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(092112)

The Freedom Lamb:

First and Last

by Scott Brown

Art by R. Chanin

Passover

''Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: On the tenth day of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household... Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two door posts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it... For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two door posts, the LORD will pass over the door and not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you.'' (Exodus 12:3, 5-7, 23)

Such was God's way of announcing the final birth pains before Israel's miraculous deliverance. Ushered in with the blood of a spotless male lamb, the Lord's Passover would be an event so profound as to effect a new beginning in the Hebrew calendar (Exodus 12:2); so significant that it would be memorialized even before its occurrence (12:14). Yet, as if the magnitude of this occasion were not grand enough, God has choreographed in the Passover a far greater deliverance; one whose world-changing effects would reach into eternity itself! But first, a glimpse into God's original ''pesach''...

The Passover story balances on the very lives of young males. Moses, a firstborn Egyptian-Hebrew, is destined to be among the victims of Pharaoh's male infanticide, yet is spared by the compassionate daughter of Pharaoh himself. As a man, Moses flees Egypt under a second death sentence and — after forty years of wilderness shepherding — is called of God to lead his people out of Egypt's bonds and into the land promised to the seed of Abraham (through his ''only son, Isaac,'' Exodus 3, Genesis 13:15, 22:2). God commands Moses to forward a message to Pharaoh:

''Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my firstborn: And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn.'' (Exodus 4:22-23)

Pharaoh's hardened heart effects God's judgment on Egypt, the climax of which would begin on 10 Nisan, some 3300 years ago.

On this day, each household, each family unit within the congregation of Israel, was commanded to choose a male yearling lamb. God made an interesting progression in referring to this animal, first calling it ''a lamb'' (unidentified; nebulous), then ''the lamb'' (set apart) and finally, ''your lamb'' (personal; see Exodus 12: 3-6).

The lamb was to represent the people, and the redemption achieved through its death would be personal as well as national (that is, corporately for all Israel). Most importantly, the lamb was to be ''without blemish;'' a flawless representative (Exodus 12:5), for only that which is perfect can provide atonement (Deuteronomy 15:21). So vital was this stipulation that God allowed 3 to 4 days for careful examination of each animal — in fact, rabbinical writings record that thee were 50 points of inspection by the high priest during temple days. ''Between the evenings'' on 14 Nisan, each family was instructed to kill their substitutionary lamb, catch the precious blood, and sprinkle it on the side posts and lintel of the house threshold of the door with a sheaf of common hyssop (Exodus 12: 6,7,22). The animal was slain at the threshold of the door, its blood collecting in a small ditch previously dug to prevent flooding [of rain water, but now catching blood instead]. Thus, the door was ''sealed,'' surrounded by the blood on four sides. The marked doors set apart the households that believed and obeyed God from those that did not. That night, God would survey the land of Egypt, allowing all the firstborn to die, but passing-over those homes whose doors were ''sealed.'' All who were within the confines of houses sprinkled with the blood of a perfect lamb were safe from God's judgment, regardless of nationality or rank. Their faith and obedience would save them.

We can only imagine the intense emotions that this event must have evoked in the hearts and minds of the children. The pretty young lamb—no doubt an object of much affection by this time—was now dead. As if that were not enough, each of the firstborn received an even more dramatic truth: The lamb had died so that he may live. By the time morning arrived, many of his Egyptian friends would be dead, yet he would live on by the subsitutionary death of the lamb. The child's grief over his dead pet would become a burning affection that would not be lost. Through the wilderness and into the promised land, he would carry the memory of the innocent lamb that died for him.

Even in its death, the lamb had not yet fulfilled its perfect function:

''And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire, his head with his legs, and with the pertinence thereof.'' (Exodus 12:8-9)

God stressed that the lamb was to be roasted, not boiled. It is estimated that no less than 250,000 animals were roasted that evening. What a graphic means for expressing His intention of unifying Israel and setting her apart, as the smoke from the unbroken lambs mingled to form an expansive cloud over Egypt (''...neither shall you break a bone thereof...'' Exodus 12:46). To add to their already strange behavior, the people were instructed to eat their meal ''...with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste'' (12:31). God's judgment would be dealt quickly and deliberately; there would be no time to waste.

The roasted lamb was eaten with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. Tradition interprets these symbols as representing the hardships of the enslaved Israelites (bitter herbs) and great haste of their departure (unleavened bread; Exodus 12:34). In their scriptural context, however, these items take on new meaning: ''Bitterness'' in scripture often speaks of death and mourning; the death of and mourning over the sacrificial lamb that saved the children of Israel. Scriptural ''leaven'' almost always speaks of sin and corruption. The Hebrew women of the day used the sourdough method of leavening bread, thereby ''infecting'' each successive ''generation'' with the leaven of sin. [the yeast of one batch of active dough was used to 'start' the leavening of the new dough; here yeast infects what is yet untainted, the next generation of bread; likewise sin from one generation infects the next] Thus, forsaking the leaven in the household symbolized a turning away from the old cycles of sin, starting afresh to walk as a regenerated nation before God.

