In 1848, William and Ellen Craft masterminded a creative and daring escape. The two had married in Macon, Georgia, in 1846, but were held in slavery by different masters. Terrified of being separated, they devised an ingenious plan to flee the Deep South for Philadelphia. The light-skinned Ellen cut her hair short, dressed in men’s clothing and wrapped her head in bandages to pose as an injured white man. William, meanwhile, assumed the role of her loyal black manservant. On December 21, 1848, the Crafts donned their disguises and boarded a train to begin the long journey North. The scheme seemed doomed from the very start after Ellen found herself sitting next to a close friend of her master, but her elaborate costume prevented her from being recognized. The Crafts spent the next several days traveling by train and steamer through the South, lodging in fine hotels and rubbing elbows with upper-class whites to maintain their cover. Since she could not read or write, Ellen placed her arm in a sling to avoid signing tickets and papers, but her ruse was nearly found out when a Charleston steamer clerk refused to sell the pair their tickets without a signature. Luckily for the Crafts, the captain of their previous ship happened to pass by and agreed to sign for her. The Crafts arrived in Philadelphia on Christmas Day and were sheltered by abolitionists before continuing on to Boston.
This couple had an escape plan, didn’t they? They wore disguises and anticipated some of the pitfalls of the journey that could have gotten them caught. This morning, we are going to see another creative and daring escape plan found in Exodus 12:1-13. God has devised an escape plan for the Israelites and he instructs Moses and Aaron on how his plan is to be implemented among his chosen people. The specifics of the plan must be kept to the letter because it is a matter of life and death. For the first time, both Egyptians and Israelites will be subject to a plague and its punishment because both are sinful. But God through his escape plan will make a way for those who believe in him to escape the punishment for their sin. And praise God, he does the same for us today which brings us to our big idea this morning that God desires that his people escape the punishment for their sin.
Before we start to unpack God’s escape plan for his people in Egypt and ultimately for you and I in the here and now, let’s pray: Lord God, thank you this day that you have made and thank you that we can gather together as a community of believers in your house. May your great name be praised and glorified this morning as we open your Word seeking nourishment for our souls that we so desperately need. In Jesus’ name. Amen
Our first point this morning is Preamble. Found in Exodus 12:1-2. This is what God’s Word says, “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.” In chapter 11, Moses tells Pharaoh that every firstborn son in Egypt and of the cattle will die.
The final plague seems imminent but as we open chapter 12, Moses delays telling the actual event, heightening the drama, especially for the first hearers. But that wasn’t the only reason. Moses inserts very important preparations that are from the Lord to the Israelites that are essentially his escape plan for the people. It is imperative for the Israelites to follow these preparations precisely in order to make it out alive. The escape plan communicates his present intentions as they prepare for the final plague and his future intentions as they remember his mighty deeds once they leave Egypt. These preparations and the focus on their future would have given the people confidence in the Lord’s escape plan and his promises to them.
We are reminded that Moses wrote the book of Exodus somewhat later, probably in the wilderness or in the Promised Land. “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt” means the following instructions from the Lord were spoken to them while still in Egypt. The preparations the Israelites were to make for the first Passover and later in remembrance of it started in Egypt. The Lord then institutes a new beginning to the Israelite year. While living in Egypt, they had probably been subject to an agricultural calendar which would have been dominated by the planting and harvesting seasons. “This month” literally means “this new moon” and suggests that the Israelites would now be following a lunar calendar. The present month was March/April, and from now on would be the “first” month of their year. The Lord was instituting a religious calendar based on what he is about to do for his chosen people. Their escape from slavery in Egypt would mark a new beginning for them and would be celebrated in the years to come. Interestingly, this would not be the only time that God’s people would be freed from captivity on the first day of the first month of the year. In Ezra 7:9 it says, “He [Ezra] had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month.” It is not a coincidence that the Israelites leave captivity in Babylon on the first day of the first month of the year.
After the Lord instituted the beginning of a new religious calendar for his chosen people, he gave them instructions for their preparations for the coming plague. It would be vital that the people follow these preparations to the letter for his escape plan to be successful. That brings us to our second point this morning, which is Preparation, found in 12:3-11. This is what God’s Word says, “Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members 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. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.
