you apart.” In adults hearing the Gospel, faith
is, likewise, born and begins the cycle of growth through consecration. “God has set you apart to
hear the Gospel. How privileged you are! Blessed are you!”
The second step in the process of how faith matures is seen in the long section from
verse 3-13, but is summed up in verse 3: “Remember.”
Memorial (13.3-13; “Remember this day…” v. 3)
God gave Israel Passover to remember His Mighty Acts. He gave them the Feast of
Unleavened Bread, which is tied to Passover. Notice that the memorial act that they are to
perform not only looks back to what God has done, but looks forward to what God will do:
“Today…you are going out…and when the Lord brings into the land of the
Canaanites…which he swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and
honey, you shall keep this service in this month” (13.4-5).
So, too, God gives us the Sacrament of Communion to look back to the Cross, to the
place of our redemption, and to the future coming again of our Savior, to the home that He has
prepared for us, to a new heaven and a new earth. In a similar way, we use the Church Year,
especially Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and Reformation Day to “mark
time” with memorials. The worship service of the church, itself, is a memorial.
The reformed liturgy, following on the Western liturgies of the church, guides the
people through a sacred assembly in which we gather to recommit ourselves to the terms of the
Covenant of Grace each and every week, namely, salvation through the perfect life of our Lord
Jesus Christ, His sacrificial death on the cross and His rising again from the grave after three
days; we celebrate that whoever believes in Jesus Christ has already passed from judgment and
into life. The expressions of worship within the Christian church may vary, yet they must have in
common the essential element of memorializing our salvation been drawing us again to the
person of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is a third step in the process that is very important and related to the very thing
that we’re talking about:
Community (13.3 Then Moses said to the people …” v. 3)
It is important to see that throughout this passage Moses is speaking to the people of
history. Faith matures within a community of people committed to God and his salvation in the
world. Faith can become malnourished when we are withdrawn from God’s people. That is why
it is important, as the writer of the book of Hebrews tells us, to “not forsake the assembling of
ourselves together … and all the more as we see the day approaching.”
When a person comes to faith in Christ the person needs to be in the body of Christ —
within the local church. When a child is born and consecrated to Almighty God that is not the
end but the very beginning of the journey, and the journey must take place within the community
of God’s people, the body of Christ. It is within the community of the body of Christ that we
learn to forgive, how to receive forgiveness, how to care for others and how to be cared for. And,
of course, we are encouraged along the way.
Often times, runners will not run alone but will want others to run with them in order
to increase performance. In a similar way our faith is bolstered by the presence of other
Now there is another step in the process of the maturing of faith:
Mentor (13.14 “And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does
this mean?’ v. 14)
The Lord moves from the general to the particular, as we see that He moves from
dealing with the people of God to dealing with a single family. Faith in God, which started with
consecration, then was marked by Memorial, which grew within the context of community,
finally must come down to a one-on-one situation with a special person.
If I were to ask the congregation right now, “how many of you first heard the gospel of
Christ from your parents?” I believe I would receive an answer that is the norm: the majority of
you would raise your hands. That special person, that mentor or spiritual guide, is most often our
parents. Sometimes, when we were not granted the privileges of being born into a Christian
family, that mentor would’ve been someone else. Or, it may be that God used someone else in
your life besides your parents, even though God used them as incubators of faith.
It is so important for us to see that we are not saved outside of the church; that is
outside of the body of believers. We do not come to faith in isolation. Those who do come to
faith in that way make up the exception, not the norm. And this is related then to the next step in
Dialectic (13.14, 15 “…when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’”
God’s Word is instructive to us in this detail. The child has been consecrated to God.
The child is seeing the memorials of salvation. The child has been raised within a community of
faith where he heard the stories of faith, the teachings of Scripture, the holy words, the holy
places, in the holy activities of the people of God all related to God’s salvation. But there comes
a time when that child — and this time is not an age as much as it is a unique awakening for the
child, for each child— begins to associate the large narratives of God’s salvation with his own
life. And, thus, he takes his quest into his mentor, in this case is father. And he enters into a
conversation with his father that is based on questions and answers.
