There are some events in history that are so significant that they become a marker by which other things are measured.
- the birth of Jesus
- the death and resurrection of Jesus
- the Revolutionary War
- the dropping of the Atomic Bomb
Then there are, of course those personally significant events in our life like our wedding, the birth of our children, the day we started a new job, the day our spouse died and so on. These are all events that are highly significant in our lives.
The Passover should be an event listed on the significant events list. I’m sure that you have all heard of the Passover, but for many it is just some Jewish holiday. In truth, it is much much more than that. The Passover not only the plague that brought freedom to the Jews, it was an event which pointed to the event that brought freedom for all of us. So, this morning we will not only look at the details of the Passover, so that we get our facts straight, we will also look at the implications of the Passover.
THE DETAILS OF THE LAST PLAGUE
When last we saw Moses, Pharaoh told him that he never wanted to see him again. In fact, Pharaoh told Moses if he ever saw him again He would kill him. Moses responds with these words,
“This is what the LORD says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any man or animal.’ Then you will know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. All these officials of yours will come to me, bowing down before me and saying, ‘Go, you and all the people who follow you!’ After that I will leave.” Then Moses, hot with anger, left Pharaoh. (Exodus 11:4-8)
The final plague was to be the most devastating plague of all. The firstborn son of every household in Egypt and the firstborn of the livestock would die. This would be true from the palace to the home of the slaves. There would be a depth of grief that is immeasurable. And while Egypt grieved, Israel would sleep peacefully.
We have watched with horror as communities have grieved over great tragedies. Think about the Oklahoma City bombing, or the communities where a tornado or earthquake brings devastating effects. Those are times of sorrow so deep that we cannot understand it. The sorrow in Egypt was at least that bad . . . possibly greater. There is no loss as deep as the loss of a child. It is the grief that never ends. Mix into this the realization that it could have all been avoided and the grief intensifies.
God gave Moses specific instructions as to how the Israelites were to prepare for this night when all Egypt wept. The details are significant because they are all designed to teach a lesson to the Israelites and those who would come after them.
First, they had to choose a lamb without blemish
The instructions are quite detailed. They were to choose a year old male lamb that was without blemish on the 10th day of the month. They could not choose any lamb, it had to be a prize lamb. A perfect sacrifice was required.
Then they were to slaughter the lamb
On the 14th day of the month they were to slaughter their lamb. Then, they were supposed to take some of the blood of the lamb and paint it on their door frames as a sign that they had done as God commanded.
They were to eat the Passover meal
Next they were to eat the lamb. Again, the instructions were specific. They were to Roast, not boil the lamb. Some have suggested that this way they could cook the lamb whole. They were to eat the lamb along with bitter herbs (to signify the bitterness of their enslavement.) Their bread was to contain no yeast. There were to be no “leftovers” from this meal. If your family was too small to eat an entire lamb then you were to join another family for the meal.
They were to eat the meal with their coat tucked in, sandals on their feet, bags packed and staff in their hand. They were to eat with a readiness to move. This vivid symbolism was to convey to the Israelites that their deliverance was at hand.
They were to leave at the appointed time
At the appointed time the angel of death came and struck the firstborn male children and animals of everyone who did not have blood on their doorposts. On that night many many homes were devastated to find a child dead. When news hit the streets of what was happening Pharaoh and the People of Egypt begged the Hebrews to leave.
We are told that the Israelites left with many valuable items because they had asked their Egyptian neighbors for articles of gold and silver. God told them to do this in Exodus 11:2,3. We are also told that the Lord made the Egyptians favorably disposed to the Hebrews. The Egyptians gave gold, silver and precious stones to the Israelites willingly.
Some people get a bad taste in their mouth when they read these words. They think the Israelites were victimizing the Egyptians. But it is important to notice that the Israelites did not steal these items, they were given them. And there was good reason that God had the Israelites ask for treasures from their neighbors,
- These were goods they could barter in the wilderness. In other words, these goods helped finance the exodus.
- These silver and gold items would be some of the very items used to help build the tabernacle.
- These things were in some sense a reparation for the years of slave labor the Israelites provided.
- These goods were in another respect an offering by the Egyptians to the God of Israel.
They were to Remember this day Forever
God told Moses that from here on out the Passover would be a enduring celebration for the people of Israel. It was to be a yearly celebration that would commemorate the events of God’s deliverance. The celebration would remind Israel of God’s power, God’s love, and God’s grace in making them His own. For the Jews, this celebration is akin to our Christmas and Easter. Our celebration of communion has the same kind of purpose as the Passover did for the Jews.
THE LESSONS OF PASSOVER
We See the Horrible Consequences of Sin.
The tenth plague shows us the horrible consequences of sin. The Passover was an act of judgment. God judged Pharaoh and the people of Egypt. But even the rituals of Passover were designed to convey the horror of sin. The idea of slaughtering a perfect and young lamb and putting it’s blood on your doorframe seems like a barbaric and violent act. And that’s the idea.