The first thing we notice in this section is that Moses and Aaron are to give these instructions to the whole community of Israel. This was probably done by first informing the elders of the people who would then relay the instructions to the rest of the Israelites. This is the first of over hundred times that the term “community” appears in the Bible referring to God’s people. The church today is also a “community”; a community of believers and followers of Jesus Christ that share a bond with one another and worship the same Lord and Savior. Moses addressing the whole community would signal that something of great importance is about to be said. What he relays are very specific and precise preparations the people needed to follow to escape their slavery in Egypt. Previously, the Lord had made a distinction between his people and the Egyptians, exempting them from the effects of the plagues. But now there would be no such distinction this time. The only way for the Israelites to escape the Lord’s judgment was to follow his preparations precisely. (BIG IDEA) The Lord’s preparations included the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the Lord’s escape plan. The “when” was the tenth day of the present month. The “who” was each man or father of each household. And the “what” was a lamb. Each man was to take one lamb for each household meaning this was not an individual meal but a communal one. It was also important that the men or fathers of each household did this because they were the spiritual leaders of their families. This meal was to have spiritual ramifications for all time. The men were to choose the lamb that would be slaughtered that would save their family from death and deliver them to freedom. Later on, when this event was remembered, the father would also play an important role. They were to pass down the story of the Exodus during the Passover seder meal. They were the ones who were to tell what the Lord had done for his people. If the fathers neglected their role in Egypt, his firstborn would have perished. If the fathers neglected their role in the future, the story of how the Lord saved his people would be forgotten.
This is exactly what happened in Israel from around 1050 to 620 BC. According to the account of King Josiah’s reign in the Books of Kings and Chronicles, the Jews did not observe Passover for 400 years, from the time of the Prophet Samuel to the time of Josiah. 2 Kings 23:21-22 says, “The king gave this order to all the people: “Celebrate the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.” Neither in the days of the judges who led Israel nor in the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah had any such Passover been observed.” And 2 Chronicles 35:18 says, “The Passover had not been observed like this in Israel since the days of the prophet Samuel; and none of the kings of Israel had ever celebrated such a Passover as did Josiah, with the priests, the Levites and all Judah and Israel who were there with the people of Jerusalem.”
The Israelite fathers at some point stopped obeying the Lord. They stopped celebrating the Passover and forgot to remember what God had done for them in bringing them out of slavery and into the Promised Land. Men, fathers, let us not neglect our Christian duty to be the spiritual leaders of our family. Let us obey the Lord in all things and pass these things down to our children and our grandchildren. And for those who do not have children, to pass them down to your nieces and nephews, and any other children you come in contact with. It is imperative that we do not forget the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross that saves everyone who believes from their sin and gives them eternal life. That brings us to our first next step found on the back of your communication card. It is for all the men this morning: My next step is to be the spiritual leader of my family, passing down the great things the Lord has done, especially the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
The preparations for choosing the lambs show that extreme care was to be taken. If a household was too small for their lamb they were to get together with their nearest neighbor and share it. We see the precision of the preparation the people were to take. They were to calculate exactly how much each person would eat so there would be no leftovers. No one was to go without, and no one was to gorge themselves. The meat and the eating of it was important. The fact that more than one family could take part showed a communal aspect of the meal. But there was also a worship aspect to it. The word “eat” appears thirteen times in Exodus 12:1-20. Hamiliton says, “The OT seldom dissociates worship from eating. Dinner is not something that follows worship. Dinner is an integral part of worship.” It is interesting that when we are connecting with others, we are also connecting with God.
The animals chosen were to be year old males without defect. Verse 5 stipulated the animal could be a lamb or a goat. They were to be a fully grown but young animal in the fulness of its strength. The important thing was not that it was lamb or a goat but that it was without defect. It had to be the best they had. In Deuteronomy 17:1, we see these words, “Do not sacrifice to the Lord your God an ox or a sheep that has any defect or flaw in it, for that would be detestable to him.” The animal had to be a perfect sacrifice to be the substitute for their sins. This perfect sacrifice foreshadowed Christ as our perfect substitute, who would save us from the punishment for our sins. 1 Peter 1:18-19 says, “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 ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” As sinners, we are unworthy before a holy God, and in need of a Savior. We need a substitute to take the punishment for our sins just like the Israelites did on the first Passover. The animal they chose had to be without defect to satisfy the wrath of God just as Jesus, the perfect “lamb of God”, satisfied his wrath for us. This reminds us of our big idea that God desires that his people escape the punishment for their sin. (Big Idea)
The lamb or goat was to be taken care of by each household for four days, until the fourteenth of the month. This would give them time to ensure that they had chosen a perfect animal, without blemishes or defects. Also the lamb or goat would become part of the family and by the time it was slaughtered would have been cherished and mourned. The sacrifice would become precious to each family. This also would have been a public testimony of their faith in the Lord and his promise to free them from slavery. The entire community of Israelites were to slaughter the lambs or goats at the same time, at twilight on the fourteenth of the month. Twilight was the period between early evening and sunset giving them between one and a half to two hours to kill the animal and prepare the meal. The fathers acted on behalf of each family member just as the priests would later in Israel’s history. It would have been a solemn act as they sacrificed the animals as a community. It is interesting that in chapter 12, the plural “lambs” is never used, reminding us of Jesus’ sacrifice. Urquhart says, “There was only one before God’s mind—The Lamb of Calvary.”
