Christ Lutheran Church of the Deaf
Silver Spring, Maryland

Christ and the Passover

The First Passover

The Passover... the Exodus... We can picture it. We have seen the movies. We have often heard the story in Sunday School. We may have even taught the story for Sunday School. It was the last of the great ten plagues of Egypt, which finally led to Israel's release from captivity.

(Exodus 12, New International Version:)
1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt,
2 "This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.
3 Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household.
4 If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat.
5 The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats.
6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight.
7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs.
8 That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast.
9 Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire--head, legs and inner parts.
10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it.
11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand.... "
(Today we would say: "Have your coat and boots on, bags packed, and engine running.") "...Eat it in haste; it is the Lord's Passover."

12 "On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn--both men and animals--and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord.
13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.
14 "This is the day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord--a lasting ordinance."

The picture here is vivid. The lamb was killed not just for the evening meal, but the death of the lamb was a substitute for the life of the firstborn son or daughter.

Typically, when a lamb was slaughtered for food, the blood of the lamb would normally be allowed to drain into soil, out of respect for the life that God had given to the lamb. But on this night, the blood was collected in a bowl and used as paint around the front door of the house.

As we often have heard the story told, the Lord sent the "Angel of Death" that night to Egypt, and when the angel saw the blood on the door, the death angel skipped that house, passed over it, to the next house... If you have Bible app on your computer or smart phone, open the search function type the phrase: "angel of death." You will discover that phrase "angel of death" is not used anywhere in Scripture. If you enter just the word "angel," and focus your search on just the book of Exodus, you will discover that the word "angel" doesn't even appear in this part of the story. The first occurrence of "angel" in Exodus is when "angel of the Lord appeared to" Moses in the burning bush (Ex. 3:2). The next reference to an angel is when "the angel of God" stood between the Egyptian army and the Israelites when they were up against the Red Sea (Ex. 14:19-20).

So if it wasn't the alleged "Angel of Death" who responsible for this mighty deed that night of the Passover, who was?   This is what God told Moses:

12 "On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn--both men and animals--and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord.
13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.
This one God did Himself!

Annual Celebration
14 "This is the day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord--a lasting ordinance." God commanded that for every year thereafter, the Jews are to remember this day by celebrating the Passover. The purpose of that annual celebration was to teach each generation about Israel's salvation history -- just as we celebrate Christmas and Easter every year, so we never ever forget what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.

And every year, even to this day, the descendants of Abraham celebrate the Passover. Part of the Passover ritual, as it is practiced today, involves the youngest child in the family asking, "Daddy, what does all this mean?"

And the father answers, "Child, I shall tell you why we do this every year..." And the father instructs the children in the story of God's deliverance for the people of Israel.

God gave specific directions for the annual celebration of the Passover, because He wanted them to never.. never... never forget what He has done for them.


Redemption of the Firstborn 

Something else God wanted the people of Israel to never forget was the price the Egyptian people paid for Israel's freedom. Each of the firstborn Israelites was spared by the blood of a lamb. But the firstborn of the unprotected Egyptians died. It was their death that finally procured Israel's freedom. And God devised a way to teach the people of Israel to appreciate the Egyptian sacrifice for all generations to come:

As we see in the first verses of the next chapter:

(Exodus 13)
1 The Lord said to Moses,
2 "Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether man or animal."

[Verses 3-10 review instructions for observing the annual Passover]

11 "After the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites and gives it to you, as he promised on oath to you and your forefathers,
12 you are to give over to the Lord the first offspring of every womb. All the firstborn males of your livestock belong to the Lord.

Here God is talking about sacrifice, sacrificing the firstborn to the Lord. For example, if you were a shepherd, and a young adult ewe was pregnant for the first time, the lamb born from that sheep, God said, "That one is Mine!" The shepherd was obligated to offer the firstborn male lamb as a sacrifice. [Footnote: Why only males? Scripture does not say. It may have been the male animals were considered economically more expendable than the females.]

