It’s Sunday night and I’m in Dallas for a quick visit with one of my clients – trying to decide which of two stories to write about. Because today is Palm Sunday, marking the triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem, the beginning of the last week of Christ’s earthly life before the crucifixion. But frankly, another story, about the first Passover, seems to be in the forefront of my mind as this year, Easter week and Passover overlap. Because at sundown Monday, Passover begins. And there are many common elements between the first Passover and the crucifixion of Jesus – so in the spirit of teaching a little whenever I have the chance, I thought I would grab it. And as Christians, we have heard the Palm Sunday story so often that I thought a different view may be in order.
The story of the first Passover appears in Exodus 12. To summarize, God gave an exact list of instructions for the Israelites to follow in preparation for their flight from Egypt. Each family was to secure a year old, unblemished lamb and at dusk, on the 14th day of the first month, they were to sacrifice the lamb. Using a hyssop branch, they were to spread the blood on the door frames of their houses. No yeast was to be used in the bread, and no lamb was to be divided between families. In other words, if your family was too small to consume the meal, you could invite others over to the feast, but you could not cut up or break the carcass to divide between homes. And nobody was to go outside, because God was going to take the firstborn children of any family who did not follow the instructions and remain under the roof of their home.
Of course, the families of the Egyptians were not protected and so there was wailing and the gnashing of teeth as all the firstborn of Egypt, (the Scripture tells us “men and animals”) were found dead by their families. Immediately after these events, the Israelites began preparation for their exodus out of Egypt and their journey to the Promised Land began. However, there are several elements in this story that we, as Christians, should find interesting, but we just don’t think about them. And so, tonight, several things to contemplate about that first Passover and the similarities to the death of Jesus.
The Jews were told to sacrifice a lamb, which is what we call substitutionary atonement. This meant that something had to die in place of man to take care of the sins of man. The lamb was chosen to die for man at the first Passover, and the blood of the lamb was to be spilled to protect the Israelites. Sound familiar? Christ, the unblemished lamb, was sacrificed for the sins of everyone, and His blood was spilled so that those who professed belief in Him would be saved – just like the families at the first Passover were spared death when God “passed over” their homes. Also, the lamb was not to be divided or broken, and on the cross, as the guards went to break the legs of Jesus to speed up the process of crucifixion, He was already dead.
We find the story in John 19:31-33, “Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.”
Also notice that each person had to partake of the lamb themselves. Now this seems obvious to us – that I can not eat a meal to satisfy you – you must eat for yourself. And isn’t this the same thing that is required of us in the New Testament? Each must partake of the free gift of salvation for themselves. I can’t accept salvation for you, any more than I can eat a dinner for you. You must eat for yourself, and partake of Christ, the perfect Lamb, yourself. Then, and only then, will you be fully satisfied. Get it? Kind of cool, isn’t it? And although there are many other similarities between the two events, I think you get the idea – that Passover is a picture of the future when God would sacrifice His Son, Jesus, to be our substitute and give us eternal life.
So my encouragement tonight is to let you know that Christ died for you, and I hope that you do not let that go to waste. You were saved for some very important reason, and that is your reason for being. I encourage you to find out what that is and to honor God by devoting your life to Him. And my prayer is that God will let you know your mission for Him, and that you will take this week to thank God for His goodness and His Son’s sacrifice for each of us. As we approach this Easter, I pray that you will be blessed in ways you have not even imagined – I know that I have. Amen.