Next, we see the “where.” They were to put the blood of the animal on the sides and tops of the doorframes of their houses where they would eat the lambs. A number of commentators say they would have actually tied the lamb or goat in their doorways on the tenth day and would have slaughtered them right there on the fourteenth day. The blood of the perfect animal would have been on all four sides of the doorframe leading into their houses. Again, this would be a public showing of each family’s obedience and faith that the Lord would keep his word and protect them from this final plague. The applying of the blood highlighted the fact that this was a sacrifice and would save those who lived there. Milgrom says, “The things that receive blood are extremities, the particular points of the object that a hostile force would strike first.” The blood on their door frames was to keep the Destroyer out of the house.
Next, we see “how” they were to prepare and eat the meal. It was to be prepared and eaten on the same night they slaughtered the animal. They were to roast the meat over the fire and eat it with bitter herbs and bread made without yeast or unleavened bread. They were not to eat it raw or cooked in water and the head, legs and inner parts were to be roasted, as well. Roasting the meat highlighted the sacrificial nature of the meal and that the Israelites were to be consecrated or “set apart” as God’s chosen people. They weren’t supposed to eat the meat raw, probably to keep them distinct from the pagan culture they will find themselves surrounded by in the Promised Land. They weren’t supposed to boil the meat either. Wiersbe says, “It was forbidden to be boiled because the bones would have to be broken and the meat in cooking would separate from the bones. It was important to see the wholeness of the lamb.” This reminds us that none of Jesus’ bones were broken on the cross. Roasting the animal with its head, legs and inner parts meant they didn’t have to fully butcher the animal. This preparation of the meat would have been the fastest and simplest way, saving time and demonstrating a readiness to leave at a moment’s notice.
Eating the meat with bitter herbs and bread without yeast also pointed to the quickness and ease of preparing the meal. The bitter herbs could be eaten raw or roasted with the meat. The bitter herbs would remind them of the bitter experience of slavery in Egypt, that God was going to deliver them from captivity and remind them of their remorse over breaking God’s law. Eating unleavened bread was often associated with sacrificial meals. Leviticus 2:5 says, “If your grain offering is prepared on a griddle, it is to be made of the finest flour mixed with oil, and without yeast.” Yeast was a symbol of impurity and sin. It is hidden and works silently and secretly; it spreads and pollutes. Eating anything without yeast or leaven was so serious that in Exodus 12:15 anyone who did was to be cut off from the community. Eating unleavened bread signified they were ridding themselves of sin and impurity. 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 says, “Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
The Israelites were God’s chosen people, and the Passover was to set them apart as his special people to do his special work in the world. Paul urges the church to purge sin from among their midst and present themselves as set apart to the Lord to do his work in the world. It is only when we are considered righteous before a holy God that we can fulfill his purpose for our lives. That brings us to our second next step this morning which is to Purge the leaven (sin) from my life so I can be set apart to do God’s work in the world. Since they had calculated the meat that each person would eat, there was to be nothing of the lamb or goat remaining. If there was any remaining, they were to burn it. This highlighted the sacrificial nature of the meal and pointed to their trust in the Lord for his provision in the desert. It was also a sacred meal and was to be treated as such.
Then the Lord instructed the people how they were to eat this special meal. They were to eat it with their cloak tucked into their belt, their sandals on their feet and their staff in their hands. Cloaks were usually worn loosely indoors and tucked in their belts when they were traveling. Sandals were usually only worn outdoors and not indoors. And staffs or walking sticks were used when traveling from one place to the other. This showed their trust in the Lord that he would deliver them from slavery, showed their commitment to go where the Lord would lead them and showed their readiness to travel when the time came. Guzik says, “Faith was essential to the keeping of Passover.” Hebrews 11:28 says, “By faith he [Moses] kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.” Lastly, they were to eat the meal in haste. This was not to be a relaxing meal but one eaten in anticipation of being freed from slavery at any moment. They were to be fully ready to depart. The Lord then calls the meal the “Lord’s Passover.” This is the first use of the word “Passover” and describes the act of the Lord in rescuing and redeeming the Israelites as a community from slavery in Egypt.
After giving specific and precise instructions for the preparations of the execution of his escape plan, the Lord tells Moses how the plague would happen and how those who believed the Lord would be protected from judgment which brings us to our third point, Protection, found in 12:12-13. This is what God’s Word says, “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.”
