This is a sermon I preached at Emmanuel Reformed Church in Springfield, SD on Sunday, May 7, 2017.
This morning’s reading:
According to the earliest Church thinkers, the Reformed theologians, and Scripture itself, Israel’s exodus journey out of Egypt into Canaan is an analogy for our journey away from the tyranny of sin and the devil, toward growth and spiritual transformation. And just as God Himself led Israel in the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire, God in Christ is leading us away from our old selves, which were bound to sin, and He is bringing us to Himself. And just as Israel had to wander through the rugged, inhospitable wilderness to reach their promised land, God leads us in the midst of a world that is harsh and hostile to us as we live our new lives in Christ.
In Christ, the God of heaven is our loving Father, and He desires our ultimate good.
After the initial excitement of the journey wears off, this process of renewal can be overshadowed by weariness and grumbling. Without a clear vision of the destination, the goal toward which we are striving, it can be tempting to do as the Israelites did, and long for what’s behind. After a month of walking through the desert, the Israelites had fully exhausted what little provisions they had managed to bring in their fly-by-night exodus from Egypt. And instead of looking ahead to the glorious presence of God in their midst, in the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire, they look back, romanticizing their slavery. They remember longingly how they filled themselves with meat and bread, but they’ve completely forgotten the back-breaking slavery under which they languished and lamented, longing to be delivered. Instead, they see that deliverance is too hard, too costly, and now wish instead that God had simply killed them in Egypt.
But God sees the bigger picture, and knows what His people really need most. If Israel had stayed in Egypt, suffering under what they remember as a comfortable misery, then the whole world would have been left in darkness and death forever. God was working through Israel to bring about not only their salvation, but the salvation of the whole world. Israel had to become the nation it did, so that out of its descendants, Jesus of Nazareth could be born, and the entire world could be delivered from its slavery to sin.
God Himself is our ultimate good, and He is working to draw us to Himself.
In the death of Jesus, God’s own Son, our sin and death were defeated. In the resurrection of Jesus, His life was made ours. In the events of Easter, Jesus fulfilled what He said He came to do:
“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
That abundant life is ours in Christ, the Risen and Living Lord. Of course, we have a particular vision of “abundance,” just as Israel did. Freedom from slavery, to them, meant comfort and ease; instead, they find themselves camping as refugees in the desert, starving. They cry out, and God listens, and feeds them manna, bread from heaven. The entire desert becomes God’s bakery, producing flakes of sweet grain for His people to eat.
God saw the hunger of His people, and provided an impossible solution. In the same way, God saw the great spiritual need of the world, and provided an impossible solution, “the bread of life” (John 6:35), Jesus Christ, God’s own Son made flesh. Christ himself told his disciples:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
God sent the manna to the Israelites to sustain them in their desert journey from slavery to their new life. But to sustain us on our spiritual journey from our old lives of captivity to our new lives in Christ, God gave us so much more than manna. God gave us Himself: the one thing we truly need to live, what we most desire in our heart of hearts, the relationship for which we were created. And in Christ that hunger is filled. The risen Christ comes to us anew this morning, and reveals himself to us through the gifts of Word and sacrament, to fill us and strengthen us for our journey together into God.
Easter people, do not long for your old lives of sin and death. Look ahead to the new life that is growing in you through Christ’s death and resurrection. And find here at the Lord’s Table the abundant life of God, offered fully to you this morning. Just as manna was not meant to sustain God’s people forever, but only on their journey to the promised land, in the same way, the sacrament of communion is not what we will eat forever, but only this side of eternity. This holy meal is a sign of the feast of love that Christ is preparing for us even now, the wedding feast of the Lamb for which we wait with anxious hope. As we wait, Christ himself is the host of this meal, and He invites you to receive Him in faith and in hope as everything you need for life – true life, abundant life.