Exodus New Direction, New Life #8
The Priority of God
Text: Exodus 13:1-13
The Rock Story
One day an expert in time management was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration those students will never forget.
As he stood in front of the group of high powered overachievers he said, "Okay, time for a quiz." Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouth Mason jar and set it on the table in front of him. He then produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.
When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, "Is this jar full?"
Everyone in the class said, "Yes."
The expert said, "Really?"
He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the space between the big rocks. He asked the group once more, "Is the jar full?" By this time the class was on to him.
"Probably not," one of them answered.
"Good!" he replied. He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in the jar and it went into all of the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel.
Once more he asked the question, "Is this jar full?"
"No!" the class shouted. Once again he said, "Good."
Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked at the class and asked, "What is the point of this illustration?"
One eager beaver raised his hand and said, "The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard you can always fit some more things in it!"
"No," the speaker replied, "that's not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don't put the big rocks in first, you'll never get them in at all."
What I want us to see from that illustration is the importance of knowing your priorities. Knowing and making sure you do the first things, first. For the Christian, knowing your priorities is vital to living the Christian life. It is a simple thing to list them, God, Family, Church, and then Everything else. It is easy to list those priorities but it can be hard to live them.
In Exodus 13, God proclaims His place in the life of the Hebrews by three laws, the Law of the Firstborn, the Law of Unleavened Bread and the Law of Redemption.
Law of Firstborn Exodus 13:1-2
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine.
God Claims Priority In Israel
God begins, as He often does, with a declaration of His will.He simply says, “The firstborn are mine.” He tells them to sanctify them, set them apart in order to serve Him. God makes His claim for priority in the Life of Israel by claiming the most important thing that belonged to the Hebrews, their firstborn children and livestock.
God’s Also Claims Priority In Us
God once again simply declares it, by fiat he makes his demands, because he is God.
Jesus Said it in Mark 12:30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
James 1:27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
James 4:4 Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
1 John 2:15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
I imagine that the Israelites felt the same as we do when we hear these demands of God and we have the same choices as they did in our response. They can ignore them, they can fight them, or they can obey them.
What we must realize is that if God is God, if God is God to us, then he must have first place in my life, because He is God. I am not submitting to a commandment recorded in a book but I am submitting to God as He speaks to my heart. What other response can there be except “God you will be first in my heart and life.”
We can try to ignore or deny God his rightful place but He will still be God. He will not suffer loss but we absolutely will.
Let me give you the example of Napoleon, who ignored God’s rightful place, at the height of his career, it is reported He gave this cynical answer to someone who asked if God was on the side of France: "God is on the side that has the heaviest artillery."
Then came the Battle of Waterloo, where Napoleon lost both the battle and his empire. Years later, in exile on the island of St. Helena, chastened and humbled, Napoleon is reported to have quoted the words of Thomas à Kempis, when asked about his life: "Man proposes, but God disposes." He had learned that God was God and God’s will would be done willingly or unwilling in all lives.
After declaring the first born of Israel as His, God then explains why He makes such a demand.
Law of Unleavened Bread Exodus 13:3-10
And Moses said unto the people, Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the LORD brought you out from this place: there shall no leavened bread be eaten. This day came ye out in the month Abib. And it shall be when the LORD shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee, a land flowing with milk and honey, that thou shalt keep this service in this month. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, and in the seventh day shall be a feast to the LORD. Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days; and there shall no leavened bread be seen with thee, neither shall there be leaven seen with thee in all thy quarters. And thou shalt shew thy son in that day, saying, This is done because of that which the LORD did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt. And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the LORD'S law may be in thy mouth: for with a strong hand hath the LORD brought thee out of Egypt. Thou shalt therefore keep this ordinance in his season from year to year.
God Claims Israel’s Past
God in his love for the Hebrews does more than just declare His place but He also tells them why His claim is just. God through Moses and the law of Unleavened Bread shows why God claims the firstborn of Israel?
God reminds them of what He has done in the past.
He brought them out of bondage in the month of Abib. The name means the greening of the crops. He tells them to remember these things through the feast of unleavened bread.
There could be no leavening in the house for six days and then on the seventh there would be a feast of unleavened bread. This memorial was to commemorate what God had done in freeing the Hebrews from the bondage of Egypt.
By this God showed his claims to their past and through that past to their present in the dedication of the firstborn to Him. They were his because by His great power He had freed their parents and grandparents. They were His because they owed Him their very life and freedom.
God Claims Our Past
As a child of the King we also have our past claimed by God. We have eternal life today and are free from sin because God gave His own Son in our own Passover of the soul. He claims our life in the present and how we should live it because of what He did in our past.
Romans 12:1-2 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
Paul says, this is our reasonable service. Why is it reasonable, because God has purchased us from the slavery of sin by the blood of His own son.
Peter who understood how much Christ had done in his life, has much to say about God redeeming our past.
1 Peter 1:18-19 Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:
1 Peter 4:2 That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.
2 Peter 1:4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
God has brought us out of the slavery of sin by His own strong hand at an even greater price than that which was paid for the Hebrews freedom. God lays claim to our present because of what he has paid for us in the past and we knowing this should submit to live in the manner that such a great sacrifice demands.
Law of Redemption Exodus 13:11-16
And it shall be when the LORD shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanites, as he sware unto thee and to thy fathers, and shall give it thee, That thou shalt set apart unto the LORD all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the LORD'S. And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem. And it shall be when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the LORD brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage: And it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the LORD slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of beast: therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all that openeth the matrix, being males; but all the firstborn of my children I redeem. And it shall be for a token upon thine hand, and for frontlets between thine eyes: for by strength of hand the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt.