Passover reminds us that sin comes with a price. It not only destroys relationships, leads us away from God’s perfect design for our life, and often hurts the people we love . . . it also puts a barrier between us and our Holy God that cannot easily be removed. The price for removing that barrier is death.
There are two issues that we need to point out. First, some may ask, “why does God punish the families of Egypt when it was Pharaoh who was rebelling against God’s authority?” The easy answer to this question is that it is an erroneous assumption to think that the Egyptians were not also rebellious. They may not have been as public about their rebellion, but they still refused to acknowledge the Lord in their hearts and lives.
Second, we need to realize that the Jews were spared not because of their goodness, but because of God’s gracious provision and because of their obedience in availing themselves of that provision. Some believe that Egyptians who followed the instructions were also saved by the blood of the lamb.
There are certainly temporal consequences of sinful behavior. In other words, when you steal you often end up in jail. When you drive too fast or drink and drive, you may end up in a car accident. When you abuse your body you may suffer physical problems. When you cater to vice in the media people will become more callous and cold-hearted. When you exclude religion from public life many will become godless and valueless. When you ignore God’s commands about forgiveness you may end up bitter and filled with resentment. When you are lazy in your spiritual pursuits you may succumb to false teachers.
But what is often forgotten is the spiritual price that sin brings as well. There are temporal effects of sin but there are also eternal effects of sin. The Bible tells us that God’s standard is firm. God requires perfection and purity. Sin bars us from the presence of God. Sin robs us of God’s fellowship, His life, His strength, the Hope of Heaven, and so much more. Sin is serious business. Much more serious than we realize.
Recently, I was at a gathering where I asked a Pastor, “What part does sin have in your preaching?” The answer was, “I think people are well aware of their sin. I don’t need to remind them of their sin, I just need to point them to God’s love.” It’s a noble sentiment, but I don’t agree with it. I don’t think we have any idea how devastating and offensive our sin is to God! And until we face our sin squarely, we will not be interested in His grace. The Passover helps us face the truth.
We Learn of the Astounding Depth of God’s Love
Passover is important not only for the negative of pointing out our sin. It is also an astounding testimony of God’s love. First, God’s love is shown in the tenacious way in which he pursues the release of the Hebrews from Egypt. The Lord does not give up.
It reminds me of the Television show Family Matters. It was a corny sitcom that had some of the best values in television. One of the stars of the show was a character named Steven Erkel. He was a nerdy and clumsy genius who was always causing trouble. He was in love with the neighbor girl, Laura Winslow and told her so every moment he had opportunity. It didn’t matter how many times he was rebuffed, Steve Erkel remained constant in his love for Laura. After many seasons on the air, the persistent love of Steve Erkel finally won Laura’s heart.
God’s love is like that, only better. He is persistent in His affection for us even though we have resisted Him time and time again. We would be astonished at the number of times in our life God has sent a circumstance, a person, or a simple whisper to our heart all in the effort to draw us to Him. You are here today because God is calling to your heart.
God’s love is also shown in provision he made for the sinful people. God would have been completely justified in destroying all the people (including Israel). They were all rebellious. None of them had lived the life they should have lived. But God provided a lamb. This lamb without blemish provided the blood which saved the lives of the people. But the lamb certainly points beyond itself. Passover is a picture that points to Christ.
It is no accident that Jesus died at Passover. In fact, some have suggested that His death came at the very time the blood of all the lambs of Israel was being shed for the Passover feast. Jesus is the perfect lamb. John the Baptist said of Jesus, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) Paul wrote, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor 5:7); Peter wrote that we were redeemed not with gold or silver, but “with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”
God’s love is shown in His willingness to send Christ to pay for our sin. R.C. Sproul writes,
The liberal view that God is just a big Santa Claus in the sky who overlooks sin has permeated our culture and infects the minds of Christian people. The good news of the gospel is not that God overlooks sin, but that he has dealt with it.
If God overlooked sin, he would be a God without moral standards, without character. But the true God is a holy God. He has integrity, and he will not overlook sin or clear the guilty in his court. Sin and guilt must be dealt with, not passed by. [Sproul, Before the Face of God, Book 4 #16]
God’s way of dealing with our sin was to provide a substitute (a lamb) that would take the penalty for us. That substitute is Jesus. If we trust Him we will be spared the dire consequences from our sin.
We are Reminded of the Lasting Benefit of Obedience
There is a third lesson in Passover. It is easy to miss in the mass of details. In Passover we are reminded of the lasting benefits of Obedience. The Hebrews were told to do many things. The instructions must have seemed odd, maybe even crazy. But those who did what God told them to do, were spared the heartache of losing their firstborn son.
