A sermon on Exodus 12 by Rev Richard Keith on 22 November 2020
Every culture, every civilization, has its own way of counting the days and months and years. In our reckoning today is Sunday, 22nd November. This calendar was set by Julius Caesar over 2000 years ago. And in all that time it has only changed twice.
Firstly, 1500 years ago the system of numbering the years since the birth of Jesus was introduced. According to that reckoning, this year is 2020 AD. Secondly, in 1752 the calendar skipped 11 days. People went to bed on September 2nd and woke up the next day on September 14th. The old calendar had too many leap years and the date of the year was falling behind the motion of the sun. It’s a big deal to change the calendar. It takes something important to make it happen.
Exodus chapter 12 records the changing of the calendar for the people of Israel. The Lord said to Moses,
This month is to be for you the first month of the year.
Because that day was the mark the Exodus, the exit, when the people of Israel left their slavery in Egypt behind. It was to be their independence day. And it was to be celebrated by the feast of Passover. The Lord said,
Each man is to take a lamb for his family. One for each household. Take care of it until the fourteenth day of the month. At evening the lamb is to be slaughtered. They are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of their houses. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire along with bitter herbs and bread made without yeast. Do not leave any of it until morning. If there is some left till morning you must burn it. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked under your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover.
Notice the sense of urgency. There is no time for proper butchering. There is no time for the meat to marinade in special sauce. It is a simple meal, roasted like their ancestors cooked when they were still hunters and gatherers. Mmmm, roast lamb. There is no time for the bread to rise with yeast. It is flat bread cooked quickly in a pan. And the people of Israel were to eat dressed for a journey. Cloaks and sandals on, like they would wear outdoors with their walking sticks by their side. And there was not to be any left overs. No chance to store what they couldn’t eat for later. There wasn’t going to be a later. Instead, they organised into groups big enough to consume a whole lamb. Not a cute baby lamb. It was a year old. What a farmer or a butcher or our grandmother would have called a hogget. And whatever was left over was burned up to clean up the mess.
They were to eat in a hurry. They were to be ready and dressed for a journey. Because they were going to start a journey and they would have to leave in a hurry. Because it was time for the last and most terrible plague to strike Egypt. For the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt, building monuments for the king. But after this last plague, Pharaoh would make them leave his country and his service. And they would leave their chains behind.
Last week we looked at the first nine plagues. After the first plague struck with a bang, turning the water of the river Nile to blood, the next eight plagues show a slow and steady escalation. Each of them was more terrible and destructive than the one before. Frogs, pretty harmless. Then flies. Gnats. Sores. Boils. Hail. Locusts. Darkness. Darkness? Darkness may not seem that terrible, but that’s only because we live in a country that doesn’t worship the sun as the most important of all gods. But what could be worse? What plague could fall that was so bad that Pharaoh would chase them out of his country, when he hadn’t already?
Moses said to the elders,
Go 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 sides of your doorframes. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning.
This is what the Lord says, “About midnight I will go through the land of Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the son of Pharaoh in the palace, to the firstborn son of the slave girl working at the mill. There will be loud wailing, worse than there has ever been before or will ever be. But among the people of Israel not a dog will bark. When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the doorframe and he will pass over that house. He will not allow the destroyer to enter your home to strike you down.”
This last terrible plague did not only harm the lives of the Egyptians, but it struck at their hopes for the future, their hope of living on in the lives of their children. It was not a racist attack on defenceless, innocent people. It was the judgment of the life-giver on the nation of Egypt, which had enslaved the Israelites, murdered their babies, profited from their labour and refused to let them go. It wasn’t the first plague, inflicted on an unsuspecting people. It was the tenth. And the Lord didn’t ambush the Egyptians. He didn’t attack them without warning. Pharaoh had had a number of chances of letting the Israelites go without any bad consequences for anyone. And we know years later that a mixed group of Israelites and Egyptians had left Egypt. Some of the people of Egypt had heeded the warning. Some of them threw their lot in with the people of Israel and took the proper precautions. Those who knew to paint the doorposts of their houses on that fateful night and believed in the God of Israel enough to do it were spared. It was not the first plague, catching an innocent people unawares. But it was the last plague.
During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and said,
Up! Leave my people. Go, worship the Lord. Take your flocks and herds and go. And please, bless me.
And they left. They made their exodus and they never went back.
What we see here in the Passover lamb is an example of sacrifice. The sinner has turned his back on his creator’s life and his creator’s way of life. In the creator’s hand the sinner cannot live. The sinner can only expect death. But in sacrifice, death falls on another. It isn’t a wasted death. The lambs weren’t slaughtered and just thrown away on a rubbish heap like they didn’t matter. Like happens all the time in our culture when supermarkets can’t sell their food within the use by date. Wasted food. Wasted lives. No the lambs’ lives weren’t wasted, but they were used to bring life. Their blood was painted on the doorposts and the angel of death passed them over. And their meat was roasted to provide strength for the journey.
Sacrifice seems barbaric to our modern sensibilities. But the truth is that in most cases the meat of the sacrifice was eaten by the worshipers. And in most cases the people of Israel didn’t eat meat other than the sacrifices they offered. It is no more barbaric than slaughtering and butchering today. By the blood of the Passover lambs the people of Israel had their independence day. And from that moment their calendar changed forever. Each new year the Passover would remind them of the new life that God brought them. Life safe from Egypt. Life in freedom for the Lord.
And nothing points more clearly to the good news of Jesus than the Passover. John the Baptist pointed at Jesus and said to his disciples,
Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
We too are sinners. Enslaved by evil. We suffer evil. And we perpetrate evil against each other. We are hurt and we hurt others. We have forfeited our lives and our sins weigh against us in the account book of our lives. But Jesus is the Passover lamb, the Lamb of God. And so death passes over us and falls on him. And his death brings us life. It sets us free. Free from our slavery to evil and death. Free to leave our chains behind. Free to live for the Lord.
In Matthew 26 is recorded the events of the last supper. That last supper was the Passover feast. It would have been roasted lamb with bitter herbs to remind them of the bitterness of the slavery of their ancestors. With bread made without yeast. Jesus took the bread and said,
Take and eat. This is my body.
He took the cup of wine and said,
Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
This last supper, the first Lord’s supper, pointed back to the exodus from Egypt. But it also pointed to the new exodus in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That night, after the supper, Jesus was arrested. He was put on trial and falsely accused and convicted and sentenced. He was mocked and whipped and crucified among thieves. And on the third day, he rose to life. He gave his life in sacrifice, taking the sin of the world and killing it in himself. And the Father accepted his sacrifice and vindicated him. Restored him to life. So that to believe in him, to follow the way of his cross, to share in that meal, to feed on Christ by faith is like painting his blood on the doorposts of your heart. It is our independence day, free from fear and the need to justify ourselves. So that we can leave our chains behind.
Instead of hoarding all our possessions, we can begin to live a life for others. Instead of being ashamed of our failings, we can glory in the victory of Christ. Instead of building monuments to our great achievements, we can empty ourselves for the kingdom of God without losing ourselves. Instead of nursing our hurt pride, we can live lives that bring healing. Instead of building walls that exclude strangers, we can open doors that include them. Instead of hurting others as we’ve been hurt, we can love as we’ve been loved.
Link by link we build the chains that bind us. But Jesus Christ gave himself to break them all. He leads us on a new exodus from our slavery. It’s better than swapping one calendar for another and beginning a new year, even to end this awful 2020 and start 2021. It’s a new creation in the Spirit of God. It’s like being born again. It’s becoming a new person in Christ. Our independence day.