15 September 2011

A Survey of the Old Testament Law--"You shall keep the feast of Passover"

There were three great feasts that the people of Israel were commanded to keep every year: Passover; the Feast of Firstfruits; and the Feast of Ingathering. These were three feasts that were to remind the people, year after year, of the fact that God is their Provider, their Deliverer, and the one to whom they should look for all their needs. These were symbolic—they were meant to point to the One who would provide their salvation form sin; the One who would deliver them from evil, and who would give life and give it more abundantly. The Feast of Firstfruits and the Feats of Ingathering—we’ll look at those when we get to those parts of Leviticus. Today we are going to look at Passover and how that was a shadow of the Christ to come. The Passover was to remind them of how God saved them from their bondage to Pharaoh. However, the One who was pictured in that event was going to, one day, save many from their bondage to sin, Satan, the flesh and the Law.

Exodus 23:13-19“13 And in all that I have said to you, be circumspect and make no mention of the name of other gods, nor let it be heard from your mouth. 14 Three times you shall keep a feast to Me in the year: 15 You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread (you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt; none shall appear before Me empty); 16 and the Feast of Harvest, the firstfruits of your labors which you have sown in the field; and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you have gathered in the fruit of your labors from the field. 17 Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD. 18 You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread; nor shall the fat of My sacrifice remain until morning. 19 The first of the firstfruits of your land you shall bring into the house of the LORD your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk.” Each of these feasts was a guide, a shadow, which was meant to guard hearts of the people until the Son of God appeared to fulfill these things (Galatians 3:25).

By the time Christ arrived, the keeping of these feasts had become the ground to which many people were clinging for their salvation. But in many places in the OT, God rebukes the people of Israel for keeping feasts and for offering sacrifices that He would not accept. Isaiah 1:11-1411 “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?” says the LORD. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs or goats. 12 “When you come to appear before Me, who has required this from your hand, to trample My courts? 13 Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. 14 Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; they are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them.” And the reason He would not accept them is because the people were saying—in their heart—“I'm not going to stop sinning, so I'll just bring a lamb or a goat and make my offering and God will be happy with that.” And in the NT, Paul rebukes the people for trying to be righteous by keeping them. Galatians 4:9-119 But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years. 11 I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.

The feasts and the offerings and the rituals and the blood of bulls and goats—these were all simply guideposts, if you will, that were meant to lead the people to the One who would deliver them from their real enemy. Now, for those couple thousand years between the giving of the Law and the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, the people always thought their real enemies were foreign nations—the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Persians, the Egyptians. But their real enemy was no human kingdom. Their real enemy was not of this world. Their real enemy is the same enemy we all need to be delivered from, and that is whom? Ephesians 6:12We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. The feasts and offerings were not meant to make one righteous, but to point to the One who would make us righteous—the Lord Christ. Galatians 3:23-2423 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. The writer of Hebrews tells us that these things were merely a “shadow” of Christ. Hebrews 9:9[The tabernacle] was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience. He goes on to say in Hebrews 10:11 The law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. These things contained in the Law could not cleanse the conscience; they could not take away sin; they could not do anything. They were only an outward manifestation of an inward change.

Because you could perform all these outward rituals every single day for the rest of your life but if there was no change on the inside; if there was no mourning over sin; if there was no heart that longed after God—those rituals and offerings and sacrifices were useless. You could kill 100 goats a day, but if there was no hatred of sin, no shame, then all the blood of all the bulls and goats in all of Israel could not make one person righteous before God. Like baptism. You could get dunked in water every day, but if your heart has not been changed and if there is no repentance, if there is no hunger and thirst after righteousness, all the water in the world cannot wash away one single sin. 

For now, let’s look at the first of these feasts, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, in Exodus 23:15“You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread (you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt.)” This command is repeated in Exodus 34:18. This Feast of Unleavened Bread is, of course, also known as what? Yes, Passover. Turn with me please to Exodus 11:1. I don’t think I need to set the scene up for you. But just in case—the people of Israel have been living in Egypt for over 400 years. They have been in bondage to Pharaoh, forced to build many of the monuments and temples that archeologists are now discovering. And it is most likely that the Pharaoh at the time was Rameses II. He ruled Egypt from 1279 BC until 1213 BC, and was one of the longest-reigning of the Egyptian pharaohs. Moses commands Pharaoh, in the name of YHVH, to let the people of Israel go. Pharaoh refuses time after time, and eventually God sends the first nine plagues to punish Pharaoh and the people of Egypt.

