Passover & Easter: Common Threads

Passover and Easter: Common ThreadsWe are in the newness of Spring – finally the long winter is gone, and we are enjoying warmer weather; the birds are singing, the flowers are blossoming and we see more of our neighbors getting out and about in their walking shoes.

But this is a crucial time of year also for both Jews and Christians. Jews celebrate Pesach, or Passover every year (this year it begins on the 15th of April). As I write this, Christians are celebrating Palm Sunday, then in a few days,  Good Friday (a remembrance of the death of Christ) and then, of course, Easter Sunday, which highlights the resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ.

After returning from my first trip to Israel last fall, I found it fascinating to dive into Jewish history.  Interestingly, last November, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah coincided for the first time in a great many years. And now, here we are – celebrating two more of our most cherished holidays during the same week in the Spring.

What is Pesach, or Passover, and why did God command his people to celebrate it? In the Old Testament book of Exodus (the second book of the Jewish Torah), you’ll find the fascinating story of how the Jews were taken as slaves in Egypt, and used as forced laborers.  It was a hopeless existence.  God called Moses (who should have died as a baby, but was hidden in the river rushes and adopted by an Egyptian princess) to bring his people out of Egypt, to cross the Red Sea (impossible to swim across, but God miraculously parted the waters so they walked across on dry land), and then drowned the Egyptian army who was pursuing them. Obviously, God is not a fan of slavery.

Before their escape, however, God sent a number of plagues to Egypt, to warn leader Pharaoh to let His people go, and to not mess around with the Almighty. Pharaoh didn’t pay much attention….until the last of 10 plagues when he finally gave in.

One of these plagues was God’s promise to kill the firstborn of every household if His people were not released.  How would the Jewish people escape that?  God gave a specific set of instructions: kill a young lamb, without spot or blemish, and spread the blood across their doorposts. When the angel of death came to each house, if he saw the blood, he would pass over (Passover) that house and not take the life of the oldest child.

There was great mourning all over the land of Egypt the following day – but the children of Israel – all who had followed the instructions to put the blood on their doorposts – found that all of their children were safe and well.

There’s a lot more to the story (I encourage you to read it in Exodus chapter 12 in the Bible for all of the fascinating details) – but God told His people He wanted them to remember where they came from. Remember when they were slaves in the land of Egypt and had no freedom at all – and how God provided a solution to their dilemma and miraculously brought them out of slavery.  Eventually, after years of wandering in the desert due to disobedience, they would finally enter their Promised Land – what we now know as the beautiful land of Israel.

So what does this have to do with the Christian celebration of Easter, then?

Actually, it has everything to do with it!

Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew) celebrated the Last Supper during the season of Passover with His disciples in the Upper Room before he would be betrayed by Judas, and subsequently be nailed to a cross to die a gruesome death.

Just a few days prior to this, the crowds had waved palm branches in worship as Jesus rode past on a borrowed donkey. But leave it to fickle folks to change their minds in the blink of an eye, and join the crowd in jeering, whipping, and finally, crucifixion as if the Son of God were a common thief.

Pontius Pilate and the Roman guards were no friend to the Jewish Rabbi, Yeshua.

Zoom back to the slaves in Egypt.  They were required to sacrifice a perfect, innocent lamb and spread the blood over their house in order to be saved from death.

Yeshua (Jesus) willingly gave up His life as the perfect, sacrificial Lamb, and when we claim His blood as our covering (trust His sacrifice), we do not have to die for our sins and face eternal judgment.

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away

the sins of the world!”

                                                                  John 1:29

We have such a rich heritage from our Jewish friends, and there is so much we can learn from them. Although many Jews still wait for the Messiah to come, those of us who know Jesus are convinced that He is the Promised One. He didn’t just die – he died and then rose again so that we can have eternal life!

I’ve had this old hymn on my mind for several days now, and it is a very fitting conclusion to this post. Listen and take some time to think about the significance of this time of year – new life, new birth, escape from death, and the Promise of eternal life for all people who accept the sacrifice that God has made available to them.

 

 

 

 

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