Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Observance and Meaning of Passover

Once a year, baptized members of the Church of God observe Passover. We observe it on the evening after sunset which begins the 14th day of the first month, according to God's instruction in the Old Testament (Exodus 12:1-6). This is a different observance than the Night to Be Much Observed, which we celebrate on the evening after sunset which begins the 15th day of the first month and which is part of the first day of unleavened bread.

We observe Passover at the time God instructs, the same time Israel observed it in Egypt as recorded in Exodus and the same time Jesus observed it with His disciples. Jesus did not change the time and date Passover is to be observed. But He did change the symbols from sacrificing a lamb to eating unleavened bread and drinking wine, which represents his body and blood (Matthew 26:26-28). In the Old Testament, the slain lamb represented the future sacrifice of Christ. In the New Testament, the unleavened bread at Passover service represents the body of Christ and the wine represents His shed blood and His death.

When God was about to bring Israel out of Egypt, He instructed the Israelites through Moses to kill a lamb and sprinkle the blood on the doorposts of their houses. They were to eat the lamb that evening. Around midnight, the death angel would kill all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, but would "pass over" the houses with the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and spare the firstborn in that house, hence the name of the festival, "Passover" (Exodus 12:6-14).

The killing of the lamb represented the future sacrifice of Jesus Christ. As the lamb died by having its blood shed, so Jesus also died from having His blood shed. Apparently, He did not die from exhaustion and suffocation as was typical with a crucifixion, but He bled to death when a soldier stabbed Him with a spear (John 19:34). As I understand it, it normally might take about three days for a man to die by crucifixion. His legs could bear his weight so the tension from his arms would not stop him from breathing, but eventually he would become too exhausted to hold his weight with his legs, he would sag, the tension from his arms would prevent him from breathing, and he would suffocate. To hasten the deaths of those crucified with Jesus, the soldiers broke their legs so suffocation would come sooner (John 19:31-33), but when they came to Jesus to break His legs, He was already dead. He died from loss of blood when the soldier stabbed him with a spear (John 19:34).

Jesus Christ was born of a human woman, Mary, but His Father was God, who had impregnated Mary by the power of His Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God as it is often called in the Old Testament (Luke 1:26-38). Traditional, mainstream churches teach that the Holy Spirit is the third person of a trinity, but I do not find that teaching in the Bible. Rather, I find that the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is the power of God in action and the mind of God indwelling in Christians. The Jews knew from Old Testament scriptures that the Spirit of God exists (Genesis 1:2, 1 Samuel 16:13, Psalm 51:11), but they never taught that it was a person. If the early Church of God taught that the Spirit of God was a person, that would have appeared to the Jews that Christians were teaching multiple Gods, and there would have been great controversy over that, but no such controversy is evident in Acts or the rest of the New Testament. There was controversy about Jesus, however, the mainstream Jews not accepting Him as God. And if the Holy Spirit was a person distinct from the Father, the Holy Spirit would be Jesus's Father, not the one we know of as God the Father. But it is evident that God the Father begat Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35).

The One who became Jesus Christ had existed for eternity with God the Father. He is called "the Word" in John 1:1. He became Jesus, born as a human (John 1:1-14). He willingly gave up the divine power and glory He had with the Father (Philippians 2:5-11, John 17:5). There are many scriptures that show that He was the God of Israel in the Old Testament and was the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses (Exodus 24:9-11, 1 Corinthians 10:1-4). God the Father also is described in the Old Testament, and Abraham (and David) knew the Father as well as Christ (Genesis 14:18-23, Psalm 110:1), but it was the One who became Jesus Christ that Israel in general knew as God.

Everything that exists, including all mankind, was created through and by Christ. God the Father created all things, but He did it through Christ who did the actual work of creation under the authority of God the Father (John 1:1-3, Ephesians 3:8-9).

As the Creator of mankind, Christ's life was greater than that of all humanity.

All mankind has sinned (Romans 3:23), and the penalty of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

In order for man to have a chance for eternal life, which is God's purpose in reproducing Himself in man, it was necessary that the death penalty for mankind's sins be paid. The Word then voluntarily gave up His divine power, glory, and immortality He had with the Father and came in the form of a human, born of a human mother, Mary. He was God with us (Matthew 1:22-23) in the sense that He was the same person, the same center of consciousness you could say, that was the Word and was God. But He gave up the power and immortality He previously had as God and became a human. During the 33 years (approximately) that He lived as a human, He was fully human, but no longer fully God. He was God before He was born as a human. He gave up His divine power and became a man. After His resurrection He became God again with all the power and glory He had with the Father before His human birth, no longer human as He was. This is something that many in traditional, mainstream churches do not understand. Some think that Jesus on earth was "fully God and fully man". They think that somehow He retained divine power and had more than human power. But that is not true. The works and miracles He did were done by the Father (John 5:19-21, John 14:10-11).

