Sunday, January 2, 2022


The Scandal of the Passover Feast

An Introduction

Eight days ago, we celebrated Christmas. Today we are welcoming in the New Year—2022. These two celebrations and others are annual events on our calendars, events that help us to mark time throughout the years. Many of these dates commemorate specific historical events, either religious in nature, or events of our own history, such as Independence Day.

In the Holy Days in the calendar of the ancient Israelites that were instituted by God in the early days of the Exodus, he also had the historical aspect in mind. Like those special days in our own calendar, the holy days of the Israelites also commemorated occurrences in the history of the people. It was a look back to a time when God did something on their behalf or for their benefit.

We could compare this aspect of a commemoration to our celebration of Christmas. As we gathered together for Christmas, we spoke only of the birth of Jesus Christ as a man child some 2000 years ago. Our celebration was almost exclusively a commemoration of this historical event.

However, in God’s holy days of the Old Testament, the celebrations also carried with them certain spiritual lessons. Each was meant to teach something about the lives of the people in relation to God. They were meant to be times of introspection and reestablishing personal priorities, as well as the priorities of the nation as a whole.

There is also a third element involved with the holy days instituted by God. In addition to the historical aspect and the introspective aspect, these days also had prophetic elements connected with them. The days not only were to remind the people of what had happened in the past, but also were meant to teach them what would happen in the future.

There are seven of these observances. They are called “feasts” in the Old Testament, but only three of them actually involved a prepared meal. The other four were merely appointed times. This is actually the meaning of the word that many translations have rendered feast. It is the Hebrew word moed,[1] which means an appointed time, a place, or a meeting.

Most of these holy days are one day in length, but a couple of them are week-long events. The purpose and instructions for these observances were given to Moses quite early in the days of the Exodus when the Israelites were fleeing their slavery in Egypt. The days are summarized in the 23rd chapter of the book of Leviticus.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them, ‘These are My appointed feasts, the feasts of the LORD that you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies.’” (Leviticus 23:2 BSB)

The Passover

The first of the Old Testament holy days that we shall look at is the Day of Passover, since the instructions for this day is the first that God gave to Moses. The instructions for this Feast of the Passover were actually given while the Israelites were still in Egypt, and before the beginning of the Exodus. For some context concerning the Passover, we must understand something of the events that were taking place during this time.

The Israelites were still under the slavery of the Pharaoh. God had given Moses the commission to lead the people out, to exit Egypt, but Pharaoh stubbornly and repeatedly refused to let them go. In order to try and convince the Pharaoh to allow them to leave, God had sent upon the land nine plagues, each severe in its own manner. However, with each plague, Pharaoh increasingly hardened his resolve against God and refused. He would not allow the Israelites to go.

God then sent word to Moses of a tenth plague that was to come upon the Egyptians, this one so severe that when it occurred, the Pharaoh would not be able to get Moses and the people to leave quickly enough. To inform the king of this last of the plagues, God instructed Moses to go before him with the following words:

This is what the LORD says: “About midnight I will go throughout Egypt, and every firstborn son in the land of Egypt will die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, to the firstborn of the servant girl behind the hand mill, as well as the firstborn of all the cattle.

Then a great cry will go out over all the land of Egypt. Such an outcry has never been heard before and will never be heard again. But among all the Israelites, not even a dog will snarl at man or beast.”

Then you will know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. And all these officials of yours will come and bow before me, saying, “Go, you and all the people who follow you!”

After that, I will depart. (Exodus 11:4-8 BSB)

That of course is exactly what happened. Continuing with the account of events, we read the following words:

Now at midnight the LORD struck down every firstborn male in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on his throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner in the dungeon, as well as all the firstborn among the livestock.

During the night Pharaoh got up—he and all his officials and all the Egyptians—and there was loud wailing in Egypt; for there was no house without someone dead.

Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron by night and said, “Get up, leave my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds as well, just as you have said, and depart! (Exodus 12:28-32 BSB)

It was between the time when Moses delivered his final message to Pharoah and the time when the plague took place at midnight that God gave to Moses the instructions for the Passover. Here are the instructions that God spoke to Moses:

This month is the beginning of months for you; it shall be the first month of your year.

Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man must select a lamb for his family, one per household. If the household is too small for a whole lamb, they are to share with the nearest neighbor based on the number of people, and apportion the lamb accordingly.

Your lamb must be an unblemished year-old male, and you may take it from the sheep or the goats. You must keep it until the fourteenth day of the month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel will slaughter the animals at twilight. They are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs.

They are to eat the meat that night, roasted over the fire, along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.

Do not eat any of the meat raw or cooked in boiling water, but only roasted over the fire—its head and legs and inner parts. Do not leave any of it until morning; before the morning you must burn up any part that is left over.

This is how you are to eat it: You must be fully dressed for travel, with your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. You are to eat in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover.

