If you could choose just one word to describe what you want people to know about you, what would it be?
Were you surprised by the first thought that came to your mind? Usually what we want others to know about us reflects what we most value in ourselves.
All of us are complex combinations of personality, spirituality, relationships, activities and much more. Yet we are defined by certain irreducible realities; these most basic realities reflect our true identity. Once we understand how integral these realities are to our identity, they come to the forefront of what we want others to know about us. They serve to motivate us, channel our energies and guide us through life.
The Jewish people experienced an irreducible reality some 3500 years ago. God had brought the Jewish people into existence, making precious promises to Abraham and his descendants. Israel was God’s from the beginning because He created her. But Egypt was the crucible in which the nation of Israel grew and was forged—and the Exodus from Egypt marked a pivotal point in Israel’s saga. That event set the tone for all that was to come: “… but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:8).
When God delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt He redeemed her, purchased her out of the slave market of Pharaoh and she became even more His possession. So Israel gained the depth and richness of her true identity when she was redeemed by the mighty hand and outstretched arm of God.
Throughout Israel’s history—whether in or out of the Promised Land—the Exodus from Egypt was the central event of Jewish experience. It marks the moment in time when the Jewish people became the redeemed of the Lord.* All else was to be viewed through the prism of this wonderful work of God. Every year Jewish people gather around a table to worship and to remember this event and to identify as part of those who were redeemed from Egypt.
This year Passover begins at sundown on March 25 and lasts through April 2. From the Haggadah (the book guiding our Passover celebration) we will read, “In every generation one must look upon himself as if he personally came out of Egypt.” This emphasizes the personal nature of redemption and so we acknowledge that we don’t belong to ourselves. We belong to God. But there is belonging to God, and belonging to God.
Whereas our defining reality was to be “redeemed,” so many of my people’s hearts are far from that reality. Jewish identity is defined by so many other things, traditions and values. Belonging to the community of Jewish people does not guarantee a personal relationship with God—in fact many in the community are not even aware that He exists.
For many, the Passover celebration is like a secular Thanksgiving with a Jewish accent—families gather for food and fun, but not necessarily much thought of who God is or what He did for us. “Redeemed” has become a dusty word in most Jewish homes and so, for many, the spiritual part of remembering Passover is lost.
But redemption doesn’t end with Passover.
As Jews who follow Jesus as the Messiah, we know that He has fulfilled the hope and promise foreshadowed by the Passover redemption. He did this through His crucifixion, death and resurrection. That is why John declared of Yeshua, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29b). Jesus is the ultimate Passover Lamb; through His death and resurrection we have been “twice redeemed,” purchased for God’s own possession.
Indeed, all who put their trust in Messiah Jesus can claim membership among the redeemed. We can celebrate that reality each and every day, but especially this month as we, the redeemed, gather together around the world to remember His death and celebrate His triumph over sin and the grave.
And yet, even these holy realities can lapse into mere formalities. It is so easy to let good things like family, special meals and various traditions slide from places of appropriate importance right into the center of our celebrations. How often do we hear that the real meaning of holidays is family and the memories we create? Family and memories are gifts from God, but they are not what we come together to celebrate.
All that we do for and with one another at this special time of year should enhance our wonder at Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s a time to dwell on what it means to be redeemed. A time to remember we are no longer our own. As the Apostle Paul wrote, ” For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians 6:20).
Paul was pointing out the seminal nature of our redemption and how it should shape our thinking, our behavior, our commitments and our relationships.
I have been thinking about what I want written on my tombstone if the Lord should tarry. Frankly, I can’t think of anything more appropriate than “Redeemed.” If a gravestone is one’s final statement in this life, I want anyone and everyone who sees mine to know that whatever my life counted for and whatever my physical fate, I am and forever will be the Lord’s.
I love the story of the little boy who made a boat, carried it to the edge of the river, carefully placed it in the water and slowly let out the string. Suddenly, a strong current caught the boat. The boy tried to pull it back, but the string broke and the little vessel raced downstream. All afternoon the boy searched for his boat. Finally, when it was too dark to see, he sadly turned toward home.
A few days later the little boy spotted a boat that looked a lot like his in a store window. He got closer, and sure enough—it was his! He hurried to the store manager: “Sir, that’s my boat in your window! I made it!”
“Sorry, Son, but someone else brought it in this morning. If you want it, you’ll have to buy it for one dollar.” The boy ran home and counted all his money. Exactly one dollar! When he reached the store, he rushed to the counter.
“Here’s the money for my boat.” As he left the store, he hugged his boat and declared, “Now you’re twice mine. First, I made you and now I bought you.”
God has that same sense of joy and satisfaction when He claims His people. Let’s rejoice in the loving embrace of our Creator. We are twice His. We are redeemed!
*When I say that the Exodus marked the time when Israel became the redeemed of the Lord, I am not talking ultimate redemption, which takes place for Jews and Gentiles when we are redeemed from sin through faith in Jesus.
Bob Mendelsohn wrote one for Jewish seekers, titled “Passover: The Season of Our Redemption.” It is a nice counterpart to David Brickner’s article this month.