Last time we looked at the Sabbath, and how the Sabbath is truly a challenge to us to enter into rest once and for all – finding freedom in Christ to the uttermost. Here, with the Passover and Unleavened Bread, we enter into another dialogue of what it means to be an eternally minded people. With all of these feasts, they reflect back to the coming out of Egypt and God’s guidance through the wilderness.
The Passover revolves around one central aspect: a lamb that was slain. It is entirely about a God who rescued His people from slavery, and how the people of Israel were delivered because the angel of death saw the blood of the lamb and passed over (Exodus 12). Where does this concept come from? Why does God call for a lamb instead of a bull, goat, ram, or some other animal?
This actually starts all the way back in Genesis 22. There is this story of Abraham where God calls him to sacrifice his son – His only begotten son whom he loves (see Genesis 22:2). In this story, Abraham mounts the donkey with his son; they have the firewood, the knife, and all of the proper tools to make the sacrifice. One thing they lack: the sacrifice. Isaac even asks his father, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham then replies, “God will provide the lamb.” As we continue to go through the story, only a few verses later we see Abraham lay his son down on the altar, Isaac goes down willingly, Abraham draws the knife, and just as he is about to plunge it into Isaac…
“Abraham! Abraham!” The angel of the Lord calls out to Abraham to stop him. This man was so attuned and that the disposal of the voice of God that he doesn’t swing his arm anyway. He stops. He calls out, “Here am I!” The angel of the Lord then says, “Do not lay a hand on the boy. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Abraham looks up, and sees a ram caught in the thorn bush.
Don’t go on from there so quickly.
Abraham told Isaac that God would provide the lamb.
God provided a ram. What is happening here? Where is the lamb?
When we progress forward in the story, we find in Exodus 12 that the Israelites are to offer a lamb on their behalf so that the angel of death will pass over their homes and not take their firstborn. It says in Exodus 12:3 that on the tenth day of Nissan each man is to take a lamb for his family. They bring it into their homes. They examine it for four full days. They see whether the lamb has any defect, whether there is any blemish, any spot. Moses says that they are to examine the lambs until the fourteenth day, and at twilight they shall slaughter the lamb. What does that mean?
Here is a little numbers game that we’re playing. The evening was the beginning of the new day. So, we’re seeing that the lamb was supposed to be examined for four days. That puts us at the fourteenth. At twilight on the fourteenth day, we are now officially beginning the fifteenth day – a Sabbath commencing the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Why is this important?
In the book of John, we find the story of Jesus. In the very first chapter we have the testimony of John the Baptizer: The next day, John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I mean when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” A few verses later we read again: The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”
Does it seem like John is trying to get us to understand something? Where was the lamb that Abraham promised? Some would say that it was in the Passover. Yet, we see John answering that too. Genesis 22:2 says that God wanted Abraham to sacrifice his only son whom he loved. Then, we read John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” This phrasing is straight out of Genesis 22:2. John picks up the hints from both of these stories to say that just as Abraham gave his only begotten son whom he loved, so too God the Father is giving His only begotten son in whom He loves. Just as God required the Israelites to offer a lamb that He might pass over them, now God is offering a Lamb that He might pass over Israel while He makes a public display of the principalities and powers.
When God sent the plagues and demanded the Passover, it was because God was judging the gods of Egypt. There is a direct contrast between the gods of Egypt and the God of Israel. So too do we find here, that God is not offering Jesus merely as our sacrifice – although that is true and incredibly important – but that He is even our Passover Lamb, sot that God’s judgment upon the kingdom of darkness will not come upon you and me and anyone else in God’s Kingdom.
We keep moving forward in the Gospel of John. We eventually come to chapter 12. The chapter starts by saying, “Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany…” Why is this detail added about “six days before Passover”? This is the anointing at Bethany, where Jesus says that Mary has prepared Him for burial. Watch what happens in the progression of the story. We keep reading, and we come across verse 12, where it says, “The next day… Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem.” Why is this important? Remember Exodus 12 – for four days the lamb was taken into the home to be examined.
In John 12:21, Greeks had come to the Feast, and they find Philip and ask, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus”. What’s happening? Jesus is being examined by the Greek Jews. In verse 34, the crowd speaks up and says, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ wi;l remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man will be lifted up?’ Who is this Son of Man?” They are examining the theology of Jesus. Look at verse 39: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe on him.” In John 18:19, we find the commencement of Jesus being questioned by the High Priest and the Sanhedrin. What is happening? They are examining Him to see if Jesus has any defect. This is why Jesus says things like, “If I said something wrong, testify as to what is wrong.” Pilate examined Jesus and declared, “I find no basis for a charge against him” (19:6).
In John 19:14, the detail is given: “It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour.” Why is this detail given? This is the fourteenth day. This was the day when you prepare your home, getting rid of all of the leaven in your house. You are going to slaughter the lamb at twilight. We find later in chapter 19 that Jesus gives up his spirit “now” that “it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath”. What does that mean? The next day began the Feast of Unleavened Bread. At this time, the very moment when the lambs were being slaughtered and the Passover was being set up, Jesus dies as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Jesus is our Passover Lamb…
We find in John 19:32-36 that Jesus’ legs were not broken, and this was done in order to fulfill the Scripture, “Not one of his bones will be broken.” This comes from Exodus 12:46, where the Passover lamb was not to have any of its bones broken. It is also reiterated again in Numbers 9:12, and again in Psalm 34:20.
Yet, we find in Leviticus that the Passover comes with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. For the next week, the people are celebrating this feast. The Unleavened Bread goes back to in Exodus when the people cleaned their houses, searching high and low for any leaven, and baked their bread without leaven. Then, when they were quickly charged to leave Egypt, they went with the spoils of the Egyptians, carrying their matzo with them. For the next few days, the Israelites wouldn’t have any leaven.
This is significant, because the question arises as to what the leaven represents. Notice 1 Corinthians 5:6-8. “Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little leaven works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old leaven that you may be a new batch without yeast – as you really are. For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice, and wickedness, but with bread without leaven, the bread of sincerity and truth.”
What festival is Paul speaking of here? It isn’t Passover, because he claims that Christ, our Passover Lamb, has already been sacrificed. Rather, Paul is saying that because Christ has been slain, we are to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Also note that Paul is not saying we should go up to Jerusalem year after year (in their time this would have been a possibility). Rather, Paul is telling them to continue in a life without yeast, that is, a life without malice and wickedness. Live your life in sincerity and truth, which is what the Unleavened Bread was all about. This is what it means to keep the Feast today. We look unto Christ, our Passover Lamb, and we continue to dwell in the reality of what we are: Unleavened Bread, the bread of sincerity and truth.