A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas before the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper on March 4, 2018.
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.”
“Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD” (Ex. 12:1–12).
The first nine plagues in Egypt left the country devastated. From a bloody Nile to an amphibian blossoming, from sandy gnats to swarming flies, from dying livestock to developing sores, from storming hail to a host of locusts, even in darkness, Pharoah’s hardened heart defied God’s command. There would be one, only one, more plague: “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Yet one plague more I will bring Pharoah and upon Egypt. Afterward he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will drive you away completely” (Ex. 11:1).
While the first nine plagues attacked the sustenance of life, the final plague attacked life directly.
Thus says the LORD: “bout midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again. But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, that you may know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel” (Ex. 11:4–7).
The firstborn of every man and beast would die in Egypt.
Through the plagues God had revealed that He is sovereign over the water that we drink, in which we bathe and clean, and water our crops. He is sovereign over all of the animals of His creation, directing them and sustaining them. He is sovereign over sickness to send or heal. He is sovereign over the weather, directing it to sustain or devastate. He is sovereign over the universe, and He is sovereign over life. He who created all things sustains all things “by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3).
God’s wonders multiplied in the land of Egypt (Ex. 11:9) and the preservation of His chosen people leave us in awe of His sovereign power. But, it was to Israel that God revealed His redemption. Just as He sent Moses to deliver Israel from Egyptian slavery, He would commence the exodus by saving the life of the firstborn. God revealed this thru His Word to Israel, redemption believed.
Moses and Aaron were instructed to deliver God’s special revelation, “Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household.” The lamb was to be without blemish, a year-old male. Four days later at sundown the lambs were to be slaughtered. The lamb was to be roasted and eaten entirely, along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. There was also dinner etiquette. Belts were to be fastened, sandals on, staff in hand. The meal was not to be savored slowly but eaten in haste.
While the lamb provided a meal, it was the blood of that spotless lamb that had significance. It was to be painted on the entry of each home in which Israel ate. God revealed that on that night of hasty feasting, He would “pass through the land of Egypt.” Death of the firstborn was certain in every home except for those with bloody doorposts. God said, “And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.” God had first revealed to Israel the fact of their imminent redemption from slavery, and now He revealed to them the means of that redemption.
Having heard the Word of God, “the people bowed their heads and worshiped. Then the people of Israel went and did so; as the LORD had commanded” (Ex. 12:27-28). J.A. Motyer says, “Faith is action taken on evidence, driven by conviction.” The evidence was delivered through the Word of God, so Israel celebrated the first Passover, testifying that they believed that God would do what He said. Redemption believed.
So Israel did as commanded, but God had previously told Moses, “There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again. But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, that you may know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel” (Ex. 11:6-7). What was the mark of distinction? The blood of that spotless lamb served as a distinction of God’s favor, the sustained life of His people, redemption sealed.
Just as God clothed the nakedness of Adam and Eve with garments of skin (Gen. 3:21), just as Abel sacrificed a firstborn lamb in worship, just as Noah offered clean sacrifices after the flood, just as Abraham sacrificed the substitutionary ram, so also Israel sacrificed the Passover lamb whose blood was shed as a seal. God said, “The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you.”
Yet God needed no sign, mark, or seal of distinction in the nine other plagues. Why the tenth plague? It was a matter of life and death. The wrath of God was satisfied by the blood in order to preserve firstborn life. Life was saved by the blood of a lamb; life was lost without it. “And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead” (Ex. 12:30).
That night Pharoah summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up, go out from among my people, both you and the people of Israel; and go, serve the LORD, as you have said. Take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone, and bless me also!” (Ex. 12:31-32). In the midst of firstborn death, the life of Israel’s firstborn was preserved, and this by the seal of the blood of a lamb. This supernatural event was not to be forgotten, leading to the exodus, it was redemption remembered.
God introduces the Passover with memorial distinction. First, there is the establishment of an ongoing calendar and record: “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you.” Second, it is inaugurated and continued by feasting: “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast” (Ex. 12:14). Passover observance would begin and end the week with assembled worship and rest, followed by another feast, the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Third, it is established as a national tradition passed from generation to generation: “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” (Ex. 12:26–27a).
There is intention in the detailed description of preparing, celebrating, and understanding the significance of the Passover feast. We need memorials as humans, and all the more as Christians. Therefore, when Jesus had gathered with His disciples to eat the Passover meal, having blessed and given bread and wine, He said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). In this short phrase, “Do this in remembrance of me,” the Passover was fully revealed, not merely as a sacred feast, but as a picture of spiritual redemption, not in a lamb but in the Lamb of God.
As God’s Word was delivered to Israel in Egypt, they worshiped and obeyed, believing in the promise of redemption. Likewise, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Just as God declared Israel’s earthly redemption through the means of the blood of a lamb, we are spiritually “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). Just as the life of every firstborn in Israel was sealed by the blood of a lamb, Christ is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15) and by God’s grace through faith in Him, we are redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1Pet. 1:19).
Just as Israel remembered the Passover through the Passover feast, we remember “that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:23–26). Redemption believed. Redemption sealed. Redemption remembered.
“Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor. 5:8). Knowing that “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).