Sunday, July 09, 2017

The Blood of the Lamb (Exodus 12)

Some years ago, I struck up a conversation with the gentleman seated beside of me in the lab where I was having some blood-work done. It was just the kind of small-talk that one does to break the tension of an awkward moment, nothing serious or substantial. We exchanged words about the weather, about the news, whatever, as the nurses prepared their materials to begin drawing blood. Just after I heard those infamous words, “You’re going to feel a little stick,” I said something to the fellow beside of me, but this time there was no response. When I looked over in his direction, the color had gone out of his face, and he was kind of slumped over. Within seconds, the nurses were all over him, shouting into his ear and waving smelling salts under his nose. Turns out, this guy had passed out when he saw the blood begin to flow from his arm. After he stabilized and was escorted out of the room, a nurse told me that it happens on a daily basis. I’d never given much thought to it before, but ever since that day, whenever I have blood drawn, I always find something to concentrate on besides the blood coming out of my arm. I’ve never felt like I was going to pass out, but after seeing that guy and hearing how common it is, I want to keep it that way. So, I just make it a point to not see the blood.

Somewhere along the way, someone got the notion that because people are squeamish about blood, Christians need to be careful how we talk about it in church and daily conversation. The most generous proponents of this view speak of being “seeker-friendly,” and the most critical accuse the Bible and the Christian message of being a “slaughterhouse” religion. And Christian leaders have responded by heavily censoring our message, refraining from emphasizing subjects like blood and sacrifice, and avoiding songs like, “Are You Washed in the Blood?,” “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” and “Power in the Blood.” And so we are left with a message that sounds much like that bemoaned by Richard Niebuhr almost a century ago: “A God without wrath brought man without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”[1]

Here is the great irony of this paradigm shift. The message of Jesus Christ, which is a blood-saturated message from beginning to end, is sanitized and sterilized to protect the sensitivities of a blood-squeamish culture – and yet this very same culture flocks to movie theaters and binges on Netflix to see graphic and gratuitous scenes of violence, and bloodshed in films and shows about cops, soldiers, killers, vampires, zombies, and monsters real and imaginary. So, it seems that we are somewhat hypocritical about the kind of blood we want to see. We find it all rather entertaining, until it comes to the sobering, inescapable reality that it took the shedding of innocent blood to save us from our sins and the wrath of God. So, as Russell Moore has said so well, “let us never be embarrassed by our emphasis—in song, in public prayer, in evangelism, in discipleship, and in preaching—on the blood of Jesus. There is power—wonder-working power—in the blood. Our culture already sees that. They’re simply looking in the wrong veins.”[2]
The passage we have read today is bloody. But the blood shed here in these verses of the Old Testament is preparatory, pointing us forward to a greater reality that would come later in the pages of the New Testament. It is this passage to which the Lord Jesus and His apostles pointed to make sense of His own suffering and death. The blood of the lamb slain in Exodus 12 spared the nation of Israel from the judgment of God and delivered them from their bondage. But when God stepped into time and space in the person of Jesus Christ, He was identified as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). Through the shedding of His blood, all who trust in Him are saved from the ultimate and eternal wrath and judgment of God, and delivered from the bondage, not of slavery to a foreign power, but of slavery to the universal power of sin. As the hope of Israel was founded upon the shedding of the blood of the Passover lamb, so the hope of all humanity – in a far greater way – is founded upon the shedding of the blood of Jesus, who has redeemed us by His precious blood. So we look to this passage, not as students of ancient Hebrew history, but as those who need the shedding of this blood that we might be saved.

God said, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you” (12:13; cf. v.23). So, in view of a God who looks upon the sacred, sacrificial shedding of blood as the means of saving sinners from destruction, let us not hide behind some artificial sensitivity to the sight of blood. God is looking upon the blood of the Lamb, and we must look at this blood as well, and consider how should respond, since Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed for us (1 Cor 5:7).

First, we see that …

I. We must apply the blood!

Having suffered from arthritis most of my life, my medicine cabinet is full of pills. So, you can imagine my confusion recently when I found myself in a significant amount of pain. Why, all of a sudden, was I experiencing this? I have medicine to keep this from happening! But when I stopped to think about it for a moment, I realized that it had been a long time since I actually took the pills. It seems that they are completely ineffective on the shelf of my medicine cabinet. It is only as I take the pills that they have their intended effect. In a far more important way, the blood of the Lamb is of no benefit to us if it remains the subject of historical or academic discussion. It must be personally applied and appropriated if it is to have its saving effect on our lives. And that personal application is made by faith.

