Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ Faith Presbyterian Church
1The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7 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. 8 They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord.
12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.…
28 The Israelites went and did just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron. 29 At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock.
30 Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his officials and all the Egyptians; and there was a loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. 31 Then he summoned Moses and Aaron in the night, and said, “Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord, as you said. 32 Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone. And bring a blessing on me too!” (Exodus 12:1-12, 28-32, NRSV)
There are certain things in life which are going to happen whether we like it or not, whether we get on board or not. If the train is scheduled to leave the station at 9:02 but you would prefer the train leave the station at 10:02, it doesn’t matter how many phone calls you make to the train station, how passionately you protest to the conductor, if you want to leave on that train you better be on board at 9:02. And if that’s the only train leaving that station that will get you where you want to go, you had better make darn certain you adjust your schedule to get there on time.
If we learn anything from the biblical account we learn that God is working out very specific purposes in this world and that there is no power on this earth, human or otherwise, which will be able to stand in the way of those purposes being fulfilled. As human beings, therefore, we have a choice. On one hand, we can humble ourselves and conform our lives to God’s will and God’s purposes. In other words, we can get on the train. On the other hand, we can choose to reject God’s plans and purposes and stick, stubbornly, to our own agenda. God allows us this freedom, though we would be wise to understand that if we continually reject God’s will in this world the train will nonetheless leave the station right on time without us aboard.
The story we are looking at today is a story about people making this very decision. From the time of Abraham, it was God’s determined will that his people, the Israelites, would be made into a great nation and live in a great land and experience great blessing so that they, in turn, could be a great blessing to the world. Just because an arrogant Pharaoh in Egypt has decided to make God’s people his slaves did not mean that God’s plans were suddenly derailed. They were not. And that was a lesson everybody in Egypt was about to learn.
In Exodus 5 Moses returns to Egypt after 40 years in exile and, per God’s instruction, immediately goes to Pharaoh and declares to him, “Thus says the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go.” In response, Pharaoh says back to Moses, “Who is the Lord, that I should heed him and let Israel go? No! I do not know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.” Then, to emphasize his point and probably out of spite, Pharaoh orders that the already back-breaking work of the Hebrew slaves be doubled. As a result the Israelites are furious with Moses for making a bad situation worse. Even Moses begins to question whether he would have been better off staying back with his sheep in Midian. Everybody is frustrated it seems, except God who, in response to everybody’s lack of faith, says calmly to Moses, “Okay, now all of you will see what I will do to Pharaoh. Now you will see what happens to those who decide to scorn my will in this world.”
The text tells us that God then begins to inflict Pharaoh and his people with a parade of plagues, each one designed to demonstrate God’s unparalleled power over all creation showing that he alone is Lord. Count them, there are nine of them in all. All the water in Egypt, from the great NileRiver to the smallest puddle, is turned to blood. A swarm of nasty frogs descend upon every corner of the kingdom. Millions and millions of pesky gnats infest the land. Then flies, just as many, descend upon Egypt. All the livestock, every cow and every goat belonging to the Egyptians, becomes diseased and dies. Every person, young and old, is cursed with festering boils that cover their skin. The worst hailstorm in Egyptian history destroys all the crops. A nasty plague of locusts destroys every tree. Finally, darkness descends on the land for three days, so black that Pharaoh cannot see his hand in front of his face.
Several times along the way Pharaoh relents and promises to let God’s people go if only God would put an end to the plagues. Each time God shows mercy and does so, but then each time Pharaoh promptly goes back on his word. And all along his heart increasingly resembles a stone. But don’t be too quick to judge old Pharaoh. After all, he’s not the only person in the history of the world who has made sincere-sounding promises to God in the midst of some hardship only to go back on those promises once the hardship has passed and life becomes comfortable again. All of us, I fear, are prone to this pattern.
Ultimately, the plagues will be used to break the will of Pharaoh and humble him into submission to the will of God. But this is not God’s only purpose for the plagues. They were also sent, I believe, for the benefit of the Israelites. Remember that these people had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years, slaves with no rights to practice the faith of their forefathers. Twenty generations have passed since the time of Jacob and his 12 sons and after all that time it is understandable that the people would forget about their God and become, in many ways, assimilated into Egyptian culture.
Egypt in those days did not know about, much less worship, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Instead, the Egyptians believed in many, many other gods. They were polytheists. There was a god of the river, a god of the sun, a god who ruled the rain, a god who ruled the mountains, and a thousand others. They also believed that the natural world was one with the divine. They were pantheists. The river was divine. The trees were divine. The animals and insects were divine. This is what the Egyptians and, in fact, every single other surrounding culture of that day believed which means we can safely assume that the Israelites, after all that time as their slaves, must at least have been heavily influenced by these beliefs.
