Pilgrimage and the Christian Life

“And Hezekiah sent word to all Israel and Judah. He even wrote letters to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they come to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem to keep the Passover to the Lord God of Israel.” 2 Chronicles 30:1 (MEV)

Passover was one of the three festivals of pilgrimage in ancient Israelite religion. Jesus himself travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover. Pentecost and Tabernacles are the other two festivals of pilgrimage. The church began at Pentecost and Peter preached the Gospel to the pilgrims who had arrived in the city from all over the known world.

In Exodus 23:17 it says:

“Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord God.” (MEV)

This command is mirrored in Exodus 34:23:

“Three times in the year all your males must appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel.” (MEV)

It also appears in Deuteronomy 16:16:

“Three times a year all your males must appear before the Lord your God in the place where He will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles, and they must not appear before the Lord empty.” (MEV)

Pilgrimage it would seem was at the very centre of Israelite life and worship. In 2 Chronicles 30 we find King Hezekiah trying to revive this lost tradition that had grown dormant. He sent out runners all over the land calling on the Israelites to take up the pilgrimage and come to Jerusalem for Passover. In 2 Chronicles 30:10-11 we read:

So the couriers ran from city to city in the land of Ephraim and Manasseh and up to Zebulun, but the people laughed at them and mocked them. However some men from Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun humbled themselves and journeyed to Jerusalem.” (MEV)

There were some who chose to drop their farm tools and go. 2 Chronicles 30:13-14 says:

And many people assembled in Jerusalem to have the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the second month. There was a very large assembly. They went out and removed the altars that were in Jerusalem, and they took away all the incense altars and threw them into the Kidron Valley.” (MEV)

The pilgrimage was also a renewal of the worship life of the country.

In Britain pilgrimage was once the most popular expression of spirituality and leisure. That is until the Reformation when Henry VIII banned pilgrimages in 1538. There is however according to the British Pilgrimage Trust a modern resurgence. They say:

“Today, there is a global renaissance of pilgrimage – 250,000 on the Camino to Santiago, 2 million on the Hajj, 20 million on the Arbaeen and 100 million to Kumbh Mela. It is time for Britain to take part.”

To that aim they have begun resurrecting the 350km journey from Southampton to Canterbury that used to be the main pilgrimage route in England. They have named it “The Old Way”.

I love walking and I love the message and idea of the British Pilgrimage Trust.

All of us are on a pilgrimage from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. We have our Sloughs of Despond to pass through as well as Hills of Difficulty. We have the Valley of the Shadow of Death and the Doubting Castle to travel past but we must set as our goal the Celestial City and turn to no other path.

2 Chronicles 30:18-20 says:

For a multitude of the people—many from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun—had not purified themselves. For they ate of the Passover contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed over them saying, “The Lord is good, and may He pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, but is not pure according the rules of the holy sanctuary.” So the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.” (MEV)

We might not have said and done all the right rituals but if we hear the call of the Lord and answer it he will heal us from all our sins. The Bible finishes with an image of the Celestial City, the New Jerusalem and we are shown the pilgrims streaming into the city from all over the world. Revelation 21:24-26 says:

And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall never be shut by day, for there shall be no night there. They shall bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.” (MEV)

pilgrimage

Easter: Passover, the end of Exile and the King

Nearly 2,000 years ago, on the first day of the week, the inhabitants of the Roman Empire were going about their normal weekly routines. The farmers were out in the fields, the soldiers were patrolling the street, and the fisherman were sailing in their boats. It was a normal average boring day. Yet everything had changed.

The events of that Sunday morning are extraordinary. It is not every day that angels appear or the dead come back to life but we should remember that these events were not broadcast all over the world on live TV. They happened in a small garden cemetery witnessed by a small group of people. For the other 50 million people in the Roman Empire business on that Sunday morning was as usual. Yet for us, the events of that Sunday morning are extraordinary. They change everything.

We have a tendency to look back at Good Friday and think we know what it was all about… Jesus Christ the god-man dying for the sins of the world. Yet without Resurrection Sunday, Friday was just Friday. A Jewish man was killed by the Romans just as many others like him had been before and would be again. Only in the light of the resurrection does the cross make any sense, the resurrection is the key event. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:14 “And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless.”

Passover. Liberation from the Powers.

Jesus did not die on the Day of Atonement. He died on Passover. Passover memorialised how God’s people the Israelites had rescued from Egypt. Pharaoh the King of Egypt refused to let them leave so God sent plagues upon Egypt untilhe set them free. The last plague was death. Exodus 12:12 says “I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt, for I am the LORD!”

This judgment was chiefly against all the gods of Egypt, that is the angelic spirits in the unseen realm who were worshipped as gods by the Egyptians. God’s judgment was upon them. The plagues were God’s way of proving that he was more powerful than all the so-called gods of Egypt.

At Passover God told Moses to tell the people that a plague was going to pass through the whole land of Egypt and all the firstborn humans and animals would die. God told them that this was his judgement upon the gods of Egypt. If his people wanted to save themselves they would have to kill a lamb, wipe its blood upon the side and top of their doorframes and then eat the lamb, burning what was left over. Then when the destroyer passed through he would see the blood and pass over them to the next house. This was a story of judgment upon Egypt, yes, but also of liberation.

The next day the King of Egypt was so distressed that he called Moses and told him and all of God’s people to leave as soon as possible, they could not take any more judgment. God led his people out into the desert and through the Red Sea to freedom.

