The true gospel includes the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins, that He paid the death penalty for our sins so we can be forgiven and receive the gift of eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:1-6, 1 Corinthians 2:1-2, Isaiah 52:1-6).
This is what Passover represents.
Each annual feast or holy day given in the Old Testament represents a step in God's plan for the salvation of mankind and a step in the process of God reproducing Himself through man. This is a major truth that the churches of this world do not have. Even the Church of God Seventh Day did not have this truth when Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong first came among them, nor were they observing all of the commanded feast and holy days. But they observed Passover.
Mr. Armstrong had an open mind and was willing to learn new truth from the Bible and be corrected by the Bible. He followed the Bible more than church tradition. And because his mind was open to new truth, God was able to show him, by opening his mind to understand the Bible, that the annual feasts and holy days should be kept today by the Church. This was new truth for Mr. Armstrong. Neither the traditional, mainstream churches of this world nor the true Church of God had this truth. Had Mr. Armstrong placed greater emphasis on following tradition than following the Bible, he could not have accepted this truth, that the Church should keep the holy days. The Church of God Seventh Day did not accept this truth even when Mr. Armstrong showed it to them. But Mr. Armstrong accepted it and put it into practice. Like Abraham, Mr. Armstrong believed and obeyed God (Romans 4:1-9, Genesis 15:2-6, James 2:23). So Mr. Armstrong kept the annual feasts and holy days in obedience to God, even when others did not.
Then, after years of Mr. Armstrong's faith and obedience in keeping the holy days, God further opened his mind to understand the meaning of the feasts and holy days from the Bible. This illustrates the principle that God helps us understand the Bible as we believe and obey it (Psalm 111:10).
What we understand today about the feasts and holy days and the plan of God has come to us because Mr. Armstrong was faithful to believe the Bible more than church tradition.
But though the Church of God did not understand or observe all seven festivals and holy days of God, they did observe and understand the meaning of Passover.
Passover is the first of seven festivals of God commanded for the Church of God today. It is not a holy day or annual sabbath - we may work on Passover day - but it is a feast day.
At the beginning of the 14th day of the first month, which this year starts at sunset, Sunday, April 13, we observe Passover. We observe it shortly after sunset which starts Passover day. We keep it at the same time ancient Israel kept it, but we use different symbols. Instead of killing and eating a lamb, we take the symbols of unleavened bread and wine. In the Old Testament observance, the lamb represented Christ. In the New Testament observance, the unleavened bread represents the body of Christ and the wine represents His shed blood.
Ancient Israel never understood the full meaning of Passover. They only understood Passover as a rememberance of God passing over the Israelites when He killed all the firstborn of Egypt. But we today understand it as symbolic of the sacrifice of Christ.
Sin is the transgression of the spiritual law of God, which is summarized by the ten commandments (1 John 3:4, James 2:8-11). All mankind, every human being, has violated that spiritual law and thus sinned (Romans 3:23). The penalty for sin is eternal death in the lake of fire (Romans 6:23, Ezekiel 18:4, Ezekiel 18:20). There is no provision in the law for the cancellation of that penalty. We cannot save ourselves from the consequences of our sins by our good deeds. Once we have sinned, there is nothing we can do on our own to escape the death penalty.
But God, in His mercy and love, provided a way for us to be saved.
God gave us His Son to be a sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sins in our place (Isaiah 53:4-11). Jesus Christ, as the Word before He was born as a human being, was the Creator of mankind, and as our creator His life had more value than the lives of all human beings put together. Thus, His sacrifice was sufficient to pay the penalty for all mankind's sins (John 1:1-14).
The Old Testament Passover predicted the sacrifice of Christ. The Passover lamb represented Jesus Christ. When God saw the blood of the lamb, he "passed over" the houses of the Israelites and did not slay their firstborn children. Likewise, when God sees the sacrifice and blood of Christ, He passes over our sins and does not exact the death penalty for our sins upon us. Thus, the requirement of the law, that the death penalty be paid, is satisfied, and thus we can be forgiven and live. We can be given the gift of eternal life.
