2-11-18 — Blood of the Lamb — Exodus 12 — Pastor Greg Seckman

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Saved by the Blood of the Lamb

Exodus 12

 

I begin this morning with a quiz.  What is the difference between determination and stubbornness?  How do you know if someone is resolute or just obstinate?  How do you know if they are steadfast and faithful or only inflexible?  How do you know?

 

I think most of us usually see ourselves as being determined, resolute, and steadfast.  It is the people who don’t go along with our plans or ideas we call stubborn, obstinate and inflexible.

 

Obviously, there must be more to it than that. The difference must be more than just my will against yours because your desires are just as valid as mine. In scripture it is God’s Will that determines the difference.  Those who seek and follow the will of the Lord are seen as being faithful, determined, and resolute.  Those who refuse to follow are called stubborn and stiff-necked.

 

In today’s scripture we will follow a man who refused to follow the Lord’s Will no matter what the cost.  Pharaoh had his own ideas about power and authority, and the Lord didn’t fit into any of them.  As a result both he and his people suffered terribly.  The questions for each of us to think about this morning are, “What does it take for God to get through to us?  Are we determined or just stubborn?”

 

Let us pray:

 

Lord, so often we live as if we had blinders on, able to focus only on our desires and goals and ambitions.  We don’t see the needs of others.  We don’t even recognize the directions you might give.  We see ourselves as being ambitious and determined.  Others just see us as stubborn.  Soften our hardened hearts we pray, so that we might hear the word you have for us today.  Amen.

 

The battle lines had been firmly drawn. The gauntlet had been thrown and the challenge accepted.   Pharaoh dug in his heels and put up his dukes.  The Bible says his heart was hardened, stubborn, obstinate.[1]

 

So began the duel. In Exodus chapters 7 through 12, a series of 10 plagues challenge the resolve of Pharaoh.  They range from the annoying, frogs and gnats and boils and flies, to the more serious loss of property resulting from hail and locusts and disease.  The intent of each of these afflictions is to grab Pharaoh by the shoulders and give him a good shake and tell him to wake up and smell the coffee.  They are warnings that begin with a whisper and end in a shout.

 

After each the message is repeated, “let my people go”.  After each the Bible says Pharaoh’s heart was hardened even more.

 

As these plagues progress you have to wonder if determination is being consumed by stubbornness?  You have to wonder if Pharaoh has moved from resolve to obstinance?  Was he letting his pride pull them down?

 

It was definitely a “them” thing.  These plagues affected everyone.  The contest was between Pharaoh and the Lord but there is an old African proverb that observes, “When elephants fight it is the grass that suffers.”

 

Conflict by its nature always expands beyond boundary and border.  Ask any child if Mom and Dad’s fights affect them and they’ll tell you they do.  Ask anyone in the work place if political battles for power affect them and they’ll tell you they do.  Ask any congregation if a conflict amongst groups or individuals affect the whole and they’ll tell you it does.  Ask anyone who works for the State Department if a conflict between the Israeli’s and Palestinians, or Pakistani’s and Indians affects us and they’ll tell you they do.

 

Pharaoh forgot that.  His pride was affecting and hurting everyone else

 

Somewhere along the line Pharaoh’s chief financial officer must have run the numbers.  The losses that Egypt incurred because of these plagues must have exceeded the benefits they derived by keeping the children of Israel in slavery.  He must have shared that the cost/benefit analysis with Pharaoh and suggested that it would make more financial sense to just let the people go.

 

Pharaoh was beyond the point of cool rational thought. Cost/benefit analysis didn’t matter any more. For him it was a matter of pride. For him it was personal, so the Lord made it personal.

