RPM, Volume 18, Number 1, December 27, 2015 to January 2, 2016

Jesus' Death Fulfils Passover

By Darren Edgington

There is a prominent fixture in most homes called the family calendar. Usually it is centrally located, somewhere on the wall in our kitchens. This handy tool facilitates the recording of doctor's appointments, entertainment events, birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. The items scratched upon the calendar usually determine the manner in which we spend, or hopefully invest, the days of the year ahead. You can learn much about a family by looking at what they have prioritized on their family calendar.

On my wall there is a beautiful calendar with glorious scenery that coincides with each month, and inscribed on the picture is an inscription from a Psalm. It was a gift from some beloved friends around the Christmas season. I look at it regularly, admire the beautiful picture, and then glance at the dates ahead to determine if there are any significant things scheduled. My life's rhythm can be seen in the things I've included or omitted.

If ancient Israel had the technology to produce a glossy pictorial calendar, the first month would likely include a depiction of some part of the celebration of Passover. This is because God started their calendar on the month He delivered them from the bondage of Egypt and this event also established the celebration of Passover in the years to follow (Exodus 12:1-2).

Our year starts in January. I have no idea who made that decision. Here in the northern region of the country, I would prefer to have the year begin in May when the flowers are in full bloom. But no one asked me! And the issue doesn't ever make it onto a national ballot.

The calendar year begins when it is brutally frigid in Ohio. On New Year's Day, some families have grand family gatherings including annual traditions like meals that stink the house up with corned beef and cabbage. Many others spend the day just trying to eliminate the symptoms of a severe hangover from the prior night's excesses. Others just linger around for the afternoon's football games to finally begin.

I am perplexed about this practice of initiating a new year in January. The internet seems to indicate that it has something to do with the ancient whims of Julius Caesar. I think it is more likely to be a modern marketing strategy designed to sell more calendars during the Christmas season.

What I want to emphasize is that unlike us, God started Israel's calendar year with a distinct purpose. The Passover celebration was always to be foremost, a definitive starting point for the nation. This first event of every year was to be a lasting ordinance — an event never to be forgotten.

Some things are just too important to forget.

It is no accident that God also ordained that Jesus would ride into Jerusalem during the celebration of Passover as Israel's prophesied Messiah - meek and lowly, riding on the colt of a donkey. Many other Passovers had been celebrated. Many crowds had flooded into the City of David, generation after generation. When Jesus came to town for the last time, many other pilgrims traveled alongside singing their historic psalms of ascent.

But Jesus did not join the masses making the pilgrimage to the Holy City just to kick off the year. Nor was this New Year's trip about party hats and confetti. No! He intentionally came to Jerusalem in the fullness of time: "I have earnestly desired to eat this meal with you." He came in order to radically transform the entire situation.

Passover was an annual celebration of Israel's deliverance from many years of Egyptian bondage. Israel cried out in anguish. The God of their forefather Abraham had foretold these days (Genesis 15:13-14). Now He was bringing Jacob's seed out. He decimated the Egyptian land and made their Pharaoh look like a waffling oaf. He humiliated the Egyptian gods and culminated His conquest with one final severe judgment — all of the firstborn in Egypt died in one night. The next day the Egyptians who managed to live were more than happy to escort the Israelites out of town. They even gave the Israelites a vast quantity of valuables to take as they left town — much like a relative would empty his wallet just to get rid of an annoying uncle that has overstayed his welcome.

This grand exit out of Egypt became the way to speak of Divine deliverance within Israel. As many nations sing of patriotic events from their past, many of Israel's songs in the Old Testament recalled this particular deliverance. It was foundational. It was paradigmatic. It became salvific shorthand.

At the heart of that historic night was a special provision exclusively for God's chosen people. They would be protected from the horrible night of judgment and death. The spotless Passover lamb had to die so they could live. According to God's instructions, substitutionary blood from that lamb was then placed upon external portions of the home, much like a surveyor marks his territory with fluorescent colored ribbons. The neighborhood doorways gave the impression that a Jewish mogul must have been filming a horror flick.

This bloody display was God's intention: "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" (Exodus 12:13). They were saved from God's righteous judgment because death had already occurred. A life had been given on their behalf. The evidence of bloody death was wiped with hyssop on their homes. The smears of crimson set them apart from those who homes were slated to be ravaged by death.

The avenging angel had a mission to kill, but he could not enter the homes marked by the blood.

Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper as he ate this very Passover meal with his disciples. But the events that would transpire that night and the next day would revolutionize their understanding of that holiday forever. This holiday would be a "holy day" indeed. Paul gives us inspired commentary on the significance of Christ's death in 1 Corinthians 5:7 where he says that "Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed."

The blood that Jesus shed upon the cruel cross of Calvary would save God's chosen people from a greater judgment than the death that came upon Egypt's firstborn. Such holy blood was not just one good idea among many viable alternatives — to serve God's purpose, the Son of God needed to be slaughtered. It "must needs" be so.

Without intervention, we are worse off than Egypt. All mankind stands condemned before God, not just the firstborn. We must not make the mistake of thinking that God's goodness means we are safe. Because God is good, He must deal with our unbridled assault on His character. We pile up transgressions faster than squirrels horde nuts. Apart from transforming grace, this is the awful bondage that is our nature. Our deeds scream for terrible justice to be meted out.

Our only hope is that Christ would save us from the coming day of the good God's righteous wrath. And this is the astonishing nature of the news from God. He does.

The security Israel felt as they huddled inside their home, safe because of the lamb's blood, pales in comparison to the security that is ours because of the shed blood of the Lamb of God. He is the handpicked flawless One who stood in our stead to shield us from judgment. He ushers in the superlative exodus, the release from Satan and the bondage to our sin. Through Christ's death on our behalf, we are whisked away from receiving the wages we rightly deserve: fearful judgment before God and certain eternal condemnation.

Jesus came to Jerusalem when Israel started a new year. He came at the time of Passover to fulfil Passover. Because of his sacrificial death in our place, God cannot but "pass over" us on the last day. Our deliverance is sure because a sufficient sacrifice already died in the darkness on Calvary. We are marked people, set apart by what He accomplished until it was finished.

If it were my decision, I would eliminate New Year's Day in January. Instead, I would love to start our calendar on Good Friday. I think Paul would agree: "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3).

Christ's body broken for us. The New Covenant in His blood shed for us. A great way to mark the calendar of our lives . . . remembering to remember what should never be forgotten.

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