“THE FAITH THAT KEPT THE PASSOVER”
February 6, 2005
The Hebrew writer said of Moses, “By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.” (Hebrews 11:28). The existence of a memorial like Passover is a proof that God did a mighty work to bring his people out of bondage. There is no other way I can think of that you can explain the existence of an observance like Passover for so many thousands of years without some real happening, some great work of God, being behind it. The existence of something like the Passover is also an indication that God was at work in his providence, even then. Nearly 1500 years before Jesus came in the flesh God was preparing the minds of people to be able to grasp the meaning of what Jesus was to do for us on the cross.
But not only is the Passover a proof of the work of God and a preparation for the work of Jesus, it is also a portrayal of what real faith is about. The faith of Moses which led the people in doing what they did on that night when God set them free from Egypt, the faith of the people in observing something that had never been before, helps us to understand what it means when the New Testament says that we are saved by grace through faith. Understanding faith is such a crucial matter because scripture says here in Hebrews 11 that “without faith, it is impossible to please God because the one who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him. We want, then, to explore “The Faith That Kept the Passover.”
If you have been doing your Bible reading over the past week or so, you have read the events of Exodus 11, 12 and 13. I want to take you back in your mind to that night when the Passover occurred. Exodus 12:42 says that “it was a night of watching by the Lord.” A lot of people will gather on a night like tonight and watch the Super Bowl take place. This was a far different kind of watching, I assure you. And its consequences were far greater than any other night that you could imagine!
What took place that night occurred because God had been appealing to the Pharaoh of Egypt to let his people go. There had been nine demonstrations of God’s mighty power by this point and, of the need for Pharaoh to pay attention to what the God of Israel said and to obey his voice. But this Pharaoh, instead of having his heart softened by the demands of God’s will, had only been made more stubborn every time Moses had come and said, “Thus says the Lord.” I wonder which attitude my own mind is more like? Am I the kind of person who when I am confronted by a command only hardens my head and refuses more strongly than I did before? That is the nature of this Pharaoh.
So, with no other option, God does something he had told Moses back in Exodus 4:42, 43 that he would do if he had to. God said he would save his firstborn, Israel, out of Egyptian bondage by taking the firstborn of the Pharaoh and of all of Egypt. On this night, Moses had declared to the Pharaoh, unless he listened to God, “there would be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt such as has never been or ever will be again” (Exodus 11:6). He went ahead to say (v. 5), “that every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die. from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the hand mill and all the firstborn of the cattle in Egypt.” That was a warning that should have been heeded, and a tragedy that might have been avoided, had the Pharaoh taken a different spirit than he did.
God, however, wanted to provide a means by which his people might be delivered from this tragedy, and so he instructs Moses, and has Moses to instruct the people, what they needed to do to be spared the destroyer. What he tells them is that the people are to take, on the 10th day of the month, a lamb, a year old, a male without any blemish, and they are to set that lamb aside for each family. That means God was requiring of them that they take the best and most valuable of the lambs for this purpose, one without any blemish of any sort. On the 14th day of that month they were to take that lamb and kill it between the evenings (it is a word at the end of verse 6 that is translated “twilight” in some of the versions or “at evening” in some others and it means anytime between 3 and 5 o’clock). The practice of the Jews in the time of Jesus was to offer the Passover Lamb beginning at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. And interestingly, if you investigate what the gospel account says, that is the very time when Jesus ends up yielding up his spirit on the cross – the very time when the Passover lamb would ordinarily have been offered.
Then God said to Moses that each family was to take the blood of that Passover lamb and use a branch of hyssop (a kind of plant whose leaves and stems absorb moisture very well), and they were to dip that plant in the blood and put the blood above and on the sides of the doors of their houses. Then the people were to go inside their house and they were to roast that entire animal with a fire. They were then to eat that roasted lamb with bitter herbs. The bitter herbs indicated (according to Exodus 1:14) that they had experienced bitter slavery in Egypt. They were to eat this meal in such a manner that would indicate they were ready to leave. Exodus 12:11 says they were to eat with their belts fastened, with their sandals on their feet, with their staffs in their hands, and they were to eat it in haste, as if they did not have much time.