The Israelites had been suffering under the hardships of slavery in Egypt for a long time, and God was now in the process of acting on their behalf to rescue and deliver them. Nine plagues had already passed, and in each of them, God made a distinction between His people and the Egyptians. They were spared by God’s gracious providence from the horrors experienced by the Egyptians. But now the tenth and final plague was coming. It was the most intense yet – God would go through the land striking down the firstborn of both man and beast throughout the nation. Unlike in the previous nine plagues, Israel’s protection from this one was not automatic. They had to respond in faith to the redemption God was offering them.

The instruction was given for each household to carefully select a lamb. If a family was too small to consume a whole lamb, they could join with their neighbors. The point was that every person was to eat of the lamb, but without waste and without gluttony. And the lamb was meet very specific criteria: a one-year old, unblemished male. Typically when choosing a lamb for meat, a one-year old male would be a standard selection, being already fully mature and with females being spared for breeding and nursing. But what is unusual is the criteria that it be “unblemished.” “Lame, spotted, off-colored animals are just as tasty as perfect ones. The meat of an animal with a split ear or a blind eye is not affected by the defect.”[3] So the criterion must carry some spiritual, symbolic significance. It is a picture of a perfect sacrifice being offered as a substitute on behalf of the imperfect. It is a demonstration that “a perfect God perfectly provided for His people as part of the process of making them holy like Himself.”[4]

Once selected, this lamb was to remain with the family for four days, then killed and roasted over fire. Nothing unusual about those instructions at all, but there was something unusual about the command regarding the blood. The blood was to be collected in a basin, and then a hyssop stalk was to be dipped into the blood and used to apply the blood to the doorframe of the home. This blood was the indicator of faith. It signified that the occupants of this home had put their faith in the Lord and trusted His promise to save. They had responded in faith to His promise to save them if they were covered by the blood of the lamb. They had acted upon their confident belief that this blood was sufficient to spare them from the judgment that was to fall on Egypt that night. It was not that they were better than the Egyptians, that they were more worthy of God’s favor or less deserving of His judgment. It was simply that they had placed their faith in the God who saves and responded to Him in faith according to His promise to save them by the blood of the lamb. In a faith-fueled act of obedience, they applied the blood, and when God saw the blood, they were spared.

Now, it must be asked here, if God is all-knowing, why does He need to see the blood in order to know who has trusted in Him and who has not? The simple answer is that He does not need to see this. He sees the condition of every heart perfectly well. “The Lord knows those who are His” (2 Tim 2:19). But by acting in faith and applying the blood to the outer doorframe of their homes, the believing Israelites were testifying publicly to all who passed by their homes that they had put their trust in the Lord alone to save them.

In a far more significant way, Jesus Christ has become for us our Passover Lamb. He is the unblemished and spotless Lamb, whose precious blood has been shed for our redemption (1 Pet 1:19). But this blood must be personally applied by faith if we are to be saved by it. Upon hearing the announcement of the good news of Christ’s Gospel, that He will save from eternal judgment all those who trust in Him, it falls to us to apply the blood to our lives – to act in faith trusting in the shed blood of Jesus, and that alone, to save us and grant us a right standing before God. He is the perfect Lamb, slain as a substitute on behalf of imperfect sinners who trust in Him. We do not plead our own goodness before the Lord, but we stand covered in the blood of Jesus which is able to cleanse us from our sin and cover us in the righteousness of Christ. When the Lord marches forward in judgment against the sins of humanity, He sees the blood and passes over those who trust in that blood to save them according to His promise. But this blood will only save those who have personally applied it, who have appropriated its saving benefits by faith in the Lord Jesus, the true Passover Lamb.

