The Night of the Passover
March 17th, 1946 @ 7:30 PM
THE NIGHT OF THE PASSOVER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-17-46 7:30 p.m.
For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord. And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.
The twelfth chapter of Exodus is, perhaps, the most solemn and serious of all chapters in the Old Testament. It records the institution of the memorial of the Passover [Exodus 12:11]. The importance of the memorial is evidenced in the fact that the sacrifice inaugurates a new calendar. “And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you” [Exodus 12:1-2]. It is to be the beginning of a new life for the people of God. They begin their pilgrimage to the Promised Land this very month, on the middle day of this month [Numbers 33:3], and that means that the day is sacred and hallowed forever. It marks the new departure, when slavery ceases and life really begins.
The world, however, finds something strange about this. The world thinks just the opposite to what God says in His Book, for, to the world, becoming a Christian and beginning the heavenly pilgrimage is not the commencement of life but the end of life. To many the beginning of the Christian life means the end of any real joy, the termination of all genuine pleasure. To them there is nothing glorious to celebrate in the giving up of the fleshpots of Egypt; to them there is no cause to change the calendar when the Christian life commences. The good times are in Egypt; the doleful, drab, colorless, uninteresting times lie ahead down the Christian road. God, however, avows just the opposite; and the true experience of any Christian pilgrim will corroborate the Word of the Lord. It is the old life around the fleshpots of Egypt that is slavery and bondage [Exodus 16:3]; it is the new life in Christ that is full to the brim, glorious, and running over [John 10:10]. So the Lord informs Moses and Aaron of the inauguration of the new calendar. It is to be the first month of a new year, a new life, a new devotion [Exodus 12:1-2], a new way, and this day of the Passover is to be a memorial forever [Exodus 12:14].
It is remarkable how God ordained the memorial to be observed. He placed it among families. “Speak,” said God, “to the congregation of Israel, and say that each family, each head of the house is to take every man a lamb according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for a house” [Exodus 12:3]. This memorial is not to be kept in solitude. A man is not to observe it by himself, but he is to partake of it in the orbit of a home, a family. God has ordained that the family unit is primary and fundamental. God builds the nations by units of families. God strengthens His churches by family ties and home religion. The memorial of the Passover, the services of the church, are not for father alone, nor for mother alone, nor for the children alone, but for the entire household. The father and the mother in the home are charged with the responsibility of teaching the children. “And it shall come to pass,” said the Lord God, “when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service? That ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when He smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses” [Exodus 12:26-27]. God intended that true religion everlastingly be a family religion, shared by father, mother, son, daughter, and the entire household.
The night following the fourteenth day of Nisan was a dark, terrible night. The Lord Almighty passed judgment that night, not only upon Egypt, but upon Israel also. Everyone, Egypt, Israel, all alike were cast outside the covenant of God [Exodus 12:12-13]. Heretofore God had shown that a tremendous difference existed between Israel and Egypt. Through all the admonitory, preliminary plagues the children of Jacob were untouched. They enjoyed a painless, unbought exemption. The murrain had not destroyed their cattle [Exodus 9:6-7], the hail and the locusts had not ruined their fields [Exodus 9:25-26], the darkness had not obscured their villages [Exodus 10:21-23]. While the Egyptians reeled under the thunderbolts of God’s wrath, the Israelites basked in the sunlight of His protection. All that is changed now. The judgment and the visitation of God on this awful night are to be on all alike—Egyptian, Israelite, stranger, sojourner—everyone. Although the Israelites were children of Abraham, this right of birth is now of no account. Like the Egyptians, they stand in danger from the destroying angel [Exodus 12:12-13].
From a close study of God’s Word, it seems that in the final analysis the judgments of God, the demands of the Almighty, are never mitigated by the extenuating factors of birth, ancestry, genealogy, race, nation. The fearless preaching of John the Baptist was just that. “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” [Matthew 3:7-9]. John the Baptist is here denying special privilege and favoritism before God. In God’s presence we stand all alike—condemned sinners [Romans 3:23; Ezekiel 18:4], saved only from the wrath to come by repenting of our sins and by casting ourselves upon the mercy of God [Mark 1:14-15; Titus 3:5]. Lineage has nothing to do with it. Just like the night of the Passover: all alike trembled before the black terror, listening for the rustling of the awful wings. The heart of each one beat faster as he hid himself behind the sprinkled blood. Oh, that tense moment when the destroying angel scrutinized the lintels and doorposts of the homes of the people! [Exodus 12:7, 13, 22-23]. The land of Goshen, as well as the land of Egypt, faced death.
This is the great argument of the first chapters of the Book of Romans: “For there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law” [Romans 2:11-12]. “Are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one [Romans 3:9-10]. . .For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” [Romans 3: 23]. By birth we do not inherit an exemption from the judgment of death; no, not even if we are children of Abraham. All who sin are under the condemnation of sin, face the penalty of sin. Whether Egyptian or Israelite, all are under the eyes of the death; that is, the destroying angel will visit us all [Exodus 12:23].
