Way back in the beginning of Genesis, when Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden, we are told that God placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. If any human being tried to re-enter the gates of the garden, these angels of death would strike them.
And so Adam and Eve were driven out of God’s mountains and down to the plains to work the ground and survive the best they could in a hostile wilderness. And this event marked the beginning of mankind’s longing to return to the mountain of the Lord: to fresh water and fruit trees, the garden of God’s presence.
And as the Book of Genesis continues to develop the history of mankind, we discover that there were two main responses to this ancient longing:
The majority of mankind followed Cain, Adam’s firstborn son. They started building cities centered around temples that took the shape of man-made mountains, where they set up their own human kings as gods and worshiped them.
But a minority followed Seth, Adam’s thirdborn son. They refused to build counterfeit mountains and counterfeit gardens dedicated to counterfeit gods. Instead, they continued to live by faith in the shadow of the original mountain of the Lord, waiting for the promised day when the angel and the flaming sword would be removed, the gates of the garden opened once again to mankind.
Now, Cain’s civilization grew more and more centralized around its own man-made mountains. By contrast, Seth’s civilization remained centralized around God’s mountain. And eventually Cain’s civilization enslaved Seth’s people.
That is when God called a man named Noah to act as his messiah, a saviour for Seth’s people. He told Noah to build a new sanctuary like the original garden of Eden. But not a man-made mountain; rather a rectangular space framed by wood, filled with animals and food, just like the original garden.
And then, for a brief time, the gate of God’s new garden stood open. There was no angel, no sword. Anyone who wanted to could follow God’s messiah Noah into God’s sanctuary without death striking them down.
In fact, the whole situation was about to be completely reversed. Until that point in history, anyone who tried to enter God’s sanctuary died, while those who remained outside got to live. But through Noah’s obedience, the opposite became true: only those who entered God’s sanctuary would live; anyone who remained outside would be struck down by the angel of death.
And that is what happened. When it was time, Noah entered the walled sanctuary he had built. His family followed him — eight people in all. God sealed the door behind them. And then God’s judgement upon Cain’s civilization commenced: he completely uncreated all that he had once created, breaking everything back down to its basic elements. Once again, as in the beginning, the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
Then God sent a wind over the earth. The waters receded. The recreation process began. And then we find that history has been reset, right back to the way things had been in the beginning. In the beginning there had been just one small garden of life and order at rest upon the mountains of God, a sanctuary surrounded by an unformed wilderness. In the same way, by the end of Noah’s story there is just one small ark of life and order at rest on the mountains of Ararat, a sanctuary surrounded by an unformed wilderness.
But Noah’s family could not continue to live in such a confined space. Once again they had to leave God’s sanctuary behind. They had to descend to the plains to work the ground and survive the best they could in a hostile wilderness. And history ends up repeating itself: the majority of mankind followed Ham — one of Noah’s sons — and started building civilizations centered around temples that take the shape of man-made mountains, while a minority followed Shem — another of Noah’s sons — and chose to remain decentralized, living by faith in tents rather than building cities.
And by the time we come to the Book of Exodus, we find that one of Ham’s civilizations has expanded to become the greatest empire on earth, a nation famous for its artificial mountains — which we have all seen photographs of. Today we call them the pyramids, and those man-made symbolic mountains were build by the Egyptian descendants of Ham the son of Noah.
And if you have been reading with us through the Book of Exodus then you already know that history has repeated itself in another way: just as Cain’s civilization once enslaved Seth’s people before the time of Noah, so also the sons of Ham — the Egyptians — have enslaved Shem’s descendants — the people of Israel.
And so far in Exodus we have discovered that God has responded to Egypt’s tyranny in the same way he responded to Cain’s tyranny: he has been uncreating Egypt, breaking the Egyptian system down piece by piece until there is nothing left that can sustain life. In last week’s passage we saw how he reached the end of that process by bringing darkness down upon the land, bringing Egypt right back to the beginning of all things, when the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
On top of all this, in God’s last words last week, he told Pharaoh that the countdown to final judgement has now reached zero. Pharaoh has used up his very last opportunity to repent. And so the next step is this: “About midnight I — the Lord — will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh to the firstborn son of the female slave, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. After that, you will beg my people to go.”
So everything in the narrative is poised now in the quiet moments just before the final judgement finishes off the old creation, just before the beginning of a new creation.
