It was a chilly evening in the Spring of 2008. A family member had invited my wife and me to attend a Passover meal. We had no idea what to expect. Neither of us had been to anything related to Passover before. We were curious to know why this particular church was hosting a Passover event.
When we arrived at the church, we were directed into a dimly lit gymnasium. Our instruction pamphlets said there were several “stations” set up throughout the gymnasium. Each station presented an element that was associated to the story of the Israelite exodus out of Egypt.
I was surprised. I thought we had come to a “Passover meal.” I was hungry! Where was the food? Oh, well, I thought, I will be out of here in an hour and then I can grab some real food.
In total silence (I would later learn the oddity of celebrating Passover in total silence), we proceeded to the first station. We learned about the Passover Seder elements by silently moving from one station to the next.
This process continued until we reached the station for the maror, the bitter herbs which remind us of the bitterness of slavery. By this point, I was very hungry. The instructions at the station said to take a small piece of unleavened bread (matzah), spread some bitter herbs on it, and eat.
Since I was hungry, I did what I thought any person would do. I loaded my matzah with bitter herbs until I could not fit any more. Then, I proceeded to eat the whole thing in one big bite.
Until that point in my life, I do not recall having eaten spicy horseradish. I don’t think my mom ever kept any in the house and I had never been offered any. If the horseradish had been labeled I might not have attempted to satisfy my hunger with it. But alas, I experienced the reminder of “bitterness of bondage” in a very real way!
With eyes watering and sinuses instantly cleared, I no longer wanted any real food. Tears were streaming down my cheeks as I searched for an escape from the “bitterness.” Unfortunately, no one had thought to set up any trash cans in the gym. I was helpless.
For some reason I had virtually no knowledge of Passover when I was invited to attend my first Passover meal. This was despite having grown up in a church and receiving a BA in Christian Education Ministry. I had read the Exodus account of God’s miraculous rescue and judgment against the “gods of Egypt” (Exodus 12:12). But I was unaware of its importance in today’s Jewish community and its significance throughout the entire Bible.
Passover, along with every letter of the Old and New Testaments, has great value for believers today. Of course, the fault of my ignorance was my own. The Passover narrative (as well as the rest of the biblical feasts) were right there in my Bible the whole time. Just because my church never taught about Passover did not mean I had an excuse for being ignorant of God’s Word.
A decade has passed since that enlightening evening. Over the last decade I have studied Passover and led scores of Passover Seder meals. I am going to share three things I have observed over the last ten years:
Learning about Passover provides a deeper appreciation and understanding of God’s Word.
Once I learned the significance of Passover, my eyes were opened to the importance of this feast for understanding God’s Word.
For example, in John 1:29, John the Baptist calls Jesus “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
John is intentionally making a reference to the unblemished lambs the Israelites selected on the eve of Passover (Exodus 12:3-6). Being Jewish, John’s listeners were familiar with the biblical feasts and would have immediately grasped the pregnant meaning of John’s title for Jesus. In addition, the prophet Isaiah describes the passivity of the Messiah as one “Like a lamb led to the slaughter . . .”
In 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, Paul teaches about the harm caused by sin within the church:
Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast permeates the whole batch? Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch. You are indeed unleavened, for Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us observe the feast, not with old yeast or with the yeast of malice and evil but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
In Galatians 5:9, Paul uses Passover imagery to make the same point found in 1 Corinthians 5:6, “A little yeast leavens the whole lump of dough”.
In these two passages, Paul uses Passover elements to teach biblical principles for believers. The Israelites were commanded to remove all leaven from their homes for Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. If yeast was found in the home, they would be cut off from Israel (Exodus 12:19). It was a serious offense. Paul uses that same principle to guide the Church with regard to unrepentant, immoral church members. He also refers to Jesus as “our Passover.”
In what way is Jesus “ourPassover?”
At the first Passover, Israelites were commanded to select a perfect lamb on the tenth of the month. They had to watch it and ensure it was without blemish until the fourteenth. Then, at twilight on the fourteenth they slaughtered the perfect lamb. But the task was not over until each Israelite household took some of the blood and applied it to the doorposts and lintels of their homes with hyssop. Only then, when the blood was applied, would the Lord “pass over” the home and not kill the firstborn male (Ex. 12:23).
Just as the blood of the unblemished lambs had to be applied to save the lives of the firstborn males, so the blood of Jesus must be applied, by faith, to the “doorposts and lintels of our hearts” in order for us to be saved from the bondage of sin and death (Rom. 6:23).
These are just a few examples of how the New Testament uses Passover. And we haven’t even covered the Passover connection to Communion and the coming Kingdom! There is much more that could be said, including examples from the Old Testament, but the examples above make the point: Learning about Passover provides a deeper appreciation and understanding of God’s Word.
The second part of this series will cover the other two principles I have observed over the past ten years. For now, I’ll leave you with this question: