Exodus 12; John 1: 29
Christians everywhere recognize the lamb as a familiar biblical image. It is often connected with both Christmas and Easter. Though lambs aren’t specifically mentioned in the Christmas story, they are implied by the presence of shepherds and also by the fact that Jesus was born in a stable. The Bible makes the connection between Jesus and lambs in several passages. Isaiah 53 compares the Messiah to a lamb going to be slaughtered. John the Baptist called Jesus the “Lamb of God.” Paul called Christ the “Passover Lamb.” Peter spoke of Christ’s blood as the blood of a lamb. The book of Revelation explicitly calls Christ “the Lamb” 30 times.
Our emotional connotations for the word “lamb” are entirely positive. Words such as gentle, helpless, friendly and innocent come to mind. Compare that with the image of the snake used as a symbol for the devil. Children instinctively love lambs while most people fear snakes. The two animals are about as far apart on the emotional scale as you can get.
1. Showdown in Egypt
To understand the biblical picture of Jesus as the Passover lamb we need to leave the modern world and journey back 35 centuries to Egypt. The Jews are being held as slaves by the Egyptians. For 400 years the Jews have lived in harsh, difficult conditions - their labour has been exploited by cruel taskmasters.
God raises up a leader named Moses. He goes before the Pharaoh with a message from God: “Let my people go!” Pharaoh doesn’t take this seriously, so Moses comes back several times with the same message from God. But Pharaoh has no intention of letting these slaves God go free. So God devises a plan that will cause Pharaoh to beg the Jews to leave his land. He sends a series of terrible judgments (plagues) on Egypt. Each one is a terrible natural disaster and each one shows God’s complete power over nature and at the same time, reveals the impotence of the false gods of Egypt.
9 plagues in order: Water into blood, Frogs, Gnats, Flies, Disease on the livestock, Boils, Hail, Locusts, Darkness.
Although these plagues inflicted severe suffering upon the people, Pharaoh hardened his heart against God. Instead of saying, “You can go” he tried to make deals. First he offered to let the Jews go a short distance into the desert if they would promise to return. Then he offered to let the men go if the women and children stayed behind. Finally, he offered to let them all go but leave their animals behind. Obviously, none of these options was acceptable. God does not make deals with pagan rulers!
Finally the moment had come for the 10th and final plague. The Lord told Moses, “Don’t worry. When this one hits Egypt, Pharaoh will be in a hurry to let you go.” At midnight on a certain night, the Lord would go through the land of Egypt and every firstborn son in Egypt would die. He specified that no family would be excluded – from Pharaoh’s household to the home of the lowest Egyptian slave. God would even include the firstborn cattle in his judgment. But God would spare the Israelites in order to make a distinction between God’s people and Pharaoh’s people.
Exodus 12 reveals God’s plan to spare the Israelites from the midnight massacre of the firstborn. He would spare his people using the blood of a lamb. When the blood of the lamb was sprinkled on the doorpost of each Jewish home, God would see the blood and would literally “pass over” that house. But if God didn’t the blood, he would take the life of the firstborn in judgment. It was the blood of the lamb that saved the people of God that night. Every year since then, for 3500 years, and continuing to this very year, the Jews have observed a Passover celebration as a solemn reminder of God’s amazing deliverance in Egypt.
2. The Passover Lamb Exodus 12
Even the minutest details of the Passover point to Jesus Christ. I will point out 10 of the similarities between the events of the first Passover 3500 years ago and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross as the ultimate Passover Lamb.
A. It must be a lamb v. 3 It couldn’t be a bull or a dove, which were sometimes used in other OT sacrifices. God was very particular – it was to be a lamb and only a lamb. Nothing else would do. When John saw Jesus, he cried out, “Look! the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Paul says that “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed for us.”
B. It must be a male v. 5Jesus fulfilled this in that he was the son born of the Virgin Mary.
C. It must be a year-old lamb v. 5This means that the lamb must be in its prime, neither too young nor too old. “Christ offered up himself in the midst of his days, not in infancy with the babes in Bethlehem.”
D. It must be without blemish v. 5 - “without defect” - no open sores, no patches of bare skin, no infections, no diseases, no blotches or blemishes, no sickness of any kind. This prevented a man from offering a lame or inferior creature while keeping the best for himself. 1 Peter 1:19 speaks of Jesus Christ as being “a lamb without blemish or defect.” When Pontius Pilate finished examining him - “I find no fault in him.” Even his worst enemies had to concede that he was fit to be a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.
E. It must be slain and roasted v. 6 – 8They were not to be boiled or eaten raw (both pagan customs). Anything left over was to be burned. The lamb was to be completely consumed. Pictures the sufferings of Christ on the cross. Not only did he die, but his death itself was a complete sacrifice. He died the death of criminal hanging on a hated Roman cross.
