Friday, April 12, 2024

Passover 2024

Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread are the beginning of the holy day year - the first of the annual festivals and holy days God ordained both for ancient Israel and for the Church of God today.

A holy day is an annual sabbath day.  No work is to be done on a holy day.  A festival day is not necessarily a holy day.  Passover day is a festival day, a feast day, but not a holy day.  Work may be done on Passover day.  Passover is to be observed after the beginning of Passover day, that is, just after sunset the night before.

The Days of Unleavened Bread are seven days in which all leaven is to be avoided and we are to eat unleavened bread on each of those seven days.  The first and last days of unleavened bread are holy days - annual sabbath days - in which no work is to be done and we are to assemble, as possible, for services.

These days are rich in meaning for the Church of God.

The Modern History of these Days in the Church of God

As we keep these days it would be good to take a moment to reflect on the history of the Church in modern times and our individual personal history of how we came to know about these days and their meaning.

The history of the modern keeping of these days for us begins with Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong and is strongly tied to his keeping of the Sabbath.  Those of you who have read Mr. Armstrong's autobiography are probably familiar with the story, or much of it.  Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong were Sunday-keepers, though Mr. Armstrong was not very religious.  Mrs. Armstrong learned about the seventh-day Sabbath, and she accepted it and told Mr. Armstrong about it.  He did not accept it at first, but felt challenged to research the question in the Bible.  After research and much personal struggle, he also accepted the Sabbath.

But in his research he also learned about the annual feast and holy days.

He began to fellowship with the Church of God Seventh Day, which kept the Sabbath.  At that time, Mr. Armstrong was only a lay member of the Church, not an apostle or even a minister.  The Church of God Seventh day kept the Sabbath and Passover, and they understood the meaning of the both.  But, although they knew of the existence of the annual holy days, they did not keep them.  They did not think they were required.  It was not their tradition to observe them.

But Mr. Armstrong, in his research on the Sabbath, discovered that not only is the Church required to observe the weekly Sabbath but all the annual feast and holy days also.  So he and his family observed those days though the Church of God he fellowshipped with did not.  He followed the Bible more than Church tradition or authority.  He obeyed God rather than man (Acts 5:29).

At first, he did not know the meaning of the annual days, only that God commanded us to observe them.  So he observed them without knowing their meaning.  But after a number of years of obedience, God revealed to Mr. Armstrong the meaning of these days.  He revealed it, not through dreams or direct revelation or prophetic messages, but through the Bible and opening Mr. Armstrong's mind to understand what the Bible said on those subjects.  God helped Mr. Armstrong to understand the Bible because Mr. Armstrong obeyed God (Psalm 111:10).

Later, after Mr. Armstrong was ordained as a minister, God gave him an open door to take the truth to the world, but apart from the Church of God Seventh Day.  God gave Mr. Armstrong an open door (Revelation 3:7-8), but He did not give an open door to Church of God Seventh Day.

Why?  Church of God Seventh Day did not receive new truth.  They held fast to their traditions and were not willing to learn new knowledge from God and His word, the Bible.  They put the Church first and the Bible second.  Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong put the Bible first over the traditions of the Church.

God was not able to use the Church of God Seventh Day to go to the public and say, "Don't believe us, don't believe any man or tradition, believe God, believe your Bible", because they themselves did not practice that.  But Mr. Armstrong did practice that as a way of life and he could say that.  He practiced what he preached.  So God could use him and did.

God used Mr. Armstrong to raise up the Philadelphian era of the Church (Revelation 3:7-13).  That era was made up of many people who heard Mr. Armstrong on the radio say, don't believe me, believe God.  They checked up in their Bibles and found the truth.  They were willing to believe the truth they found in the Bible, new truth for them, more than any man, more than their churches, more than their traditions.

Since God opened Mr. Armstrong's mind to understand the meaning of the annual feast days and holy days in response to his obedience and willingness to learn new truth from the Bible, Mr. Armstrong shared that knowledge with the Philadelphian era of the Church God was raising up through him.

That is how we understand these days today.

