Series on Exodus, II The Community of God's People, C The Sacrament of the Community, Text:12:1-13:12,Title:The Passover.


By common Christian consensus we have two sacraments in the Christian faith. These are ordinances which Jesus has commanded us to keep, baptism and the Lord's supper. What is a sacrament? According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism it is  “A holy ordinance instituted by Christ, wherein by sensible signs Christ and the benefits of the new covenant are represented, sealed and applied to believers.” The Confession of Faith takes a little broader view in Chapter 27 saying,  “Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace instituted by God to represent Christ.” Thus it includes the sacraments of the Old Testament which were more numerous. In fact in Chapter 7 regarding the covenant of grace, we are taught the covenant was “differently administered in Old Testament times through promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb or passover and other types and ordinances which fore-signified Christ to come.” In both chapters we are reminded that the sacraments were the same in substance in both Testaments. This means that in the broader sense they are all instituted by God, and they all speak of Christ and his work, and they all represent,seal and apply the blessings of the covenant of grace. The difference is found solely in the fact that the old sacraments looked forward,and the new sacraments look back, but they all looked up. The Old Testament had many sacraments but the two primary ones are the same as our New Testament sacraments. Baptism answers to circumcision and the Lord's Supper answers to the passover. In this study we are looking at the passover as established, enacted and explained.

I The Passover Established

At the end of Chapter 11 in verses 4-7 Moses reveals to  Pharaoh what God will do in the 10th plague, So Moses said, “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.” Before the deed is done God announces the memorial feast that is to be perpetually observed in Israel to commemorate the deliverance in Chapter 12. These are instructions as to what to do that first Passover night in verses 21-23, Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, ”Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning. When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.” We also read in this section in verses 5-8 and 14-16 instructions for celebrating this occasion annually through the years to come, The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the door frames of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD-a lasting ordinance. For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel. On the first day hold a sacred assembly, and another one on the seventh day. Do no work at all on these days, except to prepare food for everyone to eat - that is all you may do. The eating of the lamb at each successive passover is a reminder of the blood placed on the doorpost of each believing home and it is a partaking in that sacrifice. The first born stood for the whole family. In these instructions God teaches the vocabulary of redemption. From the beginning it has been taught that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. Consider the clothing made of animal hides in which God clothed Adam and Eve, Abel’s sacrifice of a lamb which was accepted by God when Cain’s was not, and the sacrifice of the ram on Mount Moriah in the place of Isaac. Since John the Baptist declares that Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world we understand that down through history this feast was a reminder of a greater sacrifice than that of bulls and goats. The meaning of the Lord's Supper and the Passover are basically the same. We must be saved by the blood of the lamb. Modernists have tried to say that such a salvation is unworthy of God. They have characterized it as crude and vulgar and heartless. I can imagine what animal rights activists would have said, but the point at issue is that a sinner's life can only be redeemed by blood, by another life, and indeed ultimately only by the same kind of life. This is so woven into the fabric of the Bible that there is no way that we can evade it. The curse of the law is death and heaven is open only to those for whom the price has been paid. How many people are there who have said this is too simple, too easy. The Jewish people told the story of a little girl who couldn’t sleep that fateful night and made her Father get up and check to be sure the blood was on the door frame. What would have happened to the family if they said, “Oh it’s just a little thing, how can that make a difference?” There is a little piece of silk in the museum of Springfield, Illinois, that could not be bought for any amount of money. Why the value attached to it? That little bit of silk is all covered with blood. It was once a part of a dress worn by the girl, who sat by Abraham Lincoln when he was shot. She held his head in her lap while he bled his life out. The State of Illinois purchased that dress, and cut out this piece of silk covered with the blood of the great statesman, emancipator of an enslaved race, and the man who in the program of God became a cohesive force in the progress of this nation.  One drop of the blood of Jesus would be sufficient to save the whole world, but it must be applied by the Holy Spirit through faith. In Italy and Belgium pilgrims gather and processions form to honor the alleged relics of the blood of Jesus, but it is powerless apart from the Holy Spirit. The blood of the Passover would have been powerless too, except for the decree of God to save his people. people of God are defined by the passover feast we are told at the beginning of chapter 12 this is to be the first month of their year. There is nothing more fundamental to our faith.

