By Dr. Mark Scott
The driving metaphor of religious practice in the Old Testament is a party. That is rather unique. Islam has its five pillars. Buddhism strives to achieve a state of Nirvana. Hinduism pilgrimages through several Vedas. But for the people of God in Scripture the word is “party.”
February is filled with special days for us (Lincoln’s birthday, Washington’s birthday, Valentine’s Day). During this month we will be considering some of the very special holy days in the Jewish calendar. Each of these days is a festival or party. The first one is Passover.
Not all months and days are created equal. While our calendar year begins on January 1st, the Jewish calendar began on the 14th of the month known as Aviv (later called Nisan). We know this as spring (March and April). To prepare God’s people for their exodus from Egypt, God told Moses and Aaron, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.” Israel’s destiny would be attached to the calendar by one salvific act of God. Even before that act, the day of liberation was to be set aside as a key festival. Perhaps it is like a due date for a baby’s birth. The nursery is prepared, the suitcase is packed, and the name is selected in anticipation of that special birth. In many ways, Passover became the birthday of Israel.
The Sacrifice & the Blood
The God of the Bible is a God of sacrifice. Since the fall of humankind, God used sacrifice as a means of getting the world back. God instructed Israel to sacrifice a lamb as a part of the festival of Passover.
The formula was one lamb per household. But that wasn’t intended to be a perfect science. The total number of people and the amount each person could eat also had to be calculated. Smaller households combined with larger ones. The animals used in this Passover meal were to meet certain criteria. They had to be male, one year old, and without defects. They also had to receive special care during the days leading up to their slaughter at twilight.
The blood that was drained out of the animals also had a sacred use. This blood was applied to the doorframes of the Israelite houses. It was applied with a hyssop branch (think ancient paint brush). This blood served as a sign to God. When God saw the blood on the doorframes, he would pass over those houses.
The original Passover meal was one of haste. “This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked in your belt, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand.” Israel was to eat this meal literally standing up. They were to leave Egypt shortly after eating. Therefore the staples were roasted meat, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs.
This meal was most engaging. Everyone played a role—father, mother, and children. Israel’s history was rehearsed and relived. God was blessed for his saving power over the gods of Egypt. The elements of the meal were simple (like the Lord’s Supper), but the content of the celebration (party) gave God’s people their identity.
Perhaps due to the influence of the movie The Ten Commandments, we often talk about the death angel passing over Egypt. God may have used an angel to bring his judgment on Egypt. But the destroyer in this text seems to be God himself. God passed through Egypt and struck down every firstborn child and every firstborn animal. It is not wide of the mark to say that the 10 plagues were God’s judgment on the idolatry of Egypt. Israel’s God defeated the gods of Egypt.
God not only passed through Egypt—he also passed over Israel. The other side of judgment is redemption. God’s people were under the blood of the lamb. This became their means of liberation. It was their birthday as a nation, so they were to commemorate it (offer it as a memorial).
In many ways Passover was a kingdom preview of the party that Jesus would bring. He is the Passover lamb (John 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:7). Without the shedding of his blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22). Jesus ate the Passover meal with his disciples and took old emblems and invested them with new meaning (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). When we partake of the Lord’s Supper today we are celebrating our liberation from sin. Welcome to the party.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College and has held preaching ministries in Missouri, Illinois, and Colorado.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.