Last week I was in Greystones teaching a bunch of students the book of Galatians.
I told them the story of Exodus. It is the story that shapes the Jewish mind. But it is also the story that echoes in the minds of the first Christians. The Jews were constituted as the slaves who were set free from Egypt. Dozens of times we read the Old Testament talk about YHWH as He who brought the Israelites out of Egypt.
Christians saw themselves, Jews and Gentiles as the people who were set free from the real slavery; the slavery of sin. The Exodus of Moses out of Egypt was just the shadow of this real Exodus of Jesus out of sin. It was the pointer to the great liberation all humanity was looking for.
In the pub that night, they wanted me to back this waffling up.
So earlier this week I was reading the book of Exodus and noticed something that I always knew, just never spoke before. In Exodus 19 we read of how this new nation, the people who were set free from slaves are to be for God a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words YHWH gives to Moses to constitute the nation at Sinai.
Now fast forward to 1 Peter. Peter writing to persecuted urban Christians in the Roman empire tells them to hold fast to their identity against the strength and might and fury of the emperor. How does he do it? He writes, “you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
Early Christians saw themselves as the people of Exodus. They saw themselves as people who were living in exile, in slavery, in captivity and their new life found in the church was a kind of liberation into a new identity. They were no longer Greeks or Turks or Jews but a people called out of darkness into a wonderful light and called to be a royal priesthood, a holy nation and the special possession of God.
The Christians who live in your town live in the light of these words. But how well are Western Christians doing at embodying this idea of being a “holy nation” in the midst of an empire, a people constituted not to enslave but as slaves set free?
Your Correspondent, Slow of speech and of a slow tongue