Christ Our Passover

September 9, 2018

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Tuesday, Sept 18 is the Jewish observance of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The Day of Atonement always falls in September or October. This morning we are observing the Lord’s Supper. Of course the Lord’s Supper speaks to us of the death of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. And I must ask you to put your thinking caps on because we will be thinking about some deep things.

I want to raise a question that I had not considered before. I came across this question in a book called, The Day the Revolution Began. The question is: Why was Jesus crucified during the festival of Passover?

I. CONSIDER THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE DAY OF ATONEMENT.

Most Christians know 1Cor.15:3. Paul writes, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” Well, in this case, the scriptures are referring to the Old Testament. The book of Hebrews follows the same idea, speaking about Jesus from the Old Testament. In Hebrews, Jesus is presented as both our High Priest and sacrifice for sin. What is this about? Let’s go back to Lev.16.

In Lev.16 we read about the Day of Atonement. It is called Yom Kippur which means, Day of Atonement. It is considered by Jews to be the holiest day of the year. Once a year the High Priest would make atonement for the sins of the people committed during that year. As you remember, only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle and only on this one day of the year.

Let me briefly summarize from Lev.16. I’m using the Dict. of the Old Testament Pentateuch. On this day the High Priest began his day by taking a bath. He did not wear his regular priestly clothing which was regal and dignified. Instead he had to wear linen clothing which made his appearance humble, simple. Then the High Priest sacrificed a young bull as a sin offering, in order to purify himself from sin. With incense he would make a cloud of smoke in the Holy of Holies and then he would go behind the curtain into the Holy of Holies with the blood of the bull. He would sprinkle some of that blood, for his own sins, on the mercy seat which was the top of the Ark of the Covenant.

Then the High Priest would go back out to the outer court of the tabernacle and sacrifice a goat for the sins of the people. He would again take some of the blood of the goat and go into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle some of the blood on the mercy seat. The carcasses of those sacrificed animals were then burned.

After this the High Priest would take a living goat and place both his hands on that goat. He would then confess all the sins of the people and the priests over that goat. The idea was that the sins of the people for the previous year were transferred onto the goat. That goat was taken out into the desert. The goat carried the sins of the people away. Then the High Priest would remove his clothes, take another bath, and then sacrifice a burnt offering for himself and one for the people. This Day of Atonement was to be a “Sabbath of solemn rest”. It was a day for fasting, refraining from wearing sandals and engaging in pleasurable activities. Humble repentance was the order of the day.

In Heb.9 the writer refers to the Day Atonement and to the ministry of the High Priest. Listen to Heb.9:11-14, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” Notice that Jesus is both our High Priest, and our atoning sacrifice for our sins, at one in the same time.

On the cross, Jesus did for us what no one else could do. He died in our place bearing the guilt of our sins, so that our sins can be forgiven by God. So wouldn’t it seem to make more sense for Jesus to have died on the Day of Atonement? The Day of Atonement is all about sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. But Jesus did not die on the Day of Atonement. Jesus died during the festival of Passover. A lamb is sacrificed during Passover, but not for the forgiveness of sins. What is going on here?

II. CONSIDER THE SIGNIFICANCE OF PASSOVER.

We first read about Passover in Ex.12. As you remember, Israel was enslaved in Egypt for some 400 years. The people were crying out to God and God raised up Moses to bring Israel out of Egypt. In Ex.7:3-5 God says, “But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them." We call this the Exodus. After nine plagues Pharaoh still refused to let Israel leave Egypt. The tenth plague involved the death of all the first born of Egypt.

In preparing Israel for this moment, God instituted the Passover observance. You can read about it in Ex.12. On the night when God was going to strike down the first born of Egypt, he instructed all Israel to kill a lamb and put some of the blood on the doorposts and lintel of their houses. When the Lord saw the blood on the door frames he would pass over that house, sparing the first born. The observance of Passover involved eating a lamb as well as other foods which symbolized their time of slavery in Egypt and their deliverance from Egypt. For example they ate unleavened bread which symbolized the fact that they had to leave Egypt quickly and didn’t have time to wait for the yeast to rise. Every year in the first month of the year, Israel was to celebrate Passover. In Ex.12:12 God says, “For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.” And everything happened just as the Lord said it would.

You might say that Passover is like our 4th of July. Passover celebrates Israel’s independence from slavery in Egypt. Passover celebrates God’s powerful, gracious intervention to deliver his people. Passover celebrates the glory of God our King. So far we have mentioned the forgiveness of sins on the Day of Atonement, and the liberation from slavery in Passover.

