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    Exodus 12:5-8, 11-14

    5Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, 6and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. 7Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it…

    11In 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. It is the LORD’s Passover. 12For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. 13The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. 14This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.

    Everybody knows how to play checkers. You've got your red pieces and your black pieces, and you line up on opposite sides of the board. You can only move your pieces diagonally in a forward direction one dark space at a time, unless you're in a position to jump over your opponent into an empty space, capturing one of your opponent's pieces. 

    Everybody knows how to play checkers. But imagine you didn't know any better, and you saw two people sitting in front of a similar looking board. They're on opposite sides, but the pieces are all different. Some of the pieces look like little people, others look like horses. There are a few that look like parts of the castle wall. And they are moving these pieces every which way, and it doesn't seem to make any discernible sense. And as you're watching, you might object. You might say: “You can't do that! That’s not the way the game is played. You can't just take that horse-looking piece and move two places forward and then one to the side. That breaks all the rules!” But as you watch, you might realize perhaps that there's something more going on here. Perhaps it's not as ridiculous or as absurd as it looks. Perhaps there is a deeper, more complicated logic at work. 

    One of my old professors used to say, that's often how it is with theology. As we modern people read our Bibles, we've got preconceived ideas of how the game of life should be played. We've got our ideas of what God can and cannot do, and as we read the Bible, we might object and say, “God, you can't do that! That's not the way that the game is played.” But we might need to step back and realize that sometimes that's like objecting because the rules of chess don't follow the rules of checkers. It may just be that we've failed to realize that there's a deeper logic at work. That's especially important for us to bear in mind as it comes to this passage when we consider the first Passover. 

    Now we're in the midst of a series focused on the life of Moses. And here we come to this defining moment when God comes to the rescue of his people and delivers them from their bondage and oppression in Egypt. And he rescues them by the blood of the Lamb. They are literally saved by blood. 

    But to many of us modern people that just seems abstract, absurd, bizarre, primitive, barbaric, perhaps even revolting. But what we have to realize is: This ain't checkers! Perhaps there is a deeper logic at work. We take a look at this episode, in the life of Moses and of God's people, I'd like us to consider what we can learn about the blood, because this passage reveals to us the sign of the blood, the power of the blood, and the application of the blood. The sign of the blood, what it is,—the power of the blood, how it works—and the application of the blood, why it matters for us. 

    The Sign of the Blood

    Let's take a look first at the sign of the blood. Let me provide a little bit of the backstory. Egypt has not only forced the people of Israel into lifelong, ethnically based slavery, but the people of Egypt have also engaged in a maniacal act of genocide, as they order the execution of all the Hebrew baby boys by having them drowned in the Nile. But God in his perfect justice refuses to let this evil stand, and God rises in order to take action to deliver his people. 

    Now, as we've seen, God has already visited nine plagues upon Egypt. But Pharaoh has only hardened his heart in response to God. Pharaoh refuses to relent, and so now God warns of one more final plague which he will visit upon the land. He says at midnight, he himself God will go out in the midst of Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both man and beast. Now part of what you need to understand here is that within the ancient world, especially within the world of Egypt, the culture operated on the principle of primogeniture, which valued the firstborn son above every other child. And v. 12 here makes clear that God is not only executing judgment against Pharaoh, but also against all of the false gods of Egypt, which have supported this violent form of oppression. In v. 12, we read that God says, “I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord.” 

    Remember Pharaoh was worshiped as a son of the supreme god Re. Pharaoh assumes that because he is a deity, he's got the right to take human life and to do whatever he wants with it. But God sends these plagues in order to demythologize these Egyptian gods—to reveal them to be the frauds that they really are. And the God of the Bible will show that he is the only true God and the only one who truly has the right over both life and death. 

    But here's what's interesting, even though God's people are the victims of oppression, when God brings his justice to bear on the world in which we live, he does not presume that his people are wholly innocent. And you see, that's the danger that we're all in. To put it simply, even if we are mistreated by others, that doesn't mean that we ourselves are without sin. It would be so much easier if we could just divide the good people from the bad people in the world, and then we could just get rid of the bad people. But Alexander Solzhenitsyn put it famously, when he said that the dividing line between good and evil passes right through every single human heart. If we cry out to God—we want God to bring his justice to bear on the world in which we live in order to make things right, then we have to allow God's justice to fall on us too, when we deserve it. God knows that even though his people had been treated terribly— they've undergone this horrific form of oppression—nevertheless, he knows that they too, could not bear the scrutinizing judgment of God. 

