Pastor Kyle Bitter - Maundy Thursday - Thursday, April 1, 2021

Text: Exodus 12:21-30

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From 2005-2017 FOX produced a TV show called Prisonbreak, featuring a man with a comfortable career and life intentionally got himself thrown into a maximum security prison. Why? It was all part of a crazy attempt to break out an inmate who was on death row in the same prison – a man who had been falsely convicted. Why such dedication to this man? As the show unfolds the viewer finds out the two men were brothers. That blood connection serves as the motivation for all kinds of self-sacrifice as the plot develops. That’s not a unique idea newly discovered by this show. The ideal of loyalty stemming from being connected by blood is one that can be found in all kinds of movies, plays, and literature. And it goes beyond blood-line relatives. There have been many periods in history when an oath made between two unrelated people might be sealed in blood as a way of demonstrating commitment! Such practices are not common anymore in our part of the world, but a quick internet search will show you references to promises sealed with blood in most of the major cultures of history, from the far east to Africa to Europe to Native American and many more. There is something significant about blood and promises. 

It’s a type of imagery that shows up in the bible too – and today’s first lesson serves as a good example in the Old Testament festival called Passover. Today we have the chance to travel back 3500 years and half-way around the world to ancient Egypt. It’s a time in bible history when God’s chosen people, the children of Israel, were living in Egypt. They had originally gone to Egypt for relief from a famine that struck their homeland, but they ended up making their home there. Generations passed, and politics of Egypt changed. With that change came a change in social status for the Israelites. No longer were they privileged guests! Now they were slaves, forced into manual labor, building cities for the Pharaoh. God sent a man named Moses to lead the people to freedom.  Not surprisingly, Pharaoh was not all that excited about losing so many slaves, and as a follower of Egyptian religion, he wasn’t particularly impressed when Moses told him it was God’s will to let the people go. So, God sent plagues on Egypt to display his power. Each plague targeted some aspect of Egypt’s natural religion – demonstrating to all who were watching that God is the only true God. After each plague, Moses asked Pharaoh if he was ready to submit to God’s will yet and let the people go, but to no avail. Pharaoh hardened himself against God time and again. Then, God announced the final and most devastating plague of all: “This is what the LORD says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at the hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt – worse than there has ever been or ever will be again.’” (Exodus 12:4-6 – NIV84). Pharaoh was standing in stubborn opposition to God, and as a result he would be swept up in God’s judgment.

In thinking about these events, it’s easy to criticize Pharaoh for his stubbornness. It’s easy to have questions about God’s broad-sweeping judgment on a whole nation. But it’s worth noting that Pharaoh was not the only one deserving of being swept up in God’s righteous judgment. As the storyline of the bible unfolds and we see the children of Israel making their way out of Egypt and home to the promised land, it quickly becomes clear that in their own way they are just as rebellious against God as Pharaoh was! It’s sad how easy it is to find examples of them standing in stubborn opposition to God as well, and fully deserving of being swept up in his righteous judgment.

And, if we are going to keep on analyzing things in that way, we’d have to admit that it’s not limited to Pharaoh and the Israelites. The same thing is true in every generation, all the way down to you and me today. We all have our own ways of standing in stubborn opposition to God, because we too are born with a sinful nature that naturally stands in complete opposition to God. And even as Christians it remains a struggle. We don’t find it any easier to accept God’s plans for the world than Pharaoh or the Israelites did, so grumbling and complaining comes just as easily. We are just as self-centered as they were, and we prefer “my way” instead of God’s way, or the way that shows love for others. Countless examples could be listed. It would be just and fair if we were swept up in God’s judgement just as ends up happening to Pharaoh. That’s a theme we’ve heard frequently throughout the Lenten season, but hopefully it’s repetition doesn’t cause it to be taken lightly.  When God’s judgment is rendered, it’s thorough and complete and terrifying. No one escapes. The tenth plague is a good example of that. “Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not one house without someone dead.” (Exodus 12:30 – NIV84). When people align themselves against the almighty God, there is no refuge or escape. Not for mighty Pharaoh, not for the lowliest of servants. God’s judgment on sin will come at the time he has chosen!

But the good news is, you and I don’t have to fear God’s judgement well-deserved though it is. In the same way, the Israelites didn’t have to fear this tenth plague either. Why not? We have a contract with God, an agreement, a covenant. God promises that he will act to save us. His promise guarantees Protection from Judgement because it produces Connection to God. And, it’s A Covenant Signed in Blood – carrying all the significance of that along with it. 

