Preparing for Easter
Exodus 12:21-30 & Luke 22:7-20
A number of years ago my late wife & I were travelling from Europe back to Hong Kong. We had a brief 3-day stop-over in Istanbul in Turkey. As we drove from the airport into the city at several points along the way we saw crowds of people gathered around watching men slaughtering sheep. The men killed the sheep with a big knife & then skinned them. There was a lot of blood around. The taxi driver explained that we had arrived on the first day of the festival of Kurban or Eid – the Festival of Sacrifice. It was the very day every Muslim home offered a sacrifice. That night each family roasted & ate the meat of their sacrificial lamb.
Muslims in China, ethnic groups like the Uygur & the Hui, also celebrate this festival. The origins of this Muslim festival can be traced to the Bible. In Genesis in the Old Testament there is a famous story of how God provided a ram for Abraham so that he didn't have to sacrifice his own son Isaac. That ram died as a sacrifice in the place of Isaac. Of course for the Jewish people this was a very important event. For Christians, we believe it points very clearly to our Saviour the Lord Jesus. That ram which God provided for Abraham was a fore-shadowing, a type, an illustration pointing forward to Jesus. In the Bible Jesus is called “…the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. (John 1:29) He is the Lamb of God who takes our place, who dies instead of us.
Well there is another similar but even more important festival celebrated by the Jews. It is called Passover. It also involved the killing of a lamb. And Christians believe that the Passover lamb also points forward to Jesus. When Jesus was on earth, & the Temple was still standing in Jerusalem, the highlight of the Festival of Passover was the sacrificing of the paschal or sacrificial lamb. Each family also sacrificed a lamb which was then roasted & eaten with unleavened bread. Unleavened bread has no yeast in it. Even today Jewish people celebrate Passover although they no longer kill sacrificial lambs. They eat unleavened bread & roast lamb cooked with bitter herbs, & they drink wine.
Now, why is the Feast of Passover so important? Do Christians celebrate it & if so how & why? These are some of the questions we will think about today.
Indeed Christians do celebrate Passover. It is one of our most holy festivals, except we normally do not call it Passover. Instead we call it by the name Good Friday. It was during the Jewish festival of Passover that Jesus was crucified on the cross – on Good Friday. It is all part of Easter for following on from Good Friday is Resurrection Sunday. Next weekend we celebrate Christian Easter.
Let us look at what the Bible tells us about this important festival & why it is so important. We find the story in the second book of the Bible, the book of Exodus. The Jewish people had been living in Egypt for over 400 years. By this time they had become slaves & were suffering terrible oppression under the iron-fist of their Egyptian slave masters & the Egyptian king Pharaoh. God called Moses to lead his people out of Egypt - but Moses had a major problem. Pharaoh & his officials were in no mood to allow God's people to leave. After all, the Egyptian economy depended upon the slave labour provided by the Hebrews. Even when God used Moses to perform signs & wonders in front of Pharaoh he would not change his mind. Then God sent terrible plagues on the land but Pharaoh simply hardened his heart. He refused to listen to God. Even today God gives people many opportunities to turn away from their sin. He gives us signs & sometimes even performs miracles. And when we experience tragedy & hardship in life – God is there to help us if only we will see our need, humble ourselves & turn to Him. But no, like Pharaoh, we refuse to listen.
Well, the tenth & final plague was about to fall. It was going to be the worst plague of all. God said that the firstborn of every family in Egypt would die. The angel of death would go through the whole land. No one would be spared. “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.” (Exodus 11:5) Pharaoh was warned about what would happen but still refused to let God's people go.
God had a plan to spare the Israelites, His people. He would save them from the plague. God told Pharaoh through Moses: “Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt & Israel.” (Exodus 11:7) Dear brothers & sisters, even Egypt & Israel in this story are types, or pictures or shadows of things to come. Of course I am not talking about modern day Egypt or modern day Israel. I am talking about what these two nations represented as types or pictures in the Old Testament. Egypt is a type or a picture of the person who refuses to turn to God, the one who refuses to believe, the one who fights against God. Egypt represents the unbeliever, those who are lost. Israel on the other hand, in this context, is a type or a picture of the people of God. Israel represents the believer. It represents the Church. It represents those who believe the gospel & obey God's Word. It represents those who are delivered from the slavery of sin, those who are saved. My friend – you are one or other of these two today – either Egypt or Israel, either God's enemy or God's friend, either lost or saved. There is indeed a distinction between Egypt & Israel.