Applying the blood marks a new beginning. The Lord told the Israelites, that henceforth all the reckoning of their calendars would begin with the date of the Passover. It is the first day of the first month of a brand new year for them. No longer would they mark the passage of time by the agricultural cycle that the rest of the world used for marking time. Their lives were beginning afresh under the blood of the lamb. And the same is true for us when we apply the blood of the Lamb to our lives. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” It is no accident that all human history is measured in relation to the life and death of Jesus. It is no longer fashionable to speak of BC and AD, “Before Christ” and “Anno Domini”, or “The Year of our Lord.” Nowadays, in secular and academic circles the abbreviations BCE and CE are used – “Before the Common Era,” and “Common Era.” But the turning point between the two remains unchanged. Jesus Christ stands at the center of it all, and His atoning death marks a new beginning for the human race. And personally this is experienced by each one of us as we come to know Him by faith.  Jesus speaks of us being “born again,” and that means that the day we place our faith and trust in Him to save us by His shed blood is Day One of a new life. Our personal calendars are reset and time begins to be marked by God from that day forward. New life begins when the blood is applied.

Next, we observe that …

II. We must abide in the blood!

Prior to taking up running a couple of years ago, I had always assumed that the goal of running a race was to win. I have discovered that for a vast majority of people, myself included, the object is to finish. It doesn’t really matter what place you finish, or how fast you finish; what matters is that you finish. And the same is true in the life of faith. In this race, endurance is required, and not everyone who crosses the starting line endures to the finish. This is not to say that any genuine born again believer in Christ can ever be severed or fall away from that saving relationship. But it is to say that not all who profess to believe in Christ genuinely do. And over the course of this marathon of faith, it becomes evident who is and who is not abiding by faith in Christ. Many will speak of their past profession of saving faith. That is good. That is where the race begins. But if there is no present possession of saving faith, then it was a false start. In running, we call them “bandits.” Bandits are people who show up on race day having not paid or registered to run, but who hope to blend in with the crowd, maybe using a fake bib number, sneaking onto the race course. And there are many spiritual bandits who have not begun the race by faith, and therefore they will not be found faithful at the finish line. We begin this life of faith by applying the blood. We continue, endure, and persevere by abiding in the blood.

We see this depicted in the Passover account in two important ways. One is rest and the other is readiness. Abiding in the blood means resting in the calm and quiet confidence that the blood of the lamb is enough to save, and will accomplish what God intends. The blood does not need our help. Our role, once we have applied the blood, is to abide in it, and rest, trusting that the blood will never lose its saving power. Notice that after commanding the Israelites to apply the blood to their doorframes, Moses says in verse 22, “none of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning.” What this means is that, once the blood is applied, those protected by it need not wonder, question or doubt. They don’t need to peek outside to see if the blood is still there. They don’t need to wonder if they need to apply some more. They don’t need to worry about what’s going on out in the street, or if and when the judgment begins. They simply need to rest, trusting the blood to do what the blood does – and that is to save them.

The same is true for us today once we have applied the blood of Christ to our lives by faith. We can rest in the quiet confidence that the blood is sufficient to save, and it never loses its power. First John 5:13 says that we can know that we have eternal life, if we have believed in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no need to doubt, question or wonder. We simply need to examine ourselves in light of one simple question: In what or whom does your ultimate and eternal hope rest? If the answer to that question is in Christ and Him alone, then we can have the assurance that the blood still stains the door and the Lord sees it covering us. As the hymnwriter says: “This is all my hope and peace, nothing but the blood of Jesus; this is all my righteousness, nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Trust the blood to do what it does! It doesn’t need your help or your constant worrying or monitoring. Rest under the covering of the blood. That is part of what it means to abide in Christ.

In addition to the idea of resting, there is also the emphasis of readiness. In fact, the bulk of this passage has to do with readiness. Everything from the way the lamb was to be cooked, to the instructions on how to eat it, how to dress, and how to go about preparing bread without yeast all has to do with being ready to respond to the Lord’s instructions at a moment’s notice. Roasting would be the fastest way to cook the entire animal, and they were to eat it fully dressed and ready to travel. Not only were bitter herbs the fastest to harvest and prepare, they also represented the bitterness of the bondage from which the Lord was delivering by the blood of the Lamb. And unleavened bread could be prepared quickly as well, without having to wait for the yeast to rise. Of course, there was symbolism in the unleavened bread as well. In later Hebrew tradition, yeast would become a symbol of the corruption of sin, but this is not mentioned here. Here, the emphasis is on faith. So the presence of yeast could symbolize unbelief which spreads through and brings corruption, for all sin is rooted in unbelief. But the primary emphasis of all these instructions is readiness. The Lord said, “you shall eat it in haste.” When the Lord said it was time to go, there would be no time for doing the dishes or clearing the table. It was time to go whenever He said go.