That is a brief history of how we as a church understand these days.  But in addition, each of you has his or her own personal history of how you came to understand these days and their meaning.  Some of you may share that history in conversation during the Night to Be Much Observed.

What is the meaning of each of these spring days?

The Meaning of Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread

Passover represents the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for our sins so we can be forgiven and saved.  The lamb that was killed in ancient Israel represents Christ.  Church of God Seventh Day understood this, and they kept the Passover.  

The bread and wine we take at Passover represent the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ.  The wine represents the blood of Christ and his death, and His death paid the death penalty for our sins so we do not have to permanently die in the lake of fire and cease to exist forever.  The unleavened bread we take at Passover represents the broken body of Christ and His suffering, and His suffering pays the penalty of suffering we incur by our sins so we do not have to continue to suffer - it enables us to be healed both spiritually and physically of our spiritual and physical ailments.

I do not know how much Church of God Seventh Day understood about physical healing, but Mr. Armstrong understood it and taught it to the Church.

Days begin and end at sunset.  We observe Passover shortly after sunset when Passover day begins.  We drink the wine and eat unleavened bread in remembrance of Christ's sacrifice for us, and we meditate on the love of Christ and God the Father for us.  We also wash each other's feet, in accordance with the example God gives us in the Bible (John 13:1-15), and this represents the humble services we should give to one another.

Following Passover, we observe seven days of unleavened bread.  Prior to this, we are to get all leavening and leavened products out of our house, and this includes cleaning our dwelling space of bread crumbs.  The principle forms of leavening are yeast, baking soda, and baking powder, but there may be others.

For seven days we avoid eating leavened bread or anything containing leavening.  We also make sure we eat some unleavened bread each day.

Leavened bread and leavening represent sin during this time (because leavening puffs up).  When we are diligent to avoid leavening during these days, we are reminded of the diligence with which we should put sin out of our lives.  Unleavened bread represents the righteousness of Christ, which we are to put into our lives.

On the first and last days of unleavened bread we assemble for services.  The first and last days of unleavened bread are also holy days and we cannot work on those days.

The overall meaning of the Days of Unleavened Bread is putting sin out of our lives and the righteousness of Christ into our lives.  He is our perfect teacher and example.

At the beginning of the Days of Unleavened Bread we keep the Night to Be Much Observed.  This commemorates ancient Israel leaving Egypt.  Egypt represents sin, and Israel coming out of Egypt represents our coming out of sin.  Israel did not come out of Egypt the same night the death angel killed the firstborn of the Egyptians - they came out the following night.  God commands this night be observed (Exodus 12:41-42) but does not say how to observe it.  The Church has made the judgment to observe it with a special meal in groups with the brethren.

Spiritual and Physical Healing

In past posts I have addressed the subject of spiritual healing.

The Bible plainly states that by Christ's stripes, the beating He took, we are healed.  "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. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:5-6).  My question is, does this refer to physical healing, spiritual healing, or both?  I think the answer is, both.

This may take some thought.

Mr. Armstrong taught, and emphasized, physical healing.  But I know of no statement by Mr. Armstrong that excludes spiritual healing.  Mr. Armstrong had a style of teaching that placed emphasis on those things his readers and listeners did not know.  Most people did not know about physical healing, so Mr. Armstrong placed emphasis on this, even to the point of not teaching much, or anything, about spiritual healing.

Yet, I think it likely that Mr. Armstrong, if he were asked, would have acknowledged that spiritual healing is included.  Perhaps he even said this in the presence of some long-time members still alive today.  Perhaps someone might remember.

Does the Bible use the term "heal" in reference to spiritual healing?  Yes.  "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, For My anger has turned away from him" (Hosea 14:4).  Backsliding refers to spiritual sin, not physical sin, so the Bible can and does use the term "heal" in reference to our spiritual sins and flaws.

Consider the logic of using "healing" in reference to physical and spiritual problems.  They are the same.  The same logic that applies to the doctrine of physical healing applies also to spiritual healing.

