"Wear your traveling clothes as you eat this meal, as though prepared for a long journey. Wear your sandals, and carry your walking sticks in your hands. Eat the food quickly, for this is the Lord's Passover. On that night I will pass through the land of Egypt and kill all the firstborn sons and firstborn male animals in the land of Egypt. I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt, for I am the Lord! The blood you have smeared on your doorposts will serve as a sign. When I see the blood, I will pass over you. This plague of death will not touch you when I strike the land of Egypt. You must remember this day forever. Each year you will celebrate it as a special festival to the Lord." Exodus 12:11-14
The Passover, in its earliest celebration, is perhaps the best known of all Old Testament types. But it is with it, as with most familiar things—if they are interesting and impressive, they can well bear restatement and repetition. With the observance before us today of our own Gospel Feast, we may appropriately and with profit take the Jewish rite as our theme of meditation.
We are transported in thought to that memorable night when, under the guidance of their trusted leader, or rather under the strong Hand and outstretched Arm of the God of the Pillar-cloud, the oppressed race are to leave their home of exile forever. Let us endeavor, by individualizing a domestic group, to form a mental picture of the scene.
On the 14th day of the month Nisan, an Israelite family are gathered for the last time in their Egyptian dwelling. The door is shut; the father's face is lighted up with joy as he addresses his assembled household with words of encouragement; for he knows that they are about, in some mysterious way, but with very real certainty, to bid farewell to their bondage. 'Fear not,' we may imagine him saying, 'before the morrow dawns, Jehovah is to do mighty wonders! yet another hour, midnight will be here, and then a great cry will be heard amid the darkness; for the Destroying Angel is to speed through every dwelling in the land, and leave its firstborn dead—son of king and son of slave. Yes, even the firstborn of beasts too. Egypt's animal-gods, which our oppressors in their base superstition have worshiped, will share the doom, and the Lord God of Israel, our God, shall be glorified.' If the father observes, meanwhile, any of those present betokening alarm—possibly hearing them exclaim, 'Alas! shall not we also be involved in this terrible destruction?' 'No!—dismiss your fears,' would be his reply. 'Did you not see, a few hours ago, how I besprinkled our lintels and doorposts with the blood of a lamb? That mark, wherever it is made, will ensure to every Hebrew house and household immunity from the Destroyer. Only keep, as we are now, within the walls. To venture outside would be exposure to certain peril. Here we are safe!'
At that moment, may we give further license to imagination, and suppose, by a bold metaphor, that there is heard outside a sound as of rustling wings! It is the dreadful Messenger of vengeance. But that Angel's eye falling in the present case on the appointed blood stain, he passes by the dwelling unscathed. Not so with the habitations of others. Plaintive wail follows plaintive wail, as the discovery is made in every Egyptian home that there is a dead eldest-born! The frantic cries increase. Mothers, beating their breasts, rush from their houses in the delirium of despair. They seek Priest and Temple. They cry wildly to Osiris and Mnevis to be up and save them! But these oracles and deities are dumb. "They have ears, but they hear not."
And now the hour of longed-for emancipation has arrived. 'Up! let us be going'—Hebrew calls to Hebrew. 'Let our tears and chains be henceforth nothing but a doleful memory.'
It is done. Amid the darkness of night—relieved only by the light of the moon, and the silence broken only by the cry of the bereft Egyptians, the country scarred with the marks of the recent plagues, the palm-trees struck down and blasted with the hail of God—the march begins. "Not a hoof is left behind," Israel is free! The mighty army of liberated slaves have begun and effected their Exodus.
Brethren, let us gather around these significant emblematic teachings. If no passage in this ancient story of God's acts is more familiar, none is fuller or more suggestive to us of the Great Redeemer. With the utmost simplicity of thought and treatment, for the subject will admit of no other, let us view "Christ, our passover, sacrificed for us,"—"The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."
In doing so, we shall briefly recall—or, if I may use the expression—'outline'—and that in the order of the inspired narrative, the leading points in the olden type.
(1.) The first feature which strikes us is concerning the PASSOVER, is thatthe Rite was of DIVINE APPOINTMENT.
This significant Hebrew ceremony would never have been thought of by an Israelite himself. It would have been the last thing that would have suggested itself, on the concluding night of bondage, to kill one of the members of their flock and sprinkle doorpost and lintel with its blood.
The method of the Great divine Expiation for the sins of the world was pre-eminently God's devising. What human mind would ever have formulated such an idea, as that the Eternal One would send to this apostate earth of ours, the Prince of Life and Lord of Glory, in order to effect, through a death of self-surrender and suffering, the emancipation and final salvation of His people? Surely if, in any respect more than another, God's ways are not our ways, nor God's thoughts our thoughts, it is that He should have "so loved the world, as to give His only Begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him might not perish, but might have everlasting life."
