Easter is coming. Christmas has sentimental value, but Easter is the most important Feast in The Church’s Year of Grace. It’s the day Christ our God performed the final act in His plan of redemption. He rose from the dead. He defeated death, and with death He also defeated sin and hell, and that wicked Pharaoh, Satan, that devilish deceiver.
That was in the year 33A+D, but we’ve been celebrating Easter since long before that. The Church did not create a new festival. She transformed an old one. She transformed one that was founded by God back in 1446BC when He freed Israel from their Egyptian bondage. The Old Testament Hebrew calls the feast Pesach, Pascha in Greek, Passover in English.
Israel had been in Egypt 430 years. The time came for God to rescue them from Egypt and take them to the home He promised Abraham over 650 years before: Canaan. He was going to cast the Canaanites out of the land because of their idolatry and sexual wickedness. First He was going to humiliate Egypt’s idols.
So He sent 10 plagues. First all Egypt’s water turned to blood. Then He swarmed the country with frogs. Then He turned the dust into gnats. Then He ruined the land with swarms of flies. Then He killed all Egypt’s livestock. Then He covered everyone with boils. Then He sent a huge hailstorm. Then He sent locusts to eat everything that was left. Finally He sent utter darkness for 3 days.
But through all that Pharaoh would not relent. He would not let the people go. He continued to wickedly oppress them with all his might. So God sent 1 more plague. He sent the angel of death to kill all the firstborn in Egypt. From the palace to the lowliest Egyptian hut, the firstborn died of both man and beast. This finally forced Pharaoh to resentfully obey God and free Israel.
But how was Israel spared? God didn’t just tell the angel not to go to Goshen where they were. He told Israel to prepare. They were to slaughter a lamb, to spill its blood and roast it on a spit-cross. They were to paint that blood on their doorframes; the motion would have been like making the sign of the cross. They were to eat the lamb in a meal along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs to represent the harshness of their painful oppression, dressed to flee Egypt at a moment’s notice, which meant they needed to eat quickly.
They did what they were told. They ate. They believed God’s promise. And He kept His promise. He remembered His people. He kept His Word. He killed all Egypt’s firstborn, but spared His people Israel. Pharaoh let them go. But he changed his mind. He chased them down. He caught them at the Red Sea. Israel feared again. But God fought for them. He kept Egypt away from them. Then He caused them to cross the water on dry ground. When the Egyptians followed after, they drowned in the returning waters. God defeated Pharaoh. His people went free, free to serve Him in the land of Israel all their days.
The Passover festival celebrated all this. They celebrated it every year at the time it happened. Maundy Thursday was the night of their rescue from Egypt. This was God’s great Old Testament redemptive act. It, not Creation or the Flood, is the key event in the Hebrew Bible. This is the time God decided to work His great redemptive act for all people and for all time: He would grab out of death and defeat forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.
So on the night when He was betrayed, the very night that began the day of His Passion and Death, He celebrated the old Passover feast for the final time. He finished and completed it. He replaced it with something better. He sent 2 disciples to prepare it, and then they went and ate. There He preached to them. He told them about their future as His preachers who would suffer for His Name’s sake. He told them He was about to be betrayed. He told them they are servants, not lords. He instituted The Sacrament of The Altar.
We are not plagued by a wicked Pharaoh from Egypt. We are plagued by somebody far worse. Not just Egypt is the land of bondage, but the whole world. Sin is the bondage, and Satan is the wickedest Pharaoh of all time. He is far more oppressive that that guy who didn’t deserve to have God mention his name. That guy eventually let Israel go, and he could never take eternal life from them. Satan would never let us go. His goal is to keep us out of eternal life.
He enslaved an unsuspecting Adam and Eve. They passed down to their children that same slavery. It’s come down to us. We are conceived and born his slaves. He forces us to do what is wrong in God’s sight. He forces us to sin. It’s so bad we even like our sin. We may want to keep on doing it, even when we know it’s wrong. If we realize our sins are bad and that we deserve to be punished for them, we may want to find our own way out of it, and that’s Satan’s doing too.
The Israelites could not free themselves from Egypt. Moses couldn’t free them on his own. Egypt’s armies would have chased them down and destroyed them. We cannot escape the ball and chain called sin and death on our own either. They needed God to come with His almighty aid to save them. We need God to come with His almighty aid to save us. He did. He has.
Jesus came to be the new Moses. That does not mean He came to give a new law, as many think. It means He came to lead His people Israel out of bondage into eternal freedom. He did not do this by killing people or destroying the world. He did it by taking on all the wrath of the angel of death. Instead of killing the firstborn children of all, Mary’s firstborn Son died. God died for sinners. He was punished for all our sins. He bore all God’s wrath over our sins. He ate the bitterest herbs and wine. And Paul Gerhardt sings in 1 of his great Christmas chorales (TLH 77:6):
He becomes the Lamb that taketh Sin away And for aye Full atonement maketh. For our life His own He tenders And our race, By his grace, Meet for glory renders.
So let us eat and drink the feast to which the Lord invites us. He gives us Himself. You eat The Lamb and drink His Blood. You receive Him not once a year, but every week. Here you remember not just a rescue from earthly slavery, but your rescue from sin and death as you receive forgiveness of your sins, eternal life, and salvation. You are free! Jesus is your Lord now, not Satan. You receive not a mere earthly land, but the resurrection of the body followed by life everlasting in paradise.