Out of all the Old Testament Hebrew festivals, sacrifices and rites, Christians are usually more familiar with the Passover than any other. In I Corinthians 5:7 Paul declared to a congregation made up mostly of Gentiles– non-Jews – “Christ OUR passover is sacrificed for us.” Even without his arguments in the Book of Hebrews, he tells us that this special sacrifice has much to teach us about our salvation. “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.” When John the Baptist pointed to the Lord Jesus saying. “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” he may not have been thinking specifically about the Passover, but it is impossible to assert that he was not at least including it.
Alfred Edersheim was a converted Jew who, based on his knowledge of Jewish customs and history, wrote several important books. Among them were “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah,” and “The Temple: its Ministry and Services.” In that second book he looks at all the temple services, and takes the reader back to their origins. In chapter 11, he says, “There are peculiarities about the Passover which make it as the most important, and indeed takes it out of the rank of the other festivals.” It was the first of the festivals during which eventually all the men of Israel were to appear at the temple. Second, it is closely tied to a very important event in Israel’s history – the exodus from Egypt. And third, it is important as a type – an illustration of eternal spiritual significance – salvation. With points 2 and 3 in mind, I’d like us to consider the four days of Passover preparation and then the seven days which followed.
During the four days prior to the Passover Israel had two important responsibilities.
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house:” Everyone needs to know that some of the regulations about the Passover changed over the years. Here in Exodus 12, there was to be one lamb per family, but it could be shared between two families if poverty made it necessary. But by the days of the New Testament between ten and twenty men or families could share one sacrifice. That came about in part because of the huge volume of lambs which were slaughtered that day. Verse 5 tells us that the sacrifice could be either a lamb or a goat. Later, even other animals were used, but ultimately it became lamb only. Here in Exodus 12, when as yet there were no priests, the father of the family sacrificed the lamb. But eventually all the lambs were to be brought to the priests for sacrifice. And in Jesus’ day this meant an unbelievable number were slain – 256,000 one year – one day. Edersheim describes the organized system used to accomplish that monumental feat. And all that blood was cast upon the brazen altar until there was a stream of it flowing away. There were other changes in the pattern as well, some ordained by God and others which were probably not.
Four days before the Passover, a lamb was to be selected and set aside for its special purpose. It was “ordained” for its God-designated task. “Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.” The statement “male of the first year” is literally, “son of a year” and could mean anywhere from 8 days to 3590 days old. So this animal could have been almost new born, or a pretty good size after a year of grazing – but it was not an old animal.
In what way was it “kept up” between the 10th and the 14th of the month? Many say that it was kept in the place where the family lived – in their house or tent. In other words, the family became very familiar with the animal. They were trusting the God-ascribed merits of an animal which they had the opportunity to know personally. Like the man under conviction about salvation, their faith was not in a generic sacrifice. This animal was their own personal sacrifice. They directly fed it for days. The kids may have named it. It became a temporary member of the family even though mom and dad tried to tell the kids not to get too attached. They WERE attached – they were all attached, as well they should have been. This lamb was going to die for their salvation.
Later the Jewish priesthood established a fifty point check list for determining a blameless animal. They would look at its ears, feet, coloration, eyes, nose – all sorts of things – looking for blemishes. Why? Because it was to depict the perfect sacrifice that we have in the Lord Jesus Christ. And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the LORD of hosts. But cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing: for I am a great King, saith the LORD of hosts, and my name is dreadful among the heathen – Malachi 1:8, 14. I Peter 1:18-19 – “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:”
You say that you are a “Christian” – saved by the blood of the crucified One. Can you also say – limited as we all might be – can you say that you KNOW the Lord? And not just in a theological way – understanding the facts – His eternality, His virgin birth, His deity. How well did you know Him before your conversion, not that we really could? Have you come to love Him? Have you ever come to the point of hating yourself for requiring the sacrifice the Lamb of God? Does, or has, the Saviour come to live in your home, or is He just out there in the theological pasture somewhere? That Passover lamb became the personal salvation to the family who trusted Him.
Four days prior to Israel’s salvation, the Lamb of God first made His entrance into their lives. But there was another important responsibility given to those Hebrews during this time. The Passover is considered by some to the be first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, or by others as the day preceding the seven days of Unleavened Bread. Either way, the Passover meal was to be eaten with non-leavened bread. God said to Moses, Israel “shall eat the flesh (of the Passover Lamb) in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.” Unleavened bread.
Immediately after describing the Passover, the Lord went on in verse 15. “Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel. And in the first day there shall be an holy convocation, and in the seventh day there shall be an holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done of you. And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall ye observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, ye shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month at even. Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses: for whosoever eateth that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a stranger, or born in the land. Ye shall eat nothing leavened; in all your habitations shall ye eat unleavened bread.”
I will come back to these seven days in a few minutes, but for now notice that during the four days prior to the Passover, the family celebrating the Passover was to eliminate every form of leaven from their lives. Edersheim says. “The head of the house was to search with a lighted candle all places where leaven was usually kept, and to put what of it he found in the house in a safe place, whence no portion could be carried away by any accident. Before doing this, he prayed: ‘Blessed art Thou Jehovah, our God, King of the Universe, who hast sanctified us by Thy commandments, and commanded us to remove the leaven.’ And after his search he said: ‘All the leaven that is in my possession that which I have seen and that which I have not seen, be it null, be it accounted as the dust of the earth.’ The search itself was to be accomplished in perfect silence with a lighted candle.
Leaven, as an ingredient for cooking was not ordinarily forbidden to the Jews. But throughout the Word of God it is used to illustrate sin. When Israel first observed the Passover, it represented all the evil influences of Egypt. By searching it out and eliminating it prior to killing the Passover sacrifice, we have an illustration of repentance.