Just as traditional, mainstream churches do not really understand how the Word, who was God, could totally give up His divine power and become fully a man, not fully God at that time, but a man just like us, so they do not understand how a man, Jesus as the first but later Christians, could change from a man to God through a resurrection (Romans 1:1-4, 1 John 3:2, 1 John 4:2-3, 2 John 7). Yet, this is an essential truth about Christ that opens the way for understanding God's ultimate objective in creating mankind: to reproduce Himself.

Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty of our sins. There are many scriptures that make this clear. His death makes it possible for our sins to be forgiven so we can be given the gift of eternal life (Isaiah 53:1-12).

The unleavened bread we eat at Passover represents Christ's body. Jesus was scourged and endured great pain and suffering before He died. He went through this suffering to pay the penalty of suffering that our physical sins bring on us through sickness and disease. Because He paid this penalty, we can be healed of our physical health problems that come as a result of broken laws of health. "But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5). Though the Church of God may not have emphasized this or always taught it, I believe the evidence in the Bible shows that the penalty of suffering and pain Jesus paid also makes possible our spiritual healing. It is not just our physical sins, broken laws of health, that bring suffering on us, but all our sins bring suffering, especially mental suffering. Christ's sacrifice and broken body makes possible all healing, spiritual and physical. Christ's sacrifice makes possible the healing of our character.

The red wine we drink represents Christ's shed blood, and it represents His death (Matthew 26:27-28). By dying for us, He paid the death penalty for us so we do not have to die the second death in the lake of fire. Thus, God can give us immortality.

By observing Passover, we remember and appreciate the sacrifice of Christ and the love that God the Father and Jesus Christ have for us.

Traditional, mainstream churches of this world understand most of the meaning of Passover. They do not understand it as well as God's Church understands it, but they understand the basics, that the lamb that was sacrificed on Passover in Exodus represents Jesus Christ and the killing of that lamb represents His sacrifice. But the Jews do not understand it at all, just as they do not understand the prophecies in the Old Testament referring to the sacrifice of Christ to pay the penalty for our sins.

Passover and Pentecost are the two festivals that can be useful for explaining the holy days to those outside the Church of God who are members of traditional, mainstream churches. They do not keep Passover, but they recognize most of its meaning. So Passover can be an introduction for them to the concept that ALL of the festivals of God have meaning. Pentecost is the one holy day that traditional, mainstream churches observe, and that can help introduce the concept that ALL of the festivals and holy days should be kept today.

Passover day is not an annual sabbath, a holy day. We can work on that day. But it is a an annual festival, or feast day.

An important lesson of Passover is the lesson of sacrificial love. Passover represents God's love for us, but it also represents our obligation to have the same love for each other. "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 13:34). "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12).

In a broader sense, the sacrifice of Christ is representative of God's whole way of life. When we accept the sacrifice of Christ as payment for our sins, we in effect are "buying into" that way of life. We agree with God that the way of life He and Christ live, they way that Christ lived when He offered Himself as a sacrifice for us, is the right way to live, and we commit to God that we will live that same way, the way of love. We appreciate that way of life and agree to live that way of life.

It also teaches us humility, for we must humble ourselves to realize that we cannot pay the penalty for our own sins and live, that we deserve to die, that we are helpless to save ourselves by ourselves, and that we must depend on God's mercy and love to save us from ourselves.

During Passover services, we also practice foot washing, following the instructions of Jesus who washed His disciples' feet and said that He set an example for us to follow (John 13:3-15). This also reminds us and reinforces the lesson that we are to love and serve one another even when we must humble ourselves in service. This is all part of the same way of life that is illustrated by the suffering and death of Christ.

It is important to observe Passover in a worthy manner (1 Corinthians 11:29). Before Passover we should examine ourselves (1 Corinthians 11:28). I find reviewing the ten commandments (Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:5-21) and the sermon on the mount (Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7, Luke 6:20-49) as a good way to examine myself. It is also good to review the scriptural passages relating to Passover and the sacrifice of Christ.

Here are links to posts related to this subject:

"What the Sacrifice of Christ Teaches Us", dated April 1, 2012, link:

"Physical and Spiritual Healing", dated April 2, 2012, link:

"Count the Cost", dated March 14, 2013, 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:

"Passover", dated April 11, 2014, 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

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