Now, if the pattern of history continues to repeat itself, we should expect that God will call upon his messiah Moses to build a sanctuary in the shape of the original garden of Eden. And we should expect that, for a brief time, the gate of God’s new sanctuary will stand open so that anyone who wants to can follow God’s messiah Moses into God’s sanctuary. After God seals the door, those who are within will live, while those who refused to enter will have their firstborn children struck down by the angel of death.
So let’s read on now and see if the pattern holds:
 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt,  “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.
 “Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household.  If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat.  The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats.  Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight.  Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs.  That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast.  Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs.  Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it.  This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand.”
Now, these instructions are pretty clear; we could probably follow them if we needed to. But what do they mean? What is the point of all these details?
Well, when we look back over this section, we do find one major theme at work: this meal is supposed to be prepared and eaten quickly and all together. Everyone from every family is supposed to get enough lamb to eat, but not so much that there is a lot of leftovers. If there is some left till morning, they must burn it; they cannot tapau. And the meat is to be roasted, not boiled, because roasting is faster. Bitter herbs are easier to find and prepare than sweet ones. Bread made without yeast is ready to eat in minutes instead of hours. And everyone eats this meal fully dressed and ready to travel; they even have their shoes on inside the house!
In fact, this theme is made explicit in the last sentence:
“Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.”
Okay. So the major point here is that this is a meal eaten together, quickly.
But there are still some things left unexplained so far: why in haste? And why must these lambs be year-old males without defect? Surely a lamb that has a split ear or is blind in one eye would roast just as quick and taste just as good as a “perfect” lamb? And why must the people take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of their houses?
Let’s read on and see if this is explained:
 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord.”
Okay, this part is familiar. This is the final judgement that God warned Pharaoh about last week: the death of every firstborn in Egypt — which will result in Pharaoh begging God’s people to go.
One important addition from last week is that, here, God seals this statement with a special phrase: “I am the Lord.” Which is covenantal language. Whenever God says, “I am the Lord,” he is saying, “I am the I AM.” Which is a reminder that he is the covenant-keeping God. So whenever God says, “I am the Lord,” this is like his solemn oath, his solemn vow, his way of saying, “I promise you this will happen.”
So this helps explain why this meal needs to be eaten quickly, with everyone fully dressed and ready to travel: because right after this meal Pharaoh and his officials — stunned by the deaths of all their firstborn — are going to come and beg the Israelites to go.
Still, this does not explain the blood on the door thing, or why the lambs must be perfect. It also leaves other questions unanswered, questions we started asking last week, like: why is God attacking the firstborn? And why everyone’s firstborn, when really this is all Pharaoh’s fault? And why does death have to be involved at all in this new creation process?
Let’s keep reading in hope that we find some answers:
 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.”
Ah. This explains the blood thing, and the perfect lamb thing.
Apparently, the lambs are not just food for a quick meal, they are also a special kind of sacrifice. So it makes sense that they should be perfect: even pagan people understand that we should sacrifice our best property to our gods, not our defective merchandise.
And apparently the key part of this sacrifice is not just that the lambs have to die, but that their spilled out life is applied properly to the top and sides of the house door. That way, when God sees the blood, he will make sure death does not enter that house.
…and this is where we realize that the pattern we were expecting to see is actually repeating itself.
We expected God to call upon his messiah Moses to build a sanctuary in the shape of the original garden of Eden. We expected to see the gate of that new sanctuary open for a time to accept anyone who wants to enter. And then we expected to see that door sealed — just like the door of Noah’s ark was sealed — so that those who are within get to live, while those on the outside will die.
And here it is! All of those ancient elements from Genesis are showing up here again in Exodus. The details are different — in Noah’s time the new garden of God was a huge wooden box; in Moses’ time the new garden of God is found in thousands of individual houses — but the underlying concepts are the same. Once again, through the obedience of God’s messiah, the normal situation is about to be completely reversed: only those who enter Moses’ decentralized sanctuaries will live; anyone who remains outside will be struck down by the angel of death.
Okay! So the purpose for this whole weird ritual meal thing is beginning to make sense, isn’t it? Each Israelite household is going to be transformed into a miniature garden of Eden, a miniature Noah’s ark.
But still we are wondering why the firstborn have to die, why there has to be any kind of death at all. So we glance back at our text here and discover that God is not finished giving instructions yet. So, reading further:
 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.  For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel.  On the first day hold a sacred assembly, and another one on the seventh day. Do no work at all on these days, except to prepare food for everyone to eat; that is all you may do.”