With this in mind, consider that when God then takes control of not just one, but nine parts of nature and uses them to curse Egypt, God is making a very bold and clear statement. There is no god of the river and the river is, itself, not divine. The one true God makes this clear when he turns the river into blood. The same is true of the gods of the animals, the gods of the insects, the god of the rain and the god of the sun. The plagues bear witness to the fact that there are no other gods and that nature itself is merely a creation absolutely subject to its one and only Creator. You see, if God had only sent the first plague the Israelites may have wrongly concluded that the God who sent Moses was only greater than the god of the river. The fact that God sent nine plagues makes the undeniable point that Moses’ God was greater than all other gods for there were, in fact, no other gods to begin with.
This is one of those instances where the train is going to leave the station with us or without us. Because much like in the time of Egypt, we now live in, and are influenced by a world where more and more people want to affirm the existence of many gods and celebrate nature itself as divine. Oprah Winfrey captured this perspective of so many others in her commencement address to WellesleyCollege a few years ago when she confidently declared,
I understand that there is a power greater than myself, that rules my life…I call it God, you can call it whatever you want to, the force, nature, Allah, the power. If you can connect yourself to the source and allow the energy that is your personality, your life force to be connected to the greater force, anything is possible for you.
Now, to many of us her words sound like complete nonsense. Even so, we must understand that there are many people who applaud her perspective, many people, even in the church, who have been influenced to say, “Who am I to say that somebody else’s god is false.” But we must. For the consistent witness of scripture, and the very point of the plagues God sent upon Egypt, declares that all other gods are in fact nothings, nonbeings, creations of human imagination. Furthermore, the idea that nature itself is anything other than the creation of the one, true God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the one we now know and most clearly see in the person of Jesus Christ, is also completely false.
So I have to ask you, do you know that there is no other source or power besides God? As Christians, we certainly must act graciously and lovingly towards people of other faith perspectives, but we must do so while, at the same time, never hesitating to humbly but boldly declare that there is only one God who can hear our prayers, only one God who can save us from our sin, only one God who will ultimately stand as our judge, only one God who determines what is and what is not truth. For all of time God has made clear to the world, and is making clear to the world even now through the revelation of scripture, that we must either humbly trust him to deliver us or, in the end, forsake deliverance. Again, these are the only two responses left open to us; we must get on the train or miss the train altogether for there is no other train leaving the station.
Pharaoh, tragically, makes the latter choice. And he does so in spite of the tremendous grace which God shows to him. You see, even though some people might not think sending nine plagues is a very gracious thing to do, it actually was. Pharaoh’s heart was hard as a rock. He was determined to show up at 10:02 for a train that was leaving the station at 9:02, and unless something was done to change his mind he was going to miss that train. So God sends nine plagues, each of which, yes, caused real difficulty for Pharaoh and his people, but none of which was devastating. Right? Not a single Egyptian died as a result of any of those plagues. These were merely warnings from God, warnings to repent, to bow down, to become humble, to get on board.
How many opportunities does God give us to submit to his Lordship in our lives? II Peter 3:9 declares, “The Lord is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” I believe this is the way God acts towards you and towards everybody you know, for God loves every human being because every human being is made in his image and created to become his son or daughter. Thus, God is relentless in his pursuit of each of us, extending offer after offer after offer for us to come back home. But if we, like Pharaoh, continue to harden our hearts and insist on giving our ultimate devotion to something other than God, such opportunities will not last forever.
It’s very popular in our day, you know, to imagine that in the end everybody, no matter what they believe or who they worship, finds their way to God. Now, if God, in God’s exceeding grace and mercy, decides to save everybody in the end then all the more praise to God. God can do what God chooses to do and, honestly, I hope and pray all people are saved. The Bible, however, consistently suggests that not everybody will be saved because those who ultimately reject the one and only source of grace and life will choose for themselves condemnation and death. Jesus himself, at the very heart of his teaching, declared, “The gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. The gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
Therefore, I for one will never take it upon myself to give anybody any false assurance that if you spend your entire life rejecting God that God will somehow force you to accept him in the end anyway. The Bible, the very teachings of Christ, gives us zero room to tell people they can catch any train at any time and still get home, and so God help the person who misleads others in this way. God help me if I mislead others in this way.
In spite of all the chances God gave him, Pharaoh stubbornly stuck to his original statement: “Who is the Lord, that I should heed him and let Israel go?” In the end, he, and all his people with him, chose what all people who reject God choose. They chose death.