(2.) Let us note next,the name and nature of the appointed victim—a LAMB. The animal of all others that seems to suggest the idea of innocence and meekness. In the lion's whelp, with all its playfulness, there is early discerned the incipient fierceness of untamable years. But a lamb, as it browses on the mountain side or by meadow and stream, is the recognized picture of gentleness and patience. Expressive emblem, surely, of "the Lamb of God!" It seems to us a poor reason which some have given for the selection of the Paschal offering, that it was what could most readily be furnished by the shepherds of Goshen from their herds. Let us see, rather, in this first simple element in the typical significance, what the writer of an after age calls, "the meekness and gentleness of Christ." "HE was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth."
(3.) As a further expansion of this thought,the selected Paschal lamb was to be WITHOUT BLEMISH.
Plague-mark or disease or infirmity dare not attach to it. No animal would be accepted with torn fleece, or broken limb. A maimed member of the flock would be an insult to Jehovah, and would have vitiated the offering. The besprinkled blood of such would have failed to arrest the footsteps of the Avenging Angel.
Christ was "a Lamb without blemish and without spot." He "offered Himself without spot to God." As one flaw or vein in the marble fatally damages the sculptor's work—as one speck in the lens of microscope or telescope destroys its use and demands a recasting—as one leak would inevitably submerge the noblest vessel that ever rode the waters—so, one leak in the Mighty Ark of Mercy—one flaw, one stain in the nature of the Divine Surety—the Image of the Invisible God—would have been fatal to His qualifications as a ransom for the guilty. Blessed be His name, the Lamb "slain for us," was "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners." What a host of witnesses conspired on earth to testify to His immaculate purity! His very foes were compelled to own and recognize His blameless, stainless life. The traitor who sold Him had to avow—"I have betrayed innocent blood," the judge who condemned Him had to wash his hands, and declare, "I find no fault in Him at all." His own beloved Disciple, in after years, beheld Him in vision "girded with a golden belt," "glorious in His holiness."
(4.) The Paschal Lamb was not only without blemish, but"a male of the first year," that is to say, had attained its full growth. It was the choicest of the fold. It was, in its lowly way, the type of absolute perfection.
Behold again, a yet additional attestation to the All-perfect Sacrifice! It may appear to some a very accidental and subordinate feature; but we think it cannot be overlooked, that the expiation for sin was consummated by the Great Antitype at the very age when manhood reached its prime. Vain is the attempt, save from unauthorized traditional sources, to form any definite conception of the outward appearance—the human form and likeness—of the Divine Son of God. We may each have our separate imaginings and surmises regarding what has been unrevealed. Chief perhaps among these, that just as with the best and noblest on earth, we generally find worth, purity, integrity, sympathy, and kindness, unmistakably reflected in face and feature—so it may have been with Him "whose countenance was as the sun which shines in his strength." May it not reasonably be conjectured, that whatever was most attractive and beautiful in man, was unfolded in the outer aspect of "the Altogether Lovely one"? It surely adds to the touching thought of His death, that it was just when the adorable Savior had attained all that was complete as the Ideal of humanity, that "He was taken out of the land of the living."
The Heavenly Flower was cut down, not when in early incipient bud, but in amplest blossom. The pure white Lily bowed its head, not when the latent beauty was undeveloped, but when it had fully revealed its "calyx of gold." The Divine Tree of Life succumbed to the axe, not in the early spring when its branches were unclothed and the fruit unformed; neither in late autumn, with the leaves seared—but in the full summer of its glory; when every bough was laden with verdure and hanging with richest clusters. The magnificent Temple fell, not when half upreared, nor yet when toil and suffering had left their lines and furrows on the gleaming marble; but rather, just when the top stone had been brought forth with shouting, and the cry arose, 'Grace, grace unto it!' If we venture to use human language, it was when this "Fairer than the children of men" was 'at His noblest and best,' that in divinest sacrifice He poured out His life-blood for us.
From this conjunct emblematic view of Christ as "a Lamb," "a Lamb without blemish," "a male of the first year," let us take comfort. It required perfection—the perfection of Deity and humanity, to make Him all that we need as a Savior. An Angel has a perfection of his own, but an Angel cannot redeem. His perfection is at best only the perfection of a creature—the borrowed derived glory and luster of the satellite. They "veil their faces with their wings" in token of conscious unworthiness. The perfection of Christ is underived—His the alone perfection that can be accepted as substitute for imperfection, and by reason of which He can thus address His Church—"I who speak in righteousness, am mighty to save!"
