This is a night to be much observed unto the Lord, for bringing the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt.--EXODUS xii. 42.
You all, my friends, know what is the meaning of Easter-day--that it is the Day on which The Lord rose again from the dead. You must have seen that most of the special services for this day, the Collect, Epistle, and Gospel, and the second lessons, both morning and evening, reminded you of Christ's rising again; and so did the proper Psalms for this day, though it may seem at first sight more difficult to see what they have to do with the Lord's rising again.
Now the first lessons, both for the morning and evening services, were also meant to remind us of the very same thing, though it may seem even more difficult still, at first sight, to understand how they do so.
Let us see what these two first lessons are about. The morning one was from the twelfth chapter of Exodus, and told us what the Passover was, and what it meant. The first lesson for this afternoon was the fourteenth chapter of Exodus. Surely you must remember it. Surely the most careless of you must have listened to that glorious story, how the Jews went through the Red Sea as if it had been dry land, while Pharaoh and the Egyptian army, trying to follow them, were overwhelmed in the water. Surely you cannot have heard how the poor Jews looked back from the farther shore, and hardly believed their own eyes for joy and wonder, when they saw their proud masters swept away for ever, and themselves safe and free out of the hateful land where they had been slaves for hundreds of years. You cannot surely, my friends, have heard that glorious story, and forgotten it again already. I hope not; for God knows, that tale of the Jews coming safe through the Red Sea has a deep and blessed meaning enough for you, if you could but see it.
But some of you may be saying to yourselves: "No doubt it is a very noble story; and a man cannot help rejoicing at the poor Jews' escape, and at the downfall of those cruel Egyptians. It is a pleasant thought, no doubt, that if it were but for that once, God interfered to help poor suffering creatures, and rid them of their tyrants. But what has that to do with Easter Day and Christ's rising again?"
I will try to show you, my friends. The Jews' Passover is the same as our Easter-day, as you know already. But they are not merely alike in being kept on the same day. They are alike because they are both of them remembrances and tokens of the Lord Jesus Christ's delivering men out of misery and slavery. For never forget--though, indeed, in these strange times, I ought rather to say, I beseech you to read your Bibles and see--that it was Jesus Christ Himself who brought the Jews out of Egypt. St. Paul tells us so positively, again and again. In 1 Cor. x. 4 he tells us that it was Christ who followed them through the wilderness. In verse 9 of the same chapter, he says that it was Christ Himself whom they tempted in the wilderness. He was the Angel of the Covenant who went with them. He was the God of Israel whom the elders of the Jews saw, a few weeks afterwards, on Mount Sinai, and under His feet a pavement like a sapphire stone. True, the Lord did not take flesh upon Him till nearly two thousand years after. But from the very beginning of all things, while He was in the bosom of the Father, He was the King of men. Man was made in His image, and therefore in the image of the Father, whose perfect likeness He is--"the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person." It was He who took care of men, guided and taught them, and delivered them out of misery, from the very beginning of the world. St. Paul says the same thing, in many different ways, all through the epistle to the Hebrews. He says, for instance, that Moses, when he fled from Pharaoh's court in Egypt, esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible. The Lord said the same thing of Himself. He said openly that He was the person who is called, all through the Old Testament, "The Lord." He asked the Pharisees: "What think ye of Christ? whose son is He? They say unto Him, David's son. Christ answered, How then does David in spirit call him Lord, saying, the Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand until I make thy foes thy footstool?" So did Christ declare, that He Himself, who was standing there before them, was the Lord of David, who had died hundreds of years before. He told them again that their father Abraham rejoiced to see His day, and saw it and was glad; and when they answered, in anger and astonishment, "Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?" Jesus said, "Verily I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am." I am. The Jews had no doubt whom He meant; and we ought to have none either. For that was the very name by which God had told Moses to call Him, when he was sent to the Jews: "Thou shalt say unto them, I AM hath sent me to you." The Jews, I say, had no doubt who Jesus said that He was; that He meant them to understand, once and for all, that He whom they called the carpenter's son of Nazareth, was the Lord God who brought their forefathers up out of the land of Egypt, on the night of the first Passover. So they, to show how reverent and orthodox they were, and how they honoured the name of God, took up stones to stone Him--as many a man, who fancies himself orthodox and reverent, would now, if he dared, stone the preachers who declare that the Lord Jesus Christ is not changed since then; that He is as able and as willing as ever to deliver the poor from those who grind them down, and that He will deliver them, whenever they cry to Him, with a mighty hand and a stretched-out arm, and that Easter-day is as much a sign of that to us as the Passover was for the Jews of old.
