August 5 & 6, 2017 Pentecost 9 (Moses Series #6)
Selected passages from Exodus 11-12
Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
Screams were coming from the house. A mother had come home only to find her daughter stabbed to death. You can understand her horror. Imagine how much worse it would sound to hear over one and a half million people crying and screaming at one time. That’s what happened at the Passover. At midnight at the beginning of Abib, otherwise known as April, at least a million people in Egypt were wailing uncontrollably. Why? Because God had just put to death at least 250,000 men and children, whoever was classified as a “firstborn son” in Egypt. Imagine the horror of these people finding their loved ones dead, knowing that the God of the Israelites had done what he said he was going to do. As Pharaoh also lost his firstborn son, he finally had enough. Pharaoh finally said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go.” (Ex 12:31-32) The Passover was the final straw that loosened the grip on God’s people.
Long before this ever occurred God told Moses why it was going to happen. In Exodus chapter 4 he told Moses to say to Pharaoh, “This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, ‘Let my son go, so he may worship me.’ But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.” (Ex 4:22-23) Israel was like a firstborn son to God, the one to whom he would eventually give a Promised Land and then the birth of the Savior of the world. Therefore, he treated Israel with special care and privileges. But these Egyptians had not only enslaved God’s firstborn, they also beat them, and even threw their baby boys into the Nile River. All God asked of the Egyptians was to let his people go and worship him for three days. But Pharaoh would not even allow this. Instead he decided to say, “Who is the LORD, that I should listen to him?” Then, on top of this blasphemy, he decided to abuse God’s firstborn even more by making them work harder than ever before. So God said to Moses, “When the time comes for my people to be set free I want Pharaoh to know why his son is dead in his arms. It’s because he has abused my son for long enough.” The only thing that would be the “final straw” for Pharaoh to let the Israelites go would be the death of the firstborn sons. So God did what he had to do.
When it comes down to justice and the law, God doesn’t mess around. When God deals with sin, he doesn’t treat it lightly. He says in Psalm 5:5, “I hate all who do wrong.” He doesn’t say he just wants you one hour a week, he wants you every minute of every day. He wants perfection. If you not perfect he says in Romans 6:23 that “the wages of sin is death.” If you disobey God’s law at any point, God doesn’t just say that he is going to give you a headache. He is going to make you die. He also says that he has to throw you into hell.
If you don’t like a God who does this then that isn’t his problem, it’s your problem. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you think of God but what he thinks of you. For God to truly be a holy God he must ultimately deal with and destroy evil. That’s what he was doing with Pharaoh and that’s what he’ll do with evil on Judgment Day. On that day he will throw all who do not believe into hell. That is a reminder that you will die eternally if you are not on God’s side. God told Moses on that night, “Then you will know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.” (Ex 11:7) You are either for him or against him. There is no in between.
This is tough talk, and it is meant to be. At first glance, this final straw, the death of the firstborn, seems to be only a sentence of death and anger. It was that, but not for everyone. While the Egyptians were dying, crying and mourning, things were completely quiet and peaceful in the Israelites’ camp. All the people were simply enjoying a good meal of sheep or goat meat and looking forward to their freedom, a trip to the Promised Land.
How did they get to enjoy their night, while the Egyptians were going through so much pain and heartache? God gave Moses instructions on how to avert the same disaster. He said, “Each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. . . . The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. … All the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs.” (Ex 12:3-7) When the angel of death went on his execution march at midnight, if he saw the blood on the doorpost, he passed over the house without bringing judgment on the household.
In reality, the only thing that distinguished the Israelites from the Egyptians was the blood of the lamb. It didn’t have anything to do with who the Israelites were. They didn’t have to shed one ounce of their own blood. They didn’t have to nail their doors shut or design a special kind of underwear or hang garlic in their window. God just said, “Put this blood on your doorpost and you will avert disaster.” The plan, promise and blood did everything. All the Israelites did was slaughter the lamb, sit there and enjoy a quiet night of food over a fire.
This Passover wonderfully pointed the Israelites and us forward to the way that God would also save us from his wrath over our sins. God used the exact same principle in sending the Offspring of the Israelites to save them and us. Instead of having his wrath come down on us, he chose a Lamb to slaughter instead. Peter said in 1 Peter 1:18-19, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” When God’s wrath comes crashing down on the world on Judgment Day, it won’t depend on if you are living on Rich Man’s Lane or Sinner’s Circle. All that matters is what is on the door to your heart. Is it nailed shut with excuses and lies over your sins? Or is simply painted with the blood of Christ? All that matters is whether the blood of Christ is on your doorpost.