Ah. So the first time they eat this meal, it will be a quick, one night thing, which will mark their new year’s day. But next new year’s day, and every year after that, this will be a seven-day holiday. On the first night they will eat the lamb and the bitter herbs and the bread without yeast; and then for the next six days after that they will keep on eating just the bread without yeast.
Okay. And as we read on we see that God basically repeats the same instructions twice: this whole seven day festival thing is supposed to be a ”commemoration”, a reminder of the day that God brought the Israelites out of Egypt.
But we also notice something: God is really fixated on this “no yeast” idea, right? He just keeps repeating it! “Remove the yeast from your houses. No yeast is to be found in your houses. Eat nothing made with yeast. Whoever eats anything with yeast must be cut off from the community of Israel”?!
That all seems a bit extreme, don’t you think? Why should God care so much about yeast that he even is willing to disown his children who eat yeast during this seven day holiday? And, once again: why all this death? Why the firstborn in particular? And now: yeast?
What does it all mean?
Those questions are not going to be answered here. You will need to come back two Sundays from now, when we get to Chapter 13.
But in the meantime, Moses obeys God’s instructions: he summons all the elders of Israel and says to them, “Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb.  Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. None of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning.  When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.
 “Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants.  When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony.  And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’  then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’” Then the people bowed down and worshiped.
And this moment forms a beautifully balanced ending to the whole 3X3 judgement cycle:
Way back when Moses first arrived in Egypt, he gathered the elders of Israel together, told them that God was going to take them back home. And when the people heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped.
Since then they have passed through doubt and tribulation and more doubt. So it is wonderful now that here, at the end of the uncreation process, just before the final judgement begins, God’s people once again bow down and worship. They may not understand everything that is going on, but they have decided that they are going to trust God with their future.
But now we have to ask: what does this ancient event have to do with us? We were not there on that night of the first Passover. So what is our application? What are we supposed to do in response to all this?
Well, Moses was actually pretty clear about what we are supposed to do: “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.” And then he outlines this elaborate, seven day festival where we are supposed to duplicate the Passover meal, and then follow up with six more days of holiday where we totally avoid anything with yeast in it.
…but if you have been a Christian for a while, you have probably noticed that Christians do not obey this command. We do not celebrate the ancient Jewish Passover. Which raises a question: is that a problem? Are we being disobedient?
Some Christians would say yes. There is a very small minority of people who believe we ought to follow the ancient Jewish religious calendar. They read Moses’ words here and they say, “Well, that sounds like a very direct command from God, doesn’t it? So we had better observe this ceremony as a lasting ordinance in exactly the way it is described here!”
But our Christian friends who believe this are overlooking something very important about this Passover festival: it actually changes over time. In fact, it actually changes right here in this passage: the first Passover was a one-night event; but every Passover afterward was supposed to be part of a seven night event.
And this development should not surprise us. We have already noticed that God likes to work in patterns, and that he likes to change the details of those patterns over time while also leaving the underly substance of those patterns the same. For instance, as we noticed during the sermon today: in the beginning the sanctuary of God was a garden in the mountains; then it became a rectangular wooden boat in the mountains; here, it is about to become thousands of little houses with blood painted around the doorways. The details change — but the underlying substance remains the same.
So if we, as Christians, are supposed to observe the Passover meal as it is described here in Exodus, then we also need to observe the seven-day yeast-free festival that follows. And some Christians — a very small minority — insist that we do!
But there is a problem with that, because this passage is only the first time God changed the details of the Passover.
For instance, when we look back at the Book of Exodus we see that, during the very first Passover, God’s sanctuary was decentralized in thousands of different households. And for the next 40 years as they wandered through the wilderness, that is how the Israelites ate the Passover: each family in their own tent, with all of their tents camped in a circle around the Tabernacle, which was God’s tent in the center of the camp.
But at the end of the 40 years, as they got ready to enter their promised land, Moses said, “Look, until now we have all lived together around God’s tent. Now we are about to scatter throughout the land God is giving us. So, from now on, we are not going to eat the Passover in our individual homes. Instead, everyone is going to make a pilgrimage to a central point that the Lord will choose as a dwelling for his Name, and we will all slaughter and eat our lambs together there.” He goes on to say this: “You must not sacrifice the Passover in any town the Lord your God gives you except in the place he will choose.”
Pretty clear, right? And that central place turned out to be Jerusalem. So the sanctuary of God that was decentralized in thousands of houses during the Exodus was recentralized again in one Temple after they conquered the land.