Now suppose the farmer had another kind of animal, like a donkey, that gave birth to a firstborn offspring, and the farmer felt that he simply could not afford the loss of the sacrifice of that young colt, God said, "That one you can keep. But if you chose to keep it, you must offer a lamb as a substitute for the life of a colt." As we see in the next verse:

13 Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck... As you see, God allowed for substitute sacrifice. And, since God does not tolerate human sacrifice, He said you must make a substitute sacrifice for your firstborn sons. (13) ...Redeem every firstborn among your sons. Here God says that a lamb must be offered as a substitute for the firstborn sons of the Israelites. And later in Leviticus, God makes another provision of substitution for a couple who might be too poor to afford a lamb. In their case, God said, they could offer as a substitute for the life of a firstborn son two doves or pigeons. 14 "In days to come, when your son asks you, `What does this mean?' say to him, 'With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed every firstborn in Egypt, both man and animal. This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.'
16 And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand."
Again, this was God's way of helping the Israelites appreciate their salvation history, appreciate what God had done for them, and even to appreciate what the Egyptians gave up for their freedom.

Consider the analogy: The firstborn of the Egyptians gave their lives for Israel's freedom. The Firstborn Son of God gave His life for your salvation. The thought of it overwhelms me!

Connections to Christ

Ah, but the story doesn't end there. Jump ahead about 1,450 years... to Luke 2... yes, the Christmas story.

(Luke 2:21-24)
21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.
22 When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord
23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord"),
24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons."
It's a story you've heard or read every year... but now you know the rest of the story! It was the Passover.

Then soon, again, the Passover touches the life of our Lord.  Maji (Wise Men) from the East came to visit... Correction: They came to worship the King of the Jews.  You know the story.  Their visit alerted King Herod to the birth of the Messiah, whom Herod regarded as competition.  And since Herod tolerated no competition, he gave the order to kill all boys in Bethlehem 2-years old and younger.  Joseph received instruction from an angel in a dream to flee with his family for safety in Egypt, of all places!

Was this only a coincidence?  No, God had engineered a very deliberate connection to Israel's exodus 1,200 years earlier.

(Matt. 2:14-15)
14 So Joseph got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,
15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son." 

Here Matthew quotes the Old Testament prophet Hosea's recounting of Israel's early history:

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
   and out of Egypt I called my son.  (Hosea 11:1)

We move ahead 12 years...

(Luke 2:41-42)
41 Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover.
42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom.
And after the Passover celebration, everyone went home.. But... "Where's Jesus?" So Mary and Joseph hightail it back to Jerusalem and spend the next three days looking for Him, only to find Him in the temple, talking with Bible teachers. Wouldn't you have like to have been able to sneak a tape recorder in on that conversation?  What kind of questions was He asking? What kind of answers did He offer? I would like to speculate that perhaps among the topics of discussion those three days was the Passover, and it's greater significance. After all, He knew!

Now we flip the calendar forward another 18 years, and we see another significant encounter with the Passover and Exodus in our Lord's life:

(Luke 3:1-3)
1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar--when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene--
2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.
3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Now, what was this all about?

We also have baptism. We bring our little ones, or ourselves, to the baptismal font and baptize "In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." In baptism we participate in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 6). Our sins are washed away and we take on a new identity as children of God.

But what did baptism mean for John and the Jews in his day? They didn't have it "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." And our Lord hadn't died and risen yet, so none of that applied to them. So what did they understand baptism to mean for them?

