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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Christ-Centered Passover (part 1)


Behold the Lamb who bears our sins away,
Slain for us- and we remember
The promise made that all who come in faith
Find forgiveness at the cross.
So we share in this Bread of Life
And we drink of His Sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of peace
Around the table of the King


I really long time ago, I started a booklet about Passover.  It was meant to explain the elements of Passover to the Church and to help Christians celebrate the holiday for themselves.  Time has passed and that booklet got buried and forgotten.  Recently, many people have been asking me about how we do our Passover.  I was looking through our old Passover pictures, and found the booklet again!  Instead of starting from scratch, I'm going to post the text in the blog.  I've decided to break it up into several posts.  Passover is in 4 weeks (April 14), so I'm going to post one every Wednesday.  Check back often for the latest installment.

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The concept for this book grew out of my own history with Messianic Judaism and love of tradition. I'll never forget the day someone told me that Jesus was a Jew. I stared at her in disbelief. A Jew! How could she even be allowed into Bible college believing such heresy? See, I grew up in the Church. I learned about Jesus, meek and mild; and Jesus, strong and wild. I knew about Jesus the Good Shepherd, who carried little lambs on His shoulders. I also knew Jesus who died for my sins. And, Jesus the Great Physician. And, baby Jesus in a manger. I learned that Jesus was a part of the Trinity, the Son of God. And, the Son of Man. But, the Son of David? Jesus the Jew? It sounded so slanderous.

Throughout the school year, that “heretic” began to introduce me to Jesus the Jew. She took me to a Messianic Synagogue and acquainted me with people who practiced Old Testament Christianity. They believed that the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Christians wasn't as wide as I thought. Consequently, they celebrated the Jewish feasts with Jesus as the centerpiece. My friend took me to several festivals, including Yom Kopur and Passover. Through her willingness to answer my questions, I finally met Jesus the Jew.

Suddenly, Jesus wasn't just a man who happened to grow up in Israel; He was the Son of David. For only a Jewish man could be King of the Jews. And, only a Jewish man with knowledge of the Law could keep all its commands. Only a Jewish man could be the Passover Lamb. I began to see Jesus at the Temple, reading from the Torah (the first five books in our Bible), at His Bar Mitzvah. The Bible looked completely different as God showed me the connections between the Old Testament, Jesus, and now.

For me, this revelation meant digging further into the Jewish festivals. It wasn't long before Passover became my favorite holiday. I couldn't wait to learn more, but I quickly ran into a problem- it was difficult to find information on the festival from a Christian perspective. Fortunately, my Bible college friend was available to answer my questions. And, we live in the internet age. Both sources were helpful; although, sometimes the things I found on the internet were a little wild. One website had this bold proclamation, “Family fun with the ten plagues.” Is it just me, or does the death of the firstborn not sound like family fun? Also, most importantly, I dug into the Bible for God's intention in the Passover. The idea for this book came from a need to put all this information into one location to make it easy to share with others.

Origins

Passover scripts, called Haggadah (ha-ga-DAH) in Hebrew, assume that the participants know certain things about Passover, having grown up with the story and holiday. Most Gentile Christians, though, have not had that background, hence this book. The name Passover comes from the time in history when the angel of death passed over Egypt and spared only the firstborn sons with the blood of the lamb on their houses' door frames. Jewish Passover is simply the retelling of that story in an interactive way, using all five senses. It is also appropriate to call this day “Jewish Thanksgiving.” We know that Jesus celebrated Passover every year as He grew up, including the evening before He died. Jesus used the story of Passover as a parable for who He was and what He was about to do for the world. Now, we'll look more deeply at both the original Passover and Jesus' final Passover, with a short detour in extra-biblical history.

The story of Passover begins in Exodus, the second book of the Bible. If you spent any time in Sunday School as a child, you've probably heard this story before. You may even be very familiar with it; however, I think that it's prudent to study the Biblical Passover before talking about the traditions of men.

If it's been a while since you've read Exodus, please take a moment to read chapters 1-13.

Burn, Bushy, Burn

Exodus 3 begins with an ordinary scene, a middle aged shepherd out in the wilderness. Okay, well, ordinary for 4,000 years ago. We're told that this man was minding his own business when he noticed a bush on fire. Something was really weird about this fire- it didn't consume the bush. Jewish tradition says that the bush was in the shape of a menorah, since the menorah has been the representation of God's presence through Jewish history.

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Regardless of its shape, the shepherd decided to check it out.

When he got near, God called out to him, “Moses.”

Moses answered, “Here I am.”

Then, God introduced Himself to Moses, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (Exodus 3:6).”

I think that Moses acted very wisely when he fell on his face before God.

The I AM told Moses something that still amazes me:
I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey....
Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children
of Israel, out of Egypt. (Exodus 3:7-8a, 9)

Did you catch it? God cared about His people enough that he came down to deliver them. He saw them, heard them, and knew them. Then, He commissioned Moses to be He mouthpiece. A rather long argument commenced, where Moses tried everything He could think of to get out of the mission. But, finally, he surrendered, and began one of the biggest showdowns in history.