(5.)The Paschal lamb was SEPARATED from the flock and kept alive four days. This formed a further Divine injunction, as you will find by reference to the detailed instructions in the opening of the chapter from which our text is taken. (Ex. 12:3, 6.)
Christ, as we have already seen, was designated for His atoning work and sacrifice in the counsels of the Father from the foundation of the world. Before the true Paschal Antitype was slain, the world was left 4000 years (four millennial days, as an old writer expresses it) to work out the problem of its own self-restoration. God seemed to say, I will set apart the Great appointed Sacrifice for these specified eras, to let the nations test their ability to save themselves—to solve, if they can, by their own intellect and reason; by their laws of progress, their astute philosophies, their "moral consciousness," the all-momentous question, "How can man be just with God?" The solution of that problem, after the long period of waiting and probation was—"The world by wisdom" (its own boasted wisdom and civilization; its moral codes, its political expedients and scientific theories) "knew not God!" Then, the fullness of the time came, and God sent forth His only begotten Son.
(6.)The Paschal Lamb, after being presented "on the fourteenth day of the first month, at full moon, between the evenings,"—was slain. At the celebration of the rite in Egypt, with which we are now especially concerned, the head of every household officiated as sacrificing priest. But when they reached Canaan, and in subsequent times, each offerer seems to have brought his separate lamb to the Tabernacle or Temple, where it was killed by Levites. The blood was poured, at all events in the Temple service, into gold and silver basins. These were handed along a row of officiating priests, until they reached the altar upon which the blood was finally cast. In either case the Paschal Lamb was a sacrificial offering—a propitiation.
Brethren, here is the foundation truth of the gospel; "the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." Yes, the "sprinkling," for observe, that under the varying forms of observance in earlier and later Jewish times, this expressive action was rigidly preserved. Not enough for you or for me is the slaying of the Lamb—in other words, the mere historical fact that the Divine-human Victim died. There must be the saving application of that blood to the conscience—a personal individual interest applied for and found in the great salvation—"He loved me and gave Himself for me."
Vain for us will it be to sit down at our great New Testament Feast unless conscious that the lintels and doorposts of our hearts, as a great spiritual reality, have been marked with the covenant token, and that we are resting in Christ as our only Savior. We have seen that nothing but the sprinkling of the blood could have saved from the Avenging Angel. The Israelite might have piled buttress on buttress, pyramid on pyramid, to effect exclusion. He might have strengthened his dwelling with bars of brass and pillars of iron, lintels and doorposts of cunning workmanship. The Destroyer's weapon would have cleft them in sunder.
"Neither is there salvation in any other." The work of Jesus must stand alone in all its solitary grandeur and sufficiency. "When I see the blood"—"the blood," says God—"I will pass over you."
Omitting several additional interesting typical lessons on which time forbids to speak, I shall conclude with one other reference—the final injunction to the Hebrews regarding their offering; that is, that after the carcass of the victim was "roasted with fire," it was to be eaten—the whole of it was to be eaten, nothing was to be left.
In the modern Samaritan celebration of the rite, no part would appear to be more strangely interesting, than the guests, under the light of the full paschal moon, gathering around and consuming the carcasses of the slaughtered lambs. There is, moreover, the same rigid adherence to the old command, that nothing was to be unconsumed; so that if any morsels remain, they are carefully gathered up and placed on mats and burned. Fires and candles are lighted, and the ground searched in all directions, in case of any fragment being overlooked. "You shall let nothing remain until the morning, and that which remains until the morning you shall burn with fire."
What, among others, is one great spiritual lesson here inculcated? That it is not enough to rest satisfied with the initial act of pardon and forgiveness through the blood of the cross. Christ must not only be looked to by simple faith, but in His own expressive but much misunderstood and misinterpreted words and simile, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except" (in a lofty, spiritual sense) "you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of God; you have no life in you."
In a very especial manner, dear friends, is that typical feature brought before us today. You recall the words of Institution uttered by the Great Master of the New Testament Feast. These are not "Take, look," (this would have been sufficient had it been a commemorative occasion and no more); but He significantly says, "Take, eat." It is a covenanting, strengthening, grace-imparting, nourishing Ordinance. By partaking of the Sacramental bread, and drinking the Sacramental wine, there is expressed, in the outer act, the necessity of what the old divines call "appropriating the Redeemer and all the benefits of His purchase." The ordinance, received by faith, not only "does signify, but seal, our ingrafting into Christ, our partaking of the benefits of the Covenant of Grace, and our engagement to be the Lord's."
Brethren, "Let us keep the Feast!" and as we "go to the altar of God, unto God Himself our exceeding joy," let us do so with the cherished, familiar litany on lip and in heart—"O Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us!" "O Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us your peace!"