F. It must have no broken bones v. 46It was the custom of the Romans to break the legs of those being crucified in order to hasten their death. But the Roman soldiers did not break Jesus’ legs because he was already dead. This happened to fulfil the scripture, “Not one of his bones will be broken.”
G. It must be offered “between the evenings” v. 6Words literally mean “between the evenings,” which in Jewish thought meant between 3 – 5pm. Jesus was crucified at the “third hour,” meaning 9:00am.The Jews measure time in 24-hour periods beginning at 6:00am. There was darkness from the 6th hour until the 9th hour - from 12 noon to 3:00pm. Shortly thereafter Jesus uttered his final words and died. His body was then taken down from the cross before sundown. So Jesus died “between the evenings” (3-5pm) at the exact hour the Passover lambs were being sacrificed throughout Israel.
H. It must be sacrificed by all the people v. 6Lambs must be offered by every man for every family in Israel. All the lambs must be slaughtered at precisely the same time. So, the lambs represented the total participation of the nation in the blood sacrifice. Christ was crucified by the Romans on behalf of the Jews. Everyone participated in his death. His death was made as a sacrifice for the sins of the entire world. What many lambs did for many people, Jesus the Lamb of God did for all people.
I. The blood must be sprinkled v. 7, 13 This pictures not the death of Christ, but our application of his death to our hearts by faith. Peter speaks of the sprinkling of the blood of Christ. The lamb alone could not save an Israelite. Not even a dead lamb could save. Not even the blood in the basin could save. Only the blood sprinkled on the doorpost could spare the people from the terrible judgment of God.
Think of it this way. Jesus Christ is our only hope of salvation. He is God’s Lamb offered for the sin of the world. However, Jesus’ blood saves but only when taken by faith. For those who reject the blood, even the Lamb of God cannot save them.
J. The meat must be fully consumed v. 8 – 10Through these measures the Jews were reminded that their redemption came through the death of a substitute. The lamb died in their place. By eating its meat, they signified their complete identification with the lamb who died for them. We are to take Christ completely, wholly, absolutely, and without qualification. When we take him as Saviour in this manner, it is like eating and drinking at a feast. Afterward, they were safe and they were free!
You know the rest of the story. The death angel stopped at every home in Egypt, but every home where the Israelites lived was spared. Screams pierced the night. Family after family began to scream as they discovered dead children in the middle of the night. Not so in Goshen. So quiet was it that not even a dog barked that night.
Soon after that Pharaoh sent word that the Israelites were free to leave. In fact he begged them to leave before anyone else died! Through the blood of Christ, the great Lamb of God, we are safe from God’s wrath and set free from the penalty of sin. In him and through him and by him God has delivered his people once and for all.
3. Abiding Lessons for 21st Century Believers
A. Jesus Christ is God’s Lamb
He fulfils every detail of the OT picture. T hat explains a poignant part of the Christmas story. When aged Simeon took baby Jesus in his arms and blessed him, he said that Jesus would the cause of the rising and falling of many in Israel – indicating that while some would follow him, others would bitterly oppose them. Then he added a special word for Mary: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2: 35).
This was an early reference to the death Jesus would die. From the very beginning he was marked out as God’s lamb. He was born to die! Although Mary could not then know all the details, from the earliest days she knew that suffering lay along the pathway of his life. Since the lamb must die in order for the blood to save, Jesus must someday die and his blood must be shed. This is the fate and appointed destiny of the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sin of the world.
B. There is No Salvation without Sacrifice
Hebrews 9: 22 reminds us that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” A living lamb may be cute and cuddly, but it saves no one. Unless the lamb dies, his blood does no good. In God’s economy, only shed blood can forgive sin. As the great Lamb of God, Jesus must go to the Cross in order to save the world.
C. Even Jesus Cannot Save You without Faith.
Suppose an Israelite had refused to sacrifice a lamb. His firstborn would have died that night. Being a Jew could not save on that fateful night. It’s not nationality that matters to God, but faith in God’s appointed way of salvation. You aren’t saved by coming to church. That doesn’t matter at all. When God looks down from heaven, the only thing that matters is that he sees the blood of the Lamb applied to the doorposts of your heart.
D. If You Refuse God’s Lamb, there is No Other Plan of Salvation.
It’s the blood of the Lamb that makes the difference. For those who reject the blood, God has no other plan of salvation.
You Need a Lamb!
It must meet all the requirements laid out by God. The lamb must die. You must apply the blood to the doorposts of your heart. That is, you must trust in the blood for the forgiveness of your sins. Where will you find such a lamb? Look to the Cross! Gaze upon the bleeding form of the Son of God! Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! Jesus is the Lamb you need. He is God’s Lamb for your sin.
Let the people of God rejoice for the Lamb of God has been sacrificed for them. Let us be mindful this year at Christmas knowing that Babe in the manger was born to die.
Sleep on, Lamb of God. Snuggle tight to your mother’s breast. The road from Bethlehem leads to the Cross.