The New Exodus & The Way Home

Find_Your_Own_Way_Home.jpg

My wife and I watched the movie Defiance the other night. It was about the true story of the Bielski partisans in World War II era Poland. The Bielskies were four Jewish brothers, who managed to flee to the Naliboki Forest after their parents and other family members were killed by Nazis in a Jewish ghetto in August 1941. Together with 13 neighbors, they formed the nucleus of a partisan combat group in the spring of 1942 who fought against the Nazi occupiers. Originally, the group consisted of around forty people, but grew quickly as more and more people were rescued from ghettos in nearby towns. Hundreds of men, women, and children eventually found their way to the Bielski camp in the forest. At its peak, 1,236 people belonged to the group, and 70% were women, children, and the elderly; no one was turned away. About 150 engaged in armed operations.

They lived in underground dugouts, built a kitchen, a mill, a bakery, a bathhouse, and a medical clinic for the sick and wounded. Herds of cows supplied milk. Tailors, shoemakers, leather-workers, smiths, cobblers, carpenters, hat-makers, barbers, and watchmakers all served the community and guests. Children attended class in a dugout school. The camp even had its own jail and court of law. The Nazi regime offered a reward of 100,000 Reichsmarks for assistance in the capture of the leader, Tuvia Bielski. However, not everything the Bielski group was involved in was innocent. They sent bands to raid nearby villages and to forcibly seize food. On occasion their raids involved violence and even murder. On a few occasions the camp was compromised and the entire entourage would have to pack up and relocate.

In the movie, at least, the leader, Tuvia, is thematically compared to Moses leading the people on an exodus journey out from the threat of Nazi extermination to freedom. Especially striking is a scene where the community is caught between an advancing Nazi unit on their tails and an extensive maze of swamps and rivers like Moses and the people of Israel caught between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea.

We gravitate toward Exodus stories. The Bielski community didn’t experience any nature-altering miracles like Moses, but we are moved by such Exodus-like stories nevertheless. There is something inside each one of us that knows deep down inside that the human race is enslaved and needs to be set free. Once free we are set on a journey to arrive finally at our home where we find rest. That journey often involves facing impossible odds. In the biblical Exodus story the impossible odds (like being caught between an army and the Red Sea) are what give God the most glory because he alone is the One who must miraculously rescue the people lest they meet their certain demise.

Not the only Exodus. The story of Moses and the people of Israel shaking off their Egyptian bonds and traveling toward the Promised Land is not the only Exodus story in the Bible. The theme shows up again a thousand years later at the time of Israel’s captivity in Babylon. The prophets just preceding that era like Isaiah and Jeremiah and those prophets who were contemporary with the Exile like Ezekiel and Daniel frequently speak in a manner that shows that what God plans to do in Israel’s future will involve yet another Exodus story.  There’s an initial “new Exodus” that occurs when Ezra and Nehemiah lead the remnant of Israel back to rebuild Jerusalem under the graciousness of King Cyrus.

Exodus in Acts? The 19th chapter of Acts may seem like an unlikely place to find references to a “second Exodus” but if we pay attention we will see that all the language is there. In Chapter 19 we find Paul returning to Ephesus after a visit to the “sending church” in Antioch. There he discovers and informs some Ephesian disciples of John the Baptist that their faith is not fulfilled without Jesus. They had only heard of the message of John the Baptist and hadn’t been filled in all the way about Jesus the very one to whom John the Baptist pointed. In Acts 19:1-11 Luke records: 

And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples.  2 And he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit."  3 And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" They said, "Into John's baptism."  4 And Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus."  5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.  7 There were about twelve men in all.  8 And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.  9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus.  10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. 

Not the First Time. This was not the first time Paul had been to Ephesus. Apollos had been to Ephesus too. But on previous visits Paul had missed these disciples. Notice that Luke calls them disciples but at first doesn’t say of whom they are disciples. That comes out in Paul’s conversation with them. He probes with questions that reveal that they are not, in fact, disciples of Jesus at all but only of John the Baptist. Paul’s questions are revealing. John Stott points out for us that Paul's first question linked the Spirit with faith, and his second question linked the Spirit with baptism. In other words, both his questions expressed his assumptions that those who have believed have received the Spirit, and those who have been baptized have received the Spirit. Paul could not separate the sign of water baptism from the thing signified – the presence of the Holy Spirit in someone who had been born again. Paul simply took it for granted that baptized believers have received the Spirit. We have seen that Peter also taught this in Acts 2:38

And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

Both of Paul’s questions imply that to have believed and been baptized and not to have received the Spirit is an glaringly extraordinary inconsistency.{C}{C}[1]{C}{C} But some use this text as a proof that true salvation comes in two stages: first you believe in Jesus and then you later receive a second baptism of the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues. But a text without the context is a pretext for a prooftext. In other words, we need to look closely at what is happening here.

