It’s amazing how God has watched over us during this Pandemic. We are here now because of the God who is faithful to His promises.
A friend of mine, who’s been a preacher of the gospel since the age of sixteen, until the age of 96 before he died last year, once said to me, “In the pulpit your text can come from any part of Scripture because God speaks to us through all of it. But you must end at the Cross because this is the essential message of the gospel.” This is what I’ve always tried to do. But my thoughts throughout this lockdown is what I’ve missed more than anything is Communion, the Lord’s Table. Thankfully, we’ve recently been able to take it up again, keeping high standards of hygiene. It’s an essential part of our worship and is a follow-on from something much older, as if focusing from the shadow to the substance, or as I would rather call it, the reality. I think that the nearest equivalent in the Jewish faith was the Feast of the Passover, the coming together of the Jewish people to remember what God had done. We need to understand the shadow to grasp the substance, or the reality.
Back in Genesis 4 we hear of sheep and sin for the first time. As we all know, Abel was a keeper of sheep and Cain was a tiller of the ground. When it came to a time of sacrifice Abel brought a lamb of God and Cain brought the produce that he had lifted from the ground. Abel’s offering was accepted but Cain’s offering was not. Cain wasn’t pleased about this and God said to him, ‘Why has your face fallen? Don’t you realise that when you come before God with a sacrifice it will be accepted, but if it is not then sin is at the door?’ Cain discovered that day that God is not interested in any sacrifice unless it comes from the heart.
Then we come to another entry of the lamb in Genesis 22:2 when we read about the lamb and the love of God. We read of Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son. In verse 7 young Isaac began to look around him for the lamb that would be sacrificed. Abraham told him God would provide a lamb for the burnt offering. The answer Abraham gave his son could be read in a different way; I believe he said that ‘My son, God will give Himself a lamb for a burnt offering.’ Later in that chapter, when Isaac was laid on the wood and Abraham’s hand was raised to strike, you can wonder how a man of such a great age as Abraham could bind his son, who by then would have been a strong teenager. It could only be because of the love and obedience he had to his father. Even this reminds us of the way Jesus spoke of His impending death on the cross and His willingness to submit to the Father’s will.
But then God said to Abraham, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” It seems strange to read this when Isaac was not his only son, he was his second son. But then Isaac was the son of promise, and the other was the son of the flesh. Isaac’s wiliness to be sacrificed leads us so easily go in our minds to John 3:16, and how God gave His only Son. We can read from this that God is providing a lamb for Himself. The only sacrifice that would be acceptable for atonement for our sin would not come from us but from God Himself. He would not allow Abraham to sacrifice the son he loved. In His own great love for His people, He was willing to give His only begotten Son on Calvary. This was the action of a loving, compassionate God reaching out to a dying world and extending the only hope of redemption.
Some of you may have heard this story before. I joined the army in 1949 and after about nine months I found myself in Manobier Castle, a dismal, desolate place. I settled down. Later I met the local newsagent’s daughter. In those days the things of God, salvation and any form of Christianity had no interest for me. I wasn’t a believer. I knew that if I wanted to be part of that family, I had to help with the Sunday newspaper delivery. It was quite a big job; I traipsed around the married quarters, the villages of Manobier, Lydstep, Jameston and St. Florence. Quite a big area. Having been born in the centre of a town and never been to the countryside I saw things that seemed strange to me.
One thing that stayed in my memory, a tradition I had never encountered before. One of my deliveries was to a Mrs. John. I was always met at the door by her young son, who was about seven or eight years old. He couldn’t wait for his comic! After about a year I remember an incident that has stayed with me ever since. One Sunday I knocked on the door and the boy answered. I saw a little lamb inside the home. To my mind a lamb belonged in the field with the sheep, not in a kitchen getting under everyone’s feet. I learnt that sometimes an ewe will die in lambing or might reject the lamb. The farmer would try to place it with another ewe but if that failed it would be reared by the farmer’s wife or any other woman who volunteered. So, this particular lamb was in the care of Mrs. John. I became accustomed every Sunday to seeing this lamb running around the house as a pet. I saw him grow in vigour in the family’s tender care. The children loved it and played with it. It seemed to become one of the family.
Then, one day, I called and the lamb was missing. I asked where it was. I was told, “It’s in the freezer.” Just like that! I was shocked. A pet one day and food for the table the next. That day I learnt of the harshness of country life. Time went on. Eventually we got married and later I left the army. My wife died in 1982. Things went downhill for a while, until one day I responded to an invitation to visit a chapel. It wasn’t long before God spoke to me in His Word as I read it. I had my own Bible and I read it. From the beginning, page one.