This event, according to Exodus 12:11, was to be observed because “it is the Lord’s Passover.” The meaning of “Passover” is explained two or three times in Exodus 12 as being that time when “God would pass through the land of Egypt that night and would strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast, and on all the God’s of Egypt I will execute judgments. I am the Lord.” It is important to note that this means of judgment against Egypt was especially directed toward their gods. Apparently they attached an importance to the firstborn and indicated at some level (especially the firstborn of the Pharaoh) that the firstborn was counted as deity by them. This was a way of God showing that he alone is God. But in Exodus 12:13, it says that this blood would be a sign for the people of Israel on the houses where they were. God said, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land that day.” There is the meaning of “pass over,” not just that God passed through Egypt and took the firstborn, but that he passed over all the houses in Egypt where a lamb had been offered and its blood had been taken and put on that house. This blood, according to Exodus 12:23, “was such that when the Lord saw the blood, he would pass over the door and would not allow the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you.”
This required that the people offer the lamb described, that they put its blood on the houses, and then that they enter the houses and not anyone go out of the door of that house until the morning (Exodus 12:22). Isn’t that an impressive way of showing their dependence on God? Isn’t that an impressive way of God demonstrating to them what he was about to do in Egypt, and that he was about to provide for their safekeeping? Can you image what an impression it would have made on them as they saw that in every other house in that whole land from the greatest to the least, if there was not the blood of the lamb to be seen, then there was death? But wherever that blood was present, there was deliverance. Can you image the power of that thought?
But I want you to observe now that it took great faith to keep the Passover as it was described. The people of Israel were not merely guaranteed deliverance just because God had said it was possible. They were actually required to listen to what God said and to believe the command enough that they would act on it, and to actually obey what God said in order for that deliverance to be theirs.
The Hebrew writer said, “By faith he (Moses) kept the Passover.” The Hebrew writer had also said in Hebrews 11:1 that “faith involves the conviction of things not seen.” Just observe how that is true in this episode here. There had never been anything like this happen before. There was no obvious physical evidence of any impending disaster or death and destruction in the land of Egypt. Nothing like that could be seen that would have made Israel think, “We better take this seriously and do it.” There was no sign that this hard-hearted, hard-headed Pharaoh would ever let these people go. If you just went on past experience, there was no reason to believe that “we ought to be ready to get out of this land quickly, and we ought to be ready to embrace our freedom right away.” There is no sign of anything like that. And what reason would there have been to believe that taking blood and putting it beside the door and above the door of your house could actually provide deliverance and freedom for you? There is no reason to believe any of that other than just taking God at his word.
If you and I want to get to the nature of faith, and that’s about where we need to get to: just taking God at his word and being willing to entrust God enough to actually act on what he has said without seeing why, without being able to understand immediately everything about why God chose this, just to believe what he said and to act on it in trusting obedience. That is the kind of faith these people displayed that night. They kept the Passover by faith.
I want you to remember then what happened. The Bible says in verse 28, that night “the people of Israel went and did so; as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did. 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.” Now you observe that is exactly what Moses had said would happen in Exodus 11:5. “And while a great cry went up in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead” (Exodus 12:30). “On the other hand, not a dog growled against any of the people of Israel, neither man or beast,” according to Exodus 11:7. What a contrast! What a difference the faith that kept the Passover made in the experience of these two peoples! A great cry verses not a dog growling! Death versus deliverance!
Jesus And Us
The keeping of the Passover that happened that night became the turning point of the entire identity and destiny of Israel. I want to show you two or three things that this meant. In the first place, this deliverance that night was the beginning of the identity of Israel as the people of God. Observe that in Exodus 12:1, 2 Israel was told that “this month was to be for them the beginning of months.” Ordinarily people of that time dated their years based on the agricultural cycle. The time of the planting and of harvesting would depend on when the first month was. But for Israel, the first month had to do with when they came out of their bondage and when they became people who belonged to God. In fact, the second thing this does besides beginning something new is to set them apart as distinct. In Exodus 11:7, God said that he did this “that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.” Because of the faith of the Passover, a new experience for Israel began, and they became a distinct people, redeemed by God and belonging to him.