Who, then, can be saved? God is good, but the goodness of God will not pronounce a sinner safe until he follows the way of escape. The goodness of God will not save him, but it will point out and provide for a salvation that is as sure and steadfast as the eternal throne of the Almighty. What the child of Abraham could not possess by birth, he might obtain by grace [Exodus 33:17]. And if an Egyptian so chose to heed the appeal of God, he also might have the gift of life. God’s way of salvation is the same for all men. It is the way of blood, the way of atonement, the way of substitution, the way of the cross [Romans 5:12-21].
During those awful days of judgment the people were to choose a lamb without blemish and keep it four days until it became, as it were, a member of the household, loved as a part of the family. It was then to be solemnly slain by the head of the house as their representative, in their stead. The blood of the substitutionary lamb was then to be sprinkled on the doorposts of the house and on the lintels above [Exodus 12:2-7]. The act was an open confession, publicly exhibited, that they stood in peril before the destroying angel [Exodus 12:22-23]. This was blood of expiation, the washing away of guilt by suffering, atonement. A life had been sacrificed, the penalty of guilt had been suffered; death, the wages of sin, had been paid. “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” [Exodus 12:13]. Nothing more was required. The debt had been covered in full.
In the memorial of the Passover, which the Jewish people were to keep sacred forever [Exodus 12:14], there was to be firmly fixed in their hearts always the remembrance that the lamb was slain in their stead, for them, a substitutionary sacrifice. In commemoration of the mighty deliverance, every firstborn was to be set aside for the Lord. “Thou shalt set apart unto the Lord all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the Lord’s” [Exodus 13:12].
But what was to be done with the firstborn of an unclean animal? It was to be slain or it was to be redeemed by the sacrifice of a lamb. “And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem” [Exodus 13:13]. In the Old Testament all living things were classed as clean or unclean. Man is in the latter class—he is unclean [Exodus 13:13]. He has sin in his heart, lust in his soul, evil in every imagination. Unredeemed, unregenerated in his natural, fallen state, he is born to die [Genesis 3:19]. He is worthless. Like the firstling of an ass whose neck must otherwise be broken, he must also be redeemed. He must die or someone must die for him [Exodus 13:13]. It is one or the other, the terrible alternative forced upon God and God’s moral world by our sins. If the man-child is to live, the lamb must be slain as a substitutionary sacrifice and the blood poured out as an offering of expiation and atonement [Exodus 13:13]. No Hebrew could ever forget the solemnity of the meaning of that Passover memorial and the redemption with the sacrifice of a lamb that bought back the forfeited life of his firstborn [Exodus 12:14].
The Passover is a gospel before the gospel. In 1 Corinthians 5:7, Paul says, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” All those colorful, dramatic ordinances and rituals of the Old Testament prefigured and foreshadowed the work of Christ. Redemption, substitution, atonement, are no afterthought of God. The cross was not a “happen-so” in history. The whole sacrificial system of Judaism had as its highest purpose to adumbrate the coming of the wonderful Savior whose blood could wash away our sins: “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things. . .but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” [1 Peter 1:18-20].
Among all these memorials and ordinances and rituals that set forth in the Old Testament the work of the coming Savior, none is fraught with more meaning than the ordinance of the Passover. Three things regarding our hope in Christ Jesus are gloriously and eloquently prefigured here.
First, our redemption and deliverance are procured in the death of the Lamb. It is the cross that opens the floodgates of love and pardon. The life of Christ Jesus is beautiful and good beyond compare, but we are not saved by this beautiful life. We are saved by His death, by His atoning, sacrificial death [2 Corinthians 5:15]. Christ Jesus was without fault: “I find in Him no fault at all” [John 18:38], said Pilate.
But “without the shedding of blood there is no remission” [Hebrews 9:22] of sins. His precious and obedient life is not the procuring cause of our salvation; it is His death on the cross. If to this hour He had remained, going through the cities of the world “doing good” [Acts 10:38], we would yet be in our sins. The veil of the temple would still be unrent, barring the approach of the worshiper to God. It was His death that rent the mystic curtain from top to bottom [Matthew 27:50-51]. Through the blood of the Lamb we may boldly approach the throne of grace [Hebrews 4:16], with no temple, no priest, no commandment to intervene. “For this cause He is the Mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance [Hebrews 9:15]. . . . Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; … let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” [Hebrews 10:19-22].
All these incomparably rich gifts that pertain to our salvation here in this world and in the world to come are poured out upon us through the death of Christ Jesus. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” [John 12:24]. . .“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me. This He said, signifying what death He should die” [John 12:32-33]. He is that precious “corn of wheat” that is to be planted in the heart of the earth. Even though He was the incarnate Son of God, yet He would have remained alone had He not by death removed everything that prevents the union of His people with Him in the resurrection. He tasted death for every man that He might bring many sons to glory [Hebrews 2:9]. It is by His stripes, not by His obedient life, that we are healed [Isaiah 53:5]. It is on the cross that He bore our sins: “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” [1 Peter 2:24]. Our salvation is rooted and grounded in the blood of the atonement on the cross. “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” [Exodus 12:13].