God warned that the angel of death would go through the whole land & no firstborn son would be spared. If the Israelites were to be spared they would need to carefully follow God's instructions. We read in Exodus 12:3, the Lord says first of all to Moses: “Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household.” They were to prepare a lamb – one for each family. They could share with neighbours but there must be enough for each person. All were to participate – young & old. Each family was to choose a lamb. Dear friend, if you want to be saved – you too need to choose a lamb. However you cannot choose any lamb. The only One who can take away your sin, the only One who can save you, is the One chosen by God – our Saviour Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. If you choose Him today you will be saved. If you reject Him you will remain in your sin & you will have no hope when the angel of death passes over you. So first of all the Israelites had to choose a lamb.
Secondly, they had to choose a male lamb (or a goat) that was a year old & the lamb was to be without defect. It was to be perfect. We read in v.5, “The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, & you may take them from the sheep or the goats.” A one year old lamb is in its prime. It is healthy & strong. Its meat is tender & tasty. And the lamb to be chosen must be perfect. What a picture we have here of our Lord Jesus! He was in His prime & He was perfect. Only He was good enough. Only He could stand against evil & remain unspoiled. Only He could face temptation & remain pure. Only He could close hell & open heaven. As a verse in an old hymn says: “There was no other good enough To pay the price of sin; He only could unlock the gate Of heaven, & let us in.”
Thirdly, after having killed the lamb, God told them to do something very strange. We read in v.7, “Then they are to take some of the blood & put it on the sides & tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs.” Blood from each lamb was to be applied to the top & the two sides of the front door of each house. It must have been a gruesome sight – blood painted over the door way. Why did they have to do this? We see the reason in v.13. God says, “The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, & when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.”
Many of you are familiar with the custom at Chinese New Year of pasting strips of red paper called “chun lian”on the two sides of the front door of a home. Matching phrases or couplets, usually with “lucky” words, are written on these red strips. The character for happiness or blessing is often pasted on the door or above it. The idea of putting up these “chun lian” on red paper is to keep out evil & welcome good in the New Year. Chinese Christians often also put up “chun lian” but put Scriptural verses on them instead. Non-Christians may hope that the red paper & lucky words will keep evil out of their home in the New Year but in fact it is only the blood of Jesus that can protect us from fear & evil. Only the blood of Jesus can bring us blessing & salvation.
When the angel of death passed over Egypt that night, there was either death or salvation in each home. When the angel saw blood on the doorposts he passed over that house. The blood was a sign. It was a mark distinguishing God's people from those who were not His people. The blood was a covering & those under the blood were safe. It was their protection. The Lord said, “…when I see the blood, I will pass over you.” The Hebrew for “you” is in the singular, not the plural. The plural form would refer to all the people of Israel but here the emphasis is on each individual being covered by the blood & each individual being saved. We cannot rely upon our background or our race or our position in the church. Each person individually must believe & must obey.
All this is a powerful picture of the gospel. Those who come to Jesus the Lamb of God & apply His blood to their own lives will be saved. What Jesus did on the Cross, shedding His precious blood for us, brings us deliverance from the penalty of sin which is death. Jesus is the only One to whom we can run for safety from judgment. Only if the blood of Jesus has been applied to us are we safe from the righteous judgment of God. Do you have the mark of the blood on your life? Do not delay. Come to Jesus today. Ask Him to wash away your sin in His precious blood. As the old hymn asks, “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus; What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Oh! precious is the flow That makes me white as snow; No other fount I know, Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
The Apostle Peter speaks of the precious blood of Jesus. In 1 Peter 1:18 & 19 we read, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver & gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”
Some people think that speaking of the blood of Jesus is gruesome. However the Bible makes clear that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. A price has to be paid. All through the Old Testament, the sacrifice of animals was important but it was just a picture pointing forward to the only truly effective sacrifice - the sacrifice of the perfect Lamb of God. The blood of Jesus is indeed precious. It is powerful to save. Satan is afraid when we speak of the blood of Jesus for he knows it means the total defeat of all his evil schemes. Have you applied the blood of Jesus to the door frames of your life? Are you safe under the cover of His sacrifice for you?