There were various rites of washing, or baptism, practiced by religious leaders in their many ceremonies. But the rite of baptism that has our attention here was the first step a non-Jew, a Gentile, took to become a Jew. Was such a thing possible?  Someone who wasn't a biological descendent of Abraham, but that person recognized that the God of Israel was the God, the creator God, the Redeemer God, and said, "I believe! I want to join the family! I want to come under the Covenant." God's answer, of course, was "Yes!" And the first step in the processes of adoption into the family of Abraham, to become a Son of the Covenant, was to symbolically join the people of Israel in their great Exodus from Egypt, by joining them in their historic passage through the Red Sea by baptism. That was the basis of John's baptism.  (This ritual washing of Gentile converts to Judaism is still practiced today.  It is called Mikvah.  See http://www.jewfaq.org/glossary.htm)

But John was preaching to Jews, not Gentiles. So, in effect, his message them was, "You may be physically the descendant of Abraham, but you have the spirit of a Gentile! Your bodies may be here in Israel, but your hearts are still in bondage to a godless way of life! In mind and spirit, you are no different than non-Jews. You are living outside the Covenant." And people respond with conviction, "Yes, it is true. I am a sinner. I need to baptized just like the Gentile convert does."

Now, here comes Jesus. And He says, "Baptize me, too." It is no surprise that John says, "No, You should baptize me!" (Matthew 3:13-15) After all, of what sin did Jesus have to confess? Of what sin did He have to repent? If you say, "None," I will beg to differ. He had my sin! He had your sin!

When we think of how Jesus took on Himself the guilt of all our sins, we can picture that happening on the cross... Jesus dying in our place, Jesus suffering the punishment that we owe. But our Lord's identity with our sin didn't begin on the cross. It began here, at his baptism, when he came confessing our sins.

In a sense, Jesus was "baptized" into our humanity at His conception in Mary's womb, and it was here at His baptism, that He was baptized into the guilt of our sin. "He who knew no sin, because sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Immediately after Israel crossed the Red Sea in the exodus, they came into a covenant relationship with God at Sinai.  After that they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years before entering the Promise Land.

So also, immediately after His baptism, "Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil." (Matthew 4:1)  During that time Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days.  The connection between Israel's history and Jesus' experience becomes clear when we see how Jesus responded to the devil's temptations.  Each one of His quotations from Scripture comes from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy (chapters 6 & 8), in which Moses reminds Israel of the lessons they learned in the exodus and their wilderness experience.

Finally, let us jump ahead three years to the climax, the final and ultimate Passover, the fulfillment of all those centuries of the annual celebration. For this we must look at Matthew's account:

(Matthew 26:1-5)
1 When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples,
2 "As you know, the Passover is two days away--and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified."
3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas,
4 and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him.
5 "But not during the Feast [i.e. the Passover Feast]," they said, "or there may be a riot among the people."
Here we have a conflict in schedules. The priests say, "We'll get rid of Jesus, but not during the Passover." But Jesus, says, "We are right on schedule. This is it. And it will happen at the Passover." And soon we get to see Who really is in charge here, Who is really calling the shots.

Our Lord scheduling His crucifixion during the Passover was no coincidence, no accident, and it wasn't even an afterthought. He had this day in mind back when God gave instructions to Moses for the first Passover (just like He had this day in mind when God gave Abraham a ram to offer in place of his son, Isaac, on Mt. Moriah, centuries earlier; Genesis 22).

When Jesus met with His disciples for His final Passover celebration with them, He took a detour from the normal ritual... took the bread... and said, "Take Eat. This is My Body..." Not the flesh of a Passover lamb, but the flesh of The Lamb of God.

A recent commentary on the traditional Passover seder observes:

You will note that the matzah [the bread] is unleavened.  In its baking it is pierced, and it is striped.  It is unleavened because it is to be without contamination, as our Savior Jesus was.  Pierced and striped, it becomes a beautiful symbol of our Messiah, who being without sin, yet was pierced according to the Scriptures, as found in Zechariah 12:10: "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on Him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over Him, as one weeps over a firstborn." And also in Psalm 22 we find: "They have pierced My hands and feet-they divide My garments among them, and for My raiment they cast lots" (Psalm 22:16b, 18).  The prophet Isaiah declares in Isaiah 53:5: "But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that made us whole, and by His stripes we are healed."  (Bruce J. Lieske, A Passover Haggadah for Christians, The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod Board for Evangelism, page 20)

The Jesus took the cup, and said, "Drink this. This is the New Covenant in My Blood..." Not the blood of the Passover lamb painted on the outside of the door frame to ward off death. It was the blood of the Spotless Lamb of God, "given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins."

