Exodus 12:21-27; Leviticus 23:4-8; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; 1 Peter 1:18-20 (text)
© October 6, 2013 • Download this sermon (PDF)
BBeloved congregation of Christ: We come now to the Feast of Passover, the first of seven feasts that God appointed for Israel in Leviticus 23.
Many evangelicals would ask, Why study the Feast of Passover? Why even study the Old Testament? One answer would be that these are the Holy Scripture of Jesus and the apostles. The better answer is that the Old Testament, together with the New, is about Christ, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself”(Lk 24:27; see also Lk 24:44). In his life, death and resurrection, he fulfilled all Scriptures.
Last Lord’s Day, we looked at how all these seven feasts reflected the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the salvation he accomplished for us, and his return on the last day to gather his people. Today, we will study the Feast of Passover using texts read from Exodus 12, when the first Passover was held in Egypt; Leviticus 23, where we find a summary of the feast; and in 1 Peter 1, where we read how Christ is our Passover Lamb.
Our reading in 1 Peter 1:18-20 tells us that Christ was “foreknown before the foundation of the world,” but was “made manifest in the last times.” Between eternity past and the “last times,” Christ was foreshadowed all throughout redemptive history as the Passover Lamb, or the Lamb of God, “a lamb without blemish or spot,” who ransomed us “with [his] precious blood” shed on the cross. And by the sacrifice of our Passover Lamb, we were redeemed from our “futile ways,” and now are believers in God, having faith and hope in God.
So “Christ Our Passover Lamb” is our theme today under three headings: (1) “Foreknown Before the Foundation of the World”; (2) “Made Manifest in the Last Times for Your Sake”; and (3) “Who Ransomed Us With His Precious Blood.”
“Foreknown Before the Foundation of the World”
God had planned from eternity past to save his creation from the clutches of the devil. He knew that Adam and Eve would willfully disobey his covenant law in the Garden of Eden, and would be condemned to death and eternal hell. How would God redeem them from their sin and misery?
In the covenant of redemption, the three Persons of the Trinity covenanted among themselves in order to bring us salvation. The Father chose a people to save for himself. In turn the Son willingly agreed to come down from heaven in human flesh to be a sacrifice for the sins of the elect. The Holy Spirit will then apply the Son’s work to God’s people by regenerating their hearts to faith and repentance (Ep 1:13–14).
We find references to this covenant in several Old and New Testament texts. The psalmist tells of a covenant dialog between Yahweh (LORD) and the Son, “The LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you.’” (Ps 2:7-8). The New Testament writers affirm that Christ is the Son from eternity past who would die and be raised from the dead (Ac 13:33; Hb 1:5; 5:5). In Psalm 40:7-9, the Son promises to do his Father’s will, which is interpreted as the Messiah willingly becoming a sacrifice for sin (Hb 10:5-7). All throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus repeatedly speaks of his mission for his Father, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (Jn 6:38; also 6:39; 10:18; 17:4). And after he accomplishes his sacrificial work, Christ will be exalted and glorified (Jn 17:5-6, 9, 24; Ph 2:9-11).
But before Christ “was made manifest in the last times,” God gave his elect people foreshadows of his Person and work. As time broke through eternity in creation, God was delighted to showcase the crown of his creation work: Adam and Eve, perfectly holy, righteous and with true knowledge of God. But our Creator gave them a will that is able to choose to obey or disobey God’s covenant law. Tragically, for all mankind, they chose to violate God’s law, resulting in sin and death for all.
How would God rescue the man he has created for his own glory? After Adam and Eve realized their deadly sin, they were ashamed of their nakedness, and were terrified at the thunder of God’s approaching voice of judgment. So they hid themselves, but God was gracious and merciful, covering their sinful nakedness with the skin of a slaughtered animal. He explained to them that there will be a Seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent, but in doing so, the Seed would be “wounded” (Gn 3:15). The bloody animal that was slaughtered was a picture of the bloodied, wounded Seed who would cover their sin.
In time, God revealed his choice for the father of his elect nation: Abram, from a pagan family in Ur of the Chaldees, the land “beyond the River” Euphrates. He called him out of his own ancestral home to go to a land where he would sojourn, and his descendants would dwell. God also promised him a multitude of descendants, but the greater promise is that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gn 12:3). So God renamed him Abraham, because he would be the father of many nations. But what is this call in Genesis 22 to sacrifice his only covenant son Isaac on the mountains of Moriah? How then would he have a multitude of covenant children? But it was only a test of his faith. Abraham assured his inquiring son, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Gn 22:8, 14). God again showed his grace and mercy, providing for a substitute sacrifice, a ram caught among the thorns. The sacrificial lamb assured Abraham that through Issac, God would fulfill his promise that his descendants would multiply through the ages.