God Claims Israel’s Future
The Hebrews were to come into the promised land and there begin to set aside the firstlings of all the males. They belonged to God. The firstling of a “clean” animal was to be given to the Levites and the firstling of an unclean animal was to be redeemed or its neck broken. While the firstborn of a man must be redeemed, there was no exception. The redemption price was five shekel according to the book of Numbers. This money or the animals would be used by the Levites and the priests to care for the Tabernacle and later the Temple.
The purpose of the dedication and redemption of the firstborn is given in vs. 14
Exodus 13:14 And it shall be when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the LORD brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage:
When the child would see his parents redeeming the animals, when he would ask about his own redemption, his parents would tell him the story of God’s redemption of the Hebrews from the hand of Pharaoh.
Vs. 15 when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the LORD slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of beast: therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all that openeth the matrix, being males; but all the firstborn of my children I redeem.
By instituting this law of redemption, God not only claimed the firstborn because of what he had done in the past but through these memorials, feasts and rites He also laid claim to the future. A future with His people, who would understand that God takes priority in their life because of what He has done in the past to save and free them.
Will God Claim Our Future?
God has the right because He is sovereign to have whatever He wills, but just has he is sovereign and can do as He wills, He is also a God of love. His sovereignty does not overrule love, they are both characteristics that define God as God. Because this is true God does not simply declare that He is first in our life and them force us without our choice, without our will, to do as He says. His love has given us the reason why we should and must make that choice.
We should be amazed that in His love for us, He paid the awful price of sacrificing His own Song, to deliver us from sin and that is why we should then gladly yield to God first place in our life.
Just as the Hebrew would bring his firstborn to God and redeem it, we must bring our lives to God and live them in a manner befitting the great price paid to save us. We must live a life that shows that redemption in all that we do and give to God our future because He has redeemed our past.
Ephesians 5:14-17 Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise but understanding what the will of the Lord is.
Are we willing to give to Him the first priority of our life, our time, and our family? If there is to be a future for us, our families our church and our nation, it can only be when we honor God and give him first place in all.
Tom Landry’s Priorities
I don’t often quote athletes, I don’t watch sporting events on TV anymore though I used to be an avid fan. To me something changed in the 1980s or 90s and professional sports ceased to be something I could find inspiration in. I can remember clearly when I made that decision, it was with the firing of Tom Landy, the first coach of the Dallas cowboys. I had a great deal of respect for him as a man but especially as a Christian. Tom Landry understood his relationship with God and God’s place in his life. This is what he said, "The thrill of knowing Jesus is the greatest thing that ever happened to me ... I think God has put me in a very special place, and He expects me to use it to His glory in everything I do ... whether coaching football or talking to the press, I'm always a Christian ... Christ is first, family second and football third."
Transition: Let me close with a favorite story about putting God first.
Forty Wrestlers For Christ
In the days of the Roman Emperor Nero, there lived and served him a band of soldiers known as the “Emperor’s Wrestlers.” Fine, stalwart men they were, picked from the best and the bravest of the land, recruited from the great athletes of the Roman amphitheater.
In the great amphitheater they upheld the arms of the emperor against all challengers. Before each contest they stood before the emperor’s throne. Then through the courts of Rome rang the cry: “We, the wrestlers, wrestling for thee, O Emperor, to win for thee the victory and from thee, the victor’s crown.”
When the great Roman army was sent to fight in far-away Gaul, no soldiers were braver or more loyal than this band of wrestlers led by their centurion Vespasian. But news reached Nero that many Roman soldiers had accepted the Christian faith. Therefore, this decree was dispatched to the centurion Vespasian: “If there be any among your soldiers who cling to the faith of the Christian, they must die!”
The decree was received in the dead of winter. The soldiers were camped on the shore of a frozen inland lake. It was with sinking heart that Vespasian, the centurion, read the emperor’s message.
Vespasian called the soldiers together and asked the question: “Are there any among you who cling to the faith of the Christian? If so, let him step forward!” Forty wrestlers instantly stepped forward two paces, respectfully saluted, and stood at attention. Vespasian paused. He had not expected so many, nor such select ones. “Until sundown I shall await your answer,” said Vespasian. Sundown came. Again the question was asked. Again the forty wrestlers stepped forward.
Vespasian pleaded with them long and earnestly without prevailing upon a single man to deny his Lord. Finally he said, “The decree of the emperor must be obeyed, but I am not willing that your comrades should shed your blood. I am going to order that you march out upon the lake of ice, and I shall leave you there to the mercy of the elements.”
The forty wrestlers were stripped and then, falling into columns of four, marched toward the center of the lake of ice. As they marched they broke into the chant of the arena: “Forty wrestlers, wrestling for Thee, O Christ, to win for Thee the victory and from Thee, the victor’s crown!” Through the long hours of the night Vespasian stood by his campfire and watched. As he waited through the long night, there came to him fainter and fainter the wrestlers’ song.
As morning drew near one figure, overcome by exposure, crept quietly toward the fire; in the extremity of his suffering he had renounced his Lord. Faintly but clearly from the darkness came the song: “Thirty-nine wrestlers, wrestling for Thee, O Christ, to win for Thee the victory and from Thee, the victor’s crown!”
Vespasian looked at the figure drawing close to the fire. Perhaps he saw eternal light shining there toward the center of the lake. Who can say? But off came his helmet and clothing, and he sprang upon the ice, crying, “Forty wrestlers, wrestling for Thee, O Christ, to win for Thee the victory” and from Thee, the victor’s crown! —Paul Tassel
Where is Christ in the priorities of you life this morning?