II The Passover Enacted

The instructions are first passed on to the elders of Israel, and then we read in verses 29 and 30 that the Lord acted in accord with his threat, At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. The people hurriedly left with the Egyptians giving them silver and gold and clothing and according to verse 36, The LORD had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians. Then Pharaoh, himself, a real enigma says bless me before you leave, even though he will change his mind again one last time and pursue the Israelites. Here in this enactment the sharpest possible division is made between the people of God and the world. When you think of the Israelites later on murmuring in the wilderness and desiring to go back to Egypt, you must think not only of the difficulties they encountered in the desert, but also of the trivial desires that moved them. Egypt was the place where the first born died. Egypt is a place of judgment, condemnation and death. Who in his right senses would want to return there? But even professed Christians are in danger of turning back and as the author of Hebrews says, this is so foolish because if they who defied Moses did not escape how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation? Charles Spurgeon said, “If I had a brother who had been murdered, what would you think of me if I ...daily consorted with the assassin who drove the dagger into my brother’s heart; surely I too must be an accomplice in the crime. The world murdered Christ; will you be a friend to it? The world pierced the heart of the Incarnate God; can you love it?”  In Galatians Paul says we are delivered from the world, and in the same letter he says we are crucified unto the world. In his prayer in John 17 Jesus says his disciples are given to him out of the world and they are not of the world and they will be hated by the world. Satan who is the serpent in the garden that betrayed the world and is the God of this world deceived the Israelites. How else could they want to go back? The world is a snake pit yet people fearlessly befriend it. Once on Ripley’s “Believe it or not “ I saw a man climb into a bag with 110 venomous rattlesnakes. Would ordinary people do that? Of course not! Yet they do essentially the same thing when they befriend the world. Remember it was Pharaoh who said, during the plagues, you may go and worship your God but do not go too far. When God delivers his people he puts an impossible barrier between them and Egypt. This is exemplified in the instructions found in 12:43-49. The Passover is restricted to those who have been circumcised, The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “These are the regulations for the Passover: No foreigner is to eat of it. Any slave you have bought may eat of it after you have circumcised him, but a temporary resident and a hired worker may not eat of it. It must be eaten inside one house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones. The whole community of Israel must celebrate it. An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the LORD’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat of it. The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you.” Now the Lord's Supper in the same way may be eaten only by those who are baptized. The loose and irreverent distribution of the supper of the Lord in our day is a travesty. The Passover was restricted, and so is the Lord's table. The reason is not simply that only true believers are entitled to eat, or that one may eat condemnation to himself if he partakes in unbelief. The reason is primarily that the supper belongs to and identifies the true children of God in this world and separates them from others. In circumcision and baptism we choose death with Christ over life in Egypt, and that division must never be surrendered.

III The Passover Explained

Briefly in chapter 13 we have a command in verse 8, On that day tell your son, “I do this because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.” That is why in Jewish homes to this day, when they keep the Passover the question is asked, “Why is this night different from all other nights?" We would do well as Christians to emulate their interest in history. These words are reminiscent of the mandate in 12:24 that the ordinances were intended for all their descendants. The words of Deuteronomy 6 regarding the shema, the recital of the Scripture and the law in the home are also reminiscent of the instruction here. But what we learn here is that before we are told to teach our children the law of the covenant in Deuteronomy, we are told to teach our children the nature of the covenant. Presbyterians are accustomed to referring to themselves as Covenant Theologians. This means they see the Covenant of Grace as the single great unifying theme of Scripture. We are accustomed to speaking of our faith in doctrinal terms derived from Scripture. Our catechism teaches us much about the experience of salvation, the ordo salutis, the order of salvation, as it is called. But the Bible is history, and it is the history of salvation that God says we need to teach our children. I have two volumes of scripture history, written for children, before the Civil War, 600 pages. There is nothing like it today. In fact in scanning thousands of sermon illustrations on the internet, out of hundreds of topics, not once was the word covenant listed as it is in my books. When most parents today are asked the meaning of the Lord’s supper by their children, they explain how it means that Jesus died and we are remembering his death, but we are to celebrate and explain the redemption that God brought at Calvary began long ago and relate it to the Exodus and the Passover. These two things cannot be separated, and they are not given just for our instruction but for our children. Notice too the personal emphasis in 13:8. The sacraments as signs are especially suited for instruction, but they are not to be celebrated without the ministry of the Word. it is the explanation of their historical significance which fulfills their usefulness to us and our families.