 

That brings us to the tenth and final plague, but before we go into that I’d like to make it clear that these plagues, which came from the hand of God are identified as coming from the hand of God for a particular time and reason. Not every hardship is directed by the Lord to punish or persuade. Egypt had endured epidemics before.  Locusts had eaten their crops in the past and would do so in the future.  Gnats and flies have always been annoying.  When these problems arose in the past and when they repeated in the future, they were not and are not seen as coming from God for the purpose of judgment or persuasion.  They are just summed up in the words – “that’s life.”  Jesus said as much when he said that it “rains on the just and the unjust.”[2]

 

Not every hardship in life is a judgment from God, and if you get sick it is not because the Lord is punishing you, and if you lost your job it is not because God just wanted to teach you a lesson.  To be sure, these hardships do change the way we look at life and at God. They often prompt us to re-evaluate what we think is important. Sometimes these setbacks weaken faith and sometimes faith grows stronger.

 

Even though these obstacles are part and parcel of life on this planet, God can work through them to soften a hardened heart. That doesn’t mean God uses his finger to push a truck into a school bus, or guide a bacterium into someone’s bloodstream.  The only way to know if these things come from God is if a prophet tells you, and they are few and far between.

 

Moses was a prophet though, and the Lord said to Moses, “Yet one more plague I will bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt; afterwards he will not only let you go, he will drive you out of Egypt completely.”[3]  In this final plague the first born in all of Egypt would die – no exceptions.

 

That’s not exactly true.  There would be one exception, but it would not be based on power or position or prestige.  Those who covered themselves with the blood of the lamb would be saved.

 

This action is clearly described in the twelfth chapter.  “Select lambs for yourselves according to your families, and kill the Passover lamb.  Take a hyssop (a kind of natural grown brush) and dip it in the blood, which is in the basin and touch the doorposts with the blood.  For the Lord will pass through to slay the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the doorpost he will pass over that house.[4]

 

This notion of using a sacrificial lamb to save the life of someone else did not begin here.  It goes back to the twenty-second chapter of the book of Genesis.  In that difficult story the Bible says, “God tested Abraham and said to him, Take your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac and go to the mountain of Moriah to offer him as a sacrifice.”[5]

 

That God would require such a thing runs counter to the view most of us have about the Lord.  We cannot imagine why God would want to test anyone’s faith, or why he would ask for such a terrible sacrifice.  Our difficulty with this request may lie in our understanding of what faith is.

 

For many, faith is understood as an emotion.  It is the “all’s right with the world” feeling we have at a Christmas Eve candlelight service, or at a summer sunset at the lake. It is warm and comfortable.  For that reason, faith ebbs and flows like the tide, because our feelings constantly move up and down.

 

This is not the Biblical understanding of faith.  In the Bible faith is never defined in terms of feeling.  Think instead of the word “confidence”. [6] Having faith in anything is a matter of having confidence in it.

 

Maybe this picture will help.  You’re walking in the woods.  It is a beautiful day and a picture perfect trail.  The sun is shining and the birds are singing.  All is right with the world.  Then you come to a rope bridge suspended above a raging river.  At the bottom are sharp rocks and they are a long way down.  You look at the bridge and then you look down at the river and you have to make a decision.  Do I have faith in the bridge?  Do I have confidence in the people who constructed it?

 

You don’t answer these questions by saying, “Yes, I believe or No, I’m not so sure.”  You don’t answer these questions by writing a paper on the design, construction, and benefits of a rope bridge.  Neither do you construct a building so that you can meet with others to praise the wonder of the rope bridge.  How do you answer the questions, “Do I have faith?  Do I have confidence in the bridge?”  You step out on the bridge!  Your faith, your confidence is shown when you walk on it.

 

Isaac was Abraham’s rope bridge.  God’s question was, “Abraham are you willing to step out on that bridge? Are you serious about this?  Do you trust me?  Do you have confidence in me?”  When Abraham showed that he did have confidence in God, God provided a substitute for Isaac, a sacrificial sheep to take his place.  That’s why Abraham called that place, “Yahweh Jireh”, which means,  “The Lord will provide.” [7] It was on this place that Solomon built his temple and that Herod built his temple.  This is the Temple Mount in Jerusalem today.

