September 9, 2018
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.