“The Tragic and Triumphant Cross Leading to Hope for Us All”
“The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt.’This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it; your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment; I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.” (Exodus 12:1-14)
The harsh oppression of the Israelites could not help but rouse the God of justice, love, and mercy to come to their rescue. The book of Exodus uses a rich variety of verbs to describe this process; God rescues, delivers, brings out, saves, and redeems his people. The exodus was initiated and achieved by God, who acted in power, justice, compassion, and covenant faithfulness.
The sacrifice of the Passover lamb and the sprinkling of its blood on the doorposts of the Israelite homes preserved God’s chosen people from the destruction visited upon the Egyptians. God said, “seeing the blood, I will pass over you”. Passover became a central memorial feast for Israel celebrated as an annual pilgrimage festival in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus and later ritualized in every Jewish home. It is a celebration of liberation, a commemoration of God’s freeing the Israelites from bondage and bringing them into the freedom which allowed them to become a covenanted people.
The chosen lamb was to be “without blemish”, meaning that the Israelites were to offer God the best of their flock, not a sick or weak animal. When the lamb was slaughtered, its blood was not only poured out but also applied to the top and the sides of the door frame of each home. The lamb was then roasted and eaten by the family, meaning that the lamb was not only a sacrificial substitute, shedding its life for their own, but also a source of nourishment.
The gospels associate the passion and death of Jesus with the Passover feast. At the Last Supper Jesus gave his body and blood to his disciples in the bread and wine of the Passover meal and his blood was shed on the cross on the day of the feast itself. John’s gospel proclaims that Jesus is the Lamb of God and indicates that his death on the cross occurred as the Passover lambs were being slaughtered at the temple. John notes too that none of the bones of Jesus were fractured, which he interprets as a fulfillment of the prescription about the Passover Lamb. “You shall not break any of its bones”.
The events of Passover night were the defining events of Israel’s history. Passover revealed God’s faithfulness to his word. It fashioned their understanding of God and their identity as God’s people. In the historical understanding of Israel, the exodus to freedom would not have happened without the Passover. Too often people want liberation without the blood, salvation without the sacrifice, and forgiveness without the cross. Christ, our paschal lamb, was sacrificed to liberate, rescue, deliver, redeem, and save God’s people from the sin of the world.
In light of the Passover, why was it “necessary” that Christ suffer and shed his blood? What does the Passover reveal to you about the nature of God?
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on me. You have given your life for me and shed your blood for my redemption. Free me from all that impedes me from experiencing the fullness of life.