Images of the Savior (21 -- The Passover)
The course of history has been arranged by the minute sovereignty of God to no other end than the accomplishment of the great redemptive work of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. This is the center of all worlds, that which binds everything together in a unified whole, the heart and life of the great self-revelation of the diversely glorious God which he designed creation and history to be. So it is that the great climax of history was the Son of God's taking on human flesh to display the glory of the godhead in all its brilliance; and the pinnacle of that climactic act was the cross of Calvary, where every various perfection of God was displayed in the full and infinite magnitude of its splendor. Much in the same way, the economy of the Old Testament, during which time God was pleased to prepare for and foreshadow this great pinnacle of history through the typology of his chosen people Israel, was brought to a corresponding climax in the redemption from Egypt; and the pinnacle of that climactic redemption was the passover feast. If we would see the very reason for all existence painted before us in concrete images and splendid colors, if we would look upon the nature of God graphically displayed in all its economical fullness, then we can do no better than to look here. To understand the one message here displayed is to be a true Christian, a scholar in the heavenly wisdom, an immovably grounded divine. To miss this one message is to be a blind and hardened pagan under the eternal and fiery judgment of God. Father of Lights, send us your Spirit that we might look upon our Passover Lamb and find eternal life and joy in him!
In order to understand the wonder of the transaction that took place in consequence of the application of the Passover lamb's blood, we must come fully to grips with the desperate condition which preceded it. This is why the passover follows the pouring out of God's fury in the nine first plagues, and the announcement of the tenth and final plague. This is why God had hardened Pharaoh in the first place, in order to display his implacable wrath in those fearful plagues. The wonder of our salvation is directly proportionate to the magnitude of the calamity from which we are saved (cf. Romans 9:22-24; 1 Timothy 1:15-16): and the ten plagues teach us that we are embroiled in a calamity of immense proportions, so that only a salvation of unspeakable worth may deliver us. Before God provided his Passover lamb, he taught Israel in terrible foretastes of judgment of the vast storehouses of wrath he had treasured up against all his enemies; in the announcement of the tenth and final plague of death to the firstborn, he signaled the advent of a judgment of wrath far greater and more calamitous than any sign which had preceded it, so that all the other plagues were revealed to be mere harbingers and foretastes of an unspeakably severe exaction of justice; and finally, in his solemn instructions to her, he indicated that she was likewise in danger of this final and greatest judgment, and would certainly be slaughtered with all the Egyptians unless the Passover blood were applied to each one of her houses individually.
So it is with us today. If we would derive any comfort from the Gospel, we must first tremble before the Law. Son of Israel, look at all of God's fierce judgments in history! Look at the plagues and famines and earthquakes and tsunamis with which he has ravaged the lives of countless thousands of earth's heedless inhabitants! Look at the first holocaust in Germany and the later holocaust in the wombs of twenty-first century American women! Look at these things and know that, unless you repent, the same judgments will overtake you (see Luke 13:1-5). God's wrath against sin is immense and terrible, and it will hunt you down and find you out and wreak its terrible vengeance upon you for all eternity, unless you find a deliverance. But praise be to God, a deliverance has been found in the blood of the Passover Lamb!
While we are on this point, we must emphasize that it was God himself, and in particular the Angel of the Lord, who is Christ, that was about to exact this penalty; for this underscores a very vital truth of the gospel, that when we are saved by the Messiah, we are saved from God himself, and from his wrath against our sinful and rebellious ways. When God provided a Passover Lamb, it was not just to free us from the devil (although he did that as well); it was more fundamentally to deliver us from his own righteous wrath. God roared against sin in holy fury, and poured out his wrath upon sinful men â€“ and then God stepped in to absorb that wrath in his own holy person, so that those sinful men might go free, without any compromise of divine justice. Friends, that is the gospel, and that is the picture we have in the Angel of the Lord, our Lion-like Savior, judging all but those who have been covered with the Passover blood of the lamb, which is a type of the blood of Jesus, our Lamb-like Redeemer. Until we tremble before the foretastes of judgments in the nine plagues and the solemn announcement of the tenth, and reckon ourselves among those condemned by that announcement, we will not delight in the provision of the Passover Lamb with all the joy and wondering fervency of condemned sinners saved by immeasurable grace.
Before we look more closely at the deliverance wrought in the blood of the Passover Lamb, let us observe how fitting it is that the typical requirement of death that God announced would be upon the firstborn of every man and creature. This is instructive, first of all, in that it underscores the central truth of a like substitution. God had required the death of every firstborn, and hence, it was only another firstborn (indeed, the Firstborn par excellence) that could serve as a fitting substitute for us in our misery. So it is that on this occasion, God gave the instructions for the price of redemption to be given for every firstborn in Israel, as a perpetual reminder that all the firstborn had been redeemed by the Passover lamb from their sentence of death (Exodus 13:11-16); and so it is, as well, that we as the Church are called an â€œassembly of firstbornâ€ (Hebrews 12:23), every one of us having once stood under the sentence of death pronounced against the firstborn and having been delivered by the substitution of another Firstborn in our place; and hence it may truly be said of us that we are â€œbought with a priceâ€ (1 Corinthians 6:20), and that this price was nothing other than the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without spot or blemish (1 Peter 1:18-19). Second, inasmuch as the firstborn was seen as the strength and pre-eminence of the father (cf. Genesis 49:3), and thus stood in as a representative for the whole family, this decree taught the solemn truth of a universal condemnation. All of the firstborn in Egypt, from man to beast, were under the penalty of justice; and so by extension, and by the principle of representation, all of Egypt, every man and all the land besides, stood condemned. In the same way, the whole world stands guilty before God (Romans 3:19), whose wrath shall devour every creature under heaven and dissolve the heavens and the earth with a terrible heat (2 Peter 3:12), so fierce shall be his justice on that final day.