What has already been said? Just going from what has been said so far in the Book of Acts about “speaking in tongues” what can we conclude about it? Initially in accordance with the prophecy of the Prophet Joel God poured out the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and they spoke in different languages   that all could understand the gospel (in Acts 2). Then there were subsequent occurrences like in Acts 10 with Peter and Cornelius. Notice how Peter describes Cornelius’ encounter with the Holy Spirit to the apostles in Jerusalem in Acts 11:15-18

As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning.  16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'  17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?"  18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, "Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life."

These instances including here in 19:6 point to tongues as a sign to the Jewish background apostles that the Holy Spirit as truly fallen upon Gentiles which indicated to them that they were truly given repentance and salvation. But notice also that both Peter and Paul identify speaking in tongues as a fulfillment of John’s prophecy that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. So, far tongues is shown to be a sign that in Jesus, God was fulfilling all that John the Baptist was preaching about, preparing the way for, and pointing to.

They had heard only John. These disciples of John had obviously heard John preach by the banks of the Jordan river many years prior. But these disciples of John way out in Ephesus had not heard about what had happened at Pentecost. They were still waiting for that prophecy from John to be fulfilled. “In a word, they were still living in the Old Testament which culminated with John the Baptist. They understood neither that the new age had been ushered in by Jesus, nor that those who believe in him and are baptized into him receive the distinctive blessing of the new age, the indwelling Spirit.”{C}{C}[2]{C}{C} Paul showed them that John’s message was not complete in itself – it was only pointing to the ultimate way of restoration in Jesus Christ. In his gospel, Luke described John the Baptist’s ministry. In Luke 3:3-6 we read:

And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.  5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways,  6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God."

All Accounts Agree: John fulfilled Isaiah 40. Notice that Luke quotes Isaiah 40:3-5. Zachariah, John’s father makes mention of this same prophecy as he prophesied over his newborn son in Luke 1:76. John himself alludes to Isaiah in reference to himself in John 1:23. Isaiah 40:3-5 is significant for Luke. In fact, this quotation  provides the key for interpreting the rest of Luke and Acts (Luke's "two-volume set").{C}{C}[3]{C}{C}.

What is this uttering in Isaiah 40 all about? The quotation from Isaiah talks about a "new exodus" God would bring about. This new exodus in both Isaiah and in Acts is called the “way” (from Isaiah 40:3). This prophecy is “the beginning of an extended section in Isaiah that prophesies the coming of a new exodus whereby Israel will be delivered from bondage in Babylon.”{C}{C}[4]{C}{C} This prophecy of a new exodus is developed extensively throughout the following chapters of Isaiah and it is paralleled in Luke’s description of the advancement of the gospel in Acts.

Here’s how it works: Isaiah tells us that although they were being punished for 70 years in captivity under the Babylonian empire, one day the remnant of Israel would be on their “Way” out of exile – not simply to return to Jerusalem but to return to God Himself. If you read the story of the return of the remnant of Israel to Jerusalem in the books of Ezra & Nehemiah in the Old Testament, you will see that yes, they rebuilt the temple, but God’s presence never comes down and inhabits the temple as he did with the tabernacle of Moses and the Temple of Solomon. God would wait to dwell among his people in a different way. God would ultimately restore his people to himself through His own Son, Jesus.

John said, "I prepare the way." This is what John meant when he recited the words of Isaiah the prophet in reference to his own ministry. He understood that Israel’s return to the land 400+ years before his own time was not the ultimate restoration God had in mind. The ultimate restoration of Israel was not to bring them back to the land and rebuild the temple. It was to restore them to God Himself.

