Understanding the Passover
Just a couple of weeks back, many people around the world celebrated Easter — or as I prefer to call it, Resurrection Sunday — but what exactly did we celebrate? The simple answer is: “The resurrection of Jesus from the dead.” There is a greater richness to this celebration than just that. The resurrection and, thus, the crucifixion of Jesus tie directly to the Jewish Passover. This means that unless we come to understand the Passover, we cannot fully appreciate the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Perhaps many of you — like myself — grew up watching “The Ten Commandments” starring Charlton Heston, which portrayed the emancipation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, though the Biblical story really focuses on the institution of the Jewish holy day, Passover. For approximately 400 years the Jewish people — the Israelites — had lived in Egypt. During the first part of this time they were free to live and move about as they pleased, but later a Pharaoh, threatened by their growing population, enslaved them. Within the confines of this slavery, the Israelites collectively called out to God for deliverance from their bondage.
Seeing their oppression and hearing their cry, God commissioned a man named Moses to be his spokesman and leader of the Israeli people. He sent Moses to Pharaoh demanding that he emancipate the Israelis, freeing them to leave Egypt and take possession of their own land — a land God had previously given them on covenant to Abraham — and worship God. Pharaoh said, “No.” So God plagued Egypt and reiterated his demand. Again Pharaoh said, “No.” This cycle of demand, response and plague went on for nine rounds, giving Pharaoh several opportunities to comply with God’s demand, but still he refused.
Enter the Passover. After nine rejections from Pharaoh, God resets the calendar by telling Moses that with the new moon of that particular month, the Israelis would begin their new year. On the 10th day of that same month, each family was to select a lamb without any defect from their flocks and bring it into their house. After having this lamb as their family pet for four days, however, they were to kill it at twilight of the 14th day and smear some of its blood on the doorframe of their house.
You’re thinking, “That sounds pretty gory!” Yes, but God had something special and unique on his mind. That very night he would visit Egypt and kill the firstborn male of every man or animal, except where he saw the blood of the lamb on the doorframe of the house. In those cases, God would bypass the household, which would result in life instead of death for those living within! This is the Lord’s Passover. The choice between the death of the lamb and the death of a son, as gory as that might sound, seems like a “no-brainer” to me.
Sadly, many did not believe God, which included almost all of the Egyptians, so they chose to not follow through with these instructions. Regardless, God did as he said. Passing through Egypt, he differentiated between those households where the blood of the lamb was applied and those where it wasn’t, granting life to the former, but bringing death to the latter. Because God’s hand of death touched even Pharaoh’s own son, Pharaoh finally complied with God’s demand: Israel was free from their bondage as slaves.
Following this, God decreed that every Jewish man had to come before the Lord and present his perfect lamb for Passover at the place where God chose for his name; this ended up being the temple in Jerusalem. Annually people would pack the city for Passover, starting on the tenth day of the month, lamb selection day, until Passover concluded. On a particular year in which the first day of the week was also the 10th day of the month, Jesus came to Jerusalem and entered it to the triumphal shouts of the people, a day the Christian community refers to as Palm Sunday. Upon arrival the first place he went was to the temple — the place where families selected their Passover lambs. Jesus then fashioned a whip and chased all the livestock used in the sacrifices, including the Passover lambs, away from the temple and overturned the moneychangers’ tables.
Most overlook the significance of this moment because of Jesus’ statement about the Jewish religious leaders converting the temple from a house of prayer — its intended purpose — to a place of commerce. Therefore we miss that Jesus had entered the place where the Passover lambs were kept for selection and drove away all the competing sacrifices. By this act, Jesus placed himself as the only choice for his people’s much needed Passover lamb — he became the last sacrifice that we ever need, and the only sacrifice that can ever take away our sin.
Four days later, on the 14th day of the month at twilight — the designated time for the slaughter of the Passover lambs — Jesus died on a cross for all the sins of every person who has lived, is living, or will live. And what is the fourth day after Sunday? Thursday ... not Friday. You perhaps have been informed that Jesus died on a Friday because the next day was a Sabbath, and the regular Jewish Sabbaths are Saturdays. What most people are unaware of, however, is that the day following Passover, is a special or high Sabbath. The Sabbath that followed Jesus’ death was a High Sabbath (John 19:31). This special holy day added a second Sabbath to that week, being Friday, and Jesus was therefore crucified on Thursday.
Three days following this, Jesus arose from the dead on Sunday, the first day of the week. This aligns with Matthew 12:40 when Jesus said he would be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. No funny math or explanations needed; Jesus did exactly what he said he would do. According to Romans 1:4, the significance of his resurrection from the dead, is that by this God the Father declared Jesus to be God the Son. This means we don’t have to guess or wonder who God’s Christ might be — God has highlighted Jesus in all of human history for us. “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” So let us celebrate this in sincerity and truth (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).
The Lord’s Passover was God’s means of emancipating the Israelites from slavery. Jesus said, “Whoever commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). Paul expounds upon this concept in Romans chapter 6. You and I were, and many still are, slaves to sin. Slaves have no authority, no “political” standing; they are without strength to help themselves. That was/is our situation. “But God demonstrated his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. Much more then, having been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him” (Romans 5:6, 8-9).
God gives us the same choice he gave the people in Egypt: to believe him and apply the blood of the Passover Lamb to our lives and live, or to reject him and die. We don’t physically apply Jesus’ blood, but rather through believing — or faith. “For by grace (God’s love) you have been saved through faith (by believing), and that not of yourself, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). As Jesus said, “You must be born again.” “Whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:7, 16). To be born again you must recognize your sin and the need for its cure: the blood of Jesus. You ask God to forgive you and by faith apply Jesus’ blood upon your life. When God sees his blood he will “Pass-over” you, resulting in life, not death. And as Jesus lives, so will you. That’s something to celebrate!