Three generations later, God providentially allowed Joseph, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, to be the Pharaoh’s vice-regent. Through Joseph’s God-given wisdom, Egypt had a storehouse of grain for seven years of famine in the ancient Near East. So Jacob and his family went down to Egypt to seek food. There, Abraham’s descendants multiplied, so the Egyptians made them slaves because they feared their numbers. After 430 years in Egypt, God called his servant Moses to redeem his people from slavery in Egypt. He sent Moses to Pharaoh, warning him about plagues from God against the Egyptians if he did not let God’s people free. But even after nine terrible plagues against the Egyptians, the Pharaoh wouldn’t let God’s people go. Finally, in one terrible night, God sent death to all the Egyptians’ firstborn, including Pharaoh’s firstborn son.
How did God save the Hebrews’ firstborn children from the angel of death? God instructed them to keep the first Passover. The people were to kill one-year-old unblemished lambs or goats, and then smear the blood of the animals on the lintels and doorposts of their houses. As the Angel of Death passed through the land of Egypt, he killed all their firstborn, but “passed over” the Hebrews’ blood-smeared houses. Judgment in the form of sacrificial lambs was already meted out in their houses. With this slaughter of the Egyptian firstborn, Pharaoh was convinced to let the Hebrews leave his country.
This event became God’s first appointed feast for Israel, to remember forever how the LORD redeemed them from slavery in Egypt (Ex 12:14). How did they celebrate this feast? We read this ritual service in Exodus 12:21-27. This was a family service which included eating the lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs. The lamb symbolized their redemption through a bloody sacrifice. The unleavened bread signified their break from a miserable past of slavery and a new beginning. The bitter herbs are a memorial to their hard life of oppression under a tyrannical kingdom. Even the word “Passover” in Hebrew, pesach, describes a bird with its wings “passing over” or “hovering over” to protect her young. This is what Exodus 12:23 says, “When he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you” (Ex 12:23; see also Is 31:5).
During that first Passover night, they ate in haste and readiness, for there was only a short window of time when Pharaoh would agree to let them go, “In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste” (Ex 12:11). During the annual memorial ritual, the children will ask what the meaning of it is, and the father will answer, “It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.” In this way, the story of God’s redemptive work in Egypt through the Passover lamb would be remembered from generation to generation. This question-and-answer ritual also reminds us of the usefulness of catechism teaching for our children.
Centuries later, Isaiah revealed that the Messiah, whom he calls the Servant of the LORD, would come as “a man of sorrows.” He would be “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Is 53:7). The Seed of the woman, the substitute Lamb on Mount Moriah, and the Passover Lamb, has become the suffering Servant of the LORD that would be led to the slaughter.
Israel would keep the feast until they settled in the Promised Land under Joshua. After Joshua, it was forgotten, reappearing only when King Josiah and King Hezekiah re-instituted the feast almost 1,000 years later. Only after the Babylonian exile was the feast re-instituted for the returning exiles under Ezra the priest.
During the 400 years from the last prophet until John the baptizer appeared in the first century, the feast underwent many changes.
“Made Manifest in the Last Times for Your Sake”
By the time of Jesus, the two Feasts, Passover and Unleavened Bread, have already merged into one, since they were celebrated one after the other. The Jews traveled once to Jerusalem to celebrate these two feasts plus the third, the Feast of Firstfruits. We read about this merging in Luke 22:1, “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover.”
Another change is in the inspection of the Passover lamb or goat. The lambs were selected by each family or groups of families on the 10th of the month, but they will not be slaughtered until the 14th day. Once selected, they will present the lambs to the priest in the Temple for approval that they are unblemished. On the 14th day, the priests will slaughter them, and collect the blood for the altar. The people will then go back to their homes and celebrate the Passover feast by eating their lambs, unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
The celebration also took on a corporate form. In addition to the “lamb for a household,” a “lamb for the people” was selected by the priest and put on public display in the Temple courtyard for public inspection by all from the 10th to the 14th day of the month. At 9 a.m. on the 14th day, the priest would tie the lamb to the altar, waiting to be slaughtered at 3 p.m. for the evening sacrifice.
