“A Lamb to Take Your Place”
Christmas 1, December 27, 2015
A Lamb to Take Your Place
Text: Exodus 13:1–3a, 11–15
There’s no avoiding it. The world is still hovering in the holiday season between Christmas and New Year’s when all the decorations and music will be gone in the blink of an eye. But while the world is still trying to hang on to some last bit of holiday cheer and vacation time, while some folks have already thrown out their trees, the church is very busy considering just exactly what the birth of this Christ Child is all about. For all the pretty lights and music, the birth of Jesus isn’t about some ideal of “peace on earth” that people like to pretend can happen. No, this Baby came to die. He came to do the job of the lamb that was given in exchange for the life of the firstborn child. Those poor lambs! A family has a son, and a lamb has to die. It would be bad to be the firstborn lamb or the lamb that’s chosen to replace the child who was first out of the gate! But the redemption of the firstborn that the Lord commanded in Exodus—that’s a picture of just what it was Jesus came to do.
The fact is Jesus was born because God the Father chose Him to take your place. Already in the Old Testament, God wanted His people Israel to know that—and He wants us today to remember it.
Israel was sitting right where we are this morning. They’d celebrated the high point of the year, of their whole lives, actually. God had just brought them out of slavery in Egypt by killing the firstborn of the Egyptians and sparing their sons by the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts and lintel. Coming up for Israel would be another grand celebration, passing through the Red Sea, their final escape from Pharaoh’s army, just like we’re looking forward to New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day and the college football playoff/bowl games. Yet at this busy intersection, God stops to teach His people a lesson they were never to forget. Each time you have a firstborn, bring a lamb and kill it. That’ll save the child.
It was the death of the firstborn that finally pushed Pharaoh into letting the children of Israel go from Egypt. When the angel of death passed through Egypt, it was clear that the Lord and God of Israel could take the life of the firstborn. Pharaoh couldn’t do that!
We are to remember the death of God’s firstborn, which sets us free from slavery to sin. That’s what redemption is, you know. It’s a price paid to get something back. On the night of the Passover, all the firstborn die, unless they’re redeemed. Lamb slaughtered. Blood on the door, that sort of thing. But now, not just the firstborn, but all sinners, face the prospect of death. So here comes the firstborn of God Himself, born to be the Lamb of God. To take your place. Slaughtered at the cross so you won’t be. Killed so you are set free. Don’t let the cozy manger scene fool you. This baby is the firstborn of Mary so that He will redeem all people from their sins.
There’s a great irony when Joseph and Mary present Jesus in the temple and make an offering because He’s their firstborn son. This reminds us that Jesus fulfills all of the Law for us. But in a great reversal, He will be offered up on the cross to redeem Mary and Joseph—and you and me and the whole world. He will shed His blood to buy us back. This little baby, who seems to escape death because His parents had a couple of pigeon necks twisted instead, ends up being broken in His body on the cross. But just as the death of the firstborn signaled the beginning of salvation for Israel, so Jesus’ resurrection is His passing through death and bringing you with Him.
Of course, not everyone was there when Israel left Egypt. Generations of children who hadn’t witnessed it firsthand would grow up. So whenever the firstborn was redeemed and that lamb was sacrificed, the children were taught to ask the good Lutheran question: “What does this mean?” And the dads answered, “Well, a long time ago, God rescued us from Egypt when the firstborn were killed. The lambs protected us by giving their life so our firstborn didn’t die.”
And so it is with the gifts by which our Lord delivers His salvation to us and reminds us of his saving works.
“What does it mean that I had water poured on me and the pastor said words?”
“It means that Jesus took your place and died for sinners and rose again, and now His death and resurrection are yours, and your sins are forgiven.”
“What does it mean when the pastor tells me my sins are forgiven?”
“It means that because Jesus died and rose for you, all that you’ve done is forgiven, and you are God’s child.”
“What does it mean that we eat and drink Jesus’ body and blood in, with and under the bread and wine?”
“When the Israelites ate the Passover meal, it reminded them that the lambs were killed to save their firstborn. When we come to the Lord’s Supper, we are eating and drinking the body and blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We are reminded that Jesus took our place and saved us. Our sins are forgiven, and we have God’s promise that we will live forever.”
The redeeming of the firstborn in Israel was a reminder of what God had done and a promise of what He would later do in Jesus Christ. In the same way, the water, the Word, and the body and blood are Christ’s promise to you that He has indeed taken your place and redeemed you. You are a part of His people.
On Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Mary’s firstborn Son. But He is also the only-begotten Son of God. And He came into this world for a purpose: to redeem, buy back, ransom, to take the place of and save not just the firstborn kids but everyone. To save you. It’s easy to get caught up in the world’s celebration of Christmas with its music and lights and “holiday cheer.” Today we are reminded that this Child was born for a much greater reason than to give us an excuse to exchange gifts and to party! He came into this world to be the Lamb who is given in our place.
Christ Is Born to Be the Lamb to Redeem You and Rescue You from Sin and Death.
And that means new birth and everlasting life for us. In the Firstborn, the One born for us on Christmas.