Old Testament Exodus Covenant Celebration

Covenant Celebration

During the New Testament time the people had the Scriptures of the Old Testament. They were Old Testament believers. We often try and make a big gap between the few pages in our Bible and see them as two separate religions. We read the Old Testament and see a great gaping disconnection between the two. Yet this is not how the New Testament authors or believers understood the Old Testament. They would often quote the Old Testament. They did not see themselves as making a new religion but understating the fulfillment of the promises of Christ as written about in the Old Testament. The Westminster Confession of Faith explains it this way, “There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations” (WCF 7.6). That the Old and the New had different administrations of the Covenant but the substance is the same in both Old and New. This Covenant of Grace they explain is “God freely offers sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained to eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe” (WCF 7.3). When we understand this we can begin to read the Old Testament with a better understanding that in the Old Testament we see the substance of Christ in shadows and types. We can start to see the beauty of the Scriptures in their union in all of their parts and see how the unity between the two while noting the differences as well. This week we finish Chapter 12 of the book of Exodus and next week Lord willing we will begin Chapter 13; this really is one big section, but we will be looking at it in two parts. We will see the Covenant Community and the meal of celebration.

Covenant Separation

One aspect we need to be able to understand is that when we talk about a community, we are talking about what unites people together under a common bond. We notice in this passage that not everyone is treated the same. There are a group or groups of people who are excluded from sharing in the Passover meal. We are told several times that certain people shall not eat of the Passover meal (vs 43, 45, 48). No foreigner hired worker anyone who is uncircumcised. Now in our 21 century ears this sounds ludicrous. How can we exclude anyone, that is some form of lawsuit waiting to happen surely. Before you throw your arms up in the air we do need to understand some particulars. Mainly, that the idea of any form of community automatically separates anyone from that community. That no one automatically can come in. The thing that everyone has in common is what the unity is around. If there is disagreements or dis-unity, then it would not be a community. Communities are formed based on faith, interests, fan-clubs, beliefs, causes, or a plethora of additional reasons. If you removed that common union, then there would be no community. Even today in the most inclusive community (self-professed) you will always have people that would not fit within that community. We also need to understand it the members of that community that get to decide what their unity can be centered around, this cannot be imposed from the outside.

We will see this next week, but this Passover meal was to be celebrated every year, as a reminder to the people of God what the Lord had done for them. That he was the one with an outstretched arm that saved his people. Why would anyone want to celebrate this meal if they did not believe in this God. So we see a similar idea when we look to the New Testament that not everyone should eat the Sacrament of the Lord’s supper. Paul instructs the church that divisions in the church can be a good thing to be able to separate those who are genuine from those who are fake (1 Cor 11:19). He explains that the celebration of the Lord’s supper is a proclamation of the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Cor 11:26). But he clearly makes the point in verse 32 explaining that discipline comes from the Lord in order that we are not to be condemned by the Lord (1 Cor 11:32).

Covenant Inclusion

Now we do need to see that the separation from the covenant does not exclude people from the covenant. What does that mean? We see foreigners are not to partake or hired hands, and those are very specific terms used in the Mosaic law to speak of people who are merely passing by or visitors. They are looking to go back to their homeland, they have come on a short-term work visa or a tourist visa. That the separation does not mean permanent exclusion from the covenant community. That there are people who come from different places or countries, and they are welcome to partake of the covenant meal of Passover. You see if a stranger was to sojourn, they are able to keep the Passover, if they were to have their males circumcised. The difference is not found in the nationality but in their relation to the covenant promise. As The Lord promised Abraham in Genesis chapter 17, “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” In verse 10 the Lord says that this the Covenant that you shall keep for the Lord that every male should be circumcised, and later in verse 13 he explains what this means to be an offspring of Abraham, “both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant” (Gen 17:13). Those born into his house and those who were brought into his house. A part of this covenant sign is also the time when Abram’s name was changed to Abraham, as God told him, “for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations” (Gen 17:5). Paul explains in Romans chapter 4 what Abraham had hope in, “In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be” (Rom 4:18). How does one know if they are within the covenant community, they have the sign of the covenant community applied to them, in this instance it is circumcision. The New Testament sign of the covenant community is no longer one of blood, but one of water in which the one who is baptized is the member of the visible covenant community. The continuity of the Old and the New is that the covenant sign is administered to the believer and their children as Peter explains in Acts 2:38-39, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Jesus the Passover lamb died to cover the sins of his people, see this connection in the Book of revelation in chapter five when the living creatures and elders sang a new song to the Lamb, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Rev 5:9–10).

