When They Ask

“And it shall come to pass, when ye are come to the land which the LORD will give you, according as he hath promised, that ye shall keep this service. And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, ‘What mean ye by this service?’ that ye shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses.'”
And the people bowed the head and worshipped (Exodus 12:25-27).

After so many years, things were proceeding very quickly.

God had been terrifying the Egyptians with plague after plague. The final plague was about to come upon them; Israel would soon be released. Moses is preparing the people for their imminent departure.

One would think, in such circumstances, that there was enough to deal with for the present. Mobilizing a large group of people for a treacherous journey is a daunting proposition. And yet we see Moses providing legislation regarding the Passover and its expected future observance in the land of Canaan! What is going on?

Moses understands the immense significance and meaning involved in what God is doing for Israel. Yes, God is delivering this specific generation of Israelites out of the land of Egypt, out of bondage, and toward deliverance and the land of promise. But this is the story of God and Israel and the basis of everything that will come later. God is the God of Israel because of His promises to their fathers and because He delivered them from the land of Egypt. God loves Israel, and that love was declared powerfully in that deliverance. God is worthy of all honor, praise, glory, and obedience, because He is the Creator and acted powerfully against the Egyptians in ways no other god ever even claimed to act.

Therefore, the Passover was not merely for this generation of Israelites. The Passover was for every generation of Israelites as a way of continuing the story of Israel and its God. Each successive generation, in turn, would come to an understanding of the God of Israel and the acts of deliverance He wrought for their ancestors. For those Israelites enjoying the blessings of the land of Israel, it was a moment to give thanks and to appreciate what was done to allow them to enjoy the life they lived. For those who found themselves cast out from the land of Israel, the remembrance fostered the cherished hope that God would again act powerfully in their generation for their deliverance as He had so long ago.

The observance is very intentional, designed to be full of meaning. It is the perfect means of communicating a message across the generations: children will participate and will want to know what is going on. God has provided Israel with the most important teachable moment for successive generations: if the children do not understand why they should honor the God of Israel as their God, the time will come when they will have no reason not to turn their backs on Him and to follow after other gods. If they do not understand what makes the God of Israel distinctive and special, worthy of all honor and glory, they will not honor or glorify Him.

That generation of Israelites did not prove to be as far-sighted in their understanding; they would end up dying in the wilderness. The next generation would enter the land of Israel; but of the generation afterward it could be said that they did not know the LORD or the work He had done for Israel (Judges 2:10). Little wonder, then, that we read of all the sinfulness, rebelliousness, and idolatry of that and successive generations in the days of the Judges. Far later, in the times of the later kings of Judah, we are told that they observed the Passover in ways not seen since the days of old (cf. 2 Chronicles 30:1-27, 35:1-19). If the Passover is not being observed, then Israel is not remembering the act of deliverance which God wrought for them. If the Passover is not being observed, then the next generation has no opportunity to ask for understanding as to what it means. If the next generation never has that opportunity, they never learn about who God is and what He has done for Israel. All of a sudden, Israel’s idolatrous and rebellious history makes more sense.

Religious experience in activities that are laden with spiritual meaning are extremely important. They remind us of God’s saving acts of deliverance, His goodness, His power, His love. They are designed to help us to keep a proper perspective, always thankful for what God has done, remembering why we honor God as the Lord of our lives and how all things are to flow from that submission before Him. Yet, just as importantly, such experiences give children the opportunity to learn about God and what is really important. God has provided such teachable moments for us so that we may have opportunity to impart such understanding to our children as we have received from those who have gone on before us. This is not a task to be off-loaded upon someone else; we are given the opportunity to explain to our own children the reason why we believe God is Lord and how He has powerfully acted in order to provide deliverance and salvation for all mankind.

But that conversation can only happen if we are participating in God’s work and participate in those actions invested with spiritual significance. That conversation can only happen when we really believe that God is Lord of our lives and that all things should flow from our submission to Him. Our children can only see the power of God’s saving activity when they see it not just explained but lived as well. If we merely pay lip service to God while serving idols, our children will see it. If we live as if we do not know God and what He has wrought for mankind, then our children will more likely than not continue in that same path. But if we honor God as Lord, our children will likely do the same.