But, my friends, if Christ the Lord showed His love and power in behalf of poor oppressed wretches on that first Passover, surely He showed it a thousand times more on that first Easter-day. His great love helped the Jews out of slavery; and that same great love of His at this Easter-tide, moved Him to die and rise again for the sins of the whole world. In that first Passover He delivered only one people. On the first Easter He delivered all mankind. The Jews were under cruel tyrants in the land of Egypt. So were all mankind over the world, when Jesus came. The Jews in Egypt were slaves to worse things than the whip of their task-masters; they had slaves' hearts, as well as slaves' bodies. They were kept down not only by the Egyptians, but by their own ignorance, and idolatry, and selfish division, and foul sins. They were spiritually dead--without a noble, pure, manful feeling left in them. Their history makes no secret of that. The Bible seems to take every care to let us see into what a miserable and brutal state they had fallen. Christ sent Moses to raise them out of that death; to take them through the Red Sea, as a sign that all that was washed away, to be forgiven of God and forgotten by them, and that from the moment they landed, a free people, on the farther shore, they were to consider all their old life past and a new one begun. So they were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea, as St. Paul says. And now all was to be new. They had been fancying that they belonged to the Egyptians. Now they had found out, and had it proved to them by signs and wonders which they could not mistake, that they belonged to the Lord. They had been brutal sinners. The Lord began to teach them that they were to rise above their own appetites and passions. They had been worshipping only what they could see and handle. The Lord began to teach them to worship Him--a person whom they could not see, though He was always near them, and watching over them. They had been living without independence, fellow-feeling, the sense of duty, or love of order. The Lord began to teach them to care for each other, to help each other, to know that they had a duty to perform towards each other, for which they were accountable to Him. They had owned no master except the Egyptians, whom they feared and obeyed unwillingly. The Lord began to teach them to obey Him loyally, from trust, and gratitude, and love. They had been willing to remain sinners, and brutes, and slaves, provided they could get enough to eat and drink. The Lord began to teach them that His favour, His protection, were better than the flesh-pots of Egypt, and that He was able to feed them where it seemed impossible to men; to teach them that "man does not live by bread alone--cheap or dear, my friends-- not by bread alone, but by EVERY word that proceeds out of the mouth of God, does man live." That was the meaning of their being baptized in the cloud and in the sea. That was the meaning, and only a very small part of the meaning, of their Passover. Would you not think, my friends, that I had been speaking rather of our own Baptism, and of our own Supper of the Lord, to which you have been all called to- day, and that I had been telling you the meaning of them?
For when Jesus, the Lord, and King, and Head of mankind, died and rose again, He took away the sin of the world. He was the true Passover, the Lamb without spot, slain, as the scripture tells us, for the sins of the whole world. In the Jews' Passover, when the angel saw the lamb's blood on the door of the house, he passed by, and spared everyone in it. So now. The blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, is upon us; and for His sake, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
But the Lord rose again this day. And when He, the Lord, the King, and Head of all men, rose, all men rose in Him. "As in Adam all die," says St. Paul, "even so in Christ shall all be made alive."
Baptism is a sign of that to us, as the going through the Red Sea, and being baptized to Moses in it, was to the Jews. The passing of the Red Sea said to the Jews: "You have passed now out of your old miserable state of slavery into freedom. The sins which you committed there are blotted out. You are taken into covenant with God. You are now God's people, and nothing can lose you this love and care, except your own sins, your own unfaithfulness to Him, your own wilful falling back into the slavish and brutal state from which He has delivered you."
