Passover a celebration for Jews and Christians

The story of Passover is a timeless story that resonates in the hopes and dreams of people of all ages in their struggle for liberation from cruel oppressors. But Passover represents much more than just a story of national liberation. The Lord instructed Moses to tell Pharaoh: “Let my people go, so that they may worship me” (Ex. 9:1).

Man was created to glorify God, but sin placed a barrier between man and God because sinful man could not remain in God’s holy presence. However, God promised to send the Messiah to redeem mankind from the curse of sin. The Messiah would come from the seed of Abraham, and through him all nations would be blessed.

When Abraham’s descendants found themselves under a cruel yoke of slavery God raised up Moses to lead his people out of Egypt, but he knew he was not the promised Redeemer who would liberate mankind from the curse of sin. The story of the exodus is preserved and retold because it prefigured a much greater deliverance yet to come, in which the whole world will be liberated from the curse of sin to once again reflect the glory of God as He originally intended. The story of the Jewish people is a microcosm of the deliverance of the whole world from the bondage of sin.

Jews celebrate the miraculous deliverance of their forefathers from bondage in Egypt by the hand of God to be his chosen nation, called to worship Him and declare His name among the nations. Their deliverance was preceded by the sacrifice of the lambs, whose blood had to be painted on the doorposts as a visible sign of their faith in God to deliver them from the judgment which was coming upon Egypt. By this God was showing that there had to be a substitute to pay the penalty of sin, which is death. The blood on the doorposts caused the angel of death to pass over them. The entire lamb had to be consumed by all those within the household, along with the matzah and bitter herbs as a symbol of dedication and fellowship with the entire community in the deliverance of God. Jewish tradition connects the most important events in Israel’s history with the Paschal feast.

For Christians too, Passover represents the climax and essence of the Biblical theme of deliverance and redemption, but this is universalised to encompass people from every tribe and nation who long to be set free from the bondage of sin to worship God. The blood on the doorposts pointed to the manner in which our final redemption would be accomplished through the blood of the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Those who have faith in the blood of the lamb are spared from the final judgment of the second death.

Accordingly, it was no co-incidence that Jesus was crucified during the feast of Passover. This feast typifies all that is encompassed in the messianic ideal. Just as the Paschal lambs had to be examined for four days prior to Passover to ensure that they were unblemished, Jesus was subjected to the rigorous scrutiny of the religious leaders over a period of four days as he taught in the temple courts. The last supper, at which he announced the inauguration of the New Covenant prophesied by Jeremiah (31:31), was a Passover meal. This covenant for the forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of the Messiah himself, was ratified with his own blood. He was arrested that night and brought before the Sanhedrin where the high priest asked him directly, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” (Mk.14:60). His answer, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven,” was considered blasphemous and worthy of death, but he was delivered to the Roman authorities for execution.

Christians believe that Jesus is the Passover Lamb, slain as the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, thereby fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham – that all nations would be blessed through the Jewish Messiah. The reason for the Messiah’s suffering was prophesied hundreds of years before by the Hebrew prophet Isaiah: But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 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 her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. Is. 53:5-8

If he was not the Messiah and Son of God his testimony before the high priest would indeed be blasphemous, yet followers have maintained this testimony for the past 2000 years. Can such a claim be validated? According to biblical prophecy the Messiah would die for the sins of his people, but his mission would not end with his death. The prophecies also predicted that the Messiah would be raised from the dead, not just in the sense that all will be raised for judgment at the last day, but in a unique way that would vindicate his messianic claim. Jesus alluded to this in his testimony before the Sanhedrin. God would vindicate his anointed by raising him from the dead as prophesied in Psalm 16, “you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.” It is the message “He is risen” that turned a disappointed, fearful and demoralised little band of disciples into fearless witnesses who were prepared to be burnt at the stake or thrown to the lions for the sake of his name. They were eyewitnesses of the fact. Their unshakeable certainty in the resurrection of Jesus is what spurred the early believers to endure unimaginable tortures and cruelties for the sake of their testimony. Such courage and conviction would be inexplicable if they had manufactured the story. The death and resurrection of Jesus, far from signalling defeat signalled the victory of his messianic mission and vindicated his claim to be the Messiah (anointed one or Christ). This victory is what Christians are still celebrating 2000 years later – the Messiah having paid the price of our transgressions and triumphed over death to secure for us eternal life.

The prophet Isaiah foretold both the death and resurrection of the Messiah: Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, 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. (Isaiah 53:10-12).

The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God, the Rock, my Saviour! (2 Samuel 22:47).