And so came the time to walk. As the desperate cries of grieving mothers pierced the night air, Israel began its exodus. Each family walked as a fortified unit, for each family contained a whole lamb. Incredibly, 2-3 million overworked, underfed, beaten slaves marched out of Egypt, yet ''...there was not one feeble person among their tribes!'' (Psalm 105:37b). The slain lamb was still working miracles, and a nation was loosed.

''And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast unto the Lord throughout your generations.'' (Exodus 12:14)

Over the centuries, the Passover memorial would enjoy strict adherence and suffer sad neglect, but the lamb would not be forgotten. As the Passover entered its own exodus through the ages, it would carry with it a symphony of concepts and overtones: Springtime harvests and plantings, firstfruits of the earth and of the womb, death for life, fathers and sons, birth, liberation, atonement... all of which would harmonize in a moment of time in one man's existence.



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Some 1400 years after the first Passover lambs were slaughtered for the sins of a nation, one man would enter in of whom it was said:

''Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world'' (John 1:29)

A firstborn male—God's only begotten Son (John 3:16, Luke 3:22)—Yeshua, the Messiah, would enter the public eye; a product of and minister to the very nation that the earlier lambs had vividly defined and redeemed. This lamb, too, would be examined; not for three days, but for three years. Every facet of his character was meticulously scrutinized by man and Satan alike. On 10 Nisan of the year 29 CE, thousands of yearlings flooded once more into Jerusalem through the Sheep Gate to undergo priestly inspection. Among them was the Messiah himself (''He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter...'' Isaiah 53:7). No doubt, the temple grounds were as busy as men of the law excitedly recounted the Freedom Story; how God spared the life of Israel through the flesh and blood of lambs. Yet herein entered God's ''Yearling'' who had earlier proclaimed:

''Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life...'' (John 6:54)

As the priests on the temple mount examined the lambs that had been born to die for men, so did the Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod and all Jerusalem examine one last time the Lamb upon was ''laid the iniquity of us all'' (Isaiah 53:6). At the end of his trial came the verdict: ''I find no fault in this man'' (Luke 23:4). He was unblemished; the only fitting sacrifice (1 Peter 1:19).

Passover day, 29 CE. The innocent young sheep and goats—memorials of God's mighty hand and symbols of personal emancipation—were sacrificed at the appointed time: ''between the evenings'' (3:00 PM), then affixed longitudinally to spits with transverse bars across the shoulder, that they might be roasted whole and unbroken. And so it was, at 3:00 PM, the ''Lamb slain from the foundation of the world'' fulfilled his unspeakable mission on earth (Matthew 27:46, Revelation 13:8). Affixed to wooden transverse beams, his blameless body—whole and unbroken—bore the roasting fire of God's wrath against a world of sin.

As he hung unnoticed and forsaken, all of Jerusalem busily prepared for the festival; the day of remembering when blood flowed from four sides of slave's doors, sealing a covenant between God and men. Unbeknownst to the celebrants, a far greater covenant was now being sealed; silently, painfully... in the head, hands, and feet of the bleeding Savior.

''He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust... Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night.'' (Psalm 91:4,5)

''O Jerusalem, Jerusalem... how often would I have gathered thy children together as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!'' (Luke 13:34)

The Hebrew word ''pesach'' (passover) corresponds to an Egyptian term which means ''spreading the wings over; protection.'' Thus, the above verses are altogether more meaningful for all who have accepted the covering of Messiah's blood as the ultimate expression of God's love for humanity.

In the dark early-morning hours of 15 Nisan, thirty-three centuries ago, Egypt writhed in pain as the ''terror by night'' slew her firstborn. She had not accepted the covering, the outstretched wings of the Almighty, which was manifest in the blood of the Passover lambs. God repeatedly commanded that the Passover be remembered year after year, throughout all generations, forever. Why? Perhaps because as distant as that first Pesach is, it continues to remind mankind of the penalty of hard-heartedness and the rewards of true faith.

Ancient Egypt has long passed away, yet its spiritual counterpart—the ''leaven'' of the world—remains to bind and condemn man's soul. Israel's emancipation is realized, yet the world remains a slave to sin, subject again to the ''terror by night;'' eternal condemnation. In desperation, we join the apostle Paul in his anguished cry: ''Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?'' Praise be to God... A new Lamb is slain! In a flickering moment of time, He was provided a new covering, and eternal shelter under which the faithful will escape God's judgment against sin.

It was neither race nor deed nor might that delivered Israel from the taskmaster's scourge, but a simple exercise in faith; the application of a perfect lamb's blood. Likewise today, there exists no means for salvation but by the blood of the Lamb, sprinkled by faith on the side posts and lintels of human hearts... ''For even Messiah our Passover is sacrificed for us.'' (1 Corinthians 5:7)

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Passover Message
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