But why did Jesus die for the forgiveness of sins on Passover? We need to bring one more thought into the mix. We need to think about Exile. When Israel was getting ready to enter into the Promised Land, Moses reminded the people of Israel about the laws that God had given to regulate their new life in the Promised Land. At the end of Deuteronomy Moses explained in detail that if the people honored God with wholehearted worship and obedience they would experience God’s blessing. But if Israel practiced idolatry and disobedience they would experience cursing. In fact, God says they will be scattered out of the Promised Land.

Well, perhaps you know the sad history. Israel did exactly what they were not supposed to do. The people of Israel quickly turned to idolatry, worshipping false gods and were continually disobedient. Time after time God would send prophets to call the people back to himself, but the people would not repent. So as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, God withdrew his presence from the temple, and in 586 BC Babylon came, and destroyed the temple, and the city, and carried the people of Israel into exile because of their sins.

After 70 years of exile God made it possible for the people of Israel to return to Jerusalem. Many remained in Babylon, but many returned. In many ways the Exile was over. But not really. Even though Jerusalem and the temple were rebuilt, from that time on Israel was occupied by foreign powers, most notably Rome. Many Bible Scholars point out that Israel was in essence, still in exile. The national kingdom of Israel was over. The prophets continued to call the people to repentance since the reason Israel went into exile was because of their sins.

I mentioned that God had removed his presence from the temple. In Mal.3:1 we read, "Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.” Without going into too much detail, let me point out that the messenger is John the Baptist. The Lord who comes to his temple is Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God, the Lord returned to his temple. He cast out the merchants and money changers. He said, that he was greater than the temple. In fact Jesus is the Messiah, God’s anointed King. When Jesus came, many thought he would overthrow Rome and reestablish the kingdom of Israel. But that was not his plan.

Rather Jesus gave his life on the cross in order to bring about a new Exodus, a new redemption from slavery. Israel’s exile came about because of their sins. In order for there to be a new exodus, there had to be forgiveness of sins. So Jesus died. And in dying he not only brought about the forgiveness of sins for Israel, but for anyone and everyone who would look to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. It had always been in God’s mind for the nation of Israel to be a light of redemption and salvation for the Gentiles. Israel became like the Gentiles.

On the cross a new Passover is brought about by the death of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. You might say that on the cross, Jesus fulfills the Day of Atonement and Passover in himself. And this leads me to call us to

III. PARTICIPATE IN THE LORD’S SUPPER OF DELIVERANCE.

Passover was observed at the beginning of the Jewish New Year. God was bringing Israel out of slavery in Egypt so that the people of Israel might be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. The Exodus was the beginning of the kingdom of Israel. And so every year the people would observe the Passover celebration. Eating the Passover meal reminded the Israelites that God had personally intervened in a powerful way to redeem the nation from slavery. By eating that meal every Israelite was reminded that he or she was a participant in God’s redemption and part of the kingdom of Israel. Participation in the meal linked each Israelite to that original moment of redemption and liberation from Egypt.

When Jesus came as Israel’s Messiah, anointed king, he did not end the Jewish exile by overthrowing Rome and establishing the national throne of David. The cause of Exile was idolatry and sin. In order to bring about a new Exodus, a new Passover, sin had to be dealt with.

When Israel entered into the Promised Land God established a covenant with the people. Sometimes we call it the Mosaic Covenant, or the Old Covenant. That covenant was ratified with sacrifices. But the people broke the covenant by turning away from God in idolatry and disobedience and went into exile. However God spoke about a New Covenant that he would bring about. This new covenant would bring the forgiveness of sins, liberation from slavery to sin. You can read about in Jer.31. This new covenant was initiated by Jesus through the sacrifice of himself on the cross. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.

On the same night that Jesus was betrayed, he was with his disciples in the upper room, observing the feast of Passover. But Jesus did something that was completely unexpected. He took the bread and broke it. He gave thanks and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And then he took the cup and he said, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus is referring to the New Covenant. Just as the Old Covenant was ratified with blood, so the New Covenant is ratified with the blood of Jesus.

The Lord’s Supper is the new Passover. It reminds us that God has personally intervened to redeem us through Jesus Christ. It speaks of a new exodus from slavery to sin through the blood of Jesus. It speaks of forgiveness of sins. It speaks of a new people of God made up of Jews and Gentiles who are together brought into the Kingdom of God. It speaks of a better covenant that is based upon grace and truth through Jesus. It speaks of a new creation brought about by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

So who gets to participate in the Lord’s Supper? Well, it is all those who embrace Jesus Christ by faith for the forgiveness of their sins. It is those who embrace Jesus as Savior, Lord and King. It is those who are living as new creation people in the kingdom of God.

When we eat and drink at the Lord’s Table we are reminded that through faith in Jesus we are participants in God’s redemption from slavery to sin. Through this meal we are linked to Jesus and his redemption purchased for us through his death and resurrection. Through this meal we are reminded that in the words of Peter, that “[We] are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession, that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

 Let us celebrate the new Exodus and Passover, made possible through Jesus Christ our King. Amen.