Socratic methods learning or not so much a way of teaching the way of thinking. The
Socratic method is a way for the teacher to guide the student to discover truth for himself. This is
the by introducing a statement. Allowing for a question. And then working through that question
to come to a new insight. The Socratic method is very much the rabbinical method, or the
method that we see Christ using in Scripture. It is very similar to the method that is used here in
this passage: a catechetical method of questions and answers set within everyday life.
“Father, what does all of this mean for me?” It is the beginning of the discovery for
truth in a personal way. And this must not be taken for granted. We must be praying for this
moment. We pray for children that is the see the memorials I live within the community of faith
they will come to ask this question about their own lives. We pray that our presence in the
community will also start this question in the hearts and minds of people living here. “What if
the message of these people is true? What if Christ lived and died and rose again? What does all
this mean for me?”
And this leads to the sixth step in the process of how faith matures:
1. Testimony (13.15)
We must remember that this entire section the Scripture that we are reading is Moses
giving God’s guidance on how saving, covenant faith based on His redemption will pass through
the generations. God has moved, in His teaching, from the larger community to the family unit,
and from the family unit to the dialectic interaction between father and son, between mentor and
protégé. The critical response is now seen: face matures as mentor explain the story of
redemption w personally involved in the redemption story. The father becomes an essential link
between God’s greater marriages and the personal story face of the protégé, in this case the son.
Our children need to see Christ alive in us. The community around us needs to see
Christ alive in us. As Leslie new big and said, “there is no greater apologetic enter congregation
who is living out their faith.”
The seventh and final step in the process of how faith matures use the climactic one
that we pray for and that is all together as supernatural as the first step:
2. Transformation (13.16 “It shall be as a mark on
your hand … a frontlet between your eyes, for by
a strong hand the Lord brought us out of
Egypt.” v. 16)
The father now tells the son the obligations of the covenant or upon him. He has done
his part. Is time for the child to receive faith and to walk with God.
The responsibility that you and I have is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ from
consecration to personal testimony, with the aid of sacred memorial and sacred community, but
in the end it must be the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit to transform the soul. The burden at
this point is, providentially, up to God and, humanly, upon the child to receive the covenant of
grace for herself. This may take days or years or decades. But God’s word will not return to him
The process of faith being born and maturing always comes down to the work of the
Lord through His Word. So, I want to conclude with the message especially for the children here.
Your parents love you. They bring you to church because they want to consecrate you; dedicate
you to God. The church is a place where others can gather you also believe in God and we can
encourage each other. We remember what Jesus Christ did for us whenever we take communion
or we see a baptism before us. We remember that Jesus Christ rose again from the dead each
Sunday when we come here to worship God. But there comes a time when God speaks to you. It
may be that God is doing that now through this message or it may be that this message will cause
you to want to talk to your parents. Maybe you just want to ask them, “what does all of this mean
at church?” And they will answer you. They will tell you what it means to them. They will tell
you that God saved them and changed their lives. They will tell you that they came to know what
true love is by receiving the love Jesus Christ. But then they will tell you that the faith God gave
them is not for you to have this well. Your parents can’t give you that faith. Only God can.
But the Bible says if we call upon him he will answer us. In the faith that he will give us is a faith
that believes that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and rose again on the third day. Is a
faith that says, “I know that I can’t keep all of the 10 Commandments, but Jesus kept them all for
me. Therefore, through his power I want to follow him and seek to all of his commandments all
the days of my life as a way to say thank you to him.” Maybe that is what God is doing. Or
maybe God is doing something else. But one thing we know: God loves you. He doesn’t leave us
to ourselves. He comes to bring us to a new place and lead us “out of Egypt.”iv
i William Shakespeare, “SCENE II. Capulet’s Orchard.,” SCENE II. Capulet’s Orchard., accessed June 11, 2016,
ii I am indebted to another for this title: see Carl Ellis Nelson, How Faith Matures (Louisville, KY:
Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989).
iii Iain D. Campbell, Opening up Exodus, Opening Up Commentary (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2006), 52.
iv Exodus 13:16.