On that night I will pass through the land of Egypt and strike down every firstborn male, both man and beast, and I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood on the houses where you are staying will distinguish them; when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No plague will fall on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:1-13 BSB)

The Sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb

Some of the instructions here have to do with the second of the holy days instituted by God, a time called the Feast of Unleavened Bread. That feast could actually be considered a continuation of the Passover, and the two terms are even sometimes used interchangeably in the Bible. Nevertheless, the Feast of Unleavened Bread is also distinguished from the Passover because it has a certain purpose and teachings of its own. We shall look at that feast in the next sermon.

Concerning the Passover, in this feast we see that the Passover Lamb, or Paschal Lamb, was chosen on the 10th day of the first month (Abib or Nissan) and sacrificed on the 14th day. This is in the spring of the year, and equivalent to our own March or April. Interestingly, this is about the same time of the year as our own Easter. I will talk about this a little later.

As we have seen, the meal part of this feast is not a feast at all as we would normally think of it where we sit down to a leisurely and hearty dinner party, but a simple meal that was to be eaten in great haste. In fact, the meal part of this event might be considered more as being part of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at least that is how I will be treating it.

The primary aspect of the Passover is not a meal, but it is a sacrifice, the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb. Prior to this time in Egypt, we have no records of the Israelites taking part in animal sacrifices, although according to Herodotus, an ancient Greek historian, the Egyptians themselves performed such sacrifices.

But the Israelites nevertheless should have had some knowledge of sacrifices in their own history. I mentioned some weeks ago that even as far back as the Garden of Eden, an animal had been slain so that the skin could be used as a covering for the fact that Adam and Eve had allowed their bodies, which had been created in the image of God, to be corrupted by sin.

Also, there was the case of Abraham, who had been instructed by God to sacrifice his own son upon an altar as a test of Abraham’s faith. As we remember, after God saw that Abraham did indeed trust God to do what he had been instructed, in the end the Lord did not require the son’s death. However, God did provide a ram, whose horns had been caught in a nearby thicket, to be sacrificed.

There are also in scripture a scattering of a few other instances, such as the case of Abel and that of Noah that are mentioned, but we know of no sacrifice that took place in Egypt prior to the Passover. Thus, it was in this Passover sacrifice, in what was perhaps the first sacrifice that the Israelites carried out in Egypt, they were instructed by God to slaughter the lamb in the evening. Along with specific instructions about how they were to prepare and eat the meat of the animal, they were to take some of the blood of the lamb and apply it to the side posts and the lintel of the door of the home in which they would be eating the meal.

The Requirement of the Blood

If you or I were to do this today, it would seem a shocking act and would perhaps be considered by our neighbors as some sort of pagan ritual. That, however, is in our time and in our culture. I actually do not know how the common Israelites considered it in their own time. Since they no doubt knew of the animal sacrifices of the Egyptians and even had some history of it in their own culture, perhaps it did not seem so shocking.

But then again, perhaps it did seem a bit disgraceful. Since the sacrifices of the Egyptians were to their own pagan gods, some of the more “respectable” of the Israelites many have looked upon this act as a corruption of their own standards. Possibly they would have looked upon this act of applying blood to the frames of their doors as scandalous.

Perhaps so, but the truth is that at midnight of that evening, God “struck down every firstborn male in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on his throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner in the dungeon, as well as all the firstborn among the livestock.” It was only those houses where the blood of the Pascual Lamb had been applied to the door frame that God “passed over,” leaving the firstborn alive.

As far as had been told to us, there were no Israelite families who refused to put the blood of the lamb on their door frame, and all the Israelite firstborns survived. As far as one can tell, even those who may have been considered the more “proper” of the Israelite people followed the instructions that God had given them. To these, the thought of doing it may have been a little scandalous, but despite this, they decided to put their faith on the word of the Lord.

Our Paschal Lamb

The parallels between the Pascal Lamb in the days of the Exodus, and Jesus Christ as our Passover Lamb are several. So numerous that one hardly knows where to begin. Perhaps I will begin with the words of John the Baptist when he saw Jesus coming toward him.

John said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

John was the first person to call the man identified as Jesus as the Lamb of God, but he was not the first to use this term to speak of the Redeemer. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah spoke of the coming of One who would be given up as a sacrifice for the sins of many. It was a message so incredible that Isaiah wondered if any would accept it.

He begins his writings of the promised redeemer with these words: “Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?”

He then continues:

"He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no stately form or majesty to attract us, no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Like one from whom men hide their faces. He was despised, and we esteemed Him not…

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." (Isaiah 53:1-3, 7 BSB)

It was in the spring of the year some three years after John identified Jesus as the Lamb of God, and almost 750 years after Isaiah wrote of a coming Redeemer who would be led like a lamb to the slaughter that Jesus said to his disciples, “You know that the Passover is two days away, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified” (Matthew 26:2).