And then, hundreds of years after that, during the time of Isaiah the prophet, there was another change: instead of each family slaughtering their own lamb, it became customary for the priests to perform the ritual sacrifice. So the priestly role of slaughtering the sacrifice lamb that was decentralized in thousands of households during the Exodus was recentralized again into one Priesthood after the time of Isaiah.
So…here is a practical application we could offer one another: if you are here today, and you have been led to believe that you ought to celebrate the Passover in your own home every year in the manner God has commanded here in the Book of Exodus, then this is what God wants you to do:
First, study the rest of the bible a little more carefully. Our general principle is this: do not ever build a theology or a lifestyle on just one passage taken in isolation!
Then, second, realize that by following God’s commands in the Book of Exodus you are actually violating God’s later commands from the Book of Deuteronomy. If you are truly going to celebrate the Passover as God supposedly wants you to, then next year you had better go to Jerusalem and have a properly consecrated Jewish priest slaughter your lamb in the courtyard of the properly consecrated Jewish temple.
But there is a problem with that, isn’t there? There is no more temple in Jerusalem, and there are no more Jewish priests. And we know from other places in scripture that God does not command his people to do the impossible — that would be unjust, and God is not unjust. So, since it is not possible for Christians to go on pilgrimage every year to a temple that no longer exists to have lambs slaughtered by a priesthood that no longer exists, then we know God cannot be commanding Christians to do this.
Which means that — after you have studied scripture and realized that, no matter what you do, you are not going to be able to celebrate the Passover properly according to God’s Old Testament law — then the third thing our Father wants you to do is this: repent. Stop trying to practice the Old Testament Passover, stop listening to people who say you should, and certainly stop telling other Christians about this unbiblical conviction of yours. What you are doing is a serious sin.
Let me tell you why: in the New Testament, James warns us that, if we decide we must go back to following the Old Testament laws, we had better keep the whole law perfectly. Because whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. And — here is the real problem — if we are truly committed to following the Old Testament system, then within that system the only way to be forgiven for breaking the law is by going to the temple in Jerusalem and getting a Jewish priest to perform an atoning animal sacrifice for us. Which means that, if we are truly committed to that Old Testament system, forgiveness is actually impossible for us.
So repent! Leave the Old Testament system behind, and submit to God’s commands for Jesus’ Church today.
Okay. So now we have to ask: what are God’s commands for Jesus’ Church today?
Well, God does command his Church to celebrate the Passover, even today. The underlying substance of the Passover meal still exists in our age. But the details have completely changed.
See, a few hundred years after Isaiah’s time, a prophet and teacher named Jesus from Nazareth showed up in Israel, and began to make some astonishing claims.
First, he claimed that he was going to be the final Passover lamb, who was going to be ritually slaughtered by the Jewish priests of Jerusalem. So…that was odd.
But then he went on to claim that he was also the final living temple of God, that he would be destroyed and then rebuilt in three days, greater than ever. He basically claimed that he would become the reborn Garden of Eden, and that his garden would actually finally fill the earth. And all of this was very confusing! Jesus had a real gift for taking the weird details of the Old Testament law and remixing them into something that was new but also old.
And then Jesus said he was also the gateway into the new Garden of Eden, and that he would be opening God’s garden to include Egyptians and Babylonians and Greeks and Romans and people from every nation on earth, not just the descendants of Shem. And the way all those foreigners were going to enter God’s garden was by passing through him. More than this, they would have to eat his flesh and drink his blood as the final Passover lamb. Which was weird because the ancient Israelites never drank the blood of the Passover lambs, and they definitely never drank human blood! So the guy had to have been either blasphemous or insane, right? — probably a little bit of both.
But then it all happened just as Jesus said it would. The priests of Jerusalem did ritually slaughter him, during the Passover, in Jerusalem, just as the Old Testament law required for a proper Passover. Sure, they did it by crucifying him — not by cutting his throat — but by this point we understand that the details can change while the underlying substance remains the same. So Jesus proved that he really is the final Passover lamb.
And then, when he rose from the dead on the third day, he proved that he really is God’s final living temple, the reborn Garden of Eden, destined to fill the earth and transform it into a new creation.
And when his disciples asked him, “Well, okay, but how are you going to expand to fill the earth?” then Jesus spent another 40 days with them and spoke about the kingdom of God. He reminded them about how, during their last Passover meal together on the night he was betrayed and arrested, he took some bread and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me,” and how later he took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
And that is when the final connection fell into place and the circle was complete.
What circle? you are wondering. What final connection?
Here it is: at the beginning of this passage, back in verse 3, God begins with these words: “Tell the whole community of Israel…” and then he goes on to describe the first Passover and all the commemorative Passovers to follow.
