September 30, 2016 by jmar198013
Manuscript of my sermon for Sunday, October 2, 2016. From our fall series, “The Faithfulness of God in the Hebrew Scriptures.”
Scriptures for this week: Exodus 12.1-13; 13.1-8; Luke 22.14-20.
An audio link is embedded below for those who’d rather listen.
The dinner in the middle of the drama
Any Star Wars fans out there?
I’m supposed to talk about the Passover today. But first, I want to talk about Star Wars.
You know that climactic scene in The Empire Strikes Back, where Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker are having their lightsaber duel? Vader has just disarmed Luke and cut off his hand. And then he reveals that he’s Luke’s father. And Luke goes: NnnnnnOOOOooooOOO! Right—that famous scene.
Imagine if it went more like this:
Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.
He told me enough! He told me you killed him!
No. I . . . You know what else Obi-Wan never told you about? My savory meatloaf recipe. First, you need about a pound of ground beef — grass fed Angus! And steel-cut oats. It has to be steel-cut oats! Luke, are you writing this down?
If you were a film maker, and one of your writers brought you a script that went like that, you’d fire that writer, wouldn’t you?
But that’s basically what happens with the Passover story in our Bibles. God is at war with the Pharaoh of Egypt to rescue Israel from slavery. And the Passover falls smack dab in the middle of so much action. On the one side, there’s this spectacular special effects sequence with all those grisly plagues. On the other, there’s nail-biting tension as Israel finds themselves trapped between Egypt’s imperial army and the Red Sea. Then—as the old spiritual proclaims: Pharaoh’s army got drownded / O Mary, don’t you weep! But inside all that high drama, you have Exod. 12.1 – 13.16—the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In our Bibles, that’s 67 verses. And 53 of those verses are details about about a meal! 80% of the Passover story is basically excruciatingly minute instructions for how to prepare and eat their dinner! Moses tells the people what kind of lamb to eat. How to cook the lamb. How to bake the bread. How to divide the lamb among households. What side dishes to serve. The pace at which the meal is to be eaten. What to wear to dinner. What you’re supposed to talk about at dinner. What to do with the lamb’s blood. From a story-telling perspective, it’s really sort of a buzzkill.
I bet even a few of the Israelites grew impatient. Moses, is this really the best time to be doing this? We’re trying to escape from an imperial superpower here!
Confession time: For years, whenever I’d read Exodus, I’d sort of skim over most of chapters 12 and 13. I didn’t see the point to all those detailed instructions about the Passover. I thought they had nothing to do with me, or Jesus, or the life of the church. But I was very wrong. Truth is, the Passover has everything to do with Jesus and you and me and God’s people. Let’s go back to Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Luke didn’t realize it at the time, but Vader actually gave him a gift when he said: I am your father. Now Luke knows who he is, and where he came from. God also gave the Passover to Israel as a gift, to remember who they are, and where they came from. And church—the Passover also helps us know who we are, and where we came from.
Because Passover isn’t just a meal. The Passover tells a powerful story about God’s faithfulness to his people.
“Taste and see how good the Lord is!”
You know something fascinating about the Passover? God didn’t rescue Israel from Egypt, and then command them to eat a meal to celebrate. Instead, God called the Israelites to eat this meal while they were still in Egypt. While God was still working out their salvation. God gave them a meal to tell the story of what God was going to do for them. The first Passover was a meal eaten in the middle of oppression, turmoil, and upheaval. But that meant it was also a meal eaten in trust, and in hope.
Think about this: Moses had to go to hundreds of thousands of people who were about to be fugitives and refugees. And he had to tell these people: God wants every household to select a perfect year-old lamb. Slaughter it and roast it. Serve it with bitter herbs. Eat it in a hurry, with your sandals on and your staff in your hand. No leftovers, either. Oh, and if you want your firstborn son to not die, take the lamb’s blood and smear it on your doorposts.
How well do you think that went over? Whatever—if you’ve ever been in a church business meeting, you already know how it went over.
Someone objects, Moses, my grandmother’s lamb recipe is better! Somebody else says, Moses, I have a bitter herb sensitivity. Can I have kale instead? Then someone else huffs, Moses, this is just wasteful. We’re going to have to be better stewards of our resources if we expect to survive our journey through the wilderness. Y’all know I’m speaking truth.
