What Passover teaches us about the meaning of Easter


12 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”… 22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” 23 Then he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” 26 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Mark 14.12; 22-26)

The last post asked the question, “How is it that a Cross changed human history?”  Jesus foreshadowed the answer to this question many times, but nowhere was his answer clearer than in the final meal he shared with his disciples.  This was not an ordinary meal – it was the Passover.

What was Passover?  It was an annual meal that commemorated the defining moment in the history of Israel.  The Israelites were enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt and were in misery and bondage.  God liberated them and delivered them to the freedom.  The Passover was the meal that commemorated that every year.  In a sense this was the most important moment in the history of Israel as a nation.  (In Exodus 12 God says, “Every year I want you to commemorate this great deliverance, and I want you to do it through a meal.”)

The Passover meal happened the same time every year, celebrated the same thing every year, and followed the same format every year.  The Presider would take his family through three elements: the bread, the wine, and the lamb.

The bread represents the speed and haste with which the Israelites had to move.  They were to prepare unleavened bread for there was no time to let the dough rise.  The Presider would probably open to a Scripture like Deuteronomy 26 or Exodus 12  After pointing to the symbolism of the bread the Presider would bless the bread and say something pretty close to this:  “This is the bread of our affliction which our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt.”

The second element was the wine.  The cup would go around 4 times to represent the 4 promises God made to the children of Israel before He took them out.  In Exodus 6 God says, “I will bring you out, I will rid you of your bondage, I will pay your redemption price, and I will take you away to be my people.”  Each time the wine went around it was to commemorate the 4 afflictions.

The final element was the lamb, which was both the main course and the apex of the meal.  It represented God’s grace and provision.  It represented being passed over. God told the people that He was going to send down His Angel of justice at midnight and justice would strike every home without exception.  However, there was the provision of grace – if any family would sacrifice a lamb and then put the blood of the lamb on the doorpost the Angel would see that and would pass over that home.  The lamb represented the blood of a substitute that could be taken shelter under.

The fact that the Passover had such a consistency to it is what makes this account so profound.  In Exodus 12.14 God says, “Never change the Passover.  This must be a perpetual memorial.”  Yet Jesus changes each element.

Instead of saying “This is the bread of affliction, which our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt,” Jesus broke the bread and said, “Take it; this is my body.”  Can you imagine how astonished the disciples were?  And then instead of passing the cup around 4 times to commemorate how God spared Israel, Jesus says, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”

And if that wasn’t enough, what came next – or more precisely what didn’t come next – would have completely shocked them.  Instead of moving to the main course and main symbol – the lamb – Jesus ends the Passover meal and they head out to sing hymns.  Every one of the disciples had experienced a Passover every year of their life, so inevitably this is when they would have wondered, “Where is the lamb?  You can’t have a Passover meal without a lamb.”

I wonder at what point it was that it finally sunk home for the disciples what was happening.  Perhaps as they walked to the Mount of Olives they remembered what John the Baptist said when he first saw Jesus.  “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1.29)  Maybe it was when Jesus was carrying a Cross to Calvary that some of them remembered the prophetic words of Isaiah: “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53.7)

This much is sure.  At some point it sank deep into the hearts of each of the disciples what had happened at that Passover meal, and what the Cross represented.

There was nothing accidental about Jesus changing what was said when they ate the bread and drank of the cup.  And there was nothing accidental about Jesus forgetting to have a main course.  There was no lamb on the table because the lamb was at the table.

What Jesus was saying to them eventually became clear:

“The lambs that were sacrificed on the night of the Passover are not what saved the Israelites.  It was what the lambs were pointing to.  Every lamb that has been sacrificed at every Passover since then is not what saved the people.  It is what those lambs were pointing to that saved people.”

“Everything in human history has been building up to this moment, right here right now.  Everything that happens from this point will look back at this moment. You are experiencing the pinnacle of human history.  I am the Lamb of God, sacrificed for you.  You can take shelter under my blood.  You can be completely accepted by God because I going to be completely rejected.  It is not your actions or good deeds that will save you.  Like the Passover, what saves you is the faith you put in a substitute.  I am that substitute.”

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