Last night our family celebrated the Passover Seder Dinner, the dinner Jesus ate with his disciples just before he was arrested and crucified. The Passover is a remembrance of God delivering His people from slavery in Egypt in the time of Moses, and a look forward to God's plan of redemption for the World.
God brought ten plagues on Egypt, each one demonstrating His power over the Egyptian pantheon of gods. He showed the god of the Nile to be powerless by turning the Nile to blood. He mocked the Egyptian frog god by bringing hoards of frogs to cover everything. Pharaoh's magicians claimed that they also could conjure frogs, but they were powerless to do what was really needed, which was to make the frogs go away. God revealed the impotence of the gods of cattle, livestock, and grain by wiping out the herds and crops of the Egyptians. Egypt's supreme god, Ra, the sun god was shown to be worthless when God brought darkness on the entire land.
Passover focuses on the final plague, when God told each Hebrew family to kill a perfect, spotless lamb and spread it's blood on the doorposts of their houses. They were given detailed instructions of what to eat that night, and how to eat it. They ate unleavened bread because they did not have time to wait for the bread to rise, and they ate with their shoes on, robe on, and walking stick ready, expecting to leave in a great hurry. That night, God struck down the first-born son in every Egyptian house, but when he came to a house with the lamb's blood on the door, he passed over that house. Thus the name, Passover.
Why was the blood on the doorposts necessary? God certainly knew who the Hebrews were. They lived in one particular part of town, and the Egyptians lived in another. So the idea that it was for God's information doesn't hold up. Killing the lamb and putting its blood on the doorposts does not make a lot of sense. There was no practical reason for it. God commanded it as an act of faith, requiring that the people place their trust in God to deliver them.
While this observance was filled with rich meaning regarding what God has done in the past, it also pointed forward to what God would do in the future. The blood of Jesus, the perfect, sinless lamb would be shed to free God's people from slavery to sin through faith.
Hundreds of years before Jesus birth, Isaiah made the connection between the Messiah and the Passover lamb in Isaiah 53:
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
This section is a lengthy Messianic prophecy, in which Isaiah refers to the coming Messiah as "The Servant". A few verses earlier he described Jesus death:
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
John the Baptist identified Jesus as the Passover lamb, saying "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29)
There are many interesting components of the Seder meal. Before the meal is observed, all yeast must be removed from the house. Throughout the Bible, yeast is used to represent sin, because the smallest amount of yeast can affect an entire loaf of bread. There is a ritual washing of hands before the meal, representing a spiritual cleansing. Four cups of wine represent something different. The cup about which Jesus said "This is my blood shed for you" was the cup of Redemption, which was proceeded by praying "I will redeem you with a demonstration of my power". Each part of the meal has significance. Bitter herbs dipped in salt water represent the bitterness of slavery and the tears cried while in bondage. This applies equally well to physical slavery in Egypt or spiritual slavery to sin. I strongly encourage you to attend a Seder dinner next year. We went to one at Christ Chapel in Fort Worth presented by a Messianic Jew, David Teitelbaum, but I am sure that there are many others.
I find it remarkable that centuries before Jesus birth, God laid out his plan of redemption in both prophesy and in the Jewish holidays and temple rituals, and then he brought it about exactly as he said that he would. It gives us confidence to know that when Jesus says he will return to defeat Satan, judge the earth, and take his own to live eternally in his presence, it is certainly going to happen. You can count on it.
I will leave you with one thing I learned last night which was completely new to me. One part of the Seder dinner tradition which emerged in the first century involves placing three pieces of matzo, or unleavened bread, in a bag. At a certain point in the Seder, the middle matzo is removed from the bag, broken in half, and wrapped in a linen cloth. It is then hidden, and later in the meal, the children find it and remove it from the wrapping. This piece of unleavened bread is call the afikoman, which comes from a Greek word meaning "I have come". In Judaism, the number three is usually associated with the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But what is the significance of breaking Isaac in half, wrapping him up, and finding him later? In Christianity, the number three is often associated with the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The middle piece of matzo would then be the Son, or Jesus. When Jesus broken the bread and said "This is my body given for you" he identified himself as the one who the Seder points to. Like that bread, he was broken, wrapped in a burial cloth, and hidden for three days. But as the bread suggests, the story was not over. He arose from the dead and lives today as Savior and Lord, the only way for a person to be made right with God. As Isaiah said:
After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.