But there’s a lesson here for us. Just as God called Israel to observe the Passover while they were still in Egypt, in the midst of the strife and turmoil of our lives in the world, God also calls us to worship and remembrance. While we await our final deliverance—our resurrection, and the new heavens and new earth God has promised us—God invites us to remember his faithfulness to us. We don’t just do this once a year, like Israel did with the Passover. We do it each week when we gather to share the Lord’s Supper. Just like Abraham’s descendants ate that first Passover meal in Egypt in hope of their salvation, we are living in the world, sharing the Lord’s Supper as we hopefully await God’s redemption of all creation. See—I told you, the Passover has everything to do with us.
God’s people would later learn to sing these words: You set a table for me right in front of my enemies (Ps. 23.5). That’s exactly what the Passover was: a meal God gave his people while they lived among their enemies. Likewise, each week we are invited to the Lord’s Supper—a meal God feeds us even while we live among our enemies—the devil, sin, shame, sickness, and death. The Psalmist also invites us to, Taste and see how good the Lord is! (Ps 34.8) The Passover taught Israel that God’s faithfulness is so real you can taste it. The Lord’s Supper does the same thing for us.
What does Passover mean?
Did you notice that God told Moses the feast would be named the Passover before he told him why it was going to be called that? In Exod. 12.11, God says: You should eat the meal in a hurry. It is the Passover of the Lord. It’s two verses later that God explains why it’s called Passover: Whenever I see the blood, I’ll pass over you. No plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. And church, let me tell y’all—there’s a lot going on with that phrase pass over. 
First, the word translated to pass over actually comes from a verb that means to limp. Do you guys remember King Saul’s disabled grandson Mephibosheth, who later came to live with King David? After Saul and Jonathan fell in battle, we learn that his nurse snatched him up and fled. But as she hurried to get away, he fell and was injured. The word translated injured here is the same verb that means to pass over. It meant the child was gimped up. In other words, Mephibosheth had to walk slowly, with great care. He literally had to watch his steps. So when God says he will pass over Israel, he means: I’ll watch my steps when I pass through the land of Egypt in judgment; I’ll be careful to step over you.
Moses had gone to Pharaoh and warned him that all the firstborn sons of Egypt would die. That was the tenth and final plague God visited on Egypt. Moses said that the Egyptians would howl over the loss of their sons. But as for the Israelites, not even a dog will growl at them, at the people, or at their animals. By this, you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel (Exod. 11.7). God made a distinction between Egypt and Israel by skipping Israel’s houses, when he saw the blood of the lamb smeared across the tops of their doors.
The verb to pass over also shows up in Isaiah 31.5. In that passage, the prophet promises that:
Like birds hovering overhead,
the Lord Almighty will shield Jerusalem;
he will shield it and deliver it,
he will ‘pass over’ it and will rescue it.”
In that passage, it means that God will protect his people, and spare them from destruction. The verb has that same meaning in Exod. 12.23, which wasn’t in our readings today. It says: When the Lord comes by to strike down the Egyptians and sees the blood on the beam above the door and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over that door. He won’t let the destroyer enter your houses to strike you down.
Why did the people need to paint the tops of their doors with blood to ensure God would protect them from the destroyer—whatever that was? Doesn’t God know which ones are his? Of course God does! But that’s not the point. The point is, God faithfully provides protection for his people. And then he calls us to respond in obedient faith to his grace. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ways that we faithfully respond to God’s grace now. And just like the Passover meal, baptism and the Lord’s Supper both re-tell the story of what God has done for us. They tell of God’s faithfulness to us.
“Were you there?”
I keep saying that the Passover re-tells the story of God’s faithfulness to his people. When a story is re-told well, hearers are actually drawn into it. Think about how we sometimes sing that old spiritual just before we share in the Lord’s Supper: Were you there when they crucified my Lord? The effect of that song is to re-tell the story of Jesus’ death so that we feel like eyewitnesses to the event. Of course, none of us were actually there for the crucifixion. But when we fall under the spell of that song, we soon find ourselves standing before the cross that dark Friday afternoon.