Imagine your response if someone gave you the instructions that Moses gave to the Israelites,
- get a lamb
- kill the lamb
- put blood on the doorposts of your house
- roast the lamb
- don’t leave leftovers
- eat with your bags packed and your coat on
- don’t go outside until you are told to do so
Can’t you imagine some of the things we might think: “This is dumb”. “I don’t like my lamb roasted”. “This lamb is like a pet to us, I’m not going to kill it!” “I don’t know if blood will ever come out of the doorposts”. I’ve got to be honest, I can’t imagine obeying without complaining a good deal in the process.
The Israelites who obeyed were spared because they trusted God’s instructions even when they didn’t make sense. It doesn’t take faith to do what we already want to do. Real faith is trusting God when you don’t understand. Let me give you some contemporary examples, it takes faith
- to resist the morality of the world and maintain the purity God commands
- to give of our substance sacrificially
- to act with integrity and report things accurately even though “everybody” is hiding stuff “under the table”
- to tell the truth even though a lie would keep us out of trouble
- to forgive someone who hurt us
- to trust God even though it feels that He has forgotten us
When we do what God tells us to do, we will find His blessing. This is never more true then in the matter of eternal life. Our instinct tells us that we need to do more good things. Our instincts tell us that God will grade on a curve. Our instinct may tell us that God will be charmed by our personable nature. Our instinct tells us that we can do it, if we work hard enough. But God says, we are lost apart from Christ. God says that our only hope is to trust what He has done.
God has told us to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and we will be saved.” If we obey, If we place our life in the hands of our Savior, if we trust the lamb God has provided in Jesus, we will be saved too. It’s not just a matter of “saying a prayer”. Trusting Christ is an attitude of the heart. It means to coming to Him honestly with our sin. It means trusting Him fully to provide what we need. And it means being willing to follow Him wholeheartedly in the every day events of our lives. It is hard to trust another. It is hard to put your life and your eternity into the hands of someone you cannot control. But it is the only way. We must trust the one who has loved us since before the creation of the world. He is worthy of our confidence and trust.
I wonder, are you struggling with some issue of obedience? Is there something you know God wants you to do? Are you resisting because it seems dumb, or because it’s uncomfortable, or costly? Learn the lesson of Passover: Obedience to God will always yield surprising and wonderful results.
- Abraham was willing to leave home even though he didn’t know where he was going
- David refused to kill Saul when he had the chance even though Saul pursuing him relentlessly
- Joseph married Mary even though he knew the child could not be his
- The Shepherds went to Bethlehem even though it seemed absurd that God would come to Shepherds
- Barnabus went to visit Saul (Paul) even though he was known as a murdering antagonist of Christians
- Paul went to Jerusalem even though it was sure that he would be arrested
- Peter commended the Gentiles as fellow believers even though it was political suicide
And over the years
- scores of missionaries have left the comfort of home to serve God
- many have given their lives as martyrs
- people have given enormous amounts of money even though their families thought they were crazy
- students have stood for Christ even though it meant rejection and ridicule from their friends
And the one thing they all hold in common is this – none of them regret doing what God said to do. And you won’t regret it either if you do what he tells you to do. Stop making excuses. Stop dragging your feet. Obey.
We are Left With a Profound Sense of Gratitude
One final thing. Can you imagine the sense of gratitude these Hebrews had. Every time they looked at their firstborn son they were reminded that God had saved them by His grace. Every time they watched their child play, every time they attended a wedding or held a newborn, they were reminded that God had saved them. Every time they celebrated the Passover they were stunned anew with the wonder of God’s love.
The plagues of Egypt seem like just boring pieces of history. But they are so much more. They point to the one who changes lives, rebuilds broken hearts, gives strength to the weary, and brings eternal life to those who could never earn it. Passover points to Jesus. And for this we should be grateful.
Do you remember the story of the Mary who came to Jesus during a banquet (John 12)? She came in, took a flask of expensive perfume and broke it on Jesus. She kissed his feet and wiped his feet with her hair. Many people didn’t understand what she was doing, some I’m sure thought she had “lost it”. But she had never been thinking more clearly. This was a woman who a short time earlier had lost her brother, Lazarus, only to get him back again. We can only imagine her story. Perhaps she felt unloved and unimportant . . . until she met Jesus. Maybe she felt that she didn’t matter to God . . . until she met Jesus. She may have been uncertain about eternity . . . until she met Jesus.
The difference Jesus made in her life filled her with a gratitude that had to be expressed. She would never forget and could never repay the difference He made in her life. She couldn’t hold it in any longer. She had to DO something. And if you and I have even an inkling of what Christ has done for us, we will have that same sense of gratitude. Every communion service will remind us of His love. Every time we celebrate Christmas, Easter or even meet for worship, we will approach Him with the sense of humble wonder and deep gratitude that comes from a true appreciation of His magnificent grace.