The UK, Europe and the world face many threats, including the dreaded B word for some, knife crime and terror, with the threat of ISIS persisting, if in new ways. Yet there's a much greater 'threat', so to speak, hanging over Britain and indeed the whole world. It's the coming just judgement of Almighty God. And that's the issue here in Exodus 12.
Egypt was just hours away from coming under God's judgement. By chapter 12 Egypt had repeatedly rebelled against the Lord and had enslaved and mistreated God's people. Pharaoh refused to obey God and to allow Moses to lead God's people out of Egypt. Even after a series of plagues swept through the country, each one wreaking havoc, still Pharaoh refused to obey the Lord. So now God has one final act of judgement. Exodus 11.1:
"The Lord said to Moses, 'Yet one plague more I will bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt. Afterwards, he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will drive you away completely.'"
So Moses announces this to Pharaoh. It's
A Day of Retribution
And it was to come through the most terrifying of all the plagues. Exodus 11.4-6:
"About midnight I [the Lord] will go out in the midst of Egypt and every firstborn son in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, even to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is behind the hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. There'll be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt – such as there has never been nor ever will be again."
The death of every firstborn male. Can you imagine what that would be like in your family? For me it would mean – my dad, me and my eldest son would all be dead. It would be absolutely devastating for the family for all three of us to die on the same day. Every household in Egypt would be affected. There would be loud wailing throughout the land. It was a threat greater than anything else we face. The Egyptian security services would have put Egypt on red alert. But it wouldn't have done any good against the judgement of God. No-one was safe (verse 5) - from Pharaoh's firstborn son to the slave girl's firstborn son.
It's a picture of the final judgement when no-one will be able to escape the justice of God. And as we see the misery this plague causes, it tells us that sin is serious and that the judgement of God is a just and terrible reality. If only we'd believe that it would affect us. One agnostic said…I haven't yet met a Christian who really believes in eternal punishment for unbelievers, because if they did it would affect every aspect of their life. I once met a fearless evangelist in tears because he hadn't led anyone to Christ in the last month. It bothered him that people were facing God's judgement without Christ – a fate worse than death. Does it bother us? For it will happen as the Lord says. Here the Lord wasn't scaremongering. Exodus 12.29-30 – it happened just as the Lord said.
"At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on his throne, to the firstborn of the captive, who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead."
Every household was affected – even that of the Pharaoh, Ramses II. Historically his son, Merneptah, succeeded him not his firstborn son, for his firstborn died that night as the Lord passed through Egypt. Wealth and status rescue no-one when faced with God's judgement. So, after the Lord had passed through Egypt, in every household someone was dead; and this was also true for every Israelite household but not as we might expect for while this was a day of retribution, it was also
A Day of Rescue
And so important was this day of rescue that it would change the calendar (Exodus 12.1-2) – it was that significant. And this rescue all revolved around a lamb, verse 3:
"Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household…Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old."
In verse 6, the chosen lamb was to live among the family for four days, when it would become part of the family, the children would play with it and get attached to it, and then the family were to slaughter it at twilight. Then in verse 7 they shall take some of the blood of the slaughtered lamb and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.
Slaughtering the lamb and putting the blood on the door frames would make all the difference in the world. Verse 12:
"For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt – both man and beast – and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgements: I am the Lord. The only hope is the blood of the lamb – and when I see the blood, I will pass over you and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt."
So, to be clear – who would God pass over? Would it be those who are especially religious or sincere or moral or who help with relief work? No! The Lord would pass over every household where he could see the lamb's blood – so he'd pass over on account of the blood of an innocent lamb – any household who followed the Lord's command. But thousands didn't, so it was a horrific night in Egypt – in verse 29 a great cry was heard for there not a house in Egypt without someone dead.
And that was also true of the people of Israel. But in every Israelite home there's a dead lamb not a dead son. The lamb died as a substitute in the place of the firstborn son. And years later Paul writes, 1 Corinthians 5.7:
"Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed."
This is the link the New Testament makes with Exodus 12: Jesus, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. His death is the rescue which would change the calendar into BC & AD. He's the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The Lamb of God who died in our place to take the judgement of God, which we deserve for our sin, upon himself so we can be saved. The lamb of God, who lived among us, the perfect lamb of God, who was tempted in every way yet was without sin. The lamb of God whose blood was shed for the forgiveness of our sin. This is meant to take us back to Egypt, to that first Passover when the blood of the lamb was smeared on Israelite homes, to the morning when there was crying all over Egypt and when the Israelites checked the beds of their firstborn sons wondering just what they'd find. What relief when they found them alive. Then going down for breakfast they'd see the carcass of the lamb and they'd know it was the death of the lamb that had saved their son. Death had happened in the household, sin had been punished; but in their household, it was the lamb who took the hit. The death of the lamb rescues us from the judgement of God. Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
So let me ask you: Are you absolutely sure you're sheltering under Christ's death? The judgement will surely come – it will be a fate worse than death – a far greater concern than any other threat hanging over the world. Well God has made provision for us to escape that judgement.
