How the Exodus Connects to Baptism & the Lord’s Supper

Article
05.07.2018

The task of the church can be described in all sorts of ways, but one of the most evocative is this: we are called to live the exodus. As Christians, we have a dramatic backstory—of slavery and deliverance, or Passover and escape. But the people around us, going about their daily business, don’t recognize the Pharaohs and the plagues, the manna from heaven and the chariots in the deep. They—and oftentimes we—don’t see how the story plays itself out in the life of the church, let alone the world. So part of the task of the church is to amplify the music of God’s redemption, so that they—and we—might hear it for what it truly is.

BAPTISM & THE EXODUS

One necessary way we do this is by celebrating the sacraments. Jesus gave two sacraments to his church, and they both re-enact the exodus. In baptism, we celebrate the burial of the old, the passing from death into life, and the drowning of our enemies in floodwaters. In the Lord’s Supper, we remember how God ransomed us from slavery to sin and death through the blood of a Lamb, uniting us both to him and to one another. Whenever we baptize someone or share in the Lord’s Supper, we’re witnessing both to ourselves and to the world around us that all of us have known slavery. But now, we all have hope because Israel’s God has stepped down to liberate us, and take us triumphantly to live in a land flowing with milk and honey.

And yet, we’re saying even more than that. In baptism, we declare not only our liberation from the Pharaoh of sin, but we declare our new identity as a kingdom of priests to God. In baptism, we are baptized into the promised Prophet who is greater than Moses. We’re manifested as those joined to the multitude of a new people, born again through divine deliverance; we’re seen as being led by the pillar of the Spirit, into the new creation. In baptism, we’re washed in the same waters that were divided in the second and third days of creation, brought through the waters of the Flood, carried through the trial of the ford of the Jabbok, and taken up from the Red Sea. In baptism, our bodies are marked out for resurrection, for entrance into the new creation. We walk in the path of Jesus Christ, the way of exodus. And as we pass through the waters of baptism, we join with Moses and Miriam on the far shore of the sea, singing both of what God has done and of what he will do, knowing that the God who held back the waters of the Red Sea will make short work of the Jordan.

THE LORD’S SUPPER AND THE EXODUS

Similar things are true of the Lord’s Supper. Every time we celebrate it, we’re drawn back to the Last Supper and, beyond that, to all of the many exoduses and passovers that preceded it. Not for nothing did Jesus tell us, “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:25). At the same time, we’re also drawn forward to what await us in the future: the great marriage supper, for which the bread and wine are only the entrée: “I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29). Or, as Paul put it, “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). As we tear the loaf and share the cup, we are Joshua and Caleb, remembering the Passover meal. But we are also tasting the grapes of Eshcol and reveling in the wine to come (Num. 13:23–24).

EXODUS AND THE CHRISTIAN LIFE

This symbolic performance of the exodus, transposed into a Christian key, is then filled out and amplified by the rest of our weekly worship. We sing songs of redemption and rescue. We pray to the God who hears our cries for deliverance and thank him for his mighty acts. We read and study the story of God’s people. We bring financial offerings for God’s dwelling place. We are sent out, in the power of the Spirit, in the knowledge that the journey is not yet over.

As we live our daily lives in the wilderness, we rely on God’s provision for our water, our clothing, and our daily bread. We follow the cloud of God’s presence wherever it goes. We live not by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). We renounce the worship of idols and all that goes with it: sexual immorality, injustice, greed, drunkenness, rebellion, grumbling, and unbelief. We preach the gospel of redemption to those around us. When we face opposition—whether from enemies of God’s people (Amalek), religious charlatans (Balaam), temptations to sin (Moab), or our own flesh—we stand firm. When we encounter those who don’t know the Lord, we invite them as Moses invited Hobab: “Come with us, and we will do good to you, for Yahweh has promised good to Israel” (Num. 10:29).

We also live as those who have recently been released from centuries of oppression—that is, with a preferential option for the poor and a commitment to champion the cause of those who have been abused, bullied, captured, disenfranchised, enslaved, forgotten, ghettoized, hated, ignored, judged, killed, lynched, marginalized, and so on throughout the alphabet. People of the exodus know what it means to be ground into the dust by those with power. So whenever we see it happening to others—racial minorities, slaves, trafficked women, the poor, unborn children, refugees, the homeless, those with disabilities, sojourners, orphans, widows—we act. We march. We speak. We pray. We invite. We give. We use our power to serve the interests of those without it, because the exodus was never just for us. Free people free people.

THE EXODUS AND OUR EXPECTATION

And of course, we tell this story. We tell it to our children, and we write it on our doorposts. The God of the exodus is the unchanging “I am.” He was there for us in Goshen and Ararat and Babylon and Jerusalem, and he will always be there for us in the future. He brings us out and he brings us in, and when we come back, we always find ourselves with more than we started with. One day, the Jordan will divide, the trumpets will sound, and worldly powers will collapse—and the vines will stretch as far as the eye can see.

But in the meantime, as we look forward to that and look back to our deliverance from Egypt, we have a song to sing:

I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him. (Ex. 15:1–2)

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Editor’s note: Along with Alastair Roberts, Andrew Wilson wrote a new book on this topic, Echoes of Exodus: Tracing Themes of Redemption throughout Scripture.