It is still the same night that the meal has been consumed. On that night the Lord would “pass through” Egypt and “strike down” every firstborn, of men and animals. To “pass through” meant judgment and to “strike down” meant to kill with a fatal blow. Because Pharaoh had tried to exterminate the Israelites, God’s firstborn, God would exterminate the firstborn of Egypt. But unlike Pharaoh, God’s “striking down” would be a quick and merciful judgment. The firstborn was God’s by right and he was exercising his right to do with them as he wished. When Pharaoh oppressed and killed the Israelites, he was setting himself up as “god” and trying to take away Yahweh’s right to the firstborn. The firstborn of the animals were to be “struck down” probably because so many of the Egyptian gods were represented by animals. Stuart says, “The gods were seen, above all, as the grantors of life and protectors of the living. The plagues, appropriately, were largely focused on death. The tenth and final plague showed that their gods could not save anyone or anything from death. If God can take the life of the firstborn, he can take the life of anyone regardless of birth order.” By taking the lives of the firstborn of Egypt, God brought judgment on all the gods of Egypt. God then states that “He is the Lord.” This was his signature and emphasized his identity. There would be no question who was “passing through” Egypt and killing the firstborn. He would be supreme over all other gods and has the authority to claim the firstborn of the Egyptians and Israelites alike. This would give further proof of his presence in the land and his sovereignty over it.
As the Lord would go through Egypt killing the firstborn, the houses that had the blood applied to their doorposts would be “passed over”. It is important to not forget that the Israelite’s firstborn were also subject to this judgment. The Israelites were as guilty of sin as the Egyptians were and both needed a sacrifice to be saved. Each family’s lamb would die in place of their firstborn. The innocent would die in place of the guilty and God’s justice would be satisfied. Merida says, “The blood on their doors served as a sign that judgment had already fallen at that house. God accepted the blood of the sacrifice and passed over their sin.” This was the mercy of God. The blood would be a sign to the Israelites of God’s promise and that they trusted in the Lord to favorably intervene and free them from slavery. The power was not in the sign but in God’s word and promise to “pass over” the houses who had applied the blood to their door frames. The Lord would see the blood of the sacrificial lamb or goat and even though they were eligible to be destroyed, no destructive plague would touch them when he struck Egypt. He would literally “stand watch over” and protect them from the Destroyer. It wasn’t their Hebrewness that would save them but by trusting, believing and obeying God that the blood of the sacrifice would take their punishment for their sin. (Big Idea).
On April 25, 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear power station in the Soviet Union experienced a meltdown and created an enormous tragedy. It is one of the worst disasters in the history of nuclear power. To make the best of a catastrophic situation, the Russian authorities decided their best plan of attack for resolving this mess was to dump hundreds of tons of sand and concrete into the live reactor in order to seal it up and prevent its radioactive discharges. One helicopter pilot was decorated for his heroism in making dozens of passes over the hot reactor to dump the huge cargoes of sand and concrete. Each pass he made over the reactor increased his health risk, but the job had to be done or the reactor would keep bubbling out its deadly fallout for decades to come. This pilot exposed himself to the deadly radiation in order to save the lives of millions of people and many more who had not yet been born. This one man’s sacrifice saved many lives.
Almost two thousand years before this, there was another sacrifice by one person which would save the lives of millions of people and many more who had yet to be born. Jesus Christ sacrificed himself on a cross to offer salvation for all humanity. Jesus was the Passover lamb foreshadowed by the lamb that was slain by the Israelite families in Egypt. It was Jesus’ shed blood that was foreshadowed by the blood put on the doorposts that evening. Hebrews 9:22 says, “Without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sin.” However, for Jesus’ blood to be effective for us we must appropriate that sacrifice for ourselves. His atonement must be made personal for each one of us. Anders says, “Jesus’ sacrifice can be studied and contemplated, but until a person applies the blood of Christ by faith to his or her own heart, there is no hope of eternity in his presence in heaven.” Those who are born again have the blood of Jesus covering them. God sees his firstborn son’s blood on us and passes over us. He forgives our sins and see the righteousness of Jesus as our own. We need the righteousness of Jesus to be in a relationship with God. This can’t happen because of anything in us. So, where does your righteousness come from? Are you trying to achieve salvation through “good works” or “going to church” or “giving to the poor”? Those are good things, but they can’t save you. Only by believing in Jesus and what he came to earth to do can you be saved. God has provided the perfect Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, and everyone who trusts in his blood will be saved. That brings us to the last next step on the back of your communication card which is to Apply the blood of Jesus Christ by faith to my heart, trusting in Him for salvation.
As the praise team comes to lead us in a final song and the ushers prepare to collect the tithes and offerings, let us close our time together in prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for your Word. Thank you that it is truth and life and light. Help us to feed on your Word not only on Sundays but every day of the week. Lord, help those men who call you their Lord and Savior to be the spiritual leaders of the church and their families. And help us all to purge the leaven or sin from our lives so that we are able to do your work and will in our communities and the world. Lastly, Lord, if there is anyone here this morning or listening that has not applied the blood of Jesus Christ to their hearts, trusting in Him for salvation. I pray that today would be the day and that your kingdom would continue to grow. In Jesus’ name. Amen.