In the Spring of 2014, our House Church embarked on a study of the Passover and how we can see Jesus active and present in that experience. Pastor Cathy walked us all through a multi-week study of the Haggadah and the Passover Seder experience. This study culminated in a full Passover Seder dinner using a Messianic Haggadah.
In addition, Pastor Chris led a workplace ministry activity to examine the connections between Christ and the Passover. What follows is a summary of that presentation.
Many of you have probably seen the epic 1956 movie, “The Ten Commandments”, starring Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as Pharaoh Ramesses II. Or perhaps you watched the 2013 Bible mini-series on the History Channel. Either way, it is not unusual for people to be quite familiar with the story behind the plagues that God inflicted on Egypt in ancient days.
In the book of Exodus, Moses tells the story of his own reluctant return to Egypt to act as God’s mouthpiece to set the people of Israel free from bondage. We could spend an entire day talking about the mighty power of God and how each of these plagues was used to demonstrate that power over the so-called “gods” of Egypt. In Exodus 9:14, God speaks through Moses to Pharaoh and says “For this time I will send all My plagues on you and your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth.” Did you catch the “SO THAT” in that verse? Here’s WHY God did this… so that they may KNOW.
The Passover and the final plague had great meaning and significance for the Israelites.
FIRST, The Passover and the tenth plague served as a judgment on the gods of Egypt, whom the Israelites had worshipped in Egypt. Because the Israelites had also worshipped the gods of Egypt, the judgment of these gods caused God’s people to turn from their false worship, at least for the moment. Ridding them of their false worship entirely was a much more long-term operation, but this was at least a beginning.
SECOND, The Passover was for Israel a manifestation of God’s power. One of the most commonly repeated phrases employed in conjunction with the Passover is “with a mighty hand” (Exod. 13:3, 9, 14, 16; 15:6, 12; 16:3). The power of God was made manifest by the Passover and the plagues.
THIRD, The Passover and the plague of the firstborn was proof of God’s possession of Israel. When Moses spoke to Pharaoh about the Israelites, he said, “Let My son go, that he may serve Me” (Exod. 4:23). The fact that God claimed to possess the firstborn, so that they needed to be redeemed (13:1-2; 11-16), evidenced God’s ownership. When God freed the Israelites, He did it so that they may become His servants. The giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai was based upon the events of the exodus (Deut. 5:6). The firstborn of Israel therefore belonged to God as a result of the Passover, and all of Israel as a result of the exodus. Israel was God’s possession. All of the commandments and requirements which God placed upon the Israelites were predicated on the fact that they were a people who belonged to Him.
FOURTH, The Passover was another evidence of the grace of God in the lives of His people. The firstborn of Israel were not spared because they were more worthy or more righteous than the Egyptians. Like the Egyptians, the Israelites were sinners, fully deserving of divine wrath. Had Israel been worthy, there would have been no need of the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, with its blood applied to the door frame. The firstborn of Israel were spared due to the grace of God alone. God’s provision of a means of escape was based upon His grace, not Israel’s merits.
So… what does all this have to do with the Passover Feast?
Scripture tells us that in order to protect the Hebrews from the 10th plague, the “Death of the Firstborn”, God gave Moses instructions to inform the Israelites to mark their doorposts with lamb’s blood. This would be a sign to the Lord to PASS OVER that house so that they might not suffer death (Ex 12:23).
In order to mark their doorposts and frames with blood, they were instructed to sacrifice a lamb. This will be an important element of the discussion today… the lamb was to be selected on the 10th of the month of Abib, young (1yr old), unblemished, and kept in the house for four days. They were to roast the lamb on the 14th of the month, consuming it all that night (or burning any leftovers in the morning). They were also instructed to be careful not to break any bones from the offering. We’ll connect the dots a little more in a moment…
In Exodus 12:14, God told the Israelites to celebrate this as a “memorial” and as a “feast to the Lord”, celebrating it throughout their generations as a “permanent” ordinance.
When Jesus celebrated His last supper, it WAS a Jewish Passover meal. Jesus grew up with the Jewish feasts, knew them perfectly, and honored them. He didn’t recognize the extraneous rules that the “religious” elite had added to God’s laws, but He honored God’s feasts.
Today, this meal is still celebrated, almost exclusively by those in the Jewish tradition, whether they believe in the Messiah or not. On your tables, you’ll see a plate with some objects on it. We’ll review those briefly today. I have brought with me our personal Seder plate from home. This one has markings that are specific to those who have decided to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. Still, it honors the celebration as it was handed down over many generations.
