One of the most loved and enduring prison escape stories is The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. He was incarcerated on a tiny, isolated island, in a jail made of cramped, ill-lit cells. No one who had been banished to the island left it alive. Indeed, the only way to leave the island was after you died, wrapped in a cloth sack and tossed off a cliff into the ocean. Dantès saw this as his opportunity to escape. He would need to swap places with a dead man. If someone died, he could live.
His chance came when the old priest who had been coaching him died. Just before he died he confessed the location of a hidden treasure. Through the old priest’s death Dantès became free and wealthy.
In the same way the escape from Egypt could only be accomplished by the death of a substitute, and with that escape would come freedom and eternal life.
Easter and Passover will forever be inextricably linked on our calendars. This is because Jesus deliberately died during the feast of Passover. As the Lamb of God his death was the fulfillment of the feast.
Passover was a teacher of the vital gospel concept of substitution. Here are three lessons we learn from this feast…
THE PICTURE OF THE PASSOVER
Moses was persnickety about the details of the Passover (Exodus 12:1-28). The chosen lamb had to be without blemish, adopted into the family, and then violently slaughtered, have its hip tossed away, and be consumed in a hasty manner with a side of bitter herbs.
The experience was brutal, distressing, distasteful, and unpleasant – just like sin.
The wages of sin, after all, is death. In order for someone who deserved execution to be spared, another had to take their place. The Passover lamb was that substitute, and the feast was meant to teach the lesson of substitution.
THE POWER OF THE PASSOVER
The Passover plan worked. The firstborn of the Israelite families were all spared (Exodus 12:29-42). The plan had power. But it wasn’t the blood that did the trick, it was the faith in God’s plan.
If you get drunk on the job and your boss decides to fire you, smearing sheep’s blood on your office doorframe to avoid dismissal simply won’t work. Though it may summon security to escort you out sooner.
God made a promise to save, and the sanguine doorjamb was the evidence of faith in that promise. The power of your salvation does not come from keeping of external rituals but from faith in the substitute Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
THE POINT OF THE PASSOVER
The doctrine of the substitutionary atonement is a necessary tenet of the Christian faith. But it is a doctrine some professing believers balk at.
For starters if God wants to forgive us then why doesn’t he just do it? How does punishing an innocent person make things better? That just sounds like one more injustice in the cosmic equation. It just sounds like divine child abuse.
(The Story We Find Ourselves In, 102).
How then, have we come to believe that at the cross this God of love suddenly decides to vent his anger and wrath on his own Son?… such a concept stands in total contradiction to the statement ‘God is love’.
(The Lost Message of Jesus, 182-183).
But without substitution, there is no salvation. The point of the Passover lesson is that we understand what the “for” means in “Jesus died for our sins.”
The lamb would die for the firstborn—i.e. instead of, in the place of, as a substitute for the firstborn of those who trusted in God’s plan.
There is a difference between believing facts to be true and trusting those facts to be effective.
You might believe that Jesus lived in Israel, that he could do miracles, that he died on the cross, and even that he rose from the dead. Good for you, guess who else believes that? The demons. And they tremble.
So what does it mean to trust in Jesus?
It means you place all your hope and faith in him alone to save you from your sins—no safety net of self-righteousness, no contingency plan of contribution, nothing but the blood of Jesus.
1 Cor 15: 17-19 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
If the resurrection didn’t happen, we are doomed and we are of all people most to be pitied. Because we didn’t hedge our bets. We went all in. We are those who have put all our Easter eggs in one basket—the resurrection of Christ.
But it is because he did rise from the dead and because he lives today, that our hope is realized.
The death of a priest made Dantès free and alive and wealthy. Likewise, because our High Priest became our Passover Lamb, we can escape the clutches of sin and we can be made alive and free and righteous and wealthy in eternity.
And that is what Passover teaches us: the lesson of substitution.