The Stumbling

This crucifixion of Jesus, this slaughtering of the Lamb of God, was something that the disciples had great difficulty in accepting. In fact, Jesus told them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep of the flock will be scattered’” (John 26:31 NAS).

The word that Jesus used in speaking of the disciples stumbling is the word from which get our own English word “scandalized”—“you will be scandalized.”

The word in Greek is very similar to our word. It is skandalizó. It is probably comes from yet another word that refers to a bent sapling used to trap someone or trip someone up—a snare. [2]

The life and the words of Jesus did indeed trip up many people in his day. What Jesus said and the actions that he did were wonderful in their own way, but they were also troubling to many people. They were disconcerting. One could not deny the truth of his deeds, and one could not argue or reason away what he said. This bothered many people.

In this act of the Passover, when Jesus was lead “like a lamb to the slaughter,” even the disciples were tripped up. They could not understand how this one in whom they had placed their trust and to whom they had dedicated their lives would now simply allow himself to be killed. It would be a great test for his disciples.

“This very night you will all fall away on account of Me…You will all be scattered, each to your own home, and you will leave me all alone” (Matthew 26:31, John 16:32).

The Scandal

The words of Jesus still trip people up. They are still controversial. They go against what we hear in the world and in society. His words even sometimes seem to go against reason.

Jesus asks his followers to accept things not because they seem reasonable to our ears. Jesus was born of a virgin? Impossible! Jesus rose from the dead? Impossible! Jesus says that we can have life eternal simply by putting our trust in him? Impossible!

These things seem impossible to the world because they are looking at things from only the perspective of the present world. They see things only from what they can understand with their senses. These things seem impossible to the world because they do not see Jesus for who he is. They see him merely as another man, another teacher, another founder of any number of religions.

But Jesus is infinitely greater than that. It is wrong to even compare him to anything that we can understand, and that is why Jesus sometimes seems to deliberately trip us up by what he says and what he does. He does not provide for us incontrovertible evidence for his existence that simply cannot be ignored or denied by even the most severe skeptic of the world. He does not perform a great sign that cannot be ignored even by worst of unbelievers.

Why does he not? We sometimes think that if he did, all would come to believe.

This is a false assumption on our part, for even the most certain of evidence that is impossible to deny or disprove will not convince someone who will refuse to place themselves under his Lordship. Pride keeps them from doing so.

The Apostle Paul discovered this. He spoke first to his own Jewish people of Jesus, and most of them rejected his words. He spoke to the Greeks in Athens, the seat of all worldly wisdom in those days, and most dismissed him as a “babbler.”

“The Jews demand signs and Greeks search for wisdom,” Paul wrote, “but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block (skandalizon) to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23 BSB).

The Power of the Passover

It is not by these things that we come to know Jesus.

Paul continues, “But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Corinthians 1:24-25 BSB) 

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:20-21 BSB)

Do we not see that when it comes to matters of life that are beyond these present decades that we have in the world, there is no logic, no evidence or reason possible to give that we would understand. There is no sign that could be given that would convince those who refuse to see? That is why we must come to Jesus in faith.

Does that seem a foolish thing to you? It once did to me, but no more. I have come to believe that I can trust only Jesus in matters of eternity.  The evidence that I have that my faith in Jesus for eternity is that my trust in Him for these present days, for my life now, I see that He is always faithful. I know also that He will be faithful in what he says about eternity.

Never Ashamed

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”[3] (1 Corinthians 1:20-19 BSB)

“See, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense; and the one who believes in Him will never be put to shame.” (Romans 9:30-33 BSB)

Those are the words of Paul. The Apostle Peter says much the same thing:

As you come to Him, the living stone, rejected by men but chosen and precious in God’s sight, you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

For it stands in Scripture: “See, I lay in Zion a stone, a chosen and precious cornerstone; and the one who believes in Him will never be put to shame.”[4]

To you who believe, then, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”[5] and, “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.”[6] They stumble because they disobey the word—and to this they were appointed. (1 Peter 2:1-8 BSB)

We have before us a New Year. We have a year of making decisions and a year trying to filter out the wisdom of the world from what we are told in Scripture. Each of us must decide where our confidence will lie.

If you decide that you will place your trust in Scripture, you can be sure that you will be considered foolish by the world’s standards. Do not allow that to bother you, for “The one who believes in Him will never be put to shame.”

Spend little energy trying to convince the people who simply refuse to believe by using reason alone. They will not come to Jesus by using only their own wisdom. The words of Jesus are only scandalous to them.

But for those of us who believe, it is the power of God for salvation to the Jew, and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).

[1] Strong’s 4150

[2] Strong’s number 4624. Scandal; probably from a derivative of kampto; a trap-stick (bent sapling), i.e. Snare (figuratively, cause of displeasure or sin) -- occasion to fall (of stumbling), offence, thing that offends, stumbling block.

[3] Isaiah 9:14

[4] Isaiah 28:16

[5] Psalm 118:22

[6] Isaiah 8:14

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