Let's start with the need for healing.  It is obvious that we have a need for physical healing when we are physically sick or injured or disabled.  But we have a need for spiritual healing as well.  We have human nature.  Our character needs to be cleaned up.  We need God to shape our character to become like Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, which only God can give.

Consider our fate if God only saved us from the death penalty of being burned up in the lake of fire and gave us eternal life, but did nothing to change our sinful nature and character.  The shed blood of Jesus Christ, His death in other words, pays the penalty of death so we can live forever.  But if our sinful character and nature remained the same, we would continue to sin for eternity and bring misery on ourselves and others forever.  We could be healed physically, we could be saved from death, but continue to be plagued by our sinful nature.

When we sin physically against our bodies,  by breaking the laws of physical health, by smoking for example or by eating unhealthy foods, we incur a penalty of physical illness or injury.  Jesus Christ paid the penalty for that by suffering in our place.  By his stripes - the beating he suffered - we are healed.  He suffered in our place so we do not have to continue to suffer.  Thus, our physical healing is made possible.  Our physical healing is the result of God forgiving our physical sins of violating the laws of health.  This is what Mr. Armstrong taught us and emphasized.  The Bible also teaches us this.

When we sin spiritually, we incur the death penalty.  "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).  Is this the only penalty for spiritual sin?  No.  This is what many people miss.  There are at least two penalties for spiritual sin.

When we sin, we incur the death penalty.  But also something happens to our minds.  Our character becomes corrupted.  We begin to acquire a sinful nature, the habit of sin.  And sin brings suffering.  It robs us of happiness.  This is a penalty for spiritual sin as much as death is a penalty for spiritual sin, as much as physical sickness is a penalty for broken health laws.

It might help us to understand when we consider the penalty that Lucifer and the demons have paid and are paying for their sins.  Death, the cessation of existence, does not apply to them.  Angels cannot die.  What is the penalty for sin that Satan and his demons pay?

Mr. Armstrong stated that their penalty is loss of opportunity, and that is certainly true.  But it is more than that.  Satan and the demons are not happy.  They are miserable.

Sin brings misery and suffering.  It brings conflict, war, destruction, and pain.  It brings loss of happiness.

When a wife receives notice from the police that her husband has been murdered, her suffering is mental and it is real.  When a couple goes through a divorce, the suffering is real though it may be only mental, and it is the result of sin.

And sin causes us to develop a sinful nature.  Sin becomes a habit.  Part of our sinful nature comes from Satan's influence, temptations, and broadcasting (Ephesians 2:2), but part comes from our choice to sin and what that choice does to our character.

When Lucifer sinned, something happened to his mind.  It was corrupted.  He developed an evil nature.  He sinned more and more, and that sin brought misery to himself and others.  When he embraced thoughts of vanity, his wisdom became corrupted.  "Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor" (Ezekiel 28:17).

When Adam sinned, something happened to his mind also.  He too began to develop a sinful nature.  The Church has taught this.

And a sinful nature causes sin, and sin causes suffering.  It causes death too, but also suffering.

An evil nature that tends to sin, and the suffering that results from sin, are a penalty of human sin as much as death itself.

The shed blood of Jesus Christ, represented by Passover wine, represents Christ paying the death penalty for our sins so we can be forgiven and not have to die and cease to exist in the lake of fire.  The suffering He endured in the form of beating, represented by broken unleavened bread at Passover services, paid the penalty for our physical violations of the laws of health so we don't have to continue to suffer from sickness.

But just as Christ's suffering paid the penalty of suffering from sickness and injury so we can be physically healed, so his suffering paid the penalty of suffering from the spiritual effects of spiritual sin that comes from our sinful nature so we do not have to suffer eternally from sin and the consequences of sin.  In the kingdom of God we will not be fighting, destroying, and making ourselves and everyone around us miserable, because we will be spiritually healed and will no longer have a sinful nature.