Jesus said, "I am the Way." And God would restore his relationship with his sheep along with sheep from outside the original sheepfold to himself through Jesus – the one for whom John “prepared the way.”  Later Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) You see, the “true exodus” is not from bondage in Egypt or exile in Babylon but an exodus from the bondage of sin. And the ultimate and true restoration - truly “coming home” - is not coming into the promised land or rebuilding the temple, but the restoration of our broken relationships with God and coming home to be with God for eterninty.

Luke said the Church is the "Way" cont'd.  The new exodus journey continues on into the book of Acts. In Acts the namethe Way” is then given to the church. Notice the repeated reference to the Christian movement as ‘the Way’ in Acts, which most of the time occurs in contexts of persecution or opposition.”{C}[5]{C} (Two of 6 references happen in chapter 19)

Acts 9:2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

Acts 19:9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus.

Acts 19:23 About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way.

Acts 22:4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women,

Acts 24:14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets,

Acts 24:22 But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, "When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case."

This is intentional. God orchestrated that this name be given the early believers. The use of the name “the Way” identifies “the church as God’s true people” under Jesus and the New Covenant that He is bringing home into restoration through faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. God is telling us that the church was beginning to fulfill the prophesies of Isaiah that Israel would return from exile.

A new identity and a new life by grace alone. And what we have discovered from the story of Acts is that the name the “Way” isn’t reserved just for ethnic Jews. But the "Way" describes both the ones just joining the journey and those who had belonged to it for a long time. This is because the only way to “participate in this restoration journey [is] by believing in Christ and joining others who already believed and were walking on ‘the Way,’ progressing in their new-exodus journey,” following their Messiah. This is accomplished by the grace of God, not human will nor birthright. But the "Way" also referred “to a manner of ongoing Christian living as part of a restoration journey.”{C}[6]{C} It’s not just about being saved by grace it is about living by grace.  

How does this way continue today? In a word: by the gospel. This is why we preach the central message of the Bible, the gospel. Isaiah says, “the word of God stands forever.” Luke reminds us in Acts 19:10 that:

"This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks."

In verse 20, one of Luke’s chapter markers he writes:

So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.”

The repeated phrase "the word of God" or "the word of the Lord" (occurring over 20x, plus other variants with ‘word’ in Acts) also points to Isaiah’s new-exodus prophecy. The stress in Acts on the journeying of God everlasting and all powerful word in creating a community based on the word pops up throughout Acts as kind of “chapter markers” (e.g., 6:7; 12:24; 19:20). It is God’s mighty word being preached that brings about the restoration in Isaiah and it is God’s mighty word that creates the church in Acts. Despite opposition from the Jews, the rioting of the Gentiles, or even the attacks of the demon-possessed (see the rest of Acts 19), the word makes its way and accomplishes its goal of creating the church community, which, in contrast to the Jewish religion, is identified over and over again as the true heir of all God's "new exodus" and restoration promises in Isaiah.[7]

So, Luke in Acts shows that the end-time second exodus prophesied in Isaiah 40 was being fulfilled. Believing Jews and gentiles together compose the true Israel that is journeying in this second exodus toward their true home in Heaven with God.[8]

Let me ask you a quetion: Are you on that journey? Or are you...

1}·        Stuck in a "religion" trying to please God and be accepted by God through your obedience? The Gospel says you can be accepted by God by his grace. The way home by God’s grace is to put your faith in Jesus, The Way, alone.

2}·              Stuck in an incomplete state of exile? Perhaps like the Ephesian disciples of John you repented of your sins but then went back to relying on your own works to please God. Again, The way home is by God’s grace through faith in Jesus, The Way, alone. Preach the gospel of grace to yourself every day.

The way out of addiction – the way out of legalism – the way out of bondage to a past of abuse – the way out of loneliness - the way out of brokeness - the way out of anger - the way out of bitterness... AND

The way to a belonging – the way to wholeness – the way to holiness – the WAY HOME...

...is by the Grace of God to put your faith in Jesus Christ, the Way, the life and the Truth.

[1] John Stott, The Message of Acts, 304.

[2] Stott, Acts, 304.

[3] Greg Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 857.

[4] Beale, NT Biblical Theology, 857.

[5] Beale, NT Biblical Theology, 857.

[6] Beale, NT Biblical Theology, 858.

[7] Beale, NT Biblical Theology, 702.

[8] Beale, NT Biblical Theology, 703.