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all make it clear that it was the Passover meal our Lord celebrated with His disciples that night in which He instituted the Lord's Supper, that night in which He was betrayed.  And the Gospel of John seems to indicated that Jesus and His disciples actually celebrated the Passover a day earlier than the rest of Israel, as may have been done by a few religious communities within Israel. So if that is the case, this would mean that on Good Friday morning, the moment our Lord Jesus was being nailed to the cross was the very hour when the sacrificial lambs were being slaughtered in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration.  (John 19:14)

Come with me now back to the first Passover, the one with Moses and the Israelites in Egypt.

If you picture the scene of blood painted over and around every door of every Israelite home... that's a pretty grotesque scene. Imagine the reaction of you or one of your neighbors tried to do that, paint blood on the front of your house around your door. We'd suspect cultic activity. Don't we have city zoning laws against such a thing?

Yes, it is ugly. But so is our sin, which is exactly what God sees in us... unless we are covered by the blood of His Son Jesus Christ.

Now picture not only that door, arched in blood, but picture what is behind that door, a family of Jewish slaves. The life of the firstborn of the family was preserved by the death of the lamb whose roasted meat they had just eaten in their late evening meal. And when the call came, they all left the slave house, every man, woman, and child, exiting through that very same door, arched in blood, exiting into freedom, into a covenant relationship with the Living God, into new fertile homeland of their own, a land "flowing with milk and honey."

Christian, your life, too, has been preserved from death, an eternal death in hell. And you, too, are preserved alive by the death of a lamb, the very of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Your exit to freedom is also through the blood, the blood of Jesus. And you have freedom, freedom from the consequences of sin, yes, but you also have freedom from your former slavery and bondage to sin, freedom from your obligation to succumb to the power of sin. Through the blood of Jesus you enter into a New Covenant with the Living God, not a covenant based on the Law, but a covenant based on forgiveness and the power of the Holy Spirit (Jeremiah 31:31-35). And through the blood of Jesus you will be able to enter into a new home land.... called Heaven.

The Old Testament Passover commemorates freedom from temporal bondage.
The New Testament Passover [the Lord's Supper] commemorates freedom from eternal bondage (sin death & the devil).

The Old Testament Passover was the passage into a covenant of Law.
The New Testament Passover is the passage into a covenant of Grace.

The Old Testament Passover offered protection for the firstborn of the family from death.
The New Testament Passover commemorates the death of the First born, The only begotten Son of God.

The Apostle Paul writes:

1 Corinthians 5:6-8
6 ...Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?
7 Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast--as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.
Father, forgive us, when we, who bear the name of Your Son, live like those who don't know You. Forgive us. Cleanse us. Empower us by Your Spirit to live in Your Freedom every day. Thank you, Father, for price Your Son paid for our freedom. Thank you for the Blood of the Lamb that was shed to cover us in His righteousness. Help us to never, never, never forget all that you have done for us in our precious Savior.

Pastor Ron Friedrich
Originally prepared in 1999 for a series of Lent sermons dealing with Israel's sacrificial lambs; Peace Lutheran Church, Garland, Texas. 

Points of connection in Jesus' life to the  Passover and exodus:
(1) 1-month old, temple sacrifice (Luke 2:21-24)
(2)  Extended stay in Egypt (Matthew 2)
(3) 12-years old, temple visit for Passover (Luke 2)
(4) Baptism by John (Matthew 3, Mark 1, Luke 3)
(5) 40-days in the wilderness tempted by the devil (Matthew 4, Mark 1, Luke 4)
(6) The Last Supper (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22)
(7) The Cross
(8) The Promise Land -- yet to come (Luke 22:15)