by Richard A. Wiedenheft
The Passover memorial, commanded by God for the children of Israel to commemorate their coming out of Egypt foreshadowed the supreme sacrifice of Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul wrote, "Christ our passover is sacrificed for us" (1Cor 5:7).
But beyond the general parallel between the passover lamb and the Lamb of God, there are many striking parallels of detailssome are obvious, some are not so obvious. But all show the central importance of Jesus' death in God's plan for mankind.
On the tenth day of the Hebrew month Abib or Nisan (spring of year), a year-old lamb or kid was to be chosen from the flock and kept until the fourteenth (Ex 12:3). During that four-day interval, the Israelites had time to observe the lamb to make sure it was healthy; they also had time to become quite attached to itit doesn't take long for children especially to make pets out of animals. Thus, killing the lamb on the fourteenth was even more of a sacrifice than it would have been had the lamb been chosen from the flock hours before it was sacrificed.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus was becoming a champion and friend of many people in Judea and Galileeso much so that the Jewish religious leaders were very jealous (Matt 21:46, 27:18). But Jesus kept his distance from Jerusalem, where a latent expectation of a Messiah was building. Finally, just before Passover, He appeared and made his triumphal entrypossibly on the 10th day of the first month. The hopes and dreams of the Jerusalem crowds were given free reign. They jubilantly hailed Him as king, ushered Him into their city and took Him into their hearts.
He was there in Jerusalem, just long enough to become the darling of the city's populationto have thoroughly won their hearts and excited their Messianic hopes. But on the fourteenth day, he was taken from them to be crucified as the Passover Lamb of the world!
God specified that the Passover lamb had to be without defect (Ex 12:5). The Apostle Peter wrote that we are redeemed "...with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (1Pet 1:19). The Apostle Paul wrote, "For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed." Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, was unspotted by any blemish of sin (2Cor 5;21).
God specifically instructed the Israelites how to prepare the Passover lamb. It was not to be boiled or cooked in parts; rather it was to be roasted whole; no bones were to be broken (Ex 12:8-9, 46). In like manner, Jesus was offered as a whole sacrifice for sin. Contrary to the Roman custom of breaking the legs of their victims, when the soldiers crucified the Lamb of God, they did not break any of His bones. John recorded the event: "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.... These things happened so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. 'Not one of his bones will be broken,' and, as another Scripture says, 'They will look on the one they have pierced'" (John 19:33-34, 36-37; cf Ps. 34:20).
God told the Israelites to be ready to leave their homes as they ate the Passover lamb. Their cloaks were to be tucked in their belts; their sandals were to be on their feet; their staffs were to be in their hands (Ex 12:11). Why? Because that night they would be ordered out of Egyptthey had to be ready to leave their homes at once.
When we accept Jesus as our Passover Lamb, as the Lord and Savior of our lives, we must be ready to travel toowe must be ready to embark on a spiritual exodus from spiritual Egypt. We must be ready to leave behind our life of slavery to sin and the ways of the world to follow God's will. Paul wrote to the Romans about our freedom from slavery to sinand our need to become slaves to righteousness. "We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer.... Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God.... You have been set free from sin and have become slaves of righteousness" (Rom 6:2, 12, 13, 18).
Accepting Jesus as one's Savior (the spiritual counterpart to eating the Passover) is not something to be done casually. It must be done with spiritual readiness to embark on the spiritual exodus that follows immediately.
After the Israelites killed the Passover lamb, they placed blood on the jambs and lintels of their doors. This blood was a signal to the death angel to pass over their homes as it went on its rounds slaying the firstborn in all Egypt (Ex 12:7). The people were commanded to remain in their housesbehind the shield of the lamb's blooduntil the death angel had made his rounds. Anyone venturing out, would not be under the protection of the blood.
Secure behind their bloodied doors were all kinds of Israelites. There were lazy ones, ambitious ones, poor and rich, leaders such as Moses and Aaron and the poorest of the land. There were probably adulterers and thieves, pleasant people and cantankerous people. But they all had one thing in commonthey were willing to follow Moses' instructions by putting blood on their door frames. And regardless of what kind of people they were, as long as they were behind the bloodied doors, they were protected.
The spiritual parallel is striking. All kinds of people can come under the protection of the blood of Jesus Christ. Indeed, Jesus said, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:32). He warned the self-righteous Pharisees, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.... For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him" (Matt 21:31-32).