What can we really say we’ve done? No more than the Israelites. All we have accomplished in doing is slaughtering the Lamb, putting Christ on the cross with our sins. If you were outraged at the death of the Egyptian firstborn sons, where is the outrage at this? Who of us can point the finger at God, when we took his own Son and put him on the cross and said, “Here, slaughter him. Don’t slaughter me.” Not only did Jesus have to have nails pierce his hands and feet, but he also had to endure the very wrath of his own Father on that cross, to go through hell itself. That we would do such a thing to Jesus, what kind of people are we? The amazing thing is that Jesus, in his love and his mercy, let us put him up on that cross. Jesus said, “I’ll make that sacrifice. I’ll be that Lamb!”
The only thing that distinguishes us from Egypt is that blood on our doorpost, the cross of Christ. When you throw aside your righteousness and believe in Christ as your Savior it’s been applied. It may have been applied at your baptism. It may have been applied to you through someone telling you about Christ. It’s not just something you wear around your neck, it’s something you trust in and live in. It is something that is strengthened every time you taste of the Lord’s Supper and hear the Gospel of forgiveness.
What was the result of this terrible slaughter of firstborn men and animals? God said that through this Passover, “I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD.” (Ex 12:12) You might compare God to an expert builder with great plans for a new expansion. The only way he can build is if he first tears down the old. Up to this point the LORD had destroyed every god that the Egyptians had by the plagues. By then putting to death the firstborn son of Pharaoh, God was destroying the one person they considered to be their future prophet to the gods. None of their gods, even Pharaoh himself, could fight against the God of the Israelites. But God was also building something new. Unless they understood that their gods were helpless and false, they would have no respect for the LORD, they would see no need for the one true God. So God’s only remedy to this unbelief was to destroy their gods and execute their firstborns. Even Pharaoh, after these plagues, asked Moses to “bless him.”
The result was even better for the Israelites. Pharaoh finally said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go.” (Ex 12:31-32) The people of Egypt also joined him and urged the people to hurry and leave the country. “For otherwise,” they said, “we will all die!” (Ex 12:33). This was the final straw that broke the will of Pharaoh and his people. The Egyptians could no longer bear to have the Israelites there. So Pharaoh did as God predicted and drove the Israelites out. After a nice meal, the Israelites were now officially free to go to the Promised Land. They were even given tons of silver, gold, and bronze from the very people that once enslaved them. From that day on they were to remember this wonderful deliverance yearly by celebrating the Passover in the Promised Land.
Like the Israelites, you also were born as slaves, slaves to a sinful nature within you, an evil world around you, and the devil himself was your master. Satan wasn’t going to let go without a fight. The power of Satan, the sinful world and our sinful nature had to be destroyed. That’s what the crucifixion of Christ accomplished. On the cross of Christ Jesus was able to say, “It is finished. Paid in full. God’s wrath is complete. Because of my plan, my promise, and my blood, now I will pass over you with my wrath on Judgment Day.”
The Israelites could not stay in Egypt. They would not stay in Egypt. With the Passover, the cross, complete you also cannot live in this world forever. A part of you may want to stay here with your family, home, and job but your soul knows you cannot. Like the Israelites, God now calls you to tuck your spiritual belts in and be ready to leave this world. The Apostle Peter tells us, “I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.” (1 Pe 2:11) You are now aliens in this world, set apart, redeemed, on your way out. You stick out because you are different. You are now Christians filled with the Holy Spirit in a demon possessed world. It may not be an easy journey. The world won’t give you their silver and gold like the Egyptians gave the Israelites. You may have a long journey ahead of you, but you are now officially free. Free from God’s wrath. Free from the devil’ accusations. Free from hell’s condemnation. Because of the Passover of Christ you have one destination, the Promised Land of heaven.
The death of the firstborn sons of Egypt was the final straw for Pharaoh. It forced him to let the Israelites go. The death of these sons made the Egyptians realize there is but one God. It proved that the LORD keeps his promises. It wonderfully illustrated the way that we are saved, by the blood of our Lamb, Jesus Christ. At first, it was an ugly scene. But just like in looking at the cross, in the end the last straw turned out beautifully. Amen.