“I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.”
When I attended Redemption Groups at PCPC, it took me all of five minutes to realize that each person who comes in the door struggles. Each one of us has multiple ways in which we love something or someone else more than Christ. Each one of us has moments of despair when we look back and realize that there are even issues that we struggled with today that we were struggling with ten years ago. Change comes painfully slowly a good deal of the time. I have been a believer since I was a small child, and still I waver between faith and rebellion–between freedom and slavery. Will I value the thoughts and opinions of others today above God's? Will I crave, no, need the “well done” from that client? From my husband? (Will I put off writing this devotional out of fear of how others will perceive me?) When change comes slowly and when I find myself again in need of forgiveness, where do I find hope for lasting change?
The Israelites cry out to God in their affliction again and again under the rule of Egypt. The glory they had enjoyed during the days of Joseph are long forgotten, and the people of Israel are tired and weary. When Moses returns to Egypt insisting that the Lord hears their cries and sees their affliction, they struggle to believe change is certain. Immediately, Pharaoh refuses to relent and let the people go. He increases their burdens and tightens his grip even harder, leaving Israel worse off than before. The Israelites feel hopeless. Circumstances are not changing. The enemy is still at large. Will God come through? God responds, “I will take you to be My people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians (Ex. 6:7). Although the people are powerless to change, God declares that He is determined and able to claim them as His own beloved possession. He will deliver them. God is the only hope for lasting change.
As we read on in Exodus, God does deliver His people in mighty, powerful ways and safely brings the Israelites out of Egypt. He fulfills His promise to give them a new land and to be near them. He frees them from bondage and calls them His own. But the story gets sticky again, and again, and again as Israel frequently returns to its old patterns. They forsake God's laws, worship idols, and prove themselves at many points to be faithless. But God stays with them, forgiving and disciplining them as He reiterates His promises to them. When they are faithless, He is faithful. Eventually their hardened hearts land them enslaved to a foreign people all over again. And all over again, they cry out to the Lord in their misery.
It is not so hard to relate to Israel's story. How many times have I seen the Lord move in my life? How many times have I cried out to God for forgiveness for fearing someone else more than my Lord? How many times have I returned to my old patterns of living? Wait, is this Israel's story or mine? Or yours? If it is our story, we need a hope for lasting change. We need someone who is stronger than our own ability, smarter than our enemy, so committed to loving us when we fail, and who can actually change us.
In John's account of the Gospel, he focuses in on Christ's resurrection. John shares this lovely moment with Mary who comes to the tomb looking for the body of Jesus only to find Him missing (John 20:11-18). She stoops in to look and sees two men sitting there, but no Jesus. All her hopes were placed on Jesus. She sacrificed much to follow Him these last few years and is now grief stricken that her hope is gone. Mary hears a voice behind her, presumably there all along, asking her why she weeps so. Mary turns to see the risen Jesus standing there, speaking with her, but does not recognize Him. She mistakes Him for the gardener and only realizes it is Christ after He says her name. Or does she mistake Him? Is it not fitting that the God, who promised all those years ago (from as early as the fall) that He had a plan to rescue His people and make them His own, would be walking in a garden, fully alive and new, pleased to be near Mary and talk with her? Again, He proves Himself to be the God who hears His people in their distress: “Woman, why are you weeping?” Again, He proves Himself able to overcome any obstacle, this time death itself. Again, He proves Himself THE HOPE for lasting change, this time for good.
Jesus is the only one able enough, wise enough, long-suffering enough, powerful enough, just enough, and good enough to be our hope for lasting change. When I am faithless, I do not need to fear whether or not God will finally decide to throw in the towel. We do not need to wonder if we are a lost cause. Jesus proved once and for all that our futures are certain. We are new. Do I believe this? Do you? Echoing the promise given to Israel, Jesus leaves Mary (and us!) with this assurance, “Go to My brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.”