Destruction and Darkness and Death, Oh My

Chapters 5-12 describes quite a scene, a cosmic battle between good and evil. On one side, the God of the Hebrews (5:3), the I AM WHO I AM (3:4). On the other, Pharaoh, an Egyptian god in the flesh, and all the pantheon of idols. The war began with threats and taunting, soon escalating. Several battles followed, featuring contaminated water, multiplying frogs, swarming gnats, buzzing flies, dying livestock, agonizing boils, and damaging hail. The first three judgments affected both groups of people, but the next four only affected the Egyptians.

Many scholars have pointed out that each of the plagues were designed to shatter the Egyptian's trust in their gods. Turning the Nile river to blood and the plague of frogs were both attacks against Khnum, the protector of the Nile, and Hapi, the spirit of the river. No one is sure which god was mocked by the swarms of flies. Uatchit was said to appear in the form of a fly, so it was like he was appearing all over the land as millions of buzzing, annoying flies. The Egyptians had many sacred cow gods, including Apis, Ptah, Mnrvis, and Hathor, but the I AM killed them all when He caused disease to come onto the Egyptians cattle. Neither Sekhmet or Serapis, who were known to have powers to heal, couldn't help the Egyptians when the boils appeared. I wonder if the Egyptians blamed Seth, the protector of the crops, or Nut, the sky goddess for not stopping the destruction of the crops and animals by hail. Battle after battle, the Lord showed Himself to be superior.

Through all those plagues, Pharaoh refused to let the people go free. It's kind of amazing to read of Pharaoh's stubbornness. God asked a good question of him when He said, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me (10:3)?” Turns out, it wouldn't be that much longer.

With the last three plagues, God mounted a final set of battles against Egypt and its gods. First, all the vegetation of Egypt was destroyed by locusts. Great swarms of them devoured everything they could find, making lush Egypt into a total wasteland. Second, darkness fell over the land, bathing Egypt in such inky blackness that on one could go anywhere for days. Yet, the lands where the Israelites lived remained light. Thirdly, all the firstborn males of Egypt, both people and animals, died. It was only after his country was ruined and his son died that Pharaoh relented.

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Into the Desert

The Passover story continues as the Israelites flee Egypt into the wilderness with the I AM in the lead. Exodus tells us that Pharaoh changed his mind after a few days and sent and army to retrieve them. Cornered between Pharaoh's army on their backs and the Red Sea on their front, the people panicked. But, Moses prayed. God answered by parting the Red Sea, so the Israelites could walk across on dry land. When Pharaoh's army pursued them into the sea, God caused the water to return to normal levels. God wiped away the last bit of Israel's past when He drown the Egyptian army. The Passover Seder ends with rejoicing, echoes of Mariam leading the people in song after the defeat of Egypt by God's hands.

The Four Promises

As I mentioned before, Passover tells the above story in an interactive way. It is important to remember that a story can be told in lots of different ways, depending on who is telling it. The Haggadah (ha-ga-DAH) in this book breaks into four parts corresponding to four cups of wine (grape juice). The four cups are named after the four “I” statements of God in Exodus 3. The first is “I have seen and heard the oppression of My people.” Second, “I know their sufferings.” Third, “I have come down to deliver them.” And fourth, “I will bring them to a good land.” Some Passover scripts use variations on these promises, but nearly all Haggadahs (ha-ga-DAHs) have them.

As you just read, the Exodus story does not include any special cups. A few of the sources I found in my research suggest that the tradition came during the Roman occupation of Israel. The Romans like to have one glass of wine before dinner, one during dinner, one right after dinner, and one before they parted company. This explanation makes sense, because the placement of the Passover cups matches when the four cups are drunk in the Seder. Most Jews, however, reject that anything of their customs would come from the pagans.

So, what is the standard answer for why there are four cups at Passover? Tradition!

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Elijah the Prophet

Another Passover tradition involves a visit by the Old Testament prophet, Elijah. He is the bearer of good tidings of joy and peace. His name is associated with the coming of the Messiah, whose advent he will announce. Most Jewish families fill a special cup in his honor, for legend declares that Elijah visits each home at the Seder to sip from his cup. Some Messianic families fill the cup to remind themselves of the Jews who still haven't found their Messiah. We as Christians know that Jesus is the Messiah the Jews are awaiting, but how does Elijah fit into our Christian history and Messianic Seder?

In the last book of the Old Testament, the Lord says, “Behold, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes (Malachi 4:5).” Four centuries later, Matthew introduces John the Baptist, a voice calling out in the wilderness. John announced the coming of Jesus with similar words as the old prophet: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 3:2).”

The disciples of Jesus also wondered about the prophecy regarding Elijah. They asked Jesus, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come?”

Jesus answered them, “Elijah will come and he will restore all things. But, I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” Then, the disciples understood that He was speaking about John the Baptist (Matthew 17:10-13).

John the Baptist is the figurative Elijah, who announced the coming of Jesus, but the original Elijah also came during Jesus' life. At the transfiguration of Jesus, Moses and Elijah came down to heaven to speak with Jesus. Luke tells us that they were discussing Jesus' departure, His exodus. How appropriate that the two people who are featured during the Passover, Moses and Elijah, talked to Jesus, the Passover Lamb, during His earthly ministry.


I hope you enjoyed the first section of my Passover study.  Come back next Wednesday for a discussion of Jesus in the Passover (it's the best part).


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