There are conditions. Before God attributes the sacrifice of Christ as payment for our sins, we must believe and repent. We must believe the gospel and have faith in Christ, and we must repent of our sins and our sinful nature and commit ourselves to willing and loving obedience to God and His spiritual law forever. We must also obey God's command to be baptized (Acts 2:38, Mark 1:14-15, Ephesians 2:8-9).
When we believe, repent, and are baptized, the ministry lays hands on us and God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit helps us to understand and obey God's Spiritual law (1 Corinthians 2:10-16, 2 Timothy 1:6-7, John 14:26). It is like a down payment for eternal life (2 Corinthians 5:5, Ephesians 1:13-14). God through His Spirit heals our character and makes us like Him. That prepares us for eternal life in God's kingdom.
The receiving of the Holy Spirit makes possible a process of overcoming that lasts the rest of our physical lives.
But all this is made possible only by the sacrifice of Christ.
This was an enormous sacrifice. It involved not only Jesus's death, but a period of intense suffering, both mental and physical. Jesus Christ was tortured to death. But He did this willingly for our sake. He gave up His divine power and eternal life to become a human being. He lived a perfect life, resisting every temptation, and He never sinned. He humbled Himself and died a torturous death without once sinning (Philippians 2:5-8, Hebrews 4:14-16, 1 Peter 2:21-25).
He did this for our sakes, but also to please God the Father (John 15:13-14, Matthew 26:39). In this, He set the perfect example for us.
He was a willing sacrifice. I do not believe for one second that God the Father commanded or forced Christ to be a sacrifice for our sins, but He did it willingly. It was the Father's will, and Christ was willing. All this was decided from Adam's sin and the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8).
And it was not just Christ who suffered. The Father suffered too because He loved His Son. Those in the Church who are fathers can understand this. This was a huge sacrifice for both of them.
Moreover, if Jesus Christ sinned even once as a human being, that could have meant the permanent end of His existence. He would have died for His own sin, not ours, and we would not have a way of escape from the death penalty. He had free moral agency, so there was a risk involved (Hebrews 4:15-16). Both the Father and Christ were willing to take that risk.
Was there not some other way for God to accomplish His purpose to reproduce Himself?
Well, for one thing, God did not have to make eternal death the penalty of sin. It is God the Father who gives the law, and God can determine any penalty He chooses for the violation of that law (James 4:12). He could have, from the beginning of the universe, determined that death would not be the penalty for human sin. He could have assigned some other penalty, some penalty that would permit us to pay our own penalty and live. For example, He could have required that the penalty of sin be a certain amount of suffering. Then, once a man or woman has suffered in proportion to their sin, they could be forgiven without the sacrifice of Christ. The Word would never have had to become a human being and suffer and die. Or, God could have decreed that we can make up for our sins by our good deeds. In effect, God could have allowed us to pay the penalty for our own sins and still receive eternal life in the end. He could have made a plan of salvation that allowed us to earn our salvation, if He wanted to.
But it is God's nature to do things the best way possible, not the easiest way. God is a perfectionist. And there were advantages to making death the penalty of sin and giving His Son as a sacrifice so we can be forgiven.
God's purpose is to build His perfect, righteous character in us. That is an essential part of reproducing Himself. And building character in us requires the teaching of lessons. God doesn't force us to learn His way of life, but He reveals it to us and lets us, as free moral agents, choose His way of life. And the sacrifice of Christ helps us understand that way of life better than any other course God could have taken.
God the Father and Jesus Christ did not make the sacrifice they made because there was no other way to give us eternal life. They did it because it was the BEST way to teach us lessons and shape our character for the kind of eternal life they want to give us, a life in God's kingdom that will be overflowing with happiness forever.
Look at the lessons Christ's sacrifice teaches us.
First, it teaches us the importance of God's spiritual law. It shows that God will not compromise with His law, that there are penalties for violating that law, and those penalties MUST be paid. That should teach us to hate sin which inevitably brings penalties on ourselves or others.