As I began reading the book of Exodus I saw how the children of Israel were being guests of the Egyptians for four hundred years after a period of famine, and how they were slaves. Moses had pleaded for their release and Pharoah’s refusal had led God to visit upon the Egyptians some terrible plagues. The hardness of the heart of pharaoh didn’t have the desired effect. So, we come to the final plague which was the death of the first born of man and animals throughout Egypt. To ensure the survival of the children of Israel, God gave a commandment to Moses that each household was to take a lamb of the flock. Now this lamb was to be perfect. They would take it into their houses and care for it. You can imagine this lamb being part of the family, playing with the children, being fed by hand. It would look upon the people as being its own family. After four days it was slaughtered as this was the commandment. The blood was to be placed on the door posts (Exodus 12:6-7).
My mind went back immediately to that house forty four years before; a picture began to form in my mind which wouldn’t reach completion until a few years more. The blood of that little lamb put on the lintel and doorposts of the houses would save the lives of God’s people but strike the Egyptians (Exodus 12:12-13). This was the beginning of the Jewish Feast of the Passover, which has been celebrated ever since. We remember a time when the children of Israel were sheltered from the wrath of God by the blood of the lamb. Ever since, as Jewish families meet around the table for the Passover meal, the father will tell his children of the time when God allowed the children of Israel to live because He had shown to them the blood of the lamb.
Now the people were released from bondage and after forty years in the wilderness they were able to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land – the land promised to Abraham by God, so many years before. The place of the crossing was significant because many years later something else important happened at that same spot. A great event took place. A man had drawn a large crowd of people as he was baptising men and women in the river. This man was known by many as the last of the Old Testament prophets. People argue about this but to my mind the Old Testament prophets were the ones who prophesied the coming of the Messiah and this man was the last one to do it. He was spoken of as John the Baptist although I’ve learnt since then that he wasn’t really a Baptist, or a Methodist, or a Presbyterian. He was a Jew.
The crowds lined the banks of the river and he called on all to repent of their sins and be baptised. There were many people waiting their turn to go into the water. There were many who were just spectators. Some were observing to report back to the Pharisees what they had seen. But John didn’t see that; he looked beyond and saw one man coming through the crowds toward him, just an ordinary man (Isaiah 53). But John knew who He was, he couldn’t help knowing. God had spoken to him and had told him who it was. He revealed it to him. This has happened many times in the work of God.
Matthew 16:13 tells us of a time when Jesus asked His followers who men thought He was. After various answers He then asks them who did they think He was. Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16: 16). In the following verse Jesus tells Peter he has been blessed because God has revealed this to him. It can only be through speaking to us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our hearts that things like this can be revealed to us by God. This is how John the Baptist knew who was coming towards him through the water. But how did John greet this man? He could have hailed Him as King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Word of God. But no, he says, “Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world.”
Now the people who heard this would have been shocked because to the Jewish people the Lamb of God would be the Passover Lamb revealed to us in the books of Moses. They would not understand that the Messiah had come to take the sins of mankind upon Himself and suffer and die an atonement. Everything in the temple concerning the Day of Atonement concerned the sins of Israel, of the Jewish people. This man, walking into the water, would later give His life in order to atone for the sins of all of us (John 3:16). His shed blood would save people from all walks of life, for their sins, and shelter them from the wrath of a righteous God. When God seeks out sinners and sees the blood, He passes over us. We can see from this that the Lamb spoken of, the Lamb of God, is the same Passover Lamb, the innocent Lamb that was slain to cover our sins – the Lamb who died that we might live. From this we are told that any person who truly repents, no matter what race or religion, if he is covered by the blood of the Lamb of God, if the blood is on the doorposts of his heart, God will pass over him on the Day of Judgement.
It’s amazing when we look back and see what God says in Exodus 12:13, that this promise applies to us, not just to the Jewish people. Jesus is our Passover Lamb and the blood God speaks of is the precious blood of the Lamb of God shed on Calvary. The Lamb was slain but if we have saving faith in Jesus Christ, the Passover Lamb will be in our houses every day, in our hearts. The Passover Lamb will be with us in every way possible – on our lips. Just as when a Jewish family sits around the table for the Passover meal, in the same way we meet around the table, the Lord’s Table. It is also a remembrance of the goodness of God in giving us His only begotten Son as our Passover Lamb, as we are reminded as the pastor reads the word of 1 Corinthians 11:25. One day we hope all these Pandemic restrictions are over and we can again glorify God as we come together in personal song, meeting again around the Lord’s Table.