"And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years—on that very same day—it came to pass that all the armies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. It is a night of solemn observance to the Lord for bringing them out of the land of Egypt. This is that night of the Lord, a solemn observance for all the children of Israel throughout their generations" (Exodus 12:41-42).
The Church of God observes the "night to be much observed" as a memorial of Israel coming out of Egypt and of our coming out of sin. This is not Passover, but the night following Passover. It is a separate observance from Passover. This year, the night to be much observed is the evening of Monday, April 14, 2014 after sunset. It begins seven days of avoiding leavening and eating unleavened bread.
When Mr. Tkach was making changes in the doctrines of the Church of God after the death of Mr. Armstrong, one of the changes was the idea that Israel came out of Egypt Passover evening. But that is false. They came out of Egypt the following evening. Passover was the beginning of the fourteenth day of the first month. Israel came out of Egypt by night on the fifteenth day of the first month. There would not be enough time on the night of the fourteenth (the beginning of the fourteenth since the night portion of a 24-hour day is the first part of the day - days begin and end at sunset in the Bible) for Israel to keep the Passover and also leave Egypt. The firstborn in Egypt were killed about midnight, and the Israelites were instructed to stay in their homes until morning. They also had to gather and be organized in orderly ranks before leaving Egypt, with their women, young children, elderly, animals, and all their possessions. There were about 600,000 men plus women and children living in the land of Goshen. The land of Goshen was a sizable area, like a large city today. All that took time and could not have all been done just on Passover night (Exodus 12:1-42, 13:18-22.
God does not give specific instructions on how this evening is to be observed, only that it is to be observed. Mr. Armstrong made the judgment, and most of the Church of God follows that judgment today, that we observe it with a special meal enjoyed in families or groups. Most Church of God members typically observe this with a special meal and fellowship with a few families together in someone's home or a group at a restaurant or church gathering. Since this is the beginning of the seven days of unleavened bread, no leaving or leavened products should be eaten (products with yeast, baking soda, or baking powder for example), and unleavened bread should be eaten during this day. Also, since this begins the First Day of Unleavened Bread, this is an annual sabbath. No work, other than meal preparation, should be done after sunset. Conversation should be that which we have on the Sabbath. "If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the Lord; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the Lord has spoke" (Isaiah 58:13-14).
This is an excellent time to have conversation about how we were called and came to know the truth. I find it interesting that brethren in a small congregation can know each other for years, yet not know how each other member came to know the truth and come into the Church of God. This is a good time to get to know each other better and share our experiences in how God worked with us to call us out of this world and into the Church. "Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them; So a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name. 'They shall be Mine,' says the Lord of hosts, 'on the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him' " (Malachi 3:16-17).
This night represents Israel coming out of the bondage of Egypt. For us, it represents our journey out of the deception of this world and into God's truth. Egypt sometimes represents sin in the Bible, and the night to be much observed represents our journey out of sin. It represents our being freed from the bondage of sin.
The seven days of unleavened bread, which begin with the night to be much observed, represents our repentance and putting sin out of our lives. The night to be much observed specifically is an observance and celebration of our deliverance from the bondage of sin.
The first of the ten commandments, using Egypt as a metaphor for sin for Christians, reminds us of the fact that God has delivered us from the bondage of sin. "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:2-3).
As we have struggled with sin since our conversion, many of us may not feel that we have been very victorious over sin. As we examine our faults, it is easy to feel discouraged. It is easy to feel we are still in bondage to sin because we have not yet completely overcome our sins.
But to be in bondage to sin is to be a slave to sin. We are not slaves to sin. We are soldiers waging war against sin.
There is a difference between a slave and a soldier.
A slave obeys his master. He does not wage war against his master. But a soldier is in a fight. He wages war. He wins some battles and may lose some battles, but losing a battle does not necessarily mean losing the war, and losing a battle does not mean one is a slave.
When we were in this world, before God called us and opened our minds to the truth, we were slaves of sin, of Satan, and this world. We were deceived. We were in bondage to Satan's deceptions. We were so deceived, we did not even know we were deceived, like the world today.
But God has set us free from the bondage of deception. Now our eyes are opened and we can know the truth. We can fight against sin. We are not slaves who must obey sin.
Our warfare is spiritual, and our fight is against Satan and his demons.
"Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints - and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel" (Ephesians 6:10-19).
"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled" (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).
We are no longer slaves of sin, but soldiers waging war against sin. Our minds are the battlefield, and we fight the influence of Satan to put sin out of our lives.
God gave Israel the promised land. But they still had to fight for it. But God gave them the victory. Likewise, God gives us the victory over sin, through the broken body and shed blood of Christ. But God still requires that we fight against sin. We have our part to play, and it is not easy. God makes our final victory over sin possible, but not easy. But we can win.
That is what we remember and celebrate on the night to be much observed.
Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:
The Days of Unleavened Bread - Repentance, Chapter 2