Now that word “community” in verse 3 is actually the Hebrew word for “church”. And this is the very first time in the whole bible that the word “church” is used. And this word “church” at the beginning of this passage signals to us the whole point of this passage and its rituals: by eating the first Passover all together inside homes painted with lambs’ blood, Moses’ people began to be a true church for the first time. And the reason God goes on to expand the one-night Passover into a seven-day festival for every year after that is so that Moses’ people will continue to grow as God’s Church.
That is why we find this strong emphasis on commemoration here, and this repeated forcus on descendants, children, the next generations: because every time God’s Old Testament Church gathered to eat the Passover lamb together, the younger generations were woven into the older generations, who had been woven into their older generations, all the way back to the night of the Exodus from Egypt.
So what is God’s Passover command for Jesus’ Church today? This is it, in Jesus’ words: “do this, in remembrance of me.” And by this he means what we now call the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is our Passover: the details are all different, but the substance…the substance is even deeper and more profound than the original. Because the original Passover celebrated deliverance from physical slavery and the birth of a new Church; but our Christian passover celebrates deliverance from spiritual slavery to sin and death, and the birth of the final Church, the true kingdom of God made up of people from all nations.
We don’t need to go on pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem because God’s temple is here, now: we are the temple, and Jesus is our cornerstone. God’s garden is now recentralized around Christ, and also decentralized in hundreds of millions of separate houses of worship all over the world.
In the same way, we don’t kill a lamb and paint its blood on our church doorway anymore because Jesus is our lamb, and he is our doorway, and his blood is the wine we drink together as the sign of the new covenant.
Moses said in this passage that the Passover would be a lasting ordinance. And it really is! Moses simply had no idea, when he said that, just how lasting it would be, or what it would look like by the end of its development.
And so this is our Father’s command for us today: “do this, in remembrance of me.” And contained in this command is a promise: that during this age the gateway to God’s garden stands open once again. There is no guardian angel there, no sword to strike us down. Everyone who passes through Jesus Christ, everyone who eats his flesh and drinks his blood in a worthy manner, will find themselves sealed within the walls of God’s true sanctuary when the countdown reaches zero and God’s final judgement begins.
To borrow from the words of Moses here in verse 23, “When the Lord goes through the earth to strike down all mankind, he will see the blood of Jesus upon the top and sides of your church and will pass over that church, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter and strike you down.”
So that is the final connection Jesus’ disciples made when they heard his words and looked back to this passage here in Exodus: they realized that the way Jesus’ Church would expand to fill the earth would be through this: our community worship centered around the ritual Passover meal we now call the Lord’s Supper. The circle is now complete: it was the Passover that first formed the Church back in Exodus; it will be the Passover that finally completes the Church at the end of Revelation. Jesus’ version of the Passover is the new gateway that welcomes people from all nations back into the garden of the Lord.
So look, if you are here today but you are not a Christian, this is what you should do: follow Jesus into the garden of God that is Church. Ask him to take you within, and he will. And you will live. He will not permit the destroyer to enter and strike you down.
But what about the rest of us, who have already followed Christ, what is our application for today?
Well, last week we realized that our deliverance from darkness comes through our repeated exposure to God’s Word, and that the best way to access God’s Word is by joining together in regular community worship. This week Moses has developed the theme further: by joining together regularly like this, by collectively acting out these commemorative rituals of worship we are actually being formed into one body, one Church.
Modern science actually agrees with this. Sociologists will tell you that the thing that transforms a random group of people into a community is not the personal relationships they share with one another. Human community is actually conceived out of shared rituals. Ritual comes first; relationships come later. True lasting relationships only grow out of the soil of ritual. And true covenantal relationships only really grow in the soil of the covenantal rituals God has commanded for us.
One of the reasons we modern Christians struggle to build true covenantal relationships, true covenantal community, is because we have abandoned ritual. No, that’s not quite right: we have simply abandoned God’s rituals and decided to make up our own.
So, in closing, this will be our application: let us keep turning and returning to God’s commands in scripture. We are the children of God. And as God’s children we want to be formed, we want to become more like our Father. And our Father has told us how to become more like him: “Do this, in remembrance of me.” Not the annual Passover pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem, but this passover pilgrimage to the table that stands now in our midst.
So let us obey God’s command now. If you are a baptized follower of Jesus Christ, please come forward now. Let us gather around this table. And let us eat the Passover of the Lamb, this meal that makes us One.