But there's only one way to escape it. Is it by being moral – no. Is it just by going to church – no. Is it by giving to charity - no. Is it to do all that combined – no. No, there's only one way to escape the judgement of God. And that is to shelter under the blood of the lamb of God – Jesus Christ – to trust in his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Are you sure that his shed blood will mean that the Lord will pass over you on judgement day? Have you trusted Christ? If not, don't put it off another day.
And if you've trusted Christ, as many of you have, how can you be sure that trusting in Christ will be enough to rescue you from the judgement to come? Well, here's how you can be sure. Because it happened in Egypt 3000 years ago. If the death and blood of a little lamb without defect, brought salvation from the plague of the death of the firstborn son then you can be sure that the death and blood of the innocent lamb of God, the Son of God, Jesus Christ will save you at the judgement.
But some of you may be saying – I've trusted Christ but I'm still lacking full assurance that I'll be rescued on Judgement Day. Well, let's go back to that first Passover. Imagine two Israelite dads talking as they prepare to turn in, for the night of the Passover. "How are you?" "Well look actually I'm worried about this plague. I love my boy, I can't bear the thought of my son being taken, it would break his mother's heart." "So, have you done as Moses told us to?" "Yes, I've put the blood of the lamb on the door frame – we bought a lamb without blemish, slaughtered it, roasted it and ate it together. But I'm not sure what difference that'll make." "Well look Moses said that the blood on the doorpost is a guarantee that the Lord will pass over our house, that the lamb's death and blood would act as a substitute, averting God's anger. I'm going to rest easy in my bed because I'm trusting in the death of the lamb." "Oh, I wish I had your size of faith. I'm just not as confident as you."
So, let me ask you – the next morning whose firstborn son was rescued? Answer – both. They'd both obeyed the Lord's command. They both put their household under the blood of the Lamb. It wasn't dependent on how much they believed and trusted the Lord but that they believed and trusted. It wasn't dependent on how much faith they had but on the death of the lamb. Do you feel you have a weak faith – a not as strong as others faith? Well, your salvation is not dependent on the strength of your faith but on the fact that you're relying on Jesus' death alone to deal with your sin and so rescue you. Are you trusting in the death of the lamb of God to deal with God's judgement? If so, he will pass over you on judgement day. There's room in heaven for all genuine believers, weaker or stronger. Thirdly and finally it's
A Day to Remember
So momentous was this rescue that it was to be remembered and to affect their lives forever. Exodus 12.14-15:
"This day shall be for you a memorial day; and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations as a statute for ever... For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel."
They were to now live for God's glory out of thankfulness for all the Lord had done. The Passover was to be remembered with a celebration. Can you imagine how powerful this would've been for those who'd been there? Without the Lord's rescue, their firstborn sons would be dead under the judgement of God. They would be so grateful. And that's exactly how real Christians should feel about their rescue, celebrating by being willing to do anything for Jesus, out of thankfulness for all he's done for us. The Israelites were to remember the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread – for at the exodus they couldn't afford to wait for the bread to rise, verse 11. The Passover was the fast food festival. Eat and go. Once they'd been rescued, they had to quickly get out of Egypt – out of where the world was enslaving them. So, what about us? Look at 1 Corinthians 5.6-8 and see how the New Testament picks up the Festival and Feast of Unleavened Bread.
"Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump without yeast – as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."
Christ is our Passover lamb and as those who trust him for our rescue, we should be so grateful that we celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Not by eating a meal but by getting rid of everything that hinders us from fleeing the world and trusting Christ. Getting rid of malice and wickedness and living lives of sincerity and truth. The Israelites had to literally get rid of the old yeast or leaven. For us it means checking our lives for anything that hinders us in the Christian life. What the Israelites were to do annually we're to do all the time. Do you need to do a spiritual spring clean? To rid your lives of the old yeast in your life. That's how we remember with thankfulness our rescue from the coming judgement.
Yet it shouldn't just be a personal response but a corporate response as a church. 1 Corinthians 5.1 says that the Corinthian church were tolerating someone sleeping with his stepmother. They even boasted about it. Paul says act decisively. Put this man out of the fellowship (verse 5). Get rid of the old yeast (verse 6) for a little yeast works through the whole batch. Out of thankfulness for the Lord's rescue of us from the coming judgement and to celebrate the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread we must deal with sinfulness among us.
Today in the wider church some are boasting in tolerating and accepting immorality. Paul says they must be dealt with. Even here there'll be things happening beneath the surface. Gossip that's unhelpful and untrue. Relationships and behaviour that aren't right. It must be dealt with, out of thankfulness for all the Lord has done for us. Because a little yeast works through the whole batch. We must get rid of any of this yeast that makes us like the world. Because this yeast will work through the whole batch. That's how we celebrate the Passover, that's how we live out the Feast of Unleavened Bread – and that's what gives glory to the Lord who gave his life for us. So, let's flee the world, live in the world for the Lord as salt and light, in remembrance that, if we're trusting in Jesus, we've been rescued from the day of retribution.