 

For centuries people sacrificed lambs on this mount and in those Temples.  It was there way of showing that their confession was sincere.  They knew that “talk can be cheap”, and that a quick “I’m sorry” may not have much meaning.  They knew that because they all had been on the receiving end of weak kneed apologies that communicated no remorse, but only a desire to put some unpleasantness behind. Sometimes someone who offends you, sins against you in some terrible way and then expects you to forgive and forget just because they mumble a half-hearted “sorry”.  Confession must require more than that.  It must require some kind of sacrifice to prove sincerity.  Restitution must be made.

 

But, how do we compensate God for the sins we commit?  How do we make up for it?

 

In the Old Testament, the solution was found in the sacrificial lamb.  For a thousand years people came to the Temple to offer their sacrifices to prove that their confession was sincere, that they really meant it when they said, “Lord, I am a sinner of unclean lips.”[8]  The problem with that system of spiritual restitution is that you can never really catch up.  You are always running behind because no sooner do you square things up with your sacrifice at the Temple than you go out and sin against God again.  You are always running in the red figuratively and literally.

 

That’s why God finally sent his son, Jesus Christ into the world.  Jesus came for many reasons, but first and foremost he came to be our Passover Lamb.  John the Baptist made that observation when he saw Jesus walk into the Jordan River to be baptized.  He said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”[9]

 

Jesus sacrifice upon the cross had the same effect as the sacrifices, which had been made in the Temple, and the sacrifices that were made in Egypt.  The blood of the Passover Lamb that covered the doorways of the children of Israel was to protect them from the angel of death.  Because they were symbolically covered with the blood of the lamb they were saved.

 

The difference between those sacrificial lambs and the sacrifice that Jesus made as the Lamb of God is that those sacrifices must have been repeated, but the sacrifice of Christ was unique, so its effect is eternal. That is, by the way, the reason we have a table in this sanctuary and not an altar.  Altars are created for the purpose of offering a sacrifice, but we believe Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross was a once and for all event.  We do not make sacrifices to atone for our sins.  Christ has done that for us.  All we do is receive that gift through faith.

 

That is why the Apostle Paul wrote, “In Christ we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of his grace.” [10]  Christ is our Passover lamb.[11]  It is for that reason that Paul also wrote, “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”[12]

 

The rope bridge upon which we must walk crosses an empty grave.  We know whether or not we have faith if we can look down in that grave with confidence that it is not the end, but only a new beginning.  It is a fearful thing, and that is why Paul wrote that we all “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.”[13]

 

I am sure that on that night when no one slept, when the children of Israel huddled in their home covered only by the blood of their Passover lambs, when they heard the laments of Egyptian mothers who discovered their first-born dead; I am sure there was fear and trembling in the homes of those children of Israel.

 

When dawn broke, and they were still there, God’s promise was fulfilled.  Not only did Pharaoh let these people go, he drove them out.  They were now free; free to follow where the Lord would lead.  They set out toward the Promised Land with renewed confidence.  Their faith would not go unchallenged, and there would be times when it faltered and failed, but they did get to their Promised Land, and so shall we.

 

What will our Promised Land look like?  The Bible puts it this way:

 

“Behold, the tabernacle of God is among us, and He shall dwell among us, and we shall be His people and God himself will dwell among us.  And he shall wipe away every tear; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying or pain anymore.”[14]

 

Let us pray:

 

Lord, we do believe, but when we cross over an open grave, “help us in our unbelief.”[15]   Grant that we might have complete confidence in you, and in your promises, and in your son Jesus Christ.  And when we stubbornly refuse your direction, soften our hardened hearts we pray.  Help us to be determined but not stubborn, resolved to follow you in all your ways.  Through Jesus Christ, our Passover Lamb we pray.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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[1] Exodus 7:13

[2] Matthew 5:45

[3] Exodus 11:1

[4] Exodus 12:21,23

[5] Genesis 22:1-2

[6] Philippians 1:6

[7] Genesis 22:14

[8] Isaiah 6:5

[9] John 1:29

[10] Ephesians 1:7

[11] 1 Corinthians 5:7

[12] 1 Corinthians 15:55-57

[13] Philippians 2:12

[14] Revelation 21:3-4

[15] Mark 9:24

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