We also need to see that the whole congregation of Israel shall keep it, not individuals by themselves but as  whole houses. The more direct translation might be “the whole flock” shall keep it. Men, women, and children. We see in verse 8 of chapter 13 that sons and daughters are included in this Passover meal. Now there is some movements that then take this to mean that every child in the house partook of the Passover lamb. This I think is a failure to understand how this meal worked. When children are referenced in this meal they always have a level of comprehension that seeks to ask a question and comprehend an answer. We see the same criteria in the New Testament with the Lord’s supper that Paul explains in 1 Corinthians that the person needs to eat the bread and drink the cup in a worthy manner or else they will be guilty concerning the body and blood of Jesus (1 Cor 11:27). The person needs to be able to examine themselves, then eat the bread and drink the cup (1 Cor 11:28). The Westminster Shorter catechism explains, “It is required of them that would worthily partake of the Lord’ s supper, that they examine themselves of their knowledge to discern the Lord’ s body, of their faith to feed upon him, of their repentance, love, and new obedience; lest, coming unworthily, they eat and drink judgment to themselves” (WSC 97). Now what we need to note that the prescription in the Bible is not about a person’s age, but of biblical criteria. In our polity comes under the oversight of the Session seeking for a person to give a profession of faith. We do need to proceed cautiously because if you allow children to partake in the Lord’s supper without them knowing what it means to partake of the Lord’s Supper will cause judgement to come upon them. We should not exclude them, but we do need to instruct them.

The Passover meal is a meal of Christ as the Passover lamb, the Lord’s supper is a meal of remembrance and proclamation through faith as we await the Lord to come again. For the great feast, in the book of Revelation Jesus is referred to as the Lamb about 29 times. The marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:6-9). For those who are invited there is a great celebration of how we are to rejoice at the return of the bridegroom, Jesus Christ. The Feast which Christ said he would not partake until we are going to be with him again (Matt 26:29).

Covenant Regulation

Finally, we need to see that this covenant meal is not one that is created from man, but the celebration that has been prescribed by the Lord. People cannot just go and make up their own way to celebrate but the Lord has given us particular ways for us to worship him. In this passage we see the specific rules of not taking the flesh outside the house, the lamb being eaten by one house, not breaking any of the bones in the lamb. Moses explains that this is all one law for the native, and the sojourner (vs 49). Why is God so strict about how he wants to be worshipped? I have heard people say it doesn’t matter what you do if you have the right heart. There is truth to that, that God does not look at the outward appearance but the heart. The Pharisees were picture perfect when it comes to particular aspects of the law, but Jesus said they were like clean graves, with a dead corpse on the inside. The issue is not God being strict is that we, in our hearts seek to turn from him and do our own thing. We are prone to wander and prone to forget. God gives us his word to help guide our way and light our path. He knows our hearts; he knows our frame and so he gives us his promises and word to help us. For the Israelites under the Old Testament the lamb was a shadow of the one to come who the Lord was going to provide for his people. Those who ate the Passover in faith waiting for the promised messiah were blessed. We too have received the blessing of a sacrament, of the Lord’s supper, which is exactly what we need to be reminded of. Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 11, is that the members of the church are eating and drinking but they are not celebrating the Lord’s supper. They have twisted and distorted it that it has no resemblance to the Sacrament commanded by Jesus. Paul shows in contract to this man-made celebration of licentiousness the true covenant meal of the Lord’s supper. And look what he says at the beginning, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…” Paul explains that this meal was not a man-made tradition, but Jesus instituted this meal for believers as a means of grace. I heard a preacher explain the means of grace as the way God delivers his grace to his people. The preacher called it God’s dump truck, that through the Word, Sacraments and Prayer God’s people receive the grace of God. The Lord’s supper is one of these means that we understand.

Now we need to be able to see that we are not making these connections from some form of cracking a code in the text, nor making up a way we want the text to be able to understand it and apply it to our lives. We see Christ in all of the Old Testament. We see the way God relates to his people and gives them means to deliver his grace and remind us of his graciousness. We see Christ as the lamb that was slain, our Passover lamb as Paul explains it, the lamb without blemish as Peter wrote. But there is another clear shadow here in this text of Jesus, did you see it? Here in this passage, we see the commandment that the lamb’s bones would not be broken (vs 46). Jesus hanging upon the cross and John records of one thing that happens to Jesus and another does not happen to Jesus. The First is that Jesus was pierced through the side to fulfill a prophecy made by Zechariah (Zech 12:10). The second is found in this passage in Exodus 12:46 where John explains that Jesus’ bones were not broken to fulfill this passage, “For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken” (John 19:36). John explains that this passage was written as a prophecy to speak of Christ and how he was to die. Now we understand when the Westminster Divines wrote “There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations” (WCF 7.6). John explains that the lamb is the shadow and Christ is the substance. He said this was to full that not one of his bones will be broken. He says the bones of the Lamb, speak of the bones of the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sins of the world.

The question is then do we celebrate with faith, as the Author of Hebrews spoke of Moses celebrating the Passover through faith. Do we look to the shadow of or the substance. When we partake of the Lord’s supper do we eat discerning the body and blood of Christ. Do we feed on the bread and wine in faith? Do we think these are only rules that we keep to earn salvation or get in God’s good books. No, we do them as worship and adoration to him, as acts of faith as we have the conviction of things hoped for and assurance of things not yet seen.

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