"Cross" is a short word of only five letters, but break it apart and it contains the whole story of the Bible. C.R.O.S.S.—Creation, Redemption, One nation, Separation, Salvation. The story of the Bible is our story, too, and each of these stages helps us get the "big picture" of our life in Christ. Follow the whole series here.
There are many kinds of slavery in this world. You don't have to be held physically captive and worked to death; you can be "owned" by someone who knows your past or who got you out of trouble. You can be a slave to drugs, to money, to sex or work, even to social media. Ever since the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve chose to go their own way instead of God's way, people have been held captive to their own desires and, often, to those of others.
In the second stage in the story of the CROSS, God liberates Israel. The "R" in "CROSS" stands for Redemption.
Living in Bondage
At the close of Genesis, Abraham's descendants move to Egypt to escape famine. They flourish there. But at the start of Exodus, a ruler comes into power who presses them into slavery. The people groan under their bondage.
Four hundred years have passed since God promised Abraham countless descendants, their own land to live in, and a legacy of blessing for the world (Genesis 12:1-3). With all of that seemingly at stake, God announces to Moses: "I have seen" the people's misery. I "have heard" their cry. "I know" their sufferings, and "I have come down" to rescue them and take them to the land that I promised (Exodus 3:7-8).
Their God—revealed in Exodus 3 as the LORD, the great "I AM"—is a God who is personally concerned about them and who will work to redeem them from the power that enslaves them. With Moses as spokesman, God challenges Pharaoh's control, asking that they be released for a three-day journey to worship:
"'Let my son go that he may serve me': if you refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay your first-born son'" (Exodus 4:22-23).
Pharaoh refuses. "Why do you take the people away from their work? Get to your burdens" (Exodus 5:4).
And that is the crux of the conflict. Will God's people "serve" (worship) the God of their fathers, the creator of heaven and earth…or will they "work" for Pharaoh? In Hebrew, "serve" and "work" are the same word: avad. God makes love and work fruitful, asks for worship in return. Pharaoh cuts off life and requires work without ceasing. Who will they serve?
In a series of plagues, the LORD demonstrates power over Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt: the Nile, considered the source of life, is filled with blood. Frogs and insects overwhelm the land at a word from Moses. Plagues and boils strike cattle and people. Hail destroys plants and animals. Locusts ruin crops. God pulls a thick darkness over the land of Egypt, while bathing Goshen, the home of the Hebrews, in light. But none of these signs softens the heart or changes the mind of Pharaoh. He refuses to let the people serve the LORD.
Moses announces a final judgment: if Pharaoh will not let God's first-born son go to worship, then God will slay the first-born sons of Egypt.
God's people are given instructions for what will be called the "Passover"—the night the angel of the LORD would "pass over" those who obey, while destroying the first-born sons of everyone else. The children of Israel sacrifice unblemished male lambs and mark their doors with the blood. They roast the lamb and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, dressed to flee.
And flee they do, amid the wailing of stricken Egyptians.
Freed for Life
It doesn't take long for Pharaoh to muster an army and back them up against the Red Sea. Moses stretches his rod over the water and the LORD divides the sea, allowing the people to cross on dry land. Then God causes the water to crash down on the pursuing army. "Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?" sing the people on the other side. "The LORD will reign for ever and ever."
This is the central formative event of the people of Israel. It sets the stage for the rest of the story: for they are not simply freed from something; they are freed for life as the redeemed children of God. What that will look like is the subject of the next stage in the story of the Cross: "O" for "One Nation."
Find Yourself in the Story
God's demonstration of power over Egypt foreshadows what Jesus will one day do for anyone enslaved by sin who comes to him and follows his word. Do you ever struggle over whether you will serve God or something else? To whom do you belong? To what voice do you listen?
To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God. (John 1:12)
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