The suffering of Christ, represented by the broken bread at Passover service, makes possible both our physical healing (removing the suffering of sickness) and our spiritual healing (removing the suffering brought on by sin).  The suffering of Christ makes possible our physical and spiritual healing so we don't have to continue to suffer.  Christ suffered in our place, paying the penalty of suffering so we don't have to continue to suffer, whether that suffering comes from physical sin or spiritual sin.

Mr. Armstrong said in his autobiography that his repentance was the bitterest pill he ever had to swallow, but it was the only medicine that brought real healing.  I am not quoting, because I am paraphrasing from memory.  But I do remember he used the term healing.  So even Mr. Armstrong understood that the word healing can apply to spiritual problems, and that is the context in which I am writing here.

How should we respond to this?

We should acknowledge to ourselves and to God that we are spiritually sick, that we need spiritual healing, that we need our character healed and we need God to give us His perfect, righteous, holy character, that we need to be made like Christ, and that Christ by his suffering paid the penalty of our suffering that results from both spiritual and physical sin.  We need to thank God and Christ for their sacrifice that enables us to be spiritually healed so we don't have to suffer for eternity from sin and from a sinful nature.

Self-Examination in Preparation for Passover

Prior to Passover, we should examine ourselves, looking at our spiritual condition (1 Corinthians 11:26-32).  The purpose here is not to determine if we are worthy to keep the Passover - none of us are worthy in that sense.  The purpose is to be able to keep Passover in a worthy manner.

Here are some scriptural passages I look to to examine myself, and these might be helpful to others.

Love God with all your being, the first great commandment (Deuteronomy 6:5, 11:1, Matthew 22:36-38, Mark 12:29-30, Luke 10:25-28).

Love your neighbor as yourself, the second great commandment (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 19:16-19, Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 10:25-28, Romans 13:8-10, Galations 5:14, James 2:8-13, Luke 10:30-37).

The three weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith (Matthew 23:23).

The ten commandments (Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:5-22).

The sermon on the mount (Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7, Luke 6:20-49, 11:1-13, 12:1-53, 13:23-30).

The love chapter (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).

The messages to the seven churches of Revelation (Revelation chapters 2 and 3).

Bring every thought into obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-6).

Whatever is good, think on that (Philippians 4:8).

Be a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2).

Support the work of warning Israel of the tribulation to come (Ezekiel 3:17-21, Ezekiel 33:1-20, Proverbs 24:11-12).

Trust in God (Proverbs 3:5-6, Jeremiah 17:7-8).

Trust not in man (Psalm 146:3-4, Jeremiah 17:5-6).

Overcome Satan with prayer, fasting, the sacrifice of Christ, and our work of testimony (Leviticus 23:27-32, Leviticus 16:20-34, Revelation 20:1-3. Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13, Matthew 17:14-21, Mark 9:17-29, Revelation 12:11).

Violence in entertainment (Isaiah 33:14-16).

Humility (Luke 18:9-14, James 4:5-10).

Practice mercy and truth (Proverbs 16:6).

God's word sets a high standard, but eternal life is worth it.  I myself struggle with many of the points above, and not always successfully.  I fall short many times, but I am determined to keep trying in this life till I die or Christ comes.

When we examine ourselves, we do not have to focus only on the negatives of our sins and faults.  We can also consider our good points, and we can consider that God looks at not only our works but also our faith (James 2:24, Galatians 3:24-29, John 7:38, John 11:25).

For those who struggle with sin, parts of the seventh and eighth chapters of Romans can be encouraging because they show that Paul also struggled to overcome his human nature (Romans 7:4-25, 8:1-17).

Abraham was justified by faith, and God encourages us to look to Abraham's example (Romans 4:3, James 2:23, Genesis 15:6, Isaiah 51:1-2).

I also encourage everyone, in their self-examination, to consider the things I wrote in my last two posts.  We need to glorify God and obey Him by putting Him first in our beliefs and faith, believing what God says in the Bible more than men in the Church, if they differ, and not making idols out of the Church or its leaders.  But also do not cause division by criticizing or contradicting the ministry and leadership.

I hope and pray that everyone has a successful and spiritually profitable Passover, Night to Be Much Observed, and Days of Unleavened Bread.