God informs Moses that he will send a tenth plague upon the land of Egypt. Unlike the first nine plagues however, this tenth plague would not be a warning to get on board. This plague would be a judgment. With this plague the train would leave the station. Reading again from Exodus 12:12, God declares, “I will pass through the land of Egypt [on the appointed] night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord.” For Pharaoh and his people, the last train is about to leave the station.
The Israelites, however, are given one final opportunity to get on board. Through Moses, God instructs them to gather together in their households on the appointed night and to choose from their flocks the best lamb in the bunch. They are to slaughter that lamb and take the blood from the animal and smear it on the top and sides of the doorframes of their homes. After all, if an unwanted visitor is coming to visit you in your home one sure way to discourage that visitor from entering your home is to smear blood on your front door. That usually does the trick. Death was coming to visit Egypt that evening and God was giving his people a way to make clear that death was not welcome in their homes. You might even say this was a way to send a message that death had already visited those homes and need not stop by a second time.
Now, let’s just admit this is weird. Okay? This is very weird. Slaughtered lambs. Blood dripping from the front door. The people eating their dinner quickly, coats and shoes on, car keys in hand, bags packed, ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Why did God have them do this? When God came through the neighborhood that night did he really need help remembering which houses belonged to the Egyptians and which belonged to the Israelites? Was there some sort of magic or power in the blood, some sort of voodoo which kept away the evil spirits?
No. This was a test. God was giving them a mysterious sign which they never could have understood at the time. Only years later would it make sense. Nonetheless, it was a sign given the Israelites as an opportunity to trust God. They had watched God work in powerful ways as plague after plague descended on Egypt and destroyed the idea that there were any other gods alive who could save them. The Israelites, just like the Egyptians, had rejected God by rejecting God’s servant Moses. The Egyptians rejected God to the end. Now it was the Israelite’s turn. Would they trust God and cover their homes with the blood of a perfect lamb and thus, in the end, be spared? Once they were delivered, would they then be ready to leave everything they knew behind and follow God wherever God would lead? They could not deliver themselves. Death was coming. All they could do was trust God. The train was leaving and this was their chance to climb aboard.
The text tells us that in the end the Israelites went and did just as the Lord had commanded them to do through Moses and Aaron. It was a good thing they did because that very night, right on schedule, the Lord passed through Egypt and struck down the firstborn of every household in Egypt, from the son of Pharaoh down to the son of the prisoner in the dungeon. The text tells us in verse 30 that when the morning came “there was a loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a house with someone dead.”
Now, whenever I have read that verse before I have always assumed it was describing the Egyptian homes. It occurred to me this week, however, that the description is much broader than that. The narrator is reminding us here that there was not a single home in all of Egypt, neither those of the Egyptians nor those of the Israelites, in which someone did not die that night. In the Egyptian homes it was a firstborn son who lost his life. In the Israelite homes it was a perfect lamb which lost its life. Because the Israelites, in faith, trusted God and covered their homes with the blood of this lamb they were spared the judgment that was coming down upon all people and upon all homes. Again, you might say that the spirit of death passed over those homes because the blood on the door indicated that death had already visited that home and was now not welcome back.
This is a good time to point out an interesting part of this passage which I skipped over. In the beginning of chapter 12 we’re told that God commanded the Israelites that from that time forward they were to reset their calendars and mark the date of God’s deliverance through the blood of the lamb as the first month of the year. All this may seem a bit odd, even irrelevant, until you remember that these people had been slaves for 400 years and when you are a slave you very quickly lose any sense of time. Because as a slave you have no choice about how to use your time. Every day looks the same. You never have day off, much less a vacation. There are no seasons of life, no years set aside for going to school, no season for retirement, no extended periods of rest. As a slave you simply work every day of your life and then you die. So what’s the point of keeping a calendar? There is none.
It is, therefore, very telling that when God delivers his people from bondage he immediately re-establishes time for them and instructs them that they should, from that point forward, mark time from the date of their deliverance. Even the calendar, it seems, is subject to the working out of God’s purposes in this world as the date atop the page each day is to be a constant reminder of this reality.
By the way, what’s the date today? March 30, 2014. We say the date so often we forget what it’s pointing us to. When the ball dropped a few months ago in Times Square and people cheered and kissed as 2014 was lit up in lights, how many of us took even a moment to pause and consider the meaning of that number? Does not the number mark the date of our deliverance?
