The children of Israel had suffered in bondage to the Egyptians for centuries. But then a man named Moses, along with his brother Aaron, arrived with a message of deliverance. Empowered and emboldened by God, these two appeared before Pharaoh demanding that he let God’s people go. When Pharaoh repeatedly refused, God sent horrific plagues to declare His name and to judge the Egyptians. These included the water turning to blood, the infestation of frogs, multitudes of gnats, swarms of flies, the death of livestock, the breakout of boils, a devastating hailstorm, an invasion of locusts, and days of complete darkness. Yet in every instance Pharaoh remained hard-hearted, unwilling to submit to Moses’ demands.
The tenth plague would prove to be the breaking point. The misery that befell Pharaoh and all of Egypt as a result of this final judgment would prove too great for even the stubborn king to bear. So what was this last plague - the straw that broke the camel’s back? It was the death of the firstborn - an event we commonly refer to as the Passover.
In today’s message, the sixth in our series called “The Wandering Church”, we are going to take a closer look at the Passover. Not only will we learn about what happened in the days of Moses, but we will also see how the Passover has been remembered throughout the centuries, and discuss the meaning of this event and its centrality to the Christian faith.
I. THE STORY OF THE PASSOVER - Exodus 11:1-10; 12:21-23,29-32
By this point, all of the people in Egypt - except Pharaoh of course - feared the God of Israel and his children. As such, they desperately wanted them to go and willingly gave them their precious jewels and fine metals in hopes that they would finally leave. In this way, the Hebrews plundered the Egyptians just as God had foretold that they would.
Moses then announced one final plague. He warned Pharaoh that if he would not release the people then at midnight the LORD would go throughout the nation of Egypt and strike every one of their firstborn sons - of both man and beast. All of them would die, yet the firstborn sons of Israel would be spared. Inexplicably Pharaoh again refused to listen and Moses stormed out of his presence “hot with anger.”
Moses then summoned the elders of Israel and instructed each of them to select and slaughter a lamb. They were to take a bunch of hyssop branches and dip them in the lamb’s blood, and then brush the blood on the top and sides of the outer doorframe of their houses. They were to then go and remain inside, along with their families, throughout the entire night. The LORD would move over the entire land of Egypt, passing over all of the homes where the blood was present, but bringing death everywhere else. Only the houses marked with blood would be spared.
That night the LORD moved and all of the firstborn sons of Egypt died. There was great wailing and agony in every Egyptian home. Devastated, Pharaoh called for Moses though it was the middle of the night and urged him and the Hebrews to leave their country immediately. In response Moses and the children of Israel hurriedly gathered their supplies that very night and set out on their journey. The exodus had begun.
II. THE CELEBRATION OF THE PASSOVER - Exodus 12:1-11,14-20
The LORD instructed Moses to celebrate the Passover annually in recognition of the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian captivity. The Jewish calendar revolves around Passover, intentionally placing it in the first month of the year. According to this passage, on the tenth day of this month the men of Israel are to select a lamb for their families. Then on the fourteenth at twilight they are to slaughter lamb and rub its blood upon their doorposts. The Passover lamb, as it is called, is to be without any defect or blemish.
In addition to this, each family is observe the Passover meal. They are to roast the slaughtered lamb over fire, and eat it along with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. These elements are to be prepared quickly. Those celebrating the Passover are to be dressed as if the are about to depart on a trip, and are to eat the meal as if they are in a hurry to leave. Everything is to be consumed, and if any food remains it is to be burned the next morning.
From the evening of the fourteenth day through the twenty-first day of the month the children of Israel were commanded to observe the Festival of Unleavened Bread. This week-long event began immediately following the Passover, and began and ended with a sacred assembly. No work was to be done on these days except for preparing food, and all bread was to be unleavened or made without yeast. The Days of Unleavened Bread are connected directly with the Passover and memorialize the deliverance of Israel from Egypt.
The celebration of the Passover has continued on and off throughout history all the way up to the present day. Some of the most notable Passover meals mentioned in Scripture took place at Mt. Sinai led by Moses, in Gilgal led by Joshua, in Jerusalem led by King Josiah, again in Jerusalem led by King Hezekiah, during the Babylonian exile led by the Levites, and of course in the Upper Room led by Jesus Christ. The Passover memorial is central to the Jewish faith.
III. THE MEANING OF THE PASSOVER - Exodus 12:24-28
More than any other thing, the Passover represents deliverance from God’s judgment. Those who escaped God’s wrath were saved solely because they were covered by the blood of a lamb. This blood protected them from death and proved to be the means of their salvation.
In the New Testament Jesus is often compared with or referred to as the Passover Lamb. He was without sin, and therefore is rightly described as the unblemished Lamb of God. It is His blood, which was shed for us at Calvary, that covers our sins and rescues us from God’s judgment. Unlike the slaughtering of a Passover sheep or goat that must be repeated each year, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is a one-time event. His blood covers mankind’s sin for all of eternity.
The Christian ordinance that we call “The Lord’s Supper” is closely related to the celebration of Passover. It was on such an evening, during the Passover meal, that Jesus instituted “The Lord’s Supper”. There in the upper room with His apostles gathered around Him, Jesus likened the bread to His body which would be broken for them and the cup to His blood which would be shed for them. In so doing, Jesus presented Himself as our Passover Lamb who would be slain in order to cover man’s sin.
When we conduct “The Lord’s Supper” today, we should think about our deliverance from our slavery to sin just as Israel thought of their deliverance from their slavery to Egypt. Having been saved from death, we should aspire to remove all sinfulness from our homes and lives just as they removed the yeast from their bread and homes during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. By doing these things, we continue to honor the spirit of these two ancient Jewish traditions.
It was the tenth plague - the Passover of the LORD - that finally broke Pharaoh's stubbornness and compelled him to let the children of Israel go. The king did not allow them to leisurely leave whenever they got ready, but rather drove the Hebrews out of Egypt hastily. Thus the departure of Israel was sudden and without much preparation at all.
I hope this message has given you a better understanding of the Passover and how it relates to Christianity today. The story of the Passover speaks to much more than just the events of the exodus, but also to the atoning work of our Savior Jesus Christ. He is our Passover Lamb, and it is His blood that is placed upon the doorposts of our hearts. When the day of judgment comes God will see those who are covered by it, and will pass over them…
Have you ever placed your faith in Christ? Are you covered by the blood of the Lamb?