Few people in western societies today live in the countryside or pursue rural vocations. Few then will understand the significance of new born animals to the farmer. To the farmer a new born animal speaks of securing his future income; future activity; future well-being. It speaks of hope; it speaks of life.
To give away such an animal is tantamount to surrendering future income. Security. But that is what the Jewish religion required. Indeed the practice of giving away an animal for religious purposes is still practised in certain religions today.
For the Jews in ancient times, a year old lamb from the family flock was required to be sacrificed every year at the Temple. It was a significant personal and family sacrifice of ongoing income from the animal – be that for its wool, or milk [if female] or its value as meat.
But God required a lamb, a one year old Lamb once a year.
The lamb reminded the Jews of the ancient event of Passover when God executed the first born of the Egyptians. The Jews were spared this loss because they took instead a year-old lamb or goat and daubed its blood on the lintel and doorpost of the dwelling.
Seeing this blood at the entrance to the dwelling, God passed over and spared the first born within. The lamb’s blood was deemed sufficient sacrifice in place of the first born of the Jewish family.
For people like the Jews who were held in the poverty of slavery, this sacrifice of a precious family asset was severe. To make that sacrifice required a strong belief in the message from Moses to the Jewish people that they must give up this precious possession and stand ready to leave Egypt once and for all.
Their trust in Moses as God’s servant had to be greater than the fear of punishment by the Egyptians who had enslaved them.
They had to believe the message from God, and they had to act on it:- slay the lamb, put the blood on the doorposts, and then stand ready to march out of Egypt when the moment arrived.
That is they had to have faith. They had to exercise that faith by obedience.
So we have in the story of the Passover and the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt a telling parallel with the later sacrifice of Jesus Christ at the cross.
In John’s Gospel we find the account of John the Baptist calling Jesus the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world.
John the Baptist was thereby anticipating Jesus death on the cross, and he was anticipating its meaning.
Jesus was taken prisoner at the time of the annual Passover feast. The timing was pregnant with significance for the Jews assembled at Jerusalem.
Jesus was the sacrificial lamb. He was sacrificed instead of the chosen people, those who would believe that his blood would be effective for them against the judgement of God. That the judgement of God will pass over those for whom Christ’s blood is shed.
And for those who have sufficient faith in the message that Christ was slain for them to act on that message, then the New Testament outlines the actions they must take to avail themselves of being set free from slavery to sin in this world [parallel = slavery in Egypt], and of subjection to the dominance of Satan, the Ruler of this world [parallel = Pharoah the ruler of Egypt].
Firstly they must believe and accept the message that Jesus Christ died on the cross for them; that his blood was shed in place of their own. That Jesus is their sacrificial lamb.
That to pass out of Egypt [the selfish system of life in this world], they must pass through water, just as the Israelites had passed through the sea to quit Egypt, to leave behind the power of Pharoah over them, and to know that enslaving power destroyed when the parted waters rolled back over Pharoah and his armies.
So to avail ourselves of the Blood Christ shed for us we must accept and believe the message that Christ died in our place, that he died to spare us from the Judgement of God on our sin.
But having believed, we must take that journey through the waters to relinquish and to destroy once and for all the enticing and enslaving power of Egypt – the world system about us built on self.
We must be immersed fully in water, a symbol of that deliverance, a symbol of cleansing from sin and self. We must be baptised.
New Testament baptism identifies us with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on the cross for us. Going down into the waters signifies identification with his death, and coming up again signifies identification with his resurrection.
Death to sin and the selfishness of this world’s system [take a look at any news bulletin if you doubt me on that one] and resurrection to life in the kingdom of God, to life in Christ.
Baptism is a sacrament. It imparts spiritual life.
But that requires faith in its meaning and in its effect.
It requires that we act on our belief.
James says in chapter 2 of his letter, that faith without action is dead – ie lifeless.
To believe but not to act, is dead faith. It is no faith at all.
It would be tantamount to denial if a person accepted these things in their heart but showed no evidence of it in their life: no confession of Christ in word [acknowledging who he is and the efficacy of his teaching] or deed [eg no church attendance].
Many may believe about Christ – the Word is sown in their minds – but they stop short of the ordained next step of faith – to obey the command of the Great Commission and be baptised.
He that believes and is baptised shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be damned
Mark 16, verse 16