On April 6th of this year, we will remember Good Friday: the day Jesus was crucified on the Cross, the spotless Lamb of God (John 1:29, 1 Peter 1:19), sacrificed as a ransom for our souls.
This year Good Friday happens to coincide with the Jewish holiday or feast, Pesach or Passover. To some who follow Christ, Passover may hold little significance, to others however, it holds great importance. Why should Christians give attention to or observe a feast sacred to those of Jewish descent and faith?
Because Jesus, who was Jewish, told His disciples, who were Jewish, "Do this to remember me," Luke 22:19. We obey this command each time we take communion, or the Lord’s Supper. Scripture describes and we share only part of this meal that observant Jews of Jesus’ day were celebrating the night He shared His final meal with those closest to Him. He was giving a new command, because to this point the meal’s purpose was found in Exodus 12, "This is a day to remember. Each year from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the LORD…for it will remind you that I brought your forces out of the land of Egypt on this very day."
There have been slight changes over the years, but people of Jewish tradition and faith continue to keep this command, celebrating the Feast of Passover every year beginning at sundown on the 14th day of the first month on the Jewish calendar, Nisan. Why did Jesus give instructions to remember Him with the Passover meal? What significance does it hold for us as believers? Let us take a closer look…
During the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread or Passover, traditionally leaven or yeast is removed from the home, following the command given in Exodus 12:19. This first detail is not without great significance for believers. Jesus warned His disciples, "Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees," or their "deceptive teaching." In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul reprimands his readers about their boasting, "Don’t you realize that sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough?" He admonishes us to remember that "Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us. So let us celebrate the festival, not with the old bread of wickedness and evil, but with the new bread of sincerity and truth." Yeast or leaven is a Biblical picture of sin that needs to be carefully and intentionally confessed and removed from our lives. We will later see another symbol of this truth from the Passover meal, or Seder, shared during the Festival’s observance. Significantly, the men, as the heads of their households, are the ones who proclaim, "Now I have rid my house of leaven."
In ancient times - before the sacrificial system ended with the destruction of the Temple in 70AD - at the beginning of the Passover Feast on the 10th of Nisan, the Passover lamb was chosen. It was to have "no defects" (Exodus 12:5). Migdal Eder was the "tower of the flock" where the sheep and lambs intended for sacrifices were pastured, between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Here shepherds watched over their special flocks, full of spotless, ritually clean, lambs. (Could these have been the very same shepherds to whom the angels appeared some 30 odd years before?) On the very same day Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, as a king would when he came in peace, these flocks would have been led to the Temple. Families would come and select a lamb, which would then be carefully cared for in their homes (Exodus 12:6). These lambs were sacrificed on the 14th of Nisan, as the "Levitical choir chanted Hallel, the recitation of Psalms 113 to 118" and "Hallel Yah" (praise ye the Lord). Some of these verses will be familiar to you,
"Not to us, O LORD, not to us Ps 115
but to your name be the glory…"
"Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; Ps118
his love endures forever…"
"O LORD, [Hoshia Na, or Hosanna] save us…" Ps 118
This event for the Jews of that day commemorated the lambs the Israelites were instructed to sacrifice while they were slaves in Egypt. They were to smear its blood on the on the top and the sides of the doorframes of their homes. When the Spirit of the Lord passed through the land of Egypt in the final plague, to take the lives of all first born sons and livestock, he saw the blood stains and passed over those homes, sparing the lives of those firstborn men and boys living there.
In Jesus’ day, the lambs that were sacrificed were then roasted and eaten according to the instructions the Lord gave the Israelites in Exodus 12. All of this background is important to our understanding of the Passover meal, or Seder, that is central to the Feast of Passover.
This weekend, our elementary program will participate in a Passover Seder. Come back tomorrow for part two of the three part series about the history and meaning of the Passover Seder.
Amy Ramseur - Children's Ministry Volunteer