Introduction: We are on holy ground in this week’s notes as we see the angel of death “pass- over” Israelite homes, sparing them because of the blood of the Passover lamb. May the Lord give us eyes of faith to see the Christ-centered beauty of all the elements of the Passover story – from the darkness, to the blood on the door-posts, to even the slaying of the firstborn. Why beautiful? Because they all point to Jesus Christ, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).
Monday: read Exodus 11:1-10 and Mark 9:42: We begin with Moses’ announcement of the tenth plague, in which God demands all the first-born in Egypt. There is always an objection among many to such a stern punishment, and it runs something like this: How on earth could God demand the life of Egyptian children in this last plague? Is this not just one more example of a primitive, bloodthirsty God who demands appeasement, much like Agamemnon consents to the sacrifice of his daughter, Iphigenia, to appease the goddess Artemis in the Greek work (‘The Odyssey’)?
Well, despite the objections of our western, individualistic minds, we must recognize that sin on the part of fathers (like Pharaoh) can indeed result in the suffering of children and nation. Remember Adam and Eve! In the “Fall,” they brought down the whole human race into sin and misery! Does that mean God enjoys visiting guilt on subsequent generations for the sins of their fathers? Clearly no – as Jesus words of condemnation against those who cause “little ones to sin” in Mark 9:42 makes clear. But just because it is tragic, does not mean we can deny the fundamental truth of the sin of one generation affecting many more to come. Thus we see mankind’s hopeless condition: passing on the nature, guilt and condemnation of sin from one generation to another.
Meditate and Pray: Thank God for breaking the cycle of sin and guilt in the sending of His Son as the “second Adam.” Just as sin and death came through one man, the first Adam, so now: hope, forgiveness and restoration come through the Second Adam, Jesus Christ. Read Romans 5:12-19 and rejoice!
Tuesday: read Exodus 11:1-10. For those still struggling with the death of the first-born in Egypt, Tim Keller, in his book, Counterfeit Gods, explains the “corporate view” of sin which makes this plague more understandable, citing Jon Levenson, a Jewish scholar who teaches at Harvard. Keller writes: Levenson reminds us that ancient cultures were not as individualistic as ours. People’s hopes and dreams were never for their own personal success, prosperity, or prominence. Since everyone was part of a family, and no one lived apart from the family, these things were only sought for the entire clan… in ancient times, all the hopes and dreams of a man and his family rested in the firstborn son. The call to give up the firstborn son would be analogous to a surgeon giving up the use of his hands, or of a visual artist losing the use of her eyes.
Thus we see how sin’s consequences are corporate, not just individual. In the Ten Commandments, God promises to punish “those who hate Him” (Ex. 20:5) “to the third and the fourth generation.” (Four generations are the maximum number that live in one dwelling in the Ancient East, and therefore the number of generations affected by the sins of the head of households – such as Pharaoh’s against God.) Thus the question we must ask ourselves is: Do we expect God to interfere with the consequences of sin when we openly embrace it, ignoring all Divine warnings to desist? God had warned Pharaoh from the start what would happen to his son if he refused to let Israel go (see Ex. 4:22-23). Now Pharaoh experiences that paternal anguish which he so richly deserves.
Meditate and Pray: “Lord, forgive us as fathers and mothers for so often acting as if we are not accountable for the sin of the next generation. Forgive us for our individuality and selfishness, which we often choose over the welfare of our children. Help us, by your grace, to pass on a sweet spiritual inheritance to the next generation, and to pass on the “faith once for all delivered to the saints,” rather than the consequences of our sin. Amen.”
Wednesday: read Exodus 11:1-10. Some may still object to God’s retribution upon Egypt by taking their first-born: “To demand silver and gold is one thing. But to demand the lives of first-born children?” (And by the way, this demand was not just leveled at the Egyptians. Without the blood of the Passover lamb, the lives of Israel’s firstborn would also be forfeit). Once again, Tim Keller, in his book, Counterfeit Gods, explains this terrible penalty on the lives of the first born, as follows:
The Bible repeatedly states that, because of Israelites’ sinfulness, the lives of their firstborn are automatically forfeit, though they might be redeemed through regular sacrifice (Exodus 22:29, 34:20) or through service at the tabernacle among the Levites (Numbers 3:40-41) or through a ransom payment to the tabernacle and priests (Numbers 3:46-48). When God brought punishment on Egypt for enslaving the Israelites, His ultimate punishment was taking the lives of their firstborn… Why? The firstborn son was the family. So when God told the Israelites that the firstborn’s life belonged to Him unless ransomed, He was saying in the most vivid way possible in those cultures that every family on earth owed a debt to eternal justice – the debt of sin.
Meditate and Pray: Let us acknowledge that the debt of sin can never be paid merely by free grace, or by the unconditional love of God the Father alone. To view it that way is to fall into Unitarianism. No, real forgiveness comes only through God the Son’s paying the price required by Justice for our sins. No greater suffering than the last Plague in Egypt, in which the first-born was lost? Then God the Father knows what real suffering is in giving up His First-Born Son! No greater price than to give your Only Begotten Son for man the sinner’s guilt? Then no one has ever paid a higher price for the sin of others than God the Father in giving up His sinless Son unto death in our place! Truly, we can see what Love really is as we gaze on the Father’s visiting “all the plagues of our sin” on His most Beloved Son!