So it is for all of us who abide in the blood of Christ, the Lamb. Our lives are to be marked by readiness. Like the Israelites preparing for the exodus, we too must live in a perpetual state of readiness to move at the prompting of His Spirit to carry the good news of Jesus wherever He leads us. This is why when Paul lists the armor of God with which we are to be outfitted in Ephesians 6, he says that we must have on our feet the shoes of the preparation of the gospel of peace (6:15). That means we are to live in a state of readiness to go wherever the Lord leads, whenever He leads. Of course, this is but one example of an overarching readiness to obey the Lord in all matters. There should be no reason for delay when it comes to obeying the Lord and His Word. Abiding in the blood means always being at rest in Him, and always being ready to move with Him and for Him as He beckons.

Now thirdly, we notice here …

III. We must celebrate the blood!

Donia and I are rapidly approaching a milestone in our lives. On October 4 this year, we will have been married 20 years! That day in 1997 was one of the greatest days of my life, and in order to keep that memory fresh and alive in our memories, we celebrate it every year, as I am sure most married couples do. You see, a lot of couples spend a lot of time, energy and money planning for that one day of their wedding. But what is equally important, if not moreso, than that single day is every day that follows as the husband and wife grow together in the intimacy of oneness that is Christian marriage. Celebrating an anniversary is a way of saying, “I still do,” and commemorating the vows made to one another and to God on the wedding day. And we also celebrate throughout the year with birthdays, national and religious holidays. It was so important for God’s people to continue celebrating what He did for them in the Passover, that in the midst of giving them instructions on how it was to be observed on that night, He also gave them instructions on how to celebrate it perpetually in the future. They must never forget what God did for them in delivering them from Egypt, thus the Passover was to be an annual celebration of remembrance for this mighty act of redemption. Thus, when all had been said on that evening, the Bible says that the Israelites “bowed low and worshiped” (v27). They were celebrating what God was doing in their midst through the shedding of this sacrificial blood.

After giving the initial instructions, the Lord says in verse 14 that it is to be a memorial, celebrated as a feast to the Lord, throughout all generations as a permanent ordinance. Every year, each Hebrew family was to have a reenactment in their homes of that night of salvation. They were to eat the same foods, and carry on for a week remembering what their ancestors experienced under the strong hand of God. And to this day, Passover is observed by faithful Jews all around the world in much the same way as it was on that evening in Egypt.

The Lord Jesus, being a faithful Jew Himself, partook in the Passover. In fact, John’s Gospel can be neatly divided into sections which begin and end with each Passover of Jesus’ public ministry. And in the providence and foreknowledge of God, it was in His predetermined plan that His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, would be slain at Passover. So, on the night before the crucifixion, Jesus gathered with His disciples in an upper room to observe a Passover meal. It was then and there when He gave Passover its full and final interpretation, indicating that for all these centuries, Passover had served to prepare the way and point God’s people to what He was about to do on the cross. As He took the unleavened bread, He said, “This is My body.” And He broke it and gave it to His disciples, indicating that the suffering that He was about to endure was for their benefit. He took the cup, and said, “This is My blood.” And as He shared that cup with them He was signifying that His blood would do for them what the blood of the Passover lamb in Egypt did for the Hebrews long ago – only in a far greater way.

Passover was by all considerations a night of death. Death took place in every house in Egypt, Egyptian and Hebrew alike. But in the Egyptian homes, it was the firstborn son who died. In the Hebrew homes, it was the substitutionary lamb which died. And Jesus was indicating to His people that He was that Lamb being slain for them. By the shedding of His blood, our sins are forgiven. God made atonement in the sacrifice of His Son, that He might bear the judgment that we deserve. His sinless righteousness can be reckoned to our account, that the judgment which we deserve might pass over us and come to rest upon Him as He died on the cross. And so He said, henceforth, when you eat this bread and drink this cup, you must do it “in remembrance of Me,” that is, in remembrance of Christ the Lamb.

And so He instituted on that evening a new Passover, one that is celebrated to this day by His people in churches the world over. Some do it every Sunday, some once a month, some several times a year. But the point is not how often we observe it, but that when we do, we celebrate what the blood of the Lamb has accomplished for us. Moreover, every Sunday as we gather together, and even every morning as we rise to live another day, we have the opportunity to do so as a celebration of the life that God has given us, the salvation by which He has rescued us, which is secured for us by the blood. We bow low to worship the Lord in celebration of the blood! We celebrate this blood in song, we celebrate this blood in our praises and prayers, and we celebrate this blood by keeping the cross of Jesus in the forefront of our minds in our meditation, and on the tips of our tongues in our conversation.

