An Easter message from Rev. Ray S. Wilke, President, OGT
“An Easterly Direction”
If you sail for 5,000 miles in an Easterly direction along the 26th South Parallel of latitude from Brisbane, Australia, you will eventually come to a small island called Easter.
Easter Island sits in the middle of the emptiest extent of ocean that there is in the world…it is utterly alone out there in the Pacific. It became known as Easter Island because the Dutch Admiral Roggeveen discovered it on Easter Sunday in 1722.
The island has baffled archeologists for years because they can’t understand how a primitive civilization on the island could have constructed and transported the more than 600 huge stone faces which guard the landscape, most weighing over 70 tons and standing more than 30 feet tall.
The stone builders were massacred by the Polynesians; the Polynesians were made slaves by the Peruvians; and the Peruvians were routed by Chile.
At one point in its history, the island was denuded of its trees by passing lumber ships and its population dwindled to less than 100 people. It was reduced to a barren lava rock, but today it boasts an international airport and thousands of inhabitants.
Easter has never meant the absence of death or trouble; rather Easter rises up right in the midst of the waves and trouble and death. With grayness and despair all around, Easter snatches life from the jaws of death.
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It is obvious to me that for a long time now God has been in the habit of operating with Brinkmanship in the raising of his children.
Like a good parent, he offers his children the possibility for experimentation…but always stands ready for rescue. With a mighty hand he rescued them by miracle and plague in the land of Egypt.
The nearness of death for this rag-tag tribe of Hebrews was always before them - even as God led them steadily in an Easterly direction, in the direction of life. Even though they had seen the miraculous departure from Egypt, whenever problems arose, they digressed from their Easterly direction and sought refuge in the former land of slavery, Egypt, instead of high adventure and freedom in following the lead of the Lord.
The high drama of this escape from certain death - of this baptism of an entire nation - of this leading toward life and promised land - is absolute without parallel.
It is important to remember as we critique the behavior of the Hebrews that they were not without strong leadership in both human and spiritual terms. Moses’ leadership is unmatched in scripture; he is described as a counterpart of Christ.
And then there was the matter of the pillar of cloud and fire.
By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire of give them light so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. - Exodus 13:21
There is much speculation on the part of scholars about that very risky night before the sea opened its mouth to provide safe passage for the Hebrews…and to swallow the Egyptians alive, horse, chariot and all.
The closest that I can come to recreating the drama using the names and locations that scripture and history provide is that they left Goshen and headed east, as if to go directly to Caanan, but when they hit the desert of Shur, as if in confusion, they turned again west, and entered a box canyon in the Lake of Menzaleh, surrounded on 3 ½ sides by water and desert.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Sephon. Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart and he will pursue them.” - Exodus 14:1
The Red Sea in Hebrew is translated Yam Suph, meaning Sea of Reeds.
An ancient Egyptian papyrus locates the Baal Zephon of Exodus as modern Tell Defneh, a box canyon of Lake Menzaleh three or four miles wide.
The more than two million Hebrews were as good as dead when Pharaoh, with his elite 600 chariots and horsemen, left Rameses on the 40-mile run to catch their prey.
Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.
The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. - Exodus 14:19
I wonder how much life insurance could have been sold to the Hebrews standing on the banks of the Sea of Reeds, with the Egyptian army on one side and four miles of the Sea of Menzealeh on the other.
These Hebrews were as good as dead…..but instead the Lord baptized them into Nationhood and deliverance.
I wonder how much life insurance Jesus could have bought, standing in the court of Ciaphas, or Annas or Pilate or with his back to the wall in the box canyon of Calvary. (He was as good as dead).
Even when he cried out from the cross: “IT IS FINISHED, FATHER INTO THY HANDS I COMMEND MY SPIRIT,” Jesus was still buying life insurance from the Father…..because he knew that the Father was moving him towards Easter.
The Father always delights to move his people in an Easterly resurrection direction, and heads them toward home.
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A man was driving on a country road at about 50 mph when he saw a Monarch butterfly ahead flying on a collision course with his car. He swerved, but the butterfly disappeared into the front of the car. He drove the next 20 miles in sadness because he had killed the beautiful butterfly.
When he arrived at his destination he got out to see what had happened. Instead of being squashed against the hood, the butterfly was wedged in the crack along the edge of the hood. He thought to remove it to lay it respectfully to the edge of the road…but when he released the latch of the hood, the butterfly flapped its wings with power of its own and rose up on the south bound breeze to continue its 2,000-mile journey to Mexico and back.
The 3,000-pound car slamming into the weightless butterfly and the 20-mile ride down the highway had made the creature as good as dead in the mind of the driver, but still it rose and flew toward home.
Jesus was not just as good as dead, he was dead - but is now alive!