Thursday: read Exodus 11:6-12:13. One reason the world is often so unaffected by God’s deeds of salvation is because they are accomplished in the midst of judgments which distract and even deaden the hearts of the unbelieving. Just as very few people are converted at funerals, in the midst of the overwhelming effects of grief, so it is in Egypt: By the time God requires the life of every first-born, it is too late for salvation to be appropriated by the Egyptians, because they have been given over to a state in which repentance and faith are well-nigh impossible. Because these Egyptians for decades ruled over Israel and “hated her” (Psalm 106:41, KJV), they now can find no comfort from the God of those Israelites they enslaved. But at the same time, how sweetly and quietly God provides salvation for His own through the blood put silently on the doorposts in Ex. 12:7, 12-13! While Egypt wails, “not even a dog will bark” in all the land of the Hebrews (Ex. 11:7), because the “blood of the Lamb” quietly speaks of forgiveness and refuge for each Israelite family!
Meditate and Pray: Have you ever sung this Christmas carol, speaking about the refuge we have in Christ, “the Lamb of God,” even while the busy, afflicted and distracted world passes Him by? Thank God now for revealing to your eyes the salvation which so many eyes refuse to see.
|O little town of Bethlehem,
how still we see thee lie;
above thy deep and dreamless sleep
the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
the everlasting light;
the hopes and fears of all the years
are met in thee tonight.
|How silently, how silently,
the wondrous gift is given;
so God imparts to human hearts
the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming,
but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him, still
the dear Christ enters in.
Fri./Sat./Sun: read Exodus 12:12-30 and Mark 14:32-36. We cannot end this week’s notes without focusing on the relief, safety and even joy in every Hebrew home as they experienced the effective power of God’s promise to spare them because of the blood of the lamb on their doors in Ex. 12:7, 12-13 & 23. For Israel, there was a “stay of execution” of the sentence of death on the firstborn. How many of our hymns speak with sweet gratitude of the very same refuge “under the blood” which we enjoy because of our Lamb’s sacrifice on the Cross? (See some examples from our hymn book below.)
But, that blood of Passover lambs shed in Egypt and applied to Israelite homes was only temporary. God’s judgment on every household in Egypt that dark night was only a pale reflection of the fully realized Day of Judgment and retribution at Calvary! When the First-Born Son of God came in human flesh, He came under the full avenging stroke which has always hung over every sinful family descended from Adam and Eve. As one Scottish preacher, R.A. Finlayson, put it, describing both Christ’s exposure to the full plague of Divine punishment and also our refuge in His flesh and blood sacrificed for us:
The blood that availed for the first-born of Israel avails not for Him. There is now no “passing over,” for He Himself is the First-born of the new family of God. He is the Lamb that gives shelter, but for Himself there can be no shelter when the Angel of Retribution visits the earth.
Meditate and Pray: Even as we enjoy today the countless blessings, good times, encouragements and bounty of “not being treated as our sins deserve”; even as we enjoy life without the fear of eternal death and with a consciousness of the Favor of God smiling upon us, let us not forget the absolute isolation, fear, weakness, sweat, and agony which Jesus Christ endured, beginning in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-36). He endured the plague of our sin visited fully on His heart and soul. Remember the lines of the following hymns on this subject this weekend from our Trinity hymnals:
(Hymn # 257):
|Stricken, smitten, and afflicted,
See Him dying on the tree!
’Tis the Christ by man rejected;
Yes, my soul, ’tis He, ’tis He!
’Tis the long expected prophet,
David’s Son, yet David’s Lord;
Proofs I see sufficient of it:
’Tis a true and faithful Word.
|Tell me, ye who hear Him groaning,
Was there ever grief like His?
Friends through fear His cause disowning,
Foes insulting his distress:
Many hands were raised to wound Him,
None would interpose to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced Him
Was the stroke that Justice gave.
(Hymn # 250):
|Throned upon the awful tree,
Lamb of God, Your grief I see.
Darkness veils Your anguished face;
None its lines of woe can trace.
None can tell what pangs unknown
Hold You silent and alone.
|Lord, should fear and anguish roll,
Darkly o’er my sinful soul,
You, who once were thus bereft
That Your own might ne’er be left,
Teach me by that bitter cry
In the gloom to know You nigh.
(Hymn # 655):
|O safe to the Rock that is higher than I,
My soul in its conflicts and sorrows would fly;
So sinful, so weary, Thine, Thine, would I be;
Thou blest “Rock of Ages,” I’m hiding in Thee.
Hiding in Thee, hiding in Thee,
|In the calm of the noontide, in sorrow’s lone hour,
In times when temptation casts o’er me its power;
In the tempests of life, on its wide, heaving sea,
Thou blest “Rock of Ages,” I’m hiding in Thee.
Hiding in Thee, hiding in Thee,