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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, March 28 2024

The Passover — a memorial for Christians

Three and a half years after He began His ministry, Jesus was apprehended by the religious authorities at the time of the Passover feast (Matthew 26:2; Mark 14:1). After a brief trial, during which He was mocked, beaten and spat on, Jesus was taken before the Roman authorities and accused of "perverting the nation… saying that He Himself is Christ, a King" (Luke 23:2; Matthew 26:59-68).

Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor in Jerusalem declared: "You have brought this Man to me, as one who misleads the people…having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man…. neither did Herod….I will therefore chastise Him and release Him" (Luke 23:14-16). But the people cried out, "Away with this Man, and release to us Barabbas [a murderer]" (Luke 23:18). Pilate, knowing Jesus to be innocent, urged them to reconsider, but he was answered with angry shouts of "Crucify Him, crucify Him!" (Luke 23:21). The priests and the crowd prevailed, and the Roman governor freed a murderer and sentenced an innocent man to death (verses 25), after He was mercilessly beaten and scourged.

Many Christians have been taught the Passover is an outdated Jewish observance done away with at Christ’s death and replaced by Easter. (See Bible Insights Weekly Issue 266 What Are The Real Origins Of Easter?) In ancient Israel the first Passover was a time of deliverance, when the Israelites were rescued from slavery in Egypt. The blood of the Passover lamb was smeared on the doorposts of the Israelite residences and they were spared while the firstborn of the Egyptians were slain (Exodus 12:23).

God ordained the Passover as a commanded feast: "So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance" (Exodus 12:14). The Passover is the first of the annual festivals commanded by God (Leviticus 23:5), and during His final Passover with the disciples Jesus Christ introduced new symbols, which commemorate Him as "our Passover, [who] was sacrificed for us" (1 Corinthians 5:7).

The New Testament Passover reminds Christians not only of how God delivered ancient Israel out of Egypt, but, more importantly, of our deliverance out of sin today:. "We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin" (Romans 6:6). It is an annual reminder that, through Christ's sacrifice, we have been set free from our slavery to sin to serve God (Romans 6:1-22). Jesus Christ suffered and died because there was no other way to save humanity from the consequences of sin.

Tragically, no human (other than Jesus Christ) has kept God's law perfectly. All have broken it by sinning (1 John 3:4). God's way of redeeming humanity from the death penalty without compromising His perfect law is for the penalty to be paid in our place by the Son of God: "... God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…through whom we have now received the reconciliation" (Romans 5:8-10). And notice these encouraging words: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

Christ’s sacrifice redeems us from the death penalty after we have repented of breaking God's law, turned from sin and accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Master: "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission [forgiveness] of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). We are then no longer seeking to go our own way, but are led by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:10-16), building our relationship with God and Christ through prayer and the study of God's Word (Ephesians 6:18; 2 Timothy 2:15).

When we embark on this new way of life, following Christ's example, God begins to write His law of love (Romans 13:8-10) in our hearts and minds (Hebrews 10:16), and we become transformed by taking on the thoughts of God (Romans 12:2; Philippians 2:5). With the help of God's Spirit we submit to Him and overcome sin. Observing the Passover brings these great truths into sharp focus.

The words and actions of Jesus Christ at His last Passover provide us profound lessons about our relationships with Him and our fellow human beings. "Then came the Day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover must be killed" (Luke 22:7). According to God's instructions, a new day begins with the evening (Genesis 1:5), not at midnight. Jesus Christ and His disciples assembled the evening of the Passover in a large upper room. "And supper being ended…[Jesus] rose from supper and laid aside His garments, and took a towel… and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel ..." (John 13:2 and 4-5).

Assuming the role of a servant, Jesus washed His disciples' feet and said to them: "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you…." (John 13:14-15 and 17). Jesus carried out this humble act of service to show His disciples that His true followers must be led by a giving, serving attitude.

On that same evening Jesus "took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is [or 'means,' James Moffatt Translation; i.e., 'represents'] My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me'" (Luke 22:19). He also "took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you. For this is [represents] My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins'" (Matthew 26:27-28).

The Bible makes it clear that all who will follow Christ should observe this New Testament Passover in remembrance of His love and sacrifice for our sins and as a reminder of our commitment to Him for what God has done in our lives (1 Corinthians 5:7-8; Luke 22:19-20).

Before we take the New Testament Passover symbols of bread and wine, we are to ask ourselves some searching questions about our intentions toward God and our fellow human beings. We are to take the Passover in a worthy manner (1 Corinthians 11:26-27). Paul exhorts us, "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup" (1 Corinthians 11:28). In 2 Corinthians 13:5 he again emphasizes: "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?"

As long as we live in "this present evil world" (Galatians 1:4), we will be tempted to break God's law. We are tempted through our own desires (James 1:14) to cheat, lie, boast, swear, gossip, hate, commit adultery and put other things before God (Galatians 5:19-21). Each of us, even though called, repentant and forgiven, will fall down and sin but, as long as we are genuinely repentant, striving to overcome sin, "we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1). God forgives and accepts us, applying Jesus' sacrifice, as long as we allow God to lead us (Ephesians 2:8).

Observing the Passover in its New Testament context, and obeying God's Word in respect to His Holy Days, gives understanding of God's great plan for humanity. In 2024 the annual Passover will be observed after sundown on the evening of April 21.