Children’s questions are extremely important; that is how they learn about life and what is really important. Let us take the opportunities we are given not only to explain to the next generation what God has said and done, but why we should even follow God in the first place, recounting His glorious saving acts for mankind!

Ethan R. Longhenry

When They Ask

A Perpetual Ordinance

And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall ye observe this day throughout your generations by an ordinance for ever (Exodus 12:17).

There are a lot of people who read the Bible and learn of all kinds of momentous events that took place in the past. A lot of them are willing to believe that God acted in the ways that the Bible teaches– that He is the Creator of all things (Genesis 1:1-2:3), that He delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt (Exodus 1-14), and that in the first century of our own era, that Jesus His Son lived, died, and was raised again (1 Corinthians 15:3-5). But that was all a long, long time ago. Many people are troubled that God no longer acts in the same way that He did in the past. Surely, they imagine, if God could do great acts 3500 and 2000 years ago, He could do it again now!

Let us consider the Passover for a moment. God commands Moses to instruct the people in regards to the Passover in Exodus 12. Not only will they be slaughtering the lamb and eating bitter herbs and unleavened bread that evening, as they are leaving Egypt, but will be doing so every year for as long as Israel is a people. When they enter the land of Canaan, build houses, and establish themselves, they will still be observing the Passover. They will still be eating with loins girded, shoes on their feet, and their staffs in their hands (Exodus 12:11).

This might seem absurd after a few generations. Imagine, after all, observing the Passover in the days of Solomon. The Israelites are firmly planted in Israel, Solomon is one of the most powerful monarchs of his day, even having a daughter of Pharaoh as wife (1 Kings 3:1). And yet, even at this apex of power, Israel is to annually clean out the leaven from their homes, slaughter the lamb, eat leavened bread and bitter herbs, and be dressed to leave. Even when they are in control, they are to remember and re-enact the days of deliverance from slavery.

While this may seem strange at first, it makes sense when we understand what God is doing. One could argue that the days of Solomon were not terribly different from today– God had not performed any major saving act akin to the Passover and Exodus ever since, 500 or so years earlier. The people were in a very different place than before, with much greater prosperity and independence. The Passover and Exodus would have seemed quite foreign to them. They would easily forget about YHWH and what He had done for Israel. And, functionally, they started to– they served other gods and would eventually pay the penalty (2 Kings 17:7-23).

This is not what God intended. The entire reason behind the Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread was to remember, and to an extent to re-enact, the act of God’s deliverance of Israel, so that Israel would never forget that they were dependent on YHWH for their land, prosperity, and situation. Each generation, in turn, would have the opportunity to vicariously experience what Israel went through in leaving Egypt. They could share in the great drama of YHWH’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt and their establishment as His chosen people. Yes, the later generations would live quite differently– witness the generation in the days of Solomon– but they could still share in the story of YHWH and His people!

While the Passover could become an empty ritual, it was not supposed to be so. It was supposed to be the continual reminder of what YHWH did for Israel.

The Passover feast of 30 CE would lead to a new memorial and a new re-enactment. It was then that Christ, our Passover lamb, was slain, allowing for mankind to be delivered from sin and death and made a part of God’s Kingdom (Romans 8:1-3, Colossians 1:13). Yet, just before His death, we read the following:

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.”
And the cup in like manner after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, even that which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:19-20).

In the midst of the remembrance and re-enactment of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, Jesus institutes a remembrance of what He is about to do. While the observance was inaugurated before Jesus’ death, its power derives from His death and resurrection, and was established as a perpetual observance for Christians on each first day of the week (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). It is not just a remembrance of Jesus’ death for our sin, or it would be taken on Friday; its observance on the first day of the week, the day of resurrection (Luke 24:1-7), is the reminder that He is risen, Lord, and will return again (1 Corinthians 11:26).

Yet the Lord’s Supper is also a re-enactment. We have the opportunity to place ourselves in that upper room on that fateful night, surrounding the Lord’s table, receiving the bread and fruit of the vine. We have the opportunity to take our place in the story of God’s redemption of mankind. We commune with one another, Christ, and the saints in the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 10:16-17), even if 2,000 years may separate us from the saving event. That time melts away as we partake of the bread and the fruit of the vine.

