As a Christian, there are just some things that I hate to admit about myself. One of those things is that I am not an avid fan of every book of the Bible. Oh sure, I read them anyhow because that is the good Christian thing to do, but many times I lack understanding so that if you asked me what I just read, I would not have the slightest clue. I used to feel this way about the book of Deuteronomy, although I am not quite sure why since it is very similar to Exodus and I have always liked Exodus. Yet after reading Deuteronomy enough times, it started to grow on me as I started to understand it. Now the words that I had always read were developing meaning, and for me this was great. Every time I read it, I understand it a little bit more and something that I did not know previously stands out to me in a way that transforms my life forever.
Such was the case this past fall of 2009. I remember that I was in our make-shift office at home during my devotional time reading Deuteronomy 16. As I read I had one of these ‘Ah hah’ moments where my mind started turning ferociously around this theme of the Passover that the text presented. I noticed that God was calling the Israelites to remember something that he had done for their people a generation ago. A generation ago, God delivered them from slavery in Egypt in such an unprecedented way that he wanted them to forever take note of it. So entrenched in slavery, the only way to deliver them was by taking the lives of all of the firstborn among the Egyptian people whether they were sons, daughters, cattle, or other animals. But it was not that God did not try to deliver his people in other ways; it was just that Pharaoh was so stubborn, so hard-hearted, that he would not listen to God as he tried to get his attention by other means. Even so, God was serious about having a people unto himself, a people that were free to worship him, a people that were free from the chains of slavery that he spoke through Moses saying:
“About midnight I am going out into the midst of Egypt, and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of the Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the millstones; all the firstborn of the cattle as well. Morever, there shall be a great cry in all the land of Egypt, such as there has not been before and such as shall never be again. But against any of the sons of Israel a dog will not even bark, whether against man or beast, that you may understand how the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel” (Exodus 11.4-7, NASB).
Although God was providing a way of escape for the Israelites, their salvation was not yet guaranteed. They were required to do something so that the lives of their firstborn sons and daughters would be preserved.
“On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ household…You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight. Morever, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it…For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments- I am the LORD” (Exodus 12.3,4, 12, 13, NASB).
This was what God was calling the Israelites to remember, to celebrate every year. He wanted them to remember that they were once slaves in Egypt, kept in captivity until they were delivered by the mercy and sovereignty of God. He wanted them to remember that they belonged to him, that they were his people and that as a result of that he was determined to preserve and keep.
Yet what I find more intriguing are verses 43-49 of Exodus 12. One of the things that is clear from this passage is that the Passover was a celebration unto the Lord for the Israelites and only the Israelites. This is what I call THE WHO or where I note who this celebration was for. No foreigner, slave, or any other person is even allowed to partake of the Passover meal unless they first became like an Israelite and were circumcised. The passage in Deuteronomy only echoes what God has already prescribed in Exodus in that foreigners are not even invited to take part in this blessed event until the Feast of Booths or Pentecost. In prescribing such, God makes a clear distinction between those who are His people and those who are not His people.
Fast forward some thousand years and now Jesus is on the scene. The Israelites are still keeping the Passover meal quite religiously, but for God this is not enough. You see, the Passover was limited to the Israelites and only the Israelites, yet God has a bigger plan. He does not only want the Israelites for his people, but he wants and desires us all in that all of us have been so deeply enslaved to sin with no escape. This time, however, God does not take the lives of any other firstborn but that of his own Son, the firstborn of all creation, begotten not made, slain before the foundations of the world.
Understanding that his life was to be poured out for all of mankind, Jesus responds in a very unique way as he celebrates the Passover with his disciples in Luke:
“When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.”And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood” (Luke 22.14-20, NASB).
In the sacrifice of Jesus, God opens up the Passover, or now communion, to include not only the Israelites but everyone who will name the name Jesus. Notice that The Who here changes in that not only are a select few called to partake of this commemoratory meal but all. Now all of humanity has the opportunity, the privilege to become the people of God regardless of who they are. Such is what Jesus declares after his resurrection:
“Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24. 46, 47).
Check back for part II of The Who, The What, The Why and The How