Fourthly notice, after applying the blood to the door posts, the people had to roast the sacrificial lamb. We read in v.8, “That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, & bread made without yeast.” Roasting over the fire perhaps is a picture for us of the agony Jesus endured on the Cross. He tasted the fires of hell for us. Because of His suffering we are spared the suffering we deserve. Because he died, we can live. And it was a bitter death He died. Eating the Passover meal with the bitter herbs would remind God's people of the bitterness of suffering from which they were spared. It was also to help them remember the need to be sorry for sin, to show true repentance. To experience God's forgiveness we need to come in true bitterness of soul, in heart-felt repentance.
Yeast is what makes bread rise. It takes time but just a tiny amount of yeast eventually spreads through a whole lump of dough. At the time of the first Passover, God's people did not have time to make bread the normal way – with yeast. So they ate bread without yeast. However, in the Bible yeast is also used as a picture of sin. Even a little sin can affect the whole body. Secret sins in the life of a believer can have a devastating effect. So Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 5:7 & 8, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice & wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity & truth.”
Sixthly & finally, they were to eat the Passover meal in a hurry. They were not to delay. Look at v.11, “This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet & your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD's Passover.” The reason they were to eat in a hurry was that they had to be ready to move.
The angel of death struck at midnight. Very soon after that when the Egyptians discovered that all their first-born sons lay dead, there was great wailing throughout the land. Pharaoh finally allowed the Israelites to leave Egypt. In fact he wanted them to go right away. There could be no delay. Perhaps there is a picture here of how we are to live as Christians. We must be ready to move. Like the person waiting for the start of the race. He is ready to take off as soon as the gun sounds. We must be ready to follow our Lord in service. We must also be ready for His return. He could come at any time. The Lord could also call us at any time. As the 19thcentury Anglican preacher Henry Law puts it, “He is a foolish servant who has to seek the key when his Lord knocks. … When death comes, have nothing to do, but just to die.”
I heard about the famous British preacher Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones who at 82 was nearing the end of his life. He seemed to sense the Lord was calling him home. He made sure all his affairs were in order. He even cancelled his morning newspaper from a certain date. He died on Sunday March 1st. 1981 – the very day after which his last newspaper had been delivered. Very few of us will have any idea as to when we might die but whenever it is we need to be ready. Even if we are young & think we have lots of time. In fact we don't. None of us knows the minute or the hour. We must be ready.
Yes, dear friend, only if you belong to Jesus will you be ready. Only if His blood has been applied to the doorposts of your heart, will you be unafraid to die. The covering of His blood is our only security for living & for dying.
God told the Israelites to always remember their deliverance from Egypt. They were to celebrate the Feast of Passover every year. At Easter we as Christians also remember the sacrifice of Jesus the Lamb of God. But we also remember His sacrifice very time we meet for communion around the Lord's Table. In the passage we read from Luke 22, which describes what happened at Passover time in Jerusalem the night before Jesus was crucified, Jesus says to His disciples, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:15 & 16) It was right after this that Jesus led His disciples in the very first communion. “He took the bread, gave thanks & broke it, & gave it to them saying, 'This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.'” Jesus was the fulfilment of Passover. He was the Lamb of God who gave Himself for us, to die in our place. Then we read, “In the same way, after the supper He took the cup saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.'” (Luke 22:20)
Not only once a year at Easter but whenever we celebrate communion, we are remembering what Jesus did for us in dying for us on the Cross. We do not have to fear the angel of death for Jesus our sacrificial Lamb has died in our place. He is of course alive again & He lives for evermore. Let us give thanks. Let us bow before Him in praise & adoration.