All men, even the most evil, can accept Jesus' blood as payment for their sins. As long as they are covered with that blood, they are protected from death. Should they venture out from under the blood, rejecting the sacrifice of the Savior, they are no longer protectedthey are exposed to death.
Of course, those under the protection of Jesus' blood are commanded to leave their life of sin (spiritual Egypt) and follow the example of their Savior. But it is the covering blood of Jesus Christ that protects them from deathnot any other action or activity.
The Passover taught the principle that the life of one living soul could be substituted for another. The blood of the Passover lamb saved the life of the firstborn. The blood of all Old Testament sacrifices, while it didn't actually forgive sin, taught the Israelites to look for an ultimate sacrifice that would pay for sins. That ultimate sacrifice was the Messiah, Jesus Christ. His blood was shed on Golgotha almost 2000 years ago as sufficient payment for the sins of all mankind.
Just as the Old Testament Passover was a celebration that looked forward to Jesus' death, so the New Testament Passover is a memorial looking back to the same event. There is a good deal of controversy regarding the nature of this event: How often should it be observed and when? If it is to be done annually on the anniversary of the event, what calendar should be used? Was the Passover at the beginning or the end of the 14th of Nisan? Is the New Testament memorial identical to the old, a slight modification, or a completely new institution? What should it be called: Communion, Lord's Supper, Passover, Memorial Service or Kiddush? Who should be allowed to participate? Must feet be washed? Should wine or grape juice be used? Should leavened or unleavened bread be used? Should it be a token amount or should it be a meal?
Millions of words have been written to proclaim the "Bible truth" regarding all these questions. However, there is substance of much greater importance! There is substance that eclipses all the technical issues! That substance is the spiritual meat: the death of Jesus Christ and the importance of that single event in all of human historyand for each of us personally.
No matter how we take bread and wine, the essential teaching of the apostle Paul applies to us:
Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you (1Cor 11:20-22).
The Corinthians were making a Feast out of it, selfishly ignoring those who couldn't afford to feast. Drunkenness is never appropriate (1Cor 5:11)especially on this important occasion. Instead of focusing on the spiritual meaning, they were filling their bellies. The lesson for us is that our focus should be on the spiritual significancenot on physical food, drink, and human fellowship (none of which is wrong of itself in moderate amounts).
In verses 23 to 25 Paul recounted what he had been taught about how Jesus, had taken the bread and the cup on the night before he was betrayed. Paul concluded by saying that the eating and drinking proclaimed the Lord's death (v 26). The act of eating and drinking is a statement by the individual that he recognizes the real significance of our Savior's death. And therein lies the possibility of eating and drinking unworthily.
Paul warns the Corinthians to examine themselves and to beware of eating and drinking in "an unworthy manner" (vv. 27-32). In contemporary writing and preaching, much emphasis has been placed on the self-examination that should precede the Lord's Supper, on the danger of being unworthy. Unfortunately, this emphasis misses Paul's point. Obviously, no human being is worthy of the grace of God extended through Jesus' death and resurrection. Regardless of how good or bad we have been, regardless of how rich or poor, how strong or weak, we all are worthy of death. Only by the grace of God are we given the opportunity to have our sins forgiven and to receive eternal life! Indeed, it is because we are unworthy that we need the sacrifice of Jesus Christand that we need to take the bread and cup that represent it.
Paul's warning is not against being unworthy to take the Lord's Supperfor he recognized that he of all people was unworthy (1 Cor 15:8-10; 1Tim 1:15-16). Rather, Paul's warning is against taking the memorial in an unworthy manner, and in 1Cor 11:29 he explains exactly what he means: "For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself." If one eats the bread and drinks the cup without understanding and believing in what it represents, he is taking it unworthilyand asking for God's judgment. When Paul urges the Corinthians to examine themselves, he is concerned about their recognition of the reality of Jesus' deathas payment for their sins.
To be sure, there is value in self-examination, in searching for improper attitudes and actions in one's life. We need to ask ourselves questions such as: Do I recognize the significance of asking for the Jesus' sacrifice to personally cover my sins? Have I repented of ill will, malice and enmity towards others? Am I seeking to turn away from sin and live according to God's will? Is serving and obeying God the most important priority in my life? Am I spiritually more mature now than I was a year ago?
But the real message of the taking of bread and wine is that we are imperfect, unworthy humans, who continually need the grace of the one true God. And regardless of how sinful we have been in the past, regardless of how imperfect we are yet, in taking the memorial of Jesus' crucifixion, we affirm our continuing belief in the only remedy for sin and human mortality Jesus' shed blood.