PASSOVER: THE CELEBRATION OF THE REDEEMED
Dr. Saju Joseph
The first festival in the religious and social life of the people of Israel was the Passover.
According to Mishnah, Passover means two things - the historic event and its later recurrent institutional commemoration. The conjoined prohibition of leaven symbolizes the haste of that unforgettable night in Egypt, and the dedication of the first born is a later statutory offering of thanksgiving for God’s wondrous deliverance. (The New Bible Dictionary)
In Exodus chapter 12 and Isa. 31.5 the meaning is obviously ‘pass over’ or ‘jump over’ someone in the sense of not including him in a particular action. The reference is therefore to the ‘exterminator’ who ‘passes over’, ‘jumps over’ the Israelite houses marked with blood.
Down to the time of Josiah, according to the sources, it was an essentially family festival, bound up with the home, which was originally sprinkled with the blood of the victim. The inhabitants of the house were not to leave it before dawn in order that they do not fall into the hands of the exterminator. This family practice has been maintained to the present day, even after the insertion of the feast into the official cult under Josiah.
Those who celebrated Passover in their own homes thought first of all about liberation and salvation. That is clearly evident from Exodus 12. During the night of the 14th day of the month of Nisan, whereas the first born of Egypt were killed by the angel of God, the first born of all Israelites were saved. That very day they set out on their journey to the Promised Land, full of the joy of redemption and freedom. To commemorate this historic and miraculous event in their life, the people of Israel were asked by God their Lord to celebrate this in memory as a festival every year for generations after generations.
During the Old Testament times, as part of the celebration, they killed a one year old sheep or goat (Ex.12:5) on the 14th night. The flesh of the animal was roasted on the fire and this meat was accompanied with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. Unleavened bread was then prescribed for the whole of the following week. None of the meat must be kept for the next day. All that remained had to be burned. At first they celebrated this festival in families and later they gathered in the temple to celebrate the festival.
In New Testament times, the Passover victim was slaughtered in the Temple, but the meal could be eaten in any house within the city bounds. A company bound together by some common tie, such as Jesus and His disciples could celebrate as though they formed a family unit. After the destruction of Jerusalem Temple in AD 70, any possibility of slaughtering an animal in the ritualistic manner had completely stopped.
The New Testament says that Jesus is our sacrificial Lamb. The Passover lamb was to be a “male without any defect,” which is the same description given to Jesus. In addition, when the lamb was roasted and eaten, none of its bones were to be broken. This fact was also prophesied for the Messiah, whose bones were not to be broken. It was customary during crucifixion to break the bones of the leg of the person after a few hours in order to hasten their death. The only way a person could breathe while hanging on a cross was to push himself up with his legs to aid breathing - which was very exhausting. Breaking the legs, hastened the death of the individual. However, when Jesus & the two thieves were crucified, the legs of the two thieves were broken to cause easier death, but the legs of Jesus were not broken since they already found him dead!
Much of the symbolism of Jesus’ last Passover week is lost to us because we are unaware of the customs of the time. For example, Jesus came into the city of Jerusalem five days before the lamb was killed in the temple as the Passover sacrifice for the sins of the people of Israel. Just as the lamb to be sacrificed was chosen five days prior to the sacrifice, Jesus entered Jerusalem on the lamb selection day as the very Lamb of God. The people did not understand the significance of this, since they greeted Him with palm branches and hailed Him as King, shouting “Hosanna,” which means “save us.” However, they were not looking for a spiritual Savior, but a political savior. Palm branches were a symbol of freedom and defiance, since Simon Maccabeus had entered Jerusalem with that symbolism. Jesus’ reaction was to weep, since He realized that they did not understand the Messiah’s purpose in coming.
The day Jesus was crucified was the day of the Passover celebration and the very day that the Passover lamb was to be sacrificed. For the previous 1,200 years, the priest would blow the ‘Shofar’ (ram’s horn) at 3:00 p.m. - the moment the lamb was sacrificed, and all the people would pause to contemplate the sacrifice for sins on behalf of the people of Israel. At 3:00 pm when Jesus was being crucified, He said, “It is finished”. At the moment the Passover lamb was sacrificed and the shofar was blown from the Temple, the sacrifice of the Lamb of God was fulfilled at the hour that the symbolic animal sacrifice usually took place. At the same time, the veil of the Temple (a three-inch thick cloth, several storeys high, demarcating the Holy of Holies) tore from top to bottom - representing a removal of the separation between God and man. Fifty days later, on the anniversary of the giving of the law (Pentecost), God left the earthly temple to inhabit those who call on the name of Jesus through His Holy Spirit.
The festival of unleavened bread began Friday evening (at sunset). As part of the festival, the Jews would take some of the grain - the “first fruits” of their harvest - to the Temple to offer as a sacrifice. In so doing, they were offering God all they had and trusting Him to provide the rest of the harvest. It was at this point that Jesus was buried - planted in the ground - as He said right before His death. Paul refers to Jesus as the first fruits of those raised from the dead in 1 Corinthians. As such, Jesus represents the fulfillment of God’s promise to provide the rest of the harvest - resurrection of those who follow the Messiah.
It was during a Passover dinner that Jesus proclaimed that the meal represented Himself and that He was instituting the New Covenant, which was foretold by Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah. The celebration of this covenant has become the ordinance of communion in the Christian Church. At the end of the meal, Jesus took the unleavened bread, broke it, and said that it represented His body. Then He took the cup of wine, which would have been the third cup of the meal - the cup of redemption. He said that it was the new covenant in His blood “poured out for you.” It is through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we are declared clean before God, allowing those of us who choose to accept the pardon, to commune with Him - both now and forevermore through the eternal life He offers.
We, the New Israel of God, are asked by our Lord to celebrate Passover in our life. When Christians take part in the Lord’s Supper with the true remembrance of what Jesus accomplished for us through His vicarious suffering we are celebrating the Passover festival. Moreover, the holy life being led by each Christian also resembles the celebration of Passover. Apostle Paul very clearly states in I Corinthians that Jesus Christ is our Passover Lamb. “For Christ, our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.” (ICor.5:7-8) It is very emphatically stated that a Christian’s life should be a life of sincerity and truth. Sincerity and truth is the very core of a holy life.
All true Christians are expected to celebrate the festival of Passover through out their lives.
Firstly, by remembering the redemption we enjoy freely through the blood of Jesus Christ and by being grateful and humble before the Lord always. Secondly, by living a life of holiness fully surrendered to the will of God. Thirdly, by leading a joyful life filled with celebration.
Let’s try out in our lives with prayer what Apostle Paul exhorted to the Christians in Philippi, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice”.