And then the third thing that happens with the Passover is that these people, who had begun something new, set apart by God, now have to live as dedicated people belonging to God. This is a crucial point. God emphasized it for these people in two ways. The first was that every year beginning on this fourteenth day of that first month, they were to begin a 7-day feast of unleavened bread. And just as that night they had eaten unleavened bread to show that they didn’t have time for the bread to rise because their haste was too great, then every year they were to remove all the leaven from their houses to show that they could remember that they were a people who had to be ready to go when God called them to go. They had to be dedicated to him and ready for his service at all times.
Also, from this time forward, God said that all the firstborn of Israel were to be his. God had given them a lamb to be a substitute for their firstborn. A lamb died in every house so that none of the firstborn of any of their houses would die (Exodus 4:22, 23). And since God had saved his firstborn in that way, then Israel was to set aside their firstborn to God, and God allowed them to offer a sacrifice to redeem their firstborn like he had done out of Egypt. But it meant the beginning; it meant dedication; it meant that God came first from then on for Israel.
Now let’s move ahead a few hundred years. There came a time when what that lamb was all about was made obvious by God. He sent his Son. And when it came time for the ministry of his Son to become public, John the Baptist identified him, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Peter said in I Peter 1:19, “We are redeemed with a lamb without blemish or spot” (the real Passover lamb). We are bought from our slavery; we are redeemed from our bondage, by blood shed by the Lamb of God that was hinted at by the blood of that Passover lamb on their houses all those years before. The apostle Paul in I Cor. 5:7, 8 simply refers to “Christ who is our Passover.” I know then that Jesus fulfilled what that Passover lamb only prefigured, and that God was trying to say to us, “Here’s what I want to do through my son. I want to set you free from bondage. I want to make it the start of something entirely new for those who are in him. I want my people to be delivered from the threat of the destroyer and what sin brings into life, and I want my people to be dedicated to me. I want to come first in their lives, and I want them to be loyal to me all along.”
But, just as the keeping of the Passover then required a certain kind of faith, the benefit of the Passover now (that Passover being Christ) requires the same sort of faith. By faith he kept the Passover then. By faith you and I must keep the great spiritual Passover which is Christ. Just as the blood then brought deliverance and identity and the beginning of something new, so does the blood now. But it takes that same kind of faith. Do you remember that I said this didn’t just happen to Israel? They had to believe God’s promises and to take his command seriously and actually act on them.
So is there a time, or is there a way, in which you and I begin something new, in which we are set free from our sins and become distinctly belonging to God? It is interesting to me that in Acts 11:15, the apostle Peter referred to what happened on the Day of Pentecost as “the beginning.” Just as the Passover was the beginning, the first month for Israel, there is the beginning for those who regard Christ as our Passover. What happened at the Day of Pentecost? The news was preached that Jesus was the Christ. That news pricked hearts, it broke hearts, who came because of that one fact to realize that there was something terribly amiss in their lives. They had been in opposition to what God was doing through Christ! Those people cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” They were told to repent, which meant to change their hardened hearts like Pharaoh had, and to be baptized in the name of Christ for the remission of their sins.
Can you see what is going on? Just like the blood being applied to the houses back then, we are being told because of the Lamb of God to let his blood be applied to our hearts. God took those who gladly received that word that day and obeyed it, and he added them to his church – a house which has blood on it, a people who are redeemed, who are bought with blood (Acts 20:28), are people who are merely depending on God to pass over their sins, to set them free from their bondage, and to make something of their service. It as a beginning that day that made them distinctly the people of the Lord, and they continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine, in fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
There was dedication that day, and there needs to be those three things this day. There can be because Christ is our Passover if we have faith that will keep that Passover – faith like Moses had. Maybe this morning you need to begin to take that step. If we can help you along that way, won’t you let it be known right now while we stand and sing together?