In the four days prior to the offering of the sacrifice every believer was to become intimate with the Saviour and repentant in regard to sin and the world. These two things have not changed; they still are a part of the salvation of God’s saints.
Then there was the sacrifice itself.
It was to take place as the sun set on the evening of the 14th of Abib – “Nisan” as the month was later called. “And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it.” I have heard preachers say that putting the blood on the two sides an upper lintel pictured the cross. Being naive and naturally stupid, I have probably said the same thing myself. Today, I fail to see how a door can look like a cross. I think that it’s a mistake to squeeze too much out of an illustration, even if it is a Biblical illustration.
But remember what the applied blood was supposed to do or say. During that Egyptian night, God’s death angel was to sweep across the land. Where he saw the faith of the Israelite as applied to the door of his house in blood, he was not to stop. By faith, there would be no death in that home where the blood had been applied.
There is much about the Passover which we don’t have time to cover this morning – it’s not my purpose. But there are some interesting things, like the use of the common weed – hyssop – as the brush. What could we say was the purpose of that? Could it have reference to the humility of saving faith? Could it point to universal availability – not one family in Israel could not find hyssop if they looked.
Verse 8 – “And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.” If I understand correctly, the Jews preferred to eat pot roast, over barbeque or oven-roasted meat. But on this occasion the Lord was quite specific – roast lamb. There were sacrifices made by the Egyptians, particularly those to Osiris, which were eaten raw. Israel was to see to it that this meat was to be different from what they had seen in others and even from what they preferred. Plus, this would eventually be a part of putting the lamb upon the brazen altar in the tabernacle. Roasting is also a good illustration of the judgment which was laid upon the Saviour on our behalf, although I don’t see too much difference between that and boiling.
One of most memorable Passover seasons mentioned in the Bible took place during the days of Josiah. It sheds a little light on the way things were done years after the Exodus. II Chronicles 35:1, 11-13 – “Moreover Josiah kept a passover unto the LORD in Jerusalem: and they killed the passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. And they killed the passover, and the priests sprinkled the blood from their hands, and the Levites flayed them. And they removed the burnt offerings, that they might give according to the divisions of the families of the people, to offer unto the LORD, as it is written in the book of Moses. And so did they with the oxen. And they roasted the passover with fire according to the ordinance: but the other holy offerings sod they in pots, and in caldrons, and in pans, and divided them speedily among all the people.”
On the night of the first Passover, Israel was delivered from their oppressors – the Egyptians. The next day they began their journey towards their Promised Land. The Passover was essentially their salvation as a nation. And typically, it points to ours in the Lord Jesus Christ.
And following the Passover came the seven days of Unleavened bread.
We have already read of some of that festival, but there are many other scriptures which we could add. For example Leviticus 23:6 specifically tells us that it began on the 15th and extended for seven days. So technically, the Passover preceded the Feast of Unleavened bread, and together they extended from the first day of the week through the first day of the next week, or whichever day of the week it was. And what was its purpose? Exodus 13:8 tells us – “And thou shalt shew thy son in that day, saying, This is done because of that which the LORD did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt.”
The special seven days of this Jewish festival had a MESSAGE to the world. And there are still LESSONS for you and me. The first is that we all – every family of saints – have the responsibility to tell the world, “This is … that which the LORD did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt.” Exactly fifty days after the Passover, Israel would enjoy the blessings of Pentecost, but that is yet in our future. Today we are living in the earthly afterglow of redemption; we are on our way to the Promised Land. And our message should be “Praise God for His glorious and gracious salvation.” Our attendance in the house of God should be rooted in the fact of our salvation. Our songs should be about His grace. Our conversation should be about our citizenship. Our affections should be “in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Some people look at the actual unleavened bread negatively. The taste is insipid and disagreeable – we ordinarily prefer raised bread, not flat bread. So these people conclude that the Christian life should be spent in privation, sorrow and mourning. Edersheim says “This explanation must be erroneous. The idea intended to be conveyed by the Scriptural term is quite different. For just as we should ever remember the death of our Saviour in connection with His resurrection, so were Israel always to remember their bondage in connection with their deliverance. The Passover, therefore, was not so much the remembrance of Israel’s bondage as of Israel’s deliverance.”
Christian, it does not matter what sins you committed while in Egypt – in your former life. Did you bow to idols; did you live in pleasure; did you curse your Creator? Did you kill an Egyptian? It doesn’t matter now, because all those leavenous iniquities are now under the blood of the Saviour. The death angel has already flown from horizon to horizon and has graciously not stopped at your house. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”
There is another quite acceptable application of this denial of leavened bread. The repentance which precedes the application of the blood… Our desire of freedom from sin before our salvation… Should not end when salvation has been granted. Now that we have eternal life and eternal forgiveness, we are not granted the right of bowing to idols, living in pleasure or cursing our Creator. Repentance isn’t a one time act, any more than faith in Christ to save us is a one time act. These things should be a joyful part of our lives until the day of our ultimate glorification. As I have read somewhere – “What had originally been the necessity of one day, became the ordinance of a feast, bearing the sacred number of seven days.”
Do you remember earlier when I said that the Apostle Paul pointed to Christ as our Passover? The context was not Paul’s presentation of the gospel. Rather it was in a discussion of the Christian life which the gospel produces when properly received. I Corinthians 5:7 – “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
The Passover is a beautiful picture of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. I have only begun to highlight the glorious hues of that divine picture. My interest was primarily the days prior to and following the Passover. Both of which speak of the condition of the redeemed heart.
Now it is your responsibility to examine yourself – do you find the message of these two sets of days in you? Has there been a Passover experience in your life? Are you redeemed by the blood of the Crucified one? If not, I would be happy to speak with you about salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.