Moses told the Israelites: This day will be a day of remembering for you. You will observe it as a festival to the Lord. You will observe it in every generation as a regulation for all time (Exod. 12.14). The Passover bound later generations of Israelites to the story of God’s faithfulness to them. And every Passover, they were supposed to say these words: It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, for the Lord passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt. When he struck down the Egyptians, he spared our houses (Exod. 12.27). They didn’t say that God struck down the Egyptians, but spared the houses of our ancestors. They repeated that God spared our houses. The Passover meal gave Israel a way to share in their ancestors’ experience of the Exodus.
Whenever the Israelites ate the unblemished lamb, they remembered that the Passover involved sacrifice. And when they spread the lamb’s blood over their door, they remembered what that sacrifice was. Pay attention, this is important. In our readings today, we heard God say: Dedicate to me all your oldest children—literally, all your firstborn sons. Each first offspring from any Israelite womb belongs to me, whether human or animal. Earlier, in Exod. 4.22, God had called the nation of Israel my firstborn son (NIV). The Pharaoh had enslaved God’s firstborn son. Not only that, the Pharaoh had drowned the male babies of Israel in the Nile River. So he had murdered many of God’s firstborn sons. That first Passover in Egypt, God came to collect on what was rightfully his—the life of every firstborn son was owed to God. So God took the lives of the firstborn sons of Egypt. But God spared the lives of the firstborn sons of Israel when he saw their faithful obedience—the blood smeared across the tops of their doors. I have a theory about what that meant. In Lev. 17.11, God tells the Israelites: A creature’s life is in the blood. I have provided you the blood to make reconciliation for your lives … because the blood reconciles by means of the life. To offer blood meant to offer life. So the lamb’s blood painted over Israelite doorways told God: We have already dedicated the lives of our firstborn sons to you. Remember, the life is in the blood.
Every Passover, all God’s people gathered in memory with their ancestors, keeping watch while God spared the lives of the firstborn sons of Israel. They were drawn into the story of God’s faithfulness to his people. The story became their story, too.
Our Passover lamb
The Passover is part of the Christian story, as well. Just as countless generations of Israelites have been drawn into this defining story of God’s faithfulness, so are we. A couple of weeks back, we saw God take Abraham outside one night. We heard God tell Abraham: Look up at the sky and count the stars if you think you can count them … This is how many children you will have (Gen. 15.5). The Passover is the story of God setting a multitude of Abraham’s children free from slavery to a cruel tyrant. During Passover celebrations many, many generations later, one of Abraham’s children transformed the Passover meal into a remembrance of the sacrifice he would make to set us all free. Free from the devil’s tyranny. Free from slavery to sin and shame and fear and death. Of course, that child of Abraham was Jesus, our Messiah. And the meal he gave us is the Lord’s Supper.
Today, we saw and heard what Jesus did at that Passover meal. How he broke the bread, and shared it with his disciples, and told them: This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. What happened to the flesh of the Passover lamb? The Israelites ate it. In one of his letters, Paul shared these words with one of the churches he ministered to: Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed (1 Cor. 5.7). Every Sunday, as we break the bread of the Lord’s Supper, we eat the flesh of our Passover lamb. We have become part of the Passover story, and that story is also part of what we do. Jesus is our Passover lamb.
Then, Jesus took the cup after the meal and said, “This cup is the new covenant by my blood, which is poured out for you.” God had called Israel my firstborn son (Exod. 4.22). Now we see Jesus. God’s Son, and the firstborn over all creation (Col. 1.15 NIV) The blood of the Passover lamb, smeared across the tops of the doors, had saved the firstborn sons of Israel. But now it is the blood of God’s firstborn Son, poured out on the cross, that saves us. Jesus, the firstborn Son, our Passover lamb, gave his life willingly. And because of his sacrifice, in Christ we also offer our lives willingly to God, as his sons and daughters.
Israel shared in their ancestor’s Exodus every year when they celebrated Passover. We Christians share in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection—his Exodus—through baptism. His Exodus becomes our Exodus. And we share in the sacrifice he made for us as our Passover lamb every week as we receive his flesh and his blood. Every week, we taste and see how good the Lord is. So each week, as we break the bread and drink the cup, let us never forget that God’s faithfulness to us is so real, you can taste it!
 For the word studies on pass over that follow, see Waldemar Janzen, Exodus, Believers Church Bible Commentary, ed. Elmer A. Martens and Willard M. Swartley (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2000), 158.