The deaths of the firstborn and the institution of the Passover in Exodus 11-12 demonstrate very clearly both the severity of God’s judgment and the lavishness of God’s grace.
- God warned Pharaoh through Moses, before any of the other plagues occurred, that the slaying of the firstborn would be a consequence of his disobedience (Exodus 4:22-23). Likewise, God warned Adam in the garden that death would be the penalty for man’s disobedience. (Genesis 2:15-17)
- God includes everyone in the death sentence (Exodus 11:5), but he balances His judgment with his mercy and provides a way of escape – the Passover lamb. There is a lot of blood in the Bible. With each sacrifice of a lamb God wants us to understand how much He hates our sin. That is the object lesson that God is implementing here through the Passover.
- The Passover lamb was selected to die (Exodus 12:3-4). Later, Isaiah will prophesy that the Messiah will be like a lamb led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7). 1 Peter 1:19-20 says that before the foundation of the world, Jesus was destined to die as a lamb for our sins. When Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples, there was wine and there was bread, but there was no lamb. Tim Keller explains that the lamb was not on the table because the Lamb was at the table. (Kings Cross, 167) Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
- The Passover lamb had to be “without blemish” (Exodus 12:5-6). They would actually keep the lamb in their homes as a pet to observe it to make sure that it was a perfect sacrifice. Deuteronomy 15:21 tells us that only a lamb that is perfect can be a sacrifice for sin. Jesus met this requirement too. He was tempted in every way that we are, but was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Even Pilate found him innocent (Luke 23:18-25). Jesus was a “lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:19-20)
- The lamb was to be roasted on the fire, and eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. (Exodus 12:8) Fire in Scripture always speaks of God’s judgment. The bread is unleavened because, in their haste to leave Egypt there would be no time for the dough to become leavened. But there is a deeper meaning too. Leaven in the Bible is almost always a symbol of sin. Therefore, the unleavened bread is a picture of God’s people being cleansed and redeemed from sin. (1 Corinthians 5:6-8) The Hebrew word for leaven is chometz, meaning “bitter” or “sour.” Sadly, we don’t always associate sin with bitterness, but it is God’s intention for us to see it that way, because that is how He sees our sin. The bitter herbs carry the same meaning. Bitterness in Scripture typically speaks of death. The bitter herbs are a reminder that the firstborn of Israel lived because the passover lambs died, just as the believer in Christ truly lives because Jesus, the Lamb of God, died.
- And of course, there is the blood. (Exodus 12:13) As much as my daughter Sara loves animals, I frankly cannot imagine what it would be like at our house if we still observed this tradition today. Every year, each family would find a spotless lamb and keep in in their homes for several days. The kids would probably get attached to it, even though their parents told them not to. And then they would kill it and the blood would flow, and the dad would tell his family that this represents the wrath of God for our sins. Later, at another Passover feast, Jesus would raise the cup and say, “…for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:28)
God hates our sin because it is an affront to His holiness. But He also loves us too much to leave us in our sin, and was willing to do whatever it took to redeem us from our sins and restore us as His children. That is the message of the Passover.