And just so, baptism says to us: "Your sins are forgiven you. You are taken into covenant with God. You are God's people, God's family. You must forget and cast away the old Adam, the old slavish and savage pattern of man, which your Lord died to abolish, the guilt of which He bore for you on His cross; and you must rise to the new Adam, the new pattern of man, which is created after God in righteousness and true holiness, which the Lord showed forth in His life, and death, and rising again. For now God looks on you not as a guilty and condemned race of beings, but as a redeemed race, His children, for the sake of Jesus Christ the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. You have a right to believe that, as human beings, you are dead with Christ to the old Adam, the old sinful, brutal pattern of man. Baptism is the sign of it to you. Every child, let it or its parents be who they may, is freely baptized as a sign that all that old pattern of man is washed away, that they can and must have nothing to do with it hence-forward, that it is dead and buried, and they must flee from it and forget it, as they would a corpse.
And the Lord's Supper also is a sign to us that, as human beings, we are risen with Christ, to a new life. A new life is our birthright. We have a right to live a new life. We have a duty to live a new life. We have a power, if we will, to live a new life; such a life as we never could live if we were left to ourselves; a noble, just, godly, manful, Christlike, Godlike life, bred and nourished in us by the Spirit of Christ. That is our right; for we belong to Him who lived that life Himself, and bought us our share in it with His own death and resurrection. That is our duty; for if we share the Lord's blessings, it can only be in order that we may become like the Lord. Do you fancy that He died to leave us all no better than we are? His death would have had very little effect if that was all. No, says St. Paul; if you have a share in Christ, prove that you believe in your own share by becoming like Christ. You belong to His kingdom, and you must live as His subjects. He has bought for you a new and eternal life, and you must use that life. "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things that are above." . . . And what are they? Love, peace, gentleness, mercy, pity, truth, faithfulness, justice, patience, courage, order, industry, duty, obedience. . . . All, in short, which is like Jesus Christ. For these are heavenly things. These are above, where Christ sits at God's right hand. These are the likeness of God. That is God's character. Let it be your character likewise.
But again; if it is our right and our duty to be like that, it is also in our power. God would not have commanded us to be, what He had not given us the power to be. He would not have told us to seek those things which are above, if He had not intended us to find them. Wherefore it is written: "Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; for if ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give His Holy Spirit to those who ask him?"
This is the meaning of that text; namely, that God will give us the power of living this new and risen life, which we are bound to live. This is one of the gifts for men, which the scripture tells us that Christ received when He rose from the dead, and ascended up on high. This is one of the powers of which He spoke, when after His resurrection He said, "That all power was given to Him in heaven and earth." The Lord's Supper is at once a sign of who will give us that gift, and a sign that He will indeed give it us. The Lord's Supper is the pledge and token to us that we all have a share in the likeness of Christ, the true pattern of man; and that if we come and claim our share, He will surely bestow it on us. He will renew, and change, and purify our hearts and characters in us, day by day, into the likeness of Himself. He who is the eternal life of men will nourish us, body, soul, and spirit, with that everlasting life of His, even as our bodies are nourished by that bread and wine. And if you ask me how? When you can tell me why a wheat grain cannot produce an oak, or an acorn a wheat plant; when you can tell me why our bodies are, each of them, the very same bodies which they were ten years ago, though every atom of flesh, and blood, and bone in them has been changed; when, in short, you, or any other living man, can tell me the meaning of those three words, body, life, and growth, then it will be time to ask that question. In the meantime let us believe that He who does such wonders in the life and growth of every blade of grass, can and will do far greater wonders for the life and growth of us, immortal beings, made in His own likeness, redeemed by His blood, and so believe, and thank, and obey, and wait till another and a nobler life to understand. And if we never understand at all-- what matter, provided the thing be true?