“Israel is my firstborn son, let my son go,” had been the Lord’s command to Pharaoh in Exodus 4:22–23. He had refused, and the plagues began. As you come to Exodus 12, you find that this tenth plague is not just one more, like the others. It is not that this is just the last little bit that tips the scale for Pharaoh and persuades him to release Israel. Rather, it is a defining moment, not just for Israel, but for all of God’s people through the ages—including you.
You need the blood the Lord provides. Like Israel, you need atonement for your sins. Before the final plague, the slaying of the firstborn, the Lord instructed the people of Israel to select a year old male lamb without defect, kill it, and mark the door posts of the house with the blood. This is more than just an identifier of the homes of the Israelites so that the destroyer will pass over them. The lamb was a sacrifice. Israel, no less than Egypt, were sinners, deserving of God’s judgment. But God graciously provided a sacrifice in the place of the people. God was telling Israel—and you—that you are under his holy wrath, apart from the sacrifice he provides.
The Passover lamb points to the Lamb of God. The blood on the door frame was crucial—no deliverance without it, but it did not work mechanically or automatically. Hebrews 11:28 tells you that it was by faith that Moses and the Israelites sprinkled the blood and kept the Passover. But animal sacrifices alone were never enough, as even the believers in the Old Testament realized. Something better was needed. John the Baptist identified Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, John 1:36. Jesus took the occasion of the final Passover with his disciples, the night before his death, to change the observance to the first Lord’s Supper—pointing to and explaining his death. God is showing you that you are under his judgment until he provides the substitute who dies and rises in your place. 1 Corinthians 5:7 and 1 Peter 1:19 identify Christ as the Passover lamb sacrificed in your place. Because we are sinners, we need a sacrifice in our place. The Passover was observed by families in their homes, but was also something for the entire nation of God’s people in the Old Testament. “The Passover is established as a communal act to be observed by families as a whole. It is not an individualistic ceremony. It is a family feast. . . . Sacrificial representation and substitution are already implied in this ceremonial meal.” (Keith A. Mathison, Given for You, pp. 182–183).
Give thanks for God’s triumphant protection. The plague on the firstborn is terrible, but just judgment. You may shudder at the sweeping judgment—the firstborn son dying that night in the household of each Egyptian. Beware of setting your feelings as the standard by which God needs to operate. Remember that the Pharaohs had oppressed the Israelites, ordering the midwives to practice infanticide, and when that failed, carrying it out by throwing the baby boys into the Nile to drown. Pharaoh had been warned. He had hardened his heart repeatedly. As the destroyer came through the land, a loud mourning wail rose from Egypt.
The false gods are defeated. This is the Lord doing battle for his people, defeating the idols of Egypt. Various gods were the associated with the previous plagues. But Pharaoh himself was considered divine. The next divine ruler of the land died that night—along with many others. As you think of the death and resurrection of Christ, recognize that he is the serpent-crusher. His death and resurrection defeat, not just false gods, but they are the triumph of Christ over Satan.
This event set God’s people free. That night the Egyptians beg the Israelites to leave, giving them valuable gifts to motivate them to go. This is the decisive event of redemption in the Old Testament. The calendar was changed to begin the year with this celebration. As God makes his covenant with his people at Sinai, he identifies himself as the God who redeemed them from Egypt. Repeatedly the prophets and the authors of Psalms point to this great event. There is not only forgiveness, there is powerful deliverance. Remember that deliverance as you do battle with temptation. You, no less than Israel, have been set free from slavery.
Continue to trust the Lamb. Trust the Christ who has redeemed you. The event of the Exodus is what the prophets and Psalms refer to when they speak of God’s deliverance of his people. It is the great redemptive event. It is so central that the work of the Messiah in the New Testament is described in terms of this deliverance under Moses. But Christ’s work is not simply a reflection of the Exodus. It is what the Exodus, the Passover meal, and all the sacrifices of the Old Testament looked forward to. You are protected from the wrath of God against your sin, not by the death of a lamb, but by the death and resurrection of the Lamb of God. “The New Testament applies to this Passover a typological significance, so that it is not only an act of remembering the liberation from Egypt, but also a sign and pledge of liberation from the bondage of sin and communion with God in the person of the promised Messiah. Jesus himself pointed this out when he deliberately associated the institution of the Lord’s Supper with the celebration of the Passover.” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4, p. 546).
Come to the table to which the Lord invites you. The Lord continues to be as faithful to you as he was to Israel. Although the need to shed blood changes once the Savior, the One to whom those sacrifices had pointed, had suffered, died, and been raised, the fellowship continues, as you, by faith trust that Lamb. Jesus changes the celebration from Passover to the Lord’s Supper. Not every detail continued the same even in the Old Testament. The first Passover was eaten standing, dressed for a journey. Future observances seem not to have carried on those details. The unleavened bread symbolized the need for separation from sin, but yeast, in the New Testament, sometimes has that negative connotation, other times it is positive, Luke 13:20. But the New Testament celebration has in common with the Old that it is a fellowship meal to which our God invites us, his children, his people. “We no longer eat lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Instead we eat bread that has been broken and drink wine that has been poured out, as signs of the broken body and shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. At this supper, God is as close to His own as He was to the Israelites.” (S. G. DeGraaf, Promise and Deliverance, Vol. 1, p. 274). The Supper is not just you expressing your trust in Christ as you remember and proclaim his death. It is also God saying, “You are my family, my people, my church. I am faithful to my covenant. Enjoy my presence.” It is not only a memorial, but it also is a means of grace. It looks back at Christ’s finished work, but also ahead to the heavenly banquet feast. In fact it is a foretaste of that feast.
The Lord’s Supper means that because God has sent his Son to be the Lamb that was slain, you who trust him are no longer his enemy. You are protected by his blood. He invites you to table fellowship, to an anticipation of the banquet in the new heavens and earth.