The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:7 says “Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us.” Think about those words for a moment. “Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us.” Passover meant death was defeated, those who ate the Lamb and were protected by the blood and were safe. Passover also meant liberation. It meant that the false gods had been judged. God had won a victory. Paul says “Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us.”

In Colossians 2 Paul says that Christ through his death has “disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.” The cross does not at first look like a victory. But it is a liberation! We who were slaves have been set free. A New Passover has taken place. A New Exodus has begun. The Lamb was slain and the false gods were judged. The author of Hebrews says in Hebrews 2:14-15 “Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.”

Through the resurrection death itself has been defeated. All of us are exiles from God’s presence, doomed to die separated from him, death was dreadful. We were captives of sin and death but through the resurrection, those powers have beenovercome. No longer are we slaves, no longer do we have to fear death, we can now dwell with God forever. When God defeats his enemies, it looks like a man dying on a cross.

The forgiveness of sins and the end of Exile.

The second key theme of the resurrection is the end of the exile and by that I mean, the forgiveness of the sins that keep us from God. Paul says in Romans 4:23-25 “And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded 24 for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.”

Notice the last line “he was raised to life to make us right with God” it is the resurrection that makes us right with God. Jesus proved that he had dealt with sin, all that separated us from God, by rising from the dead. The resurrection also assures us that if we believe in him we too with rise again because God has declared us to be in the right with him because of what Jesus has done for us.

There are two main stories in Israel’s history, the Passover their liberation from Egypt and their entry into the Promised Land, which is the first. The second is their Exile from the Promised Land into Babylon. In Babylon God’s people saw themselves as living out Adam’s fall. They were Adam and Adam was them. They had been placed in the Promised Land by God to be his special possession but through their sin they had been exiled from their Promised Land into the wilderness, just as Adam was exiled from Eden.

The Temple of God was laid out as Eden. It was upon a mountain, the walls were decorated with golden trees and images of cherubim. The menorah candelabras looked like golden trees. You entered from the East facing the west just as Adam had been exile from the west to the east, just as God’s people Israel was exiled from the Promised Land into Babylon to the east. In the Temple was a giant curtain decorated with cherubim that guarded the Holy of Holies. Nobody was allowed to enter beyond the curtain apart from the High Priest, and then only once a year. It separated God from humanity. Just as cherubim had been placed at the entrance of Eden to stop Adam and Eve returning. So the cherubim upon the curtain stopped humans from entering God’s dwelling place. All of us were exiles. All of us found ourselves east of Eden.

In Matthew, Mark and Luke all three authors included a one-liner that is of immense significance. I will turn to Luke 23:44-46, it says “By this time it was about noon, and darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. 45 The light from the sun was gone. And suddenly, the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn down the middle. 46 Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!” And with those words he breathed his last.”

This detail, one that could easily be missed is central to the whole story. The curtain in the Temple was torn in two. Think about that for a moment. That is not a throw away comment. The death of Jesus meant the curtain was torn. What is Matthew, Mark and Luke led by the Holy Spirit trying to tell us. Exile has ended! The death of Christ means our Exile from Eden has ended! The curtain that stopped God and humans mixing has been torn. The curtain was covered with cherubim as a reminder of the cherubim that God had placed at the entrance of Eden to keep Adam and Eve from returning. Here on Good Friday we are told the curtain, symbolically the guardian cherubim has been removed. God can once again dwell with humans. What wonderful news. Not only is the death of Christ a New Passover, a liberation from the powers of sin, death and hell. It is also a new End of Exile and a return to the Promised Land. Once again we who are Exiles can return home.

God uses the story of Israel, his people, their liberation from Egypt and eventual Exile and return to teach us about Christ. Jesus is the true Israel who shows us what it looks like to image God, he bore the curse for our sins, and by bringing forgiveness releases us from slavery to the demonic powers.

The King of the Kingdom.

The message of the cross is also one of Jesus Christ becoming King. It is easy to miss this point as we are often unaware of the symbolism presented in the Gospel. The Crucifixion is Jesus Christ’s enthronement ceremony.

Jesus Coronation as KingImage from Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw.

Often we talk about putting our faith in Jesus Christ. Scholars recently have been arguing that perhaps a better way of translating the Greek word pistis is faithfulness, fidelity or allegiance. We are saved by our allegiance to Jesus as our King. The message of the Kingdom then is to accept Jesus as King. To stop being King or Queen of our own life, and stop following the false gods as your Kings and submit to Jesus Christ alone.

He was faithful to God, so we are called to be faithful to him through the Holy Spirit working in us.

In Matthew 16:24-26 the Lord Jesus Christ says “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” The life of Christian men and women is dominated with this thought. If I am to follow Christ then I must die to my own way of doing life, my own wants, will and pleasures. I must say no to sin and yes to him. Every day is a new day. Every day is a new battle. But every day we say yes to King Jesus and no to ourselves we become more like him and less like ourselves.

In conclusion.

The events of that Sunday morning two thousand years ago changed history forever. No longer are we slaves to the powers of sin, death and hell. A New Passover has occurred. We have been liberated from slavery. No longer are we in Exile from Eden. The curtain in the Temple has been torn in two. The Holy Spirit, God, now dwells in us. We are now the Temple of God. The immortal one became mortal so that we who are mortal might be made immortal. In Christ Jesus through the resurrection we will rise again from the death and receive everlasting bodies. The world is changed and all because Christ is Risen! Amen.