Monday, March 25, 2013

The Truth About Passover

On the rectangular block designated for this upcoming Tuesday, March 26, a ghostly gray font spells the word "Passover."  The word sits there quasi-transparent, hidden at the bottom line, as if the publisher were almost ashamed to put it (and every other holiday) on a wall calendar, choosing to label the holidays in the palest, smallest font so anyone could ignore them if he so chose.

For much of my life, Christians have ignored Passover as something for Jews only.  But the more I study Scripture, the more I'm learning the only way I can understand Jesus is to understand the Jewishness of Jesus.  The more I want to understand God the Father, the more I need to understand His relationship with His promised children in the Old Testament.

And understanding Passover?  It is integral to understanding Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

The first Passover was celebrated in Egypt, where the Israelites were slaves.   God told them "I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn...The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you" (Ex. 12:12-13).  Here, the word translated as "pass over" is the Hebrew word pasah from the noun pesah, which is translated as "Passover."  While "these words have no connection with any other Hebrew word,...they do resemble the Egyptian word pesh, which means 'to spread wings over.'"1

As Arthur W. Pink says in his book Gleanings in Exodus, "The word has, consequently, the very meaning of the Egyptian term for 'spreading the wings over and protecting;' and pesach, the Lord's Passover, means such sheltering and protection as is found under the outstretched wings of the Almighty.  Does this not give a new fullness to those words, 'O Jerusalem! Jerusalem!...How often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen does gather her brood under her wings?' (Luke 13:34)...It is not merely that the Lord passed by the houses of Israelites, but that He stood on guard protecting each blood-sprinkled door!"2

Can you see the image here of our "mother hen" of a Savior standing with His protective arms spread in front of each blood-painted door while the death angel canvasses Egypt for firstborn sons? This is an image foreshadowing Christ's own sacrifice covering our sins, thereby protecting us from the curse of sin and death.  Yet, this image is not the image of a passive Savior whose past shedding of blood merely hides our sin, but of one who actively stands in the way at each door to protect His children.  He is our defender.

This story of Passover--it is, at its core, a story and a promise of redemption through such a defender.  

As Messianic Jewish rabbi and author Derek Leman says, "At the first Passover, it was more than just a promise.  There was an actual sacrifice, and an actual firstborn was redeemed....The lamb's blood in Egypt was the means of a mighty act of redemption."3

In other words, God's promise to redeem the firstborn son's life in Egypt was not a forward-reaching promise that would merely require faith now and sight generations later.  Even though this promise did allude to faith in such a future fulfillment found in Christ's sacrifice on the cross, at the very first Passover, the Israelite slave witnessed a fulfillment of the promise--an actual sacrifice of a pure, spotless lamb, an actual redemption of a firstborn son.

Here, though, the blood was mere animal blood, not the blood of the only pure Son of God. Much like with Abraham, the Israelites' salvation came not through the blood of animals but by their faith (see Galatians 3:6 and Hebrews 10).  As Lemen says, "though the option was given to the people for escape, they still needed to choose to exercise that option.  The Israelites needed faith and obedience, to believe God's Word and act on it.  The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world calls for action as well as faith"3

Faith in action was necessary for salvation.

Understanding Passover, then, is important to understanding the very nature of salvation, itself.  Had the Israelites merely hidden behind the doorposts and lentils covered with the lamb's blood yet did so without faith in God, they would not have been redeemed.   The same is true of us.  We cannot really have faith in God if we choose to not obey God's holy Word--all of it.  Faith in action.

For the Jews to celebrate Passover each year was for them to remember God's promise of redemption and His fulfillment of that promise.  Its celebration was intended to give future generations a real, historical example of God's faithfulness, of faith and a pure, blood sacrifice mingling together to redeem a son from the power of sin and death.  This reminder was preparing them for faith in Christ as their Passover lamb, hence John the Baptist's calling Him "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (Jn. 1:29).

Christ's blood shed at Calvary--He is our choice.  We must act in faith, choose His covering of blood by living a life of obedience to Him.

Whether you choose to celebrate a traditional seder meal at Passover or not is a personal conviction, not something I'm trying to force on anyone. Understanding that Christ IS our Passover and living a life of active faith in Him is what is important. 

1 Rosen, Ceil and Moishe Rosen.  Christ in the Passover.  Chicago: Moody, 2006, 27-28.
2 Pink, Arthur.  Gleanings in Exodus.  Chicago: Moody, n.d., 93. 
3 Leman, Derek.  Finding Your Place at the Table of Tradition.  Nashville: Lifeway, 2008, 23-24. 

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