This Is Amazing Grace!

June 11, 2017

One of the most well-known hymns is, “Amazing Grace”. It is estimated that this hymn is performed 10 million times each year and has appeared on 11,000 albums. Amazing Grace was written in 1772 by John Newton, who was born in England, in 1725. Newton lived a hard and profligate life and became a slave trader. He was the captain of a slave ship. His initial conversion to Christ came after he almost lost his life at sea. His life did not change all at once, but it did change. He was being saved, transformed by God’s grace.

Grace is often defined as, “unmerited favor.” And that’s good as far as it goes. But this definition does not go far enough. You see, grace is not just about being saved. Grace is transforming. Dr. Scott McKnight writes, “[God] gives us place ‘in Christ,’ and then God’s grace empowers us to thrive ‘in Christ.’” This morning we are looking at Titus 2:11-14. Paul speaks about salvation. We see that salvation is a gift that flows from God’s grace.

I. GOD’S GRACE, IN CHRIST, HAS APPEARED FOR ALL. 2:11

In the Bible there are many ways in which God shows his grace to mankind. The story of the Bible begins with God’s grace. Everything that is good comes from God. We sing the chorus, “He’s a good, good Father.” God is love and out of love he gives. But I would like to focus on what to my mind are the three most significant expressions of God’s grace to mankind.

Beginning in Gen.1 we read of God’s grace. We read that God created the heavens and the earth. Each verse tells us how God created the various elements of creation. He created light, sun, moon, land, vegetation, animals, etc. After each part is created God says that it is good. Finally God creates mankind. We get the clear picture that before creating mankind, God created everything else for mankind. In his grace God created a wonderful world for mankind to live in, explore, and develop. Creation is a gift of God’s grace to mankind.

And God called Adam and Eve to cultivate the earth and have dominion over it. This was a calling to reign over the earth under the goodness of God. God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, to populate the earth living in the grace of God.

Of course we know what happened. We know how Adam and Eve aspired to be their own God by rebelling against God and his good rules. They rebelled against the Giver of life and in doing so they chose the way of death. To be separated from God is to choose death. God himself told them that if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would die. Instead of bringing about a population of people who enjoyed life with God, they filled the earth with people who lived in deepening rebellion against God. And we are that people. We are all usurpers, living in sinful disobedience and idolatry. Adam and Eve were sent out of the garden of Eden to live in a world under the dominion of sin and death.

But there was a second significant act of God’s grace beginning in Gen.12. God chose Abraham and promised to bless Abraham and to make from Abraham a great nation. The descendants of Abraham are the Jewish people, the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people. God promised to bring Abraham into a land of his own. As you know, the people of Israel became slaves in Egypt for some 400 years, but then God graciously worked a mighty act of deliverance. He redeemed his people from slavery and brought them into the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. You might say that God brought his people into the Garden of Eden once again. It was a land prepared for them by God. It was a land in which they would live under God’s protection and blessing. The land of Israel was a gift of God’s grace. And just as God called Adam and Eve to bring about a population of people who would live under the goodness of God, so Israel was called to be a light to the nations. Israel was to be an example of just how good it is to enjoy life with God so that the nations would also turn to God.

But again, we know the story. In Hos.6:7, referring to Israel we read, “But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me.” The people of Israel rebelled against God in disobedience and idolatry. They turned their back on the grace of God, and just as Adam and Eve were put out of the Garden of Eden, so the people of Israel were taken out of the Promised Land and brought into exile in Babylon. They were not a light to the nations. They became like the pagan nations.

But again, God brought about a third significant act of grace. When the time was right, He sent his one and only Son in the form of a man, Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary. The angel told Joseph to name him Jesus, because he would save his people from their sins. How interesting. Just as Israel was in bondage to slavery in Egypt, so the whole world is in bondage to sin, death, and the Devil. In 1Jn.5:19 John writes, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”

Through his life, death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus brought about a great deliverance from the bondage of sin and death. He brought salvation for all people. How did he do it? Titus 2:14 tells us that Jesus gave his life in a costly sacrifice on the cross. On the cross our great God and Savior, Jesus, bore our sins in his body. On the cross God bore his own wrath towards sin. God gave himself in Jesus Christ so that our sins can be forgiven so that we can enter into his life in the kingdom of God. Like Adam and Eve, like Israel, we are separated from God, choosing the way of death. But in Jesus Christ we can find life. Through his life, death, and resurrection Jesus was victorious over sin, Satan, and death. He brought deliverance, salvation for all people. He redeemed us from sin.