A second gospel message adumbrated in the ordinance of the Passover, wonderfully fulfilled in Christ, is this: The atonement is full and final, adequate and complete, the sure and sufficient ground of our security and peace. Our redemption is a finished work of grace, procured in the atoning blood of Christ [John 19:30]. We do not work for it, we do not inherit it; it is a gift of God. Nothing more is required. Nothing can be added to it. The atonement for our sins is forever and finally complete.
Could my tears forever flow,
Could my zeal no languor know,
These for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone:
In my hand no price I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
[“Rock of Ages,” Augustus Toplady]
All God’s claims and all Israel’s needs were met in the blood of the Passover lamb. Death might work outside, but under the blood there were security and rest [Exodus 12:7, 13, 22-23]. The security we possess in Christ Jesus does not depend upon us but upon His finished work [John 19:16-30]. His work for us is eternally and absolutely complete. Christ bowed His knees in prayer and said to the Father, “I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do” [John 17:4]. Christ bowed His head on the cross and said, “It is finished” [John 19:30]. What did He mean? He meant that the atoning sacrifice for our sins had been made [2 Corinthians 5:15]; that the full price of our redemption had been paid [Ephesians 1:7]. The work of the Holy Spirit in us may be multiplied a thousand times and added to each day, but the work of Christ for us is forever complete. In the shedding of blood is the remission of sins [Hebrews 9:22; Matthew 26:28]. In His sacrifice, in His blood, in His atoning grace, we are secure forever. On the cross He tasted death for every man [Hebrews 2:9]. The threat of the angel of death holds no fear for the child of faith. “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” [Exodus 12:13, 23].
The third gospel message prefigured to us in the memorial of the Passover concerns our response to the provisions of grace offered us by our loving Lord. The merits of the atoning blood are mediated to us through our personal acceptance of them. They are ours forever through simple faith, trust, obedience [John 3:16].
Had any son of Abraham despised the provisions of safety, he would have been partaker of the plague. Death would have entered his home. On the other hand, had any Egyptian trusted in the word of the Lord, accepted the way of deliverance, and sprinkled the blood on the doorposts of his home, he would have been saved. The difference between the Egyptians and the Israelites that dark night of judgment was not that Israel was fair and comely while the Egyptians were offensive and unattractive. No, if there was any difference that night of judgment and death, it lay in the spirit of acceptance or rejection of the mercies of God. The angel passing over looked for the faith and obedience that hid the soul behind the blood. The difference lay alone in the sprinkling of the blood [Exodus 12:7, 13, 22-23].
The saved were those who publicly set apart their homes. The blood was openly exhibited. It was an unashamed act of faith. Suppose an Israelite had said: “I refuse to be a dupe of such bloody theology. Back in Abel’s time they might have offered blood sacrifices. But in this modern day we have outgrown such heathenish notions. Are we not learned in all the arts and sciences of the Egyptians? Such a foolish thing as to think that the blood of a lamb could keep a soul from death! There shall be no blood sprinkled on my doorpost. This is a house of science and knowledge, not of superstition and fear.” Then what would have happened? The darkness of that dark night would have doubly fallen upon that house. Pride would have turned to mourning, knowledge to tears and lamentation.
Or suppose an Israelite had said: “I may sprinkle the blood inside the house where no one can see, or back of the house where no one will know, but I positively refuse to strike the hyssop on the doorposts and lintels. I want my house to look like all the other houses of the Egyptians, not separated from them.” What would have happened? The Lord had said that the blood was to be openly displayed, where the world might see and know. But here is an Israelite that is ashamed of the faith, of the way God has provided for his salvation. What of that man? In his refusal and disobedience he is lost. The angel of judgment and of death shall look for the blood on the doorposts and lintels and shall not find it. Nothing stands between that soul and hell.
It is thus with the way of the Christian faith. We are openly, publicly, unashamedly to avow our trust in Christ’s atoning blood. Our salvation calls for an open stand for Christ, whatever the cost. “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” [Romans 10:9-10]. Our blessed Master said the same thing in another way. “Whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven” [Matthew 10:32-33]. “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when He cometh in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” [Mark 8:38].
To be a secret disciple of Christ is an impossible thing. To be ashamed of Christ is to be unworthy of Him. To refuse to confess Him is to deny Him. To deny Him is to be lost. If we love Him and trust in Him, we must openly, take our stand by His side, “tenting at the cross.” As the sprinkling of the blood of the Passover lamb was on the doorposts, on the lintels, on the front of the houses, where all the world could know [Exodus 12:7, 13, 22-23], so our faith in Christ must be open, public, where all the world can see [Romans 10:9-10]. And as the public display of that sprinkled blood secured salvation for the sojourner in Egypt that dark night of death [Exodus 12:7, 13], so will a public avowal of faith and trust in the blood of the Lamb bring eternal life to the believer in the day of the wrath and the judgment of Almighty God [Matthew 10:32-33; Mark 8:38].
And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest.
And he said unto me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
[Revelation 7: 13-14]