Now, let us reflect on the nature of this Passover Lamb. First, as we have already touched upon, it was primarily to be a substitute, as was readily illustrated by the fact that its bloody death stood in for the death of those who were already condemned to die, so that the Angel of the Lord, coming down for the blood of the guilty, would consider his judgment already exacted when he saw the lamb's blood covering the house of the guilty. So also Christ came down to bear the sins of the people as their substitute, and to undergo the sentence of death in their place. Second, it was to be a flawless and perfect lamb, having been set aside from the tenth day until the fourteenth day of the month, so that its perfection might be tested and proved (see Exodus 12:3-6). So also Christ was tested for many years in a life full of opposition and temptation, and only went to the cross when his spotless and flawless life had been fully tested and confirmed. And third, this lamb was to be of the people, taken from each man's house; just as Christ became one of us, taking on human flesh and coming to be of Adam's seed, so that he might accomplish our redemption.
The Passover lamb, therefore, was to be a perfect substitute, fitted to be our representative both by his flawless life and close identification with us, as our kindred, our firstborn brother who could stand in our place. But what are the effects which follow the substitutionary slaughter of this perfect and representative lamb?
First, we see the free acquittal of every believing household from the already announced and imminently approaching sentence of death. When the blood of the Passover lamb was applied to the door of a household, that family was delivered from the wrath of God; and so today, when by faith we apply the blood of Christ to our hearts, we will be acquitted and delivered with all our family, even as Paul assured the Philippian jailer, â€œBelieve on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, and your household!â€ (Acts 16:31). Second, we see that this Passover lamb would provide nourishment and sustenance, for the Israelites were to eat of it and thus to derive strength for their journey out of Egypt. So today, we are not just delivered from death by the blood of our Savior, but strengthened for life and godliness by a constant remembrance of his sacrifice, of which we often eat and drink, in a figure, and so are given strength to press on to the Kingdom. Third, Israel was joined together as one nation in their feasting upon the passover Lamb; and so we, who have partaken of the body and blood of the Lamb of God, are one body and one loaf, a renewed and united humanity who shall dwell forevermore in perfect love and unity because of our common identity in union with Christ (see 1 Corinthians 10:16-17). Fourth, the first passover feast in Israel was celebrated with a certain expectant and joyful solemnity; and so we, when we approach the Lord's table, are characterized by a trembling joy and solemn hope that looks ahead to the deep and sober wonder and inexpressible joy of our gathering together before the Lord in the marriage feast of his consummated kingdom (cf. Luke 22:15-16). Fifth, in consequence of the passover, Israel was redeemed from Egypt, and set out hastily for the promised land, having been freed from her captors. So today, when we first taste of the blood of Christ, we are at once freed from this world and its fearful captor, the devil, and we set out in haste across the wilderness of this life with the promised land in our hearts until we arrive there at last. Sixth, Israel set out for the promised land already rich with the spoils of the enemy; and so we today, even in our wilderness wanderings, are enriched with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3), and always made to triumph over our enemies (2 Corinthians 2:14). Seventh, Israel ate unleavened bread, not only to symbolize their haste in leaving the land of Egypt (Exodus 12:39), but also to symbolize the absence of sin among them (Exodus 12:19-20; Matthew 16:6). So today, we have been cleared of our sin and guilt by the blood of Christ our Passover Lamb, and we are now an unleavened loaf in the Lord (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).
The final thing we will observe of the first passover is this: the sentence of death was to take place at midnight (Exodus 11:4); and this marked the end of the day and the entrance of the deepest part of the night. And then, the observance of the passover was henceforth to designate the beginning of a new year (Exodus 12:2). In the same way, we are condemned as guilty, our time is fast slipping away, and soon the day will end, midnight will come, and we will be forever plunged into eternal darkness. But if we are covered with the blood of the Passover Lamb, the midnight that ends this fleeting day of life will not be the end at all, but the beginning, the dawn of a new and eternal year of God's favor. O friend, the night is approaching, and the judgment of God is about to rain upon the world in eternal fury! If you would escape the sentence that has already passed upon you, you must cover your soul in the blood of the Passover Lamb! God has provided Christ, the Lamb of God without spot and without blemish, as a sacrifice to take away sin and give eternal life and joy: sprinkle his blood upon your hearts by faith, eat of his body, purge out the old leaven of wickedness and deceit, and join that united and blood-bought throng of worshipers who are even now making their way in solemn joy across this desolate wilderness, in the certain hope of eternal fellowship with God in the promised land of his presence.