God has been revealing his grace from the very beginning. In Jesus we find the greatest gift of God’s grace. Again, John writes, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” If we do not embrace Jesus we are rejecting God’s greatest gift of grace.

II. GOD’S GRACE, IN CHRIST, TRANSFORMS OUR LIVES. 2:12-13

The life that we receive from Jesus is the very life of Jesus. In other words this life does not have its source in this world. Jesus’ life is an eternal life that is characterized by righteousness, peace, and joy. What is more, Paul tells us that this life instructs us or trains us in a certain way that is much different from our current life in this world.

Imagine that you were raised in great poverty, but suddenly came into a vast amount of money through a benefactor. Well, your whole life would change, and you would have to learn to live in accordance with your new station in life. Those who enter into the life of Christ must learn to live in accordance with their new station in life.

So Paul tells us that there are some things we must renounce. He says we must renounce ungodliness, and worldly passions or desires. If Jesus is our Savior, Lord, and King and we desire to live under his good rule, then we will turn away from things that distract and hinder us from following Jesus. Paul mentions worldly passions. Think about the things that captivate the people of this world. Money, possessions, pleasure, power, status, success. Then think about the ways that the people of this world go about fulfilling these desires. They focus on getting what they want using just about any means available. Many times this leads to ungodly behavior and idolatry. Note Titus 3:1-3 (read). Christians have renounced these things. We have given our lives to Christ our Savior, Lord and King. We no longer give our lives to these other passions and desires.

Again, we see that when we enter into the grace of God through Jesus Christ, we are taught to live in a certain way. Paul talks about living lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly. Last week Angie and I were on vacation in Washington, D.C. We did a lot of walking and saw many impressive buildings. On a number of these buildings you find virtues of excellence engraved in the marble. Truth, Justice, Mercy, etc.! These virtues are honored in our society. As Christians we embrace the very best virtues honored in society. But in following Christ, we go beyond these virtues to embrace humility, self-denial, and love of our enemies. We seek to live according to the virtues of Jesus in this present world. And it’s difficult.

And then Paul says that the grace of God in Christ creates within us a longing for the second coming of Jesus. In other words, we do not view this world as the totality of our lives. Christ has begun a new creation work in us. He is preparing us for the day when he will come and recreate a new heaven and earth. We live in hope, knowing that Christ is coming again. Until then our hearts will go on singing. Until then with joy we carry on as we live for Christ.

III. GOD’S GRACE, IN CHRIST, CREATES A PEOPLE FOR GOD’S POSSESSION. 2:14

Why did Jesus give himself? Paul says that Jesus gave himself to redeem us from lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession. This is very important. Who is this “people for his own possession?” Well, it is the church. The church is comprised of all those who have entered into life with Jesus Christ through the forgiveness of sins. The church is comprised of all the local congregations in which Jesus Christ is worshipped.

Something that I think all of us who know Christ need to be concerned about is that for a long time there has been a tendency to think about our salvation in individualistic terms. We think about our own personal walk or journey with Christ. The church is something that may or may not help us in our walk with Christ. The church is an optional accessory in our walk with Christ. One does not need the church in order to be a Christian. But this is not at all in keeping with the teaching of the New Testament. Here Paul tells us that Jesus is creating a people, a community for his own possession.

Let’s think about Israel. Israel was the people of God in the Old Testament. Israel was given a Promised Land to live in. Israel was called to be a light to the nations. But Israel abandoned God and abandoned their calling to be the light of the world.

Not long ago I read something that I had never heard before. I was reading the book, “A Fellowship of Differents,” by Dr. Scott McKnight. In that book he pointed out that just as Israel was given a Promised Land, so the church is our Promised Land. Think about this. Heaven or the new creation doesn’t begin when we die. It begins when we come to Jesus. When we come to Jesus we are brought into the new community of Jesus, known as the church. We are the people of God. The church is the people of God. And like Israel, like Jesus, we also are the light of the world. As a community we are to show the world what it is like to have the eternal life of Jesus in us. And Paul says that as the people of God we are together zealous for good works. Lord willing, in a couple of weeks we will begin looking in detail about what it means to be the church, the people of God, showing the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

I can’t think of a better place to have our thinking and being reordered than the Lord’s Table. This Table speaks of God’s grace of salvation in Christ. This Table speaks of life with Christ. This Table calls our attention to the fact that we are the people who belong to Christ. This Table is not about you or me; it is about us and Jesus. This Table is a means by which we are strengthened together in Christ because we are meeting with the Lord Jesus as we remember his death in our behalf.

Before we come to the Table I would like to give us opportunity to express our thanks to God in Christ for our salvation. I would like to ask for public expressions of thanks in testimony or prayer. Please stand up and speak clearly. After a time we willcome to the Lord at his Table. Amen.