Was Jesus present from the very beginning? While the Bible does not explicitly declare that Jesus was physically present, the details we’ll begin to uncover now will demonstrate that this was not a feast which Israel devised on her own, but one which God designed and very carefully prescribed in order to reveal Himself.
Let’s take a look at some of the connections.
In 1 Corinthians 5:7 we learn that “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.”
In Exodus chapter 12, verse 11, God calls the sacrificial lamb “the Lord’s Passover”. And in verse 27, He calls it “the Passover sacrifice of the Lord.”
It was so named because God promised (in verse 13), “When I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you.”
Here… some 1,500 years later, the apostle Paul is using the same term to describe Jesus Christ. Why?
In the setting of the original Passover, the sacrifice of the lambs signified that those partaking of that sacrifice would be spared from God’s judgment. If the Israelites ignored or disobeyed God’s warning, they would suffer the same death of the firstborn along with the Egyptians. This sacrifice was required to spare them from death and great sorrow.
Paul and the other New Testament writers understood that the Passover lambs slain at the time of the Exodus foreshadowed the later sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Just as the sacrifice of the Passover lambs in Exodus spared the obedient Israelites, Jesus Christ’s sacrifice has removed that death penalty from us. In the chapter 1 and verse 29 of the Gospel of John, John the Baptist, when Christ came to him to be baptized, exclaimed: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
The Passover lamb also foreshadowed Christ in other ways.
- It was to be “without blemish” or without deformities (Ex. 12:5). This was symbolic of the spiritual purity of Jesus Christ, “who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). Peter pointed out that we have been redeemed, or “bought back”, by God — not with material wealth, “but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19).
- Even some aspects of how the Passover lambs were to be killed were symbolic of Jesus’ death. The Israelites were told not to break any of the lambs’ bones (Exodus 12:46). Although a common practice in crucifixions was to break the legs of the suffering criminals to hasten death, Jesus Christ was already dead when the Roman soldiers came to break His legs, so His body was spared further desecration. John 19:36 tells us “For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, ‘Not one of His bones shall be broken'”.
- The prophet Isaiah, describing the coming Messiah’s sacrificial death, wrote, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth” (Isaiah:53:7). This, too, was a prophecy fulfilled in Jesus Christ’s death (Acts 8:32-35).
Furthermore, Paul tells us in Colossians 2:16–17,
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Jesus.
In this passage from Paul, we learn that the festivals established by God in the Old Testament were not an end in and of themselves but rather served as a means of pointing to Jesus.
In Luke 22:7-8, we’re told that the disciples were celebrating the Passover…
Then came the first day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. And Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, so that we may eat it.”
This was a very important celebration in the Jewish faith and it was the first celebration in the Hebrew calendar. Everybody in Israel was celebrating The Passover at that moment. In a traditional Hebrew home, the head of the family would tell the Passover story based on Exodus 12:1-30. As he broke the bread, he would talk about the lamb that was sacrificed. As he poured the wine, he would talk about the blood of that lamb. He would speak about the blood that was applied to the doorposts. This is the way that the Passover had ALWAYS been described & celebrated…
But Jesus didn’t tell the same stories…
In verses 19 and 20 of chapter 22 of the Gospel of Luke, Luke tells us that Jesus didn’t talk about the lamb… He said “This is MY body” and “This is MY blood”. He made everything about Him!
Let’s pretend that someone comes to your house for Christmas and, while you are having a meal together, your guest looks at the Christmas tree and says “That tree represents me. And all of those gifts represent everything I have done for you.” This is basically what Jesus did! He took a well known holiday celebration, and made it all about Him. But in fact, The Passover always was all about Him.
As many of you may know, from that point on, His disciples — and all of us — were invited to celebrate the Passover in remembrance of Him. (Luke 22:19)
So… the next time you are preparing for Easter weekend, consider the Jewish background of the feast that Jesus Himself grew up celebrating.
And… be encouraged to practice the Seder in a way that honors those Jewish roots while recognizing Jesus as the Passover Lamb! Jesus was not only foreshadowed by the Passover Lamb, He was and is the Lamb of God.
Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 10:17, “Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.” The Lord’s Supper – this Communion – gives us a real-life demonstration that we are one body in Christ, one with each other, with responsibilities toward one another.