Our text says that Christ our Passover Lamb was “made manifest in the last times for the sake of you.” The New Testament writers are clear in saying that the “last times,” or “last days” arrived when Jesus first came into the world. So when Jesus first made his public appearance, John the baptizer saw him and announced to the people, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29, 36) John knew the work of redemption that Christ will accomplish for his people. He was prophesying that Jesus was to become the Lamb of God’s sacrifice.
After preaching the kingdom of God and the gospel to the people, Jesus knew that his hour had finally come when he went to his last Feast of Passover in Jerusalem. He ate his last Passover meal with the Twelve, declaring the unleavened bread to be his “body,” and the wine to be his blood, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:26-28). There was another Old Testament event that Jesus alluded to in using these words. These were words out of Moses’ mouth when God made a covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai, “And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.’” Then Moses and the elders of Israel went up the mountain, where “they beheld God, and ate and drank” (Ex 24:8-11). After the people ratified the covenant, the elders had a communion meal in God’s presence.
Our Lord’s Supper today therefore is not merely a Passover meal. Surely, there are Passover features, but there are also features from God’s covenant service at Mount Sinai.
On the first day of the Passion week, Jesus made his “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem. The next day, he presented himself publicly at the Temple, before the Pharisees, scribes, priests and other teachers of the Law. They questioned him rigorously, but no one could find fault in him. They were simply astonished at his teaching (Mt 22:33), silenced by Jesus’ wisdom and knowledge of Scripture (Mt 22:46). As Friday dawned, he was arrested and examined by the rulers of Israel themselves—the high priest, the Jewish council, and the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. But even their witnesses were false. None could find any fault in him, even Pilate, who had to wash his hands off the whole illegal affair. Jesus truly was the unblemished, unspotted Lamb of God!
At 9 a.m., as the Passover lamb for the people that tied to the altar, Jesus was nailed to the cross. But even on the cross, he was still “examined” by all the authorities—Pharisees, scribes, priests, Roman solders and onlookers.
Finally, at 3 p.m., as the Passover lamb at the Temple was being slaughtered, Jesus the Messiah also died upon the cross, the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of all his people from Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the world. The spotless Lamb has become the Passover Lamb offering (Hb 9:14). And just as none of the bones of the Passover lamb was broken (Ex 12:46), none of Christ’s bones were broken because he was already dead (Jn 19:33, 36). The Passover feast is now finished, just as Jesus declared before he breathed his last, “It is finished!” “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Co 5:7).
“Who Ransomed Us with His Precious Blood”
What a Passover Lamb! Sinless, unblemished, but a willing, suffering Servant to save his people from slavery to sin, death and the wrath of God. Having been “ransomed from your futile ways” by his precious blood, how then are you to live in this world? Our text in 1 Peter 1:17 answers, you are to “conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile” (1 Pt 1:17). Just as the Preacher says, the fear of God is the beginning of wise living in this world. Living wisely means that you do good works as your gratitude to Christ for redeeming you from sin, just as the Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 86 says, “that with our whole life we show ourselves thankful to God for His blessing.”
Through Christ’s sacrifice for sinners, you “are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Pet 1:21). Your hope is God’s promise of a glorious resurrection when Christ returns from heaven. The resurrection is the culmination of all of God’s promises to you. When Christ finished his saving work for you, God fulfilled his promise to give you the Seed of the woman who would crush the serpent who enslaved you to sin. Instead of you suffering eternal wrath, God provided his substitute Lamb in your place. He covered your sin with his precious blood, so that judgment would pass over you. His blood overshadows you to protect you from death and hell. And he has sent his suffering Servant as a silent, innocent Lamb of sacrifice.
In the last times, Christ is the Lamb who was slain and who will open the scroll and the seals of judgment against the unrepentant inhabitants of the world. But those of you who are believers in Christ, you “have washed your robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rv 7:14), because he washed your sins away. You will be among “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb,” singing “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rv 7:9-10). Christ as the Passover Lamb fulfilled God’s promise to Abraham that salvation would come to all the nations through him (Gl 3:28-29).
And while you wait for this glorious event in heaven, Christ invites you:
“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” (1 Co 5:8).
Putting off malice and evil, and putting on sincerity and truth, let us come to our Feast of the Passover—our covenant renewal meal—before the Lamb and the Almighty God.