    And yet God provides a way of escape. But notice, he provides a way for his people, not by going around his judgment, but rather by going straight through it. God proceeds to provide his people with instructions regarding this first Passover. He instructs the people to kill a male lamb, one year old, without any blemishes, without any spots, a perfect lamb. And this lamb should be killed at twilight. And then the blood of the lamb should be placed on the lintel and the posts of the door where they are staying and where they will eat this Passover meal. They should eat the lamb in haste, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs. And in verse 13, God explains “the blood shall be a sign for you.” The blood shall be a sign for you. But what is this a sign of? What does the blood signify? Well, it's not a sign for the all-knowing all-powerful God. No, it's a sign for his people. 

    On the one hand, it's a sign of their faith. By putting the blood on the doorposts the people are signifying their trust. They're willing to do what God says. They're taking God at his word. But it's not only a sign of their faith. It's also ultimately a sign of God's promise. It's the sign of God's promise that he will see the blood and pass over those houses so that no destructive plague shall strike them. So the death of the lamb will be accepted as a substitute for the death of the firstborn, but this is where we run into trouble, right? Because the sign of the blood seems to us to be so crude, so arbitrary. 

    Sam Harris is one of the so-called “new atheists.” And this is one of the things that he takes issue with. He writes, “God seems to generally encourage the substitution of animals for people. Indeed, his thirst for the blood of animals, as well as his attentiveness to the niceties of their slaughter and holocaust, is almost impossible to exaggerate.” The whole idea of being saved through death offends our modern sensibilities. It's not only absurd, it seems revolting. Others have said any normal person is disgusted by religious sacrifice. And you would imagine that God’s idea of killing an animal, splattering its blood about, and then burning its flesh is quite obviously absurd and ridiculous. How could this practice benefit anyone? Most of us today would say what we need is a religion of love and peace, not a religion of blood and guts. So if God wants to save his people, if he wants to rescue us, or if he wants to forgive us for our sins, why doesn't he just do it? What's with all the blood? 

    The Power of the Blood

    Let's turn from the sign of the blood to its power in order to understand what exactly is going on here, because it's not as if any other colorful substance would have worked. If the people had simply gotten a can of red paint and painted that on their doors, it wouldn't have worked. So what is the significance of the blood? Why blood? 

    The Book of Leviticus might give us an answer. In Leviticus 17:14, we read, “the life of every creature is in its blood.” The blood represents life. There is life-giving, life-saving power in the blood, especially when the blood is willingly sacrificed for another. That's the idea that is being communicated here. And we know that there is life-saving power in blood. That's a simple fact of biology. I mean, isn't it amazing that despite all of our advances in medicine and science and technology, we still can't fabricate blood? Blood is a unique human substance. It can't be produced, it can only be donated. And without the donation of blood, there are so many people who would otherwise die. That's why the Red Cross has made one of their slogans, “Give blood. Save a life.” You see, there is life saving power in the blood when it is willingly given up for another. 

    But is it possible that that's not just a fact of biology? Is it possible that that could also be a fact of spirituality?—if we're playing chess, rather than checkers? I'd like to try to communicate how it might just be the case that there really is life-saving power in the blood by using an analogy. 

    I'm not going to rely on an overly rationalistic argument; I'm going to tell a story. I'll use an analogy from the well-known story of Harry Potter. You may recall that in the opening chapter of the very first book, Harry Potter is referred to as “The Boy Who Lived.” When he was only one year old, the Dark Lord - “whose name shall not be spoken”—the Dark Lord, Lord Voldemort, decides that he is going to murder Harry and his parents. So he traps them in their home. Harry's father James tries to ward off Lord Voldemort, and he tells his wife Lily to take their young son and to try to run away. But Voldemort destroys and kills James, and then he traps Lily and Harry in the nursery. Now Voldemort gives Lily the opportunity to save herself. He'll let her go if she only steps aside. But she refuses to do so out of love for Harry. She protects him out of love, and as a result, she dies. But because she dies as a willing sacrifice, and not a mere casualty of war, like her husband, James, Harry is marked with the protection of her love. So when Voldemort issues the killing curse, it bounces off of Harry, it kills Voldemort, and it leaves Harry Potter with his defining scar - the thunderbolt on his forehead. Later Professor Dumbledore will explain all this to Harry. He says, “Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign…to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.” Lily’s willing sacrifice for Harry leaves a protective mark upon him—the protective mark of love—so that death couldn't touch him. Instead, it bounces off. 

