Many Christians mark the season of Lent with a time of an emphasis on prayer, reflection, and self-sacrifice. Using Jesus’s example of being separated and alone in the wilderness for forty days of fasting and prayer (see Matthew 4), those who mark the occasion often try to grow deeper in their own faith by doing similar things. People might change their diet to go without meat on certain days, forego desserts, and the like. Others may try to change their free-time habits by avoiding social media and focusing on God instead. Still others may decide to add spiritual disciplines to their lives by increasing their giving, service to others, or times of personal devotion to God.
There are several places in Scripture where God demonstrates his power through the devotion of his people. At first glance, the plagues that God brought upon Egypt that led to the liberation of the Israelite slaves may not appear to be a guide for Lenten spiritual disciplines. However, a deeper look can show us that God’s work then can shape our current Christian discipleship.
Exodus records the time when the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt. Though they were a people of the one true God, they were surrounded by the false idols worshipped by the Egyptians. Obeying God’s call, Moses stood up to Pharaoh (who was seen as a child of the god Ra) and the other idols of the land. The ten plagues God brought on the nation of Egypt were direct judgments on those false gods and proof that Yahweh, Israel’s God, was all-powerful. The animals the Egyptians worshipped as guardians (frogs, gnats, livestock, and locusts) turned on them. Their “godlike” livestock animals were stricken with pestilence and boils. The animals that supposedly protected them needed human protection from the hail. The false deity of the sun was powerless against the plague of darkness, and the false god of the Nile was lifeless as it turned to blood. The Egyptians believed that the first born of royalty were a divine gift of the god Ra. When death came on Egypt’s firstborn, God was showing that even the Ra had no true power. The plagues proved that the false gods were worthless, and that Yahweh is the Almighty. The culmination of these was the Passover, when those who marked their homes with the blood of the sacrificial lamb were spared. Yahweh led the Israelite people out of their captivity to a people of false gods and on the road that would lead them to their promised land.
The grand narrative of Scripture reminds us that Christian worship at Easter and the observation of Lent remains tied to all of these events of the Old Testament. The story of both the plagues and Lent is that God takes up the cause of the poor and the oppressed. God shows that the false idols of both the weak and the powerful are worthless. Meanwhile, he offers freedom from all the ways that these idols would enslave through the power of the Holy Spirit. Everywhere we look we can find altars to the false gods of money, power, prestige, political superiority, social media credibility, and on and on. Jesus calls his followers to turn from the false gods of today.
We see the fulfillment of Passover’s meaning in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Scripture’s accounts of the Last Supper show us that Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples and showed that his coming crucifixion was to be the fulfillment of the first Passover. The blood of the lambs in Egypt spared the Israelites from the idols; Jesus’s death on the cross is the once-and-for-all sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).
To finally shatter the idols of today’s culture, Jesus’s followers around the world must allow themselves to be used by the Holy Spirit to bring about the freedom proclaimed in that first Passover and fulfilled in Jesus. It is only through joyous obedience to Christ’s teachings that we will see the shattering of the idols of racial superiority, political power-grabbing, the pursuit of fame and fortune, or anything else that would attempt to usurp the true place that God should have as Lord of all in our lives.