When Pharaoh still won’t budge, we find Moses telling Pharaoh the following in Exodus 11:4-74 Then Moses said, “Thus says the LORD: ‘About midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt; 5 and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the female servant who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the animals. 6 Then there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as was not like it before, nor shall be like it again. 7 But against none of the children of Israel shall a dog move its tongue, against man or beast, that you may know that the LORD does make a difference between the Egyptians and Israel.’” So, who was going to be the object of the wrath of God in this plague? Just like we talked about last week, the reason the people of Israel were to dedicate their firstborn to God was as a reminder of this night, because God destroyed the all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, but spared the firstborn of the Israelites.

Now, Exodus 12:1-21 Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, 2 “This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.” This was the month of Abib. It is now called “Nisan”. Like the car but with only one ‘s’. The name ‘Abib’ comes from the Hebrew word which means “the month of green ears.” It is the month when the grain would be seen for the first time that year. Now, the name was changed from ‘Abib’ to ‘Nisan’ after the Babylonian captivity, and that is what it has been called ever since. Abib—Nisan—occurs during the springtime of year, and it falls in what we call March or April. And there is a reason for the ambiguity, if you will. The Hebrew calendar reckons months quite differently than the Gregorian calendar that we use. Our calendars measure the time it takes for the earth to revolve around the sun. The Hebrew calendar is based on the phases of the moon. There are 12 months in the Hebrew calendar; 7 of the 12 Hebrew months have 30 days, the rest have 29. So, there is a difference of 11 days between the lunar Hebrew calendar and the solar Gregorian calendar. Also, every couple of years they need to add an entire month to make sure the Passover stays in the right part of the year. ISBE— 
“The year was composed of 12 or 13 months according to whether it was an ordinary or a leap year…[a leap month] was used to make the lunar year correspond approximately to the solar year, a month being added whenever the discrepancy of the seasons rendered it necessary. This was regulated by the priests, who had to see that the feasts were duly observed at the proper season.” 
 And this is why Passover—and consequently Resurrection Sunday—may occur in what we call the first of March one year, and what we call the middle of April the next year.

So, with all that being said, let us move on to Exodus 12:3-6“3 Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: ‘On the tenth of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household. 4 And if the household is too small for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house take it according to the number of the persons; according to each man’s need you shall make your count for the lamb. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month.” On the 10th of Abib (Nisan) you examine your sheep (or goats) and you find one that was physically perfect. No open sores, no sickness, no physical deformities. Had to be perfect, and could not be more than a year old. And when you find that perfect specimen, you set it aside—or, ‘sanctified’ it—for the next four days, until the 14th of Abib (Nisan). If your family was not big enough to eat and entire sheep or goat by yourselves, then you had your neighbor come over with his family to help you, because as it says in verse 10, “You shall let none of it remain until morning.” 

Now, let’s fast-forward to the NT—or, more correctly, to the end of the OT. There’s a fellow preaching in the wilderness outside of Jerusalem. And he’s making the leaders of the religious establishment a little sketchy. Because people are going out and flocking to him instead of paying the scribes and Pharisees the honor and adoration they deserve (said with tongue firmly in cheek). And many are going out to hear this man because even the Pharisees know that the people reckon this man to be a prophet of God. And indeed he was. He would be the last prophet of the Old Covenant. He preached of the coming Messiah—his cousin, actually—and one day that Messiah comes along and this prophet cries out John 1:29“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” For the last 1500 years God had been giving them one clue after another about what to look for in the coming Messiah, and the clearest picture He gave them was the lambs that were used not only in the daily sacrifices, but in the Passover lamb. The people had been under mandate to provide their own lambs as a sacrifice—but now God has provided His own Lamb to deal with the problem of sin, Satan and the flesh. Just as Abraham promised Isaac when he took him up Mt. Moriah, in Genesis 22:8“My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” And indeed, God provided a Lamb as an offering for sin for the people. So here we have the Passover—or Paschal—lamb as a picture of the Christ. A lamb without spot or blemish.