    Now you might say, "that's just a story." "Why should we believe that?" But isn't it interesting that even at the level of story, we accept it. There are some stories that we're told that are filled with ideas and events that are preposterous. We can't even accept them within the story world. And yet, stories like this resonate with us. They make sense to us. Of course you would be protected by the love of another who gives his or her life for you! So is that perhaps pointing us to a deeper reality—that there is life-giving power that comes from the willing sacrifice of another? 

    You might say, even if that's the case, the lamb at the Passover was not exactly a willing sacrifice. The lamb didn't lay down its life for others. But you see, that's why the Passover, in another sense, serves as a sign. It's not only a sign of the people's faith or a sign of God's promise. It's also a sign that that points beyond itself to a deeper reality. 

    Many years later, there is a man named John. John had dedicated his whole life to preparing people to meet God. And one day, who does he see? He sees Jesus walking by. And what does he say? He says, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” And as Jesus nears the end of his own life, he asks his disciples to make preparations for a final meal that they'll share together. And you do realize that the last supper with his disciples was a Passover meal? And yet there's no mention of the lamb within the gospels at this meal because Jesus himself is the Lamb. He is that young male lamb without spot or blemish, and he is the one who gives himself up for us willingly. The Gospel writer John uses a different chronology that other people used at the time in order to emphasize that Jesus was sacrificed at twilight, at the very time when the lambs were being sacrificed for the Passover. And when he celebrated that final meal with his disciples, he intended it to be interpreted as a Passover meal. He says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus is the true Passover Lamb who willingly gives himself up for us in order to save you and me from death. 

    But now, wait a minute, because now we're not even talking about animal sacrifice. Now, it seems as if we're talking about human sacrifice, and isn't that worse? There are many ancient cultures like the Aztecs, for example, that practiced human sacrifice. Sometimes they would rip out the still beating heart of one of their victims in order to ensure that the sun would continue to shine, that the rain would continue to fall, and the crops would continue to produce. Is that what's going on here? Is God one of those bloodthirsty deities from the past that we've read about? No, not at all, because what we need to bear in mind is that in the Old Testament, as well as in the New, the very same God who warns us of judgment is also the very same one who provides the way of salvation. 

    We’ve got to make sure that we don't make the mistake of pitting the Old Testament against the New Testament. We can't pit the Son against the Father or God's love against God's justice, because in Jesus Christ, God does not demand the blood of others. But rather God offers up his own in order to rescue us from our plight. Jesus willingly dies in our place, as our substitute to do for us what we could not do for ourselves—to lay upon us the protective mark of his love. 

    Carlos Fuentes (a novelist and historian) once wrote that the Aztecs, for example, were “accustomed to seeing men sacrificed to the gods” but nothing could have amazed them more “than the sight of a god who had sacrificed himself for men.”

    The Application of the Blood

    We've considered the sign of the blood and the power of the blood. But the ultimate question is, how does this apply to us? What's the application of the blood? As we consider the blood of the Passover lamb, we see that the blood speaks to us. It speaks to us of participation, reconciliation, and celebration. 


    First, it speaks to us of participation. Everything that God has done in and through Jesus Christ, the ultimate Passover lamb, will be of no benefit to you unless you participate in it. You've got to apply the blood to yourself in order for it to be effective in your life. There is no benefit to the blood without participation. And that is, of course, what we see in ancient Israel. If they had not taken that blood and put it on the lintel and on the doorposts, it wouldn't have benefited them at all. In a similar way, when God comes to judge the world, to bring his justice to bear on the broken and fallen places all around us, we have to acknowledge the fact that not even we could bear the scrutinizing judgment of God. And therefore, we have to take shelter under the blood of Jesus. That's what it means to be a Christian. A Christian is someone who has taken shelter under the blood of Jesus. So have you done that? Have you taken shelter under the blood of Jesus by faith? 

    Look, it doesn't require a lot of theology to be able to do that. I think about the people of Israel. They probably didn't have that robust of an understanding of what was actually happening, but that didn't matter. All that matters is that they took God at his word and did what he said. They sacrificed the lamb, they placed the blood on the frames of their door, and the next morning when it was all over, regardless of whether they understood fully what was going on or not, they knew that they owed their life to the lamb. 