And this brings us to our final response to the blood of the Lamb …

IV. We must proclaim the blood!

There is some news that is just too good to keep to ourselves! We have got to tell someone! And the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the message of what He has done for us in His life, death and resurrection – is the best news of all. It is meant to be shared far and wide. God told the Hebrews to do the same thing regarding the good news of the Passover.

He said that in the future, when they bring their family around the table to celebrate the Passover, they must share with their children all that this day means to them. He says in verse 26, “When your children say to you, ‘What does this rite mean to you?’,” they must be prepared to explain it. Children are naturally inquisitive. They observe what is going on around them. Many of our beliefs and traditions can be passed along to them by a sort of osmosis. There are probably things you do on a regular basis that you have no real reason for doing, other than it is what you saw your parents do. And inherited beliefs traditions can be powerful in our lives, but if they are not understood, they stand a strong likelihood of being discarded as they are challenged throughout life. That is why the Lord did not want the faith of the children left to osmosis or chance. He said you must explain it to them. In verse 27, He says, “you shall say, ‘It is a Passover sacrifice to the Lord who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians but spared our homes.” 

Listen to the question of the children again: “What does this rite mean to you?” Friends, it is all well and good to bring your children to Sunday School, and to teach them early to sit and listen to the teaching of God’s Word in church. But what your children and grandchildren want to know, and what they need to know, is what does it mean to you? They want to observe the difference that this blood of Jesus has made in your life, and why these things are personally important to you! Explain to them the hardship of bondage to sin in which you lived before you were set free by the blood of Jesus. Explain to them how you came to know and believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. Explain to them how your life is different now – the hope that you have in Christ, the joy that you have in Him, the love which flows in and through you from Him. They must know that this means something to you if it is ever to mean anything to them!

But the proclamation of the blood does not stop inside of our homes. It must take place there, surely, but it must proceed from there to the ends of the earth. Remember that when God chose Abraham as the head of a nation He would use for Himself, He said, “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen 12:3). This was God’s great commission of Abraham and all His descendants to be His missionaries in the world. The world would know the power and purpose of God as the Israelites lived in faith and obedience, proclaiming Him to the world around them. And we find in our text that this very thing occurred. Did you realize that the Jews were not the only ones who left Egypt on the night of the Passover? Verse 38 tells us, “A mixed multitude also went up with them.” Who were this mixed multitude? They were Egyptians and those of many other ethnicities who had heard of the mighty deeds of the Lord through the testimony of the Israelites, and they had come to believe upon Him as well. They participated in the slaying of the lamb; they smeared the blood on their doorposts as well; they walked out of Egypt with the Israelites on that night, spared from judgment just as the Hebrews were, by the power of the blood of the lamb.

Friends, the Lord Jesus could not have made it any clearer that the church which is founded upon faith in Him is His missionary movement in the world. The need to proclaim the blood transcends these four walls, and the walls of our homes. The need surpasses the borders of our nations. Around the world today there are millions of people who have never heard that Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away their sin! And they will only know that if we proclaim it to them. Starting at home, and then going to the ends of the earth, we must proclaim the blood that a mixed multitude may join us under the saving blood of Jesus and be saved. This is God’s grand agenda. We are given a glimpse of heaven in the book of Revelation, and when John describes the first scene he beholds there, listen to what he says. He says that he saw a Lamb standing, as is slain, between the multitude and the throne of God. And when this Lamb was revealed, all of heaven fell down in worship of this Lamb, singing a new song: “Worthy are You … for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation!” We will be singing about the blood with those from every corner of the world, who are present alongside of us because we have proclaimed the blood far and wide.

God says, “When I see the blood I will pass over you.” What will you do when you behold the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, shed for you? We can do no better than to apply the blood, abide in the blood, celebrate the blood, and proclaim the blood!

[1] H. Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America (New York: Harper & Row, 1937), 193.
[2] Russell Moore, “Is Your Preaching Stained With Blood?” Online: Accessed July 6, 2017.
[3] Douglas Stuart, Exodus (New American Commentary, vol. 2; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2006), 275.
[4] Ibid. 

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