Protection from Judgment

That played out for thousands of Israelites found refuge from the coming the judgment. No careful procedure for sealing themselves up in their homes so nothing could get into, no directive to flee out into the desert and put space between them and the Egyptians. No instruction to secure locks and deadbolts or arm yourself and prepare to fight. Much simpler. A lamb was to be slaughtered, and its blood would seal the door. “Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said 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.” (Exodus 12:21-22a – NIV84). The lamb would die, so that the occupants of the house wouldn’t have to. Here’s God’s promise to the Israelites – a promise signed in blood! “Not one of you shall go out the door of his 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 the doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.” (Exodus 12:22b-23 – NIV84). The only safe place in Egypt that night would be behind a door sealed with blood. The blood would provide Protection from Judgment, because it was a sign of the promise God had made to his people – A Covenant Signed in Blood – it was only through the death of that innocent lamb, they would be spared God’s righteous judgment. And it worked.

The imagery of the much bigger spiritual picture is easy to see – especially as we consider the events of Holy Week. Like the Israelites, there’s nothing WE can to do avoid the coming judgment. We can’t find a way to seal the sin out of our lives and obtain perfection. No matter how far we go, we can’t flee from it because our sinful natures are embedded deeply inside each one of us. And if we try and fight against the devil and his temptations with only our own discipline and effort, it’s not going to end well! But, there is one place where protection can be found. It’s behind a door sealed with blood, so to speak. Innocent blood that was shed in your place. The blood Jesus shed as he died so that you and I wouldn’t have to. His blood provides Protection from Judgment, because his blood is the payment for our sins. In shedding it, he suffered God’s righteous judgment in our place. Like the blood around the doors of the Israelite houses, Jesus blood is the signature on the promise God has made, the contract God has signed, with his people. It’s a A Covenant Signed in Blood – innocent blood, shed in place of you and me.

Connection to God

And here’s the thing about covenants signed in blood – such things are binding; permanent. Such promises are not one-time events. You can see that with the Israelites – the blessings of this Passover were intended to be enjoyed for generations to come! “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.” (Exodus 12:24-27 – NIV84). Every time Israel observed Passover, they celebrated the fact that in their lives, even though generations had passed, they still got to participate in the blessings of that very first Passover. Because of God’s activity that night, they were no longer slaves in Egypt – God had set them free! Because of God’s promise regarding the Passover Lamb, the was still no judgment from God waiting to strike them down in the middle of the night. The blood of the Passover lamb continued to connect them to God’s promises, including his greatest promise: that in the blood of the Savior to come, their sins would be forgiven for once and for all.

On the first Maundy Thursday, Jesus and his disciples were gathered to celebrate the very same Passover. They sacrificed a lamb. They reflected on the blessings attached to the promise of deliverance that God kept to his people – deliverance first from slavery in Egypt and ultimately from spiritual slavery to sin through the work of the promised messiah. A promise that would reach its final fulfillment over the next 24 hours as Jesus would lay down his life as the final Passover Lamb, the last sacrifice that would ever need to be made, pouring out his blood so that no follower of God ever need fear his judgment again! 

In anticipation of that final sacrifice, Jesus established something new, but also lasting. This bread…is my body. This wine…is my blood of the new covenant, for the forgiveness of sins. Eat…Drink…Do this…in remembrance of me. Similar to the Passover, but new. Better. Not the blood of a lamb, but the blood of our Savior – offered once for the forgiveness of all. Not a symbolic picture of what God was going to do in the future, but the real thing! And not a one-time event – but an ongoing celebration that allows us to participate in the very same blessings that Jesus gave to his disciples on that night – the blessings of the Covenant that was signed in blood on the cross the very next day as Jesus made the last sacrifice that would ever need to be made. When you and I receive the Lord’s Supper, we get to experience once again our Connection to God and here at his table we find his promises once again – promises that are just as true today as they were when they were first made. The covenant still stands. Because of what Jesus did on that day, sins are forgiven. There’s no need to fear the judgment we deserve – we can instead join him at this table – both now as we worship and eternally in heaven! That’s God’s promise, and there’s no changing it. It’s a contract that has permanence, because it’s a Covenant Signed in Blood. Amen.