    In a similar way for us, we don't have to have this sophisticated theology of the atonement. All we have to do is place our faith in Jesus, and trust that we owe our life, our very existence, to the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. 


    But the blood speaks not only of participation, but also of reconciliation and of celebration. God never reconciles us to himself without also reconciling us to one another. And that's why he caused us to celebrate this feast together. He says in v. 14, “This meal is meant to be a memorial, a feast, a celebration that will be carried on down through the generations.” That Passover was unique. It was a one-time event, and yet it was meant to be memorialized again and again so that the people would remember all that God had accomplished for them.


    Now that the final Lamb has come, Jesus has transformed the Passover into the Lord's Supper. And here at his table, we celebrate all that he has done for us. And we celebrate in anticipation of that day when we will be united with one another—with thousands of people from around the world and throughout time as we worship the lamb and as we cry out: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, who deserves all the honor and glory and power.” 

    God reconciles us through the lamb not only to himself, but also to one another. If you look in the Scriptures, you'll see that the Bible talks about human beings as being “one blood.” As human beings we share one blood, and that should be reason enough for us to treat one another with love and respect. But the New Testament goes even beyond that to say that those who are united to Jesus not only share the blood of Adam and a common humanity, but we share the blood of Jesus who died for us and who has united us into one single family. And therefore the call upon us—especially in this moment where we're dealing with so much racial tension—is we have to recognize the way in which Jesus reconciles us together. 

    So I'd like to close with one final story about a man named Andrae Crouch. When Andrae was 9-years-old, he became a Christian. He committed his life to Jesus. And about two years later when he was 11-years-old, his father, who was a businessman, was asked to go and speak at a little country church 60 miles outside of Los Angeles where they lived. This church wanted him to be the pastor, but he wasn't sure he wanted to become a preacher. Besides this church didn't even have anyone who could play the piano and lead the music and the worship. But they kept insisting: we want you to be the pastor. And so he said, “Lord, if you want me to be the preacher of this church, then I want you to give my son Andrae the gift of music, so that he can lead the worship.” So he's 11 years old, and one day his father calls him up in front of the whole congregation. He says, “Andrae, if the Lord were to give you the gift of music, would you use it for his glory?” And 11 year old Andre said, “Yeah, Daddy. I’ll play for the Lord.” And later, Andrae would say that growing up he had a terrible problem with stuttering. And so he was so grateful for the gift of music, which enabled him now to express himself in a new and powerful way. 

    He wrote his first song when he was only 14-years-old. His family was invited to the home of James Cleveland, who was a gospel musician, over Memorial Day. As he's there—around this well-known musician—Andrae prays that the Lord would give him a song. He wants to write a song. And as he watches the adults outside, barbecuing and pouring a vat of barbecue sauce over the ribs, it reminds him of the blood of Jesus. So he begins to write a song: “The blood that Jesus shed for me, way back on Calvary; the blood that gives me strength from day to day, it will never lose its power.” He writes that down as a 14 year old boy, and then crumples it up and throws it in the trash. He doesn't think it's any good. Thankfully, his sister Sandra thought was pretty good. She said, “Andrae, that's a good song.” We sang it earlier today. 

    Later, he becomes a well-known gospel musician. He forms a band called The Disciples. At one point he's giving a concert in a large city. The poster that publicized this event showed the pictures of the band members in silhouette form. So it wasn't so easy to tell if these men were black or white. And so when he steps out onto the stage, everyone in the first two pews gets up and leaves. So what does Andrae do? He starts playing one of his songs: “Where would I be if Jesus didn't love me? Where would I be if he didn't care? Where would I be if he hadn't sacrificed himself for me?” And as he plays this song, some of those people come back and they sit down in those rows, and some of them become his closest friends. 

    You see, this is what we need. The Lamb of God not only reconciles us to God, but also to one another. And so you need to stop and ask yourself: Do you understand what Jesus has done for you? And have you taken shelter under the blood of Jesus because his death and resurrection on the cross will be of no benefit to you unless you participate in it. And when you participate in that blessing, he reconciles you not only to himself but to everyone within the family that he has brought together. And that is cause for celebration. And that is what we celebrate here at this table. We celebrate the blood of Jesus shed for us. And we know that the blood will never lose its power.