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 it with the perfect mix of soil and mulch. The beautiful rose of my affections was now in her place before me! 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 slow, quiet death. 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 scolded me, “I have no doubt that you loved her. But, surely, 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. This responsibility extends not only to roses, but to 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.[ii] 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?[iii] These are but a few of the questions that are answered in the text that is before us today.
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 for 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.
So how does faith mature? This is a question that has received answers in recent days, even in our own faith community called the Presbyterian Church in America, that is led to some confusion. Because we espouse a theology that places an emphasis, rightly so, on God’s sacred covenant, some have felt that children born into this covenant not only received covenant privileges that allow faith to mature, but actually received faith merely by being born to Christian parents. This vision of salvation which is based on the federal headship of the faith of the head of household — typically, the father, but it could be a single mother — seeks to promote the truth covenant theology at the expense of other essential Christian doctrines.[iv] However well-intended that may be it is wrongheaded and leads to serious misunderstandings about the nature of faith and even the nature of God. On the other hand, there are some systems of doctrine that are popular in evangelical circles that essentially see children of believers in the same way that they see pagans. The children come to understand this, as well. Thus, it follows in this kind of denial of covenant theology that there must be an inevitable prodigal son experience that can lead to a “walking the aisle” like experience. This theological expression came out of the second great awakening and has persisted in American Protestant Christianity and is certainly not unknown in our own faith communities.
So, what is the BBC position? It was John Stott who called the simple, “mere Christianity” according to the Scriptures the BBC position: “basic biblical Christianity.”[v] 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 columns 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 this process?
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 foreground.[vi]
The firstborn emphasis here, thus, 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. This is part of why we baptize infants. We do so for the same reason that circumcision was given: in obedience to God to consecrate our children to God. Circumcision did not save nor does baptism, in infants nor adults. But, it is a sign of consecration.
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 the 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 bring 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, reshaped and crafted by people like John Calvin and Martin Luther and John Knox to guide 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 and his sacrificial death on the cross and his rising again from the grave after three days and however believes in Jesus Christ shall be saved from death’s Angel and 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 to 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 individual but the very beginning of the journey. In 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 were encouraged along the way.
Often times, a runner will not run alone but will want others to run with them in order to increases performance. In a similar way our faith is bolstered by the presence love other believers.
Now there is another step in the process of the mentoring of faith:
Mentor (13:14 “And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?'”)
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, which 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, 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.
Is so important for us to see is 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 makeup the exception not the norm. And this is related then to the next step in the process:
Dialectic (13:14, 15 “…when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?'”)
This is very interesting the way the Lord puts this. His 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 is 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:
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 in a personal way. The mentor himself – in this case the father –relates that he has been 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:
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.”)
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 two 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 void.
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 a message for adults and a message especially for the children here. First, the adults:
There’s a theme that is interwoven throughout this passage. It is a theme that is captured with the phrase “out of Egypt.” Moses uses “Out of Egypt” five times times. Out of Egypt is the title of a memoir by André Aciman. It is a book about a Jewish family fleeing from Egypt during World War I and what life as an exiled little boy was like.[vii] Out of Egypt was also the sub-title of a book by Ann Rice who wrote historical fiction about the childhood life of Jesus.[viii] Both of these works of literature point to an enduring experience: Egypt always forms the a key point in a narrative about our faith. Our faith is born and matures as we are on Exodus: coming from slavery, on pilgrimage, sojourning, going to a Promised Land. The writer to the Hebrews uses Moses and the exodus as an example of Christians in Hebrews 1123-28. So it is important for us to remember that faith matures in the context of the journey. Your story of faith is being written, now, where you are, on Exodus, from the place where you used to be, in between the place where God is leading you. And every trial and every heartache—yes, and every joy—is being being transformed into fuel for faith to make it all the home. So, don’t fret nor fear the journey. The One who called you “out of Egypt” will see you through.
Now, the children: 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. With 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.
The Lord God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, His “first-born,” the consecrated One. He calls for us to place our faith in Him. And through His life and His death the angel of death will “pass over.” And He will lead us “out of Egypt.”[ix] And Jesus will always be with us. He will never let us go. And He has prepared a place for us. And He will take us there. And that is how faith matures.
[i] William Shakespeare, “SCENE II. Capulet’s Orchard.,” SCENE II. Capulet’s Orchard., accessed June 11, 2016, http://shakespeare.mit.edu/romeo_juliet/romeo_juliet.2.2.html.
[ii] Matthew 28:16-20.
[iii] I am indebted to another for this title: see Carl Ellis Nelson, How Faith Matures (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989).
[iv] For a discussion of Federal Vision see Dewey Roberts, Historic Christianity and the Federal Vision (Destin, FL: Sola Fide Publications, 2016).
[v] John R. W. Stott, Basic Christianity (Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1971).
[vi] Iain D. Campbell, Opening up Exodus, Opening Up Commentary (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2006), 52.
[vii] André Aciman, Out of Egypt: A Memoir (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1994).
[viii] Anne Rice, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt: A Novel (New York: Ballantine Books, 2006).
[ix] Exodus 13:16.