It teaches us about what real, self-sacrificial love is about. Christ suffered and died not only to pay for our sins, but to teach us by His example. The lesson is about love. Just as Christ suffered and died for us, so we should be willing to suffer and die for each other (John 13:34, John 15:12-14, John 13:15-17, Romans 8:16-17). And as Christ was willing to suffer and die to please the Father and do the Father's will, so we must be willing to suffer and die to please the Father and do God's will.
There is a lesson about faith here. The sacrifice of Christ is only applied to us after we believe the gospel and repent. We have to believe in God's way of life. We have to believe that God's way of life, of love towards God and neighbor, even a love that requires sacrifice and suffering for the good of the one we love, is the best way of life. We learn to deeply appreciate what God the Father and Jesus Christ have done for us, and as we appreciate their act, we appreciate the way of life that the sacrifice of Christ represents and illustrates. That appreciation should lead us to want to follow the example of Christ, to be like Christ in the way we love God and love others. In other words, we have to have faith in the way of life that God teaches us by that sacrifice. We have to learn to really believe that it is the best way of life.
There are lessons about humility. We see the example of Christ who shared eternal power and glory with God the Father, yet was willing to humble Himself and become a mere man for the purpose of suffering and death (Philippians 2:5-8). We also should be humbled by the fact that God and Christ were willing to do what they did for our sakes, because they love us, and we can do nothing without them to save ourselves. Salvation is a free gift - we do not deserve it and we cannot earn it (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:8-9). That is humbling when we understand it.
In all these lessons, God is teaching us and building in us the best possible character to prepare us for eternal life in His kingdom. He is building the kind of character that will make possible the maximum happiness, glory, and joy in His kingdom forever. He is using the sacrifice of Christ to accomplish this, not because it was the only way to give us eternal life, or the easiest way, but because it is the best way. And by doing this, by choosing the best way over the easy way, God and Christ set an example for us, one more lesson, to show us that we should live the same way. For every choice we must make in this life, we should learn to make the best choice according to God's will, the choice that will please God the most, not the easiest choice. When we learn to make the best choices in life, we are building the character that will prepare us for the maximum happiness in the Kingdom of God.
When we take the Passover symbols of unleavened bread and wine, we are remembering the sacrifice of Christ. But we are also renewing our commitment to God's way of life - the way of life that the sacrifice of Christ represents and teaches. We are telling God and Christ that we appreciate what they did for us. We are telling God that we humbly accept the sacrifice of Christ as payment for our sins and that we cannot pay for our own sins by earning our salvation. We are telling God that we agree with the way of life Christ lived and that we want to live that way of life ourselves.
God teaches His way of life through many instructions and commandments in the Bible. But in Christ, God teaches us also by His perfect example what that way of life looks like. And God has proven that He is willing to live that way of life Himself, even when it is hard. And because God practices what He preaches, we can know that if we learn to live the way of life God teaches and practices we will be learning to live as God lives, and we can be like our Father and our elder brother Jesus Christ as we should be as God's children.
God is reproducing Himself in us, and for that to be completed, we must become like God in character. In the sacrifice of Christ, God demonstrates what that character looks like so we can, as free moral agents, choose to agree with that way of life and make the commitment to live that way forever. All this is so we can have maximum happiness and joy and peace in the eternity to come.
How great is God's love and wisdom!
Here are links to posts in this blog related to this topic:
"What the Sacrifice of Christ Teaches Us", dated April 1, 2012, link:
"Physical and Spiritual Healing", dated April 2, 2012, link:
"Why Did Christ Have to Suffer and Die?", dated March 21, 2013, link:
"Passover Symbols: What Part of the Sacrifice of Christ Makes Possible the Healing of Our Character? / Should You Partake of the Passover?", dated March 23, 2013, link:
Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:
Passover -- the Sacrifice of Christ, Chapter 2
God's Purpose for Mankind, Chapter 2