The Lord’s Supper must never become an empty ritual. The One True God acts to save in history and expects His acts to be remembered and re-enacted continually lest the people forget the God who delivered them. In the remembrance and re-enactment, God’s acts become real and fresh for every new generation. As it was with Israel and the Passover, so it is with Christians and the Lord’s Supper. Let us thank God for deliverance through Jesus Christ, remembering and re-enacting that fateful Passover night in the Lord’s Supper!

Ethan R. Longhenry

A Perpetual Ordinance

Christ Our Passover

Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, even as ye are unleavened. For our passover also hath been sacrificed, even Christ (1 Corinthians 5:7).

When we think about Jesus’ death on the cross, we often think of His death in terms of atonement. The Hebrew author makes the parallel in Hebrews 7-10: the old covenant had high priests offering the blood of bulls and goats for sin, and the new covenant has the superior sacrifice based in better promises– Jesus, the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, who offered Himself up for our atonement.

While that is true, it is interesting to note that the Israelite Day of Atonement, also known as Yom Kippur, on the tenth day of the seventh month of the Israelite calendar (Leviticus 23:27). That was the day when the high priest would offer a bull, a ram, and two goats for his own sin and for the sin of the people (Leviticus 16:1-34). But Jesus does not die anywhere near the Day of Atonement. He also is not described as the “Bull of God” or the “Goat of God.” Instead, He dies and is raised again during Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread (Mark 14:1, Luke 22:1; cf. Mark 14-16, Luke 22-24). He is also known as the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29). What’s going on here? Is there any symbolism in the timing of Jesus’ death and resurrection? And if bulls and goats were the standard sacrificial animals for atonement, why is Jesus known as the Lamb?

Paul makes it clear that there is symbolism in the timing of Jesus’ death, and he also shows us why Jesus is called the Lamb, when he describes Jesus as “Christ our Passover” in 1 Corinthians 5:7.

The Passover festival takes us back in time to Exodus 11-12 and to the deliverance of the Israelites from the hand of Pharaoh. Pharaoh had been oppressing the Israelites and subjected them to hard, forced labor (Exodus 1). YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, called Moses to be His representative before Pharaoh to deliver Israel out of bondage to fulfill the promise He made to their forefathers (Exodus 2-6). Pharaoh resisted YHWH’s call for Israel’s release, and he and the Egyptians suffered under plagues of the Nile turning to blood, frogs, gnats, flies, death of livestock, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness (Exodus 7-10). Pharaoh still refused to release the Israelites. And then God promised one final plague, and Pharaoh’s hand would then be forced.

The action in the story comes to a screeching halt as God explains what He is about to do and commissions Israel to observe the Passover. It was to be the beginning of the Israelite year– the first month (Exodus 12:1-2). They are to slaughter a male, unblemished lamb a year old on the fourteenth day of the first month, and place the blood on the side-posts and lintel of the doors (Exodus 12:3-7). They are to eat the lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, dressed and ready to depart immediately (Exodus 12:7-11). That night YHWH would strike down the firstborn of all of the Egyptians, man and beast, but when His angel would see the blood on the doors of the Israelites, he would pass over those houses and those inside would be spared (Exodus 12:13). Israel would then eat unleavened bread for seven days (Exodus 12:15-20).

This would be a perpetual statute in Israel– they were to annually observe the Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:14). The reason why would become evident: this was the time when YHWH delivered Israel out of bondage, bringing them out of Egypt, redeeming them from their captors (Exodus 12:26-27). The Passover and Feast of the Unleavened Bread served as the “Independence Day” of Israel for generations.

So how is it that Jesus is our Passover Lamb? While it is true that Jesus’ death leads to our atonement, that is not the only dimension to His death. Through His death believers are able to be delivered from the bondage of sin and death to become the people of God traveling toward the “promised land” of the resurrection and eternity with God (Romans 8:1-2, 1 Corinthians 6:20, Philippians 3:12-14, Revelation 21:1-22:6). On account of the blood of the Lamb, God passes over the sin of believers, while those who are unbelievers risk suffering condemnation (Romans 5:6-11, 6:20-23, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10). Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, believers are able to celebrate their “independence day”!

Jesus’ death and resurrection represent the fulfillment of the story of Israel, taking place within the context of the liberation of Israel from bondage. Let us praise God for Christ our Passover Lamb and the redemption, Kingdom, and glory that come through Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Christ Our Passover