2,014 years have passed, by our best count, since the time when God slipped into our world one silent night in the person of a tiny baby boy born in a stable in Bethlehem. That boy grew to be a man, a man unlike any person the world had ever seen. His life was perfect, spotless, blameless. He loved all people at all times. He trusted his Father every moment of every day. He spoke only the truth. There was not a hint of deceit of malice to be found in him. He taught with divine authority and acted with supernatural power.
His name, of course, was Jesus and when he made his very first public appearance a prophet of that time, a man named John, declared to the crowds who gathered around, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
What an odd thing to say. What a strange name to call somebody. The Lamb of God? At the time nobody could possibly have known what it meant. A few years later, however, things became clear. For at just the right moment, during the celebration of Passover of all times, the annual celebration when the Jews remembered the day death passed over their homes smeared with the blood of perfect lambs, at that time this perfect Lamb of God was nailed to a cross. His blood poured out as he undeservedly died the death meant for others fully deserving. The whole world had said to God, right along with Pharaoh, “Who is the Lord that we should heed him?” and now, after countless warnings, God’s judgment was coming upon the world. But instead of falling upon those who deserved to receive it, God’s wrath fell upon one who was innocent. God’s wrath fell upon his only Son, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.
Three days later this same Jesus rose from the dead. It was the crowning miracle in a life that had been sprinkled full of miracles and signs, every one of them bearing witness that this Jesus truly was the one and only Son of God. The people of that day were then given a choice. God was doing something extraordinary in the world, carrying out his plan of extending salvation and deliverance to anybody who would have faith. The blood of the Lamb of God had been shed, this time not only for some but for all. Now, not only Israelites, but anybody and everybody who placed their faith in Christ and the work he accomplished on the cross would be delivered. The judgment of death comes to visit all who sin, but when it comes to visit those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ and made themselves ready to follow him wherever he would lead, the blood of Christ which covers them indicates that death has already visited and, therefore, is now not welcome back.
The apostle Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Romans:
There is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God [both Egyptian, Israelite and American alike!]; they are now justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.
Listen to me! There is nothing more important I could tell you this or any other Sunday morning. Every one of us here this morning is a slave, a slave to sin, a slave bound to death. In our desperate need for deliverance, we may imagine that there are others who will deliver us. But in the end there is only one. God, in his great mercy, has sent his only Son, a spotless lamb, to shed his blood on the cross so that the spirit of death and condemnation might forever, even today, pass over all those who place their faith in him.
In 1965 Curtis Mayfield wrote a song that he recorded with his group called The Impressions. Years later Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it among its list of 25 greatest songs of all time. The song is called “People Get Ready” and I couldn’t get the tune out of my head this week as I prepared for this message. In the end it seemed as good a way to end this message as any other I could think of. Though the song wasn’t written as a prayer, I want to ask you to hear it in that spirit this morning anyway. As you listen, pray for faith. As you listen, give thanks. As you listen, remember what it is that Christ has done for you and for all who will, in the end, get on board.
People get ready, there’s a train a comin’
You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin’
Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord
People get ready for the train to Jordan
It’s picking up passengers from coast to coast
Faith is the key, open the doors and board ’em
There’s hope for all among those loved the most.
There ain’t no room for the hopeless sinner
Who would hurt all mankind just to save his own
Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner
For there’s no hiding place against the Kingdom’s throne
So people get ready, there’s a train a comin’
You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin’
Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord
The Next Step
A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
Read Exodus 12:1-12,28-32. What is the most remarkable thing you notice in this passage?
How could a person like Pharaoh witness all those plagues and still not humble himself before God? Does this sort of thing still happen today?
God certainly could have accomplished his purposes without the death of every firstborn in Egypt. So why do you think God chose to do such a thing anyway?
Why do you imagine God instructed the Israelites to slaughter a perfect lamb and smear the blood on their doorsteps and eat the meal hastily? What was God accomplishing with this strange ritual?
How does this passage help you see the purpose for Jesus’ death and shed blood on the cross?
Read Paul’s comments in Romans 3:22-26. What do you learn here? What light does this shed to help us understand how the Passover relates to Christ?
It is a hard message that the “train is leaving” and some people may simply choose to reject God their whole lives and “miss the train.” What do you think about this?
Do you personally have assurance that through faith the blood of Christ has “covered” you and delivered you from condemnation and death?
 Exodus 5:1-2, NRSV.
 Paraphrase of Exodus 6:1.
 Read the whole speech at https://academics.wellesley.edu/PublicAffairs/PAhomepage/winfrey.html
 Matthew 7:13-14, NRSV.
 I’m indebted to J.A. Motyer for this insight. The Message of Exodus, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2005), 134.
 John 1:29.
 Romans 3:22-26, NRSV.