Now, in Exodus 12:6-7“6 Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. 7 And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it.” And on that day, the whole assembly would gather together and kill that lamb—slit its neck from one side to the other, and all the people watched as the blood poured from that lamb. And let’s remember—what did that lamb do to deserve being killed? That innocent lamb was killed so that the people could be delivered from slavery and bondage. Hmmm. I wonder if we can see some similarities here. A lamb without spot or blemish. A lamb that never sinned. All the people of Israel gathered to watch this lamb pour out all its blood so the people could be freed from slavery and oppression. Can you think of anybody that scenario may remind you of? Also—They were to put blood on the vertical posts and the horizontal beam across the top of the entrance. Hmmm. The vertical post and the horizontal beam. I wonder what THAT might symbolize.

BUT—I want to point this out. In our main text, Exodus 23:15, the people were commanded to keep the Passover every single year. Year after year, they are to come to Jerusalem, bring their lambs and goats, kill them, cut them up, and burn them. Year after year after year after year. The lamb you killed last year does you no good this year. Hypothetically speaking, if you had killed your lamb in 2009, you would still have to bring one in 2010. In 2011, the one you killed in 2010 would do you no good; you would have to bring one in 2011. In 2012, all the lambs you brought in 2009, 2010, and 2011 would do you no good—you would still have to bring one in 2012. In 2050, all the lambs you would have killed from 2009, 2010, 2011, all the way up to 2049 would not do you one bit of good—you would still have to bring a new one in 2050.

All the lambs that were killed, cut up and burned every year under the Old Covenant were a symbol. They were a picture. They were a reminder of how God delivered them from one ruthless oppressor—but they were also a way of looking forward to God delivering them from an oppressor who was much more ruthless than Pharaoh. It was meant to keep in the front of their minds the fact that one day God Himself would redeem them from bondage to sin, Satan and the flesh. It was meant to be a tutor to bring them to Christ (Galatians 3:24). We don’t have to bring a lamb or a goat to Jerusalem and slay it every year. Reason number one, 1st Corinthians 5:7Christ, our Passover, was crucified for us. And even if we wanted to bring a lamb or goat and sacrifice it at the temple, we couldn’t—there’s no more temple. That’s why God had the temple destroyed. We talked last week about how even the Jewish historian Josephus knew that it was God who allowed the Romans to destroy the temple. He thought it was because of all the killing that had been taking place—but the truth is, God had the temple destroyed because He did not have anymore use for it. The true temple is in Heaven. “Destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days”…He was speaking of the temple of His body (John 2:19-21). And, finally, writing of the New Jerusalem, John says in Revelation 21:22I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 

Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who was slain, whose blood was poured out—not to deliver us from earthly tyrants, but to deliver us from the wrath of God that we deserved. And when we—spiritually—apply that blood to ourselves, God passes over our sins. Romans 3:23-2523 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed. So, when that first Passover lamb was killed, it was to be burned and eaten in a very particular way. Exodus 12:8“Then they shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.” The phrase “bitter herbs” does not refer to chewing on a sprig of oregano or basil. It’s actually a poor choice by the translators; it literally refers to some member of the lettuce family. If you go to Kroger’s and see the bags of precut salad, and some of them look like they're filled with grass and purple weeds—that’s probably what is referred to here. John Gill—
“Whatever they were, for it is uncertain what they were, they were expressive of the bitter afflictions of the children of Israel in Egypt, with which their lives were made bitter; and of those bitter afflictions and persecutions in the world, which they that will live godly in Christ Jesus must expect to endure; as well as they may signify that as a crucified Christ must be looked upon, and lived upon by faith, so with mourning and humiliation for sin, and with true repentance for it is an evil and bitter thing.” 

Jesus Christ is Lord. Amen.